Monday, October 5, 2015

Week 7 Readings

Wow, there was a lot of great stuff this week relevant to a lot of what we’ve been talking about with modeling, especially defending the model, and revising the model as appropriate.  Before I get into the readings, I think I ought to point out that this approach is only possible in an environment where the students are comfortable with being wrong.  The Sampson reading said it more explicitly, but both articles realize that we will lose students if they are so concerned with being right that they don’t participate.  And with that, on to the readings.

Sampson & Glein: This article promotes a specific model of teaching science using guided argument driven inquiry (ADI, their term).  This method, they argue, has the benefits of helping students learn the material effectively with the added bonuses of teaching them how to evaluate their own and others’ arguments and present them effectively both verbally and in writing.
  •  This system has students essentially develop a model in groups to explain a dataset they have been given.  After developing their model, they defend it to the class in a low-pressure environment.  Then, they present a written defense of their model which undergoes peer reviewed revisions.

Reiser, Berland, & Kenyon: This article is similar to the other; however, it focuses more on constructing the explanation from evidence rather than the defense of said argument.
  • The focus is on the evidence and getting students to support a claim, not because they believe it to be “the right answer”, but because it is supported by the data.
  •  Like in the other article, it points out that having students defend their arguments helps them refine both their arguments and their understanding of the concepts.

I love this system of learning through explanation and argumentation for several reasons.  First of all, it is not uncommon in research for there to be multiple hypotheses to explain data, especially if that data appears to contradict itself.  Teaching through this method may help students realize that the answer is often far more complicated than it may appear at first glance.  Secondly, the interdisciplinary nature of this method, if applied broadly, will hopefully spare the next generation of scientists from having to read very poorly written papers.  I’m not even joking, some are painful to read.  More on topic, though, effective writing skills may be applied to any career the student chooses.  Finally, it can help students to critically examine their own ideas, theories, and belief systems and tweak or discard them as necessary.  Hopefully, if our students have been taught in this method, none of them will become anti-vaxxers. 

On this last point, I think an interesting idea to try might be to give students data and ask them to create a model using that data.  Then, after they have created, revised, and defended their models, give them new data that appears to contradict the original data at first glance and see how they adjust their models to fit that data.  For example, the theory of evolution is predicated upon slow accumulation of changes due to mutations (original model).  This tends to mean that we don’t see new features pop up all of a sudden.  However, we can observe in the fossil record that sometimes large changes occur quite suddenly, such as the appearance of feathers on some dinosaurs, despite the fact that scales do not appear to have much in common with feathers (new data).  The reconciliation came when it was discovered that the same gene, activated at different points in the embryonic stage, controls whether scales or feathers develop.  Having students work through this process could be valuable.


  1. I like your comment about the potential that ADI has in improving student literacy and writing in particular. I remember when I was teaching Biology, the head of the Science department told us to integrate reading and writing instruction into science lessons. Unfortunately, our attempts at integrating writing instruction largely failed because it felt too awkward and unnatural - we were not trained in teaching ELA, and we were more comfortable sticking to Science. ADI gets around this problem by integrating reading and writing in a far more natural and relevant way for both students and teachers.

  2. I agree with the fact that these learning techniques will only work in an environment where students are comfortable with being wrong. Do you think it is reasonable to have a practice run with your students or guide them through the techniques first in order to get them accustomed and create a "wrong-free" zone?

    1. In answer to your question, definitely. Walking the students through the process of developing, defending, and refining an argument can help them understand what you mean and help them be ok with being wrong. However, I would hesitate to call it a "wrong-free" zone, more of a place where being wrong contributes just as much as being right. A "judgement-free" zone, perhaps?

  3. I agree with judgement free zone. I have always wondered when we start to worry about being wrong and when this needs to be addressed as teachers? Can simply congratulating wrong answers be enough? How do we develop wrong answers into the right answers? I think a lot of this comes from experience and understanding how these kids think. Being able to draw connections between the right answer and the answer the student has created and then being able to point the student in the right direction without giving it away is something we all need to learn. I think promoting civility in the classroom and really getting to know the students can help. Every class will be different and we will hopefully learn as we go how to create this comfort zone for our students.