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Teaching secondary science
Teaching secondary science

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4.1 Controversial issues in science

People who believe that students should be inducted into the nature of science argue that the science curriculum should present a more balanced allocation between scientific content (which covers established and uncontested scientific knowledge) and controversial and/or critical issues. For example, Boyle’s Law and Newton’s Law are established laws that preclude the students from making the connection between their learning and their world, unlike more controversial issues such as climate change or genetic engineering.

Arguably, including critical contemporary science topics in the school curriculum would help the ‘conscientisation’ of science students, enabling learning to occur through dialogue between the teacher and the student. Contemporary scientific knowledge is therefore constructed as the result of solving problems that relate to the student’s world.

Reflection point

To what extent do you agree with or believe in the inclusion of critical or controversial topics in the science curriculum? How would you justify your position? Does the current science curriculum support ‘critical pedagogy’ or not? What are the challenges for the implementation of a critical pedagogy in science, and in your science specialism in particular?

Science is packed with issues that cause controversy, or have a moral/ethical dimension. Even topics that many scientists might regard as non-controversial, such as evolution, have been in the news in recent years when teaching a particular scientific theory clashes with religious beliefs.

Controversial issues involve value judgements – they cannot be settled or dealt with by evidence or ‘facts’ alone. A controversial issue also has to be considered important by a lot of people who hold differing views. (If only one person holds a particular view but everyone else holds an alternative view, then it is not controversial!) If you audit the science curriculum, you will see that there are many controversial and ethical issues.