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More Than Just Numbers: Math Awareness Month

AAO_3_Lightning4Have you ever listened to weather forecasts and wondered whether there’s any difference between partly cloudy and mostly cloudy, or a chance of rain versus a slight chance of rain? In fact, all of those terms have precise meanings based on probabilities. If the sky is partly cloudy, about three to four eighths of it will be covered by clouds, and a slight chance of rain means the odds are about 20 percent that at least 0.01 inches of rain will fall somewhere in the forecast area.

Weather forecasts illustrate the central role that math plays in many aspects of everyday life. They are based on sophisticated computer models that analyze data from weather balloons, radar, and satellites. Modern weather forecasting saves lives and money by warning us in advance of major storms.

Mathematics organizations have designated April as Mathematics Awareness Month. This year’s theme, “Math Drives Careers,” focuses on the many fields where math plays an important role, from energy production to medicine to business. Many of these jobs don’t have “mathematician” in the title, but draw heavily on math and statistical skills.

Consider some of the ways in which math shapes your day beyond providing a weather forecast. Transit companies use algorithms to map the most efficient routes and schedules for the buses we ride to work and school. Utilities use math to forecast how much power they will need to keep our air conditioners running on hot days. Grocery stores use formulas to track how well goods are selling and decide when to mark down prices. And statisticians quantify how well our favorite sports teams are doing.

Spotlight math from many angles with the following resources:

Use Learning Math: Measurement to discuss the importance of measurements with elementary and middle school students. How do we rely on accurate measurements of weight, volume, and distance in our daily lives?

Against All Odds: Inside Statistics shows high school students how concepts like probability and inference can be used to understand topics such as weather, the spread of disease, and impacts of pollution in the environment.

For advanced students, Mathematics Illuminated explains uses for more complex concepts, such as infinity, game theory, and networks.

Many science courses on Learner.org also cover topics that are based on math. For example, unit 6 of Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, “Quantifying Chemical Reactions,” explains why summarizing chemical reactions accurately and understanding the ratios in which elements combine are critical to producing chemicals efficiently and avoiding waste.

Unit 6 of The Habitable Planet, “Risk, Exposure and Health,” discusses how scientists quantify risks from exposure to different kinds of hazards in the environment and identify causal relationships between exposure and health impacts.

What are the odds that you can show your students how math shapes their lives?

Eadweard Muybridge: Photography and Film Pioneer

English expatriate Eadweard Muybridge (April 9, 1830-May 8, 1904) is one of the most influential people in the history of American film. He was a pioneer in film and artistic photography, as well as in scientific and industrial photography. His exciting work has connections to art, social studies, science, and mathematics topics.

PUPMath_Kid looking at Muybridge work

A student looks at Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic study of animal motion. From Private Universe Project in Mathematics.

Art: Muybridge took daring steps, cutting down trees and venturing into dangerous places, to get landscape photographs that would distinguish him from his contemporaries. See the story of his shot, Falls of the Yosemite, taken in 1872 while on a six-month trip West in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Social Studies: Find a slideshow of 17 of Eadweard Muybridge’s images of Guatemala in Teaching Geography, workshop 2, “Latin America.” Below each slide is information about the content of each photo and questions to compare the past with the present.

Science and film: Muybridge developed photography techniques that captured human and animal movements in new ways. Read about these techniques in American Passages, unit 8, “Regional Realism.”  Muybridge also invented the zoopraxiscope (image #8245 in the archives), a device that projected a moving image from still sequences.

Math: In the video for workshop 6, “Possibilities of Real Life Problems,” of Private Universe Project in Mathematics, ninth graders are asked to solve how fast a cat, captured in a series of photos by Eadweard Muybridge more than 100 years ago, was moving in frames 10 and 20.

Selfie: Bringing Personal Meaning to Photos

EssentialLens_MakedaBestWhen students see a photograph in a classroom, a textbook, or a school project, they often treat it just like a poem or short story: they try to clearly state what the photo “means.” They believe that a photo has a unique, incontestable meaning that is clear to the perceptive viewer. A photographer wouldn’t take a photo without having a message in mind, the reasoning goes, so that message must be clear in the photo s/he took, and if I can’t find it, there’s something wrong with me.

