Using EBA (Evidence Based Argumentation) to teach Mathematics as a pedagogical instructional resource

Submitted by Filiberto Santiago-Lizardi

Evidence-Based Argumentation (EBA) is a pedagogical instructional resource tool developed by the Boston Debate League in conjunction with Boston Public Schools (BPS) to equip teachers in all disciplines to create classroom environments where students regularly practice essential academic and social skills through debate.

Presently, BPS provides thorough coordinated professional development program training for all teachers to employ debate as a pedagogical tool in their classrooms across all academic disciplines. My school got on board three years ago and made EBA a school-wide focus, providing professional development, analyzing assessment and looking at student-work data, and conducting peer observations.  All teachers of mathematics at my school, the James P. Timilty Middle School, participated in the training to use evidence-based-argumentation to teach the curriculum and content that they were already planning to teach. Once you begin to understand how to implement it, teachers of mathematics began to realize the potential for debate in their classroom. We all received the opportunity to earn graduate credit through a yearlong professional development training where I learned, created, and tested teaching and learning pedagogical opportunities to engage students in solving math problems using evidence-based-argumentation. Mathematics through argumentation activities engages students in pedagogically sound learning. These opportunities require the use of higher-order thinking skills and learning strategies as our curriculum, assessments, technology, and instructional resources continue to morph, mirroring common core mathematics state standards.

At its most basic level, EBA asks teachers to regularly organize classroom activities where students make oral and written arguments, use text as evidence, and make connections between mathematical tools or thinking strategies and the numerical evidence to construct solutions to Math problems using reasoning and proof. All students have to read critically which helps improve students’ concrete reasoning while engaging in productive struggle with difficult text as they find evidence to support their side. Students’ writing skills grow as an effective debate speech mirrors a formal essay, with a thesis supported by succinct and evidenced arguments and a persuasive conclusion that wins over the audience. Critical thinking and speaking improve as students develop and deliver arguments that engage their peers. Moreover, the competitive nature of arguing encourages otherwise disinterested students to become actively engaged in rigorous academic work. For example, in a debate about what method is the most expedient way to find the roots for quadratic equations, the student in the factoring group will also understand finding roots by graphing and the quadratic formula because they were forced to argue that factoring was faster than those other methods.

EBA can be adapted for content instruction through seven core activities, i.e., pass the paper, carousel, scavenger hunt, four corners, mini-debate, class challenge, and full debate. Each core activity can be integrated into content-specific instruction. Evidence Based Argumentation follows a progression of five core argumentation skills, each of which contains objectives for student mastery, i.e., Making a Basic Argument, Making a Strong Argument, Using Text as Evidence to Support an Argument, Responding to Counterarguments, and Structuring a Complex Argument.

A detailed breakdown for level of argument and skills follows:

A. Create an Argument

EBA Skill #1 – Making a Basic Argument: (claim + evidence)

  1. State your claim:  A debatable statement

  2. State your evidence:
    Factual information that supports your claim

EBA Skill #2 – Making a Complete Argument: (claim + evidence + reasoning)

  1. State your claim:  A debatable statement

  2. State your evidence:
    Factual information that supports your claim

  3. Complete your argument with reasoning:
    What links your evidence to the claim?
    How does the evidence prove your claim?

B. Strengthen Arguments

EBA Skill #3 – Evaluate Arguments: (what are their strengths and weaknesses?)

  1. How valid is the claim?

  2. How valid is the evidence?

  3. How relevant is the evidence to the claim?  

  4. Is the evidence sufficient to prove the claim?  

  5. How valid is the reasoning?  

  6. How relevant is the reasoning to the claim?  

  7. Is the reasoning sufficient to prove the claim?  

EBA Skill #4 – Questioning Arguments: (making it stronger, weaker, or what is missing?)

  1. How can I make my argument stronger?

  2. How can I weaken another argument?

  3. What assumptions in those arguments need to be exposed?

  4. What additional information do I need to gather?

EBA Skill #5 – Counter and Strengthen Arguments (what evidence and reasoning can attack my argument, refine my own argument to make it stronger, or use DrMO (Deny, Reverse, Minimize, and Outweigh) to respond to alternative arguments with counterarguments)

  1. Anticipate what evidence and reasoning can attack my argument

  2. Refine my own argument to make it stronger

  3. Use DrMO to respond to alternative arguments with counterarguments:

  1. Deny:  What my opponent said is not true.
    Their evidence or reasoning is not valid.

  2. Reverse:  What my opponent said actually helps my argument.
    Their evidence is valid, but their reasoning is weak.

  3. Minimize:  What my opponent said is true, but it is not a big deal.
    Their evidence is valid, but it is just not relevant.

  4. Outweigh:  What my opponent said is true, but this is more important.
    Their evidence or reasoning is valid and relevant, but it’s not as relevant as mine.

C. Apply Argumentation

EBA Skill #6 – Use Argumentation in Different Settings (full debate)

  1. Develop complex arguments with multiple counterarguments and rich evidence from multiple sources

  2. Structure, frame, and package argumentation to maximize
    desired impact, depending on the context and audience

  3. Apply argumentation to communicate voice, opinions, and
    needs in various academic and real life situations

My personal take away about this resource is that by incorporating argumentation I am able to structure student centered learning opportunities where I can take the role of a facilitator to monitor student progress through engagement. I provide samples of student work together with photographic evidence of activities I have personally created using skill levels 1 to 5 (see links at the end of the article). At this point I have not created a product for a full debate (EBA skill #6). This is a significant challenge that I continue to work on as I continue learning and gaining a better understanding about EBA as a teaching resource and the connections that can be made with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

If you want to get further information about EBA or are interested in taking the graduate course offered, visit the Boston Debate League at Or you can also reach out and contact the EBA team:

Sarah Mayper

Marisa Suescum

Kimberly Willingham

Learn with passion, act with courage, and change the world.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

© ATMIM (Assoc. of Teachers of Mathematics in Mass.)

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