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Introducing the Projects

Introducing the projects

Introduce the Showing Evidence Tool

Discuss the components of an argument. Prior to using the Showing Evidence Tool, be sure to discuss the elements of an effective argument with your students. This is particularly important with younger students. Talk about argumentation using a simple example and with the same vocabulary as they will encounter in the tool workspace: claim, evidence, reliability, and so forth. Discuss the need to anticipate counter arguments. Talk about the kinds of evidence that are more effective than others. For example, personal opinion is of lower quality than published information by an expert source, and evidence that goes to the heart of a claim is stronger than evidence giving superficial support.

How would students go about convincing their parents to move the evening curfew one hour later? Why wouldn’t this statement — “Sally’s parents let her stay out that late” — be an effective piece of evidence to support the claim that you should be allowed to stay out past curfew? How can acknowledging evidence that goes against your claim work in your favor? Discuss how the credibility of evidence and the strength of its support work together to paint a positive or negative picture of the claim. How do you make sure that your conclusion is well supported? Try role-playing an argument, and then dissecting the parts of the argument.

Consider a practice case. After discussing the parts of an argument, you may want to demonstrate each part of Showing Evidence and then have your students work briefly on a practice case. Create a practice project that requires very little prior knowledge and/or supply easily accessible evidence. Students should work through the case from beginning to end to learn how to use the workspace, see the difference between a claim and evidence, understand how to rate the evidence, and practice looking at the body of evidence to come to a conclusion. Consider these prompts for practice projects:

  • Should parents pay their kids to do chores?
  • Should there be a curfew on school nights for kids under 16?
  • Should junk food be sold at school?
  • Should students be required to wear school uniforms?
  • What new meal should be served in the cafeteria?
  • What theme should we use for the prom?

Be sure to debrief the practice session with a discussion of your students’ thinking process. Ask teammates to describe how they came to consensus.

Establishing Project Expectations

Before starting work with Showing Evidence, make expectations clear. Discuss your expectations of the kinds of evidence students can use, how to rate the evidence, and what can be done with the claim. You may want to provide some additional scaffolds such as rating rubrics, checklist of requirements, vocabulary definitions and examples, basic tool instructions, or a working document for gathering research (including the topic, prompt, claim focus, and questions needing answers).

Set up teams to succeed. Consider assigning certain roles within the team and have students rotate through them. For instance, one student could use the computer to enter new evidence items, while another gathers evidence from print references or Web sites. Remind students that only one team member can be logged into the workspace at a time. If instant messaging is approved for use in your school, it can be an effective way to transfer information from a researcher using online sources to the student logged in to the project.

Identify what is appropriate evidence. Different content areas call for different types of evidence. For example,

  • A literature course may require quotations from the text as evidence
  • A science course may accept experiment results and research from scientific journals
  • A history course may accept primary sources, certain academic Web sites, and a list of approved books
  • A project dealing with a social issue may permit survey results, interviews, approved Web sites, and certain books

Do you expect direct quotes or summaries of the evidence? How do you want the source cited? Outlining your expectations for what can constitute a source for evidence and what to do with that source will keep your students on track as they research their topic. Consider requiring a minimum number of supporting and opposing pieces of evidence. Students often think only of the supporting evidence. Encourage them to consider the evidence that goes against their claim so they can see the full picture and evaluate the claim properly.