Thesis Defense – Kalee Gwarjanski (Gurschick)

The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education

Oral Thesis Defense

Kalee Gwarjanski (Gurschick)
Advisor: Jonathan Shemwell

Friday, November 1, 2013
119 Barrows Hall
3:15 p.m.


             In science classrooms, as in the scientific community, knowledge should be shared, critiqued and advanced through argumentation.  Theory construction, in which claims are advanced beyond the empirical facts of an investigation, is essential to scientific argumentation.  The present study reports on how a group of 18 middle school teachers, using the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) framework (McNeill & Krajcik, 2011), developed their knowledge of theory construction in student argumentation during three phases of professional development activities.  The first phase illuminated teachers’ initial thinking about theory construction when using CER.  The second phase showed how teachers advanced their thinking about theory when they used a modified form of CER with increased support for theory construction.  Finally, the third phase explored teachers’ enactment of the modified form of CER during classroom scientific argumentation.  Data included surveys, analysis of artifacts and discussion when teachers constructed or critiqued arguments, analysis of student arguments and classroom observation.  With unmodified CER, the teachers did not explicitly attend to theory construction when constructing or critiquing arguments.  After using theory-enhanced CER, the teachers incorporated more theory into their own arguments, and they better understood and embraced the need for theory in students’ arguments.  Still, it was difficult for teachers to discern and make use of varying levels of theory in student arguments.  When using the modified CER in their classrooms, teachers supported students in constructing theory, but they tended to use heavy guidance, moving students quickly to high levels of generalization.  This result suggests that teachers viewed the process of constructing theory as a straightforward, non-iterative form of learning.  I concluded that, in general, teachers and their students would benefit from increased attention to theory within frameworks for supporting scientific argumentation, with particular attention to strategies to support students in the classroom.