This is part five of a six-part series. Each page contains a video providing an overview of the contents of the page.
You can find the narrated slide show version of this web page at Vimeo (on the right)
Inventing a new way to build a backyard fort, creating an innovative approach to recycling, and building a case against a new coal power plant all involve applying evidence to solve problems and make decisions.
Evidence is necessary to support a claim, justify change, or make an informed decision. An earthquake in Chile caused structural damage to this building. What exactly caused the damage and how could this type of damage be eliminated in the future?
At this stage in the inquiry process, students are organizing ideas, creating models, and formulating plans. The focus is on application, analysis, and synthesis of information. Encourage students to use technology as a way to express their understandings.
Provide opportunities for students to try out their ideas and apply what they've learned to real-world problems. For example, students might apply the four principles of flight to predict which paper airplane will work best. Rather than simply reading about machines and write a report, children design and test an invention. Go to the Forces of Flight website.
Carol Kuhlthau found that as students better understand their topic, they become more effective and efficient in gathering information. They seek supporting details, relevant information and evidence to support their hypotheses. Their confidence continues to build.
Encourage students seek out information that supports and extends their focus. Ask them to use materials they may not have considered earlier in the project such as primary source documents, periodicals or subscription databases for specific examples and original research.
Students are accustomed to finding the right answer and passively submitting that answer. Inferring involves putting many ideas together to form a new idea. Students are often surprised that many important questions don’t have a single solution. Their solution may be unique. Rather than writing a paper on genetics, why not create a family video that shows genetics in action.
Let’s explore five elements of the inference phase of inquiry. Let’s start with evidence and arguments.
Evidence & Arguments
In most academic situations, inquiry involves accumulating evidence that supports inferences that seem reasonable, logical, and persuasive. Students ask:
- What inferences can I make based on the evidence?
- What conclusions can I draw?
- What decisions can I make?
A student might read about alternative methods for absorbing oil. Then, conduct experiments suggested at Steve Spangler's Oil Absorbing Experiments webpage to compare the approaches and record the results using photographs or video. Finally, they draw inferences based on the evidence they collect. Which approach might work best in the real-world?
Students make inferences when they are able to draw conclusions and make predictions about something implied but not stated explicitly. Students are successful when the bits and pieces they've read become part of a "big picture" that they are able to share. Rather than simply reporting information about e-coli bacteria, encourage students to dig further. Why are some strains harmless and some harmful? How could future outbreaks be prevented?
Think about the types of inferences that students need to learn (Johnson & Johnson, 1986).
- Location. "After feeding the penguins, Dr. Franklin decided it was time to clean the lion's cage." Where are we?
- Agent. "Sam picked up the hose and directed it toward the fire." What is Sam's job?
- Time. "Juan rubbed his eyes, yawned, and jumped out of bed." When did this occur?
- Action. "Kelly grabbed the bat and walked toward the plate." What is Kelly doing?
- Instrument. "Susan took her bowl of soup to the table, but she forgot her utensil." What did Susan forget?
- Category. " The beagle and poodle were sleeping but the sheep dog was barking." These three are members of what group?
- Object. "The gentle giant's trunk sprayed water across it's rough grey back." What is the "gentle giant"?
- Cause-Effect. "When Ben wore up from his nap on the lawn chair, his skin was bright red." What caused Ben to turn red?
- Problem-Solution. "Mandy's stomach rumbled." What should Mandy do?
- Feelings-Attitudes. "As Emily approached the empty lot where she loved to play she noticed the trees had been cut down, and her eyed filled with tears." What was Emily feeling?
Some students need practice in making inferences and drawing conclusions. Use the following interactives for practice:
- Be a Critical Reader: Inference (Grades 4-8). This activity helps students draw inferences based on scenarios.
- Inference Battleship (Grades 3-6). This activity uses the game battleship to practice drawing inferences.
- Inference Riddle Game (Grades 3-6). This activity asks students to make inference from clues.
- Practice Inference (Grades 3-6). This activity helps student practice inference skills.
Go to Energy. Explore issues in energy production and conservation. What do you think should be done to solve the world's energy problems? Why?
Observations and visual notes can be helpful in making decisions. An easy approach involves three statements:
- I see...
- I think..
- I conclude...
"I’m a Junior CSI trying to figure out what caused the death of Mr. Lymen."
