During the seventh grade Environmental Debates, which occur in February and March, students put into practice elements of what they’ve learned so far in life science and environmental science. Students are assigned a topic related to a current environmental issue involving resource use, energy production, pollution or ecology and must argue for or against it.
They research, prepare remarks and participate in a formal debate (with time limits, moderator and peer judges) against opponents who have been researching the other side of the issue. Topics have included the reintroduction of gray wolves back into the northeast, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, viability of wind power as an alternative energy source, pros and cons of industrial logging, use of pesticides in agriculture, nuclear power, hydrofracking, the pros and cons of aquaculture, and use of coal. The rebuttal section of the debate is one of the more challenging parts of the project. We ask students to think critically about their topic to understand why there are supporters of each side of their issue in the real world, and then to use that knowledge to anticipate the points of their opponents in the debate. The goal is to have them plan ahead and use the information they’ve gathered to disagree respectfully and with supporting detail. In the end, this project is a practice for students in research, persuasive writing and public speaking, within the context of understanding several real-world issues in environmental science. It’s a way for them to pull together many of the things they’ve learned so far in science, and to build on all of the public speaking opportunities they’ve had in previous years in all of their classes. And we are impressed year after year with how well they rise to the challenge.
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