Research in Science Education

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 63–97 | Cite as

A Comparison of the Collaborative Scientific Argumentation Practices of Two High and Two Low Performing Groups



This qualitative study examines the interactions between individuals, ideas, and materials as two high and two low performing groups of students engaged in a process of collaborative scientific argumentation. To engage students in collaborative scientific argumentation the students were randomly assigned to small groups of three students each. Each triad was asked to critique six alternative explanations for a discrepant event and to produce a single written argument justifying the explanation they felt was most valid or acceptable. The two higher performing triads produced arguments that included a sufficient and accurate explanation that was well supported with appropriate evidence and reasoning while the two lower performing triads produced arguments that included an inaccurate explanation supported by inappropriate justification. A verbal analysis of the interactive processes that took place within these four triads identified five distinct differences in the ways these triads engaged in collaborative scientific argumentation that seemed to promote or constrain the development of high quality written arguments. These differences include (1) the number of unique ideas introduced into the conversation, (2) how individuals responded to these ideas, (3) how often individuals challenged ideas when discussing them, (4) the criteria individuals used to distinguish between ideas, and (5) how group members used the available corpus of data. The conclusions and implications of this study include recommendations for the design and revision of curriculum, the development of new instructional models and technology-enhanced learning environments, and areas for future research.


Argumentation Argument Chemistry Collaboration Verbal analysis 


  1. Abell, S. K., Anderson, G., & Chezem, J. (2000). Science as argument and explanation: Exploring concepts of sound in third grade. In J. Minstrell & E. H. Van Zee (Eds.), Inquiry into inquiry learning and teaching in science (pp. 100–119). Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science.Google Scholar
  2. Aikenhead, G. (2001). Student’s ease in crossing cultural borders into school. Science Education, 85, 180–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson, C. (2007). Perspectives on science learning. In S. K. Abell & N. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research in science education (pp. 3–30). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  4. Andriessen, J., Baker, M., & Suthers, D. (2003a). Argumentation, computer support, and the educational contexts of confronting cognitions. In J. Andriessen, M. Baker, & D. Suthers (Eds.), Arguing to learn: Confronting cognitions in computer-supported collaborative learning environments (pp. 1–25). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  5. Andriessen, J., Erkens, G., Van de Laak, C., Peters, N., & Coirier, P. (2003b). Argumentation as negotiation in electronic collaborative writing. In J. Andriessen, M. Baker, & D. Suthers (Eds.), Arguing to learn: Confronting cognitions in computer-supported collaborative learning environments (pp. 79–115). The Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  6. Barron, B. (2000). Achieving coordination in collaborative problem-solving groups. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(4), 403–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barron, B. (2003). When smart groups fail. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12(3), 307–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bell, P., & Linn, M. C. (2000). Scientific arguments as learning artifacts: designing for learning from the web with KIE. International Journal of Science Education, 22(8), 797–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boulter, C. J., & Gilbert, J. K. (1995). Argument and science education. In P. J. M. Costello & S. Mitchell (Eds.), Competing and consensual voices: The theory and practices of argument. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.Google Scholar
  10. Brown, B. A., & Ryoo, K. (2008). Teaching science as a language: a “content-first” approach to science teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(5), 529–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carey, S., Evans, R., Honda, M., Jay, E., & Unger, C. (1989). ‘An experiment is when you try it and see if it works’: a study of grade 7 students’ understanding of the construction of scientific knowledge. International Journal of Science Education, 11(Special Issue), 514–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carlsen, W. S. (2007). Language and science learning. In S. K. Abell & N. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education. Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  13. Cartier, J. L., & Stewart, J. (2000). Teaching the nature of inquiry: further developments in a high school genetics curriculum. Science and Education, 9(3), 247–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chi, M. T. (1997). Quantifying qualitative analyses of verbal data: a practical guide. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 60(3), 271–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clark, D. (2006). Longitudinal conceptual change in students’ understanding of thermal equilibrium: an examination of the process of conceptual restructuring. Cognition & Instruction, 24(4), 467–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clark, D., & Sampson, V. (2006a). Characteristics of students’ argumentation practices when supported by personally-seeded discussions. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, San Francisco, CA.Google Scholar
  17. Clark, D., & Sampson, V. (2006b). Personally-seeded discussions to scaffold online argumentation. International Journal of Science Education, 29(3), 253–277.Google Scholar
  18. Cohen, E. G. (1994). Restructuring the classroom: conditions for productive small groups. Review of Educational Research, 64, 1–35.Google Scholar
  19. deVries, E., Lund, K., & Baker, M. (2002). Computer-mediated epistemic dialogue: explanation and argumentation as vehicles for understanding scientific notions. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 11(1), 63–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Donovan, M. S., & Bransford, J. (Eds). (2005). How students learn: Science in the classroom. Washington: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  21. Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, J., Mortimer, E., & Scott, P. (1994). Constructing scientific knowledge in the classroom. Educational Researcher, 23, 5–12.Google Scholar
