This piece was co-written by Matt Gallon, Middle School Dean and Science Teacher, and Gus Polstein, Middle School Humanities Teacher
The middle school years are imperative to developing the skills that students will need to find success in high school, college, and beyond. We strive to help students develop strategic thinking routines in order to foster problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Several years ago, the Middle School Science Department implemented ideas from Supporting Grade 5-8 Students in Constructing Explanations in Science: The Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning Framework for Talk and Writing by Katherine L. McNeill and Joseph Krajcik into the way they approach labs in their classes. They found success and, this year, we have incorporated this model across disciplines. Students are becoming well versed in how to develop and support a claim or argument in not only their science labs, but also their thesis-driven essays in the Humanities.
As part of a chemistry unit in eighth grade science class, students conducted a lab in which they calculated the density of several liquids and objects and then observed where they all float relative to one another when mixed in a column. The goal of the lab was to answer the question: does the density of each substance determine where a liquid will float in the column? After completing the lab, students used the scaffolded claim, evidence, and reasoning (C-E-R) organizer to write a well-supported response to the lab question that used specific data they collected and concepts from class and their text. The organizer provided the students with sentence starters and tips for writing each section. After filling out the organizer, students wrote a two paragraph lab abstract that summarized the reason for conducting the lab, the central question asked in the lab, the procedure used to answer the question, and the results of the lab. The completed C-E-R organizer provided the students with their second paragraph of the lab abstract that describes the results of the lab and the answer to the lab question. This scaffolded system helps the students to see how the C-E-R framework provides a well-organized and detailed results section to their lab abstract.
In English 6, students used the CER model to analyze how a character had changed throughout the book in As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds. Students filled out the C-E-R graphic organizer for the question “How has a character from As Brave as You changed throughout the book?” The same model was used when students were asked to write a compare-contrast essay on two of the religions they studied after our exploration of the five major world religions in history. The clear guidelines and steps on the graphic organizer helped students work through the information and form a statement with a clear claim that was supported by evidence on both assignments.