Learning to Argue and Arguing to Learn: Developing Scientific Argumentation Skills in Pre-service Chemistry Teachers

Project Number
OER 46/12 LPF

Project Duration
May 2013 - September 2016


This project examines the development of science argumentation skills among preservice teachers as they engage in learning medicinal chemistry. The skill of argumentation is important in the learning of science (as well as for the professional development of science teachers) since the discipline of science is characterised by the evaluation of knowledge claims that are supported by available evidence (Jimenez-Aleixandre, 2008; 2010). In this project, medicinal chemistry is chosen as the platform for studying argumentation skills of preservice teachers because the subject matter is applied and spans across the subdisciplines of chemistry and biology, thus enabling us to examine how evidence from two subdisciplines can be generated and used to support claims made about drugs. Medicinal chemistry is a course offered to preservice teachers specialising in chemistry for their degree program. The course aims to equip preservice teachers with knowledge of new drugs from initial discovery, generation of lead compounds, optimization of biological activity, and finally into clinical trials. The mechanisms of action of clinical drugs (antiviral, antibacterial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic) used for treatment of human aliments are also discussed. The knowledge of drugs and its effects on the human body are important for the reasons that (a) it is of great commerical and economic value, and (b) it harnesses complex knowledge about human and chemical sciences. Currently, the knowledge of medicinal chemistry is taught mainly through lectures, tutorials and laboratory sessions whereby the subject matter is presented to the preservice teachers in a predominantly transmissive manner. Consequently, we have little knowledge about how preservice teachers make sense of the claims made in their laboratory practical reports and how they evaluate the evidence that they obtained from their laboratory sessions. Understanding how preservice teachers make claims and select meaningful evidence is important to help us understand how they make sense of scientific knowledge as well as their development of argumentation skills. As such, in this project, we specifically focus on the process of argumentation among preservice science teachers as they 'talk' the content of medicinal chemistry 'into being'. This study adopts a case study approach and is divided into three key phases. The first phase is the developmental phase where we redesign the curriculum materials for medicinal chemistry to incorporate opportunities for argumentation. This is followed by the implementation phase whereby two cohorts of preservice teachers will experience the argumentation centric medicinal chemistry curriculum. Finally, in the evaluation phase, we evaluate the curriculum in light of preservice teachers' knowledge and ability in scientific argumentation in medicinal chemistry.

Research Themes
Teacher Education (Pre Service)

Funding Source

Related Links
SingTeach Issue 50 (2014): Arguing to Learn
NIE Research Briefs No. 16-016: Learning to Argue and Arguing to Learn: Developing Scientific Argumentation Skills in Pre-service Chemistry Teachers

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