Enabling students to understand and analyse contemporary issues in science and technology

Keeping Science in Society topical - some ideas

Students enjoy relating their classes to media issues. Even if the issue is not on the specification it can be justified by the aims of the course.

What's in the newspapers?
At the start of a class every two to three weeks ask students what science issues they have picked up in the media. Some students will have lots to say and this can lead to a class discussion. There will often be some confusion to explain too.

If you find that a few students are dominating this activity then three or four can be picked each week and told to find something for the next lesson. It should be fairly relaxed because some students will have access to far more information than others.

Press cuttings
Once every few weeks students can be told to find and bring in press cuttings as their homework. Choose some students to present the issue in the story to the class, very briefly, as one would in a conversation. Pin up the cuttings on the notice board in the classroom afterwards. You will need to provide some of your own too. Change them at regular intervals. Old newspaper cuttings look dreadful.

Letters to the Newspaper
If, whilst you are teaching a topic, you find a relevant article in a paper give the students copies of the article. Show them the letters page of the relevant paper. Get them all to write a letter with their views, best done there and then in class. Many will never have realised that they can do this, or that it is a recognised part of the democratic debate. Get them to e-mail them themselves or pick a few of the best and send them yourself. You might be lucky and, even if not, they have practiced explaining their point of view.

Talk about science
When a major science issue appears in the media ask the class how many of them have talked about it to friends or family, not just in class. This could be reinforced by taking a straw poll on their assessment of public opinion on the issue.

Public consultations
Over the last few years there have been public consultations on a range of issues run by organisations such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Recent ones have been on sex selection, on gene testing and on the use of animals in research. They can often be answered on-line. Doing this with the class provokes discussion and encourages them to contribute as citizens to a national debate. They are not always well publicised but are referred to in the press and in Bionews.

Suggested activities
1.2 Infectious diseases in the news
1.3 Media watch on transport
1.8 Health in the news