It’s hard to convince students that this is not true (for photos or for poems and short stories, but we’ll stick with photos here). Photos cross a line between art and reportage. They can have a clear message when they are reportage. When they are art, they are open to almost endless personal interpretation. When they are a mix of both, photos can challenge the most perceptive viewer. The student looking at the photo is not just a data analysis machine taking in information and processing it. The power of photos is in their immediacy: they are shots of real people in real situations that the viewer takes in through the lens of her or his own life experience. In short, the viewer makes the meaning. As historian of photography Makeda Best puts it, instead of stopping at asking ourselves and our students what we see in a photo, we have to “look more closely and ask questions of why we see what we see.” This is a big shift. It gives the student authority over the photo instead of the other way around.

To teach students to use their own experiences to analyze a photo, practice on the photo mentioned below using the Focus In activity from Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. (Watch Makeda Best demonstrate the Focus In activity in the “A Closer Look” video.):

Start with Dorothea Lange’s masterpiece “Migrant Mother,” taken in 1936. Students may have seen it before. It is one of the most famous photos in the world. Too often, students move past their initial emotional reaction to this photo to try to discern its objective meaning. Following the steps in the Focus In Method for Analyzing Photographs, try to get your students back inside their own heads and hearts and experiences as they analyze “Migrant Mother.” Click on the link for a detailed description of each Focus In step. This step-by-step process can take the burden of finding meaning off students by encouraging them to make meaning.

Focus In Steps

Step 1: Observe

Step 2: Build on Your Observations

Step 3: Make Inferences

Step 4: Formulate Further Questions

Note: Here is a link to information about the photograph “Migrant Mother.”

 

How are you using photographs in your classes? Share in the comment section below.

The Science of Light: Light and Life

ScienceinFocus_energyUNESCO’s International Year of Light offers many hooks for physical science lessons about the nature and behavior of light. (See part 1, “Waves, Particles, and More: The Science of Light.”) Another way to bring light into science classrooms is to examine the many ways in which light affects the growth and behavior of living organisms.

Start with photosynthesis, the process through which plants harness light energy from the sun and turn it into chemical energy. Life Science, session 7, “Photosynthesis,” explains this process in simple terms. Science in Focus: Energy, workshop 5, “Energy in Food,” shows how photosynthesis forms the base for food chains and provides the energy that we need to survive. To extend this idea further, see the overview of energy transfer in ecosystems in The Habitable Planet, unit 4, “Ecosystems.” This unit can set up a discussion about eating at different trophic levels and the energy impacts of various human diets.

Light also drives human and animal behavior in fundamental ways. Journey North’s mini-unit, “Reasons for Seasons,” includes five activities in which students in grades 4-8 can explore how the amount and intensity of daylight create what we know as distinct seasons. Next, see Journey North’s discussion of “Sunlight and the Seasons” for examples of the link between seasonal light levels and the behavior of living creatures. Daylight hours are increasing now in the Northern hemisphere. What kind of seasonal events are occurring in response? How do they vary from lower to higher latitudes?

Some parts of Earth are always dark – for example, areas of the oceans more than 200 meters deep (for details, see The Habitable Planet, unit 3, “Oceans”), and the insides of caves. But many life forms exist in dark zones. How do they adapt? What are their food sources? The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s “Ocean Portal” offers some examples of deep ocean life forms, and a photo gallery of bioluminescent marine organisms that produce light through chemical reactions in their body tissues. High school students in chemistry or ecology can tackle “Hot Food,” a lesson from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about chemosynthesis – the process that deep-water coral communities use to obtain energy from light hydrocarbons in nearby sediments.

Finally, students may notice their own moods changing as daylight hours increase this spring. Our bodies move according to circadian rhythms that are regulated by the presence or absence of light. The Brain: Teaching Modules, unit 13, “Sleep and Circadian Rhythms,” looks at our natural rhythms and the stages of sleep. And when the sun becomes brighter and more direct in spring, we seek the outdoors. Some experts believe this behavior may have a biological function (perhaps restoring depleted levels of vitamin D), while others are skeptical. What can be said, though, is that these approaches to teaching the science of light will illuminate classrooms.

Waves, Particles, and More: The Physical Science of Light

ChemCS_fig3_8Light is central to all fields of science. It provides the energy that sustains life on Earth and powers numerous modern technologies, from lasers to fiber-optic communications. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared 2015 the International Year of Light to promote global understanding of light and its many uses.

What is light, and where does it come from? Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, unit 3, “Atoms and Light,” explains that light is electromagnetic radiation, or energy emitted from matter, and has many of the properties of waves. It introduces students to the electromagnetic spectrum, including many types of light that are invisible to the human eye, and to the idea that light can also have characteristics of particles. Physics classes can explore the wave-particle paradox in more depth in Physics for the 21st Century, unit 5, “The Quantum World.

