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

Preamble. Framework. Principles.

The STEPWISE theoretical framework, invented in 2006, is a schema for science and technology education to encourage and enable learners to develop expertise, confidence & motivation for developing and carrying out well-informed & negotiated personal and social actions to overcome harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies & environments - like those depicted at right - that have been linked to fields of science & technology (and, perhaps, engineering & mathematics). A more critical and action-oriented public seems highly necessary, given difficulties that powerful people (e.g., financiers) and groups (e.g., corporations) have had in reducing such harms. This page provides you with some history of and justification for the STEPWISE theoretical framework.
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STEPWISE Theoretical Framework
In 2006, I used teaching & learning expectations from the Ontario curriculum - along with several research-informed theoretical conceptions - to construct a schema for organizing teaching & learning in science and technology that was similar to that shown below (after some minor revisions from the original):

This framework is intended for broad, international, uses. A version of this framework that uses language from the Ontario curriculum is provided here. In contrast to the above schema, Ontario curricula use the term "Concepts" to refer to what I call "Products," which I think is more appropriate - given the category refers to products of science & technology, such as laws, theories and inventions/innovations. Also, use of "concepts" here seems inappropriate - given that there are concepts associated with all the other categories (e.g., concepts about control of variables, which is considered a 'skill'). Very broadly, this framework, which - of course - posits two-way relationships between all its elements, prioritizes (by placing it in the centre) 'STSE Actions,' such as text and videos on social media - like those here. With STSE Actions in the centre, this schema encourages students to 'spend' at least some of their literacy (represented by the peripheral elements, such as Products Education and Students' Research, etc.) to try to improve the world (e.g., via social justice & environmental sustainability).

To supplement the annotated version of the STEPWISE theoretical framework, provided above and here, some brief notes about major principles in developing and using this schema are given below:
  • Capitalist Networks: STSE relationships can be understood in terms of actor-network theory - which, basically, assumes that all entities ('actants') are part of complex networks of living, non-liiving and symbolic entities. This theory largely grew out of science and technology studies, in which it was used to demonstrate - for example - that, rather than attributing to one person (Pasteur) acceptance of pasteurization of milk etc. to combat diseases, we must think of such a change in terms of development of network of actants supporting it. This conception of phenomena can then be related to Foucault's concept of a dispositif; that is, a set of actants that co-support (more or less) each other towards achievement of one or more common goals. Although some may argue that power is equally distributed across such networks, research suggests that - to a great extent - networks are greatly influenced by relatively few capitalist-friendly financiers, corporations and related entities, a network we may call the Global Capitalist Network (GCN).
  • Harms to WISE: Apparently tied to immense power of the GCN is that wealth has been dramatically concentrated towards fewer and fewer individuals over the last several decades. Approximately paralleling wealth concentration have been various harms to wellbeing of most individuals, societies and environments (WISE), many of which are indicated here.
  • Harms vs. Issues. Many of WISE harms are treated in science education as controversies (also see here) about which students must develop logical arguments to defend their personal positions. However, for several reasons, such as that foci on issues may cast doubt on harms (see Merchants of Doubt and, therefore, minimize actions. Because of severity and persistence of many harms, though, it appears that public actions are necessary. This is at least one reason for placing STSE Actions at the centre of the STEPWISE tetrahedron.
  • Altruistic Actions: Besides directly attending to realized and/or potential harms, prioritizing social actions also seems to represent a major political act. Rather than organizing science & technology education towards requiring students to compete for limited literacy in these fields (and, therefore, later in life), STEPWISE prioritizes social actions to try to bring about a better world. Placing STSE actions in the centre of the tetrahedron indicates that students may altruistically 'spend' some of their education (and other strengths) on actions to improve WISE. Related to this, STEPWISE supports ecojustice education principles, as here;
  • Informed & Negotiated Actions: STEPWISE prioritizes actions that are supported by well-completed research and social negotiations; that is, 'research-informed and negotiated actions' (RiNA). Major rationale for this tack is that students may be particularly motivated to act on a possible harm if they have developed findings about such harms through their own investigations. Doing so may help them identify with the harms and, if they have control over their development, to identify with corresponding actions.
  • Networked Actions: While a well-developed poster, letter to government/business, or activist video can be effective in educating some people, effects of such actions can be magnified through networking; that is, distributing its ideas across many other contexts - using, for example, various forms of social media (Facebook™, Twitter™, Instagram™, etc.);
  • Student-led RiNA Projects: An ultimate goal of STEPWISE is to see students self-direct RiNA projects. Having said that, where school science systems prioritize teaching and learning of products (e.g., laws, theories & inventions) of science and technology, thus compromising students' development of expertise for generating their own such projects, it tends to be necessary to provide them with foundational lessons and activities - as described here.
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