To address this issue, recent literature has shifted toward a perspective that interprets students’ prior knowledge as consisting in
fine-grained conceptual resources, namely, the resources perspective (Hammer et al., 2005). Conceptual resources are explained as
already existing in students’ cognitions and are activated based on
students’ intuitive perceptions in the specific context within which
they are situated (diSessa, 1993; Elby, 2000; Hammer, 2004).
In light of this resources perspective, different implications emerge
for the POE strategy, potentially supporting students’ epistemic practices during an argumentation activity so that they are empowered to use
their own prior knowledge to construct new scientific knowledge. The
conceptions students articulate at the prediction stage can be described
as an incoherent constitution of activated conceptual resources based
on their perception of their situation. In the observation stage, students
encounter anomalous phenomena and gather new data that rebuts
their predictions, a situation encouraging them to attend to other
aspects of their context and to activate other resources. This experience
encourages students to evaluate the arguments they made at the prediction stage and to adjust their activation and reconstruct coherent
arguments at the explanation stage, so that they can make sense of their
observations. From this resources perspective, the POE strategy is reinterpreted as an approach that recognizes students as capable of actively
adjusting the activation of their conceptual resources to construct new
scientific knowledge. Thus, we employed the POE strategy in designing our argumentation activity, while modifying its epistemic features
in light of the resources perspective.
Principles for Designing Learning
Environments that Support Authentic
In authentic scientific argumentation, students engage in an activity
as members of a community within which scientific knowledge
claims are constructed and justified (Duschl & Osborne, 2002).
Several studies have contributed to the design of argumentation
activities that support this shift away from traditional learning environments (e.g., Engle & Conant, 2002; Jiménez-Aleixandre, 2007).
Engle and Conant (2002), for example, have suggested four main
aspects to consider in designing learning environments to model
authentic scientific inquiry: (a) problematize an intellectual problem
that encourages students’ engagement; (b) provide students with sufficient authority to address the scientific problem; (c) hold students
accountable to others and to disciplinary norms; and (d) provide students with relevant resources to use. Engle and Conant asserted that
these aspects would help create an environment in which students
are empowered to engage in disciplinary practices as agents who construct shared knowledge in a collaborative process.
Concerning the design of scientific argumentation activities specifically, Jiménez-Aleixandre (2007) proposed principles to support
the engagement of students in the practice of argumentation. She
indicated that each element of the classroom environment needed
to reflect epistemic aspects of the scientific community, supporting
students to develop arguments that offer valid strategies of justification. Based on this body of research, one key aspect of a learning
environment conductive to an authentic argumentation activity is
offering enough space for students to activate and share their resources, developing their reasoning to address intellectual problems.
This article presents an argumentation activity about the nervous
system, for biology classes, that provides the necessary context for
students to engage actively in the construction of arguments by
activating their conceptual resources. To support this form of
engagement, we applied the POE strategy in our design, facilitating
data gathering by students and subsequent construction of scientific arguments. We implemented this activity in classrooms to
investigate the practical outcomes in the classroom and explore
the validity of our design. In addition, we investigated other contextual aspects that served to bolster the students’ authentic engagement in the argumentation activity.
A biology teacher in a middle school participated in this research with
two classes of students. Each class was composed of 28 students who,
for this activity, formed small groups of four to five students.
Data Collection and Analysis
We introduced the argumentation activity, including its purpose and
design, to the teacher and provided worksheets (see Supplemental
Material) so that the teacher could adopt the activity in classes as a
way of supporting students’ engagement in the epistemic practices
of the scientific community. The activity was about nervous system
and neural pathways, asking students to discuss the order in which
they would feel vibrations (on the head, on the spine, or on the back
of the hand). We video-recorded the classroom discussions both in
the class as a whole and in the small groups, and then transcribed
the records. We also collected the students’ worksheets after the
activity, for further analysis.
We investigated the students’ answers to each claim, in both the
“prediction with justification” and the “explanation with justification”
stages, to explore the effect of the new data they gathered in the “
observation” stage. In addition, we inductively identified the potential conceptual resources that had been activated by analyzing the arguments
using a two-stage analysis of what students wrote on their worksheets.
First, to sort out the arguments constructed using scientific conceptual
resources, we analyzed how the claims were justified, based on the
framework proposed by Sandoval and Millwood (2008). There was
one case of illegible handwriting, and other cases where no justification
was provided on the worksheet (8 cases at the prediction stage and 6
cases at the explanation stage). The potential conceptual resources that
the students activated were then categorized inductively based on the
totality of the cases using an inductive approach (Miles & Huberman,
1994). We categorized them based on what kind of difference among
body locations the students used to justify why vibrations were perceived more or less rapidly in each location of the body (Table 1).
Second, we analyzed the cases that were justified in relation to
the structure of the nervous system to investigate how students
constructed justifications based on two criteria: (a) coherence:
whether the argument was justified with all data the students collected, without ignoring part of the data; and (b) rigor: whether
the students reviewed their ideas critically to construct a rigorous
argument. The arguments made at the prediction and explanation