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Science Controversies On-line: Partnerships in Education (SCOPE)

From week to week, researchers around the world report new data pertinent to the continuing controversy over global climate change. These findings are presented in a stream of articles, in the scientific press as well as the news media. Yet the stream of findings often doesn't reach into the nation's science classrooms, where teachers and students are saddled with stale curricula and out-of-date textbooks.

Image of SCOPE logoTo help overcome this situation with global warming and other key issues, education researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Washington have teamed up with science journalists to develop and utilize a multi-disciplinary Web site facilitating discussion of current science controversies by natural scientists, science teachers, and science learners across the country.

Other controversies dealt with by the site include genomics, genetically modified foods, the spread of malaria, and the decline of amphibian populations. The project, Science Controversies On-line: Partnerships in Education (SCOPE), has been supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. It is on the Web at

Image of corn, mosquito, and a frogAccording to Professor Marcia C. Linn with the Graduate School of Education at Berkeley, one of the project's most important accomplishments was that "we were able to form partnerships between natural scientists concerned with leading-edge controversies, teachers who wanted to teach about those controversies, science journalists who were writing about those controversies, and pedagogical researchers who wanted to understand how people learned about those controversies. It really resulted, I think, in a unique research program that's enabled us to understand better how all those constituencies make sense of new information in science."

Image of SCOPE forum logoCurrently, Linn says, more than 2,000 science teachers are using SCOPE materials, while the various lists for scientists involved in the online forums are "on the order of 2,000 scientists. As far as pedagogy researchers are concerned, there are a large number of research groups that have taken advantage of the materials, either to use them directly or to incorporate them into their own research projects."

Professor Linn emphasizes that the SCOPE project, by contrast with traditional science textbooks, utilizes current scientific papers and other materials available through the Internet, and thus is better able to catch the attention of students.

"With the standards movement there's a very big emphasis on the basic ideas of science, and I think unfortunately not enough attention to the contemporary scientific debates that really concern citizens," she says. "I'd love to see that changed. We found that students were extremely excited when they could research the causes of frog deformities or the decisions concerning whether to grow genetically modified crops. And they kept coming back to their teachers year after year, to bring them new information."

Linn says the SCOPE project also has been more successful in shaping the interests of women and minority students. "I think that as far as enticing a larger number of women and minorities into scientific endeavors, these contemporary controversies are far more inviting and appealing than traditional science materials. And often [students] tell us that they're just highly motivated—they actually read newspaper articles on their own, look things up on the Internet outside of class. Which is rare, frankly, with the traditional curriculum. We think that this is a way to expand interest in science beyond the traditional groups."

Others involved with the development of SCOPE include Professor Philip Bell of the College of Education at the University of Washington and Pamela J. Hines, an editor at Science, a journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC.

Bell observes that "part of our research is focused on exploring how learning technologies can uniquely support students as they learn science. This is a research endeavor for us but it's also a design endeavor because the technologies that we want to explore often don't exist yet, or they don't exist in the right form for us to be using as part of our work. So we actually go in and develop new pieces of technology for kids to use and then do research around how it goes once it's in a classroom or some other learning environment."


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