Module 9


Teaching Controversial Issues
in Coastal and Marine Studies





Activity 1 Introduction Activity 2 Teaching Controversial Issues Activity 3 'Whale Bay' Role Play
Activity 4 Evaluating Role Play Activity 5 Conclusion


1. Introduction

  • Introduce the objectives of the workshop (OHT 1) and outline the sequence of activities set out on OHT 2.

  • Play the 'MC Game' as an introductory activity. 'MC' is a game much like bingo except that squares and lines are completed by participants moving around the room and seeking information from each other.

  • Distribute copies of Resource 1 to all participants and ask them to fill in as many squares as possible by questioning other group members. Once participants have found someone who can answer one of the questions, they write the name of that person and a brief answer in the appropriate box. That person's name can appear only once on the sheet. Each time a row of boxes (horizontally, vertically or diagonally) is completed, participants call out the letters "MC" - just as in Bingo.


  • After initial comments on personal responses to the game, ask participants to suggest what the letters 'MC' might represent.

  • Many answers will be given but explain that the one of particular interest to this workshop is 'Marine Controversy'

  • Use discussions about this issue as a lead in to the next activity.

2. Teaching Controversial Issues

  • Present a mini-lecture on 'Teaching Controversial Issues in the Classroom' using Reading 1 and Reading 2, OHT 3, Resource 2 and Resource 3. The key points to make are:

    • Emphasise that 'values neutral' teaching is impossible because of the influence that our socio-economic context has on us.

    • Explain that the role of the teacher instead, is to help students identify the range of values and social interests involved in any given situation and to evaluate these using the principles of ecologically sustainable development and the values of democratic decision making, appropriate development, conservation and social justice (as established in Module 1 as values underlying education for a sustainable environment).

    • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of the four 'teacher stances' on teaching controversial issues summarised in Resource 2: Balance, Devil's Advocate, Procedural Neutrality and Stated Commitment.

  • Distribute a copy of Resource 3 to each participant. Invite discussion on the relative merits of each of the points, the possible obstacles to these strategies, and how these obstacles might be overcome (OHT 3). Questions might include:

    • Is the list of strategies exhaustive? If not, what else should have been included?

    • Are there some strategies that you feel should not have been included? Why do you think they were?

    • Are there any immediate obstacles to implementing these strategies? How could they be overcome?

    • Can you identify examples in your own teaching where you have followed knowingly, or unknowingly, some or all of these ideas?

    • How can teachers support each other to teach about environmental issues in a professionally ethical way?

3. 'Whale Bay' Role Play


    One approach to use in teaching controversial issues is that of role play or simulation games.

  • Ask participants to briefly report on their previous experiences of using role plays in teaching.

  • Explain that in this activity, participants role play residents and interested parties in 'Whale Bay', where a marine park has been proposed. The Shire President has called a public meeting to decide if the proposed marine park should proceed.

    Running the Activity

  • Distribute Resource 4 which contains background information about Whale Bay. Give participants a few minutes to read through this.

  • Distribute a role card from Resource 5 to each group or individual. This role card should be used to formulate their position and arguments.

  • Each player or group of players, takes on the role of a particular interest group that will be involved in deciding the future of Whale Bay.

  • Participants express their views at the public meeting which is convened by the Shire President. This meeting should be conducted by formal meeting procedures to discuss the motion (OHT 4).

    The public of Whale Bay demands that the Shire Council immediately urge the State Minister of Environment to protect the whale watching tourist industry which is vital to the economy of Whale Bay by strictly enforcing all existing whale protection measures, and further reduce human impacts by (i) placing a ban on all commercial fishing within five kilometres of the coastline, and (ii) imposing a $10 per person tourist levy on all tour boat passengers to fund whale conservation.

  • The Shire President should call for speakers as follows

    • Someone to move and second the motion.
    • Short speeches by these two persons.
    • Speakers against the motion then alternate with speakers for the motion.
    • The 'mover' of the motion has a right of reply.

  • The Shire President then calls for a public vote on the motion.


  • Ask persons who did not speak in the debate to explain their voting choices.

  • Evaluate the economic, social and environmental effects of the decision.

  • Ask participants to suggest a way of managing the Whale Bay controversy which would meet the needs of more people in a spirit of compromise with everybody 'winning' and at a minimal cost to the coastal and marine environment.

4. Evaluating Role Play

OHT 5 and Resource 6 contain a list of the educational advantages often claimed of role play as a teaching approach. This activity requires participants to evaluate the Whale Bay role play as an approach to handling controversial issues.
  • Divide participants into small groups and ask them to comment on the extent to which the Whale Bay role play reflected the advantages claimed of role play in Resource 6.

  • Ask for group reports.

  • Ask groups to indicate whether they identified any problems or disadvantages of role play in teaching. Make a list of these on an OHT or whiteboard. Ask for other possible disadvantages - brainstorm!

  • Ask the group to suggest ways of categorising the disadvantages (e.g. the degree of relevance to real life, the scope and representativeness of the roles, classroom management problems, etc).

  • Discuss with the group the extent to which these problems could be overcome (how?) and whether they outweigh the claimed advantages of role play (OHT 5 / Resource 6).

5. Conclusion

  • Review the suggested principles for handling controversial issues in the classroom on OHT 3.

  • Ask participants to select three principles that they feel very strongly about and will try to focus on in their teaching in coming weeks.