A revised version of an individual lesson plan developed by
Harvey R. Rabinowitz, Oceanside High School, Oceanside, Long Island,
Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended:
Middle school and junior high school general science classes.
Earth science classes
Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Lesson:
Students are presented with a hypothetical scenario for discussion.
Students work in cooperative groups of three. Each group strives to reach
a consensus decision. Each group devises a skit in which members role-play
the hypothetical scenario. Summary questions are provided for further group
discussion and completion for homework.
Category that Best Describes this Lesson:
Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson:
Environmental values; relationships between law and ethics; personal
responsibility; responsibility for the behavior of others; effective communication;
Students work in cooperative groups of three. They are presented with
the hypothetical scenario described below, along with two questions for
discussion. They are instructed to strive for a consensus decision in their
responses to the questions. Then each group will be asked to devise a short
skit in which members role-play the individuals and situations outlined
in the scenario. Finally, summary questions are provided for further group
discussion and completion for homework. Homework assignments can be for
each student to prepare alone, or each group can be asked to prepare a
consensus statement that represents decisions and responses arrived at
by all members.
A student has just completed a short unit of study on recycling in her science class. As a part of this unit, she receives a copy of the official town policy on recycling, which recommends the placement of newspapers, scrap (non-glossy) paper, and all metallic and plastic objects in an official town container that is placed curbside each week. She has become convinced of the importance of and need for recycling. This student and her family are friendly with their next-door neighbor; she has done some minor chores and run errands for the neighbor. While walking to school, she has observed her neighbor setting out trash containers which, she notices, never contain any recyclables. In her own home she is careful to recycle all acceptable materials, but her parents only recycle a few items, sporadically, and sometimes not at all.
Questions for Study Group Discussion and Formation of a Consensus Decision:
Group member Role Group Notes
Summary Questions (to be completed after group discussion and presentation):
This lesson requires students to engage in shared reflection on their
convictions concerning a significant issue in society today--recycling.
It also requires them to connect what they learn in science class with
their daily affairs. In the hypothetical scenario it is clear that the
student believes that recycling is important, and she incorporates this
in her own treatment of recyclable materials. However, the scenario raises
another kind of question of responsibility. What responsibility, if any,
does one have to attempt to persuade others to share, and act on, that
An interesting feature of the lesson as described here is that students
work together in small groups, and they are expected to try to reach consensus.
This is a valuable activity in its own right, since such cooperative undertakings
are typical of much of what we must do in our everyday and work worlds.
Furthermore, striving for consensus requires listening carefully to others
and trying to negotiate differences in ways that extend respect for those
whose views may be different. This often results in genuine changes in
our ideas, since others may bring up important matters that we would not
think of on our own. But it also exemplifies some of the features of democratic
life, especially those that require cooperative action even when there
is not full agreement among those who must act together.
At the same time, insisting on consensus, particularly in controversial
areas, is not always desirable. A consensus view is not necessarily more
likely to be more adequate than a dissenting view. So, students should
not be encouraged to think that consensus necessarily determines what is
As described above, this lesson requires groups to role-play attempting
to persuade others to recycle. It is quite possible, however, that some
groups will reach a consensus that, while the student should try to approach
a parent, she should not (or need not) approach the neighbor. Or a group
might conclude that the neighbor should be approached, but not a parent.
Or a group might conclude that neither should be, or need be, approached.
For these groups, role-playing the student approaching neighbor or parent
might be difficult (although still worth trying). A possible variation
on the lesson would be to allow groups simply to role-play whatever consensus
they obtain. For example, the student could be portrayed as discussing
with her friends why she is reluctant to approach either a parent or the
neighbor. The friends can be portrayed as trying to convince her that she
should. Or she could be portrayed as discussing with a parent why she (or
the parent) thinks it best not to approach the neighbor. And so on.
The final assignment, writing responses to the summary questions, is important because it requires students to put their thoughts on paper--after there has been much exchanging of ideas with others. This will encourage further reflection, and it will encourage students to refine their thoughts even further. This can be a group assignment, requiring an effort to formulate a group consensus statement (although it would be good to allow individual differences to be expressed as well). Or each student could be required individually to write responses to the questions.
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