TURS Conference: Learning About Risk - The Challenge for Teachers, London, 4 June 2010

Conference Poster 

When society has problems with science, it is often over questions of uncertainty and risk. How uncertainty and risk can be quantified and communicated are questions of great concern, with no simple answers.

This conclusion written in a February 2000 report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee still resonates today. Developments in science and technology in industrialized countries have the potential to greatly enhance human health and welfare but this potential is often tempered with public scepticism and ambivalence as well as a need to engage with the reporting of risk in the media. Risk has become increasingly emphasized in school curricula: in Science, Mathematics, Citizenship and Personal, Social and Health Education. This conference raised the challenges of teaching and learning about risk with leading players in policy and education.


David Nutt (Imperial College London)
'The risky business of drug harm assessments: Lessons for everyone'

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I explore the issues that the use and regulation of drugs raise in relation to the education of students and the general public. I describe the approach we have taken in using nine different measures of harms to assess the relative harms of different drugs and produce a ranking scheme that can be used for educational as well as legal purposes. The ranking has caused some controversy in that alcohol and tobacco score quite highly and this has lead to some misunderstandings about the public messages that such comparisons may produce. In addition I share some challenging issues raised by recent government decisions on drugs such as MDMA and cannabis that I discussed in some detail in a recent public lecture.

Further reading:
Nutt, DJ; King, LA; Saulsbury, W; Blakemore, C [2007]
Developing a rational scale for assessing the risks of drugs of potential misuse Lancet 369:1047-1053
[journal link]
Nutt, DJ (2009) The Eve Saville Lecture - Estimating drug harms: a risky business? [www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/estimatingdrugharms.html]


Robin Millar (University of York)
'Risk and school science: Possibilities and challenges'

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The courses Science for Public Understanding (AS level), its successor Science in Society (AS/A level), and GCSE Science in the Twenty First Century Science suite, all include some treatment of ideas about risk and risk assessment. I outline the rationale for these courses, and explain why and how risk was included as a topic. I then look briefly at some of the issues this has raised, in particular for pedagogy and assessment of student learning.


Dave Pratt & Ralph Levinson (TURS project, Institute of Education, University of London)
'Towards a pedagogy of risk'

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Talk about risk is everywhere in our daily domestic and working lives. However, the essential nature of risk is still a matter of debate. Risk is an element of both the science and mathematics national curricula, a reflection of its perceived significance for society. We know that risk is a difficult topic and that the detailed questions about what and how to teach remain largely unanswered. We report on a research project (funded by the Wellcome Trust) which has been investigating how mathematics and science teachers make sense of risk, how the concept figures in their teaching, and what new possibilities exist for teaching where a cross-curricular and technology-enhanced approach is taken. We illustrate a decision-making scenario which explores the different dimensions of risk and points towards some guiding principles for a pedagogy of risk that will be useful for the classroom.


Panel discussion: David Nutt, Robin Millar, Dave Pratt, and Professor Priscilla Alderson
(Video, 44 minutes)

For the final discussion, the speakers from the day were joined by Professor Alderson (Institute of Education, London). A selection of written questions submitted by the audience were discussed. The discussion was chaired by Ralph Levinson.