How do we teach about these issues?

Submitted by Eric Rude on Wed, 2017-06-21 00:00

So, how do we teach about these issues?

We’re learning that Idaho’s waterways have been hurt by farming, mining, city-building, and the timber industry. How do we teach our students about caring for our rivers without demonizing these necessary businesses?

As one of the teachers mentioned, mining is important where he lives, so we can’t just say that we should ban all mining. Here in Pocatello, many people talk about freeing the Portneuf River from the concrete channel it is in. But what about the people who’s houses are right next to that channel? What if one of my students lives in one of those houses?

How do we find the balance in our teaching? We all want the benefits these industries provide us, but we also want healthy rivers. We want jobs, and minerals to make our cell phones, and places to live, but we also want nature. I don’t want to “preach” to my students and tell them how things should be, so how do we teach about these issues in such a way that students can improve our future?


cknigge's picture

Eric, here is what I have done in biology class each year for the past three. I have taken biological topics that are important to our area, and made the kids do a debate. Their debates must be backed with evidence and data to support their reasons why their side is correct. However, I also do make them make concessions about why their side is also flawed. Students love to argue, but I've told them they have to argue the correct way, factually, and not just the "because I said so" statements. 

Last year I had 4 students debate on whether mining should continue in the Silver Valley. Two were for and two were against. During the debate I act as the moderator to help the debate flow and then the other students in the classroom have a rubric and grade the arguments on both sides. The students loved grading their peers and finding even the smallest thing to ding them on. The students watching the debate then got to ask questions to either side.

Eric Rude's picture

Sounds great! Would you be able to share that rubric with us?

cknigge's picture

Eric, once I get back to school I will send the rubric your way. Unfortunately I am not able to send the rubric since my lessons are sitting at school, and I am not. I hope you're having a blast on the trip!

Eric Rude's picture

I would love to see your rubric. Thanks! And, I am a digi-adventurer, too! Wish I could be out there snorkeling with them!

Brent Patch's picture

Great idea!

Debating the issues based on evidence is such a great idea. Developing this skill will help prepare our students for a lifetime of community involvement. And isn't that how we communicate through government? Our Portneuf Vision Study has asked for public input which is really a type of civilized debate. How can we find that balance between resource aquisition and habitat sustainability? We can either work together in that great conversation of life or sit alone in isolation complaining about everything and never experiencing beneficial change.

Katie Mosman's picture

Love this! I like to encourage discussion as much as possible in the classroom. It’s taken me a few years to nail down, but this here is format I use to provide more formal structure for especially controversial topics:

--As a class, we generate a list of topics and stakeholder viewpoints

--Students do research and create "museum displays " with citations. These have to include some interactive component (model, moving parts, game, etc. because that's what we would see in a real museum). They also turn in Key Questions with answers to me, which I compile into a Master Study Guide

--Students gallery the "museum" to find the answers and prepare for a Socratic Seminar

--We have a Socratic Seminar with an initial question provided by me or determined by the group ahead of time. Students earn points by adding new information to the conversation, asking insightful (I call them “drop-the-mike”) questions, citing information from the museum displays, showing good listening skills, and inviting others to add their thoughts.

--Students write a final, formal summary on their opinion that includes citations

What I like most is the emphasis on understanding the position of different stakeholders. Kids have responded really well to it and it’s so fun to hear the discussion flow when it comes time for the seminar. I don’t have a set rubric for this, because I usually allow students to give input on point allocation on assignments like these (this works awesome too!), but if anyone would like an example, let me know!