Science educators have come to recognize children’s critical thinking and problem solving skills as crucial ingredients of scientific literacy. As a consequence, there has been a widespread, concurrent emphasis on argumentation as a way of developing critical and creative minds. Argumentation has been of increasing interest in the field of science education as a means of actively involving students in science and, thereby, as a means of promoting their learning, reasoning, and problem solving. However, many approaches to teaching argumentation place primacy on teaching the structure of the argumentative genre prior to and at the beginning of participating in argumentation. According to pragmatist philosophers of language, however, such an approach is absolutely impossible because to be able to learn the structure of argumentation, one already needs to be competent in argumentation in the same way that learning grammar requires knowing the language.

In this book, we offer a different approach based on dialogical relations, as the origin of internal dialogue (inner speech) and higher psychological functions. We follow scholars from very different disciplines—philosophers (e.g. G. H. Mead, K. Marx and F. Engels, E. V. Il’enkov), psychologists (L. S. Vygotsky, A. N. Leont’ev), and sociologists (e.g. H. Garfinkel, E. Livingston)—who have shown that there is a primacy of the social relations over mind. In this approach, argumentation first exists as dialogical relation for participants who are in a dialogical relation with others and who employ argumentation for the purpose of the dialogical relation. Using data from elementary school children’s conversations in science classrooms, we describe and explain how argumentation emerges and develops as, in, and for dialogical relations with others. This sets the stage for argumentation to show up some time later when students are tested individually. For teachers the movement is in the reverse, for something known individually may unfold distributed over two or more people (e.g. teacher and student). The later Vygotsky adopted a Marxian Spinozist orientation toward knowing, learning, and development, an orientation that was elaborated in particular by the philosopher E. V. Il’enkov. The Spinozist position allows us to overcome the intellectualization of scientific argumentation and scientific literacy.

In this book, we contextualize our work by examining the current practice of teaching and researching children’s argumentation and reasoning in elementary science classrooms such as the argumentation patterns that the philosopher of science S. Toulmin described or the argumentation schemes that derive from the work of D. Walton, and other various approaches in science education research. The approach to understanding and teaching classroom argumentation in this book is different from these existing studies. Much of the existing work on argumentation in science investigates older students. In contrast, we use empirical data from elementary classrooms to explain how argumentation emerges and develops in and from classroom interactions by focusing on thinking and reasoning through/in relations with others. We thereby also exemplify that it is possible to engage young children in argumentation prior to their understanding its structure—just as these same children do a lot of grammatically correct talking without yet knowing formal grammar. We have chosen to take this route because of independently articulated claims that dialogue is the first instantiation of a new form of language, which sets up the theoretical ground for this book.

We acknowledge the support we received from different grants. Mijung Kim collected data with a grant from the CER-Net Research and IRG-SSHRC General Research Grant at the University of Victoria. Her initial research was continued with a grant (to Wolff-Michael Roth) from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (#435-2013-0260). We also draw on data obtained through grants #410-93-1127 and M-812-93-0006 (awarded to Roth). In chapter 3, we draw on materials originally published in Kim, M. and Roth, W.-M. (2017), Dialogic argumentation in elementary science classrooms. Cultural Studies in Science Education.

We thank the schoolteacher and students who participated in this study for sharing their enthusiasm, creativity, and open minds with us to make this work possible. Being and working with them in their classroom was truly inspiring and enlightening. We thank them for this wonderful journey together.