General Science and Teaching

Teaching a Topic against one's belief

Science has many controversial topics that many students, or parents, would not like for us to teach in class, however, because of our required curriculum, we need to. How do you go about this in class and with parents? Do you let them know in advance? What do you say if they come to you with a concern or complaint?

Daina Castillo
Daina Castillo
220 Activity Points

Our courses all have curriculum maps (required) that are posted to the district website for parent review. So, there is no further burden on the teacher to inform parents of any "troubling" topics. Science provides the framework and model for understanding our world is not about anyone's beliefs. If a parent does complain, they can be informed that the curriculum maps - which reflect the curriculum as approved by the local school,board - are available for their review.

Cris DeWolf
Cris DeWolf
11915 Activity Points

Daina, This is a really good question, and I think we all struggle with this. There is an NSTA Virtual Conference online on March 3 that addresses the very issues you bring up. The focus, I think, will be on principles and strategies for dealing with all kinds of controversial issues - rather than a focus on a few specific issues. I rather like this approach because it allows me to addresses issues as they arise in the context of my audiences. The speakers are pretty impressive. You can sign up by going to Events and Opportunities in the NSTA Learning Center. I am planning on virtually attending.

Donald Boonstra
Donald Boonstra
8570 Activity Points

I come across this often in my college-level introductory sciences. In Environmental Science, we learn about both evolution and climate change, both of which can have significant opposition based on beliefs and politics. My approach is to teach the nature of science and what topics do and do not have a scientific consensus so that students can understand that all scientific knowledge is based upon our best modern understanding. Also, teaching my students how hypotheses are tested - where you can only reject the null and never "prove" the hypothesis - also supports this perspective. I have also taken the approach in my online class where we have weekly discussions on controversial topics (e.g. the responsibility of the government for mitigating climate change, whether Earth is overpopulated, downstream water rights, and plastic bans). My students are tasked with forming evidence-based opinions using the claim-evidence-reasoning format for scientific argumentation. This helps them see that there are many nuances and perspectives on issues and that they are responsible for researching the current facts on a topic in order to form an educated opinion. Their claims must be grounded in facts and their arguments must be free of logical fallacies. I feel like this approach really draws in the resisters to have a productive conversation about the topic(s). 

Emily Faulconer
Emily Faulconer
4300 Activity Points

  I’ve heard many different ways that teachers respond to inquiries/complaints from students or parents about evolution, and most of them miss the point.  It’s easy to tell a student that (s)he needs to know it because it will be on the test , and it’s easy to tell a parent that we teach about it because “it’s in the required curriculum” or “it’s in the state standards.”  But this is a cop-out and bad for a couple of reasons.  First, this answer implies that maybe you don't accept evolution either, but just have to teach it.  Second, the fact that it's in the curriculum or will be on the test is NOT why we teach it.  We teach it -- or should be teaching it -- because it is THE unifying concept in biology.  It's a tremendously important part of science and directly related to the development of life on Earth. I see no reason to let parents know in advance.  In fact, to do so implies that there’s some uncertainty or problem about it, which, in science, there is not.  Besides, most schools have an open house for parents near the beginning of the school year, where they are made aware of the curriculum; so they should already know to expect that this topic will be covered. For those who would like some ideas for responding to skeptical students (or parents or administrators), I can offer an article I wrote on this, which you can read online here:   [url=http://polaris.umuc.edu/~mbobrow2/TPT-paper.pdf][u][color=blue]http://polaris.umuc.edu/~mbobrow2/TPT-paper.pdf[/color][/u][/url] We should always remain respectful, but that doesn't mean equivocating on established science.  Evolution is not what scientists "believe"; it is what they observe.  And it is observed to occur both in the lab and in nature. Perhaps that's why organizations from most of the world's major religions accept evolution.  Students might be surprised to learn that their own religion doesn't object to it: [url=http://ncse.com/media/voices/religion]http://ncse.com/media/voices/religion[/url] I'm not recommending that you show this to students necessarily, but it's good for us to know about. What is important for students to know is that many scientists are deeply religious and see no conflict between science and a belief in God.  We don't (yet) know what caused the Big Bang, and many people believe that it was an act of God ("Let there be light...").  Similarly, many religious people who accept evolution believe that evolution is simply how God decided to have life develop on the earth.  This in no way contradicts any of the evolutionary science that we teach. I hope that helps.  Let me know if you’d like more information. Matt

Matt Bobrowsky
Matt Bobrowsky
4590 Activity Points

This is a topic that I am interested in learning more about, as well. I am a preservice educator, and therefore have not yet stepped into a classroom of my own.

I think that one reason parents may be skeptical of particular science concepts (take climate change, for instance, or vaccines) is because of a greater mistrust of science based on more foundational concepts (like macroevolution). Helping parents view science objectively, through intentionally establishing investigative practices for students and building from the ground-up in letting students be scientists and explore concepts with guided inquiry, may help lessen any sort of prental ill-will towards a teacher or school.

Of course, it is also important to remember to be respectful of all people, regardless of their actions and attitudes. People are people, and they need to be valued first.

Joy Miller
Joy Miller
1445 Activity Points

I hypothesize that one key reason for much of the skepticism of scientific theories (like evolution by natural selection) in the United States is that most adult U.S. citizens were taught the conclusions of scientific study by rote without ever learning to understand the scientific process.  They have no idea why scientists "believe in" important theories, so they can very easily dismiss those that seem uncomfortable. They can just as easily accept very flaky pseudoscience that fits their preferences.  All truth claims come out of black boxes, the internal workings of which are completely mysterious to the average American adult.  

If my hypothesis is correct, widespread application of the NGSS standards and 3-D teaching approaches will produce a generation of adults who will be less skeptical at least of the best supported theories.  The sources of scientific claims will become comprehensible to them and therefore open to rational evaluation.  This will take a generation at least, after these methods become widespread, but might improve things in the long run.

Does anybody have any thoughts regarding this idea or evidence in support of or opposition to my hypothesis?

 

Karen Robinette
Karen Robinette
170 Activity Points

Post Reply

Forum content is subject to the same rules as NSTA List Serves. Rules and disclaimers