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Integrating Technology

Using Past Science Events

Building an ADI Foundation

How best can a teacher use argument-driven inquiry (ADI) to get the most effort from their students to learn science and model what scientists do? The Science Scope article (Hunter-Thomson 2019) uses the claim-evidence-reasoning (CER) model as an effective strategy to develop ADI skills in students. The CER model begins with a science question (e.g., does mass change the rate of descent from a high point?), a claim (e.g., things fall at the same rate regardless of mass), evidence (data collected from test and measurement), and reasoning (data interpretation). ADI occurs during the reasoning stage of the CER model in most cases. Similarly, while science fairs may focus more on the scientific method design, students none the less practice ADI when a judge comes to their backboard. Do these opportunities for ADI help students understand how science works? Perhaps, though we have found that some students do not necessarily make the connection.

We have implemented a supporting element that provides structure and proof as to how science changes over time. When using historical events in science as a prequel or supplement we have found that students gain a better understanding and recognition of the importance of argument in science.

Background: History of science

While the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013) provides structure as to what students need to know about science by grade, the standards may be remiss on giving teachers a road map on how to get there. So, while we agree with the NGSS that students’ ability to articulate the meaning of “argument from evidence” is paramount in understanding how science works, we have found that using examples through historical events in science improves the student’s understanding of the concept even better. Thus, studying science historical events from the perspective of argument from evidence gives students a better understanding of both what and how science progression actually works.

There are multiple examples of where scientists argued their points with regard to the merits of a belief, an invention, or an idea. Some arguments came from evidence; however, some of their claimed evidence was considered questionable to the point of being debunked.

Rene Blondlot (Collins 2001) is a prime example of a scientist who argued from faulty evidence. Although he was a renowned French scientist who completed important work in the area of radio waves, his demise and “claim to fame” was the proclamation he made about rays/emissions he discovered in his laboratory. Interestingly, he claimed that the rays could only be seen using one’s peripheral vision. He named these unusual rays N-rays for the city of Nancy, France. Although many other scientists “verified” the existence of these rays, it took an American physicist, Robert Wood, to debunk Blondlot’s claim to the existence of N-rays.

Other interesting arguments can be found in science history such as Edison/Tesla regarding using alternating or direct currents for building electric grids for cities. Margaret Mead’s research and belief that nurture was more important than nature with regard to societal behavior “raised eyebrows” and criticism in her time. Arguments in support of Newton’s motion theory by prominent British scientists and their ignoring Einstein’s theory of relativity was an interesting story that was made into a movie. The evidence and mathematical support for Einstein’s theory of relativity as a more accurate measure of movement than Newton’s theory of motion came from British astronomer Arthur Eddington’s work studying solar eclipses.

One commonality among these stories is that it takes a great deal of scientific argument to glean the truth from the evidence. Furthermore, biases, nationalism, religion, and political reasons can impede understanding the science.

Figure 1 offers a few examples in history where scientists passionately argued for their belief regardless of whether their work would eventually be accepted or refuted. Rather than providing the “event” to the students, we give them a list of scientists as shown in Figure 2 to study and ask them to report on an argument from evidence in that scientist’s life. This allows them the freedom to choose a scientist of their own gender and race. Figure 2 also is an assignment we developed for students to use for studying and reporting on famous scientists of the past.

Figure 1

Accepted theories and ideas that have undergone extensive argument

  • Outcomes from Madame Marie Currie’s work questioned the idea that atoms were the smallest building block of all matter.
  • Charles Darwin’s work and theory of evolution is questioned and argued even today.
  • Galileo’s support for heliocentrism and resulting repercussions from argument.
  • Big bang theory and the origins of the universe
  • Continental movement
  • Geologic time
  • Causes of climate change
  • Dinosaur extinction
  • Debunked theories, ideas, and discoveries
  • Flat Earth proponents
  • N-rays (main proponent Rene Blondlot)
  • Phrenology (primary proponent unknown)
  • Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier argued that he discovered the existence of a planet Vulcan between Mercury and the Sun.
  • Luminiferous Aether (multiple proponents)
  • Martian canals (proponent Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli)
Figure 2

Individual assignment—Voki animation.

This assignment requires you to think like a famous or perhaps infamous scientist of the past. First visit the following website and familiarize yourself with Voki as a way to create a character. Next, choose a scientist from the list below. Each scientist on the list was involved in scientific controversy and/or hardship.  Some of the controversies were in the form of debate while some of their troubles were simply a lack of acceptance. Some of the scientists on the list were flat out wrong about their theory. Some over time became accepted in the scientific community for what they believed.

Your assignment is to create a historical science character based on biographical accounts of the person. You can use autobiographical information as well. The requirements of the assignment are:

  • biographical information (e.g., birth, degrees, etc.)
  • why the person is famous
  • controversy or hardship
  • argument from evidence

Create three one-minute Voki creations (use microphone and not text).

