1 Making links between environmental and social issues and the curriculum

In your textbook the chapters covering the social, technological and environmental aspects of science are often at the back of the book, and the textbook does not always make clear the links between the issues and the science ideas.

One way to make your students more interested in science is to integrate social and environmental issues into your teaching in every topic. You need to develop the habit of asking yourself ‘How is this topic relevant to my students’ lives?’

You can get ideas from newspapers, news bulletins and magazines, and you can develop an awareness of local, national and global issues.

Activity 1: Making links

This activity is for you to do on your own or with other teachers. You will need access to a textbook that was written after 2005.

The activity is split into two separate parts. It will help you to raise your awareness about how social and environmental issues link to the science curriculum.

Part 1: Gathering ideas from the news

Watch the news on television, listen to a radio bulletin, find a newspaper or find a news website on the internet. Make a list of news items that have some basis in science that is relevant to the Secondary Science curriculum.

Put any articles you find in a file that you can refer to later.

Part 2: Linking the issues to the science

Look at the last three chapters of the textbook. This is where you will find information about ‘natural resources’, ‘food resources’ or ‘our environment’. Rather than study these chapters at the end of the year when you are running out of time, think about how you could make connections between the issues in the last three chapters and the appropriate science topics.

Copy and complete Table 1.

Table 1 Relating science topics to environmental issues.
Science topic Environmental issue
Organic chemistry – hydrocarbons Biodegradable and non-biodegradable rubbish
Plant tissues Crop production management
Water supplies
Water pollution
Supplies and use of fossil fuels
Pesticides in food chains
Damage to the ozone layer

When you are teaching each of the science topics you will need to remember to spend some time studying the related environmental issues. This will make it more interesting for your students and enable them to use their science knowledge and understanding to take part in informed discussions and make decisions about the issues.

Pause for thought

  • What are the local environmental issues in your area?
  • Do your students discuss any of these issues in lessons already?
  • What issues interest your students? Can you think of any examples that relate to the secondary science curriculum?

The sorts of things you might have thought of could include: water supply, water pollution, air pollution, farming methods, electricity generation, healthcare and food supply, although there will certainly be many more.

Once you are familiar with the social and environmental issues that relate to science, you can bring them into your teaching without taking too much extra time. In Case Study 1, a teacher describes how she did this with her class.

Case Study 1: Relating a news item to a medical issue

Mrs Verma describes how she used a news item to highlight a social issue related to the study of the kidney.

One weekend I went to see the film, The Ship of Theseus. It was quite upsetting and it got me thinking about organ donation. I remembered that in my file I had a newspaper article about a young labourer who was desperate for money. He had been persuaded to donate one of his kidneys for a lot of money. Because it is illegal to sell organs in this way, he did not go to a proper hospital and he got a very bad infection. He had to spend most of the money on medicines.

On Monday I had to teach the kidney to Class X. We were studying ‘transportation’ in the chapter on ‘life processes’. I drew a diagram of a nephron on the blackboard and asked my students to look in their textbook to find the labels. We wrote about what the kidney does and how it works. I explained that although we have two kidneys, we can survive with one. I asked, ‘Does anyone know what happens if your kidneys do not work properly?’

Shanka told us that his uncle was very poorly and had to go to hospital for dialysis every week because he had kidney disease. Six months ago his cousin donated a kidney to him. Now he lives a normal life.

Then I read my students the newspaper article about the poor man who had been persuaded to sell his kidney. They were very interested in the case and a lot of them were quite cross. I asked my students, ‘Do you think organ donation is a good thing, bearing in mind what had happened to Shanka’s uncle and the poor labourer?’ I gave them a few minutes to talk to their neighbour about what they thought and why. I walked round and listened to their conversations. I then picked four students who seemed to have slightly different views to report back to the class.

Finally I told them about the film I had seen. Some of my students said they would like to see it, so I warned them that it is quite upsetting.

As they left the room they were still arguing about the issue. Mr Singh heard them in the corridor when he came out of his room and was surprised to hear students talking about a science lesson. He came to ask me what we had been doing and decided to try it himself. I lent him the newspaper article. After that we frequently exchanged ideas and resources.

Mrs Verma asked her students to talk to their neighbour. This sort of pair work has the advantage of taking very little time. In the next section, you will do an activity that involves groupwork.

Why this approach is important

2 Teaching community-based approaches