an argument that all members of each small group agreed upon.
This request was intended to encourage students to propose ideas
and to evaluate them as they constructed a shared argument.
Through reaching a shared interpretation that would make sense
of their data, students would be enculturated into epistemic aspects
of the scientific community by engaging in the activity as contributors to the construction of valid arguments.
Finally, we offered materials and contexts that would elicit
resources to be used in the development of justifications. Specifically, the observation stage was designed for the students to gather
first-hand data. As the students conducted their data-gathering
task, we expected them to be stimulated by this context to activate
the diverse resources at their disposal. Also, because it is challenging for students to construct an argument and gather data simultaneously, and also because it is helpful to use both first-hand and
second-hand data in balance (Magnusson et al., 2004), we provided
additional second-hand data in the form of “evidence cards” (see
Supplemental Material) at the explanation stage. The contents of
the evidence cards were about the structure of the neural system
and neural pathways, offering material that was relevant to the
Students’ Learning Process in the
During this argumentation activity, students exhibited changes in
the way they constructed their arguments, specifically in the epistemic aspects of their discussion.
Prediction with Justification
Students were introduced to the vibration-sensing task and were
asked to predict the results and justify their predictions. They
wrote down the body parts in order, from the part they thought
would sense the vibrations most rapidly to the part that would
sense it most slowly, while constructing justifications for these predictions. Because students focused on different features of the phenomenon and therefore activated different conceptual resources to
justify their predictions (Table 1), they made diverse claims, as
shown in Table 2. Even when they activated the same resources,
the students’ justifications varied as some of them activated multiple resources or attended to varying features of the phenomenon.
Furthermore, although 28 students offered a scientifically rigorous
prediction, some of them did not construct a rigorous justification,
instead saying, for instance, “because the spine is covered with
bone” or “because hands are really sensitive.” The logical coherence
and rigor of the students’ arguments thus varied widely at this stage
of the activity (Table 3).
Instead of the teacher evaluating the arguments, the students were
encouraged to share their ideas with each other. At the prediction
stage, students focused on simply sharing arguments, revealing the
diversity of their conceptual resources (Table 4). At this point, they
did not attempt to negotiate the differences between their ideas. When
Student B provided refuting data (the presence of the skin on the
head) at the end of this discussion, no one responded. The discourse
showed the students’ limitations, at this stage, in constructing a valid
argument through evaluation and revision.
At the observation stage, the students gathered data through a
vibration-sensing task. Fifty-one students recorded that they felt
the vibrations on the back of their hands first, then on the spine,
and then on their heads. However, some students obtained different results (Table 2).
Since the task was designed to provide an opportunity for students to gather first-hand data that would refute their predictions,
the students had to deal with this anomalous data while maintaining
the coherence and rigor of their arguments. Data could be gathered
by students repeatedly, reducing the chance of results being considered as representing measurement error, a form of anomalous data
that students usually ignore (Magnusson et al., 2004). Therefore the
students were led to reflect on the validity of their justifications and
acknowledge the necessity of revising them.
Explanation with Justification
Unlike the students’ discourse at the observation stage, which was
mostly about the procedures for the task, in the explanation stage,
they focused on reconstructing a valid argument. Students would
propose various arguments, evaluating them based on whether
Table 2. The number of students using each claim
to construct an argument.
Number of students
Prediction stage Explanation stage
h-b-s 4 0
h-s-b 4 0
b-h-s 4 0
b-s-h* 28 46
s-h-b 4 4
s-b-h 11 5
1h = head, b = back of the hand, s = spine, = scientifically canonical claim.
Table 3. The number of arguments constructed in
the prediction and explanation stages based on the
potential conceptual resources about the structure
of nervous system, with or without coherence or
Number of arguments
6 (10.9 %) 39 (70.9 %)
Coherent but not
9 (16.4 %) 4 (7.3 %)
2 (3.6 %) 0 (0%)
20 (36.4 %) 6 (10.9 %)