We had the opportunity to participate in a local authority in-service today, working with early years and primary practitioners from a cluster. One aspect of this was to discuss how we are supporting teachers in achieving the vision of Curriculum for Excellence in sciences, and STEM.
One important aspect of learning and teaching in sciences is to create opportunities or learners to gain confidence in using scientific language, and to be able to express informed views within discussion and debate. What tools and approaches can be used to ensure learners are developing their skills in discussion, argumentation, and debate?
A teacher’s handbook from the English-Speaking Union (ESU) Scotland came across my desk recently and I thought this was something worth sharing at the session. 2012 is the year of the ESU’s Speak up Scotland! Science Debating project. Within this easily digestible, practical handbook are a range of techniques and approaches which can be used to structure debate within science, and include all learners within the class. It explains how to plan and structure a formal debate, if that is what you are looking for, including how to structure a speech, a format for judging the content and skills of the participants – useful for teacher or peer evaluation. Other approaches described include balloon and role play debates. Exemplification is given for role playdebates in bio-prospecting and badger culling.
The teachers who reviewed this booklet immediately saw opportunities to use this to support learning and teaching, to enrich the development of our learners as scientific thinkers.
The booklet also contains starters for debates such as:
”this house believes the government should fund research on planet earth rather than the cosmos”
“this house would ban research on embryonic stem cells”
Each section includes “fast facts”, and suggested questions to ask – does an embryo have human rights? how do we know how old the universe is? how do we control nanoparticles in our environment; or artificial organisms we create?
All of this is also available on the project website where you can find out how schools are using the debates and the feedback from learners.
If your learners need support in building confidence to speak in front of others, why not look back to our Debating in Schools resources published in 2007 which include Building Speaking Confidence: Guidance for first-time speakers.