Beyond “They Cited the Text”: Middle School Students and Teachers’ Written Critiques of Scientific Conclusions

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Title 1 schools have high numbers or percentages of children from low-income families and based on this need, receive financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education for school wide programs that serve all the children in the school.

  2. 2.

    Many students did not return consent forms—either for this project or for others (e.g., field trips).

  3. 3.

    All names are pseudonyms.

  4. 4.

    For example, differences in writing skill may be associated with the writer’s primary language, the extent of difference between the native language and English, as well as the level of proficiency both in the native language and English.

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Appendix

Appendix

Sample Task (B)

Considering Claims and Evidence in Science

Mr. Tesser, a middle school science teacher, spent his summers learning about the environment. He was exploring a marsh where purple loosestrife, an exotic plant species, was growing (see picture). Each fall, he asks his students to write claims based on his observations (some of his observations are listed here).

figureaa
figureab

Rubric for Task (B) with Sample Student Responses

Level Definition Claim B1 Orchids die all the time, anyway Claim B2 Probably the greatest threat is to the fish Claim B3 Perhaps it should be removed from our wetlands Claim B4 You never know exactly what a plant will need
0 Ideas are not specific to the claim—would apply for any/all claims
OR
Misunderstands or misinterprets the claim
OR no evidence
OR no response
Yes because maybe the student looked at the picture and knew that about plants so he or she made a hypothesis. No the claim is not reasonable because the claim doesn’t really make sense. The claim is all over the place. This is reasonable because the loosestrife. The other plants can grow. The person wrote ‘stuff.’ What stuff is bad for plants? What makes it harder to grow?
1 Mentions a strength or weakness that is specific to the claim, but not necessarily relevant or correct.
OR
No evidence or only focuses on part of the evidence.
It is reasonable, because we can’t stop the cycle of life and either way it will die. No because all of the things that he put down that the fish eat are not true because those bugs are out of the water and fish can’t go out of the water.   Yes because maybe it needs everything because one of those plants might be a cure for cancer.
No because it does not talk about a specific plant.
2 Mentions a relevant, correct strength or weaknesses that is specific to the claim, but omits 1 or more relevant strength and/or weakness.
No evidence or only focuses on part of the evidence.
It is not because it doesn’t explain why the loosestrife has anything to do with the decline of the orchids. It is reasonable because fish do eat the insects. But if there is something blocking their way, they can’t eat therefore there are more insects It is reasonable because it could be affecting other plants. No because that might be the plant’s habitat because maybe it needs to live near a wetland.
3 Mentions a relevant, correct strength or weaknesses that is specific to the claim. When critiquing the claims, bases judgments on at least one of the following (a) causal connections between observations and the conclusion, (b) empirical consistency (c) logical consistency OR (d) scope The claim is not reasonable because the teacher doesn’t observe that orchids die all the time. The student just assumes orchids die all the time (empirical consistency)
This claim is not reasonable because it doesn’t say how or the cause of the orchids dying (causal connection).
Yes because it’s true where there is plant there will b bugs. But the less fish the more bugs.
The claim is not reasonable because Mr. T doesn’t see fish in the marsh (empirical consistency) he only talks about spiders and hopping bugs and there’s open water etc.
Yes because it states the problem what the purple loosestrife is doing and how to stop it so other plants can grow (logical consistency).
It should be removed (implied yes) because the purple loosestrife doesn’t leave open water for other plants (reasonable inference, based on empirical consistency).
The stuff is bad because the purple loosestrife attracts bugs and receives a lot of water. Not enough for the other plants. (empirical consistency)
No because it doesn’t talk about the orchid nor the purple loosestrife (scope). All this person said was it’s really bad and they can’t grow (weakness).

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De La Paz, S., Levin, D.M. Beyond “They Cited the Text”: Middle School Students and Teachers’ Written Critiques of Scientific Conclusions. Res Sci Educ 48, 1433–1459 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11165-016-9609-8

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Keywords

  • Argumentation
  • Argument
  • Written analysis
  • Middle school students
  • Teachers
  • Science education