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Role-play as a means to practice students’ argumentation skills on socioscientific issues
Karlstad University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (starting 2013), Department of Geography, Media and Communication. (SMEER)ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4306-8278
2014 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

 

Role-play as a means to practice students’ argumentation skills on SSI

Introduction

A democracy is dependent on well-informed citizens capable of understanding and taking part in societal issues. It is important from a societal as well as at the individual perspective, that people understand questions including for example global environmental matters, health concerns and personal ethical dilemmas.  Hence, it has been recognized in research that it is essential for students to develop argumentation skills to be able to participate in debates about controversial SSI (socioscientific issues) (Kolstö, 2000). The language is fundamental in learning science, both in being able to argue as well as being able to understand the science content. A central aspect of learning science is to learn the language of science and therefore it is crucial that science education provides possibilities for students to practice and develop their language skills (Lemke, 1990; Wellington & Osborne, 2001). Thus, language is important both for argumentation and learning science. However, in classrooms, teachers’ talk tends to be dominating (Mortimer & Scott, 2003). A shift must be made in the verbal arena so that the students are the ones doing most of the talk. Thus, a challenge in science education is to construct meaningful and motivating practices to supporting this development. Role-play debate concerning SSI has previously been investigated in research (e.g. Simonneaux, 2001). Jimenez-Aleixandre et. al. (2000) found that students constructing arguments about genetics focused on making detailed claims without being able to justify them. In this study we investigate a role-plays potential to promote students’ abilities to argue about SSI. The study was guided by the questions 1) How are the students arguments constructed concerning content? 2) To what extent do the participating students put forward arguments during the role-play?

Methodology

A group of eight students in grade nine, which is the last year of compulsory school in Sweden, participated in a role-play debate. This was the last activity in a series of lessons with the purpose of enhance a high degree of communication in form of dialogues and discussions. The focus of the teaching sequence was on basic genetics usually dealt with in Swedish lower secondary school. The role-play concerned gene technology and whether GMO (genetically modified organisms) should be allowed or not. The students were given different characters representing a variety of views on the GMO issue to play. The roles were handed out in advance and the participants were encouraged to find arguments based on scientific knowledge to be able to argue from facts. The role-play debate was moderated by one of the authors. The moderator made sure that all students initially got to present themselves (their given characters) and to briefly present their standpoint. The role-play debate was video- and audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. The analyses focus on the content that the student use in their justifications when supporting their standpoints. We also analyzed how the time of talk was distributed between the participants.

Findings

The recording of the role-play debate was 48 minutes of length in total. After a short introduction, the students started to discuss the issue. Our analysis show that 82% of the time was devoted to students’ argumentation. The moderator hade a rather passive role, only making sure that the debate carried on in an orderly manner. The students’ arguments were focused on the GMO issue during the whole sequence. Concerning the content of the arguments, our analysis revealed three main themes that the students were referring to. These were 1) values (principles, ethics, beliefs etc.), 2) effects (examples and scenarios of consequences of GMO) and 3) solutions (suggestions and opinions about actions needed). Of these three themes, the effect theme was dominating the discussions. Within the themes, we found different categories of the content on which the arguments were based. For example, arguments about possible effects of GMO included a great variety of content concerning ecosystems, biodiversity, dispersion of GMO, effects on humans and animals, taste and quality of GMO-products etc. Since the discussion was mostly focused on the effects, most arguments were concerned with science. However, other aspects were included as well, for example small farmers struggle against large multinational companies, the growing gap between poor and rich and consequences for the world economy. The length of time as well as number of utterances made by the students differed to a great extent. Four of the students’ contributed to 85% of the talk. The number of utterances varied from 2-70. 

 Conclusions and implications

It has been argued in science education research that students should learn how to argue with a scientific content, which includes that students must have the opportunity to train the language of science. This study shows that a role-play where students are given different characters and time to prepare arguments in advance, do have the potential to make students argue with commitment and focus, using a variety of scientifically based arguments. Our findings shows that students to a great extent can, on the contrary to the findings of Jiménez-Aleixandre et al. (2000), support their standpoints using scientific data in their justifications. We also found that students refer to different themes including numerous different aspects, indicating a high quality of students’ arguments (Christenson & Chang Rundgren, accepted). However, the speech time was unequal distributed among the students due to that some of the participants took a passive role during the role-play. The problem of some students being quiet has also been recognized by Albe (2008). Hence, Some students might need more practice to be able to fully participate in debates. In addition, group construction and the role of the teacher are other important aspects that need to be considered in future research.

References

Albe, V. (2008). When scientific knowledge, daily life experience, epistemological and social considerations intersect: Students’ argumentation in group discussions on a socio-scientific issue. Research in Science Education, 38, 67-90.

Christenson, N. & Chang Rundgren, S-N. (accepted). A framework for teachers’ assessment of socioscientific argumentation: An example of the GMO issue. Journal of Biological Education.

Jiménez-Aleixandre, M. P., Rodriguez, A. B., & Duschl, R. A. (2000). “Doing the lesson” or “doing science”: argument in high school science. Science Education, 84, 757-792.

Kolstø, S. D. (2000). Consensus projects: teaching science for citizenship. International Journal of Science Education, 22(6), 645-664.

Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Cooperation.

Mortimer E. F., & Scott, P. (2003). Meaning making in secondary science classrooms. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Simonneaux, L. (2001). Role-play or debate to promote students’ argumentation and justification on an issue in animal transgenesis. International Journal of Science Education, 23(9), 903-927.

Wellington, J., & Osborne, J. (2001). Language and Literacy in science education. Buckingham: Open University Press. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014.
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-64376OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-64376DiVA, id: diva2:1145557
Conference
IOSTE 2014 (International Organisation for Science and Technology Education)
Available from: 2017-09-29 Created: 2017-09-29 Last updated: 2017-10-06Bibliographically approved

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