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

Theoretical Framework

This page is a supplement to the STEPWISE project website, and provides theoretical bases for STEPWISE-based teaching & learning. The STEPWISE framework organizes all teaching and learning towards encouraging and enabling students to take informed and negotiated action(s) to address 'socioscientific' issues - such as what to do about potentially harmful additives in manufactured foods. If you have any comments, questions, etc. about this project or would like to join it, please contact me by email.
Ontario Framework.
General Framework.

Ontario-oriented STEPWISE Framework
The original STEPWISE framework was developed in the context of addressing science curricula in the province of Ontario, Canada. As discussed here, these curricula are based on 3 overall Goals, which also translate into 3 so-called 'Overall Expectations' for teaching and learning; that is, i) STSE Education, ii) Skills Education, and iii) Products Education (which Ontario calls, 'Concepts'). With such curricula, I had at least 2 concerns: i) STSE Education seemed overly focused on teaching STSE relationships and issues and asking students to determine personal positions on them, which seemed to minimize actions on STSE problems, and ii) Skills Education seemed overly teacher-directed, minimizing students' self-determination of knowledge about the world. This led me to split isolate STSE Actions from STSE Education and Students' (self-directed) Research from Skills Education. These decisions led to needing to address five goals and, given my major concerns about STSE problems, I decided that STSE actions should be placed in the centre of the other four goals - a decision that led to me arranging the five goals into a tetrahedron, as shown at right. When I first thought of this, it reminded me of 'pyramid power' and suggestions that mystical benefits could be achieved by placing oneself at the centre of a tetrahedron, as shown here. I do not believe in such power, but I admit that the symmetry of the tetrahedron appealed to me at the time of development of this model (Summer 2006).

Because the STEPWISE team is based in Ontario, Canada, the Ontario-oriented framework is given here first. The version of the framework for those outside of Ontario is provided below.

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STEPWISE Framework
STEPWISE Theoretical Framework
This framework is, essentially, the same as the one above - except that it uses more generic terms, not exclusive to Ontario:

The STEPWISE framework above orients all aspects of science and technology education towards 'WISE Actions' ('STSE' action, in Ontario) - which refers to actions people could take to improve the 'wellbeing' of individuals, societies & environments ('WISE'). The framework asks students to take a communitarian view of knowledge and other intellectual benefits (e.g., skills), thinking of it as belonging to societies past and present, as well as to individuals holding it. For example, students might use their S&T education for lobbying their school to provide nutritious cafeteria foods and beverages, or to encourage students to use bicycles rather than cars, where possible, or to help educate less advantaged students. Through this kind of education, students may come to believe that there are social and environmental responsibilities attached to receiving an education.

We believe that WISE Actions are an important orientation for science and technology education because of the severity of personal, social and environmental problems that appear to be related to uses (mainly) of professional science and technology. For example, poverty is increasing worldwide (e.g., partly due to automation), many people have developed a dependency on for-profit products and services (e.g., forms of popular culture), and excessive consumption (and disposal of) many of these products and services is contributing to significant environmental problems. Societies need to be oriented towards effectively addressing such problems. Refer below to further justification for STEPWISE.

