Questioning and Debates

This week we tried one of the “Great Debates” created by Nitty Gritty Science ( Student groups became characters in a debate about alternative methods of food supply ( It was interesting to watch students approach the task of developing arguments for the debate. The debate itself brought out a different side of some of my students and I enjoyed seeing them take on these roles.

After the debates, we moved into learning about GMOs. I decided to show three videos. The first video from HHMI explained the process of making GMOs briefly and provided a non-food context for this technology ( I asked students to take notes on the science of GMOs as presented in this video.

Next, we watched a video from “In a Nutshell” that presented are more sided view of GMOs and focused on food-based use of the technology ( As students watched, I asked them to write any information that was new and interesting, as well as anything that seemed surprising and questionable. I wanted students to think critically about the information presented.

After the second video, we discussed the strategy used by the video author to make an argument. Students were able to identify several strategies the video author used to make his claim, support it, refute any arguments in opposition, and finally offer a strong conclusion. We also discussed any lingering questions.

Finally, we watched a video by Our Changing Climate ( This video presented a different view of the GMO debate. It was not anti-GMO, though, as the students suspected. Again, students wrote notes about surprising, evidential, and questionable information. Afterward, we discussed their reactions to the video.

One interesting response to the videos was the difference in visual and auditory aspects. Students picked up on the color differences and the voice inflections of the speakers. These aspects have nothing to do with the science presented and yet influenced how the students reacted to the messages. This made for a very interesting conversation.

If you use videos in class, I encourage you to ask students to pay attention to and write down information they question or disagree with in the video. This validates their opinions and offers the opportunity to explore those further. In doing so, they may find evidence to shift their thinking, or not. But ignoring those differing views often does nothing to shift them. Instead, in my experience, ignoring opinions students bring to class often leads to those students ignoring the science presented. Bring those views out into the open in a respectful manner so they can be discussed and learning can happen!

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