What Skills Will Children Need for the Future?

What Skills Will Children Need for the Future?

How Claims, Evidence and Reasoning Inspires Student Engagement in Middle School

UL Xplorlabs™ from Underwriters Laboratories reaches students during the crucial middle school years, when research shows that many students start to lose interest in math and science. It’s critical to keep students engaged in science, because a more scientifically literate population is important for future career paths and the future in general.

When we created our first modules, we made deliberate choices to help engage students in relevant science learning in the middle school classroom. Crowley, Barron, Knutson & Martin (2015) indicated that professionals in STEM fields were interested in science in childhood, engaged by experiences both in and out of school. Inquiry, passionate teachers and creating connections to the concerns of students led to strong interest and engagement.

And, not all students will pursue a STEM career, and that’s OK, in fact necessary to having a diverse workforce, but students who have a background in science are better prepared to understand the world and think critically, according to Dr. Kelly Keena, UL’s director of Education and Outreach.

UL Xplorlabs focuses on teaching scientific inquiry through claims, evidence and reasoning (CER). For example, in the Fire Forensics Module students learn about fire dynamics and behavior then build a claim based on evidence collected from a burn scene to solve a fire’s location of origin and cause. The scenario engages students, who then use their new knowledge to solve the case.

CER is the language of scientists and engineers whose practices center on arguing claims supported by evidence. Fire researcher engineers at the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI) formulate a question that is meaningful to the fire community, test it, make several claims, then test those claims using the evidence they find in their investigations.

CER helps us apply a critical view to everything, even impacting how students consume information. It’s a tool that can help them critique news or research studies and understand bias or how findings can be applied to their own lives.

CER is a framework that provides skills to understand the world. Students today are growing up in the Google era. Access to information is in their pocket, but a search engine can’t necessarily explain context, relevance or provide meaning. For example, students can easily look up the definition for pyrolysis, but Xplorlabs helps them experience and apply the knowledge to build understanding for what pyrolysis means in the context of the fire fighting and investigation. CER then provides a lens for critical thinking as students consume information and state claims built on their own rationale.

While not every student will become a scientist or engineer, the lessons in a science classroom can benefit every student.  UL Xplorlabs gives teachers tools and resources to engage students in scientific discovery and draw connections between science in the classroom to real-world applications.


Crowley, K., Barron, B.J., Knutson, K., & Martin, C. (2015). Interest and the development of pathways to science. Interest and the development of pathways to science. In K. A. Renninger, M. Nieswandt, and S. Hidi (Eds), Interest in Mathematics and Science Learning (pp. 297-314).  Washington D.C.: AERA.