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Teaching secondary science
Teaching secondary science

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4.4 Teaching controversial issues

One of the reasons why teachers may be reluctant to engage students in controversial issues is finding suitable resources that students will be able to access. However, there is a plethora of resources produced by various organisations aimed at students available on the internet.

Of course, teachers need to be aware of the bias in such resources. It is not possible to avoid such bias – it’s a human trait – but it doesn’t mean that resources produced by organisations with a vested interest or a particular view should be avoided. It is important, however, that this bias is considered and brought to students’ attention. Ideally, students should be provided with material that presents the other side of the argument. Approach A in Resource 1 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]   is one way in which bias can be dealt with.

As a teacher of science you are navigating a potential moral and ethical minefield. Dealing with emotive and controversial issues requires time for research and preparation, well-developed personal knowledge of the issues and knowledge of appropriate teaching pedagogies. The teacher also needs self-confidence, positive working relationships with students and good classroom discipline. Some teachers may fear upsetting students or worry that they might be seen as indoctrinating students, so knowing how to approach teaching controversial issues and thorough planning are essential. There is also the question of assessment of such complex skills in a climate of accountability and record-keeping.

It is not surprising that many science teachers feel underprepared and lack confidence in dealing with ethical and social issues in science (Levinson and Turner, 2001). However, this is not a reason for omitting controversial issues from the curriculum. To do so does students a disservice, depriving them of an understanding of the realities of science and its impact on people and the environment.

Activity 12 Planning and teaching a controversial issue

Timing: Allow about 2 hours

Identify an opportunity to incorporate a controversial issue in your science teaching. Use the ideas in this section of the course to plan your approach and the stance you will take.

Collect student feedback on the extent they engaged and enjoyed the lesson, and what they learned.