WWW Site for John Lawrence Bencze, Associate Professor, Science Education, OISE/University of Toronto
Action research to learn more about students' community actions to address harms linked to fields of science & technology.

To learn more about education, graduate students and I have typically used action research; that is, learning about situations by taking active steps to try to improve them - usually based on literature-informed plans for change. Action research seems very necessary to implement STEPWISE, since many of its basic principles and practices, which have much scholarly support, tend not to be used in schools.

In our action research, we often work with educators to help them develop teaching  & learning resources that, together, we feel should be successful in encouraging & enabling students to eventually self-direct RiNA projects. The educators then implement the lessons and activities - and we researchers collect and evaluate (often with educators) student work and educators' commentaries on them.

Some Action R
esearch Results

Action research approaches have helped collaborators and me to learn much about promoting student-led research-informed and negotiated social actions (RiNA) through science education in different contexts. Some general findings are provided in sub-sections below:

Many students have developed & implemented relatively succesful RiNA projects.

In the 2016-17 school year, through funding from the PDSB, we hosted four full-day workshops with select teachers and then monitored their work with students over the Feb-June 2017 semester. Much of our success should be attributed to the work of Mirjan Krstovic who, as Instructional Coach, worked with teachers on a frequent basis. One school held an STSE-RiNA Fair to celebrate students' RiNA projects. A student at that school produced this highlights video of that event.

In a first for the STEPWISE project, Mirjan Krstovic also facilitated work with a teacher of students in grades 3 and 4 to have them explore their views on STSE relationships and, eventually, develop RiNA projects. This work strongly suggests that STEPWISE pedagogy can, indeed, be adapted - albeit likely with at least some collegial support - for very young students, inspiring them along a path to greater active citizenship.

The activist video at right 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 these can help show consumers hidden, often highly problematic, actants in for-profit commodities.

More examples of RiNA projects developed and implemented by students in school and non-school context are available at:
  • For a special issue of the online, open-source, journal JASTE, Mirjan Krstovic served as guest editor for a set of reports of RiNA projects by students in his tenth-grade science class.
  • Many reports of our work are provided in the STEPWISE edited book, available here and as summarized here.
  • Over the years, several graduate students studying teachers and after-school educators have written articles for refereed and non-refereed publications. These are listed, among many others, on my online CV.
Many teachers appear to have developed professionally through implementation of STEPWISE.

Over the years, graduate students and I have had the pleasure of working with several wonderful teachers using the STEPWISE 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 many successes promoting RiNA projects among students in his classes. In his online blog, he describes some things he has learned along the way.

Many teaching & learning resources have been developed for use with the STEPWISE framework.

Again, over the years, graduate students and teachers have developed many very effective teaching & learning materials for use with the STEPWISE framework. Many of these are provided in chapters of the STEPWISE edited book. But, many others are available at different locations on this STEPWISE site. A particularly ambitious set of resources were developed a few years ago. Based on actor-network theory, we call these resources 'multi-actant documentaries' (MADs). Developing using Prezi™ software, these documentaries (HERE) provide some information about several living, nonliving and symbolic actants; but, crucially, they do not directly indicate relationships among actants - leaving such decisions for students to determine through further research and discussion.

The project has generated a theoretical and practical framework for curriculum development & implementation.

Descriptions of characteristics of the theoretical (tetrahedral) and pedagogical (linear) versions of STEPWISE are available here.

We have developed conclusions about various factors contributing to teacher successes with STEPWISE.

Major factors that appeared to enable teachers to effectively implement STEPWISE included:
  • A mandate for STSE education and student-led inquiry (research) in Ontario's curricula for science (& technology) appeared to give teachers confidence that they could implement a programme like STEPWISE that emphasized these two components.
  • Many teachers credited the STEPWISE pedagogy with helping them develop and revise teaching/learning resources relevant to students in their classes.
  • Availability of sample curriculum resources was often cited as very helpful, often given teacher's lack of free time for original curriculum development and, often, unfamiliarity with many aspects of STEPWISE perspectives and practices.
  • Teachers, like Mirjan Krstovic (see above), whose views of the nature of science align - more or less - with Naturalist-Anti-realist positions on Loving's (1991) Scientific Theory Profile (see here) appeared to experience most success withh implementing STEPWISE. Among reasons for this is that such views about science tend to align with teachers' tendencies to allow more student-directed & open-ended activities - which is a key feature of STEPWISE. Related to this, Naturalist-Antirealist views about science imply support for teaching students about influences of powerful people (e.g., financiers) and organizations (e.g., corporations & transnational trade organizations) on range of entities, including fields of science & technology, in ways that prioritize profit over common societal outcomes (see Corrupted Science).
A relatively short summary of such findings is linked here. Also, with reference to the World <--> Sign schema here, the summary of research findings about promoting RiNA projects here may be helpful.
Readers also might find the attached unpublished article about STEPWISE helpful.
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Getting Involved with STEPWISE

There are various ways educators and others can become involved with the STEPWISE project. Some of these, along with benefits, are discussed below.