Scientist List

Albert Einstein

Philipp Lenard

Alfred Wegener

Neils Bohr

George Washington Carver

Garett Morgan

Nikola Tesla

Alfred Wegner

Craig Venter

Thomas Edison

Robert Gallo

Francis Collins

Charles Darwin

Jocelyn Bell

Richard Owen

Isaac Newton

Joseph Priestly

Lord Kelvin

Leibniz Gottried

Rosalind Franklin

Derek Freeman

Galileo Galilei

Arthur Eddington

Margaret Mead


Gregory Mendel

Donald Johnson


Marie Curie

Lewis Latimer

Prosper-René Blondlet

Othaniel Charles Marsh

Richard Leakey

Robert Williams Wood

Edward Drinker Cope

Thomas Huxley

Albert Michelson

Ignaz Semmelweis

Samuel Wilberforce

Edward Morley

Charles Meigs


Setup and lesson

There are many ways to have students research and report on scientific ADI events in history. Acting as a scientist of the past in front of a class, doing an oral presentation about a scientist, and/or writing a paper are possible ways to convey the ADI events in a scientist’s life.

We have found another strategy that seems to work well for the middle-grade level student. We use an online software that effectively involves students in research and gives them the ability to create an animated character presentation about a scientist they choose to study. The use of animated characters in the classroom has been identified as an effective way to teach (Vargo 2017). There are many online software and apps that allow you to create animated characters. Some are free at the basic level, while others can be quite costly (see Supplemental Materials for a list of some of the free animated online software and app options at the basic level).

There are a few advantages to using software over other forms of investigating and reporting on a scientist’s ADI experiences. We have found that shy students seem to like this approach and are not as reluctant for their creations to be shown in class. Also, the short time frame for the animation seems to help students stay focused. Finally, we have found these creations to be an effective strategy/method within what is currently a necessary teaching-through-virtual-means environment.

The activity we developed requires research, reflection, and creativity. Voki, the online software we use, is free at the basic level. The Voki software does not have photographic images for all scientists, but it does have a large database at even the basic level that can be used to pick a character by gender, clothing, and age. As a lesson initiation, we share the story of Rene Blondlot by beginning with the question: “Are scientists always right?” See the screenshot of the Voki character Rene Blondlot.

While most middle grade students believe scientists are smart people that are in many cases right about something, most agree that they are not infallible. We use the Blondlot story followed by a teacher-created Voki showing that scientists are not always right and to model what students will be doing (to create a teacher presentation, see Online Resources for a link to create and share a Voki presentation). See the link to a teacher-created Voki in Online Resources.

After additional discussion about the infallibility of scientists, we give the students directions for creating their own animated scientist (see Figure 2) and show them the assessment rubric (see Supplemental Materials). We also provide specific directions for using the Voki software (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

How to create a presentation in Voki.

1. Go to the Voki website (

2. If you would like to save your creation and go back and work on it at any time, you will need to create a free Voki account.

3. To submit more than one Voki at one time (and you will need to submit at least three to successfully complete this assignment), you will need to use the presentation tool.

4. At the top of the Voki page, click “Present.”

5. To add more Voki pages, click on “+” button on the left side of the page until you have three slides (or more if you need to create a longer presentation).

6. Then, click the “face” icon and create each Voki. Voki avatars are very customizable so be sure to play with this tool for a while!

7. On each page, you will need to recreate your avatar to match the scientist you are trying to impersonate and record what you want your avatar to say.

8. To record, click on the “Voice” icon and then click either the “Microphone Recording” or “Phone Recording” icon.

9. You can listen back to your recording before you click “save.”

10. Each voki slide will need to be 60 seconds so be sure to plan what you are going to say beforehand!

11. You can add text and other images to your Voki presentation.

12. After you have completed your Voki presentation, click save.

13. You will be asked to title your presentation. Be sure to include your name and your scientist’s name in the title of your Voki presentation.

14. You can save and go back to your presentation to make edits before submitting if you have created a free Voki account.

15. Then you will be taken to a page that says “Share Voki Presentation” where you will need to click “Copy URL.”

16. Send me the link to your Voki!

While we continue to use only the basic free service, we do provide the students multiple examples of already-created Vokis. Usually, getting students started with the assignment has not been difficult. From time to time, we have had to pair students who lack computer and research skills with students that have these skills (see the link to a student-created Voki in Online Resources). While students may work together, all students are expected to present their personalized Voki at some point. We have them present to each other during their second assignment in small groups. The Voki considered to be the best by the group is presented to the whole class. The rubric for evaluating Voki creations (see Supplemental Materials) is used to grade individual Voki creations. Following are some peer responses to the Voki assignment:

  • It gives us access to websites we would not have heard of without this assignment.
  • It allowed us to research and learn about a famous scientist.
  • I enjoyed the role-playing in the assignment.
  • I think it is a great way to use technology.
  • I had fun creating my Voki.
  • It allowed for a fun way to perform and present research on a person.
  • I learned about different scientists.
  • It encouraged me to do research of influential people.
  • It allowed me to conduct research and connect to a famous/well-known scientist.
  • I think it’s a fun way to present assignments.
  • It made research more meaningful, I learned how to use a new tech website.

