Ambivalence in Teaching Publicly Controversial Science

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Wise, Sarah Bliss
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p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }A recent national study of secondary evolution education suggested that a “cautious 60%” of high school teachers undermine their students’ ability to understand evolution, by teaching in a variety of ways that avoid controversy. In a study I conducted with middle and high school teachers in Colorado, I found a similar pattern with respect to the topic of climate change. A “cautious 86%” of middle and high school teachers hold beliefs about teaching climate change that would undermine their students’ ability to arrive at a clear understanding of the science behind the phenomenon. Paradoxically, most of this “cautious 86%” indicate that on a personal level, they believe the scientific consensus that recent climate change is primarily caused by human activity. I will explore some of the root causes of ambivalence in teaching important but controversial science topics in the United States, including an inappropriate application of the ethical standard to “be fair to both sides” to science education, and a lack of emphasis on these topics within state science education standards. Together, we will discuss implications of these findings for teaching these topics at the college level. I will point participants to resources for assessing the knowledge base and attitudes of incoming college students on these topics, such as the Bio-CLASS, the Concept Inventory of Natural Selection and the Greenhouse Effect Concept Inventory.