In order for students to be able (and motivated) to take action(s) to promote WISE, they need to draw on many strengths - including broad and deep education in science and technology. The STEPWISE framework is intended to provide students with such an education; that is, an education in each of the following domains:
NoST Education
This is the 'nature of science and technology,' and refers to characteristics of processes and practices in fields of science and technology. [Note: In the above tetrahedral frameworks, NoST is embedded in STSE Education.] Students might learn, for example, that science inquiry and technology design often involve revisions and changes of direction, can be biased because of researcher preferences and may not be able to generate absolute truths and/or unproblematic inventions. NoST is related to STSE (at right), in that the nature of scientists' and engineers' work often interrelate and are greatly influenced by societal factors; such as influences from powerful people who fund research and development. NoST Education is crucial to STSE Education, because it is difficult to relate the elements of STSE without understanding the nature of each of its components. Many STSE Issues ('WISE Problems') are due to the NoST.
STSE Education
This refers to 'relationships among fields of science and technology and societies and environments.' Students might learn, for example, that many developments in the sciences depend on the existence of various technologies; e.g., knowledge about cell structure depended on development of improved microscopes. Of particular interest to many who emphasize STSE Education, however, are WISE issues or problems that often are associated with fields of science and technology and their products. A clear example of this pertains to weapons systems, with massive loss of life for humans and other creatures. Products using petroleum, such as cars and airplanes, also appear to be contributing to many WISE problems - not the least of which seems to be Climate Change. STSE research can, as well, reveal problems with the integrity of knowledge production and dissemination stemming from an excessive focus on production and consumption of for-profit goods and services.
Skills Education
This refers to 'expertise' (e.g., skills, attitudes, ideas) that enable people to participate in knowledge building, dissemination and application activities that are common to fields of science and technology. Students might gain confidence and skills enabling them to, for example, conduct controlled experiments and correlational studies and to develop and evaluate technologies/inventions. They might also develop expertise for defending project findings in presentations with other experts and the public. Such skills might also include those useful for WISE Activism, such as for lobbying governments, school administrators, parents, etc. to make changes that might improve WISE. Skills Education that is set in WISE Problem contexts can motivate students to conduct science and/or invention projects that deal with possible WISE problems.
Students' Research
This is a crucial aspect of education driven by students.
To supplement secondary research into issues, students may conduct science inquiry and/or technology design projects (e.g., involving experimentation and/or correlational studies) to generate knowledge that might motivate and inform their actions. Students could, for example, conduct a study to determine effects on students of listening to music from digital players (a possible WISE Problem) and use their findings for making recommendations (a form of WISE Activism) for use of digital music players. Students' research should be student-directed and open-ended; that is, within safety and materials limits, students should have control over topics, methods, conclusions, dissemination and, to some extent, uses of these projects.
Products Education
This refers to 'products' (e.g., laws, theories & inventions) of fields of science and technology (S&T), including those in biological, chemical, and physical science and engineering. (
The Ontario government refers to these as 'Concepts.') Students might learn, for example, ideas about cell structure and function, explanations for chemical reactions, and properties of light and other wave-like phenomena. Also, they might learn the functioning of such technologies as microscopes, computers, sewage treatment systems, telescopes, genetically modified food production, etc. Using the STEPWISE framework, teachers might first introduce STSE Education and associated WISE Problems as a way of motivating students to develop understanding of 'products' of S&T.
STSE Actions
This refers to action(s) students might take to improve WISE. Students could begin with making changes to their own lives - including, for example, by choosing healthier foods and less-polluting forms of transportation. Although such personal action is important, a key aspect of STEPWISE is to encourage and enable students to use their education in science and technology for helping others and the planet. Students could educate members of their school community about hazards associated with drug use. They might also provide WISE services, such as a more efficient recycling programme or they might lobby governments to encourage more
walking and bicycling.
Overall, STEPWISE is an educational framework that aims to help all students to gain their maximum potential literacy in science and technology, broadly defined, and then encourage and enable them to use this literacy for not only improving their own wellbeing but, as well, that of (other) individuals, societies & environments ('WISE'). The sub-sections below provide more detailed descriptions of this framework and ways in which it can be used as a basis for teaching & learning in S&T education.

Principals Behind STEPWISE Teaching & Learning
We have recommended an overall teaching and learning framework for organizing teaching and learning based on STEPWISE. The multiple ways that teachers can teach with a STEPWISE orientation may depend, however, on the many factors that affect most teaching and learning situations. These might relate to the
teacher, the curriculum, the students, and context(s) (e.g., influences from parents, other teachers, etc.) of teaching and learning. Educational research indicates, however, that a number of general principles should be kept in mind. Several of these are elaborated here:
S&T Teaching & Learning Principles. Some central characteristics of this kind of education are:
  • Constructivism: For most (if not all) elements in the STEPWISE framework, it seems clear that students may begin instructional sessions already possessing relevant ideas, skills, attitudes, etc. Accordingly, I recommend using my constructivism-informed pedagogical approach. Students would begin lessons, etc. by expressing their pre-instructional ideas, skills, attitudes, etc. before learning new ones (e.g., from the teacher or peers) and, then, have opportunities to judge competing ideas, skills, etc. in self-directed situations (e.g., Students' Projects or WISE Activism).
  • Contextualizaton: Most, if not all, aspects of STEPWISE education should be set within personally relevant and practical 'real-world' contexts - especially those relating to WISE Problems. This emphasis is similar to problem-based learning approaches, which often start student learning by engaging them in case studies of 'real-world' contexts, such as issues associated with cell phone production, use and disposal.
  • Holism: Learning in one domain (e.g., Products) is and should be related to learning in other domains (e.g., Skills Education). Such relationships are dialectical, as changes in one domain affect and are affected by changes in another domain. So, for example, while a teacher is teaching variable control (a technique in science inquiry), implicit messages may be communicated to students about NoST; e.g., that scientists are honest about attempted to achieve valid claims. Students, then, may continue to expect this from the teacher - perhaps making it easier for the teacher to teach another aspect of validity in science; e.g., test duplication. Because changes in any one domain affect and are affected by changes in all the other domains in STEPWISE, it seems clear that the this teaching and learning is a dynamic system - ever in flux, and not entirely predictable or measureable. It is very holistic, not overly amenable to reductionist analyses - such as those leading to assessment and evaluation of discrete, measureable claims; e.g., learning that lead has is a dense metal without reference to its possible adverse effects on the nervous sytem.
  • Communitarianism: The ultimate goal of all STEPWISE-related lessons and student activities should be to encourage and enable them to take action(s) to address WISE Problems. Accordingly, when a teacher is addressing any one element around the periphery of the framework (e.g., Products Education), s/he should/could connect it to STSE-NoST Education (and, better still, WISE Problems in those domains). For example, while learning about organic compounds, the teacher could relate issues surround steroid use in sports where prize money may provide incentive for use of illegal compounds (including steroids). In doing so, the teacher might also relate such problems/issues to possible WISE Activism - suggesting to students that they might, for example, educate others about steroid effects.
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Rationale for STEPWISE
STEPWISE is, basically, an educational response to 'WISE Issues'; that is, various possible personal, social and environmental challenges faced by humanity. Many of these challenges appear to be related to choices societies make about how they use science and technology and their products (e.g., inventions/innovations and laws & theories). Although there are, undoubtedly, many factors, human choices often appear to be related to excessive focus on the profit-motive - sometimes expressed as excessive economization. This emphasis appears to be at the root of the recent economic crisis. Listen to Naomi Klein on this:  Capitalism & Crisis. Some would suggest, for instance, that this motive has corrupted science. Drug companies, for example, choose not to conduct research that might lead to cures/treatments for tropical diseases - because disease victims are too poor to pay for the medicines. Instead, they might 'invent' or exaggerate conditions that may afflict the relatively wealthy. If they do conduct research, on the other hand, they may not release its findings if results would reflect badly on the product under study - as with the case of Dr. Nancy Olivieri's findings about the drug deferiprone (a drug intended to treat thalassaemia).

