What is the difference between argumentation and explanation?

There are a lot of misunderstandings around when it comes to the Science and Engineering Practices, and the concept of argumentation definitely has its fair share.  At the middle and high school levels, the practice of Engaging In Argument From Evidence involves evaluating and critiquing arguments, evaluating the evidence and reasoning behind those arguments, and constructing their own arguments based on evidence and reasoning. But how is this skill different than constructing an explanation? What separates an argument from an explanation?

It truly is a challenge when working with this practice to help students differentiate between explanation and argumentation.  In fact, many teachers and administrators struggle with this difference themselves, and many professional development resources and trainings do not in fact differentiate between the two.  While it may be easier to simply not distinguish one from the other, there are drawbacks to this approach, and ultimately, students will likely be expected to differentiate between the two as districts and states adopt NGSS-aligned curricula and assessments. 

 

So what is the difference?

First, explanations are constructed from models or representations and are often focused on finding the “right answer.” According to scientific philosopher Stephen Toulmin, the “goal of scientific explanation is to provide a causal account of events in the material world”  Accepted scientific explanations are established and supported by a wealth of evidence.  They have risen as superior to all other explanations, considering all information currently available.  When constructing explanations, the student’s task is to construct coherent explanations for phenomena that incorporate what is currently known and accepted in the field of science. 

Argumentation, which is the focus here, has a greater degree of uncertainty.  Students engage in argumentation to either clarify their own understandings or to persuade others who adhere to a different idea.  While argumentation may seek to find a “right answer,” that answer is more elusive and still up to interpretation.  Argumentation supports the type of open-ended investigations and explorations that can help students develop their conceptual understandings, and it is best used when applied to the “muddier” or unsettled elements of science.

 

Are you implementing the NGSS? Are you in desperate need of support? 

I have your solution. The Science Teacher Tribe Course + Community.  Through our professional development program, let us walk you through creating those cohesive units that tie your standards together, assessments that evaluate students on all three dimensions, and carefully crafted instruction that fosters student discovery of the content. End the course with a completely self-designed NGSS-aligned unit while earning a certificate of completion from iExploreScience!

If you’re not ready to enroll in our full professional development program, check out the free mini-course – Intro To The NGSS – to get a handle on the basics.  Discover what the NGSS REALLY looks like in the classroom – from changes to your content and instruction all the way down to your assessments. 

Science Teacher Tribe: Convenient and Comprehensive NGSS Professional Development

If you are anything like me, transitioning to the NGSS can be totally overwhelming.  Teaching is hard as it is – you’re busy keeping up with the “normal” lessons day to day and week to week, plus grading, meetings, IEPs, behavior management, so on and so forth. I get it. Who has the time or energy to figure out all that goes into these new standards and their impact on your curriculum, let alone what it means for your teaching!

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Imagine feeling confident that the curriculum you designed is actually aligned to the standards, that your units incorporate the three dimensions and engage your students in Science and Engineering Practices that matter. Imagine classes full of students who take ownership of their learning, who thrive on “figuring it out” and “puzzling through it” and come to learn the content through discovery.  Imagine days where you DON’T have to stand in front of the class, battling for their attention, delivering boring lectures and notes, printing worksheet after worksheet, and wasting tons of time on review and reteaching — only to have your students fail to perform anyway. Imagine learning that sticks, and engaging activities (that you may already be doing!) but that lead to true understanding.  It’s not magic, and it doesn’t necessarily come easy, but it IS possible.  

Learn more at the Science Teacher Tribe Course and Community.