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Students' Inquiry and Argumentation About Carbon Transforming Processes


"Inquiry and argumentation are important student practices for science learning. We define inquiry as students taking observations, pattern-finding and developing a model that explains how the world works. We define argumentation as supporting or refuting a claim using evidence connected to reasoning using scientific principles. We describe two types of scientific arguments: pattern-based arguments and model-based arguments. This paper describes our progress toward developing a learning progression for inquiry and argumentation in a specific context: transformations of matter and energy in carbon-transforming processes.

Using empirical data from student interviews and a grounded approach, we describe four different student approaches to inquiry and argumentation: Scientific Inquiry, Naïve Inquiry, Naïve Engineering and School Science Inquiry. While 'Scientific Inquiry' is our goal for environmentally literate students, many of the students we interviewed had approached to inquiry and argumentation that varied from this goal. We describe ways that these alternative approaches vary from 'Scientific Inquiry' due to student's perceived purpose of the investigation. For both pattern-based arguments and model-based arguments, instead of noticing or managing uncertainty ('Scientific Inquiry') students were trying to find the cause of an event ('Naïve Inquiry'), trying find the winner or best approach ('Naïve Engineering' or trying to replicate the right answer ('School Science Inquiry'). When doing pattern-based arguments, students included patterns in overall experience and not just in the data provided ('Naïve Inquiry'), considered central tendency only ('Naïve Engineering') and engaged in confirmation bias ('School Science Inquiry'). In model-based arguments, students substituted claims about tracing matter and weight data as evidence with alternative claims and evidence.

We have defined our goal for environmentally literate students and have identified three alternative student strategies, but have not yet developed a full learning progression for inquiry and argumentation about carbon-transforming processes, because as yet, we have not found these student practices to be hierarchical. We conclude with some thoughts about implications for teaching and curriculum development around the idea that these alternative conceptions of the purpose of the investigation could be related to the way that inquiry is conducted in the classroom and how our framework connects with studies of teacher practice."