Research Paper On Science Education

The primary objective of this paper is to provide a review of argumentation studies in science education in manuscripts published from 1998 to 2014 in key science education research journals. In recent years, the teaching and learning argumentation (i.e. the coordination of evidence and theory to support or refute an explanatory conclusion, model or prediction) has emerged as a significant educational goal. Argumentation is a critically important discourse process in science and it should be taught and learned in the science classroom as part of scientific inquiry and literacy (Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre 2012; Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre 2007; Jimenez-Aleixandre et al. 2000; Kelly & Takao 2002; Zohar & Nemet 2002). Argumentation stresses the evidence-based justification of knowledge claims, and it underpins reasoning across STEM domains. Our aim in this study was to investigate how argumentation has been positioned within the publications of top academic journals: Science Education (SE), International Journal of Science Education (IJSE) and Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST). Our selection of these journals is consistent with other recent studies that have concentrated on journal content analysis in science education (e.g. Chang et al. 2010; Lee et al. 2009).

Content analysis of academic journals is an important aspect of educational research (Bowen 1992; Chang et al. 2010; Henson 2001). There are high-impact journals such as the Review of Educational Research ranked first in the Thompson Reuters Citation Reports that are dedicated to the analysis of research literature. Content analysis of journals provides researchers with insight into recent and emerging trends of key themes in the literature (e.g. Chang et al. 2010; Lee et al. 2009; Lin et al. 2014). Another significant aspect of journal content analysis is that it can provide evidence-based indicators for where more emphasis needs to be placed in research in order to understand how to improve the educational sector (Foreman-Peck & Winch 2010). In short, content analysis of journals can be useful in conceptualizing recent trends (e.g. Lee et al. 2009), forging new levels of interpretation of the literature (e.g. Anderson et al. 2006) and providing synthesis of ideas (e.g. Slavin et al. 2009).

Our focus in this review was on argumentation in science education. Argumentation was identified as an area of research in science education that has gained significant attention in recent years (Lee et al. 2009). Attention given to argumentation is apparent in the recent review by Lin et al. (2014) showing that the top 10 highly cited papers in 1998–2002 included papers on argumentation. The review also illustrated that a handful of the top 10 highly cited papers in 2003–2007 were concerned with argumentation, including those with a focus on informal reasoning (Lin et al. 2014). It was also reported that argumentation is in the list of the top 10 highly cited papers in 2008–2012, along with inquiry and scientific modelling. These review data support the claim that the argumentation was a significant topic of investigation and has received enduring attention from science educators for over a decade (Lee et al. 2009; Lin et al. 2014). Despite the increasing interest in argumentation in science education research, the precise nature of the trends in its coverage has not been previously documented in detail. Therefore, this study aimed to contribute to the understanding of the trends in the research literature through a content analysis of some key journals in the field.

Lin et al. (2014) indicated that in the past 15 years, argumentation, including informal reasoning, has been studied mostly in the context of various socio-scientific issues, suggesting that these three research topics were widely considered to be closely interrelated by science educators. Similarly, within science education, the notions of ‘epistemic practices’, and ‘discourse’ have been intricately linked to argumentation studies (Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre 2007).

On the other hand, Buty and Plantin (2008) point out that the established community working on argumentation studies does not tend to take into account the contributions of science education. Evidence for this lack of attention can be found in reference books, in the scarce presence of science education-related papers in journals such as Argumentation. In this paper, therefore, we focus on the argumentation studies in top science education journals in order to contribute to the understanding of the development of argumentation theory in science education in relation to their foundational grounding particularly in relation to the epistemic and linguistic aspects.

Theoretical framework

Argumentation can be described as a kind of discourse through which knowledge claims are individually and collaboratively constructed and evaluated in the light of empirical or theoretical evidence (Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre 2007). As a relatively unfamiliar strategy, argumentation needs to be appropriated by children and explicitly taught through suitable instruction, task structuring and modelling (e.g. Mason 1996). The teaching and learning of argumentation are based on premises that are consistent with the wider literature in science education, namely in framing science learning in terms of the appropriation of community practices that provide the structure, motivation and modes of communication required to sustain scientific discourse (Kelly & Chen 1999; Lemke 1990). From this perspective, argumentation is a significant tool that is instrumental in the growth of scientific knowledge (Kitcher 1988) as well as a vital component of scientific discourse (Pera 1994). The implication is that argumentation plays a central role in the building of explanations, models and theories (Siegel 1989) as scientists use arguments to relate the evidence they select to the claims they reach through use of warrants and backings (Toulmin 1958).

International curriculum and policy documents have been advocating the incorporation of argumentation in science education. Within Europe, the distinctive feature of argumentation is that it is framed in the development of the scientific competence. Jiménez-Aleixandre and Federico-Agraso (2009) illustrate this point through a discussion of the European Union recommendation of eight key competences (European Union 2006). In other parts of the world, for instance in the USA, argumentation is framed in the context of scientific practices (Berland & Reiser 2009). The recent development of the Next Generation Science Education Standards following on from the National Research Council’s recommendations (National Research Council 2012) is testimony to the articulation of argumentation as a significant component of scientific practices.

