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Consider the Issues

Martin Shields

Type of Activity:

Values clarification, critical thinking, decision making, journal writing, group discussion, alternative assessment

Target Audience:

Applicable to any science course. This lesson plan, however, is directed towards use in a biology course (of any level).


  • Students need a journal. My students purchase a marble composition book at the beginning of the year. These are kept in a box in the classroom except when students bring them home for out of class writing assignments.

  • The journal can be used for other types of creative/expressive assignments. For example, when studying nutrient cycles, I have my students write a creative but ecologically accurate "history of a carbon atom".

  • If a lab notebook is kept by students you could have them use that for the assignment in this plan.

  • Class time needed can vary. For group discussion of a given topic a minimum of 20 minutes is required. To allow for whole class involvement and significant student-student interaction/debate, the time allotted for discussion of each topic should be an entire class period. Concept interaction and personal expression time also varies and can be completed in class or as homework.



Students will develop and express opinions on personal and societal issues in biology through journal entries (written and other forms), oral position statements and group discussions. It is hoped that biology will become more meaningful to students when they use its words and concepts in the creation of a system of values.

For every topic in biology it is important for students to understand how the information matters to themselves and to society. Therefore, the following lesson is incorporated into every unit of the curriculum.

Lesson Outline:

  1. Concept introduction: students are introduced to an issue through a newspaper/magazine article, TV or video segment, book excerpt or teacher presentation.

    Of course it is possible (and sometimes desirable) to begin this lesson without any introduction to the concepts.

  2. Issues questions: present students with the questions, dilemmas, problems raised by the issue. For example, when studying predator/prey relations and population biology my students read an article on deer overpopulation in New Jersey. Then they consider such questions as; is there a deer overpopulation problem?; if there is a problem, what should we do about it?; is hunting a good solution? and; should humans control natural populations?"

    Other examples of biological issues (followed by the unit into which they could be integrated):

    • Should we allow for the cloning of human cells? Under any circumstances? For any purposes? (Cell division, Reproduction)

    • Write a campaign statement on acid rain as if you were running for office in the midwest... and the Adirondacks. Are the 2 statements different? Should they be? (Chemistry)

    • If one of your parents had Huntington's Disease, would you want to know if you carried the gene? Also, would you have children if you carried (or possibly could carry) the gene? Do people have a responsibility to society to determine if they carry harmful mutations? Should insurance companies or potential employers have access to a person's genetic profile? (Genetics)

    • What actions (if any) should governments take to curtail human population growth? What should individuals do? (Ecology)

    • Should we recombine the genetic material of organisms? To improve food production/quality? To improve human health? (DNA)

    • Should we save or destroy the remaining 2 stocks of small pox virus? (Viruses)

  3. Individual reflection and expression: to allow for individual decision making and more personal expression the above issues are first addressed in the journals as homework. Journal assignments take the form of opinion statement essays, letters to the editor of a newspaper, editorial cartoons, etc.

  4. Group discussion: students arrange themselves in a circle (students appreciate this, unusual for a science classroom) and exchange ideas on the issue. The teacher acts only as a moderator, periodically asking open-ended questions and encouraging as much student-student interaction as possible.

Lesson Evaluation:

Oral and journal performances are assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Accurate integration of biological concepts and terminology into issues discussions
  • Apparent effort in the consideration of an issue (overall quantity and quality of journal expression and degree of participation in oral discussions)

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