Integrating argumentation in physics inquiry

A design and evaluation study

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This small-scale, qualitative study uses educational design research to explore how focusing on argumentation may contribute to students’ learning to engage in inquiry independently. Understanding inquiry as the construction of a scientifically cogent argument in support of a claim may encourage students to develop personal reasons for adhering to scientific criteria and to use these with understanding rather than by rote. An understanding of the characteristics of scientific evidence may clarify why doing inquiry in specific ways is important, in addition to the how. On the basis of five design principles—derived from literature—that integrate argumentation in inquiry and enhance learning through practical activities, we developed a teaching-learning sequence of five activities aimed at developing inquiry knowledge in lower secondary school students. By means of observations of a grade 9 physics class (N=23, aged 14–15), students’ answers to worksheets, and self-reflection questions, we explored whether the design principles resulted in the intended students’ actions and attitudes. We studied whether the activities stimulated students to engage in argumentation and to develop the targeted inquiry knowledge. The focus on argumentation, specifically through critical evaluation of the quality of evidence, persuaded students to evaluate whether what they thought, said, or claimed was “scientifically” justifiable and convincing. They gradually uncovered key characteristics of scientific evidence, understandings of what counts as convincing in science, and why. Rather than adopting and practicing the traditional inquiry skills, students in these activities developed a cognitive need and readiness for learning such skills. Of their own accord, they used their gained insights to make deliberate decisions about collecting reliable and valid data and substantiating the reliability of their claims. This study contributes to our understanding of how to enable students to successfully engage in inquiry by extending the theoretical framework for argumentation toward teaching inquiry and by developing a tested educational approach derived from it.