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


STEPWISE is a general framework for lessons and student activities intended to help all students to develop expertise, confidence & motivation for eventually conducting student-directed and open-ended research-informed and negotiated action (RiNA) projects (like at right) to address harms they perceive in 'STSE' relationships. Encouraging such critical and active citizenship through science education appears extremely necessary, given governments' tendencies to facilitate private sector uses of science and technology (e.g., regarding fossil fuel burning) that often prioritize private profit over wellbeing of most individuals, societies and environments.

For more information and/or to get involved in the project,
contact me at: larry.bencze@utoronto.ca.

STEPWISE Rationale

Needs for Critical and Active Civic Engagement

The major goal of STEPWISE, reflected in its initial tetrahedral shape, is to encourage and enable students to altruistically 'spend' some of their knowledge, skills, attitudes, etc. to develop and take informed and negotiated personal and social actions to overcome harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies and environments that they believe are associated with fields of science and technology (and with engineering, mathematics and other disciplines). STEPWISE is, in other words, fundamentally an educational approach prioritizing general communitarian values.

In practical terms, STEPWISE prioritizes helping students to critically evaluate products and services of science and technology - like those at left - and to take sociopolitical actions to try to overcome serious and persistent harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies and environments (WISE) that concern them. Since governments often struggle to overcome such harms, it appears citizens must assume responsibilities for addressing them. At the same time, it seems that governments, scientists and engineers and others are not largely to blame for such harms. Rather, responsibility for them seems to mainly point to powerful individuals (e.g., financiers) and groups (e.g., corporations, transnational trade organizations, etc.) - which, as suggested here, have successfully orchestrated most entities on earth to serve for-profit interests.

Accordingly, STEPWISE prioritizes sociopolitical actions to overcome influences of powerful individuals (e.g., financiers) and groups (e.g., corporations, transnational trade organizations, banks, think tanks, universities, governments, etc.) on fields of science and technology (and most other entities) that are associated with harms to most individuals, societies and environments.

Foci on actions to overcome harms is a distinctive feature of STEPWISE, setting it apart from approaches - such as socioscientific issues (SSI) education - that typically ask students to consider contradictory evidence and/or arguments about merits of products or services of science and technology (e.g., fast foods) and then develop logical arguments to defend their personal opinions on such controversies. Although asking students to consider such controversies has much merit, given similar public controversies, such approaches may not contribute to effective change. Firstly, publicly-available information involving science and technology may be purposely biased (e.g., by private interests). But, related to that, lasting change is unlikely without actions on people and groups with power who often control most phenomena.


Teachers Need to Nurture Students Towards Critical & Active Civic Engagement

Based on research, it seems clear that most (or many) students are unlikely to desire or be able to critically evaluate products and services of science and technology and develop and take actions to address harms they identify without prior lessons and student activities largely facilitated by teachers. Although there may be numerous ways teachers can organize such lessons and activities, I have developed (rearranging the tetrahedral form) - in collaboration with my research and publication team - the schema below to help educators prepare lessons and activities to encourage and enable students to develop and implement effective civic actions to overcome harms they have associated with fields of science and technology:

The above schema aims to prepare students for eventually self-directing 'RiNA' projects to address harms they perceive in STSE relationships. Although, as emphasized below, education from teachers and others are likely very important, students can become motivated to act and know where to 'aim' their actions if they first conduct secondary (e.g., Internet searches) and primary (e.g., studies and/or experiments) research to learn more about STSE relationships and potential harms in them. Given that research results are not always clear-cut, students' actions should, then, be based on negotiations they have with peers about relative merits of data and theory available to them about STSE relationships. Finally, to avoid being overly-influenced by people and groups with power, such research-informed and negotiated actions (RiNA) should be student-directed and open-ended; that is, led by students and leading to many possible - not pre-determined - conclusions.

To enable students to eventually self-direct open-ended RiNA projects, the above schema suggests that teachers organize prior lessons and activities according to a 3-phase cycle - as outlined at right - that is based on constructivist learning theory. After one such cycle of lessons and activities like that at right, the teacher may then ask students to express some general ASK about STSE relationships and RiNA projects; and, depending on students' achievements, engage them in at least one more such 3-phase cycle or ask them to design and conduct a self-directed RiNA project to address a harm of concern to them.
  • Students Reflect. The teacher asks students to 'express' (e.g., write, speak, draw, etc.) their current attitudes, skills & knowledge ('ASK') about phenomena - such as for-profit commodities (e.g., cell phones) - that are part of STSE relationships (including actions);
  • Teacher Teaches. The teacher uses direct instruction to ensure that all students know and understand very important ASK in STSE relationships (including issues, problems, research and actions), many of which are difficult-to-discover (construct) and, so, should not be learned through inquiry-based learning approaches. To supplement direct instruction, though, teachers also should engage students in application activities - such as STSE case methods - to use ASK that have just been taught;
  • Students Practise. Once students have learned important ASK regarding STSE relationships, research and actions, the teacher should then ask them to develop and implement small-scale RiNA projects - getting help from the teacher only upon request.

STEPWISE Learning Outcomes
STEPWISE frameworks align with 'Expectations,' 'Objectives,' 'Outcomes,' etc. of different official curricula. The goals for science education in Ontario (via the link at right), where I work, are sometimes found in curricula around the world. They also seem quite reasonable - perhaps providing a fairly broad and deep literacy. Research suggests that school systems tend, however, to over-emphasize instruction in 'Products' (e.g., laws & theories) of science and technology. STEPWISE, instead, encourages teachers to provide students with a fair balance of the three goals - with special emphases on students using at least some of their literacy to develop well-informed and negotiated actions to address harms they perceive in STSE relationships. Samples of such projects are provided here. Such civic action projects involve application of all three of the Ontario curriculum goals, which seem related to ecojustice goals.

Getting Involved in our STEPWISE Project
If you are interested in learning more about STEPWISE and/or getting involved in working with my research and publication team, you might first read through the rest of the STEPWISE site and/or read the attached overviews (Findings; Summary) and then contact me at: larry.bencze@utoronto.ca.