Tools to Foster Critical Thinking and Argumentation

Amy Pallant, Sarah Pryputniewicz, and Hee-Sun Lee describe the High-Adventure Science investigations in the March issue of The Science Teacher. The investigations stimulate students to think critically in order to explore the evidence and discuss the issues of certainty with the models and data. High-Adventure Science has obtained impressive learning results where students showed significant improvement in their understanding of science content and argumentation skills.

“Exploring the Unknown: Fostering critical thinking in Earth and space science” begins:

Ask your students a question that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer, and what happens? Usually, silence. Not even your most eager pupils raise a hand. Why? Students are conditioned, especially in science, to come up with a definitive answer. Plug force and acceleration into Newton’s second law, and you’ll get mass. But what if you ask: “What will Earth’s average temperature be in 2100?” No one equation will provide the answer.

Scientists get excited about what they don’t know. They regard questions without answers as great unsolved mysteries. They look critically at data and evidence, make observations, formulate ideas, and ask new questions. Can we generate similar enthusiasm among students, encouraging them to think critically about the data and evidence and arrive at answers even when 100% certainty isn’t possible?

If you’re an NSTA member, read “Exploring the Unknown: Fostering critical thinking in Earth and space science