This week in Science we moved into looking at natural hazards, and everyone is excited to share what they know about earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, etc and all the damage they inflict. Over the next weeks we will definitely increase our knowledge about how these geologic threats significantly alter human populations, activities, buildings, and land and we will explore the fact that humans cannot eliminate natural hazards but can take steps to reduce their impact.

However, underlying this exploration of natural hazards will also be some very important work around the practice of making a claim about an issue or about the merits of a solution, and backing that claim up with evidence (from observations, data, or texts) and also with clear reasoning. The foundation of this work was set when we introduced an "Argument Protocol" that we will use many times this year to develop our skills. We learned the technical language of argument (claim, reasoning, support/evidence, rebuttal) and we proceeded to go through the protocol this first time with a narrative text, The Giving Tree, and we will move to using an informational text next week. 

Here's how the protocol works:

First, students listen to the oral reading of a text with a given argument in mind. That is to say, before the reading of the text begins, the teacher/facilitator explains an argument that resonates with the text. As we read The Giving Tree, we thought about this argument: Some people say the tree is weak and others say the tree is strong. As the text is read, we all listen and jot some notes as we begin to develop our position. Close reading and careful noticing provides evidence that can be useful, and as the text concludes everyone is either assigned to or chooses a side. We then move quickly to converse with others on the same side of our position to trade evidence and strengthen our thinking. We call this a "caucus." After we caucus, we sit knee-to-knee with someone on the other side of the issue, and we each have a set amount of time to make our claim and back it up. We jot notes as our opponent speaks, because after the first round we caucus again. This time we use the caucus to develop and rehearse a short rebuttal based on our opponent's primary argument. Oftentimes, we'll conclude by naming the best points our opponent made.

As we progressively revisit the Argument Protocol and we add constraints that scaffold the level of sophistication, the kids will become much more adept at thinking this way, building an argument, listening carefully, and reasoning thoughtfully. This work will prove to increase the kids' reasoning skills and the ability to offer up a scientific claim backed by evidence and reasoning. And hopefully, it won't contribute to heated debates at home about bedtimes or extra desserts!