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Defending Opinions

Science often is involved with reading and evaluating the research of others. Yet we rarely ask students to read and give informed opinions about current research materials. This is a huge missed opportunity for learning.

In an article last year in the NSTA journal  “The Science Teacher” an educator shared an idea he borrowed from a teacher who preceded him in his class. This teacher asked the students to be part of what he called interrogations. Now, since some of the controversy surrounding that politically charged word I will call them defended positions.
The idea is actually quite simple with the implementation as complex as your students need. The educator used articles from Scientific American but suggested you could use National Geographic Kids or a host of other magazines or online sources.
The process is that the class is assigned an article to read and take notes on the article and then after the reading (usually a homework assignment but can be done in class) the defense of opinions can begin.  The students are grouped randomly into groups with 2-6 people per group and arranged in the room in a horseshoe. For each article the teacher needs to develop a set of questions ranging from simple to complex.  During the defense the teacher rotates from group to group asking these questions. I would probably allow the students to collaborate on answers but ask key questions of specific students so that every student answers some easy and tough questions and every group has to come up with a consensus answer. I would not allow the students to read verbatim from their notes. The activity is designed to help expand student thinking skills.
The process should lead to more questions. That springboard to further connections with other content is a great way to weave current science into every unit.  I can imagine an article on materials science coming back into the conversation throughout a chemistry class or a chemistry unit. The articles can also serve as exceptional models in ways of doing and communicating science.

Scientific American is online and has some amazing articles. One that caught my eye just today is one investigating the connection between the process of hydraulic fracturing by gas companies (to mine natural gas) and water well contamination. There is also a link that folks are investigating between that same practice and clusters of earthquakes nearby.  This article would be an amazing connection in an environmental or and earth science unit. These articles are most appropriate for secondary students in grades 9-12. There are also some amazing blogs with great potential. My personal favorite is “Expeditions”.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/ 

For middle grades you could use National Geographic or National Geographic Kids.
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/
http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/

There are other science journals for high school but some will require a significant amount of translating.
Science from AAAS is a great resource.
http://www.sciencemag.org/

Likewise Nature has some articles with field studies that bring a new dimension into the classroom inquiry thinking. I found the chemistry highly complex but some more general articles great reading for high school students
http://www.nature.com/nature/index.html

In any classroom this would be a great way to blend reading with some higher level thinking in science and teach some deeper science connections to our content at the same time.

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