On September 15, 2021, from 7:00-10:00 pm, the Middle School Group of the SSI-L project held an online meeting via the Tencent conference room. A total of seven schools shared their topic selection, design and development plans for the new semester, where the subject experts and other partner school teachers commented and gave suggestions on each school. The meeting was hosted by Zhang Tao, Leader of the Middle School Group, and Director of the Middle School Teaching and Research Department of Weihai Education and Teaching Research Center in Shandong Province, with the participation of subject experts as well as backbone teachers from each partner school.
Ms. Wu Xingchun, from Sandun Middle School in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, shared the design of the topic “Drinking Water” in her school and the difficulties they encountered. The topic was introduced by the incident of the school’s tap water turning yellow, and focused on the issues related to the process of purifying tap water into drinking water. At present, the team already completed the design of the five-star diagram and the unit-driven questions, but currently there were still three major problems: unclear points of contention, difficulty in designing the evaluation scale, and difficulty in simulating water purification experiments using laboratory instruments.
According to Mr. Peng Menghua, the topic of drinking water was close to students’ daily life. Nowadays, the pollution of tap water in China was rather serious. This topic involved the economic problems related to the purchase of drinking water as well as the policy issues of tap water purification. It was also easy to guide students to conduct chemical experiments such as filtration and precipitation, and the difficulty was in line with the ability level of middle school students.
Mr. Zhang Tao gave targeted advice on the design of the questions. He said that controversy was an important feature of learning social-scientific issues. The original topic “Can We Drink Safe Drinking Water?” was not controversial enough, which could be changed into “How can we drink safe drinking water?”. By doing so, the focus could be shifted to water purification measures, and teachers could analyze all the factors in the process.
Dr. Lin Jing made three specific comments on the design and implementation of the topic. She pointed out that the topic should firstly be related to “Eutrophication of Water” in the previous semester to ensure the coherence of students’ learning. Secondly, the design of the topic needed to integrate interdisciplinary elements and include economic and policy discussions to be more relevant to students’ daily life. Finally, the topic could be developed at both levels of the daily life and national society. It covered scientific and technological issues related to drinking water standards, which should lead students to discuss scientifically to solve the existing drinking water problems.
Tang Rui, from Guiyang No.1 Experimental Middle School in Guizhou Province, introduced the topic of “Conservation and Development of Shierbeihou Karst Caves”. The topic had strong regional features of Guizhou. Its controversial points mainly focused on how to ensure the sustainable development of karst caves. Since the topic involved geography, physics, biology, chemistry and other subjects, the school intended to develop a curriculum with different focuses in grades 7, 8 and 9. In the course, students would explore the karst caves themselves and come up with suggestions.
Dr. Lin Jing said that it was not easy to integrate a three-dimensional scientific literacy and multidisciplinary knowledge into the design of this topic. She suggested that the topic design could be converted from the original three-learning-phase design to three learning stages in each phase: one was to recognize the wonders of the world and understand the formation of karst caves; the second was that humans need to consider the impact on related plants and animals when developing and using nature; the third was to add the traditional culture of ethnic minorities to talk about development and utilization, and integrate elements of moral and aesthetic education in the whole curriculum.
Mr. Zhang Tao pointed out that the topic needed to be simplified, suggesting that the content related to conservation and development should be retained and the rest could be considered for deletion to avoid turning a socio-scientific issue into a complicated inquiry-based learning topic.
Ms. Ji Qingqing from Jiefang Road School in Linfen, Shanxi Province, introduced the topic of “Pros and Cons of Introducing a Large Amount of Genetically Modified Corn into China”. She said that the topic was a continuation of the original one “Pros and Cons of Introducing Genetically Modified Soybeans into China”, and that the activity plan was further refined based on previous experience. A refined model of the topic was finally constructed. The newly modified topic was carried out with a new group of students, with the aim of being further refined.
Dr. Lin Jing pointed out that the topic-design team first needed to clarify whether most of the corn currently on the market was genetically modified food or not, and understanding this issue would help to design it more closely to students’ daily life and make them better involved in the issue learning. In addition, she suggested that the issue must start from food safety issues which are close to students, and then further expand to national economic policies and genetic engineering issues.
Mr. Peng Menghua thought the topic of genetic modification was quite far from students’ daily life to carry out the topic successfully, the team needed to first define the meaning of genetic modification and discuss its safety aspects both at the individual level and at the national food policy level.
Mr. Zhang Tao said that the safety of GM food was one of the hot issues around the world, but there was no definite conclusion yet. To what extent the middle school students could discuss this issue remained a question for this team to consider.
Mr. Kong Pengfei from Shichang Middle School in Weihai, Shandong Province, reported on their thinking about the topic. After two semesters of practice, his school decided to develop a series of ocean-themed topics with the focus of environmental protection and the regional characteristics of Weihai. In preliminary design, the school identified “Marine Oil and Gas Exploitation”, “Marine Medicine Development”, “Undersea Tunnel”, “Marine Farming” and “desalination of sea water”. He also pointed out three problems, including the lack of experimental equipment, the difficulty of connecting students’ subject knowledge and the lack of experience among new teachers.
