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

Science & Technology


Welcome! This page provides access to curricula relating to elementary and secondary school science, mathematics and technology (SMT) education. The Curriculum Reform link takes you to a page that discusses problematic characteristics of science and technology education and how they might be addressed. If you would like to comment about anything here and/or send me suggestions, links, etc., please write to me. Thanks.

Official Curricula.
SciEd. Status.
SciEd. Reform.

Official Curricula
Science Curricula for Ontario
Curricula for Ontario, where I work (and have done so in education since 1977), science curricula for secondary schools and 'science & technology' curricula for elementary schools provide students with opportunities - in principle, at least - for education in three broad learning domains, as illustrated in the figure at right. Although Ontario curriculum documents list the 3 categories of teaching/learning 'Expectations' separately, teachers may - as illustrated at right - think of them as interrelated. Broadly, these domains involve - in my view - these kinds of learning opportunities:
  • STSE Education: learning about the nature of fields of science & technology and relationships between and among societies & environments; but, also, problems in such relationships and socio-political actions to address them.
  • Skills Education: developing cognitive, psychomotor and affective 'skills' (e.g., actions developed with practice) - such as skills for designing and conducting science inquiry and technology design projects, and for using findings for personal and socio-political purposes (e.g., socio-political actions).
  • Products Education: developing useful understandings of 'products' of science & technology (which, re: STSE, may be socio-political) - such as laws, theories and inventions/innovations.
In my work, I have combined these kinds of teaching/learning 'expectations'/outcomes to develop the STEPWISE framework.

National and Provincial
Pan-Canadian Science, K-12.
Ontario Ministry of Education.
Science & Technology, Grades 1-8.
Mathematics, Grades 1-8.
Science, Grades 9-10.
Science, Grades 11-12.
Mathematics, Grades 9-10.
Mathematics, Grades 11-12.
Technological Education, Grades 9-10.
Technological Education, Grades 11-12.
National Curriculum for England.
National {USA} Science Foundation.
National Science Education Standards (NAS).
USA Science Benchmarks.
Science for All Americans (AAAS).
Technology for All Americans.
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Status of Science Education
Many teachers care deeply for students and provide them with rich learning experiences that serve them well in life and, also, contribute to a better world. Nevertheless, it is apparent that school science systems - including government, textbook publishers, administrators, etc. - often do not serve needs and interests of most children/students. Although students may pass courses, evidence suggests that many:
  • forget laws and theories they supposedly learned in school, or they retain confused conceptions of them,
  • do not have well-developed expertise and confidence for conducting their own science inquiry and/or technology design projects, and
  • tend to have näive conceptions of the nature of science and technology.
These problems have persisted for many decades, despite recognition of them. There are likely many possible explanations for this. However, it may largely be explained in terms of the society's overall conception of personl life and citizenship. In many democracies, an emphasis is placed on economization; that is, an orientation towards for-profit economic exchanges. Although it is, admittedly, an over-simplification, it is apparent that such an economic ethic leads societies - particularly those prioritizing 'knowledge economies' - to orient science education (and other economically important subjects) towards generation of:
  • Knowledge Producers: These are people who are responsible for creating and disseminating knowledge, including: engineers, scientists, lawyers, accountants, and business managers. They have an aptitude for thinking and working in the abstract (e.g., with symbols, algorithms, graphics). School science tends to identify students with such aptitudes by focusing on science abstractions, such as laws and theories (without many practical applications).
  • Knowledge Consumers: These are people who will, to a great extent, function as consumers of knowledge; such as by being compliant workers, implementing instructions from business managers and, as well, by enthusiastically consuming products and services - often without concern for their possible adverse effects on individuals, societies and environments. These people may, for example, work as store clerks, skilled tradespeople (e.g., plumbers, electricians, etc.). They mainly get money through their labour. School science tends to generate knowledge consumers by, for example, over-regulating students' decisions in course activities and by portraying science and technology in overly positive ways.
There are different 'schools of thought' on how appropriate it is for science education to generate a small number of knowlege producers and a much larger group of knowledge consumers. Although it is a simplistic analysis, it may be helpful to think of the different perspectives in terms of the politically 'Left' and 'Right' camps; that is, those who prefer orientations towards altrusim, social justice and environmental sustainability vs. those who support a 'dog-eat-dog,' survival-of-the-fittest mentality, without great care for negative side-effects of such egoism. Some individuals and groups that appear to support the left and right, respectively, are given in the table below.


