Tag Archives: argumentation

High-Adventure Science project makes significant impact

With renewed attention to global environmental challenges, understanding how Earth’s systems work is essential to both thinking about those challenges and finding potential solutions. Teaching about human interactions with Earth systems requires that students apply relevant science concepts to these challenges. For example, students should understand the water cycle when exploring freshwater distribution, the atmospheric greenhouse effect when studying climate change, and nutrient cycling when investigating soil quality and food production. In the High-Adventure Science project, students have the opportunity to explore these and other Earth systems and discover how system components interact to produce emergent behaviors.

One promising way to engage students is to have them consider important unanswered questions that scientists around the world are actively exploring. In High-Adventure Science modules, students learn about the human impact on Earth’s systems. Students explore science that is relevant to their lives and engage in authentic science practices, such as making predictions and considering the variability and uncertainty associated with data and predictions based on the data.

High-Adventure Science, funded through a series of grants from the National Science Foundation, developed a plan for incorporating contemporary science into classrooms. The resulting curricula and dynamic computer models enable students to become thoughtful, scientifically literate citizens.

We developed six online curricular modules for middle and high school Earth and environmental science classes. The modules cover freshwater availability, land resource management, air quality, climate change, energy choices, and the search for exoplanets.

Five design principles guided the development of the modules:

  • Engage students in real-world frontier science
  • Use open-ended questions to frame each module
  • Have students interpret data collected by scientists
  • Immerse students in experimentation with dynamic computer models depicting complex Earth systems
  • Support students’ evidence-based scientific argumentation while considering sources of uncertainty

Our research focused on scientific argumentation with uncertainty and system dynamics thinking. Our analysis of several thousand students showed that students significantly improved their scientific argumentation ability after engaging with High-Adventure Science modules.

As part of the scientific argumentation research, we developed a taxonomy of students’ uncertainty attributions. This taxonomy is the first such attempt to characterize the developmental trajectory of secondary school students’ uncertainty attribution. The taxonomy represents the degree to which students understand the role of uncertainty in science, in particular the strengths and limitations of the evidence used in a scientific argument.

We also studied students’ system dynamics thinking to assess their understanding of complex systems and developed rubrics to categorize students’ written explanations into qualitatively different levels. This framework tracked students’ uses of stocks and flows when they explained causal mechanisms associated with complex systems.

We’re delighted that the six web-based modules are available at the National Geographic Society website as well as through the High-Adventure Science website.

Join the nearly 100,000 users of these research-based modules and bring the excitement of frontier science to your secondary Earth science or environmental science classroom!

Lights, camera, action: A video that introduces the NGSS practice of scientific argumentation

Following the recommendation to incorporate the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) science and engineering practices in their classrooms, schools across the country are looking for ways to integrate scientific argumentation into their curriculum. Since 2012 the High-Adventure Science project in collaboration with National Geographic Education has offered free online modules for Earth and space science topics—including climate change, freshwater availability, the future of energy sources, air quality, land management, and the search for life in the universe—that include multiple opportunities for students to engage in argument from evidence.

Over 67,000 teachers and students across the globe have used High-Adventure Science modules. Based on teacher feedback, classroom observations, and analysis of student data, we have learned that when students engage in argumentation from data and model-based evidence, they need a lot of support on how to write a convincing argument.

Last year, we added an introductory activity to each module where students learn about the component parts of a scientific argument before they are asked to write one. In this highly scaffolded task, students see written examples of a claim and explanation and learn about uncertainty in scientific data and how to express this uncertainty. In High-Adventure Science, argumentation takes a special form, including a multiple-choice structured claim, open-ended explanation, five-point Likert scale uncertainty rating, and uncertainty rationale.


In this introductory activity, students learn about the components of a good explanation.

Even with this new activity, some students still struggled, so we recently created an animated video to introduce the scientific practice of developing an argument. We start by helping students identify the difference between a scientific argument and so-called “arguments” they may have with their friends (e.g., arguing about favorite ice cream flavors!), and making the distinction between claims backed by evidence and opinion. The goal is to introduce students to scientific arguments in a fun and relatable way and to make the terminology and process of scientific argumentation less daunting.

We’re piloting the video in our Will there be enough fresh water? module for select students. We’re looking forward to student and teacher feedback and may revise the video based on their comments. We want everyone to be able to engage in the critical practice of arguing from evidence.

We welcome your comments about our video, as well as your challenges and successes with incorporating the NGSS practice of engaging in argument from evidence.

STEM Resource Finder: Part III – How to Use Models in Your Classroom

There are over 100 standalone models available in our STEM Resource Finder, which you can assign to your students.

Consider the following ways you might use them in your classroom.

  • Project a model for the whole class to see. Explore data and phenomena. For instance:
    • Look at the patterns of earthquakes and volcano locations in the Seismic Explorer model. Why do you think earthquakes happen where they do?
    • Look at the difference in heat transfer between well and poorly insulated buildings in the Well and Poorly Insulated Houses model. What makes for a well-insulated building?
    • Have the students make predictions of what will happen when a variable changes.
      • What will happen to the level of water vapor in the atmosphere when you reduce the level of human emissions in the Climate Change model?
      • How do you expect tillage to affect the amount of topsoil in the Land Management model?
      • How does molecular mass affect diffusion speed? Use the Diffusion and Molecular Mass model to find out!

Screenshot of Diffusion and Molecular Mass model.

  • Challenge your students to create an outcome in small group work. For example, have your students simulate a balloon’s flight from ground level to high altitude with our What is Pressure? model. Where should they remove atoms to simulate the balloon’s ascent?
  • Embed the link to a model (use the model’s Share feature!) in a shared Google Doc along with a question or two for review, enrichment, or homework.

These are just a few examples of what you can do with our scores of models. How do you use our models in your classroom? Share your ideas here. And let us know if you have any questions.