As the author of the NSTA Press book Exemplary Evidence: Scientists and Their Data, elementary science educator and guest blogger Jessica Fries-Gaither has an excellent understanding of how scientists identify ideas that are supported by evidence. Exemplary Evidence describes the wide variety of what counts as data–from observations to measurements to lab results–and the many different ways that scientists collected, worked with and used that data. Fries-Gaither also wrote a book for younger children, the NSTA Kids book Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Writings.
As Fries-Gaither tells students at the end of the book:
Data supports conclusions; it can change people’s minds;
It is used to build theories that help humankind.
Scientists all along have known this to be true: Data is powerful!
Now, what will yours do?
November 5-9 is the 4th Annual U.S. Media Literacy Week, hosted by the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). Celebrated across the United States (and in conjunction with Canada’s National Media Literacy Week), the goal is to highlight the importance of media literacy in education. NAMLE defines media literacy as “the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE, and ACT using all forms of communication.” The organization shares that media literacy, “empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators, and active citizens.”
As early childhood science educators, we have an important role to play in the development of media literate students. The eight Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Science and Engineering Practices that guide our work with young children overlap with NAMLE’s definition of media literacy, particularly in Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence. In the primary years, this practice builds on prior experiences and includes comparing different ideas and representations about the natural and designed world(s). NGSS Performance expectations in this area for K-2 students include:
- Identify arguments that are supported by evidence.
- Distinguish between explanations that account for all gathered evidence and those that do not.
- Analyze why some evidence is relevant to a scientific question and some is not.
- Distinguish between opinions and evidence in one’s own explanations.
- Listen actively to arguments to indicate agreement or disagreement based on evidence, and/or to retell the main points of the argument.
- Construct an argument with evidence to support a claim.
- Make a claim about the effectiveness of an object, tool, or solution that is supported by relevant evidence.
Young children are quite capable of engaging in such work; however, they need support and appropriate instruction to generate *claims and support them with evidence. As with students of any age, a thoughtful instructional sequence helps them to do so. You might choose to read aloud an excerpt from NSTA Press’s new book, Exemplary Evidence: Scientists and Their Data and discuss how scientists need to have evidence to support their ideas. I suggest reading about Maria Merian, who was able to make claims about the life cycle of insects using evidence she gathered while observing and painting insects over the course of time. You will also want to explain that a claim is a conclusion or an answer to a question (what you think you know). A claim must have evidence to support it, much like a detective would use clues to solve a mystery.
After an introduction, students are ready to practice generating claims and evidence. We have asked students to watch short video clips of animals from Arkive, such as this video of an iguana eating a flower. Afterwards, ask students to make a claim about what animals need to survive, using evidence from the video. As you can see in the photo, this second grade student correctly claimed that animals need food to survive and used the video as evidence. This exercise can be repeated several times with different videos of animals, or firsthand observations of local animals in the schoolyard, helping students gain proficiency in generating claims and supporting them with evidence. As the year progresses, students can continue to support claims with evidence following hands-on investigations.
Supporting claims with evidence is a skill that transcends curricular areas, and you may soon finding your students using the language in other disciplines! How might this fit into your social studies instruction? Math? Language arts? The more opportunities we provide for students to think critically, the closer we are to achieving NAMLE’s goal of media literate students.
*To learn more about claims, evidence, reasoning, and argument, see Eric Brunsell’s blog post, Designing Science Inquiry: Claim + Evidence + Reasoning = Explanation.