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


This page provides ideas and resources relating to sociopolitical actions that students can take to address socioscientific issues* (SSI); and, thereby improve the wellbeing of individuals, societies & environments (WISE). [*Note: In Ontario, and in some other places, these are called 'STSE' Issues.] These resources are based on the STEPWISE curriculum and instruction framework. If you have any comments, questions, etc. about this project or would like to join it, please contact me by email.
Promoting action.
Web Resources.

Principles of STSE Actions
Types of STSE action
There are various ways that people can take STSE Actions. Some may be considered easier than others, but the figures below show them without indicating levels of difficulty:

Another depiction of types of STSE Actions is given below:

In theory, students should be able to choose which form(s) of action(s) to pursue. These projects are supposed to be student-directed and open-ended, so that they mimic such actions in citizenship. However, students often seem to choose to 'Educate Others' or, possibly, to 'Lobby Power-brokers.' Rarely do they choose aggressive measures, such as by blockading possible STSE problem situations (e.g., forming a human fence against developers' bulldozers). We do not condone violence. Indeed, recently, there seems to have been a movement to promote forms of action that are as positive (rather than critical or disruptive) as possible. Some people refer to this as 'bright green environmentalism (action).' In the model above, this could correspond to the
'Provide [positive!] Services' option. An excellent example of that is technologies based on 'fun theory.'

A common form of action is to produce activist videos uploaded to YouTube™, such as this one:

Promoting STSE actions
Elements of the STEPWISE framework are designed to help students to become motivated and enabled to conduct STSE action projects. In other words, students' preparation for action can be enhanced if:
  • Students are taught STSE issues. Teachers need to help students to learn about the issue (and others) in terms of STSE and/or NoST Education.
  • Teachers provide students with examples of STSE actions that others have taken on similar issues. Some approaches for this are described at WISE Action Education.
  • Teachers help students to develop useful conceptions of 'products' - such as laws & theories - of science and technology relating to the issue. These lessons may best be conducted in association with education about WISE Issues.
  • Teachers help students to develop various skills for science inquiry, technology design and related communications. This may be done in the context of an apprenticeship, as depicted below, for research-informed action to address STSE issues.
  • Students conduct student-directed and open-ended science inquiries relating to the issue. These can take the form of 'primary' (e.g., experiments and/or correlational studies) and 'secondary' (e.g., internet searches) research.
  • Students are given adequate time to work on their 'research-informed STSE action projects - including time to defend their action(s).
The principles at left can be implemented through the learning sequence below. This is elaborated here. But, an essential aspect of this plan is the 'Research-informed STSE Action' assignment. Some suggestions for implementing this assignment are:
  • In association with explaining the Research-informed STSE Action assignment, students would be given a list of issues relating to the unit that they might explore and address. There are many issues, for example, associated with food and nutrition that pertain to metabolism.
  • The teacher organizes students into teams that will each explore and address one STSE issue. In students' first meeting, they brainstorm issues relating to metabolism, consider the list provided by the teacher and perhaps record their current knowledge about issues and possible actions. They may, at this point, choose one issue on which to focus for an extended time period (perhaps beyond a single unit).
  • Time to work on this project should be provided in several classes over an extended time period, and then at the end for students' STSE action(s).
  • Coinciding with students' projects, the teacher should be conducting one or more apprenticeship activities and STSE-based content teaching lessons to give students knowledge, skills, and attitudes they could use to conduct their projects.
  • While working on their projects, students need to be given time to carry out primary (e.g., correlational studies) and secondary (e.g., web searches) research relating to the issue they are addressing.
  • Once students have completed their projects, they should be asked to defend their proposed actions and, ideally, to have implemented them. In defending their plans, they should be required to make reference to skills, knowledge and resesarch findings they used to determine them.

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Rationale for STSE Actions
Humanity is facing many serious personal, social and environmental problems that are associated with professional science and technology and their products. People are particularly concerned, for example, about climate change - much of which appears to be caused by human-generated increases in atmospheric 'greenhouse gases' (e.g., CO2), which block release of heat from the earth. Some suggest that the problem is so serious that most life on Earth will be gone by about 2080! If this is, indeed, likely, there would be few other problems on which we must focus! A teacher has prepared an interesting video arguing for actions on Climate Change. People are concerned with many other STSE issues. Many of these relate to everyday activities of people, such as problems with manufactured foods, personal hygiene products, forms of transportation, the kinds of homes in which we live, etc. In terms of the STEPWISE framework, STSE Problems are the negative aspects of STSE and NoST. An elaboration of many of these problems is provided at: STSE Problems. It is worth emphasizing, though, that many of these problems appear to be related to societies' extraction, processing, marketing, consumption and disposal of various products and services of business and industry. An excellent summary of issues in this regard is at: The Story of Stuff.
With so many significant WISE issues, it seems clear that societies must take more actions to address them. If so, it also is clear that school students must be encouraged and enabled to take such actions - so that they may be prepared to take actions as participating members of democratic societies. This seems particularly important in science education, given the strong association between many STSE problems and professional science and technology and their products. Apart from the seriousness of the potential problems, we can justify encouraging students to act on issues because of the many learning benefits. Acting on plans may be considered a form of field-testing the plans to determine plans' merits. Acting on abstractions (e.g., plans) can deepen one's understanding and commitment to elements of the plans - such as the nature of science, knowledge involved in the issues and the nature of relationships among fields of science and technology and societies and environments.

STSE Action Resources
Action is a very personal matter for students, but there are some resources that may inform actions they take to improve WISE. Some of the links at right provide downloadable resources, while others take you to sites that provide information about action. A highly recommended book is:
Hodson, D. (2011). Looking to the future: Building a curriclum for social action. Dordrecht: Sense.

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