Open Access
Munford, Danusa
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
March 25, 2002
Committee Members:
  • Vincent Norman Lunetta, Committee Member
  • Barbara Allen Crawford, Committee Member
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
  • Carla Zembal Saul, Committee Chair
  • teacher education
  • argumentation
  • science education
  • learning
Various authors have called attention to the significance of argumentation in science education. Nevertheless, argumentation practices have been considerably rare in science classrooms. Moreover, little is known about how people engage in argumentation as science learners to construct knowledge about the natural world and about science. This study was conducted in a science course for prospective teachers (PTs) offered in the College of Education at a large university in the northeastern United States. The course was structured around three instructional units (modules), focusing on evolution, light, and global climate change. In each module, PTs were confronted with scientifically-oriented questions, and working in pairs, they built evidence-based arguments. Various types of technology tools were used to support PTs in the process. The study addresses the experiences of four prospective teachers through a case study research design informed by grounded theory and phenomenology theoretical frameworks. The research questions were: (1) How do prospective teachers (PTs) perceive the experience of engaging in the process of situated argument construction as students in a innovative science course? (2) What factors account for PTs’ experiences in situated argument construction? and (3) What are the participants’ perceptions of learning that emerged from the context of the process of argument construction in SCIED 410? The primary sources of data for the study were electronic artifacts constructed by PTs and interviews with participants conducted after each unit, plus a follow-up interview. The structure of the participants’ arguments was analyzed to determine the extent to which the PTs explored multiple explanations, provided relevant evidence to support their conclusions, explained how evidence and conclusions were related, and recognized limitations in explanations. Interviews were analyzed using methods from grounded theory. Open and axial codes were generated through comparisons of data to develop concepts that reflected the participants’ perceptions of the process of argument construction and perceptions of learning emerging in the context of this process. The results indicate that situated argument construction for PTs involved two major processes: argument building as legitimization (or the use of the argument structure to make one’s argument valid and acceptable) and argument building as means to understand (or the use of argument in facilitating or inhibiting the process of development of explanations to better understand a problem). In the first case, the focus is on gaining authority; in the latter, the focus is on gaining ability to construct explanations. These processes were not mutually exclusive as participants experienced them in the same investigation at different stages and in different situations. Nevertheless, argumentation as legitimization prevailed. The participants’ perceptions of learning were, in part, considerably homogeneous. PTs tended to see learning as the acquisition of information, and as distinguishing accurate from inaccurate answers. However, the participants perceived the role of the instructors differently. On one hand, some PTs expected the teachers to give them answers, whereas others saw the teacher as a facilitator who should provide guidance for the students to find answers on their own. Multiple factors were identified as accounting for the variation in PTs’ experiences with argument construction: (1) the context of the school, including characteristics of task, resources, and power relations; (2) the learner orientation, including PTs’ understandings of the process of knowing and of what is to be known; (3) the context of science, including PTs’ dispositions toward science, proficiency with science, and definitions of science. All these factors interacted with each other to produce diverse experiences with argumentation in SCIED 410. Various conclusions were drawn from the study. First, knowledge of the importance of assessing participants’ perceptions in constructing more robust understandings of learning experiences was generated. Second, a much more complex notion of the experience of argumentation in science education, which involves multiple processes and embedded networks of interactions, was developed. Finally, through exploring these complexities and the situated nature of argumentation, new dilemmas and new goals for science education were identified.