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Using Podcasts to Teach Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (C-E-R) in Science

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez

Many science textbooks define a scientist as someone who asks questions about the natural world and seeks to answer those questions through research, experimentation and collaboration. If this is true, we all start out as scientists.

As babies, we take in the world around us through our senses. As our vision and coordination begins to improve, we reach for objects and, much to the horror of our onlooking overprotective parents, we pop them in our mouths in order to learn more about them. We start to crawl and eventually walk to observe a whole new part of our world. Once we start talking, we question everything.

How many times have you been standing behind a mom and her chatty 2-year-old and eavesdropped on this exchange:

Child: Mom, mom, mom, why is the sky blue?
Mom: Because it is.
Child: But why?
Mom: Because white light from the sun is scattered by gas particles in the atmosphere and blue light has the shortest wavelength so it is scattered the most. It’s called Rayleigh scattering.
Child: Oh
Child: Mom, why is grass green?

At this age, we’re desperate to learn more about this world we live in, how it works and why it works. The age-old response of “because I’m the mom and I know everything,” just doesn’t cut it for us at this age. Why do we lose that thirst for not only new information, but for someone to explain why?

As science teachers we are in a unique position to rekindle that thirst for enlightenment. One method I’m using this year is C-E-R or Claim, Evidence, Reasoning. Claim, Evidence, Reasoning is a National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) teaching method that encourages student engagement in scientific argumentation. The ultimate goal (according to Appendix F of the NGSS) is that students will learn to use argumentation to listen to, compare, and evaluate competing ideas and methods based on their merits to further understand the culture in which scientists live, and how to apply science and engineering for the benefit of society.

I’ve also been using podcasts to increase student interest in science concepts. In the past few years, we’ve listened to snippets and lectures from Science Friday, Ted Talks and Khan Academy. These podcasts provide information in a new way that may help students who don’t benefit from the normal classroom setting of lecture and guided practice. My favorite use of podcasts has been in my Forensic Science class. We listen to Season 1 of "Serial," which analyzes the case of Adnan Syed who was found guilty of killing his girlfriend in 1998. As the students learn more about Forensic Science concepts, the class discussions become more informed and the students take sides arguing why they believe Adnan is guilty or innocent, which once again encourages that scientific argumentation that the NSTA and NGSS say will lead to the “application of science and engineering for the benefit of society.”

Check out this C-E-R activity which incorporates not only a hands-on laboratory introduction, but also technology and podcasts in an effort to get students to increase their critical thinking, argumentation, and evaluation skills.

I used this activity as an introductory lab and it has resulted in fewer incomplete sentences and unsupported claims, some amazing lab report conclusion statements, and students who are willing to ask "why" more often.

Here is a synopsis of the activities included in the PDF:

  • Students learn about the general properties of acids and bases through a mini-lecture
  • Students use acid-base indicators with known acids and bases to reinforce information provided in the lecture
  • Students are given 2 unknowns that they must identify as an acid or a base using their lecture notes and laboratory tests
  • Students must present their findings in the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning format
  • Students listen to a 60-Second Scientific American Podcast as a class and identify the Claim, Evidence and Reasoning statements
  • Students choose 3 more 60-Second Scientific American Podcasts and identify the Claim, Evidence and Reasoning Statements in each on their own