Working in groups, go through the orangutans story and pick out words or whole sentences
that raise issues and applications.
Once you have done that you can compare your thoughts with ours.
The next step is to look into these issues and applications in more detail. There
are two ways to tackle this, and very often they shade into each other and you can
One way is to have group discussions about the issues and applications. The other
is to carry out a little more research into them - using books and magazines and
the Internet, or by emailing the scientists themselves.
Both group discussions and more research are best followed by a presentation to the
class on what you have learned and decided.
Once you've explored a few science news stories it becomes fairly easy to pick out
the issues and applications, and think of discussion and research topics arising
from them yourself. Here's how:
First gather the issues and applications you've highlighted in the story together.
Here are the ones we've found in the orangutans story. You might have discovered
Plenty of animals tell each other things using sounds or gestures. Scientists keep
being surprised by how well some animals can do this.
Most of us don’t look much like apes, but we do have a lot in common with them.
The orangutans were clearly working out if their audience understood them. This surprised
the St Andrews University scientists.
The orangutans intended a particular result.
The charades method is one way to build a shared lexicon from learned signals.
More study of how apes communicate could help us learn about how the earliest forms
of human language began.
You can now turn any or all of these into a discussion or research topic. Here are
some suggestions, and a few links to get you started. You can probably think of other
Topics for discussion, research or pupil presentations
Investigate the many ways animals use to "talk" to each other. Which kind of animals
talk most? Is there anything similar about the different ways of life of these animals?
What do they talk about? Why do you think scientists "keep being surprised" by how
well animals communicate?
How clear is it that the orangutans were "working out if their audience understood
them"? Could there be another explanation for what the scientists saw? Can you think
up another test or experiment that would decide for sure?
Most people - scientists and non-scientists - think of animals as very different
from humans. We have an inner life, but animals are just soft machines that "nourish
a blind life within the brain". More and more evidence is showing however that this
view is simply wrong. Many different kinds of animals have feelings, thoughts and
intentions. Does this mean that they are "people" too?
What do the two phrases in this statement mean: "shared lexicon" and "learned signals".
Pick one example of a shared lexicon - for example human speech, dolphin calls, parrot
cries, bonobo communications in the wild - and try to think of how, in the distant
past, this might have grown out of just a few learned signals.
Learning how the earliest form of human language began would be a fascinating piece
of research. But if great apes are "people" (see issue 4) should we be experimenting
on them at all?
Tips for class discussions and groupwork on ethics
Most of the secondary science teachers who shy away from incorporating ethics into
their curricula are quite clear about the reasons they do so. First, they are uncomfortable
with teaching ethics, a subject that science teachers often have very little experience
with. Ethics as a discipline is full of unfamiliar terms and its own jargon.
Secondly, teachers fear classroom discussions ‘getting out of control’, degenerating
into a battle of opinions, or having parents and administrators confuse teaching
about values and morals with teaching particular values and morals.
Lastly, something as seemingly subjective as ethics can be perceived as somewhat
out of place in a science classroom, where the focus is ostensibly on objectivity:
“Why are we studying values in science class?” Ethics seems like just one more element
in an already crowded curriculum.
This primer focuses on tools and strategies for overcoming these barriers, as well
as some perspective on the importance of addressing the ethical dimensions of science
The primer is designed to help science teachers in guiding their students to analyze
issues in light of the scholarly discipline of ethics. This Ethics Primer provides
classroom-friendly lesson ideas for integrating ethical issues into a science curriculum.