Helping youth succeed in science – Part 8: Engaging in argument from evidence

Help youth move from “learning” to applying new knowledge.

In 2011, the National Research Council released a report, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education.” Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H are working to increase science literacy through the inclusion of the Scientific and Engineering Practices described in the framework – and you can too!

The Scientific and Engineering Practices outlines eight simple but powerful practices about how to engage youth in science and engineering to increase STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) literacy. The practices are:

  1. Asking questions (science) and defining problems (engineering).
  2. Developing and using models.
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations.
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data.
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking.
  6. Constructing explanations and designing solutions.
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence.
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information.

Engaging in argument from evidence is a vital step in helping youth move from “learning” to applying new knowledge. When youth can apply new knowledge, they have a much deeper understanding of what they have learned. Thinking of new ways to use the information helps to demonstrate that understanding. Our role is to help youth develop skills that result in youth-driven conversations including evidence, using reasoning that links the evidence to their claim and to critique competing arguments during which youth build on and question each others’ ideas.

You can help youth engage in argument from evidence in numerous ways. One way is to initiate a conversation with youth and have them tell you something they learned during their project or in the past year. A youth raising egg-laying chickens might make a statement or claim like, “I learned green chicken eggs are smaller than brown chicken eggs.” You could respond to this statement with a question like, “How do you know that?”

We are trying to help youth learn to reply by citing some evidence, formal or informal. They may have weighed and measured eggs over a period of time collecting formal data or they may informally just think back over time and realize the green eggs always seemed smaller than the brown. Once the youth present their evidence, you can follow up with a question that requires them to explain their reason. How do their observations or measurements support their statement? What is the reason they selected that particular data as evidence for their statement?

Another way to help youth engage in argument from evidence is to set up a debate role play. Provide the youth with an article about an issue with multiple sides. Allow the youth time to read and think about the initial article, then have them choose a side they’d like to argue. Provide either additional informational articles from each point of view or allow youth time to explore the issue independently.

Another means of engaging in argument from evidence is for you to make an erroneous statement about an issue or topic youth have knowledge about and argue it with them. This can be a less formal debate-style conversation. This can be as simple as holding up an orange and asking the youth if they like your beautiful red apple. Youth know it is not an apple, but need to put together the evidence to convince you they are correct. With this type of statement, they have two avenues for argument: the color and the characteristics of an apple and an orange. Try to encourage the youth to think with more difficult questions. What if you had an apple that was the color orange? What besides color distinguishes apples and oranges?

However you choose to engage in argument from evidence, the resulting experience will help youth build the skills they need to evaluate the validity of information they hear, read or discover. Youth who can engage in argument from evidence develop the skills to critique and build on others’ ideas, making the youth an integral and valuable part of any team. This skill is helpful in areas far beyond science, such as listening to political candidate claims, assessing commercial advertisements for products or making decisions about their future career.

This article is part of a series that will explore a variety of ways you can help youth engage in Scientific and Engineering Practices. Although the series will address individual practices, it is important to remember that as a whole they increase STEM literacy. Like science itself, the individual practices do not function in a vacuum, but are intertwined with STEM exploration. To learn more about the Scientific and Engineering Practices, you can download a free copy of “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” or Appendix F of the Next Generation Science Standards.

To learn more about helping youth succeed in science, read the other articles in this series (listed below) and explore MSU Extension’s Science and Engineering webpage.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office. To learn more about 4-H and Extension opportunities in Alcona County, stop by our Harrisville office at 320 S. US-23 or visit our Alcona County MSU Extension Facebook page.

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