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Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers



Author(s) Theodore Goldfarb Michael Pritchard

Author(s):  Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook

NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.

Author(s):  Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook

NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.

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Contributor(s) Michael Pritchard
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Authoring Institution (obsolete) Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC
Volume 8
Issue 3
Year 1999
Publisher provided Keywords Instructional Methods Pedagogical Materials SCIENCE
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
Language English

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Table of Contents

Lesson 12, Pine Barrens

Richard Tunick, Massapequa High School, Massapequa, Long Island, NY.

Overview of Lesson

Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended
Earth science and biology classes.
Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Lesson
Role-playing in policy-making setting.
Category the Best Describes this Lesson
Social issues.
Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson
Environmental values vs. economic development; public vs. private interest; democratic decision-making.
Lesson plan
This lesson is based on an actual case, a dispute about the use of 100,000 acres in Suffolk County on Long Island, known as the Pine Barrens. The details in this case are not intended to be completely accurate (e.g., there is no Suffolk County Planning Commission, as each town controls its own development). The purpose of this lesson is to help students understand the complexities of environmental decisions, rather than to recreate the actual circumstances and outcome of the original case. The class is divided into five groups. Each group is given time to discuss its particular role in the case. Then the Suffolk County Planning Commission group will conduct a public meeting at which the other groups make presentations, and the Planning Commission will make its decision.

The five groups are

  • The Suffolk County Planning Commission, whose responsibility is to decide on the uses of land in Suffolk County.
  • The Paradise Development Corporation/LIPA/LIRR, a combination of a corporate home builder, the Long Island Power Authority, and the Long Island Railroad.
  • The Long Island Association, an organization of businesses.
  • The Long Island Pine Barrens Society, an environmental group.
  • Citizens

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Lesson Plan

The following materials are distributed to each member of the class for initial review. Then each group is asked to prepare for its particular role.

Status of the Pine Barrens
Originally the Pine Barrens consisted of about 250,000 acres of undeveloped, forested land. It is situated above a relatively unpolluted section of the aquifer system that is the source of all potable water to Long Island residents. But more than half of this land has been used for housing developments, farms, roads, landfills, golf courses, and businesses. Most of the remaining 100,000 acres are undeveloped. What to do with this land is highly controversial, which is why the Suffolk County Planning Commission is holding this public meeting.
Suffolk County Planning Commission
As members of the Planning Commission, you are expected to study and make decisions regarding the use of community facilities. You oversee street maintenance, sewage treatment, library services, and other public services. You also issue building permits, and you review plans for new residential developments. You have been elected by the citizens to make decisions that serve their best interests. Today, you are reviewing proposals for the use of the Pine Barrens, 100,000 acres of undeveloped land in Suffolk County. Different proposals will be presented by the Paradise Development Corporation, in collaboration with LIPA and the LIRR; the Long Island Association; and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. Also, some citizens of the area are present at this public meeting and should be allowed to speak. You should listen carefully to the proposals and discussions that follow. You may want to take notes. You may question the representatives of these organizations. When the presentations and discussions are finished, you are to decide what to do, providing reasons for your decision. A voice vote will be taken. Majority vote determines the decision. (You realize that, as elected representatives, your votes will be remembered if you stand for re-election.) You can decide whatever you want. You can completely accept a proposal or only part of it. You can come up with any kind of compromise you think best. What to do with this land is in your hands.
Paradise Development Corporation/LIPA/LIRR
Paradise Development Corporation representative: As a representative of this corporation, your objective is to persuade the Planning commission to allow development of the land for a community of 20,00 without disturbing the natural beauty of the area.

Some arguments

  1. A new community would attract business enterprises, such as food stores, department stores, restaurants, gas stations
  2. The area's natural beauty would be preserved, for only a minimum of trees need to be cut down.
  3. The community would provide a market for nearby farms: potatoes, wine, corn, and other vegetables and fruits.

This planned community would be able to provide decent homes at an affordable price. Remember: You represent a corporation that makes its profits by building and selling homes. Here you have an ideal setting for a model community. Housing sales should be quick and profitable in such a setting, and your company stands to gain both large profits and prestige. Additional points you can make: Houses will use solar heating and natural ventilation, making them more environmentally friendly than typical houses. Housing will also be concentrated that a minimum of land will be under construction.

Questions you may be asked

  1. How large a community do you plan?
  2. How have you planned for sidewalks, street maintenance, police protection, fire protection, garbage collection, schools, libraries, businesses to support the community?
  3. What steps have been taken to minimize environmental problems?
  4. Is this development really needed? Isn't there adequate housing now?
  5. Won't this project simply add to the growing congestion on Long Island?
  6. Can the current roads take more traffic?
LIPA representative
As a representative of this electric utility, your objective is to persuade the Planning Commission to allow development of the Pine Barrens with housing developments and industry. LIPA wants more customers so that it can request that the closed Shoreham nuclear power plant be used for a natural gas-fired power plant. With more customers, LIPA claims it can keep down future rate increases for its customers (rate increases that have already been approved for the next 10 years).

