Hands-on Activity: Issues, Issues Everywhere

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

A polluted rubbish-laden river surrounded by slum shacks and trash in the Indian Himalayas.
Students identify and examine various environmental issues
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Copyright © Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Slum_and_dirty_river.jpg

Summary

In this activity, students learn to identify different opinions related to an issue as well as the things (information, values and beliefs) that influence those opinions. They use an opinion spectrum to analyze the range of opinions in their classroom on environmental issues and understand how these spectrums can be valuable to engineering design.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

An engineer hired to help a company or group of people understand their differences and assist in making a decision on a particular issue is a consulting engineer. Engineers may use an opinion spectrum (the rating of feelings on a spectrum) to identify the differences in opinions of a large group. For instance, to investigate how a community feels about a new factory being built in their town, a consulting engineer gathers community opinions, and determines what factors may affect the community. The engineer presents the results to the community so that they can consider all factors and make a collective decision.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Understand how engineers identify and understand environmental issues by talking to different people that are affected.
  • Students predict environmental issues that will be important to their community.
  • Students use a survey to identify the critical environmental issues.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Materials List

Each student should have access to:

  • A large room (or room with a long wall)
  • One copy of the Activity Opinion Signs.
  • Masking tape for hanging the signs.

Introduction/Motivation

Everyone's values and beliefs influence their opinions. Because of this, people often have extremely different opinions about a certain issue. Can you think of an issue about which you have an opinion? (Note: teachers may need to prompt students at this point with suggestions; e.g., choices about what to have for dinner, what movie to see, feelings about whether a drawing is good or not, etc.) An opinion is your view or your way of thinking about a particular issue. Some people have a hard time expressing their opinion while other people find it very easy publicize their beliefs.

Sometimes, it is easier for a person to express their opinion about something when they are given a list of words to choose from to help them describe how they feel. When there is a large group of opinions you are trying to understand, having each person choose from a common list of words is also helpful. People may be asked to rate their feelings on a spectrum. This is called an opinion spectrum or Leikart-type scale, in which the range of opinions between strongly disagrees and strongly agrees is known. Can you think of a time when you "strongly agreed" with something versus just "agreed" with it? Maybe it was the difference between "Yes, that sounds good for dinner" and "Wow! Yes, that's exactly what I want for dinner. That's my favorite meal!" How about a time when you really did not have an opinion either way? We call this state of thinking — when you neither agree nor disagree with something — a "neutral" opinion.

A common opinion spectrum that will be used today includes the following responses: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, and strongly disagree. Have you ever been asked a question with a range of answers like that? What are some other examples of this type of system? (Answer: Rating systems, grading scales, etc.)

Engineers are often hired to help understand some of these differences. Engineers use an opinion spectrum to gather information about how a group or community feels about an issue. Perhaps an engineer needs to gather information from a community on how they feel about the possible construction of a new factory in their neighborhood. First, an engineer would evaluate and determine which factors might affect the community by adding a factory. Then, they would give this information to the community to help decide whether they want the factory or not. Finally, through discussions and the utilization of an opinion spectrum, engineers become well-informed about the community's needs and beliefs. Engineers, hired to investigate a community's reaction to a project, have the responsibility of gathering, analyzing, and presenting the data that others use to support their opinions.

(Note: This activity is adapted from: Environmental Issues (Hand-On Minds-On Science Series): Intermediate, by Pauline Chandler.)

Procedure

Before the Activity

  • Make a copy of the Aldo Leopold Article to read aloud to students.
  • Make enough copies of the Issues Response Sheet (one per student). If desired, students may also use their Science Journals.
  • Plan to work in a space where students can spread out in a straight line (gym, hallway, common area, etc.)
  • Hang the five Activity Opinion signs, in order (STRONGLY AGREE, STRONGLY DISAGREE, AGREE, DISAGREE and NEUTRAL), along a nearby wall, with some space in-between each sign.
  • You may need to discuss the idea of an opinion spectrum or Leikart-type scale (the range of opinions between strongly agree and strongly disagree) with the students. Some students may require help understanding the concept of a "neutral" opinion. If possible, come up with an example to help the students understand a neutral position (i.e., something very simple, such as: the school is getting new carpeting: the choices are black or dark blue. What do they choose? Hopefully, they just don't have an opinion between the two colors.)

You may also need to discuss the possibility of there being positions between two of the labels (for example, between STRONGLY AGREE and AGREE), and students just can't pinpoint a decision. Encourage them to go with their gut reaction; what their first instincts are.

