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PLOS ONE  2012 

Fostering Critical Thinking, Reasoning, and Argumentation Skills through Bioethics Education

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036791

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Developing a position on a socio-scientific issue and defending it using a well-reasoned justification involves complex cognitive skills that are challenging to both teach and assess. Our work centers on instructional strategies for fostering critical thinking skills in high school students using bioethical case studies, decision-making frameworks, and structured analysis tools to scaffold student argumentation. In this study, we examined the effects of our teacher professional development and curricular materials on the ability of high school students to analyze a bioethical case study and develop a strong position. We focused on student ability to identify an ethical question, consider stakeholders and their values, incorporate relevant scientific facts and content, address ethical principles, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of alternate solutions. 431 students and 12 teachers participated in a research study using teacher cohorts for comparison purposes. The first cohort received professional development and used the curriculum with their students; the second did not receive professional development until after their participation in the study and did not use the curriculum. In order to assess the acquisition of higher-order justification skills, students were asked to analyze a case study and develop a well-reasoned written position. We evaluated statements using a scoring rubric and found highly significant differences (p<0.001) between students exposed to the curriculum strategies and those who were not. Students also showed highly significant gains (p<0.001) in self-reported interest in science content, ability to analyze socio-scientific issues, awareness of ethical issues, ability to listen to and discuss viewpoints different from their own, and understanding of the relationship between science and society. Our results demonstrate that incorporating ethical dilemmas into the classroom is one strategy for increasing student motivation and engagement with science content, while promoting reasoning and justification skills that help prepare an informed citizenry.


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