One of teachers’ favorite parts of Tyto Online is our Argument Builder, which we use both to help students engage in argument from evidence, and to construct explanations from evidence, two of the Science & Engineering Practices in the Next Generation Science Standards.
As a review, here is how our Argument Builder works: students have a discussion with a character in the game where they choose and defend a claim, such as if a plant is invasive. The character will ask them questions, and they will use evidence and reasoning connector words to work on persuading them.
Sometimes they are using this to explain a science phenomena they just observed (constructing explanations), while other times they are more focused on persuading a character to do something to say, fix a problem in a way the student thinks is best (engaging in argument from evidence).
In our professional development sessions, we explain that we see the Argument Builder as a scaffold itself, as the skills it provides should be built on to get students to the point where they are fully engaging in the middle school endpoints for these Science Practices. However, with these practices new to everyone, we are also hearing from some teachers that their students need supports to be able to even use our Argument Builder.
This blog post will therefore focus on supplements that can be used to scaffold your students to this point, and then grow their skills further as they develop their argumentation skills!
If your students aren’t sure what evidence supports various claims, you can take the learning out of the game for a bit to engage in an evidence card sort. Have students copy down the evidence from the game onto sticky notes or pieces of paper, and sort the evidence: does the evidence support Claim A, Claim B, or None/Irrelevant?
You will find this is harder than it sounds at first, and likely some evidence will need to be paired together to make sense in supporting a claim. For example, the population of the native plant going down is not sufficient to support the pineapple being invasive: it must be paired with the evidence that the pineapple population is also increasing.
You can do this as a whole class on the white board, or in pairs. We definitely encourage open scientific talk among your students, since this activity can be surprisingly difficult. For more information about how to do this type of activity, The Learning Design Group has some awesome resources and videos available here.
You could also sort into Supports the Claim, Might Support, or Does Not Support, or several other modifications of this type of activity.
Next, you need to make sure your students understand the reasoning behind how this evidence supports the claim.
We’re going to pull from The Learning Design Group again here, as they also have a suggested Reasoning Tool template that can help students begin developing an understanding of what reasoning is. You again just need three columns: “evidence”, “matters because”, and “therefore…”. Your students may fill in the “evidence” and “therefore” first, and then work to explain why it matters. Watch a video about using this tool here.
In Tyto Online, we use a connector word to help students make complete sentences that link the evidence in relevant ways. For example, two pieces of evidence explaining a line graph may be connected with “WHILE”, and something we observed to be causal may say “BECAUSE.” Often when students aren’t sure about an argument, simply reading it out loud as a sentence to them provokes responses and additional thoughts about if it made sense or not!
However, this connector word approach is just a start. Students need to expand their skills with tools like the Reasoning Tool (and more discussed below) to be fully engaging in reasoning, and we recommend expanding off the game with these types of activities sometimes to make sure they are exploring their reasoning more deeply.
Now your students are likely ready to engage in a full Claim-Evidence-Reasoning or similar model. Again, you can have your students copy down the Claim and Evidence from within Tyto Online, and then expand on it with additional reasoning in order to fully explain their arguments.
Here’s a template we made to help have your students take their in-game arguments and expand their reasoning: click to access it on Google Drive.
We have a similar template that has your students copy down their in-game arguments and then just provides a writing prompt, without the individual reasoning scaffolds. This would be especially useful in collaboration with your students’ ELA teacher for more cross-curricular participation as students learn about persuasive writing. Access it here on Google Drive.
There are many other ways you can expand your students’ use of the practices from this point, especially when working towards hitting all the goals of the 6-8 band practices within NGSS.
Within the context of the above activities, you can do expansions like having students compare and critique two arguments, such as the ones each of them wrote. Do they emphasize similar or different evidence, or interpret facts differently?
In many cases, you’ll want to have a broader set of evidence and reasoning than provided within our Argument Builder, in which case you may want to use the game experiences as an anchoring phenomena to further research outside of the game.
For example, you can have students dive into the role of cordyceps in controlling ant populations in the Amazon Rainforest after doing our related storyline, and work on developing more detailed explanations. Students can make new claims and arguments, and use practices to evaluate each others’ claims.
Another area for engagement here is engineering design solutions based on needs revealed based on the game’s storyline. For example, after learning about bioamplification with microplastics in that Ecology storyline, students could further explore solutions around filtering microplastics out of water. These motivating experiences will provide opportunity for more open-ended argumentation, so that students can then engage in additional activities, such as in this case for engineering solutions: