The Influence of Argumentative Discourse on Pre-Service Teachers’ Alternative Conceptions of Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration

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Barker, Heather
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Middle Tennessee State University
Mediocre science achievement and poor STEM graduation rates have prompted educators to reexamine their traditional focus on factual memorization and seek more effective instructional strategies. One such reform-oriented instructional practice is argumentative discourse. Argumentative discourse is student-driven, reasoned argumentation to promote deliberation, inquiry, and learning about scientific concepts. This qualitative multiple–embedded case study examined the impact of argumentative discourse-based lessons on pre-service teachers’ alternative conceptions about the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Participants engaged in small group tasks and discussions to choose claims, develop arguments, and defend those arguments based on provided evidence. Three groups of pre-service teachers were examined in detail. These groups had been formed based on the participants’ epistemic beliefs about science, with one group having primarily constructivist beliefs, one with moderate beliefs, and one with beliefs that were more traditional. Conceptual changes were analyzed at the individual level and at the collective group level. Most participants’ individual alternative conceptions were noticeably reduced, while their accurate conceptual knowledge increased. Those with more constructivist epistemic beliefs experienced marginally better conceptual change results. The results of this study add to the literature regarding argumentative discourse’s potential to effect lasting conceptual change in pre-service teachers learning science content.
Education, Teacher education, Science education