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

Promoting Student-led
  Actions to Address STSE Problems

This is the home page of the STEPWISE research and development programme. 'STEPWISE' is a framework for organizing science & technology education in ways that encourage students to develop and implement actions to address harms they perceive in relationships among fields of science & technology and societies & environments (STSE). The video at right provides a general introduction to this programme. (Note that this programme is currently called CASE - hopefully, an easier name)

Edited Book.
The STEPWISE research & development programme provides educators with general frameworks for science and technology education and related teaching/learning resources. Educators using our frameworks and resources are invited to work with us - in action research modes - to learn more about ways in which citizens can become more actively engaged in critically evaluating fields of science and technology and their relationships with each other, with other members of societies and with environments. Through the Directory at left, you can learn more about STEPWISE and get access to relevant resources.


The STEPWISE frameworks are shown below. The original framework (lower left and here) is in a tetrahedral shape, with "STSE Actions" placed in the geometric centre - to indicate that the framework's major priority is to encourage students/citizens to 'spend' some of their literacy in science and technology (e.g., the items in the periphery, like "Skills Education") on more 'altruistic' actions to try to improve the wellbeing of individuals, societies and environments. Promoting more critical and activist societies seems necessary, particularly in light of ways in which governments have allowed capitalists to fund science and technology - which often leads to compromises to integrity of science/engineering that, in turn, often leads to various problems for wellbeing of individuals, societies and environments. As described below, however, many teachers preferred a more linear version of STEPWISE - such as that in the upper right of the figure below (and here). Broadly, the tetrahedral version seemed too complex - given, for example, that it recommends consideration of all of the other elements (e.g., Skills Education, Products Education, etc.) in the tetrahedron at once.

In support of the above graphic, the video below may help:

To summarize, there are several characteristics about STEPWISE that are priorities in its design and its possible uses. Notes about some of these are provided below:
  • Student Reflections: Based on constructivist learning theory, students should be encouraged to 'express' (e.g., talk, draw, demonstrate) some of their pre-instructional ideas, attitudes, etc. about science & technology (and, likely, engineering & mathematics);
  • Teachers Teaching: Rather than expecting students to discover important ideas about STSE relationships, research approaches and actions, teachers should use relatively teacher-directed approaches to ensure all students can know, understand and use such important ideas, etc.;
  • STSE Relationships: A major general concept that all students should learn about is that fields of science and technology are not so isolated from societies and environments; but, rather, are integrated into them - as indicated here;
  • Knowledge Contextualization: A common use of STSE relationships is to use them, particularly where there are controversies, as contexts for learning about 'Products' (e.g., laws, theories & inventions) of science and technology. So, in the context of teaching about STSE relationships (including, as below, capitalist networks and harms to WISE), teachers should teach students about important laws, theories and technologies relating to the subject matter (e.g., animal cells and their metabolism, electric circuits and their variable currents, etc. of the curriculum unit being explored;
  • Capitalist Networks: Based on actor-network theory and studies of history, philosophy & sociology of science and technology, it is apparent that 'STEM' (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) are integrated into global capitalist networks, including: STEM workers; governments; banks; transnational organizations (e.g., World Trade Organization); transportation networks; information networks; universities; money; media companies (e.g., Disney). Students should be educated about such complex networks;
  • Harms to WISE: Students should learn that, although STEM fields are not alone (i.e., they are part of networks), there are many potential and realized harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies & environments ('WISE') associated with STEM fields. Many of these are treated as controversies (also see here); but, perhaps people need to be concerned about possible harms, many of which are indicated here and many of which seem connected to increasing wealth concentration;
  • Altruistic Actions: Rather than organizing science & technology education towards providing students compete for limited literacy in these fields (and, therefore, later in life), STEPWISE prioritizes social actions to try to bring about a better world. For that reason, "STSE Actions" are placed in the centre of the framework's tetrahedron - indicating that students may altruistically 'spend' some of their education (and other strengths) on actions to improve WISE. Related this, STEPWISE supports ecojustice education principles, as here;
  • Informed & Negotiated Actions: STEPWISE prioritizes actions that are supported by well-completed research and social negotiations. In other words, STEPWISE prioritizes showing students examples of student-led 'research-informed and negotiated actions (RiNA);
  • Facilitated Student Practice: Since teaching students about STSE relationships, research and actions often is not effective on their own, it seems essential that teachers ask students to develop and implement small-scale RiNA projects and support students with ideas, resources, etc. as requested by them. Often, with such practice, teachers need to provide students with demonstrations and support for research and actions (as well as for STSE relationships, as above);
  • Correlational Studies: Among aspects of RiNA projects that teachers should share with students, it is apparent particular attention should be given to teaching them about correlational studies - which are empirical investigations in which the investigator attempts to determine correlations between naturally-changing variables (vs. forced changes in variables, as with experiments);
  • Networked Actions: While a well-developed poster, letter to government/business, or activist video can be effective in educating some people, effects of such actions can be magnified through networking; that is, distributing its ideas across many other contexts - using, for example, various forms of social media (Facebook™, Twitter™, Instagram™, etc.);
  • Student-led RiNA Projects: Of course, an ultimate goal of STEPWISE is to see students self-direct RiNA projects. Our goal, in other words, is to help generate autonomous (although collaborative) critical and activist citizens. Having said that, within school systems with youth, it often is necessary to provide students with required deadlines and assessment and evaluation criteria - which, admittedly, can limit self-direction. However, we aim for optimal independence. Ideas about this are provided here.