Patterns of Evidence
Evidence is necessary to support a claim, justify change, or make an informed decision. A student investigating the creation of a bike path might use existing information found on websites about bike paths as well as data collected in a local survey. Provide guiding questions to help learners think about evidence.
- What evidence is most useful in addressing my questions?
- How does this evidence connect with what I already know?
- How is this evidence relevant for my question?
- What are my assumptions?
- What am I guessing about and what do I know for sure?
- What evidence is from primary versus secondary sources?
- Which sources are bias and which are credible?
- What are all the possible perspectives and viewpoints?
- Why would someone consider one viewpoint better/worse?
- What pieces of evidence support and refute a perspective?
- What are the most important pieces of evidence?
- What are the supporting pieces of evidence?
- What are the patterns of evidence?
- What new questions does this evidence raise?
Look for patterns of evidence in both text and visual materials. Examine photos, make inferences, and show conclusions.
Ask more experienced students to build on the visual documentation begun by others. Begin at the National Invasive Species Council page. Then, select a local area containing an invasive species. Work with local officials to create a multi-year investigation.
"One pond contains an invasive plant called lythrum salicaria. Last year the plant was removed from the second study location. We’re looking for convincing evidence showing whether removing the invasive species makes a difference in the habitat."
Developing Convincing Arguments
Arguments provide evidence to support a claim.
"Louisiana would be much different without the French influence. "
To develop useful arguments, inquirers must evaluate evidence, examine different points of view, and determine the most logical approach or meaningful conclusion. Ask:
- How does the evidence fit together?
- What claims and supporting arguments could be made?
- How can the evidence be arranged to support a conclusion?
- What’s the core of the argument?
- What pieces of evidence support what perspectives?
- How do the arguments fit with my understandings?
- What is the reasoning behind each argument?
- What are the limitations of these arguments?
- What are the errors in reasoning?
- Where are the holes in the evidence?
- How could this information be misleading?
- What are the problems and barriers?
- How could it be corrected or improved?
- What are the relationships/causes/effect?
Involve more mature students in dealing with topics containing multiple perspectives and many possible solutions. For instance, explore the different perspectives on how wildfires should be managed. Use a concept map to organize arguments.
"While reading the historical fiction book, The Big Burn, by Jeanette Ingold I became interested in learning the facts behind the role of the Forest Service in managing fires, so I watched documentaries, read books, examined websites, and conducted online interviews to gather information and identify the different perspectives."
Deductive arguments apply general principles and theories to specific situations. Students must explain their hypotheses, experiments and conclusions.
Ask students to explore a computer game such as the Lord of the Flies game, then develop a convincing argument computer game is or isn't accurate.
- Federation of America Scientists - Learning Technologies Projects
- Nobel Prize Educational Productions
- Routes: Discover the Secrets in Your Genes
Once students have synthesized information and reached a conclusion, they're ready to ACT.
- Communication Planning
- Technology Tools
ACT stands for Audience, Communication Planning, and Technology Tools. Students need to identify an audience for their finds, plan a communication, and use tools to create this communication. Although these elements may be dictated by the teacher, learners need experiences making their decisions and choices.
Ask students to think about how to best disseminate their information. Explore Leslie Preddy's Dissemination (PDF) worksheet.
Students need to think about the audience for their communication. Although the teachers and/or classmates is often the audience. It's more meaningful for students to have an authentic audience related to their area of interest.
When designing messages, ask students to think about the needs of their audience.
- Who is my audience and what do they need to know?
- What are examples and nonexamples?
- In what ways can the evidence be presented to communicate the argument?
- How can my messages be shared in an effective, efficient, and appealing way?
- How can my message be conveyed in a number of different ways?
- What parts of the argument are difficult to understanding?
The key to an effective project is identifying a meaningful mission associated with a specific audience. Explore Eight Effective Project Missions for ways to connect products with deep understandings. When designing inquiry-based experiences, focus on a specific category to encourage high-quality products. For instance, rather than a report on a hummingbirds, students might create an information comic called mythbusters. Or, students might create public service announcement videos that provoke an audience reaction on topics such as responsible texting or stopping the rumor mill.
After thinking about the needs of the audience, the form of communication must be identified. Students need to create a draft, revise, edit, and publish.
- What's the message?
- What needs to be said?
