Student and Teacher Behaviors in Science Classrooms
A edited version of a classroom lesson initially authored by the following Long Island, NY science teachers:
Kenneth Abbott, and William Leacock, W.C. Mepham High School, Bellmore
Heidi Gross, Oyster Bay High School, Oyster Bay
Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended:
Intended for use at the beginning of the year in any science classroom. The
teachers who developed this lesson teach physics and earth science and have
described incidents that have occurred in their courses. Teachers of other disciplines
can easily modify the cases so that they will be more familiar to their own
Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Lesson:
Students working in cooperative learning groups respond to cases involving
ethical choices by students and teachers in science classrooms. The teacher
directs a classroom discussion of the conclusions reached by the groups. Students
create and submit additional cases and questions for use throughout the school
Categories that Best Describe this Lesson:
Behavior of students.
Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson:
The cases presented raise questions about the ethics of "sharing" test and
laboratory results, of manipulating data, of receiving credit for work done
by others, of a teacher adjusting a student's grade and of a student taking
action to prevent another student from cheating. The same format can be used
to raise questions about other real life ethical issues encountered by science
students and teachers.
The social and academic pressures experienced by science students and teachers can sometimes induce them to engage in questionable behavior. Such pressures are frequently the result of conflicts between the performance expectations and the ethical expectations placed on the individuals by the school, the community and society. The activities in this lesson provide an opportunity to examine and discuss these types of conflicts. The students will benefit from being given the chance to consider their own actions prior to being confronted with similar ethical choices.
Students will be asked to consider nine case studies based on actual situations
that have occurred in a science class setting. Questions are provided with each
scenario to stimulate and initiate discussion. The lesson requires two normal
length class periods.
Divide the class into six groups of 3-5 students. Assign one member in each group to each of the following roles:
Group the case studies into three sets of three and assign each set to two
of the groups. Allow twenty-five minutes for the groups to read, discuss and
record their responses to their three assigned case studies.
During the remainder of the first class period the two groups that have been
assigned the same set of case studies get together to exchange views and begin
preparing a presentation for the class.
At the beginning of the second period the pairs of groups continue their preparation
for the class presentation. The two presenters from the original groups agree
on how they will divide the presentation.
The presenters describe and explain the points of agreement and any conflicting points of view that have emerged from the discussions. These conclusions are then discussed by the class. The teacher should intervene only to raise ethical choices or issues not considered in the presentations or discussion.
The students are given a homework assignment requiring each of them to create
and submit an ethical case study - either imagined or based on experience -
along with discussion questions.
After reviewing and giving the student authors a chance to improve their creations,
the teacher should select the best of the student cases for brief discussions
at the beginning of class periods during the school year.
Case # 1
Rachel has a crush on Don, who is a popular student and star of the school
basketball team. Both Rachel and Don have the same physics teacher. Rachel is
in Mr. Link's third period class and Don is in his sixth period class. Rachel
works hard and is doing very well in physics. Don is not very interested in
science, does little work, and is barely passing. Rachel and Don meet each other
in the hall every day between fourth and fifth periods. Today there is a test
in Mr. Link's class and Don did not study because he was very tired after basketball
practice yesterday. Don asks Rachel to give him the test answers. She knows
that if he doesn't pass the test he may fail the course.
1. What are Rachel's and Don's options?
2. If you were Rachel, what would you do? Why?
3. If you were Rachel's friend, would you recommend that she should do
what you would do?
Case # 2
John is doing a research study for his earth science class. The object is to
measure and make a plot of the altitude of the sun at noon over a four-month
period. He collects data every third day. At the end of the four months John
has six missing data points because cloudy weather on those days prevented him
from making the necessary measurements. He decides to estimate the correct data
points for the missing days and simply include them in both his table of data
and his graph.
1. Did John's action violate any principle of scientific ethics?
2. What other options did John have?
3. If you were John, what would you have done?
Case # 3
Pete, Brooke and Lisa are laboratory partners in their chemistry class.
Yesterday Lisa was absent. This required Pete and Brooke to work very diligently
to complete the experiment during the lab period so they could hand in the report
in class today. Today Lisa has returned to school after being ill. She meets
her lab partners on the way into school in the morning and asks them for the
data from yesterday's experiment so she can write it up during study period
and hand it in. Pete is willing to give Lisa the data, but Brooke objects.
1. Was it right for Lisa to ask for the data?
2. What other options does Lisa have.
3. What should Brooke do if Pete gives Lisa the data, despite her objection?
4. What would you do if you were Pete or Brooke? If you were Lisa?
Case # 4
Joe is making electrical measurements in a physics laboratory. Joe is a good
student and is confident that he has set up the circuit properly. When Joe tries
to do the required calculations to verify the formulas in his physics book he
finds that the data he took appears to be incorrect. He suspects that one of
the electrical components he was given is not working properly. His teacher,
Mr. Grim, is busy helping some of the weaker students so Joe decides not to
report his problem. Instead he does the mathematical calculations to determine
what a correct set of data would be and simply changes his own data to match
what he has calculated.
