General Science and Teaching

Teaching Controversial Topics in Science

Tue Jan 30, 2018 4:28 PM

Hello all,

What strategies do you use when teaching controversial topics such as: climate change, evolution, GMOs or vaccinations? What challenges have you faced?

Do you have any lesson plans for the above topics (or other controversial topics) or material you could share? Perhaps other ideas?

Coincidentally, NSTA is hosting a Virtual Conference titled "Teaching Controversial Topics in Science" on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The discussion will be led by NSTA's Executive Director Dr. David Evans.

For more information, check out the link for the Virtual Conference here:

I look forward to your responses!

Megan Doty
Megan Doty
5892 Activity Points

Thu Feb 01, 2018 2:24 PM

When teaching any topic, it is important to present information in a way that allows students to form educated thoughts and opinions on their own. As a current student studying Elementary Education, I hope that in my future classroom I will be able to share multiple different points of view on controversial topics. I believe students can develop a deeper understanding of their values and beliefs when they discuss them with others. Incorporating respectful class conversations about how students' feel on different topics will create an open, educational dialogue that everyone will be able to benefit and grow from.

Ashton Yarbrough
Ashton Yarbrough
245 Activity Points

Tue Feb 06, 2018 10:09 PM

What would be the "different points of view" on these topics that you would want to share?

James Dotson
James Dotson
100 Activity Points

Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:21 PM

James makes a good point, and I'd like to follow up pertaining to Ashton's statement, "I hope that in my future classroom I will be able to share multiple different points of view on controversial topics."

It's important to understand that, for most of the "controversial topics" that Megan mentioned, there are not "different points of view" in science. For example, we know that humans are the main cause of climate change. At this point, there's no other possibility. We know that evolution occurs -- and why it MUST occur. There is no scientific alternative. (And, it's important to note, this knowledge says nothing -- pro or con -- about the existence of God. Thus there are many deeply religious people who have no problem with evolution.)
Even though the general public may perceive these topics as controversial, they are not controversial in the scientific community, and it would be incorrect to teach that they are.

Having said that, I agree with you, Ashton, that the conversations should be respectful. See my reply to Daina (subject: "Teaching a Topic against one's belief") a bit earlier in this forum. Also feel free to look at this publication containing suggested answers to questions that students (or parents) might have concerning evolution, the age of the earth, or the age of the universe.


Matt Bobrowsky
Matthew Bobrowsky
3855 Activity Points

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