Questions you may be asked

  1. If LIPA gets more customers, won't there be a need for more generators, thus increasing costs to everyone?
  2. Won't the production of more electricity add to the pollution of the environment?
LIRR representative
As a representative of the railroad, your objective is to persuade the Planning Commission to allow development of the Pine Barrens. This will benefit the railroad in a number of ways.
  1. The LIRR will build a station in the center of the new community.
  2. The LIRR will make this line attractive by electrifying the railroad from Ronkonkoma to Riverhead. (When LIRR electrified from Hicksville to Ronkonkoma, Ronkonkoma station usage more than tripled.)

This project will give LIRR reason to upgrade its services to keep up with the times.

Questions you may be asked

  1. Won't building a station cost more money, while the LIRR should be trying to save money?
  2. Won't electrifying the tracks be expensive, therefore costing riders more money?
  3. Why not simply use the current station and its tracks?
Long Island Association
This is an organization representing the businesses of Long Island. Your objective is to persuade the Planning Commission to grant permission for the expansion of businesses on Long Island in general, and in the Pine Barrens area in particular.

Two general points can be made

  1. Successful businesses provide a strong economic base and, therefore, a thriving community.
  2. More businesses mean more jobs; and more jobs mean more support services (e.g., stores, gas stations).
  3. Questions you should be prepared to answer
  4. Whenever there are more businesses, there is more pollution (air, land, groundwater). What will be done to prevent increased pollution?
  5. Why do we need more people in this area? Isn't the population of Long Island, and Suffolk County in particular, large enough? Is bigger always better?
Long Island Pine Barrens Society
Your objective is to persuade the Planning Commission to protect the Pine Barrens as much as possible. The following arguments could be used
  1. There is a need to protect the huge quantity of clean groundwater under the Pine Barrens.
  2. There is a need to prevent air pollution. Increased population means increased air pollution form home, business, and industrial heating units, and auto pollution.
  3. The currently undeveloped land needs to be protected from increased use of fertilizers, sewage and solid waste materials, and oil and gas runoffs.
  4. Land protection benefits everyone. An unlimited public access park can be created with access to ball fields, bridle paths for horses, hiking trails, camp grounds, and unmotorized boats. A limited public access park can be created for limited hiking, fishing and boating.
  5. Designating the land as park land will ensure preservation because current laws prohibit building transportation and urban facilities on park land.
  6. The Pine Barrens is the last large, undeveloped area on Long Island.
  1. Why should land be preserved--you can't stop progress.
  2. Development means more jobs and an improved economy. Won't preventing development hurt the economy?
  3. Won't a public access park scare away wildlife and increase pollution caused by both cars and people? What will you do to prevent vandalism, and how much will this cost?
  4. Won't creating such a park attract people who might want to live in the area, thereby increasing pressure for more housing development?
  5. Won't a public park destroy the environment (more cars, motorbikes, picnic areas, baseball fields, basketball courts, campfire sites, etc.)?
  6. .Who will be allowed to enter a limited access park? Only local residents? Long Island residents? State residents? Is it fair to allow access to only a select few?
As citizens, you are sitting in on the Planning Commission hearings, and you have a right to speak. Here are some comments some of you might want to make (but you may think of others)
  1. Won't our taxes be raised with more children moving into the area, requiring new schools, playgrounds, sewage treatment, and so on?
  2. Long Island's over development is a bonanza for builders and developers and a disaster for the rest of us.
  3. LILCO's electric rates are much too high. Let's do anything we can to lower them
  4. Why can't we have both development and the Pine Barrens? Can't we use some of the land for development and preserve the rest?
  5. When will it stop? We've already developed 40% of the original Pine Barrens land. We've gone far enough.
  6. We can use the jobs and new services. Besides, no one's going to cut down all the trees. It'll still be a beautiful area.
  7. What right do we have to stop progress and keep others from developing the land; isn't that what we've always done anyway?


In order to reveal the complexities of issues like this, and to allow the students to engage their imagination more fully, this lesson may take several class periods. Although students will probably want more information than this lesson provides, there should be enough for them to see the sorts of questions a planning commission needs to consider. Even though students are right in thinking that more information is needed, they need to realize that, no matter how much information they have, at some point they will have to address some basic ethical and value questions about rights, the public interest, and the importance of the environment. However, perhaps the most important lesson here is that responsible treatment of those ethics and value questions requires being well informed in a variety of areas. Here the social sciences (such as economics and political science) as well as the natural sciences provide important perspectives.

Return to Part 2 - Model Classroom Lessons

Return to Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers

Cite this page: "Lesson 12, Pine Barrens" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 7/14/2006 OEC Accessed: Sunday, August 18, 2019 <>