We were recently at work with a partner high school’s science department, argumentalizing a unit in the school’s physics course. In the unit on force, mass, acceleration, we wanted students to complete a formative assessment activity after they studied Newton’s Second Law and viewed experiments on falling objects. The argument-based assessment came out like this.
This assessment corresponds with SEPUP Adventures in Life Science, 2nd Edition (U. of California Berkeley Press, 2012), Activity 94, “A Meeting of the Minds.” The SEPUP activity revolves around a fictional dialogue in the textbook that has Charles Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck discussing their respective theories of evolution, using the example of the way that giraffes evolved to acquire extremely long necks. The activity concludes by asking students a series of analytical questions on the dialogue that tests students’ understanding of evolution, natural selection, variation, and adaptation. This assessment has students apply this understanding to other instances of evolution, requiring students to demonstrate their knowledge of these terms, and to express their understanding critically and in the form of academic argumentation.
Early in the school year, it is a good idea to introduce the fundamental academic argument model to students who may not be fully familiar with it, or to refresh students’ understanding even if they have worked with it extensively in the past. The ubiquity of the academic argument model — not only in argument-centered instruction, but throughout schooling — justifies spending some precious early-year, culture-establishing time on this task. This activity is designed to provide students with this (re-)introduction.