- What evidence will be presented?
- What is the best channel for communication (i.e, text, graphics, audio, video)?
Rather than writing with a pencil or paper, consider process writing on the computer.
Writing is often an important element of a communication. Students may need help in writing, particularly in a class other than English. Use Scholastic’s Write It and Writing with Writers resources as scaffolding for writing essays, news, speeches, or other types of communications.
- Write It
- Writing with Writers
- Writing with Writers: Biography.
- Writing with Writers: Book Review.
- Writing with Writers: Descriptive Writing.
- Writing with Writers: Folk Tales.
- Writing with Writers: Mystery Writing.
- Writing with Writers: Myth Writing.
- Writing with Writers: News Writing.
- Writing with Writers: Poetry Writing.
- Writing with Writers: Speechwriting.
Young people need to learn how evidence such as statistics, comparison, and expert testimony can be used to support opinions. Ask students to read the student model article Summer. What kinds of evidence are used to support the student's opinion?
Students also need to learn how to cite evidence in their writing. Using statistical information in writing is a great way to weave mathematics across the curriculum. Read to Writing with Statistics. Although written for college students, there are lots of great ideas for writing incorporating statistics into writing for middle school students.
Ask students to read the student model article Cheating in America. How were statistics used as evidence in the article?
Ask students to explore other student model articles:
- The Aloha State
- I Am Latvia
- The Incredible Egg (science observation)
- Mir Flies On for the Next Generation
- Unique Wolves
The Essay Lab takes you step-by-step through the process of writing a five paragraph essay on a literature topic.
Explore other online writing tools:
From making an electronic scrapbook to producing a video documentary, student communications increasingly involve creating a product beyond words on a page.
Explore Leslie Preddy's list of Product Options (PDF).
Explore book report alternatives:
- A Character's Letter to the Editor
- Character and Author Business Cards
- Comic Strips and Cartoon Squares
- Creating Careers for Characters
- Creating a Childhood for a Character
- Elements of Fiction
- Exploring Story Elements Using Story Map Comic Strips
- Fairy Tale Autobiographies
- Fantastic Characters: Analyzing and Creating Superheroes and Villains
- Hooking a Reader with a Book Cover
- Summary, Symbol and Analysis in Bookmarks
Ask students to think about sequencing of information. Is there a logical beginning, middle, and end? Are there pieces of information that build arguments at need to be in a particular order? For instance, I’ll start by showing the cactus and asking the question “Who has been eating the cactus?” Then, I’ll provide evidence to show that it was most likely a javelina.
Planning. Traditionally students are taught to use an outline for a report. However with many projects a concept map or storyboard is more effective.
If your students are creating a video, go to my Video Ventures workshop for ideas on planning, shooting, editing, and sharing including lots of links to storyboards.
Creator Rights and Responsibilities. Students need to be aware of their rights and responsibilities as creators. You'll find many online lessons that explore topics related to respecting the work of others, applying fair use, and sharing electronically.
- A Creator's Rights (Grades 6-8). This lesson answers the question: What rights do you have as a creator?
- A Creator's Responsibilities (Grades 6-8). This lesson answers the question: What responsibilities do you have to respect others' creative work?
- File Sharing. This article discusses what files can be shared legally.
- Rework, Reuse, Remix (Grades 6-8). This lesson answers the question: How do creators apply fair use?
- VIdeo Sharing. This article discusses watching, creating, and posting video.
In some cases, you may require an annotated bibliography. Explore Leslie Preddy's Writing an Annotation (PDF).
Regardless of the format, students are often asked to present the findings of their inquiry. Explore my online workshop Presentations that Pop! for ideas that will help your students build effective class presentations.
Some students need more help than others planning for a presentation. Consider providing a list of questions to guide their planning.
- Title of Presentation
- What's the question, problem, task?
- What are the key issues, stakeholders, or interested parties?
- What are the possible solutions?
- What is the best or chosen solution?
- What resources were used?
Students must choose a product and locate the tools and technology needed to create the communication. Regardless of whether the product is a letter to the editor or a video tutorial, students need to think about their options for production. Will the letter be sent electronically or through the mail. Will the video be shared on DVD or on the Internet?
- What form will my message take? (i.e., letter, poster, presentation, poem, speech, advertisement).
- What tools and technologies are needed to create my product?