  22. Driver, R., Newton, P., & Osborne, J. (2000). Establishing the norms of scientific argumentation in classrooms. Science Education, 84(3), 287–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Duschl, R. (2007). Quality argumentation and epistemic criteria. In S. Erduran & M. Jimenez-Aleixandre (Eds.), Argumentation in science education: Perspectives from classroom-based research (pp. 159–175). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  24. Duschl, R. A., & Osborne, J. (2002). Supporting and promoting argumentation discourse in science education. Studies in Science Education, 38, 39–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Eichinger, D., Anderson, C. W., Palincsar, A. S., & David, Y. M. (1991). An illustration of the roles of content knowledge, scientific argument, and social norm in collaborative problem solving. Paper presented at the Annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, April, 1991, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  26. Eisenberg, A., & Garvey, C. (1981). Children’s use of verbal strategies in resolving conflict. Discourse Processes, 4, 149–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Erduran, S., Osborne, J., & Simon, S. (2004a). The role of argument in developing scientific literacy. In K. Boersma, O. deJong, H. Eijkelhof, & M. Goedhart (Eds.), Research and the quality of science education. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  28. Erduran, S., Simon, S., & Osborne, J. (2004b). TAPping into argumentation: developments in the application of Toulmin’s argument pattern for studying science discourse. Science Education, 88, 915–933.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gee, J. (1999). An introduction to language analysis: Theory and method. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Hatano, G., & Inagaki, K. (1991). Sharing cognition through collective comprehension activity. In L. B. Resnick, J. M. Levine, & S. D. Teasley (Eds.), Perspective on socially shared cognition (pp. 331–348). Washington: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hogan, K. (2000). Exploring a process view of students’ knowledge about the nature of science. Science Education, 84, 51–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hogan, K., & Maglienti, M. (2001). Comparing the epistemological underpinnings of students’ and scientists’ reasoning about conclusions. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(6), 663–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hogan, K., Nastasi, B., & Pressley, M. (2000). Discourse patterns and collaborative scientific reasoning in peer and teacher-guided discussions. Cognition and Instruction, 17(4), 379–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hunt, E., & Minstrell, J. (1994). A cognitive approach to the teaching of physics. In K. McGilly (Ed.), Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom practice (pp. 51–74). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  35. Jimenez-Aleixandre, M., Rodriguez, M., & Duschl, R. A. (2000). ‘Doing the lesson’ or ‘doing science’: argument in high school genetics. Science Education, 84(6), 757–792.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kelly, G. J., & Chen, C. (1999). The sound of music: constructing science as a sociocultural practice through oral and written discourse. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36(8), 883–915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kelly, G. J., Druker, S., & Chen, C. (1998). Students’ reasoning about electricity: combining performance assessments with argumentation analysis. International Journal of Science Education, 20(7), 849–871.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kuhn, D. (1989). Children and adults as intuitive scientists. Psychological Review, 96(4), 674–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kuhn, D. (1993). Science as argument: implications for teaching and learning scientific thinking. Science Education, 77(3), 319–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kuhn, L., & Reiser, B. (2005). Students constructing and defending evidence-based scientific explanations. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, Dallas, TX.Google Scholar
  41. Kuhn, L., & Reiser, B. (2006). Structuring activities to foster argumentative discourse. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.Google Scholar
  42. Kuhn, D., & Udell, W. (2003). The development of argument skills. Child Development, 74(5), 1245–1260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lawson, A. (2003). The nature and development of hypothetico-predictive argumentation with implications for science teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 25(11), 1387–1408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lemke, J. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Norwood: Ablex.Google Scholar
  45. Linn, M. C., & Eylon, B.-S. (2006). Science Education: Integrating views of learning and instruction. In P. Alexander & P. H. Winne (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (pp. 511–544). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  46. Lizotte, D. J., McNeill, K. L., & Krajcik, J. (2004). Teacher practices that support students’ construction of scientific explanations in middle school classrooms. In Y. Kafai, W. Sandoval, N. Enyedy, A. Nixon, & F. Herrera (Eds.), Proceedings of the 6th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (pp. 310–317). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  47. Mason, L. (2001). Introducing talk and writing for conceptual change: A classroom study. In L. Mason (Ed.), Instructional practices for conceptual change in science domains. Learning and Instruction, 11, 305–329.Google Scholar
  48. McNeill, K., & Krajcik, J. (2008). Scientific explanations: characterizing and evaluating the effects of teachers’ instructional practices on student learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(1), 53–78.Google Scholar
