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Detailed example for a selected option in Unit 2 Area of Study 2

Panel discussion: a physics-based issue in society


Many contemporary issues in society involve physics ideas and concepts. The focus of this activity is on students being able to communicate a response to an issue generated through their studies in a selected option in Unit 2 Area of Study 2. A sample question is listed below for each Unit 2 option:

Option 2.1: Is it worth spending public funding on space research?

Option 2.2: Why bother with searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence

Option 2.3: Is bionic better?

Option 2.4: Is living near electrical substations a health hazard?

Option 2.5: Is flying safe?

Option 2.6: Would you allow a nuclear reactor to be built in your local area?

Option 2.7: Is medical radiation safe?

Option 2.8: Is it worth spending public funding on particle colliders?

Option 2.9: Will bionic eyes supersede seeing eye dogs?

Option 2.10: When does music become noise?

Option 2.11: Should golf clubs, tennis racquets and other personally selected sporting equipment be standardised?

Option 2.12: Should polygraph results be used as court evidence?

Teachers must consider the management logistics of the investigation, taking into account number of students, whether a local or broader issue will be investigated, student interest in particular issues, whether all students will investigate the same issue and the format for the response. The following questions require consideration:

  • How many different issueswill be investigated in the class?
  • Will different issues be selected within one option, or will issues across different options be manageable?
  • How will the issue for investigation be selected?
  • To what extent will students work on their issue inside and outside the class, and how can work completed outside the class be authenticated?
  • To what extent will students work independently? Collaboratively?
  • To whom will students be expected to communicate?
  • What form will the communication take?


To communicate a justified response to a social issue involving physics concepts through participation in a ‘Question & Answer’ panel discussion.


For each selected issue, students role-play a Question & Answer (Q&A) panel type discussion, moderated by the teacher or a student from another issue group, to examine the possible implications (benefits and limitations) for stakeholders affected by decisions relating to the selected issue. Initially, each student will assume the role of one stakeholder associated with the issue and become part of a panel-type discussion. The moderator initiates discussion and also canvasses questions from the Q&A audience (other students in class). Each student then selects a different stakeholder and writes a media communication (approximately 300 words) from their perspective, for example a newspaper article, TV ad script, blog entries over period of time, or another media communication.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task.


  • Students should have discussed examples of ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’ oral and written communication techniques and practices.
  • Issue could be pre-selected by the teacher or negotiated as a class through discussions generated from a number of options presented to students by the teacher and/or student suggestions.
  • Information for the issue could be presented to students as a case study or a series of ‘fact sheets’, in addition to details about the sources of information, to allow students to conduct further research as required. Research may be undertaken within and outside class, but must be recorded in the students’ logbooks.
  • Students become panel members that represent stakeholder interests (students select the names of stakeholders at random ‘from a hat’), for example a relevant scientist, a local government representative, someone who gains from the issue, someone who is negatively impacted by the issue, a local resident with young family, and a philanthropist.

Health, safety and ethical notes

  • Students should be respectful of others and their opinions at all times.
  • Students should be reminded that this activity is simply a role-play and the comments made do not necessary reflect the attitudes of the individual speakers.

Procedure for students

Stage 1: Each student considers general information about the selected issue, role-plays one stakeholder and presents their position; constructs a question their stakeholder would like addressed by a discussion panel; prepares possible responses to these questions from the perspective of the stakeholder.

  • Read through the case study or ‘fact sheets’ relating to the issue.
  • In the logbook, note down any initial questions about the case study or issue.
  • Each student selects at random the name of a stakeholder relevant to their case study or issue.
  • Spend 10 minutes brainstorming the likely perspective of the stakeholder towards the issue. Note results of discussions in logbook.
  • Present a 30-second oral summary of the stakeholder perspective to the class, for example: ‘My name is X and I am the local member for Town Y where construction of a nuclear reactor is proposed. The majority of my constituents are against the proposal since there are concerns about the safe operation of the plant and a reported fear of nuclear accidents. People are worried about possible short- and long-term health effects. Since I represent the views of my constituency, this means that I am unable to support the proposal.’
  • On a slip of paper, construct one question to be addressed by another stakeholder relating to this issue. Which stakeholder should respond to the question? The question should be well thought out and allow the class to gain insight into the issue from as many perspectives as possible. The following list of question terms might assist – select one term from each list to construct the question:

List 1: Who/What/Where/When/Why/How…?

List 2: …would/could/should/is/are/might/will/was/were…?

Submit the question to the teacher, who collates these and distributes them to the relevant discussion panel and panel moderator.

  • Working with the other members of the panel, discuss the questions that have been submitted and note in the logbook responses to the questions from the perspectives of each stakeholder. Include as much scientific data as possible in the responses. Additional internet research may be needed to develop the responses.

Stage 2: Each student role-plays the perspective of their stakeholder as part of a panel discussion. They may use any notes written in the logbook and may also make additional notes in the logbook during the class.

Stage 3: Each student writes a media communication in their logbook from the perspective of a different stakeholder from that role-played in the panel discussion. They may choose to write a newspaper article, TV ad script, blog entries over time or another type of written media communication. By the end of this lesson each student submits approximately 300 words. They may use any notes from the logbook.

The media communication should identify/highlight the:

  • specific scientific concept/s being communicated
  • likely target audience
  • scientific data used to justify the position of the stakeholder.

Students will be assessed with respect to:

  • accuracy of scientific information
  • clarity of explanations
  • appropriateness for purpose and audience.