Stimulate Science Learning with Student Debates

The new NSTA Press book It’s Still Debatable! Using Socioscientific Issues to Develop Scientific Literacy by Sami Kahn gives students plenty to discuss. For educators looking to develop their students’ thinking skills, help them dive into scientific content, and provide ways for them to explore real-world issues, this book is the perfect resource.

It’s Still Debatable! presents the Socioscientific Issues Framework, which uses debatable, science-related societal questions to address science content and teach students how learn to apply the content as they become informed citizens.

“SSI is a research-based, interdisciplinary approach that enlists higher-order problem solving, argumentation, and research skills to analyze challenging, contextualized scientific concepts and issues,” Kahn explains in the book’s introduction.

The framework incorporates activities designed to improve students’ discourse and social skills, build their character, and help them to make connections to other academic subjects and disciplines. It gives students practice in the research, analysis, and argumentation necessary to grapple with difficult questions with roots in the life, physical, Earth, and environmental sciences.

“Through SSI, teachers help students acquire flexibility, open-mindedness, and perspective-taking abilities so that they can integrate content knowledge with real-world deliberation,” Kahn explains. “In short, SSI prepares students for science-related decision making in an ever-changing global society.”

The book supports the Next Generation Science Standards and links to the Common Core State Standards, National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, and C3 Framework through 14 thoughtful lesson plans.

In the lesson “Leave It to Beavers,” students must consider whether to relocate a beaver dam by examining the manner in which beavers change their environment to survive by building dams and lodges.

First, students will do an engineering design challenge, working together as a beaver family to build and test a dam. Then, with their newly-acquired knowledge about beaver anatomy, behavior, and survival needs, students will debate whether a beaver dam that is causing flooding in a town should be left alone or moved.

The lesson includes background information and resources, guiding questions, connections to standards, a suggested schedule and sequence, and ideas for going deeper using real-life experiences in the local community.

In “Monkey Business” students question whether or not we need zoos. First, they will take virtual tours of zoos and wild spaces, and then learn about animal behaviors and relationships between parents and their young.

They will investigate arguments both for and against zoos, and develop their own position posters. As animals are often a favorite topic for elementary age youth, this will prove to be an exciting and engaging project that encourages students to think critically about the role of zoos in our society.

Get more stimulating lessons like these and watch students come alive in the classroom through healthy and spirited debates about the world around them.

Read the free sample chapter Unit 1: Introduction: It’s Debatable! for the Next Generation.

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