Module 9


Teaching Controversial Issues in
Coastal and Marine Studies





Resource 1

MC Game

Resource 2 Four Stances On Controversial Issues: Teachers'Opinions Resource 3 Dealing With Controversial Issues In The Classroom

Resource 4

'Whale Bay': Background Information

Resource 5 Role Cards For 'Whale Bay' Resource 6 Claimed Advantages of Role Play


Resource 1

MC Game

Adapted from: Fien, J. (1996) Introduction to Environmental Education, Teaching for a Sustainable World,
UNESCO- UNEP IEEP and Griffith University, Brisbane, Module 2.

Find someone who:

  1. has visited a marine reserve, or other undeveloped coastal area in the last month. Which one?

  2. knows the name of the national Minister for the Environment. Who?

  3. is a member of a coast/marine environmental group. Which one?

  4. works as a volunteer for a coast/marine community group. Which one?

  5. knows the title of the 1995 report of the state of the marine environment in Australia. Title?

  6. has been whale-watching. Where?

  7. has never driven on the beach in a four-wheel-drive car. Why?

  8. can name a current controversial issue affecting a coastal or marine environment. Which one?

  9. has a boating or navigation certificate. Since when?

  10. has a swimming Bronze Medalion, first aid certificate or life-saving award. Which?

  11. has written a letter to the editor on a coast/marine issue that affects him/her directly. Which one?

  12. has spoken or written to an official about a local coast/marine issue. Which one?

  13. can name a local coast/marine issue that affects him/her directly. Which one?

  14. knows where their local waterway enters the sea. Where?

  15. has a favourite coastal place to go when he/she needs 'regenerating'. Where?

  16. can name a global coastal or marine problem that affects him/her directly. Which one?



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Which one?

Resource 2

Four Stances On Controversial Issues: Teachers'Opinions

Source: Adapted from Stradling, R., Noctor, M. and Baines, B. (1984) Teaching Controversial Issues, Edward Arnold Publishers, London, pp. 111-112.

The Balanced Approach
The teacher presents students with a wide range of alternative views.
Potential Strengths Potential Weaknesses
"Essential: I think one of the main functions of a humanities or social studies teacher is to show that issues are hardly ever black and white."

"Necessary when a class is polarised on an issue."

"Most useful when dealing with issues about which there is a great deal of conflicting information."

"If a balanced range of opinions does not emerge from the group, then it is up to the teacher to see that the other aspects are brought out."

"Is there such a thing as a balanced range of opinions?"

"As a strategy it has limited use. It avoids the main point by conveying the impression that 'truth' is a grey area that exists between two alternative sets of opinions."

"Balance means very different things to different people. The ABC's view of balance is not mine. Teaching is rarely value-free."

"This approach can lead to very teacher-directed lessons"

"Like ABC interviews you are always chipping in to maintain the so-called balance."

The Devil's Advocate Strategy
The teacher consciously takes the opposite position to the one expressed by students or in teaching materials
Potential Strengths Potential Weakness
"Great fun, and can be very effective in stimulating the pupils to contribute to discussion."

"Essential when faced by a group who all seem to share the same opinion."

"Most classes which I have taught seem to have a majority line. Then I use this strategy and parody, exaggeration and role reversal."

"I often use this as a device to liven things up when the discussion is beginning to dry up."

"I have run into all sorts of problems with this approach. Kids identifying me with the views I was putting forward as devil's advocate; parents worried about my alleged views, etc."

"It may reinforce pupil's prejudices."

"Only to be used when discussion dries up and there are still 25 minutes left."

Stated Commitment
The teacher always makes known his/her views during discussion
Potential Strengths Potential Weaknesses
"Pupils will try to guess what the teacher thinks anyway. Stating your position makes everything above board."

"If pupils know where the teacher stands on the issue they can discount his or her prejudices and biases."

"It is better to state your pReferences after discussion rather than before."

"It should only be used if pupils' dissenting opinions are treated with respect."

"It can be an excellent way of maintaining credibility with pupils since they do not expect us to be neutral."

"It can stifle classroom discussion, inhibiting pupils from arguing a line against that of the teacher."

"It may encourage some pupils to argue strongly for something they don't believe in simply because it is different from the teacher."

"Pupils often find it difficult to distinguish facts from values. It's even more difficult if the purveyor of facts and values is the same person, ie the teacher."

Procedural Neutrality
The teacher adopts the role of an impartial chairperson of a discussion group.
Potential Strengths Potential Weaknesses
"Minimises undue influence of teacher's own bias."

"Gives everyone a chance to take part in free discussion."

"Scope for open-ended discussion, ie the class may move on to consider issues and questions which the teacher hasn't thought of."

"Presents a good opportunity for pupils to exercise communication skills."

"Works well if you have a lot of background material."

"Pupils find it artificial."

"Can damage the rapport between teacher and class if it doesn't work."

