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Professional Development Center for Educators

Next Generation Science Standards in Focus

Engaging in Argumentation as a Scientific Practice

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) outline eight practices deemed essential to students’ learning in science and engineering. Engaging students in these practices supports their learning of core ideas and crosscutting concepts that span both disciplines.

Rather than leading students to believe there is only one universal scientific method to making discoveries or extending our knowledge in science and engineering, the writers of the NGSS intentionally framed a set of flexible, applicable practices that mirrors the work of scientists and engineers.

According to the NGSS, students should be able to:

  • Develop an argument that includes claims, evidence (data), and reasoning based on accepted concepts, theories and laws;
  • Identify weaknesses in their own and others’ arguments, and modify and improve an argument based on response to criticism;
  • Consider the plausibility of counterarguments and evaluate the evidence supporting them;
  • Explain how new discoveries are judged by the scientific community, specifically through peer review and independent replication of investigations; and
  • Read critically media reports of science and technology in order to identify the strengths and weakness of claims.

When scientists make new discoveries, they use evidence, reasoning and argument to support their interpretations and claims about phenomena (see Figure 1). Engineers rely on reasoning and argument to identify the most effective solutions to a problem.

Scientists must consider the strength and relevance of their evidence and the extent to which their interpretations are consistent with accepted theories and laws. Engineers use cost-benefit analysis, risk analysis, aesthetic considerations or marketability projections to justify why one design is better than another. While a scientific explanation should be supported by evidence, it does not necessarily include a justification, as an argument does.

It is critical that this distinction be made clear to students.


Figure 1. A framework for argumentation in science and engineering.

Engaging in argumentation and critiquing an argument are not natural skills for most students. Teachers can support the formation of effectively evaluating arguments by providing well-structured rubrics.

It is important for teachers to explicitly explain the framework for argumentation and modeling the construction of an argument. Students will need support in critiquing their own arguments, and those of their peers’, in order to be exposed to a range of ideas. Once students receive feedback from their peers and/or the teacher, it important that they have time to revise or enhance their argument.

The ability to engage in argumentation becomes more sophisticated over a learner’s lifetime. Young students can begin constructing an argument for data they collect in simple investigations. As they mature, students can draw on a wider range of reasoning to produce more complex arguments, and consider counterarguments to evaluate alternative explanations and solutions.

By promoting a culture of collaboration in the classroom, teachers can foster the appropriate classroom climate essential for argumentation—where cooperative problem solving, risk-taking and persistence in learning is expected from everyone.

Amy Trauth-Nare, Ph.D.
Associate Director, PDCE

200 Academy Street · University of Delaware · Newark, DE 19716
Phone: 302-831-1279
Fax: 302-831-2708
E-mail: PDCE-CEHD@udel.edu