The central motivation of scientists and engineers is to put forth what they believe is the best explanation for a natural phenomena or design solution, and to verify that representation through well-wrought arguments.
— Next Generation Science Standards (2013)
When forty state education boards came together to produce the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for K-12 education – supported by the National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) – they were quite deliberate in elevating argument to the standards’ apex. ‘Engaging in argument from evidence’ is the seventh NGSS ‘practice,’ culminating six prior practices of the scientific method. Argumentation thus communicates the theories, conclusions, discoveries of the evidence-based investigations of scientific questions – but as much as communicating them, argumentation tests them, subjects them to skepticism and debate, and thereby verifies — or refutes or revises — them.
But even beyond this culminating place, the elements of argumentation pervade the scientific process itself, according to progressive understandings of science education. NGSS contains copious reference to argumentative claims, evidence, reasoning, critique (i.e., refutation), and argumentative evaluation; given their embrace of teaching science through scientific argumentation, and their understanding of the correspondence of these argumentational terms with stages in the scientific process (e.g., ‘evidence’ is the interpretation of a data set that substantiates the most likely conclusion to be drawn by a scientific investigation), these references are no surprise. Corroboratively, the terms ‘argument’ and ‘argumentation’ appear more than 100 times in the National Research Council’s 2012 standards, which formed much of the basis of the NGSS.
As Stanford University science education professor Jonathan Osborne has written, “This educational model, ‘argumentation,’ makes science education more valuable, not just for future scientists but for the public at large. . . . Training teachers how to implement this model is the toughest challenge that lies ahead.’ Argument-Centered Education is committed to training K – 12 teachers to expand their permanent professional capacity to incorporate effective argumentation activities throughout their science curriculum and instruction.