Perhaps the most significant WISE issues associated with an excessive focus on the profit motive, however, pertain to individuals' and societies' extreme drive to promote unproblematized and ever-increasing production and consumption of goods and services.
Use of various machines, for example, have either eliminated jobs or made them more tedious. Large fractions of societies spend more time watching television (and associated advertizing) than in direct contact with other people or engaging in more 'realistic' activities. Related to this, for instance, it is apparent that increased 'screen time' (time viewing computers, televisions, movie screens, video games, etc.) increases a person's risk for obesity and related health problems. Environmentally, petroleum-powered vehicles, factories, etc. are contributing to many forms of air, soil and water pollution (and associated species losses). Our use of animals is perhaps unconscionable; consider Earthlings! An excellent summary of some of these problems is depicted in The Story of Stuff. The World Clock also is a good graphic reminder of steadily increasing nature of WISE Problems.

The possible contribution of school science to such personal, social and environmental problems as those described above is complex and uncertain. Nevertheless, there is much evidence that many societies have oriented their education of children in ways that promote global economization. Many curricula, for example, emphasize the importance of educating students so that their societies are more likely to be competitive in the global economy. Particularly in knowledge-based economies, emphasis appears to be placed on selecting and educating a relatively small number of potential 'symbolic analyzers'; i.e., intelligent workers such as engineers, attorneys, scientists, professors, executives, journalists, consultants and other 'mind workers' who engage in processing information and symbols. School science appears to select for potential symbolic analyzers (particularly as potential scientists and engineers) through rapid-fire instruction about many abstract concepts - often dissociated from their contexts of production and use (by others) and without opportunities for students to use them in realistic and personally-relevant problem solving contexts. Students frequently, for example, must write lecture notes for Products Education and then, with little personalized application, explain and/or repeat these on tests.  Similarly, the very powerful inquiry learning movement, greatly-promoted in the USA (NAP), often is discriminating. This type of instruction tends to favour advantaged students, since they tend to be rich in cultural capital; such as abilities to think and act in the abstract - which may arise from such beneficial experiences as engaging in thoughtful discussions over dinner, reading thoughful and provocative novels and works of non-fiction and exploring ideas and issues through internet searches. Such school science tends, therefore, to perpetuate traditional class systems - and, more particularly, preserve the status of elite classes. Evidence suggests, moreover, that the gap between rich and poor is increasing - and, ironically, even highly educated professionals often cannot find work or are layed off prematurely. This agenda has been related to neoconservatism; an ideology promoting traditional societal power structures.

