Using Science News in Teaching

by Jessica E. Zimmer, Anthony Carpi, Ph.D.

While books and lecture help convey core concepts, students often ask 'how' and 'why' those concepts are relevant to their lives. Contextual relevance is an important part of the learning process. This is especially important in science, where fundamental concepts can be incorrectly perceived as irrelevant to everyday life. One teaching aid that can be used to convey relevance is topical news or current events in teaching subject matter.

News and current events keep students up-to-date with developments in different disciplines and changes in theories. You can use news stories to illustrate basic principles, as is often done with case studies, you can use news articles to add current topics to your lectures, or you can use them to add social context to lecture topics. News stories help to show that subject matter is 'alive' and changing to students. Through these stories, students begin to see the relevance of studying different topics and their interest increases as a result.

All of the teaching modules at Visionlearning provide news stories from a variety of sources: television news, academic and popular journals and recently released research papers. These stories can be found in the News and Events and Further Exploration link sections on the right and bottom menus, respectively. The links provided on our modules have been carefully reviewed by educators and scientists for accuracy and relevance. These links help you lead students to new material without having to spend time searching for them on the Internet. In addition, the Current Science News link in the News & Events section of every module will take you to a page that provides up-to-date news feeds from major sources including the New York Times and the BBC.

News stories are used on our teaching modules to push students to develop interests in scientific issues outside of the classroom. When students learn how to scan a news article or read a set of related stories, they learn how to follow the progress of scientific research. Reading science news critically also helps students to develop a sense of ownership and control over their learning. After they have gained skills in evaluating the accuracy and style of the stories, they can then rate the content of the information that they read. This activity promotes individual effort. It challenges students to have an end goal of developing personal skills rather than completing a worksheet or test (Phoenix 2002: 4). Unlike textbook examples, science news is useful because it educates students on real world problems (Battles et al 2003: 458-9).


Using news pushes students towards academic literacy. Usually students are taught reading and writing skills in literature or writing classes. Unfortunately, they seldom learn how to read and write scientific material (Kokkala and Gessell 2003: 252). Visionlearning's science links are a guide to learning scientific terms, which later help students in understanding scientific language and conventions (Hall 2003: 665). Our links also teach students electronic literacy by allowing them to use computers and the Internet in critical reading and writing (Hall 2003: 665).

At Visionlearning, we go beyond introducing students to the science section of the local newspaper. Our lessons differ from a textbook in that we delve into why controversy surrounds certain theories, such as evolution. We offer a graphics, animations, and photos that guide students through complex concepts.

Visionlearning's approach is innovative because we do not focus exclusively on 'mass-market' or 'sexy' news stories. We include news from both common and lesser known laboratories. This differs from popular media's approach, which focuses mainly on visually exciting topics such as space exploration (Palfreman 2002: 32). Rather than getting a sense of what topics are popular, students get a real sense of how science is carried out in real life.

Learning about the real world by using scientific information is an important skill for students. Our goal at Visionlearning is to take students "outside the classroom." In addition to the science news on our modules, we periodically highlight events in science by producing a special logo and a story on a scientist's achievements or upcoming milestone in science. We hope you find these resources helpful in your work to teach students about real world science.

Jessica E. Zimmer, Anthony Carpi, Ph.D. “Using Science News in Teaching” Visionlearning Vol. HELP-2 (3), 2005.