Research Summary

‘Let your data tell a story:’ climate change experts and students navigating disciplinary argumentation in the classroom

Using Social Media to Learn Argumentation with Scientists

International Journal of Science EducationInternational Journal of Science Education

Educators, formal and informal alike, are focusing less on knowledge acquisition and more on the construction and application of scientific ideas in context thanks to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This notion of practice-based learning suggests that students should construct scientific concepts by engaging in the practices of science. It also suggests that students should understand how scientific knowledge is generated through scientists’ everyday practices, such as argumentation.

To further explore how students developed scientific argumentation skills through practice-based learning with experts, this study explored a partnership between scientists and students who interacted on a social-media platform. Focusing on a six-week climate change module within a yearlong life sciences curriculum, the students performed fieldwork, analyzed professional data sets, and used computer modeling to understand the impacts of climate change. They also developed infographics to communicate their findings. Throughout the module, the students used a social media platform that connected them to expert scientists who periodically provided feedback on the students’ work. Three ninth-grade classes from two schools participated, with 49 students in total. Researchers used qualitative coding to analyze students’ infographic drafts, as well as scientists’ feedback.

Through cycles of feedback with expert scientists, students improved their infographics, according to an assessment rubric that the researchers developed. Changes included adding text, adding graphs or figures, reorganizing information, and removing elements. Students improved their infographics by adding more evidence or increasing their depth of explanation, often by adding mechanistic explanations, consisting of why, what, and how something was happening. Although initial infographics were typically simplistic, they tended to grow in complexity over time.

The researchers claim that experts’ feedback, in which the experts modeled complex scientific argumentation, encouraged students to seek out additional evidence. Often, in seeking out more evidence, students engaged in additional scientific practices, such as asking questions and using mathematical thinking. According to the researchers, scientists’ feedback pushed students to engage in scientific practices more holistically, as doing one practice often involved incorporating many other practices. Also, researchers described the infographics and the data sets that students used as boundary objects through which students could learn in partnership with scientists. The work provided a connection point where students could construct personally relevant ideas and engage in practice-based learning alongside scientists. This finding suggests that practice-based science learning should include publicly available and professional data sets, as those data sets provide a window for students into scientists’ everyday practices.

The Bottom Line

Experiences in which students work with expert scientists can support more holistic engagement in scientific practices. Working through cycles of feedback with scientists pushes students to incorporate different scientific practices as they construct evidence-based arguments. Educators should encourage students to use publicly available professional data sets when studying science. This exercise will help students engage in authentic scientific practices in a way that is personally relevant and allows for a meaningful connection point between students and scientists.