Practice Brief 1 -- Topics: Practices

Is it important to distinguish between the explanation and argumentation practices in the classroom?

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Why It Matters To You

Teachers should help students understand how scientific knowledge is produced through explanation and argumentation.

District staff and PD providers should emphasize the distinction between explanation and argumentation in PD and provide instructional supports and models of each to teachers.

School leaders should learn to recognize what it looks like for student to learn science through argumentation and explanation.

What is the Issue?

The vision laid out in the NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education asks learners to engage in the science practice of ‘constructing explanations’ and also in ‘argument from evidence’ (along with six other practices). But, some curricula and PD resources don’t make this distinction. They integrate argumentation into explanation and say that it isn’t important for students to understand the difference. Does it matter in the classroom?



Reflection Questions

  • Where does the explanation or argumentation practice already show up in your teaching— perhaps persuasive writing or debate? Do they?
  • What might be confusing to students as you help them understand the difference between argumentation and explanation?
  • How does the difference between argumentation and explanation show up in other subjects (e.g., history, language arts)?

Things to Consider

"Where the goal of scientific explanation is to provide a causal account of events in the material world, argument seeks to use data and warrants to justify belief."

—Stephen Toulmin, philosopher

Attending to Equity

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