I place myself squarely in the 'Left' camp. Books by John McMurtry have influenced me, including: The Cancer Stage of Capitalism and Value Wars - and an on-line article of his. I believe that many social and environmental problems can, in part, be attributable to the nature of science education.
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Science Education Reform
Where education is overly oriented towards development of a few knowledge producers and many knowledge consumers,
there is a need for significant reform - in directions that maximize each student's opportunities for development of appropriate and useful literacy and, as well, development of an orientation towards using their literacy in ways that might benefit other people and living and non-living environments. Suggestions for curricular reform are provided below. Priorities for instructional approaches are provided at Science and Technology Education Principles.
Further reading is provided through the links below.

Learning Outcome Reform
Given the above, it is apparent that comprehensive reform in science education reform is needed. In this section, I provide some suggestions for reform of student learning 'outcomes'; that is, ways in which students might benefit from their educational experiences.
In choosing what students should learn in science education, we are - indirectly - making decisions about the sort of society we envisage. This is a contested topic. There are many competing perspectives about a 'good' society. A current movement that I support is one that defines societal 'goodness' in terms of wellbeing, such as that in Canada. Instead of focusing just on GDP, some societies emphasize such indicators of wellbeing as levels of education and health and environmental sustainability. There are indicators that wellbeing is being challenged throughout the world. As a result, educators like Derek Hodson (2003) have recommended that science education emphasize development of individuals and groups prepared to take action to address personal, social and environmental problems. To do so, his urges school systems to aim for achievement in four broad learning domains, as summarized at right. Noting that learning in these four domains is interconnected, I have organized them into the STEPWISE framework.
Learning Domain
Learning science & technology
Students need to develop useful understanding of essential products of science & technology, including laws, theories and inventions. This is comparable to the 'Basic Concepts' domain in Ontario's curriculum.
Learning about science & technology
Students need to develop realistic conceptions about the nature of products and practices in fields of science and technology (NoST) and, as well, about relationships among fields of science and technology and societies and environments. This is comparable to the STSE domain in Ontario.
Learning to do science & technology
Students need to develop expertise (cognitive, psychomotor and affective) enabling them to direct science inquiry and technology design projects. Accordingly, there must be opportunities for them to direct such projects. This is addressed in the "Developing Investigation and Communication Skills" learning domain in Ontario.
Learning to take socio-political actions
Students need to develop expertise for
taking socio-political actions to address individual, social and environmental problems and use that expertise for taking such action(s). This is addressed under STSE in Ontario's curriculum.
  • Helping students to understand procedures used in schools for bringing about school-level policy changes.
  • Engaging students in Citizen Science.
In defining these categories, Derek Hodson suggested that science and technology should be taught together or, at least, in association with each other. There are numerous reasons for this recommendations, but it is apparent that the two fields often do interact and have similar general patterns of thinking. For more about this, refer to: Sci-Tech and NoST.

Recall data or information.
Understand the meaning, translation, interpolation, and interpretation of instructions and problems. State a problem in one's own words.
Use a concept in a new situation or unprompted use of an abstraction. Applies what was learned in the classroom into novel situations in the work place.
Separates material or concepts into component parts so that its organizational structure may be understood. Distinguishes between facts and inferences.
Builds a structure or pattern from diverse elements. Put parts together to form a whole, with emphasis on creating a new meaning or structure.
Make judgments about the value of ideas or materials.
Bloom's Taxonomy
A classic way of analyzing the above learning domains was provided by Benjamin Bloom. In 1956, he described three major learning domains (A, B); the cognitive (e.g., thinking), affective (e.g., feelings) & psychomotor (e.g., muscular coordination) domains. Although each of these domains is important, school science often emphasizes teaching and learning in the Cognitive Domain and, within that, school systems tend to emphasize so-called "Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS)"; i.e., Knowledge & Understanding. A major reason for this emphasis may be these two domains are easiest to teach and assess. More effort is needed to encourage "Higher Order Thinking Skills" (HOTS); i.e., Application, Analysis, Synthesis & Evaluation. An important aspect of working with these categories is the verb that is used to develop 'objectives,' 'outcomes, ' 'expectations,' etc. (Refer to Verbs for Objectives). There are many websites around the world providing ideas based on Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain; e.g., A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K.

Associated with school systems' emphasis on LOTS, rather than HOTS, is an excessive emphasis on instruction in Hodson's (2003) first domain above; that is, on teaching 'content' (e.g., laws, theories, & inventions - which are 'products' of science and technology). Teaching about 'products' of S&T is so excessive that very little attention is given to instruction in the other 3 domains above. Moreover, an emphasis on products of S&T tends to send a message to students that science is highly efficient, successful (i.e., in terms of achieving 'truths') and unproblematic in terms of possible adverse effects on individuals, societies and environments. In other words, an over-emphasis on 'Learning science & technology' sends inappropriate messages about NoST. To overcome such problems, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1989) proposed - many years ago - that governments reduce expectations (objectives, outcomes) for student learning of 'products' of S&T, thus enabling teachers to 'do more with less'; that is, do a better job of learning in the other domains above. This is an old recommendation that still applies in our current educational environment.