With the Students

  1. Brainstorm a list of issues that the students are excited/passionate about and that are currently relevant to their lives (bed time, independence, responsibilities, privileges, etc.) (Note: You may use the list of issues from the Lesson 2 "I've Got Issues" Pre-Lesson Assessment section.)
  2. Take the brainstormed list of issues and have the students develop some brief statements that relate to those issues. For example, an issue about having to attend school may become a statement like "The school week should be shortened to 4 days instead of 5 days."
  3. Read a random issue statement from the list (for example, "The school week should be shortened to 4 days instead of 5 days"). Begin by using the statements that are related to the students' lives, as this will help them become accustomed to the activity and explaining their positions.
  4. Ask students to stand near the sign that best describes their position after you read each statement.
  5. After all students have settled in their places on the spectrum, ask one student in each category to explain why s/he chose that position (what things influenced their decision?). Be sure that they include some of their values/beliefs that influence their opinions.
  6. Repeat the above steps with a new issue statement as many times as desired.
  7. Ask the students to write down two of the statements and the position they chose. Have them write an explanation for why they chose to stand in the position they did (what things influenced their decision?). (They can write in their science journals, on the Issues Response Sheet (attached), do a t-chart outline, etc.) Check to see that they have supported their decisions with information, values and/or beliefs.
  8. Read the Aldo Leopold Article.
  9. As a class, discuss Aldo Leopold's initial opinion about killing wolves. What things influenced his opinion? How did he change his opinion? What things influenced this change?
  10. As a class or in small groups, discuss the Aldo Leopold Response Sheet. Ask students to write their answers in the space provided or discuss them as a class. Emphasize that they should explain the reasons for their opinions.

Attachments

Troubleshooting Tips

Consider adjusting this to a paper and pencil activity or creating a buddy system if you have students with limited mobility.

Some students may require help identifying values/beliefs. You may want to review these concepts before the activity.

If a large room or hallway is not available to hang the signs in a straight line, they can be placed in different corners of a smaller classroom.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Discussion: Discuss the idea of an opinion spectrum (the range of opinions between strongly agree and strongly disagree) with the students. Use strongly agrees, agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree as examples. Have they ever been asked a question with a range of answers like that? What are some other examples of this type of system? (Answer: Rating systems, grading scales, etc.)

Brainstorming: As a class, have the students engage in open discussion. Remind students that in brainstorming, no idea or suggestion is "silly." All ideas should be respectfully heard. Encourage wild ideas and discourage criticism of ideas. Have them raise their hands to respond. Put the lists on the board, and create a copy to give the students.

  • Create a list of issues that are currently relevant to their lives (bed time, independence, responsibilities, privileges, etc.).

Activity Embedded Assessment

Discussion: As a class, discuss Aldo Leopold's initial opinion about killing wolves. What things influenced his opinion? How did he change his opinion? What things influenced this change?

Post-Activity Assessment

Worksheet: As a class or in small groups, discuss the Aldo Leopold Response Sheet. Ask students to write their answers in the space provided or discuss them as a class. Emphasize that they should explain the reasons for their opinions.

Take a Stand!: Ask the students to pick two environmental statements from the spectrum activity and write an explanation for why they chose to stand in the position they did (what things influenced their decision?). (They can write in their science journals, on the Issues Response Sheet, do a t-chart outline, etc.) Check to see that they have supported their decisions with information, values and/or beliefs.

Activity Extensions

Invite students to attend a student council, school board or other civic meeting. Ask them to define the issues and different opinions presented. Have them define their own opinions on the issues. Are the same, different or neutral?

Ask students to develop two or more new issues statements on their own and write them down. Have them ask their family and/or friends their opinion on each of the statements using the spectrum of strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree.

Activity Scaling

For 3rd grade, it may be easier to do this activity in a large group, but modified in the following way:

  • Select a group of about 5-8 students. Have that group stand on the spectrum in response to the first statement and then explain their positions. Then select a new group to stand on the spectrum for the next statement.
  • For the assessment, ask students to only explain one of their positions.

For 4th grade, do activity as is.

For 5th grade, group the students in groups of 3-4. Provide them with a couple of examples of issue statements that you have written from the brainstormed list of issues. Ask each group to come up with statements related to some of the specific issues. Use the student statements for the spectrum activity.

References

Chandler, Pauline. Environmental Issues (Hand-On Minds-On Science Series): Intermediate, Westminster, California: Teacher Created Materials, Inc., 1994.

Sakamoto Steidl, Kim. Environmental Portraits – People Making a Difference for the Environment, Boulder, CO: Good Apple, Inc., 1993.

http://dnr.wi.gov/org/caer/ce/eek/earth/air/ozonlayr.htm

Contributors

Amy Kolenbrander; Jessica Todd; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Janet Yowell

Copyright

© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado.

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: June 16, 2017

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