Get students involved with creating original images and video. These don't need to be lengthy productions. Consider 60-90 second project that share a science experiment, skit, or persuasive message.
Be creative. Rather than simply taking snapshots, ask students to think of the many different ways to represent their ideas visually.
Take many photos of the same subject from different perspectives. Find different ways to represent the same subject. For instance take photos and also create drawings.
It's not always possible to create raw graphics, audio, and video. Instead, use online resources to supplement original works. Use public domain resources such as the NOAA Photo Library for images. Rather than using standard images, be creative. Use a single image cropped different ways and placed in PowerPoint.
Explore ideas for online resources:
- Clipart. Use public domain clipart sites.
- Comics. Incorporate a comic to add humor to a presentation. Do a Google Image search for you topic such as “germ comic.” You’ll be surprised at what you find.
- Infographic and Visualization Websites
- Satellite Images
- NASA Images
- USGS Images
- Google Earth
- Google Moon
- DK Clipart
- Free Images
- Free Photo
- Free Stock Photos
- Images of the World
- PD Photo
- Pics4Learning - designed for students and teachers
- Public Domain Images from Wikimedia
- Wikimedia Commons
- US Government Images
- Educational Video
- Vimeo - general sharing site (Encyclopedia of Life)
- YouTube - look for video channels such as National Geographic
- Science Video
- Live and Archived Webcams
- Data. Many government and organization websites such as science.gov provide data and statistics.
For more content resources, go to Transmedia: Content Resources.
Besides your standard word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools, there are many online production tools that can be used to create great student projects. Use technology to bring all the elements together in the form of a final product that can be shared. The options are endless. You can find a list of links at the web page.
Consider projects that mix text, visual, and audio elements such as GoAnimate. Although comic-type environments may seem low level, they can involve high level thinking. In this case, the student is comparing Egyptian rulers. Use multimedia poster and planning tools such as Stixy and Glogster. Finally, think of unusual ways to use traditional sources. By changing the page size, you can create postcards, trading cards, and posters in PowerPoint. Consider using a variety of on and off computer tools.
- Production Tools
- Google Docs with an embedded draw
- Comic Software
- Comic Life. Available for both Mac and Windows *
- Comic Creator for Kids
- Comic Creators for All Ages (potential for inappropriate content)
- Cartoon and Caption Creators
- Cover Generator - Cover Creator
- Cubes - Bio-Cube, Mystery Cube
- Draw Tools
- Codes and Language
- Morse Code - Morse Code
- Essay Map - Essay Map
- Flipbook Generator - Flip Book
- Image Manipulation
- Letter Generator - Letter Generator, Letterpop
- Map Makers - Map Maker - Select a map and fill it with data.
- Persuasive Essay - Persuasion Map
- Poem Generator - Acrostic Poems, Shape Poem
- Postcard Generator - Postcard Creator
- Poster Maker - Glogster (tessellation example), Letterpop, Stixy
- Screen Casts - Sketchcast (sign-up, record your drawing, include your voice, share, embed)
- Sign Generators - Warning Label Generator
- Story Builders
- Trading Card Generator - Trading Cards
- Video Generator
- Shark Video Mixer from Discovery - create a shark video
- Video Sharing
- Virtual Planners
- Word Clouds
- Writing Tools
For more tools, go to Transmedia: Elements of the Experience.
Use ReadWriteThink interactives for creating interesting products:
- Acrostic Poem
- CD/DVD Creator
- Comic Creator
- Crossword Puzzles
- Diamante Poem
- Doodle Splash
- Letter Generator
- Letter Poem
- Postcard Creator
- Printing Press
Explore lessons and teaching strategies that incorporate technology-based products:
- Digital Reflections: Expressing Understanding of Content Through Photography
- Glog That Book!
- Making Memories: An End-of-Year Digital Scrapbook
- Persuasive Essay: Environmental Issues
- Show and Tell: Writing with Words and Video
- Using Glogster to Support Multimodel Literacy
The options can seem overwhelming. Don’t rush the inference phase of inquiry. It takes time and deep thinking to bring all the elements together.
Students are sometimes overwhelmed by all the evidence they've collected. Use the puzzle analogy to help them focus. Think of their project like a puzzle with many pieces. The big picture is the answer to their key question. The pieces are the answers to all the subordinate questions. Ask them to think about what the puzzle picture looks like and to try arranging information in different ways to meet this need.
