Teaching secondary science
Teaching secondary science

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

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.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371