Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM


MANNING, Cheryl L.B., Evergreen High School, 29300 Buffalo Park Road, Evergreen, CO 80439,

High school science teachers are encouraged to integrate rigorous approaches to relevant topics to create a more scientifically literate population. Because controversial topics receive the most media attention students find these topics the most relevant. In the Earth Sciences, these topics include evolution, the age of the Earth, climate change, hydraulic fracturing, and other environmental issues. Two factors cause teachers to shy away from teaching these topics: (1) students need to be taught effective ways address controversy and conflict, and, (2) many of these topics are relatively new or are culturally polarizing and can cause community backlash.

The most important aspect of teaching controversial topics is creating a safe learning environment. I use Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) strategies with my students to establish “norms” in which students demonstrate respect for each other and use appropriate communication strategies to settle disagreements. Students are assigned to small groups and given specific responsibilities: facilitator, spokesperson, quality control, and process analyst. Abiding to these roles diminishes conflict.

Lack of information or misinformation creates most of the controversy. Effective teaching of these topics requires well-organized, high quality scientific data sets, graphics, and articles written for the general public. I use these as evidence to create guided-inquiry lessons. Students work together engaging in the science process and practicing vital interpersonal skills as they review resources, analyze data sets, and compose consensus reports. I facilitate the process and help students develop a deeper understanding of the science behind the controversies. With practice, students develop the skills to understand new science content, sort out conflicting information, and demystify seemingly controversial topics.