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  • Writer's pictureetulbert

Stage a Meaningful Science Debate...(with Popsicle Sticks?!)

By Eve Tulbert and April Luehmann

Sodus students study stink bug habitats, 2018

Learning happens in networks. Research shows that youth with “natural mentors” are more likely to avoid risks and stick with learning (Zimmerman, 2006). Moreover, children that know their family stories and engage in rich family conversations express tenacity and resilience in life and learning (Feiler, 2013). For educators, that means making clear connections between classrooms and school programs, and students’ own family and community-based mentors.

One way to do this is to coach students to talk about what they know as science communicators. Learning how to make “evidence-based arguments” can happen anywhere. By bridging scientific research with community objectives, students take on the new, valuable identity of local experts.

In Sodus, NY, stink bugs (Halyomorpha halys) have invaded the region, causing major damage to the local apple crop. Students collected samples of the bugs at home, at school, and in nearby sites. Through their ongoing investigation, they became experts stink bug habits and habitats. They investigated ways of controlling the invasive species, and educated the community about why the stink bug population was expanding.

In order to prepare for their community questions at their science showcase days, students took sides in a scientific debate. They prepared evidence-based arguments about a tough question: “Should local farmers introduce a wasp species, a natural predator to the stink bugs, to try to control the spread?” Debate teams prepped together, and then each student received three popsicle sticks. Each time that they spoke in the debate, they put down a stick, ensuring that every student got “air time” in the debate.

Community-connected science programs can position youth as bridges. As youth gain experience as evidence-based science communicators, they expand their resources and identities as local experts on pressing issues. That role takes practice. Organizing classroom’s for oral dialogue (or “oracy” practices) can prepare youth to take on new vantage points as science communicators.

Tips for Strengthening Community-based Science Communication

  1. Create home-school connections. Ask students to perform a research task at home over the course of the program. For example, send bug jars or water sampling kits home for testing and data collection.

  2. Stage a debate. Have students prepare evidence-based arguments on the topic of their research. Try the popsicle stick protocol to ensure everyone takes a turn.

  3. Engage mentor networks. Find local experts on a topic of interest for classroom visits and collaborative conversation.


1. Zimmerman, M., Bingenheimer, J., & Notaro, P. (2002). Natural Mentors and Adolescent Resiliency: A Study with Urban Youth. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30, 221–243.

2. Feiler, B. (n.d.). The Family Stories That Bind Us—This Life—The New York Times. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from


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