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

General overview of the project and mention of some of its achievements.

Preamble. Typical RiNA Project. Rationale for Student-led RiNA Projects. Teaching & Learning Approaches.
Some STEPWISE Results.


'STEPWISE' is a programme for helping students to develop expertise, confidence & motivation for self-directing (SD/OE) research-informed and negotiated action (RiNA) projects (like at right) to address harms they perceive in science - technology - society - environment (STSE) relationships.

Promoting RiNA projects through school science appears to be necessary - largely because governments, companies and other powerful entities have struggled (intentionally or not) to reduce or eliminate harms like cancer, diabetes and heart disease linked to manufactured foods, climate change from fossil fuels and poverty from tax avoidance.

Information on this page is meant to provide you with an overall description of the project. If this interests you, read more by returning to the STEPWISE home page.

Typical RiNA Project

You can get an idea about the kinds of projects students conduct through the video below, which is the video students in grade ten produced after having conducted secondary (e.g., Internet searches) and primary (e.g., a study of peers' cosmetics uses) research and learned some science curriculum aspects (e.g., the 'materials economy') from the teacher:

Rationale for Student-led RiNA Projects

Encouraging youth to develop and carry out personal and social actions to make a better world seems essential. Governments, companies and other leaders appear to have struggled and continue to struggle to overcome harms - like human diseases (e.g. cancer, diabetes & heart disease) from fast foods - linked to fields of science & technology [S&T]). There are many more such harms, not the least of which include: devastation from climate change linked to fossil fuel uses; privacy invasions from electronic surveilance and dependencies from popular entertainment. Accordingly, people in communities need to be much more critical of prducts of S&T and, where they perceive personal, social &/or environmental harms, develop and implement personal & social actions to try to make a better world for all. 

Although it seems necessary that people in communities develop and implement actions to address harms linked to science and technology, they need - of course! - reasons to do so. They need to be self-motivated to develop and take personal and social actions that don't just benefit themselves but also may benefit other people and living and nonliving things.

Giving of one's time and effort to improve wellbeing of other living and nonliving things is considered altruistic.

Although there are some who doubt complete altruism (i.e., never expecting personal benefits), there appear to be many reasons for people to tend towards giving of (at least parts) of themselves to benefit others. There may be principled motivations, including from ethical and religious philosophies. On the other hand, there may be relatively unconscious cultural practices that orient towards communal behaviours.

For some, it may seem inappropriate for students of school science to engage in questions around ethics. Fields of science and technology often are portrayed as relatively objective - mostly free from psychological and social biases. However, some educational jurisdictions - like Ontario, with its promotion of STSE education - have acknowledged claims that fields of science and technology are integrated (in reciprocal ways) with other members of societies and with living and non-living environments. Such curricula may give teachers permissions to engage students in ethical discussions around nature and uses of science and technology.

Ethical discussions around reasons to act can - and perhaps should - be supplemented by research findings. As shown at left, for instance, students used findings of their secondary and primary research about oil spills to develop a thought-provoking poster about relavent problems and responsibilities.

When considering reasons for harms to living and nonliving things linked to fields of science and technology, it may seem obvious to blame scientists, engineers, technologists, mathematicians ('STEM'), etc. Although people working in STEM fields may be partly culpible, such as when accepting payments from companies to engage in public education that is aimed at casting doubt on findings from fields of science about harms linked to commodities (see Merchants of Doubt), there is much evidence to suggest that STEM fields are enmeshed in a vast global network - including entities like universities, banks, governments, transnational trade organizations (e.g., World Trade Organization), think tanks (e.g., Atlas Network), etc., not unlike the proverbial Star Trek Borg, that appears to be largely influenced by people and organizations (e.g., corporations and extremely wealthy financiers) ultimately prioritizing (and realizing!) wealth concentration. Given that so much money flows into hands of the richest people and companies in the world through uses of fields of STEM fields and so many harms are linked to them (e.g., death of wild salmon from sea lice linked to farmed salmong, as at right), it may be that goals, purposes and outcomes of such fields may be affected in ways that prioritize private profit over general public benefits - as claimed, for instance, in Science in the Private Interest. Accordingly, it may be that community members need to focus research and actions on powerful entities like companies and financiers.

Teaching & Learning Approaches

Given that school science systems tend to prioritize teaching/learning of 'products' (e.g., laws, theories & inventions) of S&T over other aspects of curricula (e.g., Ontario curriculum learning domains, here), many students are likely to struggle knowing about certain complex reasons for S&T-related harms, self-directing their own research and developing and implementing their own socio-political actions, it seems clear that teachers and others could benefit from one or more schema for organizing science and technology education approaches. Accordingly, in the summer of 2006, I invented the STEPWISE theoretical framework for this purpose.

However, many teachers found this tetrahedral theoretical framework quite difficult to use. So, after working with graduate students and science teachers, it became clear to us more linear schema like the one below for grade 10 science were much more practical for teachers and students:

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

You can learn more about this schema through the separate pedagogy page, here. Some summaries linked here also may help: overview, short summary; article.

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:

(Go to top)

Special Issues of JASTE Featuring High School Students' RiNA Projects
Two special issues of the open-source, community-reviewed, online journal, Journal for Activist Science & Technology Education (JASTE) have featured reports of RiNA projects written by high school students. Both issues have been edited by educators in a Toronto-area school district. Links to these issues are provided below by clicking on the respective cover graphic.

STEPWISE Edited Book!
After about a decade of exploration into uses of STEPWISE frameworks, an edited scholarly book about the project was released by Springer Publishers in Aug. 2017 (linked at right).

In addition to a Foreword by Dr. Derek Hodson (who inspired much of this project) 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 uses in science teacher education, school science and after-school contexts.
  • Commentaries: Science education professors from around the world reviewed STEPWISE frameworks and wrote chapters ranging from ways their work is similar or different from STEPWISE through to recommendations for revisions to the frameworks.
A fuller summary of this book is provided here.
(Go to top)