How does light produce color? Visible light looks white, but it contains the colors that we see in rainbows: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Each color has a different wavelength, and the wavelengths can be separated by passing light through a prism. When light shines on an object’s surface, it absorbs some wavelengths and reflects others. The color we perceive is created by wavelengths of light reflecting from objects. Science in Focus: Shedding Light, workshop 4, “Colors, Cones, and Corneas,” explains how humans perceive color when light energy enters their eyes. To learn why different substances produce different colors, see Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, unit 3, “Atoms and Light,” for information on spectroscopy and the emission spectrums of different elements.

Light powers many of the technologies that surround us. For example, a laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) can cut materials as hard as wood or as soft as paper, read bar codes, and play music on CDs. Laserfest, a website commemorating the 50th anniversary of the laser’s invention, has images and videos that explain how lasers work and how we use them in its “About Lasers” section – including tips on laser pointer safety.

We can also learn about properties of light by looking outdoors at phenomena like rainbows and sunsets, which produce colors by refracting (bending light). The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) occurs when gaseous particles form Earth’s atmosphere collide with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. “Light: Beyond the Bulb,” an open-source exhibition created for the International Year of Light, has an image gallery showing these and other examples of light in nature (click on the images for detailed captions).

How will you bring light into your science classroom?

Displaced by Disasters

Floods, fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters have driven humans from their homes throughout history. The problem is growing as world population rises and millions of people move to mega-cities, many of which are located in vulnerable areas. According to a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, a non-government research organization in Geneva, Switzerland, 27 million people on average have been displaced each year since 2008 by natural disasters.

B195_05

Image from Earth Revealed.

Climate change is worsening the problem by raising sea levels and increasing the frequency of catastrophic storms. U.S. students may remember images from Superstorm Sandy in the fall of 2012, which flooded large sections of lower Manhattan and caused at least $50 billion in damages. Climate analysts have calculated that if global carbon emissions continue to rise at their current rates, about 2.6 percent of the world’s population (177 million people) will live in areas that are at risk from regular flooding by 2100. No country is safe, but the greatest risk is in Asian nations such as Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh, where large fractions of the population live in areas that are vulnerable to coastal flooding.

Human vulnerability to disasters can be studied from several science perspectives. Unit 24 of Annenberg Learner’s Earth Revealed geology series focuses on coastlines, where the energy of ocean waves meets rocky landmasses of the mainland. Use this video to discuss issues that people living near shore should consider, such as erosion and how far back from the water to build. For more information on flood risks, the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program develops flood-hazard maps for U.S. communities that can be viewed online, along with videos from flooded communities.

Many people live in areas where they know there is significant risk of floods, wildfires, or other natural disasters. In unit 25 of Earth Revealed, see how scientists are studying the San Andreas Fault and residents of San Francisco have adapted to the risks of earthquakes in the Bay area. Teaching Geography, workshop 2, “Latin America,” part 2, discusses the risks that people living near Mount Tungurahua in Ecuador face. In addition, the Volcanoes interactive explores our ability to predict volcanic eruptions and steps that people can take to reduce the danger of living near active volcanoes.

Many cities threatened by rising seas are considering ways to adapt and make themselves more resilient in the face of floods and storms. One widely-cited example is the Netherlands’ Room for the River program, which is creating open spaces where the Rhine River can spill over during floods without threatening local communities. In New York City, a program called Rebuild by Design is proposing flood-protection strategies for the New York region, including protective berms around Manhattan and restored marshes and oyster reefs in New York Harbor to absorb the impact of storms.

At the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, an upcoming exhibit called “Sink or Swim” will examine human responses to coastal flooding around the world, from sea walls to floating schools. The exhibit, which runs from December 13, 2014 through May 3, 2015, will show “how communities are rising up to meet the challenges” of climate change in densely populated coastal zones worldwide, says Annenberg Foundation Chairman of the Board, President and CEO Wallis Annenberg.

Learning from the 2014 Nobel Prizes

Perhaps the Nobel Prizes recipients don’t make the same headlines as baseball’s World Series challengers, but every October the stories behind their work are just as exciting. These are discoveries, theories, works of art, and acts of humanity that have been years in the making. The work touches us in fundamental ways and constitutes the “shoulders of giants” referred to by Isaac Newton. If you don’t quite understand the laureates’ achievements, you can see the fundamental principles and related concepts at learner.org.

