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Classroom Teaching Strategies in Bioethics Education – Promoting Ethical Thinking and Ethical Reasoning in the Middle School Years

Dr Siew Fong Yap, Head of Science, Kingsway Christian College

The Writing Project

Bioethics educationClassroom Teaching Strategies in Bioethics Education provides a teaching tool for secondary science teachers to cater to the needs of Year 9 and 10 Biological Science students, with a special focus on the Science as a Human Endeavour strand of the Australian Curriculum.

This writing project arose from doctoral research at Curtin University inquiring into the use of socio-scientific issues in bioethics education for secondary students. In general, socio-scientific issues involve some processes of science or products that generate controversy or debates. These issues may arise from gene technology such as stem cells, therapeutic cloning, genetically modified foods and reproductive technologies involving in vitro fertilisation, genetic screening and genetic engineering.

The doctoral research was focussed on the use of ethical frameworks in a Year 10 biotechnology class over a ten-week period in a College in metropolitan Perth, Western Australia. The action-research research utilised both quantitative and qualitative data involving multiple forms of data collection, and analyses of instructional strategies, and teachers’ and students’ beliefs/values/attitudes and achievement outcomes.

Research Findings

Research findings indicated that the use of ethical frameworks guides students’ understanding of socio-scientific issues and helps them to formulate the crux of decision-making.

Data analysis from both qualitative and quantitative aspects of the research suggested that the use of ethical frameworks produced a marked improvement in the students’ ability to reflect critically, reason analytically and make rational decisions about their own ethical values in handling socio-scientific issues.

Research findings also confirmed the important role of the teacher in implementing the ethical frameworks as a reasoning and argument-developing tool in socio-scientific education.

It is also equally significant that the teacher adopts a procedural neutral stance in role-modelling the scientific reasoning process through carefully crafted questions, creating a collaborative and caring learning environment as well as using a variety of student-centred teaching strategies.

The Resource

Recent research observes that the global and national trend in science education is towards generating greater relevance and meaningful engagement with students through the use of socio-scientific issues. The objective is to cultivate higher order thinking skills, especially with regard to informal reasoning, ethical thinking and ethical reasoning and these have proven to be quite effective through the use of ethical frameworks from the above study.

This book assists with the implementation of the `Science as a Human Endeavour’ strand of the Australian Curriculum in the middle school in the area of biological sciences. The biological curriculum, with its emphasis on form and function of living things from cells to systems, reproduction, genetics and biotechnology, provides fertile ground for cultivating students’ ability to integrate scientific knowledge with facts about ethical principles and knowledge of cultural and societal values.

The Five Teaching Strategies

Classroom Teaching Strategies in Bioethics Education begins with a description of research-based theoretical underpinnings before describing the classroom teaching strategies that middle school/secondary science teachers can use: debate, role play, use of ethical frameworks, discussion, and the use of media. These five strategies represent the most common and viable pedagogical approaches for addressing socio-scientific issues.

Classroom Debates – This is a strategy for improving conceptual change or for improving knowledge on the nature of science. Using debate as a teaching strategy enables students to recognise pseudo-scientific statements and learn to apply scientific knowledge in the `real world.’

Role-plays – This encourages taking a multi-perspective viewpoint, stimulating deeper reflection on counter-position arguments. The use of role-play in science learning is based on active, experiential or student-centred learning.

Use of Ethical Frameworks – The use of writing frames such as the ethical frameworks ensures that students are engaged actively with and constructing arguments, and, as a result, learn to think critically whilst actively implementing appropriate reasoning strategies.

Small Group Discussions and Co-operative Learning – In the context of developing ethical thinking, small group discussions and co-operative learning are an effective way to foster positive attitudes towards working collectively and developing critical thinking whilst providing a way to expose students to multiple perspectives which impinge on any discussion.

Use of Media and Media Literacy – Media literacy and documentary films provide some of the raw primary sources of information to stimulate discussion, critical and creative thinking and in-depth analysis of contemporary issues.

Teachers are encouraged to explore the use of these various teaching strategies, and perhaps even modify the activities to suit the different cohort/stream of students. As teachers adapt, add on and create new materials or topics from these existing resources, their confidence can be boosted, and in so doing achieve greater success in the cycle of reflecting, refining and recreating in their teaching of biological sciences.

Further Reading

The use of ethical frameworks by students following a new science course for 16-18 year olds

The author may be contacted at: Siew.Yap@kcc.wa.edu.au

February 2014