"Depends on pupils being familiar with the method elsewhere in the school or it will take a long time to acclimatise them."

"May only reinforce pupils' existing attitudes and prejudices."

"Very difficult with the less able."

"Neutral chair doesn't suit my personality."

Resource 3

Dealing With Controversial Issues In The Classroom

  1. Consider your students' developmental needs, including age, gender, family contexts, reading skills, thinking styles and so on.

  2. Create a learning environment in which students feel a sense of investment, ownership and empowerment. Consider how you can give authority and responsibility to students. Be enthusiastic yourself about the learning process, the project the students are doing, and life in general. Encourage an atmosphere of openness, acceptance and respect by being sensitive to students' needs. Listen to their concerns with your complete attention. Respect their feelings and, particularly with young people, err on the side of caution regarding their emotions. Encourage all students to participate and share their views - but no-one has to share if he/she would rather not.

  3. Have well articulated goals and rationales. Encourage parents and others to voice their questions and concerns. Have a support system of people such as an administrator, colleagues, interested parents and community members.

  4. Teach about the complexity of many issues. Do not try to protect students from it, but recognise the difficulty of such complexity, even for adults, and that the way we teach needs to be developmentally appropriate.

  5. Teach multiple perspectives on all topics but be aware that 'balanced' teaching is not possible given the competing and dominant influences and messages that students are constantly exposed to outside of the classroom. Instead ensure that 'balanced learning' can take place by ensuring that the quality of evidence from all viewpoints is as objective as possible, and that its presentation reflects the aspiration of balanced learning.

  6. Be honest in your presentation of views. Be aware of your own feelings and opinions about an issue. Be clear about whether concerns are your students' or your own. If you decide to express your opinions on an issue, make it clear to students that this is your personal view and that it is okay if other people, including them, disagree.

  7. Let disagreement further the learning process. Allow disagreements between students to be constructive rather than destructive.

  8. Encourage students to accept that changing their mind after evaluating an issue during a discussion is a sign of maturity.

Resource 4

'Whale Bay': Background Information

Source: Adapted from Oliver, J. (1992) Whale Bay: A Simulation Game, in B. Moffatt, Marine Studies, Wet Paper, Ashmore, pp. 586-598.

Whale-Bay occupies the area between a large island, Wallaby Island, and the mainland somewhere in Australia. On one side, its mangroves and wetlands fill most of the channel, and some of these are Fish Habitat Reserves where fishing is prohibited, but some bait collecting occurs along the mud. The eastern side is open to the ocean, and has deep clear water. Close to the western shore grow hectares of seagrass, which support nearly 1000 dugong, the marine sea cow. Several species of turtle live and feed in the Bay and some nest on the sandy shores to the north. Wrecks of a few nineteenth century ships sailing too close to some of the rocky shores lie on the sea bed. These provide fascinating dive spots and coral reefs with soft corals, feather stars, numerous molluscs, worms and fish. The Bay is considered to be one of the best dive sites in the state. It also supports twenty trawlers and an active recreational fishery. The fish are off loaded at the fishworks in the small township of Whale Bay on the western shore and some are frozen for the capital city markets.

The Bay's newest arrivals are the Humpback Whales who have been moving into the Bay to rest en route between their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic and their winter breeding grounds in the waters of north-eastern and north-western Australia. Whales are seen in the Bay from late May to June and on the return journey between August and October. Many can weigh up to 40 tonnes and measure up to 15 metres long. On the return journey from the warm waters, most of the females are accompanied by their calves born up north. Thousands of visitors crowd into charter boats to visit the Bay in the hope of seeing the whales swimming close to the surface or diving or leaping out of the water ('breaching'). The whales only feed in the Antarctic Ocean and consume enormous quantities of krill (tiny crustaceans).

Whale scientists and conservationists are getting alarmed that the great mammals will become pressured by the increasing numbers of whalewatchers now crowding into Whale Bay. The whales may then move away from the Bay altogether. There has to be a reasonable management approach so that tour operators and visitors can still use the resource, but that at the same time, the whales will not be hindered in Whale Bay. Regulations are already in place and state that boats may not approach closer than 100 metres from whales, and boats should not break up groups or separate mothers and calves. Swimmers and divers are not to be closer than 30 metres. Rubbish or plastic may not be thrown into the water. The preservation of clean water in the Bay is also important for the whales' survival.

Resource 5

Role Cards For 'Whale Bay'

Source: Adapted from Oliver, J. (1992) Whale Bay: A Simulation Game, in B. Moffatt, Marine Studies, Wet Paper, Ashmore, pp. 590-596.

1. Chairperson

Your role is to chair the public meeting and to keep order so that everyone who is supposed to speak gets a chance to do so. You can draw up a time table. You will need to gather information about each of the groups and individuals so that you have some idea of how people are thinking. You have to sum up and supervise the voting at the end of the meeting. You are the Shire President so you are used to being in charge and are good at keeping control. You know this is an important occasion so you should wear formal clothes.

