Debating Science Issues: Workshop and Debate Competition

Debate LogoA 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.

What people are saying about this resource

I was fortunate enough to be a judge for the DSI All-Ireland Finals 2014 in the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin last week and want to say how impressed I was with the whole event. The standard of the students' knowledge, skills and understanding went way beyond my expectations and I was exceptionally impressed by the structure and set up of how the whole competition worked. It is well-organised, thorough, interesting and, in Ireland at least, seems to be one of a kind. Besides promoting high standards in public engagement and debate, this type of event is excellent in raising educational standards in Ireland, particularly in the fields of biological science, philosophy and sociology. I just want to congratulate all the finalists and teachers from the schools for a job well done and also Debating Science Issues for an excellent initiative! - Jill McMahon

Details and instructions

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. 

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.

Workshop: PlayDecide stem cells kit (pdf)2.33 MB Workshop- Presentation DSI_Stem Cells_2012.ppt3.49 MB Workshop: Student feedback form (pdf)221.22 KB Debate prep: STEM_CELLS- science & ethics resources & further reading list111.76 KB Debate prep: RARE_DISEASES- science & ethics resources & further reading.pdf1.11 MB Debate: Rules (pdf)392.1 KB Debate: Template for introductions (pdf)211.04 KB Debate: Judges' scorecard (pdf)105.21 KB Debate: Teacher feedback form (pdf)213.92 KB Debate: Student feedback form (pdf)214.22 KB


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.

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

Based on a work at

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