There are at least three theoretical bodies of research framing argumentation studies: (a) developmental psychology, including the distributed cognition perspective; (b) language sciences, for instance the theory of communicative action; and (c) science studies, for instance, drawing on history, philosophy and sociology of science. As Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre (2007) argued, rather than being a one-way relationship, argumentation studies and science education have the potential to inform these perspectives, leading to fruitful interactions. Likewise, we contend that within science education, the study of how argumentation studies have been informed by foundational perspectives is important in setting the scene for potential reciprocal interdisciplinary investigations of argumentation (Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre 2007) with contributions of science education research to other fields. For example, (a) the discussions about to what extent argumentation research in science education contributes to cognitive and metacognitive processes would inform the situated cognition perspective (Brown & Campione 1990); (b) the development of communicative competences and particularly critical thinking by means of argumentative science education would add to the theory of communicative action; (Habermas 1981); and (c) understanding the development of reasoning through argumentation in science education could extend our knowledge about teaching and learning philosophy of science (Giere 1988) as well as developmental psychology (Kuhn & Crowell 2011).

In this paper, we focus on the coverage of the epistemic and linguistic aspects of argumentation. Apart from the theoretical rationale as illustrated, reason for this choice is that argumentation is closely interrelated with these dimensions in international curriculum and assessment documents. For example, The PISA framework (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development 2006, p. 29) emphasizes three dimensions of the scientific competence characterized as the abilities to
  • Identify scientific issues and questions that could lend themselves to answers based on scientific evidence.

  • Explain or predict phenomena by applying appropriate knowledge of science.

  • Use scientific evidence to draw and communicate conclusions and to identify the assumptions, evidence and reasoning behind conclusions.

Among these aims, it is the third that can be identified as targeting the same practices as argumentation, namely the use of evidence to evaluate scientific claims, be it to draw conclusions from evidence or to identify the evidence behind conclusions. Though, certainly, the three dimensions are related.

In the USA, National Research Council (2012), p.49) outlines the key aspects of scientific practices as follows:
  1. 1.

    Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)


  2. 2.

    Developing and using models


  3. 3.

    Planning and carrying out investigations


  4. 4.

    Analysing and interpreting data


  5. 5.

    Using mathematics and computational thinking


  6. 6.

    Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)


  7. 7.

    Engaging in argument from evidence


  8. 8.

    Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information.


Argumentation is explicitly stated in Practice 7 (‘Engaging in argument from evidence’), and it is also implicitly covered in Practices 4 (‘Analyzing and interpreting data’) and 8 (‘Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information’). The general aims that integrate features of argumentation are focused on empowering students to talk and to write science as well as on supporting their enculturation into science communities and their acquisition of epistemic criteria for knowledge evaluation. These perspectives address the epistemic and linguistic aspects of argumentation.

Epistemic practices are the cognitive and discursive activities that are targeted in science education to develop epistemic understanding (e.g. Duschl 2008; Duschl & Grandy 2008). These practices include the articulation and evaluation of knowledge, coordination of theory and evidence, making sense of patterns in data, and holding claims accountable to evidence and criteria all aspects of scientific argumentation. The argumentation studies addressing the understanding of scientific epistemology resulted in the observation that students have to be in instructional contexts where they make explicit epistemic decisions to understand scientific practices (Sandoval & Millwood 2005). Sandoval and Millwood argued that to make the epistemic decisions explicit, pedagogical strategies such as constructing and evaluating arguments are needed. Similarly, Erduran & Jimenez-Aleixandre (2007) claimed that argumentation, involving the justification of claims through evidence, may support the development of scientific epistemology and understanding of the practices of the scientific community. The role of language, particularly the relation between ways of thinking and talking, has been prevalent across many areas of science education (and not only in argumentation) due to prevalence of socio-cultural theories of learning through the popularization of Lev Vygotsky’s work (e.g. Lemke 1990; Mortimer & Scott 2003).

In summary, our aim in this study was to investigate to what extent the argumentation research in science education utilized epistemic and linguistic perspectives in contribution to the development of argumentation theory in science education with the potential to influence the achievement of related goals in educational outcomes.

Science Education Journals

    Science Education Research Journals

    • Cultural Studies of Science Education - Examines science education as a cultural, cross-age, cross-class, and cross-disciplinary phenomenon. Springer.
    • Electronic Journal of Science Education - Published by Southwestern University.
    • International Journal of Environmental & Science Education - All aspects of environmental, science and technology education.
    • International Journal of Science Education -Research relevant to educational practice, guided by educational realities in systems, schools, colleges and universities.
    • Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching - Use of information technology in the teaching of mathematics and science.
    • Journal of Science Education and Technology -Publishes a broad range of papers covering theory and practice in order to facilitate future efforts of individuals and groups involved in the field.
    • Journal of Science Teacher Education - Association for Education of Teachers of Science
    • Research in Science & Technological Education - Psychological, sociological, economic and organisational aspects of science and technological education, as well as evaluation studies of curriculum development in these fields
    • Science Education - Iissues and trends occurring internationally in science curriculum, instruction, learning, policy and preparation of science teachers with the aim to advance our knowledge of science education theory and practice.
    • Science & Education - Research using historical, philosophical, and sociological approaches in order to improve teaching, learning, and curricula in science and mathematics.

    Science Education Research Journals Sponspored by Professional Societies

    Science Education Practice

    Biology Education

    Chemistry Education

    Physics Education

    Earth / Space Science Education

    Health Education

General Education Journals

International Journals


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