Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The New Teacher's Toolbox

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

The New Teacher's Toolbox

Article excerpt

February 2012, Tips for Teachers Just Starting Out


Regardless of what subject I'm teaching, some of my most memorable and lively classroom discussions have centered around rather controversial topics. When I started teaching, I was afraid to discuss controversial science issues--I didn't want to invite criticism from parents or administration. But I decided that some of the most timely and relevant scientific topics are, by nature, controversial, and it's our responsibility to introduce them so students can be well informed. Teaching controversial topics effectively takes tact. Here are some tips for doing it smartly and smoothly.

Define your goals. Know what you want your outcome to be. Defining clear objectives is particularly important for controversial lessons that can have unintended outcomes. Teaching controversy can be risky, so make sure you can justify this risk. How does the lesson relate to the curriculum? Why is it important to science? How deeply do you intend to delve into the topic? These questions needn't make you shy away from the topic; instead, let them help you mold the controversy into a smooth lesson.

Do your homework. It's imperative that you're well versed in all sides of the controversy. Know who the stakeholders are, the key arguments, pertinent evidence (specifically scientific data and statistics), and what counterarguments or potential pitfalls your students might encounter. This will help you answer student questions. (Your not knowing the pertinent information can introduce frustration into an already potentially chaotic lesson.)

Doing your homework includes researching appropriate materials. If students will be doing research, you may need to suggest references or sources. Because sources might be biased, preview any media clips you intend to show and encourage students to critically analyze the information they find. For example, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals presents one side of animal ethics debates, but many of their photographs and videos are graphic. The line between presenting controversy and offending students can be easily crossed.

Obtain necessary permissions. Talk to your mentor or department chair about whether a controversial lesson is appropriate before you introduce it--especially if you're a new teacher. …

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