MathIllum_rockpaperscissors

Learn how game theory applies to “rock, paper, scissors” in Mathematics Illuminated.

Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economics

Jean Tirole, a French theoretical economist, won the award for analysis of market power and regulation. Tirole studied how to regulate industries with a few powerful firms, such as telecommunications firms. You can hear from Nobel committee chair Tore Ellingsen on the significance of Tirole’s work.

Tirole’s work was based on the mathematical concepts of game theory, which you can learn about in Mathematics Illuminated, unit 9.  The online text provides familiar examples, including zero sum games, and prisoner’s dilemma. Watch the video to see how game theory even applies to “rock, paper, scissors.”

Once you have a handle on game theory, see how government regulations have been applied to big players in the auto, energy, and airlines industries in Economics U$A, program 7, “Oligopolies.” This program looks at how big industries manage to write the rules of the marketplace.

Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology and Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Several of this year’s laureates followed the principle of thinking small. The medicine/physiology and chemistry prizes involve looking at objects down to the size of a single cell or molecule. The Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology was awarded to three researchers who found the brain’s mechanism for establishing our position in space, a mental GPS-like system. John O’Keefe found that we carry “space cells” in our brains and May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser expanded the concept to a grid in which these cells operate.  The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for work in microscopy allowing scientists to see down to this level at “super resolution.”

This level of microscopy has applications across all fields of science research. Wolfhard Almers at the Vollum Institute in Portland, OR explains how, using wave microscopy, he and his colleagues were able to isolate a single nerve cell to understand what it does after releasing a transmitter. His research is covered in Rediscovering Biology unit on Neurobiology.

“I still haven’t gotten over thinking it’s really cool, that I can go into work every day and take pictures of atoms and I can see individual atoms with this microscope,” says graduate student Tess Williams. The lab where she works at Harvard investigates the structure of superconducting materials. Find out more in Physics for the 21st Century unit “Macroscopic Quantum Mechanics.”

Nobel Prize in Physics

The three physicists who shared the Nobel Prize in physics gave new meaning to “keeping the lights on.” They invented a new energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source – the blue light-emitting diode (LED). In the LED, electricity is directly converted into light particles, photons, leading to efficiency gains compared to other light sources where most of the electricity is converted to heat and only a small amount into light. Explore the many facets of light and heat with your students in the workshop series Shedding Light on Science, especially unit 2, “Laws of Light.

Nobel Peace Prize

Indian and Pakistani activists Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai attracted the attention of the international community to the issue of child rights and shared the Nobel Peace Prize. From the earliest waves of immigration in the U.S., children have been used as workers and denied a formal education. Thomas Rivera wrote about his experience as a migrant child agricultural laborer in the memoir, “And the Earth Did Not Devour Him/Y la Tierra no se traiga.” Read about Rivera’s background in American Passages, unit 12, “Migrant Struggle.” His translator, Evangelina Vigil-Piñón discusses Rivera’s work and its place in Chicano literature in the Learner Express: Language Arts modules.

Learner-Featured Scientist Pardis Sabeti Leads Ebola Research

Pardis Sabeti

Pardis Sabeti

Since medical professionals in Dallas diagnosed the first case of Ebola on U.S. soil on September 30, 2014, much of the news surrounding the science of the issue has focused on containment, quarantines, and potential treatments involving plasma transfusions. To a certain extent, sensational media coverage has dominated and created the fear of a potential Ebola outbreak in America.

The reality is that the threat of contracting Ebola in the U.S. is “exceedingly uncommon,” according to the CDC. However, the ability of the deadly virus to adapt and mutate is relevant to everyone on the planet, regardless of location. Fortunately, scientists are now tracking the genome of Ebola in order to understand its mutation and fight the virus.

After learning that Ebola had reached Sierra Leone, Dr. Pardis Sabeti, host of Annenberg Learner’s Against All Odds: Inside Statistics and computational geneticist at the Broad Institute and Harvard University, led an international team to better understand the 2014 outbreak, which is the largest in history. Sabeti has been studying the Ebola virus for the past five years. In early summer 2014, Sabeti and her colleagues collected virus samples from 78 patients in Sierra Leone in order to sequence the viral genome using the million-dollar DNA-sequencing machines housed at the Broad Institute. Their research, published in early September, found 50 mutations that arose as the virus spread in the early weeks of the epidemic. The study, which includes five authors who have since died of Ebola, stresses the importance of “genomic surveillance” in developing vaccines and therapies for this particular variation of the disease, which researchers believe originated around 2004 in central Africa before moving from Guinea to Sierra Leone in May 2014, all by human-to-human transmission.

