Conflicts in Chemistry: The Case of Plastics

Chemical Heritage Foundation

2012
$144,800

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Palisades High School students during their second round debate. Photo by Conrad Erb, courtesy of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

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Science Leadership Academy students debate during the opening round of Conflicts in Chemistry: The Case of Plastics. Photo by Conrad Erb, courtesy of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

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Regulators discuss arguments and prepare questions during the debate at SLA. Photo by Conrad Erb, courtesy of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) launched Conflicts in Chemistry: The Case of Plastics, a participatory program for high school students that generates discussion and thinking about the history of science and technology as it relates to contemporary life. The program, which draws on the format of a public hearing, gives students access to the foundation's collections, so they may research and prepare for debates on complex science policy issues in American society. The debates are taking place in three Philadelphia-area schools, inside classrooms and also as public events, where students assume roles of proponents, opponents, and members of decision-making panels. After the hearings, students work together to formulate recommendations and actionable proposals based on their findings. CHF encourages program participants to contribute to blogs and discussion boards on its website, and has provided all program materials, so that other interested schools may replicate it. After the pilot program, The Case of Plastics, CHF plans to expand beyond the initial group of schools, and to create new cases on other arguable science-related subjects, such as shale gas, nuclear energy, and vaccinations.