This past summer I had the pleasure of attending the HHMI AP Biology Leadership Academy taught by BSCS. One of the tools they trained us on was Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER). I had been using this already last year, but with no training. I sort of rushed the explanation with the kids because the year had started already. This year, I have spent a week slowly introducing the idea of CER and argumentation.
The honors biology and AP classes I teach started last week investigating the data analysis technique called I Squared (Identify and Interpret) where they use graphic data, physically writing on the graph to identify trends, and then interpreting the meaning of the trend in context. The end result is a caption below the figure with a topic sentence and the data interpretation (similar to a reasoning statement).
I then transitioned to CER and how to write a scientific explanation.
To be candid, I was educated by old school methodology. Mainly, recitations of papers, data collection and formal lab reports. My senior thesis and my masters thesis were painfully constructed and edited by my committee. At the time I knew this was how it was done and that academically, if I went that direction, this is what “publish or perish” would have most of my time doing (and grant writing). I found that aspect of it joyless. I found the investigative process and the data analysis joyful.
I digress. The point is that now I dont believe that every lab has to be investigated formally. So the CER method is a great alternative.
Both honors and AP had an old AP free response which I isolated out the graph. The data shows a population of a fake animal called a “pointy eared Bombat” and shows a day/night cycle measured against high/low activity. Kids had to analyze it for CER after I supplied an essential question. They then whiteboarded the CER explanation tool (tabular organization of the process) and walked around observing. They then reflected in their notebook about the CER process and their initial impressions.
Today I moved on to two more authentic argumentation activities. Honors biology would be testing the optimal method to maintain a healthy diet and weight. They would use a computer model which allows inputs (food and exercise) to test 4 given claims. They have to collect evidence to support a claim and to refute another. The kids really liked the model simulation and adjusting the values to see what would happen. They were gaining insight into diet as well as learning the CER process. In this case, the model was very good and I would use it again. It was also fun walking by and asking them questions about their choices. Some were very passionate and a few wanted to test new claims.
AP biology worked on an extension to their summer work which was using the Dust Bowl as a model for trophic levels. Here they had to decide how best to use their family’s resources as rainfall decreased. Each food source occupies a different level of the trophic pyramid and the fun part is the debate on what to keep, what to harvest, and what to kill and eat. They are given caloric data, nutritional needs and use this data as evidence for their claim. Tomorrow they will white board their ideas and leave each other feedback. They then will respond to that feedback and perhaps revise their ideas.
Honors will move on Thursday to a termite lab, collecting data from live organisms and then using CER explanation for analysis.