Developing Critical Evaluation as a Scientific Habit of Mind: Instructional Scaffolds for Secondary Earth and Space Sciences

This exploratory project develops and tests graphical scaffolds which facilitate high school students' coordination of connecting evidence with alternative explanations of particular phenomena, as well as their collaborative argumentation about these phenomena. At the same time, the project examines how high school students use these tools to construct scientifically accurate conceptions about major topics in Earth and space sciences and deepens their abilities to be critically evaluative in the process of scientific inquiry.

Full Description: 

This exploratory project develops and tests graphical scaffolds, called model-evidence link (MEL) activities, which facilitate high school students' coordination of connecting evidence with alternative explanations of particular Earth and space sciences phenomena, as well as their collaborative argumentation about these phenomena. At the same time, the project examines how high school students use these tools to construct scientifically accurate conceptions about major topics in Earth and space sciences and deepens their abilities to be critically evaluative in the process of scientific inquiry. The project's research questions are: (1) how does year-long instruction using MEL activities change high school students' critical evaluation abilities; (2) how does use of critical evaluation promote judgment reappraisals about Earth and space science topics with large plausibility gaps; and (3) to what extent does promotion of plausibility reappraisal lead to high school students' construction and reconstruction of scientifically accurate conceptions about fundamental concepts in Earth and space sciences? The project develops three MEL activities that focus on important topics in Earth and space sciences. The topics will be hydraulic fracturing, wetlands, and lunar origin. These MELs were selected because they align with major topical units in Earth and space science (i.e., geology, water resources, and astronomy, respectively).

The project develops effective instructional tools (the MEL activities to stimulate collaborative argumentation) designed to increase high school students' critical evaluation abilities that that are central for fully engaging in these scientific and engineering practices and constructing scientifically accurate understanding. Science topics require students to effectively evaluate connections with evidence and alternative explanations. The development of MEL activities that cover major Earth and space sciences topics will assist teachers in increasing their students' critical evaluation abilities. These tools are developed in geographically diverse settings, including one school district with a Hispanic majority, to gauge their effectiveness in helping all students. Furthermore, the design-based research methods employed in the proposed study are focused on developing tools that can be easily integrated into a variety of science curricula to supplement and reinforce scientific and engineering practices, rather than wholesale replacement. The ability to be critically evaluative is essential for developing a society that characteristically exhibits scientific habits of mind and is equipped to deal with future challenges in a way that is beneficial to our nation.