In excessively focusing on potential symbolic analyzers, the education of most other students can be compromised. For many students, school science is far too rapidly-covered, abstract, decontextualized and personally irrelevant. Many do not succeed, and many refuse to participate. The end result seems to be that most students tend to leave school: having forgotten much of what they have 'learned' and/or having confused recollections of this learning because it was 'delivered' too quickly and with few opportunities for application to their personal lives; having relatively under-developed conceptions about the nature of science (e.g., because 'inquiries' are made to appear too easy); unable to conduct their own inquiries (largely because school inquiries are overly guided); and, generally unprepared to use their science education for the benefit of their communities and environments. Consequently, they may be less able to assess and evaluate processes and products - such as laws and theories - of science and technology or generate their own products (i.e., their own conceptions of and changes to phenomena). They may, therefore, be dependent on experts in science and technology and/or those who control (often through financial means) science and technology. Related to this, they may function best as uncritical receivers of knowledge, rather than as critical consumers and producers of it. Their tendency to consume may translate, as well, into a tendency to unquestioningly follow labour instructions - as 'routine production service workers' (e.g., assembly line workers, data processors, foremen, and supervisors) and 'in-person service workers' (e.g., waitresses, janitors, hospital attendants, and child care workers) (Reich). At the same time, many citizens/workers appear to be oriented - through the consumption-oriented nature of their schooling - to enthusiastically and unquestionally purchase goods and services of business and industry. Such tendencies may perpetuate or even augment production-consumption cycles in industrialized and knowledge-based 'economies' ('countries'), which are linked to many personal, social and environmental problems like those outlined above. Uses, as described above, of school science for generating knowlede producers and consumers - to ensure continued growth in production-consumption cycles - appears to align with a neo-liberal economic agenda; that is, efforts to reduce government and other restrictions on development of private profit and, related to that, development of societies oriented towards enthusiastic and unquestioning production and consumption of goods and services.

To help counter problems, as described above, for individuals, societies and environments associated with uses of science and technology (much of which is controlled by for-profit interests), STEPWISE places community service at the centre of students' education. This call for social responsibility appears to be in direct opposition to education governed by economic self-interests - also called 'possessive individualism' (or economic individualism). In educaton, possessive individualism often is manifested, for example, in assessment and evaluation approaches - which prioritize individual competitiveness and sorting of students. This ideology may be, as argued above, contributing to many personal, social and environmental problems. To challenge this ideology, educators using the STEPWISE framework encourage students to ask themselves how they could use their education for improving the WISE. In doing so, they often are attempting a paradigm shift - that is, from one promoting an individualistic and possessive sort of literacy to one promoting a more collectivist literacy. It is a call for education based on communitarian values. Such an education appears to fulfill the challenge set by Albert Einstein (address at a convention at SUNY Albany, NY, October 15, 1936):

"The aim [of education] must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who, however, can see in the service to the community their highest life achievement."

He also said, "Every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men [sic], living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving."

ordingly, at the centre of the STEPWISE framework is 'WISE Activism'; that is, socio-political activities that are aimed at promoting wellbeing for individuals, societies and environments. Students are, essentially, encouraged to 'spend' their cultural capital (i.e., their S&T education, perhaps as defined in STEPWISE) not just on themselves but on improving the WISE. Using their literacy about forestry ecology, etc., along with their communication and argumentation skills, students could, for example, develop and implement a campaign to encourage their school to minimize paper use.

Linking 'wellbeing' with science and technology education is relatively new, although academic writers have, for several years, been urging policy makers to organize science education in ways that enable students to become involved in socio-political action that might promote positive social and environmental outcomes:
  • Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: Science education for an alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 645-670.

Ideas about promotion of general wellbeing are available at: Sustainability Now and through Wellbeing Manifesto. An excellent example of a community-based project that has features of STEPWISE is The People's Grocery - linked at right.

Overall, there are several principles on which the STEPWISE framework is based, including:
  • Responsible Literacy (e.g., students using their education, not just for their own benefit, but for the WISE).
  • Holism (e.g., that each element of STEPWISE may be affected by and affect each other element in STEPWISE).
  • Broad Literacy (e.g., that science education is more than Products Education; also including Skills Education, etc.).
  • Deep Literacy (e.g., ‘deep’ (adaptable & long-lasting) learning arises through application of ideas, skills, etc. in personally meaningful contexts).
  • Empowerment (e.g., that emphasis is placed on Skills Education, enabling students to conduct inquiry and invention projects independent from authority figures).
  • Self-determination (e.g., through Students’ Projects, students are able to develop descriptions, explanations and inventions for phenomena of their interest, using methods of their design).
  • Epistemic Awareness (e.g., through STSE/NoST Education, students become aware of epistemological aspects of science and technology, including in terms of their positive and negative interactions with powerful society members).
  • Critical Literacy (e.g., students are enlightened about WISE Issues, which arise from critical analyses of STSE and NoST, such as that the profit motive of business often has led to compromises in scientists’ & engineers’ choices).
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