Science debate in class


Education systems in most European countries face the same challenge: how to raise the level of scientific literacy, including reasoning in STEM subjects. In addition, students’ rhetorical skills – argumentation, oral presentation – are insufficient, which leads to inaccurate use of language and susceptibility to ‘fake news’.

The EU funded project ODYSSEY (Oxford Debates for Youths in Science Education) seeks to develop 13 to 19-year-olds argumentation skills and to increase interest in STEM subjects by organising debate competitions on science topics.

Rhetoric education supports critical thinking and the ability to use various sources of knowledge, with an emphasis on verifying their credibility. It also supports civic education, and contributes to enhancing tolerance and democratic values.

It is very important to open students’ minds to STEM topics, such as biotechnology, through communication and argumentation. This activity focused on encouraging students to choose STEM careers and increasing interest in Mathematics and Natural Sciences.

  • There are many benefits of using debates for STEM lessons. Find some of them below:
  • Debates can help students practice and demonstrate their critical thinking skills
  • Debates can help students learn to discuss complicated topics calmly, clearly, and competently
  • Debates can help students cultivate their persuasion skills
  • Debates help deepen students’ understanding of topics when they “actively” listen to opposing views
  • Debates help sharpen communication skills – students can learn to say more with fewer words
  • Debates can be mind-opening – “actively” listening to opposing opinions can help students think outside the box – they can offer a broader range of alternatives, excite imagination, and ignite creativity
  • Debates help remind students that while many aspects of life are about competition, they are also about compromise and cooperation
  • Debate teams can offer a sense of comradeship, demonstrating the value of teamwork
  • To those with a truly open-mind, debates can broaden and deepen reasoning and communicating skills. They can enhance the ability to think and communicate clearly and quickly

Preparation for debate and research

On Wednesday 10 April in Evangeliki Model High School of Smyrna in Athens (Greece), 27 students aged 16-17 joined in to pilot the activity of ODYSSEY. The topic of the science debate in my schools was ‘The sustainability of human societies based on biotechnology’.

During the preparation phase, students took the role of scientists and using the method of inquiry, they investigated the advantages and disadvantages of biotechnology in the fields of medicine, agriculture and environmental innovation. In particular, they prepared a timeline for basic discoveries in the field of biotechnology. Through their investigation of statistical reports and data resources, they made a list of possible careers in biotechnology.

In order to support students’ learning process in the field biotechnology, we used the Scientix repository, which contains many resources and guides for STEM teachers. Any science teacher can find material for all ages and science subjects and what is more, all of it can be used for free to enriched their methodologies. We collected a few below:

Thinking Science

The ‘Thinking Science’ resources are designed to provoke thinking and discussion so as to consolidate and extend core curriculum knowledge and understanding. The resources were developed for science teachers in a collaborative project involving the Department of Philosophy (Public Engagement) and the School of Education at the University of Bristol, UK, and over 50 teachers and trainee teachers in schools in Bristol.

Teaching Guide: The biotechnology resolution

This document provides information on the multimedia resources (videos, games, virtual experiments) available for this module on the Xplore Health site. For each tool, you will find teaching guidelines and an explanation of how to use them in class .

Educators’ guide on biotechnology resolution (background information)

This guide provides background information on the current techniques used in biotechnology as well as information on the ethical, legal and social aspects associated with biotechnology.

Commnet (phase 2) Where does food come from

A Teachers’ guide to food production, agriculture, fisheries and biotechnology.

Biotechnology activity

An activity focusing on the current and future uses of biotechnology. It is developed for 8 to 11 year olds.

Coreflect Biotechnology learning environment teachers guide

In this activity, students work collaboratively in a guided inquiry approach to provide an evidence-based answer to the question: “Would you allow the cultivation of GM plants in your country?” based on the results of a risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis.

The implementation of the activity

During the implementation phase of the activity, students were divided into two groups to present their scientific facts and their thesis.

  • Does biotechnology improve medical methods to protect human health or does it raise risks to human health itself?
  • Does developing the industry of biotechnology helps to keep the environment safe, as it’s expected that in the next few decades we will find new ways to enhance food yield, grow crops in some of the most remote areas of the planet and attune vital crops for hardiness.

The two teams exchanged viewpoints, then their peers evaluated their performance based on use of scientific facts/statistics, respect towards the other team, understanding and explaining the topic, the way of presenting the information and the level of rebuttal. Students enjoyed the activity very much and shared positive feedback.

Some results

  • Students developed their critical thinking skills while collecting and assessing scientific data
  • Students studied the use of biotechnology in our lives, but they also provided proposals for protecting our environment
  • Students could try out roles as scientists, reporters and science communicators
  • Students prepared career plans in the field of biotechnology

Author: Panagiota Argyri, Scientix Ambassador

Main image by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

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