Professional Development Opportunities

We are mainly interested in conducting research as we work - usually over several months - with teachers and others to implement teaching/learning approaches that promote principles of STEPWISE. Sometimes, however, I (and/or graduate students with whom I work) offer shorter (e.g., 1-2 hours) seminars and/or workshops - as suggested here.

Facilitated Action Research Opportunities

It seems clear that, while professional development seminars, workshops, etc. can help teachers to implement new teaching/learning practices, STEPWISE 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.

Joining Our Latest Project: Community Action Groups & Relationships with Science Education

In the many years since 2006 when the STEPWISE framework was developed, we have mainly used documentaries from other researchers (i.e., our secondary research into them) to give students examples of STSE relationships and citizens' research, decision-making and actions to address harms to individuals, societies and environments linked to fields of science & technology. While such documentaries have been helpful, we have decided to carry out research to learn more directly about socio-political actions of various community action groups (CAGs) and then to use such knowledge to study existing and possible relationships between CAGs and science education contexts.Very broadly, as illustrated at right, we imagine overlaps among researchers, science educators and members of CAGs that, together, may help increase wellbeing for individuals, societies & environments.

Much inspiration and knowledge for studies of CAGs and their current and possible relationships with science education arose from my discussions with Dr. Chantal Pouliot (Laval University) about her studies of citizen engagement in addressing perceived toxic metal pollution in Quιbec City. In the video at left, I discuss (for CSSE 2018) findings from this project in terms of their possible uses in supporting students' RiNA projects. Our paper for this conference is available here.

Based on previous work, particularly as it relates to semiotics, I have developed a theoretical framework for our research into the nature of CAGs and their existing and potential relationships with science education context - as shown below:

Broadly, this research aims to learn about:
  • CAGs: We think there is a great variety of CAGs; and, we hope to learn about many different ones. We could learn, for example, about which STSE relationships they emphasize; kinds of research they conduct; and, kinds of social actions they take;
  • CAGs <--> SE:We hope to learn about existing relationships between CAGs and science education contexts and relationships that develop as we interact with CAGs and science educators and others. As indicated in this graphic, we might learn about: i) ontological gaps; e.g., differences in effectiveness of translations between CAGs and representations of CAGs due to differences in composition of items (e.g., video vs. paper documentary); and ii) ontological gaps; e.g., differences in effectiveness of translations between CAGs and representations of CAGs because of differences in ideological positions of people involved (e.g., teachers, parents, business people, CAG members, etc.).
In our first year of the project, we learned several interest things about CAGs. As discussed in the list at right, they are very diverse - varying in, for instance, topics studied, nature and extent of research and actions, partnerships with other related organizations and degree of training needed for volunteers. They also have much in common, including some kind of mission and strong senses of group identity and camaradary. In year #2, we hope to learn more about CAG-science education relations. (Some) Characteristics Distinguishing CAGs
• Controversies Studied
• Extent of Primary Research Conducted
• Modes of Action
• Involvement with Schools
• Partnerships with Other Organizations
• Connections to First Nations Populations
• Extent of Training Requirements for Volunteers
• Connections to Celebrities
• Extent of Full-time, Part-time & Volunteer Membership
• Funding Sources

(Some) Features Shared by CAGs

• Having a Mission Statement

• Distributed Expertise
• Sense of Community/Belonging

Note: If you are interested in being involved, please contact me (larry.bencze@utoronto.ca) asap.

Join Us in Mobilizing STEPWISE

Although we have had some significant successes with the STEPWISE framework, it is quite clear to us that it only seems feasible in relatively few contexts that have several cooperating conditions - as discussed above. So, to spread uses of STEPWISE or STEPWISE-like perspectives and practices, we would like people who are committed to causes noted here to join us in working to further promote such a breadth of mutually-supporting conditions. If this interests you, please contact me 
(larry.bencze@utoronto.ca) asap.
Publication Opportunities in Collaborating with the STEPWISE Team

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. After a decade of work with STEPWISE, we have produced an edited book ('STEPWISE') that provides documentaries of uses of the framework in science classes, in science teacher education and in after-school contexts. The book also features several chapters written by scholars, in which they provide theoretical analyses of STEPWISE frameworks.

Invitation to Join STEPWISE
To broaden the scope of STEPWISE implementation and research, 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, community activists, etc. Broadly, our goals include learning about education from participants, but also helping them to learn and to publish their work - which we have done in numerous ways, as indicated on my online CV.
If you are interested in working with us (usually graduate students and me) in various ways, please write to me at: larry.bencze@utoronto.ca. To help with your decision to join us, you may find the invitational flyer linked at left useful. The project summary here also may help.
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