Quick Arguments

Today was a fun day in AP Biology. We have been learning about the Ebola outbreak and recent research on survivors of the previous outbreak. I needed a quick, yet engaging, lesson that would tie the pieces together and move us forward. So, I decided to have the students argue. It was great!

In class, we have looked at the current situation in the Congo with the recent Ebola outbreak. We have read news articles and talked about the patient numbers, survival rate, infection rate, and the violence on healthcare facilities and employees. If you have not heard about what is happening, I encourage you to look into it. Last week, we switched gears a little and completed a review of a research paper on Ebola survivors from the 2014 outbreak. Recent research suggests the virus persists in some survivors for months and can be spread to new victims in that time frame, even though the survivor is unaware of the viral persistence. With these two topics in mind, I decided to challenge my students to an argument.

Before class, I wrote out four pieces of paper:

  1. All healthcare workers should be required to stay in the Congo and continue to treat their Ebola patients.
  2. All healthcare workers should be removed from the Congo.
  3. All Ebola survivors should return to their homes and normal activities as soon as possible after deemed symptom-free.
  4. All Ebola survivors should be quarantined for 6 months after deemed symptom-free.

When the students arrived, I explained they would receive one of these arguments and would develop a case for the argument. The students researched news and journal articles quickly to find support for their arguments. They had 30 minutes to research and write. At the end of 30 minutes, I asked the students that prepared arguments 1 and 2 to present their cases. It was really interesting to hear the arguments made and to watch the other students listen and contemplate. After both sides were presented, I asked the other students which was the stronger argument. That was also very interesting. Students seemed to want to side one way but were hesitant. It was a great opportunity to discuss the complexity of issues like this.

We repeated the process for arguments 3 and 4. Again, the conversation after the arguments were presented was wonderful. The students made thoughtful comments and listened respectfully to one another. This was one of the better class periods of the year.

At the end, I shared with the class my experience in college that I will share with you here. One of my favorite classes in college was AIDS and STDs. This was over 20 years ago, but I still remember the class. In particular, I remember having to prepare an argument with a group of people I did not know. We drew argument topics out of a hat and then formed our groups. My topic was PRO – people diagnosed with HIV should be required to share information about all of their previous sexual partners so that public health officials can contact them and let them know they have potentially been exposed to HIV. When I drew that topic I was dumbfounded. First of all, I did not know where to begin to defend this statement. Second, I did not know anyone in my group and I was supposed to work with them on this sensitive subject?? Third, and most profound at the time, I did not think people should have to give out that information as it seemed like a huge violation of privacy.

I participated in the group project and learned so much! By the time we had to argue in front of the class, I was convinced of our argument and ready to defend it. I had a complete reversal of opinion. This experience taught me to think outside myself and look at the bigger picture. It also taught me there are multiple sides to every issue and I need to take the time to learn those arguments before forming my own opinion. It was truly eye-opening and memorable.

Today’s argument session was too short to be significant for these kids, but I hope there is a nugget they can take away from the experience. I hope some of you can try something similar with your students and share it with me 🙂

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