1. Since Joe is bright enough to figure out the correct data is there anything wrong with what he did?
2. What other options were there for Joe.
3. If you were Joe, what would you have done?
Case # 5
Janet is putting a lot of effort into her final earth science report. She has
neglected the course earlier in the year and has chosen a difficult topic to
impress her teacher and get a good grade. Her friend Sarah, who is a very good
student is working on the same topic. Janet asks whether she can work cooperatively
with Sarah, as permitted by her teacher. Janet then puts in little further effort,
knowing she can rely on Sarah to do a good job. Since she is Janet's friend,
Sarah raises no objections to having Sarah simply put her name on the report
and share the grade.
1. Since Sarah does not object, is there anything improper about Janet's action?
2. What other options are open to Sarah?
3. If you were Sarah, what would you have done?
4. How could the teacher change the assignment, without discouraging student
cooperation, while preventing students from simply taking credit for work done
Case # 6
Two years ago Central high hired new chemistry teachers, Mr. Young and Mr.
Keen. Last year Mr. Young's students did not do as well on the statewide final
exam as Mr. Keen's chemistry students. The number of chemistry students
has been decreasing and the school is under pressure to reduce expenses. It
is therefore very likely that the school administration will decide that only
one chemistry teacher is needed. To improve his chances of being retained, it
is important for Mr. Young's students to do well this year. He has just received
a copy of this year's statewide exam. Mr. Young decides that during the last
two weeks of class he will only review the particular material that is covered
by questions on the exam and include many examples of problems that are almost
identical to the exam questions.
1. Since he hasn't actually given his students the answers to the exam questions, is there anything wrong or unethical about Mr. Young's actions?
2. Can you think of any negative consequences of Mr. Young's strategy?
3. Is it a good idea for the state to give the teachers advance copies
of the exam?
Case # 7
Andy is doing a physics lab in which he attaches different masses to the end
of a spring and measures the increase in the length of the spring. The instructions
are to express the results in the form of a simple graphical plot of the data.
He quickly discovers that if he plots the mass versus the increase in the spring's
length most of the points fall on a straight line. Two of the points are
clearly off the line. Assuming that he must have made an error in measuring
the spring's length in the case of these two points, Andy decides to erase them
from his graph and data table when he hands in his lab report.
1. Was Andy justified in omitting the points that didn't fall on the line?
2. Is it ever permissible to ignore part of the data taken during an experiment? If so, under what circumstances.
3. If you were Andy, what would you have done?
Case # 8
Mr. King teaches earth science at Central High. Larry, one of his students,
is learning disabled and has difficulty reading. Larry works hard and Mr. King
likes him. Twice during the year Larry has become discouraged and talked to
Mr. King about dropping the course. Both times Mr. King persuaded him to stick
with it. The final exam has several problems based on reading a preceding detailed
description of an experiment. Larry finds this kind of problem particularly
difficult and fails the exam with a score of 52. He needed a score of 72 to
pass the course. Mr. King feels guilty about having encouraged Larry and he
simply changes his grade in his record book to a 72. He justifies this to himself
on the basis of his speculation that Larry would have done much better if he
wasn't learning disabled.
1. Is Mr. King's action justified?
2. Can you think of any negative consequences of this action?
3. What other options were available to Mr. King?
Case # 9
Steven has studied many hours for the chemistry midterm exam. He is confident
that he will do well. He has lunch period just before the exam. He finishes
quickly and gets to the chemistry classroom several minutes before the other
students or the teacher. On his way to his desk he notices that his classmate
George's desk has extensive notes related to the exam written on it. Since the
desks are moveable he replaces the desk with the writing with one from the classroom
next door. Steven is amused by the bewildered expression on George's face when
he sits down and recognizes that his desk has been switched.
1. Was George justified in switching the desk? Why?
2 What other options were open to George?
3. If you were George, what would you have done?
The format of this lesson provides the science teacher with the opportunity to have the students consider a variety of classroom ethics issues that are based on his or her past teaching experience. The value of including cases that involve dubious behavior by teachers is that it reassures students that the teacher recognizes that all human beings, not only students, occasionally engage in questionable ethical behavior.
As specified in the lesson, the role of the teacher during the
discussion should be to encourage the students to explore the various ethical
choices related to each of the cases. In general teachers should refrain from
presenting their own views about the ethical issues raised by the cases so as
not to discourage students from making their own decisions. The authority associated
with the position of teacher can undermine the intent to encourage students
to examine all of the behavioral options and reach their own personal decisions
on the issues. However, if a teacher has included a particular case because
it illustrates an ethical choice by students that he or she considers unacceptable,
then the teacher may wish to make this clear, if the student discussion of the
issue reveals some ambiguity.
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