2. Tour Boat Operator

You own a large fast boat Star Trek 4 and take groups of tourists out to see the whales during their northern and southern migrations. You like to get your boat as close as regulations permit. You have been making a lot of money lately and want to see your business thrive, so you do not want any controls which would prevent you taking your boat out into the whole Bay. However, your livelihood depends on whales so you want their areas protected, so long as you can get into them!

3. Commercial Fishing Organisation Officer

You spend your time talking about fishing, and want to see commercial fishing people with good access to their traditional fishing grounds. You have accepted that you need to talk with conservationists but think everyone is pushing 'nature' too much. You have already agreed to the regulations controlling the size of nets, where these can be placed, and where trawlers can go. You are not prepared to see most of the Bay made into a restricted area.

4. Professional Trawler Operator

You own the Whatsit, a trawler operating in Whale Bay. You are sick of being told what to do: you have had to change the size of your nets and where you place them, and are worried that restrictions are going to be placed so that you can only fish five kilometres offshore. You want a one kilometre off-shore fishing limit as that is where most fish are. You are sorry that dugongs and turtles get tangled in your nets, but if lines and ropes and plastic bait bags fall overboard, well, that's life and you have to make a living.

5. Traditional Aboriginal Elder

You are a local Aboriginal Elder. The sea and land traditionally belong to you and your clan and you believe that you have a right to be involved at the decision-making level rather than being consulted along with the others as just another interested party. You are concerned about the area and do not want more development to go ahead as it may impact upon the cultural areas of significance for your clan. You think that the motion is too narrow.

6. Local Aboriginal Women

You are one of the local Aboriginal women in the area who practise traditional fishing in the mangrove creek for food for your family. You want to maintain your privacy and solitude and you especially do not want to see the area over-fished or netting occurring in the mangrove estuary. You do not mind other fishers accessing the area and think the motion will be helpful.

7. Department of Environment Officer

You represent the Minister for the Environment and have to wait to see how people react to the motion. The ideas in the motion were originally put forward by you so you know a lot about it and try to persuade everyone to agree with it

8. Tourist Developer

You own a lot of land around the shore, and want to see tourism expand. You spent a lot of time in the United States looking at hotels, motels and marinas and are keen to see a 'Whaler Wharf', more shops, more boats and more activity in Whale Bay. You know that the whales have to be protected as they are the draw card for tourists but, after all, everyone has to make money.

9. Whale Conservation Society

You are the representative of the organisation which specialises in whale watching, conservation and providing information to the public. You have travelled all over the world looking at whales and are very knowledgeable about them. Nothing should happen to these Humpbacks who are only just increasing in numbers after years of whaling operations. You would like the whole Bay as a Marine Park with no zones for fishing or entry, and you would really like all boats to be kept away if possible too.

10. National Parks and Wildlife Officer

You have been at the Bay for two years and spend most of your time keeping tour boats away from whales, supervising the rescue of injured animals caught in plastic, and in reporting pollution to your office. You think fishing needs to be kept well away from the marine life, and don't want any more tourists. You feel the mangroves, of which there are extensive stands (mainly Avicennia marina and the rarer myrtle mangrove, Osborna octodonta) need to be protected as they provide valuable fish breeding habitats.

11. Shire Town Planner

You are the local planner from the Shire Council at Whale Bay and are a bit confused as to what the best thing would be. You are knowledgeable about land use, but you don't know much about water in the Bay except that it is 'salt'. You have never been in a boat, and are frightened of whales, turtles and anything that is connected with the sea. You are happy to see the Shire go ahead so do not mind tourists, developers etc., so long as they follow the rules.

12. Scientists - Dugong Expert

You are a well known Australian expert on dugongs and have just completed your PhD on these mammals. You know lots about their food, sea grasses, and know that the sea grass beds are only found on the northern side of the Bay close inshore. Whale Bay is one of the very few sites of one of the sea grasses (Halophila ovalis) in the State. You think there are insufficient Fish Reserves in the area and you are aware that fishing people from outside the Bay tend to take far less care than the fishing boats in Whale Bay itself. You like whales too but think that dugongs deserve more fuss.

Resource 6

Claimed Advantages of Role Play

Claimed advantage To what extent was this advantage reflected in the 'Whale Bay' role play?
Role play can simplify or simulate complex real-life situations and processes.  
Role plays 'collapse' time and enable lengthy processes to be studied in a relatively short time frame.  
Role plays emphasise decision-making processes rather than abstract knowledge.  
Role plays can develop critical thinking skills for analysing data and evidence.  
Role plays can develop decision-making and problem solving skills.  
Role plays can encourage students to recognise the multiplicity of values and positions on an issue.  
Role plays can help students clarify their own values and attitudes towards an issue.  
Role plays can help students empathise with the values and attitudes of other people.