Are you teaching the new T Level in Science? Do you need ideas or resources to help you deliver inspiring, practical, context-rich lessons? In this blog series, we’ll look at various key topics from the specification and provide some pointers to help you get started – and of course, we’d welcome your ideas and contributions!
Our first blog is focused on ethics – the modern philosophy and principles that guide modern research and scientific development. Chris Carr, our Network Educational Lead, picks up the discussion below:
Ethics within the health and science sector
Should children be vaccinated against COVID-19?
To what extent is it acceptable to use animals for food, medicine or product testing?
Should intellectual property be shared if a scientific advance would benefit more people?
Should a nurse always tell the truth to their patients?
Ethical considerations such as these are of key importance to work across both the health and science sectors, underpinning many of the protocols and policies that exist. Unlike more usual scientific debates where reason is the only main consideration, ethical debates are much more difficult to resolve in order to reach firm decisions. Ethical conclusions are valid if:
- they are based on reason;
- they are based within a well established ethical framework
- they rest on a reasonable level of consensus arising from genuine debate.
There are two main categories of ethics: deontological ethics (arising from an absolute set of values that apply in all circumstances – e.g. the Roman Catholic church teaching that all abortion is wrong) and consequentialist ethics (arising from the belief that there are no absolutes and that benefit and harm must be weighed before deciding on the best option). There are examples of both types of ethics within the health and science sector, providing the moral framework by which we work.
For all of the importance around ethics, how can we teach the key principles effectively and in a way that engages students?
The technical qualification for T Level Science (and Health and Healthcare Science) references several themes that need to be taught as part of core component section A (A7.1-A7.6) – these include ethical codes for scientists, integrity in a scientific setting and intellectual property. Dealt with individually, these themes can be rather ‘dry’ and difficult to deliver – although the principles behind ethical arguments may need to be taught first, the content can be made much more engaging by weaving examples into other areas of the specification so it can be taught in context. As is true of many topics, providing stimulating contexts can help students to see the relevance of what they are being taught.
Contexts to explore
Finding contexts that can be mapped to the specification would be a useful starting point when planning a scheme of learning. Funded by Wellcome, the BEEP Bioethics Education Project (and its sister physics site, PEEP) features an ethics toolkit and a range of biological topics including genes, genetic technology, human health, environmental and animal ethics. Also funded by Wellcome, Mosaic tells contemporary stories of science and health, providing ideal stimulus material for debate.
Many of the articles and stories from these sites can be linked to core science content. For example, ethical debates on vaccination are very topical at the moment and can be linked into the topics on pathogens and immunology; the Mosaic articles on ‘Medicine’s dirty secret’ (re-seeding intestinal flora with faecal sample donations) and ‘The life-saving treatment that’s being thrown in the trash’ (why umbilical cord blood banking is still an exception rather than the rule) can be linked to topics on microbiology and stem cells – used in combination with BEEP’s ethics toolkit (particularly the ‘teaching argument’ section), these articles can be discussed, debated or set as a homework research and summarising exercise. Visionlearning’s free-to-access learning module on scientific ethics also provides some good case studies that can be used with students.
Approaches to teaching
Although ethical dilemmas and scenarios can be woven into many aspects of the technical qualification, it is helpful if students first receive some basic tuition and background on ethics and the tools of argument.
Students could be asked to consider simple statements such as ‘it is always wrong to tell lies’ from a deontologist and a consequentialist perspective. They could then be given a set of steps to act as a scaffold in building arguments such as:
- State your claim.
- Support it with facts (data)
- For each fact, give the evidence for the fact (warrant),
- For each warrant, comment on how valid it is(backing)
- For each warrant and its backing, think of an opposing point of view (rebuttal)
- Consider possible warrants and backing for the rebuttals
- Having argued the rebuttals, do you wish to qualify your original claim?
Finally, students could consider various types of bias that might exist in media stories (e.g. cultural, funding, language) and how cost-benefit and risk-benefit analysis can help weigh a decision.
Students could keep a journal where they log the ethical dilemmas they encounter in everyday life, demonstrating how they have applied the tools and techniques above to arrive at a decision. As students gain confidence, small group and whole class debates can be used to further develop their skills, using examples and contexts that link to different topics.
Debate is a powerful method to develop students’ metacognitive thinking, logical thought, reasoned argument and confidence in articulating their thoughts. Various online platforms such as Kialo exist where students can practice reasoning and adding arguments to both sides of a dilemma. I’m a scientist get me out of here! provides debate kits and activities across a range of topics including Big Data, Climate Change, IVF and stem cells.
Find out more
You can find out more examples of resources for teaching ethics and other T Level science topics on our resources webpage
You can find our T Level Science CPD listings, including the Preparing to Teach T Level Science course on our main T Level science webpage.
Don’t miss the T Level Science September issue of Catalyst magazine, with articles and teaching notes that cover everything from vaccinations and prosthetic knee joints to controlling mosquito populations.