Practice Brief 44 -- Topics: Teaching Climate

Addressing controversial science topics in the K-12 classroom

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Why It Matters To You
  • Teachers can help students understand how science learning is relevant to topics of social importance, including topics that are controversial inside and outside the scientific community.
  • District Staff & PD Providers should provide opportunities for teachers to discuss and develop strategies that facilitate considered integration of controversy into science teaching.
  • School Leaders should support teachers in engaging students in examining controversial topics and learn about tensions likely to come up.

What Is The Issue?

Controversy is a core part of the scientific enterprise. As citizens, we must constantly navigate different perspectives and make sense of conflicting arguments on issues that impact our everyday lives. However, in our schools we have often been reluctant to engage students in the examination of controversial topics in science. Being able to reason about and act on controversial science topics is fundamental to being scientifically literate. Learning how to teach such topics will help ensure that students are equipped to participate fully in our democracy.



Reflection Questions

  • What science topics are controversial in your community? Are they scientific or social-scientific controversies?
  • How can you surface students’ initial ideas of controversial issues, particularly those related to their personal values? Have you created a classroom culture where it is safe to share ideas that may be contentious?
  • Can you learn from colleagues who teach controversies in ELA or social studies? How do they diffuse tensions that arise?

Things to Consider

Attending to Equity

Recommended Actions You Can Take


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Work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Unported License. Others may adapt with attribution. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Opinions expressed are not those of any funding agency.