How did you spend your Thursday night? Members of TISS Cohort 4 spent theirs playing with pendulums, those seemingly simple yet, in fact, complex contraptions made of a mass, a string, and a fixed support. The task for the evening: reflect on how argumentation could help our understanding of how pendulums work.
Before we could argue about pendulums, we had to first investigate how they work. Groups of teachers worked together in small groups to try to uncover which variable would cause the greatest change in the number of swings a pendulum made in 15 seconds. TISS coaches pre-made all the pendulums so that small groups of teachers could focus solely on the exploration of variables. Would adding more mass affect the swing? Changing the release angle of the pendulum? What about length of string? Every group in the room came to the same, surprising conclusion: string length dramatically affects the number of swings, while the other variables don’t have any measurable impact.
The tough part came next. “Why does string length affect the number of swings a pendulum makes?” we asked.Each group was tasked with making an argument poster that clearly:
- Stated an argument (or claim)
- Supported it with evidence, including (but not limited to) observations and collected data
- Included a drawing or diagram, if useful
Teachers presented their arguments in a round-robin format, with 2 group members remaining behind to present their posters, and the remaining members rotating around the room to hear the arguments of other groups. Argument cards gave presenters and listeners sentence starters that helped clarify and question the arguments and evidence before them. The result? Rich dialogue, difficult questions, and revised arguments about pendulums.
Our goal of the PD was to use argumentation to focus on the “why” rather than the “what”; in other words, to give participants a chance to do some collective meaning-making by presenting and questioning their varying interpretations of the data collected in the room about pendulums. We based our PD on “Swingers” from the 5th Grade FOSS curriculum to show how incorporating argumentation structures can add new depth to an otherwise highly-controlled investigation.
Have fun arguing (from evidence) in your classrooms!
Links to resources from the PD:
Additional resources for further reading:
- Cal Academy website about Foucault Pendulums
- NSTA article “Argumentation in Science Education“
- NSTA article “Turn Your Classroom Into a Courtroom“