WWW Site for John Lawrence Bencze, Associate Professor, Science Education, OISE/University of Toronto

Promoting Actions to Overcome Harms Linked to Science & Technology

'Critical & Activist Science Education' (CASE) is an educational and research project encouraging and enabling students to take socio-political actions to address harms they perceive in 'STSE' relationships - many of which involve controversies, such as those surrounding health harms linked to (de-)regulation of food industries. This page provides you with further information about the project, along with access to relevant teaching/learning resources.

  Action Research.

Why promote activist societies
Largely because it is apparent that many governments have altered laws - particularly surrounding the nature and uses of fields of science and technology (and, likely, engineering & mathematics) [see: Corrupted Science] - to suite interests of financiers and corporations, societies are facing many personal, social and environmental harms, such as human diseases (e.g., cancer, heart disease and diabetes) linked to manufactured foods, species losses linked to habitat destruction and devastating climate changes linked to excessive fossil fuel uses. Apparently also linked to such harms is concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands and impoverishment of large segments of societies (see Oxfam report). Accordingly, it seems clear that educators must work to help students become much more critical in analyzing and evaluating STSE relationships and, where they perceive problems, to take personal and social (often very politicized) actions to try to bring about a better world.

How to promote citizen activism
With graduate students, teachers and others, I have been carrying out research for about a decade to learn more about how best to help school science students to become more critical and activist. This work has been based on the STEPWISE framework for organizing teaching and learning. Although STEPWISE has had some successes, we decided to now call the project 'CASE' - which we think fairly accurately describes our goals. In our work, we also have identified a few core principles that we think can help teachers to encourage and enable students to become more critical and activist. Several of these are summarized here.

Although we recognize that there are likely many ways to promote activism through school science, we have found the schema described below to have worked well for many teachers:

Very broadly, the CASE pedagogy involves having teachers provide students with one or more sets of 'apprenticeship' lessons and activities before asking students to self-direct research-informed and negotiated actions (RiNA) to address harms students perceive in STSE relationships.

There are different elaborations of the CASE pedagogy, with classroom-tested resources, available via: STEPWISE Pedagogy; EcoJust STEM Actions Slideshow (Note: This is another version of STEPWISE); and, STEPWISE for Teachers.

CASE aligns with official curricula
In developing the STEPWISE/CASE frameworks, I tried to build in 'Expectations,' 'Objectives,' 'Outcomes,' etc. of different official curricula. The goals for science education in Ontario curricula (indicated and linked at right), where I work, seem common to many others around the world. Research suggests that school systems tend, however, to over-emphasize teaching and learning of 'Products' (e.g., laws & theories) of science and technology/engineering. [Note: Ontario calls these 'Concepts.'] CASE, on the other hand, encourages teachers to provide students with a better balance of the 3 teaching/learning goals - with special emphases, of course, on encouraging students to use at least some of their education literacy to develop research-informed and negotiated (and networked) actions to address harms they perceive in relationships among fields of science and technology and societies and environments (STSE). Such activist projects involve application of all 3 of the curriculum goals in the Ontario curriculum - and, we think broadly support ecojustice goals/concerns.

Some CASE successes
Using the CASE pedagogy outlined above, students in elementary and secondary schools, in after-school programmes and in teacher's college, have developed very interesting and effective actions to address STSE relationships of their concern.
Many reports of our work will soon be available in the STEPWISE edited book, available here and as summarized here. A list of related publications also is available on my online curriculum vitae. To illustrate student work, however, one student - for example - researched liquid foundation make-up and produced the activist video shown below:

This activist video was, for us, quite wonderful. Students had used 'actor network theory' (ANT) to note that makeup, like other commodities, is part of a much larger network of entities ('actants') - including, at least the following often-ignored actants: miners, manufacturers, labourers, banks, shipping companies, advertizers and, ultimately, disposal companies and landfills. Videos like that above can help show consumers hidden, often highly problematic, actants in for-profit commodities.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of working with several wonderful teachers using the STEPWISE/CASE framework.
A teacher in the Peel District School Board (PDSB), Mr. Mirjan Krstovic worked with me for at least 3 successive years and has experienced considerable success promoting RiNA projects among students in his classes. In his online blog, he describes some things he has learned along the way. Mr. Dave Del Gobbo, another teacher in the PDSB, has been using this framework for a couple of years, and students in his class have developed many effective actions to address problematic STSE relationships. Dave provides examples HERE of three fundamental aspects of the CASE/STEPWISE pedagogy; that is, students' secondary research about an STSE relationship; students' primary research to learn more about this relationship; and, based on their research and other influences, actions students take to address problems perceived by them.

Networking CASE
In reflecting on our work using the STEPWISE framework since 2006, although we have seen wonderful successes like those above, it seems that many conditions need to align to allow them to happen. It helps, as with in Ontario, that official curricula support STSE education, students' research and actions to address problems. Often, however, teachers need to develop various new perspectives - such as Naturalist-Antirealist views about science and variety of teaching/learning approaches. We also have seen that it can take at least one or two semesters/terms for teachers to develop expertise, confidence and motivation for using CASE approaches. School principals and teaching colleagues need, as well, to be supportive - at least in terms of encouraging teachers to be innovative, although prioritizing ecojustice goals would be ideal. Teachers often also need to work with parents and parent groups to help them understand and support different goals and methods inherent to CASE.

Action Research
Although we have learned much about promoting social actions through science education in different contexts, we believe there is much still to learn and, moreover, we need to find ways to encourage more educators to use it. We also think there have been various projects that appear to minimize focus on STSE education, student-led research and social actions. To overcome difficulties and learn more about education, we always have used action research; that is, research that involves learning about situations by taking active steps to try to improve such situations. To do so, we feel we must work with a great variety of people and groups in education, at least including (in no particular order): teachers, students, consultants,  principals, government officials, school district officials, etc. If you are interested in working with us in various ways, please send a message to me at: larry.bencze@utoronto.ca. To help with your decision to join us, perhaps you might find the attached invitational flyer useful.