Controversies in science: to teach or not to teach?

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JournalScience & Education
DateSubmitted - 21 Oct 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Apr 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 16 May 2019
Number of pages22
Early online date16/05/19
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Controversies in science are an essential feature of scientific practice. They are defined here as current problems that are unresolved because there are no accepted procedures by which they can be resolved or there are differing assumptions that affect the interpretation of evidence. Although there has been much attention in science education literature to addressing socio-scientific and historical controversies in science, less has been paid to the teaching of contemporary scientific controversies. Using semi-structured qualitative interviews with 18 teachers at different career stages in England, we investigated teachers’ social representations of scientific controversies using discourse of the collective subject (DSC). We found a consistency in teachers’ responses. Whilst scientific controversies were seen as an essential feature of how science works, they were not viewed as essential in science education. In contrast, they were represented as a distraction and dealt with informally, outside the planned curriculum and in response to students’ questions. Subject knowledge was considered a barrier to teaching controversies in science. We argue that teaching about carefully selected scientific controversies has the potential to contribute to teachers’ and students’ understandings of science and the nature of science. There are perceived to be few opportunities for teachers to exercise this in the English context. We suggest how the collective subject discourses might be used to open up discussion about teaching controversies in professional learning situations. Materials to stimulate discussion of scientific controversies could be useful in future curriculum development in science, but these would need to address the barriers of subject knowledge, access to literature and conflict with assessment-related priorities and a perceived need to advocate for trust in science.

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

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