Date of Award

Summer 8-19-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)


Science and Mathematics Education


Susan McKay

Second Committee Member

Molly Schauffler

Third Committee Member

Mindi Summers


Middle and high school teachers who participate in the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership (MainePSP) noted persistent problems in their classrooms, including low levels of student engagement and gaps in how students use evidence. To address these problems, this study was designed in collaboration with MainePSP teachers in a design-based implementation research process as teachers aimed to better connect classroom discussion and written argumentation. Though scientific writing makes use of argumentation to support ideas, it is often the sharing of ideas that makes an argument stronger.

Two teachers collected data from their seventh and ninth grade Earth Science classrooms at schools in central Maine. Written responses were collected as students answered two questions from their respective curricula. For the first question, students provided their answers without discussing the question beforehand. This question provided a baseline of ability to measure gains made on the second question. For the second question, classrooms were assigned to one of three discussion protocols—no discussion, discussion without Talk Science, and discussion with Talk Science. Talk Science is a discussion method designed to facilitate productive classroom discussion by emphasizing evidence and reasoning.

For both questions, students were instructed to write their answer using the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) framework that was already being used in both of the participating classrooms. This style of argumentation allows the students to make a claim and support it using two pieces of evidence. Then, reasoning is used to connect the evidence to the claim. The written responses were analyzed using a project-specific CER and Content rubric that was also designed in collaboration with high school teachers.

Analyses suggest ninth graders improve their scores on evidence, reasoning, and content when encouraged to have a Talk Science discussion. These gains are most likely due to the emphasis that Talk Science places on sharing evidence and reasoning, which supports content knowledge. Seventh graders showed the most improvement on their claim when encouraged to have a Talk Science discussion. Audio data from the discussions reveal some factors responsible for this difference. While, the ninth grade teacher prompted students to support their statements by sharing evidence and reasoning, the seventh grade teacher focused prompted students to ‘add on’ to others’ statements.

In addition, all of the students were asked to reflect on their classroom discussion and the results were strongly positive. Most students valued the discussions either for obtaining information directly related to answering the question or for gaining further explanation of ideas taught in class.

The results of this study will be used to influence classroom instruction and professional development within the MainePSP. Because the use of CER and content knowledge were shown to improve, other teachers may be more likely to include discussions with Talk Science and written CER argumentation in their classrooms. Furthermore, though teachers often report that classroom discussions take too much time or do not seem to engage students, it is apparent here that students do value classroom discussion.