Related to the above two ways of analyzing learning is the idea of
metacognition; that is, a person's awareness of what and how they learn and ways of improving their learning. This involves several categories within Bloom's Taxonomy, such as analysis, evaluation and synthesis. It has been demonstrated that students' learning can be increased if they develop metacognitive awareness and abilities; that is, if they can think about their own learning and be proactive about improving it.

Recommendations for Curricular Change
Based on the above arguments, along with other issues discussed below, I suggest that at least the following changes to science curricula are required to ensure each student gains the best education possible:
  • Reduce 'Content': Reduce expectations for teaching and learning of products of science and technology. Ideas, concepts, facts, etc. that students are expected to learn could be consolidated into fewer more general themes. Project 2061 in the USA (AAAS, 1989), for example, promoted teaching and learning within broader "themes" or 'big ideas,' although curricula have not heeded this call.
  • Integrate Science & Technology Education: For at least the reasons that fields of science and technology often are integrated and that often the same people conduct both science and technology, these two fields need to be integrated in schools. Ideas from the US document, Technology For All Americans can be helpful. Furthermore, science and technology education need to be integrated with education in other subjects. The Ontario government has made some progress along these lines with their "Interdisciplinary Studies" curriculum. However, progress must be made in supporting and implementing this more widely.
  • Localize Curriculum: Ensure expectations for teaching and learning take into account needs and interests of local communities - including 'local' ones in the sense of diverse cultural heritages. A good example of local curriculum is at: Rekindling Traditions. Encourage learners to learn from each other, based on the concept of distributed expertise. This also is a natural way to distribute diverse knowledge (e.g., cultural).
  • 'Deepen' Learning: Education needs to move away from prioritizing of LOTS and 'Products Education' towards a greater emphasize on HOTS and the other domains above. For 'deep' learning, students need to focus on fewer learning topics and have opportunities to use HOTS in relation to them.
  • Personalize Curriculum: Officially sanction and enable situations that allow students to achieve learning outcomes NOT planned by others; but, rather, which arise through authentic knowledge building contexts under students' control. Such activities will be student-directed (SD) and open-ended (OE). Although teachers often control learning in 'problem-based learning' (PBL) approaches, the scenarios in them could be SD/OE. An excellent starting place for this type of learning is at: Problem-based Learning in Biology. Along similar lines, students must be given opportunities to conduct SD/OE science inquiry (e.g., experiments and studies) and technology design (e.g., invention) projects. An excellent book about personalization of learning is: Rethinking Scientific Literacy.
  • Teach for Equity: Work to ensure that typical student diversity of abilities in mainstream culture (which can, according to 'capital theory' (Bourdieu), vary depending on a child's homelife, etc.) does not limit their access to attitudes, skills and knowledge that may benefit them in societies. A common approach in science education that I suggest limits student equity is inquiry-based learning (IBL) that is aimed at enabling students to discover or confirm conclusions, etc. of professional science and technology. Because learners develop different constructions in response to shared experiences, as noted here, students with lower cultural, social, economic, etc. capital are likely to be at a disadvantage compared to other students. A perhaps better alternative is to promote application-based learning; that is, first teaching students important concepts, principles, etc. (without expecting them to discover them) and then asking students to apply newly-taught ideas, etc. in new problem-solving contexts. My notes about relative merits of application-based learning vs. inquiry-based learning may help with perspectives and practices in this regard.
  • Prioritize Skills Education: To overcome students' dependency on teachers and other authorities, they need to be engaged in skills apprenticeships to help them develop expertise for creating, communicating and critiquing knowledge (e.g., such skills for design of experiments).
  • Prioritize Epistemological Learning: This is similar to Hodson's (2003) "Learning About Science & Technology." It implies learning NoST, STSE and WISE Problems, along with conceptions inherent to Skills Education. For example, students could learn: i) science and technology often are interdepedent, ii) businesses often convince people in science and engineering to compromise the integrity of their work for the sake of generating profitable products, iii) many chemicals in manufactured foods appear to cause cancer, iv) scientists and engineers often have personal biases, such as a favourite theory or method.
  • Prioritize WISE Activism: Because of the severity of WISE Problems and that living and non-living things on Earth are all integrated, students need to be given expertise and motivation for developing and implementing plans of action for addressing WISE Problems.
Most of these recommendations are embodied in my curricular and instructional framework, STEPWISE.

American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] (1989). Science for all Americans: A Project 2061 report on literacy goals in science, mathematics, and technology. Washington, D.C.: AAAS.
Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: Science education for an alternative future.
International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 645–670.

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