The NGSS Classroom: SDSP Tackles Argumentation in Secondary Science

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(Photo by Melanie Villanueva, @MrsVchemistry)

If you were asked, “Is climate change actually occurring?” would you base your answer on what you believe, or are you able to back your answer with evidence to support your claim?

In science, the practice of argumentation – making a claim, providing evidence, and offering strong reasoning to support the claim – is a building block of scientific knowledge and a critical skill for science investigation. For K-12 science teachers, argumentation is a powerful method of engaging students in deeper science learning. This summer, a group of enthusiastic Sweetwater Union High School District middle and high school science teachers are learning the nuts and bolts of how to integrate Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) scientific argumentation into their science instruction at a four-day workshop, “Exploring the Role of Argumentation in the Secondary Science Classroom.”

The workshop is offered by the San Diego Science Project (SDSP) housed within UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE). The series launched June 28-29, 2018 at the San Diego County Office of Education. Two follow-up sessions will be held in September and October.

According to Kathryn Schulz, director of the San Diego Science Project, “argumentation from evidence” is one of eight Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs) included in the NGSS. Argumentation is also included in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts and Literacy and CCSS-Mathematics Standards of Practice. As NGSS implementation spreads in area districts, teachers are eager to learn as much as they can about how to fully implement NGSS SEPs into their instruction.

“As districts continue to move towards full integration of the NGSS into their science programs, teachers must ensure students meet a range of NGSS performance expectations, including the ability to ‘engage in argument from evidence,’” Schulz said. “The San Diego Science Project is offering this professional development series on argumentation to local teachers to support NGSS implementation. Scientific argumentation is highly engaging and an effective approach for science learning but is often a complex practice to apply; it requires a mix of content knowledge, classroom management, instructional strategies and creativity.”

(Photo by Melanie Villanueva, @MrsVchemistry)

Melanie Villanueva, a chemistry teacher at Chula Vista High School in the Sweetwater Union High School District and self-described “NGSS enthusiast,” is facilitating the SDSP four-day workshop. Villanueva helped teachers examine their own understanding and beliefs about scientific argumentation and led them through an interactive balance of learning tasks to gain an understanding of the argumentation process in the classroom.

“Argumentation is an authentic way to engage students in building their knowledge of science,” Villanueva said. “Additionally, teachers must understand the need to create a safe classroom environment for students to make a claim and provide an argument for the claim, which may be disproved.”

Looking ahead, Schulz plans to recruit area science teachers for the San Diego Science Project Teacher Leader Program to help develop and implement K-12 NGSS professional development for local teachers. Schulz says she wants to build a cohort of teacher leaders from this workshop to help build professional development around argumentation at the elementary school level.

“For NGSS implementation to continue to happen, teacher leaders are key for sharing their expertise with their colleagues,” Schulz said. “The role of the San Diego Science Project is to identify and develop more teacher leaders to help implement the NGSS within schools and districts. NGSS requires three-dimensional, phenomena-based learning in the classroom. It’s crucial San Diego County has exemplary NGSS teacher leaders actively working together to understand what an NGSS classroom looks like,” she added.

Teachers expressed enthusiasm for the argumentation workshop via an SDSP post-workshop survey.

  • “This was phenomenal PD. There was talking time, think time, work time, listening time, analyzing time. It was incredibly engaging for two days straight.”
  • “Very open-minded and collaborative and FUN! I valued both days; it has acted as a springboard for my thinking and planning for the 2018-2019 school year.”
  • “Excellent. It was wonderful hearing about the experiences of the other teachers and schools. I think the organization and pacing were effective.”

About the San Diego Science Project

The San Diego Science Project (SDSP) is an educational partnership between UC San Diego (UCSD) and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO). SDSP provides high-quality professional development services to improve the teaching and learning of science in the greater San Diego County and Imperial County region. SDSP is a regional site of the California Science Project, one of the California Subject Matter Projects.

SDSP provides support to teachers, schools, and districts in understanding and implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) related to science and the technical subjects. Its goal is to improve student understanding of science by improving the teaching of science. The SDSP programs focus on improving both teacher learning of science content and pedagogical approaches necessary to effectively teach science to all students.

SDSP encourages teachers to reflect on their instructional practices, focus on student ideas, and collaborate with their peers to improve student learning. SDSP provides teachers with exemplary lessons, new ideas, and the classroom tools necessary to support student literacy in science. In fulfilling its mission, SDSP, UCSD, and SIO work closely with schools, school districts, science centers, county offices of education, community colleges, public and private organizations, and science educators to increase the quality of science instruction and student achievement.

For more information on the San Diego Science Project, contact SDSP Director Kathryn Schulz, visit the SDSP website and follow SDSP on Twitter: @UCSDSP.

The NGSS Classroom series features K-12 science and engineering events supported by CREATE and the CREATE Stem Success Initiative.