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Simpletons: an ethics tool

  • GCSE
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Interactive teaching
Topic: Tissues & organs

This activity is designed to makes the job of teaching pupils about ethical thinking more fun and effective. Instead of learning abstract thinking styles, pupils can instead adopt the personalities of the Simpletons (a family only sufficiently unlike their TV cousins to avoid legal action).

This activity is designed to be used in conjunction with upd8s about ethical issues, like New womb, which apply 'Simpletons' ethical thinking to real topical dilemmas.

Btu before students can make sense of such ethical decisions, they need to be taught how to think from different ethical perspectives. This is what the SImpletons does. Instead of students having to think about the terms 'utilitarianism', 'rights-based' and 'care-based' they can model an ethical approach by taking on the role of a Simpletons character, and imagining what arguments that character would give. Three simple dilemmas are presented to prepare students for upd8s on topical ethics – these will give practice in the same ethical styles, in different contexts.

14-16 How Science Works:
4b) how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that
raise ethical issues

Published: 5th February 2007
Reviews & Comments: 13

Learning objectives

Students will:
• Become confident in thinking from three different ethical perspectives: utilitarianism (costs vs. benefits), rights-based ('the golden rule') and care-based (people and relationships).

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How science works

4b) how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that
raise ethical issues

Running the activity

practise thinking in different ethical styles by discussing the dilemma in the role of one of the Simpletons characters. Slides 5-8 are role cards, summarising the approaches of the four characters. Slides 9-12 are graphic organisers to help students work out the ethical position of each character. Slides 13-16 are speech bubble cards for students to write the response of their character, to help them contribute to the discussion.

Getting into role Before discussing the dilemma, it is a good idea to spend a short time getting students 'into role', so that they understand the character's thinking style. You could split the class into 4 groups Each group takes a graphic organiser card. Students work together to answer the questions on the graphic organiser card. Students are now ready to discuss the dilemma

Small group discussion. You now re-organise small groups of 4 so that they contain one of each character. Students take it in turn to present their response. They can also ask each other questions so they can justify their points of view

The speech bubble cards can be completed to summarise the discussion. Alternatively, students could each create a whole conversation storyboard.

Slides 17- 20 introduce two further dilemmas: should you avoid aeroplane flights so as to reduce your impact on global warming? And should you buy Fairly Traded food, even if it is more expensive? You can use these dilemmas instead of – or as well as – the organ donor dilemma.

The 4 ethical approaches

1) Utilitarian approach This is summarised in the phrase 'the greatest good for the greatest number.' It is a pragmatic, rational approach, looking at who is affected by the decision, and weighing up the benefits and costs. There are no moral absolutes here.

2) Rights-based approach This approach focuses on individuals' rights to choose for themselves, and respects others' rights: right to choice, truth, privacy, not to be injured and so on. Decisions are wrong if they violate individuals rights – the more they violate, the worse they are. The golden rule is a good example: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

3) Care-based approach. This is similar to Christian/good Samaritan teaching. It is an orientation that emphasises the importance of compassion, maintaining relationships, and tending to the needs of others. Ethical questions are approached in terms of 'what would a virtuous person do?'

4) Self-centred approach This of course is the unethical approach. All that matters is what is best for me. Teachers have pointed out that many students will naturally take this stance, and need to be encouraged to move beyond it.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Simpletons: an ethics tool review

Aug 24th, 2013

1 Star

Help! The powerpoint does not work for me either!

Reviewer: Rebecca Gashi

fab resource

Jul 12th, 2013

5 Star

The powerpoint does work you just have to click on the blue writing.
This is fantastic for my Thinking and reasoning course. I have a low ability Y9 group who have to debate ethics and I struggle with it - well untill now!

Reviewer: Glenys Dawkins

Simpletons: an ethics tool review

Oct 9th, 2011

1 Star

powerpoint is not working.

Reviewer: K B


Nov 19th, 2010

4 Star

This worked well with a mixed ability year 8, although they found it difficult to align themselves with some views, especially if they disagreed with them! Overall their opinions before and after the debate had changed so some thinking obviously happened. I would use this again, although it was a squeeze in a 50 minute lesson.