It’s okay to not have “the” answer or to discover that no one may ever know the answer to a question .However, students love the idea of seeing the world in a new way, knowing something their parents might not know, or figuring out a sneaky or creative way of solving a problem.
There’s that moment when students are shocked to realize they’ve discovered a new connection. These insights are unlikely with traditional “copy and paste” term paper assignments. Design interesting assignments that encourage students to synthesize information and build their own understandings.
The cycle of assimilating and inferring is often skipped over. What can be done to ensure that this stage gets the time it deserves? With each inquiry cycle, inquirers must revisit questions with an open mind.
- What evidence do I still need to gather?
- What has changed since my last cycle of questioning, exploring, assimilating,
- Have I visualized the evidence in many different ways?
- What pieces of information still need to be connected? What’s not obvious?
- Are there alternatives I haven’t considered? Are there opinions I should seek?
- What are the risks and benefits of each approach?
- What generalizations can I draw based on the evidence?
- Do I have enough information to draw a conclusion or make a decision?
- How do I most effectively present arguments and cite evidence?
- How can graphics be used to better understand the data and my conclusions?
Use guiding questions to facilitate inquiry:
- Is there a single solution or alternate solutions?
- Does the solution make sense? Is it reasonable? Why or why not?
- What evidence supports my conclusion?
- How does this result compare to my original guess?
- How will I explain this conclusions to others or take action?
- Is my conclusion correct or valid?
- How can the result be visualized?
- How can the result be shared?
- What can I or others use this information? How can this be applied to other problems?
- What are the sources of errors or problems in the solution?
- How is my answer like and unlike others?
- Do you want to share with people in your class or the world?
- Do you want to share temporarily or permanently?
- Could you write a letter or email?
- Could you make a sign for the kitchen, hallway, or area business?
- Could you make a group decision and create a "Science Squad" shared announcement?
As you develop assignments related to inquiry, consider the information standards that can be addressed.
(Common Core Standards for Literacy Across the Curriculum Grades 6-8)
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources and science and technical texts.
Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.
Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content. Introduce a claim(s), support claim(s) with logical reasoning and accurate evidence, use words to clarify relationships, and provide a concludng statement.
Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently.
Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation. Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
Read, view, and listen for information presented in any format (e.g., textual, visual, media, digital) in order to make inferences and gather meaning.
Continue an inquirybased research process by applying criticalthinking skills (analysis, synthesis, evaluation, organization) to information and knowledge in order to construct new understandings, draw conclusions, and create new knowledge.
Use strategies to draw conclusions from information and apply knowledge to curricular areas, realworld situations, and further investigations.
Use the writing process, media and visual literacy, and technology skills to create products that express new understandings.
Demonstrate flexibility in the use of resources by adapting information strategies to each specific resource and by seeking additional resources when clear conclusions cannot be drawn.
Use both divergent and convergent thinking to formulate alternative conclusions and test them against the evidence.
Employ a critical stance in drawing conclusions by demonstrating that the pattern of evidence leads to a decision or conclusion.
Use valid information and reasoned conclusions to make ethical decisions.
Use writing and speaking skills to communicate new understandings effectively.
Create products that apply to authentic, real-world contexts.
Contribute to the exchange of ideas within and beyond the learning community.
Use information and knowledge in the service of democratic values.
Respect the principles of intellectual freedom.
Use creative and artistic formats to express personal learning.
Identify trends and forecast possibilities.
Process data and report results.
Create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.
Websites to Explore
Explore the following online resources to learn more.
- Synthesizing/Solving. Baltimore Public Schools.
- Applying New Understanding. Baltimore Public Schools.
- Communicating/Presenting/Sharing. Baltimore Public Schools.
Kuhlthau, Carol (2004). Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 2nd Edition. Available through Libraries Unlimited.
Think about it...
- Explore Eight Effective Project Missions. Design an inquiry-based assignment focusing on one of these missions.
- Examine the questions related to seeking patterns of evidence and developing arguments. Design an activity that focuses on building skills in identifying evidence and building arguments.
- Try a creation tool such as a comic generator like Make BeliefsComix, Stixy, or Glogster. Create a sample product for your classroom that you could use as an example. Then, discuss how you might use it in your classroom to share the results of an inquiry.