Sabeti will be able to sequence more recent samples of Ebola once a thousand more vials of diseased blood, currently stored in freezers in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, are transferred to Harvard.

To help explain this type of genomics research to your students, Against All Odds: Inside Statistics, unit 29, details how statistics aided researchers in uncovering how a harmful genetic mutation, sickle cell anemia, actually acts as a source of resistance to Malaria. In addition, the video discusses how Sabeti used the Malaria study as a model in her research on the genetic sources in an individual’s resistance to Lassa fever, a virus that is similar to, yet less notorious than Ebola, and which kills thousands of people in West Africa every year.

In the Against All Odds video, Sabeti notes that thousands of people are exposed to Lassa but do not become ill, suggesting they may have some sort of genetic resistance to the infectious disease. Sabeti and her fellow researchers want to find what these protective mutations against Lassa fever are in order to develop new treatments.

Eric Lander is the head of the Broad Institute and is featured in Rediscovering Biology, unit 1, “Genomics.” In a recent New Yorker article, Lander responds to the question of whether or not Ebola will evolve into an airborne disease, saying, “That’s like asking the question ‘Can zebras become airborne.’” Lander points out that Ebola is very unlikely to evolve from a disease that is spread through direct contact to one that can survive in a dehydrated state and spread through the air. He does note, however, that Ebola could possibly become more contagious.

In Against All Odds, Sabeti describes the battle between human beings and disease as “The non-stop, evolutionary arms race between our bodies and the infectious micro-organisms that try to invade and inhabit them.” The relatively new technology of genome sequencing gives humans another powerful weapon in the fight against viruses like Ebola.

Citizen Science Tuesday: Monarchs Journey North

Written by Lisa Feldkamp, senior coordinator, new science audiences, The Nature Conservancy
Reposted with permission from Cool Green Science, The Science Blog of The Nature Conservancy (October 21, 2014)

liatris_01_aug2014_800What is Journey North and Why Should You Participate?

Migrating monarchs are one of nature’s wonders — they can travel up to 500 miles in just three days on their 2,500 mile journey from Mexico to Canada and back again over the course of a year.

And they’re also one of the few creatures that gains weight during migration — from 60mg of lipids (fat) when they start their southward migration to 140mg by the time they reach Mexico—because they glide on the wind instead of flapping.

“They’d never make it to Mexico otherwise,” explains Elizabeth Howard, founder and director of Journey North, which works to track monarch migrations. “In flapping flight, they would burn enough fat that they would starve in just 44 hours. Soaring and gliding they can go for 160 hours.”

But there’s a lot we still don’t know about monarchs. Which is why Journey North is looking for your citizen science observations on the backyard behaviors of this iconic and threatened insect.

Why is Journey North Important?

Monarchs are currently completing their journey south to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. But the migrations get more difficult with each passing year.

The migration and the butterflies are in danger because of threats like climate change and changes in agriculture that have limited the amount of milkweed, a key plant for monarch conservation

In recent years, the population has declined dramatically.

Your observations can help scientists determine the abundance of monarchs and find out if they are overwintering in new locations. The data could help them answer questions like, how do monarchs know when to go to Mexico, how do they know where to fly, and why do monarchs migrate?

Answering questions about when butterflies travel, where they go, and whether or not the timing of their migrations has changed could help scientists to understand how climate change impacts their journey.

It could also help in advising when and where people should plant milkweed.

monarch_fall2014_peak

Monarch Butterfly Migration Map Fall 2014. Courtesy of Journey North.

Journey North is also an excellent source of materials and facts for teachers and kids interested in the monarch migration. Even if they don’t pass by your area, you can track their progress on Journey North.

You can find out how to tell a male from a female or hear the story of a monarch that was blown off course all the way to England!

That’s not common, of course. In fact, migrating monarchs seem like they’re on a mission, according to Howard.

“It’s incredible the way they ‘beeline’ towards Mexico during fall migration,” she says. “When you see a migrating monarch, you know it. No matter how many times I see it I’m amazed. They fly overhead as if following an invisible roadway. One at a time, often a few minutes apart, they follow the same flight path.”

How Can You Get Involved in Journey North?