Mr. Peng suggested that the school should choose between the topics of “Roads, Bridges and Tunnels” and “Desalination” in that they were more closely related to physics and more in line with the professional level of the team teachers.
Dr. Lin Jing pointed out that Shichang Middle School needed to firstly judge the social impact of the topic, a prerequisite for controversial points; secondly, they needed to consider the feasibility of the topic to ensure that it should meet the cognitive level of the students; finally, the team could advance the topics in a certain order, starting with the local focus topic first.
Mr. Zhang Tao said that the team of Shichang Middle School needed to further think about how to transform the idea into a relatively poor-structured and debatable topic.
Mr. Xue Xiaofeng from Rui’an Middle School Affiliated to Beijing Foreign Studies University shared his school’s new topic “Will You Choose the Technological Eye?”, a further development of the previous series of vision-related topics, involving individuals’ openness to the transformation of their bodies with new technologies, as well as their health and economic awareness. The team proposed to combine the knowledge of physics to let students experience the limitations of the human eye in the early stage of the topic, and to enter a controversial discussion on the application of the technological eye to the human body at a later stage.
Mr. Peng Menghua said that the topic was worthy of recognition for its focus on glasses, but from a technical point of view, the technological eye was a very sophisticated technology that might be quite far away from students, suggesting that the team should consider exploring the topic from the perspective of expanding the function of the eye with a smaller entry point.
Dr. Lin Jing considered that students’ vision protection was a topic worthy of study, but the technological eye itself was far away from students, and it was easy to fall into a pure knowledge expansion rather than to do a socio-scientific issue study. She emphasized that a topic study that focused on knowledge expansion but not on students’ reality was a deviation from the purpose of the socio-scientific issue study project. She hoped that the team could learn from the design experience of other schools and further consider the value of socio-scientific issues.
Ms. An Tongjuan from Wanghaiyuan Middle School in Weihai, Shandong Province, introduced her school’s topic, “Is the Sale of Used Clothes Worth Promoting”. The topic was originated from a problem that students found in their daily life and was closely related to them. Through a preliminary data collection, the team decided to discuss the controversies of the two ways to dispose of clothes: burial & incineration, and refurbishment & sale. However, there were two major problems in the current design of the topic, namely, the lack of controversy and the lack of science.
Mr. Peng Menghua said that the issue of recycling used clothes is a refinement of the issue of waste classification, which was in line with the current characteristics of the time and society. Under the context of improving living conditions, this issue could help students build up the awareness of resource conservation and further discuss the issue of resources in the production process from the perspective of enterprises.
Ms. Yang Jun from Guizhou Normal University stressed that the design of driving questions was the top priority for learning socio-scientific issues, and that all mini-questions and mini-activities were a dismantling and refinement of the driving questions. Specifically, She suggested breaking down all the mini-questions, distinguishing between descriptive questions and questions that explore correlations or cause-and-effect relationships, and mobilizing students to use different methods of investigation and research.
Dr. Lin Jing pointed out that the team needed to first clarify the major differences between used clothing and other garbage, and that from an international perspective, the recycling and re-sale of clothing was now a very common market activity abroad. She added that the topic was more a social one instead of being both social and scientific, which made it difficult to build a broad activity design. For subsequent work, the team needed to further think about how to make the topic more inquiry-oriented.
Ms. Qiu Ziyun from Jiancaoping Experimental School in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, shared the design of her school’s topic “Is Traditional Food Healthy”. The topic was designed to explore the food culture of Shanxi province in the context of the collision between traditional food and modern food. After a semester of practical experience in last semester, the team now shifted their focus from the general Shanxi diet to the specific Taiyuan traditional snack “Tounao (also called Eight Treasures)”, analyzing the reasons why this food was not widely distributed. There were problems in the current design, including unclear controversy, social ambiguity, and heavy burden of knowledge expansion, etc.
Dr. Lin Jing praised the team’s idea of focusing on the topic but pointed out that the current design did not reflect the characteristics of a socio-scientific issue. She suggested that they could start from the perspective of students’ daily balanced diet, incorporate local specialties around healthy eating, and determine where the scientific and controversial aspects of the topic should lie, and finally advance to the point where students fully recognize, experience, and acknowledge the traditional and nutritious specialties of Shanxi.
The meeting was the first topic-focused workshop for the middle school group in this semester. Each of the seven schools shared their topic design, and subject experts offered targeted feedback and suggestions. As the saying goes, “if there is no beginning, there is no end”, the discussion on the topic design of each school laid a solid foundation for the orderly promotion of the socio-scientific issues learning curriculum this semester. It was believed that through the rethinking and reexamination of the issues, the teachers at each school could have a deeper understanding of the development of socio-scientific issues learning and successfully promote the project implementation activities this semester.