Reviewer: Helen Lloyd


Nov 7th, 2008

5 Star

An excellant resource - used with low ability year 10s to explain ethics as part of 21st Century science B1. 90% of a difficult (behaviour wise) class participated and there were some excellant debates with all listening to each other - for once!!! Would highly recommend.

Reviewer: Alison Maslen

Simpletons: an ethics tool review

Jun 7th, 2008

4 Star

Really helped the class with 'evaluating' questions in their revision.

Reviewer: lucy baddeley


Apr 30th, 2008

5 Star

I have run this activity over two lessons with a mixed age and ability group who realy enjoyed it and benefitted greatly from looking at problems from a different perspective. Even normally shy individuals were able to read out in front of the group and participated in discussion. This is so good because it brings in citizenship and literacy. I will use it again now that we have practiced using it and I can see how adaptable it is a s a tool for ethical dilemmas. Thankyou.

Reviewer: Jennifer Mayer


Jul 11th, 2007

5 Star

A useful introduction to ethical thinking.

I posed some other ethical questions including discussing the currently topical case of the canadian woman who has donated some of her ova to be frozen for her daughter to use when the daughter's Turner's syndrome makes her sterile.

I like the approach, but id did modify the sheets to produce an A3 sheet which each character's thinking process grid and his/her speech bubble (conclusion) on it.

certainly got the Y9 middle set talking.

JUne 2008 - a year later

I find myself using the Smpletons again, this time discussing Pre-implantation Gentic Diagnosis PGD as part of C21st B1 topic you and your genes.

Again I sed my modified sheet.

the more I use this Upd8 activity the more I like it.

Reviewer: Stephen Brian


Jul 10th, 2007

4 Star

I used this with my middle ability year 10 as an end of term lesson. The majority of pupils took part and gave responses. I will use it again at the beginning of Y10 or as an intro to 21st C science at the end of Y9.

Reviewer: lee wigham

Using the Simpletons

Mar 9th, 2007

5 Star

Used this with a group of lower ability, disaffected pupils. Adapted to answer the question "Should a baby be tested in the womb for cystic fibrosis?"
Art work was really easy to adapt and greeted with enthusiasm by pupils. Lively, on-task discussion followed. We typed the final conclusions into the characters speech bubbles and made them into a display which gave the class a confidence boost since it attracted comments from other pupils.

Reviewer: Alison Dennis

Good to see an attempt to get some rigour in

Feb 10th, 2007

5 Star

Jon Gurney's quibbles notwithstanding (I agree with you Jon), I think this is a timely attempt to introduce younger pupils to some principles of ethical decision-making. I hope it proves popular. There have been lots of good materials, reources and approaches for engaging younger pupils with bioethics in the last few years, with positive emphases on getting the science right and on exploring, articulating and justifying points of view. What I particularly like here is the emphasis on encouraging pupils' understanding that there are also some clear ethical principles that are worth getting to grips with. In other words, as well as the "bio" bit of bioethics needing some rigour, "ethics" also has some intellectual principles which can help us reach valid and reliable positions, even if they don't always provide resolution, and I'm glad to see an approach that places this centrally. I'm looking forward to seeing more topics from Up8 like New Womb where pupils can use these ideas in context.

Reviewer: Jeremy Airey


Feb 9th, 2007

5 Star

This is certainly a positive direction for upd8 to move in, but let me quibble with the way you lay out the area to be covered. The self-centred approach is most certainly NOT an "unethical approach". It may be "immoral", in fact I would probably argue it is, but it is not "unethical" which would imply it is devoid of criteria for values decision-making, and qualifiers like "of course" have no place in any philosophical argument. Are you trying to say a priori that a kind of Ayn Rand / Adam Smith-style individualism with social good emerging from individual self-interest can't work? Let's not go there in a science lesson.

Reviewer: Jon Gurney


Feb 9th, 2007

4 Star

Clusters of Primary schools in Powys are introducing Philosophy for Children into their learning and teaching.
I shall be making reference to the 'Simpletons' activity in forthcoming courses with teachers, as an appropriate and relevant starting point for ethical discussion, relating to science in everyday contexts.