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February 26, 2019

The Secret to Great Science Debates!

By Nicole Blakemore

Using magazines and games to inspire debates

Grades 6–8, 9–12

    Key Takeaways 

    • Use middle-schoolers’ talkative natures to inspire a debate about current science news in Science World, a Scholastic magazine for grades 6–10. 
    • Reinforce vocabulary by rewarding the use of science words in regular conversation. 
    • Encourage SEL (social-emotional learning) by discussing the implications of science in the real world and providing a venue for students to talk about and evaluate their own emotions. 

    They love to speak, middle-schoolers. If you’re not careful (and even if you are), they speak when they’re excited; they speak when they’re bored; they speak when you speak; they speak when you breathe too long, and they definitely, definitely speak when you give them a platform. When I finally stopped feeling self-conscious about middle-school students’ talkativeness, I realized an amazing thing — they have really insightful things to say. 

    To help bring out those insights, I love to use Science World articles to promote guided conversations. The articles are perfect for getting kids talking — they always feature a current and engaging science news topic that kids will be interested in, and there are plenty of science concepts and facts that students can use in a debate. One recent example was the article “Greener Jeans” in the September 3 issue. It complemented the chemistry and biology concepts we were learning perfectly, so I used it to follow the procedure from Institute of Play’s learning game “Socratic Smackdown.”* 

    For the activity, I divided the students into groups of varying sizes. Each group designates speakers and score-keepers. Then, I project some sort of claim on the board, such as, “Blue jeans are colored using natural dyes,” that is related to the article (sometimes loosely — and that’s ok!). Then, designated speakers discuss the claim, while scorers listen and award points based on the discussion-strategy categories below. Extra points are earned by citing the article or class vocabulary and notes. Points are taken away for interruptions. 

    After 5–6 minutes, we regroup and switch teams. As a wrap-up, I like to guide a group conversation about what the students learned, which discussion strategies they found most effective and what they thought about the article. The best part? There’s always another Science World article to debate, and a new issue full of current science news that’s on the way! 

    If you’d like to create excitement and discussion in your classroom using stories on the latest science applications, you can try Science World free for 30 days. You’ll get magazines for every student, Teacher’s Guides, activity sheets, experiments and digital resources like videos and multiple reading levels. All these teaching tools give you the flexibility to use Science World for class debates like I did — or for something else I haven’t thought of yet!

    Tips:

    • When introducing the “Smackdown” for the first time in a class, consider letting students choose their seats so that they will feel comfortable discussing their opinions. 
    • Start with discussion claims, which lead students to discuss familiar science from the article (i.e., claim: There were chemical and physical properties discussed in this text). Then, move on to more controversial claims (i.e., Claim: It’s ethically wrong to wear blue jeans). 
    • Monitor the discussion. Although most students will keep themselves on task, it is a delight to hear them accurately use vocabulary in context.

    *Socratic Smackdown is a game created by Institute of Play. 

     

    — Nicole Blakemore has taught science in many settings: college anatomy labs, Kansas classrooms, Georgia middle schools, and after-school clubs in Slovenia. When she is not doing science with kids, you will likely find her on a bicycle somewhere in nature. Nicole loves ScienceWorld magazine because students love it, and because she can use it to teach science using stories about new and exciting research!

    Key Takeaways 

    • Use middle-schoolers’ talkative natures to inspire a debate about current science news in Science World, a Scholastic magazine for grades 6–10. 
    • Reinforce vocabulary by rewarding the use of science words in regular conversation. 
    • Encourage SEL (social-emotional learning) by discussing the implications of science in the real world and providing a venue for students to talk about and evaluate their own emotions. 

    They love to speak, middle-schoolers. If you’re not careful (and even if you are), they speak when they’re excited; they speak when they’re bored; they speak when you speak; they speak when you breathe too long, and they definitely, definitely speak when you give them a platform. When I finally stopped feeling self-conscious about middle-school students’ talkativeness, I realized an amazing thing — they have really insightful things to say. 

    To help bring out those insights, I love to use Science World articles to promote guided conversations. The articles are perfect for getting kids talking — they always feature a current and engaging science news topic that kids will be interested in, and there are plenty of science concepts and facts that students can use in a debate. One recent example was the article “Greener Jeans” in the September 3 issue. It complemented the chemistry and biology concepts we were learning perfectly, so I used it to follow the procedure from Institute of Play’s learning game “Socratic Smackdown.”* 

    For the activity, I divided the students into groups of varying sizes. Each group designates speakers and score-keepers. Then, I project some sort of claim on the board, such as, “Blue jeans are colored using natural dyes,” that is related to the article (sometimes loosely — and that’s ok!). Then, designated speakers discuss the claim, while scorers listen and award points based on the discussion-strategy categories below. Extra points are earned by citing the article or class vocabulary and notes. Points are taken away for interruptions. 

    After 5–6 minutes, we regroup and switch teams. As a wrap-up, I like to guide a group conversation about what the students learned, which discussion strategies they found most effective and what they thought about the article. The best part? There’s always another Science World article to debate, and a new issue full of current science news that’s on the way! 

    If you’d like to create excitement and discussion in your classroom using stories on the latest science applications, you can try Science World free for 30 days. You’ll get magazines for every student, Teacher’s Guides, activity sheets, experiments and digital resources like videos and multiple reading levels. All these teaching tools give you the flexibility to use Science World for class debates like I did — or for something else I haven’t thought of yet!

    Tips:

    • When introducing the “Smackdown” for the first time in a class, consider letting students choose their seats so that they will feel comfortable discussing their opinions. 
    • Start with discussion claims, which lead students to discuss familiar science from the article (i.e., claim: There were chemical and physical properties discussed in this text). Then, move on to more controversial claims (i.e., Claim: It’s ethically wrong to wear blue jeans). 
    • Monitor the discussion. Although most students will keep themselves on task, it is a delight to hear them accurately use vocabulary in context.

    *Socratic Smackdown is a game created by Institute of Play. 

     

    — Nicole Blakemore has taught science in many settings: college anatomy labs, Kansas classrooms, Georgia middle schools, and after-school clubs in Slovenia. When she is not doing science with kids, you will likely find her on a bicycle somewhere in nature. Nicole loves ScienceWorld magazine because students love it, and because she can use it to teach science using stories about new and exciting research!

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