  49. McNeill, K. L., Lizotte, D. J., Krajcik, J., & Marx, R. W. (2006). Supporting students’ construction of scientific explanations by fading scaffolds in instructional materials. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(2), 153–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Minstrell, J. (2000). Student thinking and related assessment: Creating a facet-based learning environment. In N. Raju, J. Pellegrino, M. Bertenthal, K. Mitchell, & L. Jones (Eds.), Grading the nation’s report card: Research from the evaluation of NAEP. Washington: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  51. Newton, P., Driver, R., & Osborne, J. (1999). The place of argumentation in the pedagogy of school science. International Journal of Science Education, 21(5), 553–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Ohlsson, S. (1992). The cognitive skill of theory articulation: a neglected aspect of science education? Science & Education, 1, 181–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Osborne, J., Erduran, S., & Simon, S. (2004). Enhancing the quality of argumentation in science classrooms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(10), 994–1020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Passmore, C., & Stewart, J. (2002). A modeling approach to teaching evolutionary biology in high schools. Journal of Research in Science teaching, 39(3), 185–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Perkins, D. N., Farady, M., & Bushy, B. (1991). Everyday reasoning and the roots of intelligence. In J. F. Voss, D. N. Perkins, & J. W. Segal (Eds.), Informal reasoning and education. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  56. Richmond, G., & Striley, J. (1996). Making meaning in the classroom: social processes in small-group discourse and scientific knowledge building. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 33(8), 839–858.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rochelle, J. (1992). Learning by collaborating: convergent conceptual change. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2, 235–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Roth, K. J., Druker, S. L., Garnier, H., Lemmens, M., Chen, C., Kawanaka, T., et al. (2006). Teaching science in five countries: Results from the TIMSS 1999 video study. Washington: National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  59. Sadler, T. (2004). Informal reasoning regarding socioscientific issues: a critical review of the research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(5), 513–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sadler, T., Barab, S., & Scott, B. (2007). What do students gain by engaging in socioscientific inquiry. Research in Science Education, 37, 371–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sampson, V., & Clark, D. (2009). The effect of collaboration on the outcomes of argumentation. Science Education, 93(3), 448–484.Google Scholar
  62. Sandoval, W. A. (2003). Conceptual and epistemic aspects of students’ scientific explanations. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12(1), 5–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sandoval, W. A., & Millwood, K. (2005). The quality of students’ use of evidence in written scientific explanations. Cognition and Instruction, 23(1), 23–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sandoval, W. A., & Reiser, B. J. (2004). Explanation driven inquiry: integrating conceptual and epistemic scaffolds for scientific inquiry. Science Education, 88(3), 345–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Schwarz, B., & Glassner, A. (2003). The blind and the paralytic: Supporting argumentation in everyday and scientific issues. In J. Andriessen, M. Baker, & D. Suthers (Eds.), Arguing to learn: Confronting cognitions in computer-supported collaborative learning environments (pp. 227–260). The Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  66. Scott, P. H., Asoko, H., & Leach, J. (2007). Students conceptions and conceptual learning in science. In S. K. Abell & N. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research in science education (pp. 31–56). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  67. Siegel, H. (1995). Why should educators care about argumentation? Informal Logic, 17(2), 159–176.Google Scholar
  68. Southerland, S., Kittleson, J., Settlage, J., & Lanier, K. (2005). Individual and group meaning-making in an urban third grade classroom: red fog, cold cans, and seeping vapor. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(9), 1032–1061.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stein, N. L., & Bernas, R. (1999). The early emergence of argumentative knowledge and skill. In G. Rijlaarsdam, E. Esperet, J. Andriessen, & P. Coirier (Eds.), Studies in writing: Vol 5. Foundations of argumentative text processing. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.Google Scholar
  70. Stein, N. L., & Miller, C. (1991). I win... you lose: The development of argumentative thinking. In J. F. Voss, D. N. Perkins, & J. W. Segal (Eds.), Informal reasoning and instruction. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  71. Stewart, J., Cartier, J. L., & Passmore, C. (2005). Developing understanding through model-based inquiry. In S. Donovan & J. D. Bransford (Eds.), How students learn science in the classroom. Washington: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  72. Suthers, D., & Hundhausen, C. (2001). Learning by constructing collaborative representations: An empirical comparison of three alternatives. In P. Dillenbourg, A. Eurelings, & K. Hakkarainen (Eds.), European perspectives on computer-supported collaborative learning (pp. 577–592). Maastricht: University of Maastricht.Google Scholar
  73. Toulmin, S. (1958). The uses of argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  74. van Eemeren, F., Grootendorst, R., & Henkemans, A. F. (2002). Argumentation: Analysis, evaluation, presentation. Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  75. Veerman, A. (2003). Constructive discussions through electronic dialogue. In J. Andriessen, M. Baker, & D. Suthers (Eds.), Arguing to learn: Confronting cognitions in computer-supported collaborative learning environments (pp. 117–143). The Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  76. Vellom, R. P., & Anderson, C. W. (1999). Reasoning about data in middle school science. Journal of Research in Science teaching, 36(2), 179–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Webb, N., & Palincsar, A. (1996). Group processes in the classroom. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of educational psychology (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillian.Google Scholar
  78. Zohar, A., & Nemet, F. (2002). Fostering students’ knowledge and argumentation skills through dilemmas in human genetics. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(1), 35–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Teacher EducationThe Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations