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Teaching secondary science
Teaching secondary science

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4.2 Learning through controversial issues

The Wellcome Trust, the independent medical research charity, sponsored research into the value assigned to the teaching of socio-scientific issues in secondary and post-16 education. The resulting report by Levinson and Turner (2001) asserted that ‘the ability to engage in discussion about the impact of science on society is increasingly seen as an essential part of people’s education’ (Levinson and Turner, 2001, p. 2). The current science curriculum supports this aspect of science education, placing greater importance on the nature of science and its relationship with society. Despite this, many teachers taking part in Levinson and Turner’s research believed that science teaching should be about the delivery of facts and must avoid values, opinions or ethics. Wellington and Ireson (2012) argued that including controversial issues in the curriculum is essential if the true nature of science is to be conveyed to students.

Which side of the argument do you agree with and why? One of the difficulties teachers have cited is in identifying clear objectives and outcomes for students and matching these to learning outcomes.

Activity 10 Teaching controversial issues

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Resource 1 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   provides some of the objectives and outcomes associated with teaching controversial issues and possible teaching approaches. Identify which learning outcomes could be achieved by each approach.

Different approaches support the different student outcomes. Teachers need to consider many factors when selecting an approach, but should be able to justify their choice and identify appropriate, achievable objectives and outcomes.