Some Results of STEPWISE Approaches

In addition to priorities and characteristics of STEPWISE given above, rationale for uses of this framework can come from witnessing some of its successes. Some typical actions by school students are given in the series of videos below:

Action Research Resources & Recruitment


A key aspect of the STEPWISE programme is action research, given its association with the research institution, OISE. Briefly, in other words, this implies that our research group (graduate students, teachers and others) can provide teaching and learning resources relating to the STEPWISE frameworks, along with professional development to learn about them; and, in association with educators' uses of such resources, we can conduct research (e.g., collect samples of student work) to learn more about effectiveness of the framework and related teaching/learning approaches.

STEPWISE-informed Teaching/Learning Resources

Since its inception in 2006, our research team, teachers, student-teachers and others have developed many teaching/learning resources drawing from the STEPWISE framework (mainly the pedagogical one) - many of which are provided at different locations, as below:
  • STEPWISE Frameworks: Descriptions of characteristics of the theoretical (tetrahedral) and pedagogical (linear) versions of STEPWISE are available here. Readers also might find the attached unpublished article about STEPWISE helpful;
  • General Educational Resources: Prior to development of STEPWISE, I developed a series of web pages providing educators (science and otherwise) with educational resources they may find helpful, here;
  • STEPWISE-informed Teaching/Learning Resources: We have provided open-source access to many teaching/learning resources developed through the STEPWISE framework. Many of these are provided on the project pedagogy page. Some also are provided on our project research & development page. We also can send, upon request, various teaching/learning resources, such as a list of STSE Issues. Finally, we have provided many resources through our project wikispaces site.
Professional Development

Usually with a view to possibly working with teachers, student-teachers and others in research to learn more about effectiveness of STEPWISE, we can provide various kinds of professional development. Some such professional development that I can provide include those outlined here. You can request such PD, either by me, by graduate students and me or by graduate students more independently, by writing to me at: larry.bencze@utoronto.ca.

Facilitated Action Research

It seems clear that, while professional development seminars, workshops, etc. can help teachers to implement new teaching/learning practices, such implementation can significantly benefit from facilitated action research. This implies that one or more members of our team would work as a 'Researcher/Facilitator' of educators' action research. In other words, we would work to support a teacher in implementing STEPWISE-informed perspectives and practices, while leaving final decisions to the teacher; and, while doing so, collect documentary information (mostly as qualitative research). Usually in this work, we negotiate with the teacher her/his area of research and development focus. This list of suggested topics for teaching and learning in each learning domain of the STEPWISE framework may, however, be a useful starting point;

Publishing Opportunities

In working with teachers, student-teachers, community youth educators and others, we usually try to involve them in publications relating to their work with us. Typically, these start with conference presentations before moving to publishing in journals and books. Some possibilities include:
  • My Online CV: You can get a sense of kinds of publications that have emerged from the STEPWISE project through my online curriculum vitae, here.
  • Education Conferences: Many educational associations provide annual or semi-annual conferences to encourage educators, researchers and others to share and learn from their work - some of which are given here.
  • Journal for Activist Science & Technology Education: A major outlet for our work has been our non-refereed, open-source, journal promoting activism in and through science and technology education, at JASTE;
  • Professional Publications: Although not always the case, teachers, student-teachers and others may first choose to publish in professional outlets, like magazines and blogs. The Science Teachers' Association of Ontario (STAO), for instance, maintains an excellent Blog, here. There are many such magazines, at various levels of education, a prominent set available through the NSTA Journals site.
  • Refereed Publications: Given our context at OISE, we often emphasize publication in refereed (peer-reviewed) journals and books. Some relevant journals are listed here.
Contact Information

If you would like to learn more about the project and/or arrange presentations, workshops and/or involvement in our research, contact Dr. Larry Bencze, OISE, University of Toronto. Refer also to the project recruitment advertisement.
(Go to top)

Edited STEPWISE Book
After about a decade of exploration into uses and effectiveness of STEPWISE frameworks, an edited book about the project is to be released by Springer Publishers in June 2017.
In addition to a Foreword by Dr. Derek Hodson and introductory and summary chapters by me, the book contains two sections:
  • Documentaries: Teachers, graduate students and I have written case studies of STEPWISE pedagogy in action - in science teacher education, school science and after-school contexts.
  • Commentaries: Science education professors from different universities around the world have reviewed STEPWISE frameworks and written chapters that range from examples of ways their work is similar or different through recommendations for revisions to the frameworks.
A fuller summary is here.

(Go to top)