Post-Voki assignment

The Voki creation is an individual project, which gives the student the individual freedom to research a scientist of their own choosing, which allows them to select a scientist by gender and race if desired. After the scientist Voki presentations have been created and shown to the class, we have groups consisting of four students (split into pairs) choose two scientists, a theory, or a topic to argue. Usually students choose scientist stories where a definite conflict of opinion occurs. Thus, Edison versus Tesla with regard to direct or alternating current is a favorite (photographs of students arguing Edison versus Tesla are shown in Figure 4). The post-Voki assignment directions with additional grouping details, requirements, and grading rubric are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 4
Team Edison versus Team Tesla.

Team Edison versus Team Tesla.

Initially we had three ADIs going on at the same time (i.e., six groups of students with two groups arguing a topic) with a follow-up whole-class summation. While this seemed to work, it made using the rubric (see Figure 5) for teacher evaluation difficult. Subsequently we have tried having groups argue a topic in front of a class and submit a short summation of their discussion. The rubric has been more useful with the whole-class format. We do not set a time limit, and the ADI topics have ranged between 20 and 60 minutes in length. With three sets (i.e., approximately two groups of four), a teacher should be able to complete the second assignment within at most two class periods.

Figure 5

Post-Voki group assignment and rubric.

Teacher information:

Consider the following criteria when forming groups. Form groups of four that will be further split into two groups of two. Each group of two needs a researcher, a drawer/graphic expert and a lead arguer.

Assignment directions for students:

Choose two scientists and a theory or a topic to argue. You can choose from the list [provided in Figure 1], find another science controversy not listed, or use your Voki creation to develop an argument. As a group of four you can use current believed or debunked theories/ideas in science to create your argument.

  • Split your group in two based on your teacher’s recommendation.
  • Flip a coin to decide which side of the argument you and your partner will get.
  • Research the subject and make yourself aware of the arguments for and against the topic, science theory, or scientist’s belief.
  • Create drawings, models, or other visuals to support your topic, science theory, or scientist’s belief.
  • Once research and visuals are completed, discuss “your belief” with the other group that has the differing viewpoint.
  • Being courteous and civil though a minimum of three back-and-forth verbal exchanges is expected.
  • Use the rubric below to prepare and conduct your argument.






Group used a minimum of two resources to develop argument.

Group used one resource to develop argument.

No research


Group used a detailed model, drawing or other visual to support their argument.

Group used a superficial model, drawing, or other visual to support their argument.

No visual


Groups argued with three or more counterpoints.

Group argued with 1–2 counterpoints.

No argument


Regardless of methodology (e.g., research paper, acting, or animation creation) used, we believe a final advantage of involving students in researching the difficulties a scientist faces is the opportunity to incorporate diversity into your teaching. In Figure 2, the list of scientists includes successful African American and female scientists that can be researched and presented on for this assignment (it has been our experience that female students often like to study female scientists).


This article was not developed to promote the Voki software. Its purpose is to encourage teachers to provide students with opportunities and examples of actual ADI experiences that have occurred among scientists in the past.

We believe it is important for students to realize that ADI has led to career advancement, career loss, and even risk of life. But despite these challenges, we want students to realize that many scientists have worked hard to seek new knowledge and in most cases to find the truth.

Finally, we believe studying actual ADI experiences from the past provides a better foundation for what they (i.e., the students) do in the classroom. Thus, as a prequel to students’ own hands-on CER or science-fair-type experiences, this approach provides a better grounding for their understanding of how science works.


Create and share Voki presentations—

Teacher-created Voki—

Student-created Voki—


Online animated software and apps

Rubric for evaluating Voki creation

William Sumrall ( is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Mississippi in University, Mississippi. Kristen M. Sumrall ( ) is a seventh-grade science teacher at Lafayette Middle School in Oxford, Mississippi.


Collins, P. 2001. Banvard’s folly: 13 Tales of people who didn’t change the world. Picador, New York, NY.

Hunter-Thomson, K. 2019. Data literacy 101: How can we help get data into students’ explanations? Science Scope 42 (8): 28–32.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards for states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Vargo, J. 2017, October 5. 10 reasons to use animation in the classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Crosscutting Concepts Curriculum General Science Instructional Materials Research Teaching Strategies Technology Middle School

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