Making sense of argumentation and explanation

Leema Kuhn Berland, Brian J. Reiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

343 Scopus citations


Constructing scientific explanations and participating in argumentative discourse are seen as essential practices of scientific inquiry (e.g., R. Driver, P. Newton, & J. Osborne, 2000). In this paper, we identify three goals of engaging in these related scientific practices: (1) sensemaking, (2) articulating, and (3) persuading. We propose using these goals to understand student engagement with these practices, and to design instructional interventions to support students. Thus, we use this framework as a lens to investigate the question: What successes and challenges do students face as they engage in the scientific practices of explanation and argumentation? We study this in the context of a curriculum that provides students and teachers with an instructional framework for constructing and defending scientific explanations. Through this analysis, we find that students consistently use evidence to make sense of phenomenon and articulate those understandings but they do not consistently attend to the third goal of persuading others of their understandings. Examining the third goal more closely reveals that persuading others of an understanding requires social interactions that are often inhibited by traditional classroom interactions. Thus, we conclude by proposing design strategies for addressing the social challenges inherent in the related scientific practices of explanation and argumentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-55
Number of pages30
JournalScience Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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