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.
Last month the science department chair at one of our partner schools — Daniel Hale Williams College Prep — worked with us to argumentalize her excellent and engaging poster project on endangered animals in her environmental science course. The result upgraded the project by integrating more critical thinking, social learning, and intentionality about bringing evidence together with thoughtful claims about the species’ possible extinction that students study and work on.
Photosynthesis is one of the most essential natural processes studied in biology. Students can understand very little about plants, trees, vegetation, and crops without understanding the process by which they convert sunlight and its energy, in combination with carbon dioxide and water, into carbohydrates and oxygen (and a bit of gaseous water).
This activity builds students’ understanding of the process of photosynthesis by having them cluster information about the process of photosynthesis, having them critique other students’ information clustering, and then finally having them respond to other students’ critiques.
Many, perhaps most, critical thinking and argumentation textbooks discourage teaching logical fallacies as a stand-alone unit. John Bean, for example, in his Engaging Ideas: A Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), cautions that students will readily forget the names and definitions of logical fallacies when learned in the abstract, and that they are best learned when blended instruction focused on argumentation about specific content.
I’ve always been persuaded by this position and we recommend it in our work with middle and high school teachers. Acquire a facility with the various types of logical fallacy, and invoke them when most applicable in your regular argument-based instruction. Still, no pedagogical guideline like this should be viewed as an absolute rule, and recently we’ve come across a website that might help teachers elevate the place of logical fallacies in their effort to improve their students’ reasoning skills.