Prompted by an editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Absolute certainty is not scientific,” we wrote on this blog, “With the ongoing polarization of science in today’s political environment, it’s more important than ever to remember that science is filled with uncertainty.” That was 2011, and it is still just as true today.
At the time, we were developing a series of curriculum modules in Earth and space science for our National Science Foundation-funded project called High-Adventure Science based on the premise that such scientific uncertainty was exciting, an opportunity for adventure. The curriculum modules cover climate change, freshwater availability, the future of energy sources, air quality, land management, and the search for life in outer space. They include scaffolded activities with interactive computer-based systems models and real-world data that students use for evidence as they develop scientific arguments.
The big unanswered questions that frame each module are still not answered, but scientists continue to research and to collect data. So last year, we updated each of the High-Adventure Science curriculum modules with the most recent datasets from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Energy Information Administration.
And to help students learn to write scientific arguments, we also developed a video for an introductory activity in each High-Adventure Science module. The video starts by helping students identify the difference between a scientific argument and so-called “arguments” they may have with their friends (e.g., arguing about favorite ice cream flavors), then makes the distinction between claims backed by evidence and opinion. The goal is to introduce students to scientific arguments in a fun and relatable way and to make the terminology and process of scientific argumentation less daunting.
Based on many years of teacher feedback, classroom observations, and analysis of student data, we learned that when students engage in argumentation from data and model-based evidence, they need a lot of support. One teacher commented:
“The video is fantastic—it is clear, concise and student friendly. I like the way the narrator is using a science notebook to demonstrate the process. This video should be shared beyond HAS [High-Adventure Science]. Teachers who are not comfortable with argumentation as well as students who are new to the process need to see this.”
The science and engineering practices in the Next Generation Science Standards include “engaging in argument from evidence.” This video can help students learn about scientific argumentation.
You can find the video in each High-Adventure Science module, which scaffold students’ writing of scientific arguments, or you can use it as a standalone video on our YouTube site. The modules have been used by over 150,000 students. To learn more about the theory and research behind uncertainty-infused scientific argumentation, read Using Scientific Argumentation to Understand Human Impact on the Earth (pdf) in The Science Teacher.