A Cross-Cultural Study of Gifted Students' Scientific, Societal, and Moral Questions concerning Science

Article excerpt

Kirsi Tirri 1 and Sakari Tolppanen 2 and Maija Aksela 2 and Elina Kuusisto 1

Recommended by Liam Gearon

1, Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 9, 00014 Helsinki, Finland 2, The Unit of Chemistry Teacher Education, Department of Chemistry, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 55, 00014 Helsinki, Finland

Received 24 February 2012; Revised 25 June 2012; Accepted 17 July 2012

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1. Introduction

In this study we explored the number and nature of moral questions and compared them with the scientific and societal questions asked. The questions were presented by international high school students gifted in science. The students ( N=658 ) came from Europe and Asia and were identified gifted because most of them came from scientific schools or classes, many had done well in national or international science competitions, won scholarships and prizes as well as had good school grades. All of the students applied to join the Millennium Youth Camp held in 2011 in Finland [1]. The camp is aimed at 16-19-year-old students gifted in science. The students in this study chose to study one of the camp's environmental themes in more detail: climate change, renewable energy and resources, and water. All three themes can be explored from a scientific, societal, or moral perspective. In the application form, the students were asked to present three questions related to their chosen theme, which they wanted an answer during the camp.

We analyzed the students' questions and divided them into three different categories: scientific, societal, and moral. Our aim was to explore the nature of the questions that the students had asked and the possible cross-cultural and gender differences in these questions. Furthermore, our aim was to contribute to the discussion on science education as moral education. In addition to scientific knowledge, science education deals with societal issues and ethical dilemmas [2]. Excellence in science needs to be combined with ethics to serve humankind in the best possible way [3]. Therefore, moral sensitivity in science includes the skill of being able to identify a moral question in a science domain. Previous research has revealed a close relationship between morality and socioscientific issues and also advocated the need for addressing ethical aspects in science education [4, 5]. In this study we explored the nature of the moral, scientific, and societal questions the gifted students identified.

2. Socioscientific Issues in Science Education

As science interacts with many different aspects of human activity, such as economics, the environment, technology, culture, and social issues, science education should not only focus on scientific facts, but on the interactions of these different spheres. For instance, many issues, such as the use of renewable resources, are both scientific and societal in nature. Unlike the traditional problems faced in a science class, these so-called socioscientific issues do not have one clear answer that can be found at the back of the textbook. Moreover, they may not have, as there may not be, a right answer at all [6].

Socioscientific issues, such as global warming and the use of renewable resources, two of the themes of the Millennium Youth Camp, often contain controversial ideas and do not necessarily have generally accepted viewpoints, as people may look at different aspects of the issue [7]. When engaging students with controversial socioscientific issues, students need to be critical, skeptical, and open to new ideas in order to deal with these problems. In order to reach these goals of scientific literacy, Zeidler et al. [8] have argued that it is necessary to include moral issues and discussion in the science curriculum. …