If you live where there are monarchs, just submit your sightings online.

If you aren’t sure where to find monarchs, here are two pro tips from Howard:

a. Find Nectar

If you want to see fall migration, find a large source of nectar. The best places are farm fields with blooming clover, alfalfa, sunflowers, etc. Stick around until sunset, watch the monarchs carefully, and you’re likely to see them gathering into an overnight roost.

b. Look for Little Butterflies

To find a field that’s rich with nectar you can drive around in your car. Watch for little butterflies — like sulphurs and cabbage whites — flitting above the flowers. They are much more numerous than monarchs and so are good clues that flowers are producing nectar and monarchs might be present.

Keep up with the monarch news or watch the maps to find out when monarchs come through your area.

There are many other things that you can do at home to help monarchs. For instance, plant milkweed, provide nectar plants, and avoid pesticide use.

Follow along with the migration online and get ready to record your observations for next year’s journey north!


Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org or leave a comment below with a link to make a recommendation for Citizen Science Tuesday.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nature Conservancy.

- See more at Cool Green Science blog. 

Teach Your Students to Argue Effectively

TML_7_3Have you ever met anyone with uninformed opinions? Didn’t it make you want to explode (or at the very least, lament the decline of mankind by eating pie)? Reasoning is one of our most powerful assets. As teachers, we have the opportunity to prepare students for a good old-fashioned banter. We need to teach students how to effectively argue so that they can engage in productive thinking and be active citizens of their communities. Otherwise, we are at risk for producing students who limit their own learning potential by focusing on regurgitation versus critical thinking.

First, take a minute to read the CCSS Anchor Standards for Writing as it pertains to argument:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

When we argue, we are assuming a position with the purpose of persuading readers or rather, convincing them of our opinion; this is active work, work that requires agency on the part of the writer. This agency is what 21st century literacies demand of its citizens; for example, Franklin and van Harmelan (2007) write, “In Web 1.0 a few content authors provided content for a wide audience of relatively passive readers. However, in Web 2.0 everyday users of the web use the web as a platform to generate, re-purpose, and consume shared content” (3). Argument writing is a tool that enables and empowers students to participate in and contribute to various discourses.

Argument writing pushes students to go beyond just knowing content; it forces them to actually do something with the content. Arguing requires students to ground their thinking in evidence from the text; in fact, this evidence-grounding is one of the main instructional shifts in English Language Arts. Teachers need to spend more instructional time teaching argument writing, which encompasses teaching students how to opine and how to write persuasive texts.

Let’s consider the discipline of history: We want students to go beyond just reciting facts and dates; we want them to make historical arguments and interpretations. We also want them to become adept at using textual evidence to support their claims. Historians and social scientists actively study and inquire – they do not just regurgitate facts; they examine the evidence and create claims based on the evidence. We need to help students understand that data is a live entity and that it requires our careful and critical reading and crafting. (Questions like, “Whose history is being represented here?” and “Why is this history being told in this way?” help build students’ inquiry skills which promotes their argumentation skills.)

This semester, I asked my pre-service teachers (graduate students) to write a historical argument paper. Because of the CCSS’s emphasis on argument writing, I wanted to make sure that my graduate students knew how to create arguments since they would be required to teach their students how to do the same. The process for this task is outlined below: 

Steps and Tasks: Prompts and Instructions

1. Pick a topic: What do you want to study?

2. Design your inquiry question: Narrow your topic. This question should guide your research and examine your topic deeply. Consider specific perspectives and lenses.

3. Conduct research: Guided by your inquiry question, conduct research. Critically read primary and secondary sources.

4. Craft a claim or argument: The claim is essentially the answer to your inquiry question as a result of your research. It is important to craft your claim/argument after conducting research so that your thinking is driven by the data. This claim needs to be arguable, meaning someone can deny your claim and argue an opposite point.

5. Provide examples: Use research data to support your claim/argument. Craft examples so that they prove your point. Use linking words and phrases and be explicit about how your example connects to your claim/argument.

6. Craft a conclusion: Answer the question, “So what?” Your conclusion should not be a regurgitation or restatement of your points. This is your closing argument like in a court case. Connect to a bigger issue. Address implications.

 

Need more ideas? Find several resources to help teach argument writing on the Annenberg Learner website:

REFERENCES:

Franklin, T. & Harmelan, M. van (2007). Web 2.0 for content for learning and teaching in higher education. York, UK: Franklin Consulting.

CCSS website: www.corestandards.org