Debating Science Issues: workshop and debate competition

Última atualização:
4 Fev 2012
Debating Science Issues: workshop and debate competition

A dynamic debating competition which invites young people to engage in debate on the cultural, societal and ethical implications of advances in biomedical science. There are two components: a workshop and the debate competition itself.

Quick facts

Age group


Group size

15 students per facilitator for the workshop element. Each debate team has 2 speakers but can have a research team of many more.


3 hrs per workshop; 1 hr for each debate plus 30 mins set-up and 30 mins wrap

Technical requirements

laptop with PowerPoint presentation and DVD player, projector, speakers, pre-determined league table assigning the proposing team and opposing teams and motions for subsequent rounds of debates, stop watch.

Required materials

Play Decide Stem Cells kitStem Cell Story DVD, feedback forms and printed student resources, debate team prizes if desired.

Venue information

Workshop in a school or public library; Debate in a research centre seminar room or public library

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Details and instructions

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Preparation for the workshop
  • Recruit 8/4/2 schools depending on how much time and resources you have available for the workshops (1 facilitator/ approximately 15-20 students). 
  • Determine the times and dates for the workshop. 
  • Each of the (2/4/8) participating schools will be asked to nominate approximately 15-20 students to take part in the workshop. Ideally these would be students with an interest in debating. The workshop model works best with groups of 15-20 students.    If there are more students interested, 2 facilitators can visit the school. 
The workshop
  • Facilitator/s will visit the schools to carry out the workshops with the students. A teacher should be present during this session.
  • The 3 hour workshop delivered at schools has 3 elements:  a competition overview and stem cell science lesson, the PlayDecide Stem Cell conversation cards and the Stem Cell Story film. The workshop sets the students to prepare for the debates and enables students to find out about stem cell research, form their opinions, discuss the topic with others and vote on what they would recommend governments and decision makers to do.
Preparation for the debates
  • Determine the prizes, if any and buy them.
  • Arrange for venue, dates and times for the debates.  
  • Arrange for catering, including 8 bottles of water.  
  • Set up the room with head and judges’ tables, chairs and water.  
  • Judges each need a pen, paper on which to take notes, a score card.  
  • MC needs the Introductions page, a stop watch.
The debates

After the workshop, students will have at least 2 weeks to prepare a debate.  The student resource pages will guide the students’ independent research. The motions will relate to stem cell research and the schools will be asked to argue a particular side of the motion. 2 students will be speakers for the debating team but a team of researchers will help the speakers prepare. All research work for the debate should be carried out by the students with teacher support. Research materials should be compiled in a folder to be presented on the day of the debate. A different pair of speakers can represent the team on subsequent rounds if the team is successful. See debate rules for timing and score sheet for the judges to mark the teams (downloads below). 
Suggestion: An intra-school debate can precede the official debate.

DEBATE ROUND 1 (If 8 schools are involved, plan for 4 debates, etc)

  • Plan one-hour per debate 
  • Recruit 3 judges- judges could include a scientist, a science communications rep/ journalist and a lay person. 
  • Arrange for light catering.  The  room should have seating for guests and a configuration at the front of the room to accommodate 4 students and an MC (5 seats).  A judges table should face the speakers’ table and have 3 chairs for the 3 judges.  Each judge needs a bottle of water, glass, a pen, a score card, a DSI overview, and some writing paper to take notes and compose their question.
  • See the template for introductions - MC will complete this and introduce the day.   The MC needs to time the debate, and notify speakers that a knock on the table indicates that there is one minute left in the speech.  
  • Motion: 'This house proposes that the potential benefits of using embryonic stem cells to develop new medical treatments mean we have a moral obligation to support this type of research.'

DEBATE  ROUND 2 (If 4 schools are involved, plan for 2 debates, etc)

  • Plan one-hour per debate
  • Recruit 3 judges per debate 
  • Arrange for light catering 
  • Same configuration as DEBATE 1  
  • Suggested Motion:  'This house believes that research and healthcare funding should be allocated in a population dependent manner even for serious rare diseases.'
  • The final will take place 2 weeks later. This will either take place at a research centre, university or in a local library (Plan for a one-hour / debate, 2 schools, recruit 3 judges, arrange for light catering.  Prepare a press release draft ahead and send invitations to the event). 

DEBATE ROUND 3 (If 2 schools are involved, plan for 1 debate)

  • Plan 1-hour per debate
  • Recruit 3 judges
  • Arrange for light catering
  • Same configuration as DEBATE 1
  • Suggested Motion:  ‘This house proposes that clinical trials in developing countries are exploitative.’

Video of the 2010 Debating Science Issues competition in Dublin

Both semi final and final dates will be confirmed in consultation with participating schools.  Suggested prizes include school bursaries, trophies, and iPod shuffles, framed certificates acknowledging the school, teachers and student speakers.

For more information on Debating Science Issues, visit the DSI website.


Debating Science Issues, the cross-border schools’ science debating competition has been designed and co-ordinated by REMEDI (Regenerative Medicine Institute) at the National University of Ireland in Galway, along with 8 collaborating partners throughout the Republic and Northern Ireland:

It has been generously funded by a Wellcome Trust People Award for 5 consecutive years.

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Debating Science Issues- Stem Cells by Danielle Nicholson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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