Educational research suggests that science education is largely focused on teaching & learning of ‘products‘ of professional science – such as laws & theories, with some emphases on functioning of technologies (or inventions, innovations) that may relate to science products. Although learning such ‘products’ is essential for making personal & social (including political) decisions, there has been so much knowledge generated that students (particularly disadvantaged ones) can be overwhelmed – and, consequently, it seems essential that greater balances in learning outcomes are promoted, such as those suggested by Hodson (2003) and in Ontario curricula. This page provides some considerations for decisions about such curriculum variety.
Given that fields of science (and technology/engineering, often involving mathematics) have generated ‘massive’ amounts of knowledge over their histories, including variations across different cultures (e.g., ‘Indigenous vs. ‘Western’), it can be helpful to have conceptions of broad categories of ‘products.’ As illustrated at right/below, we can imagine products as ‘Signs’ (e.g., chemical equations) and/or as new phenomena of the ‘World’ (e.g., drugs).
World –> Sign: ‘Science’ Products
As indicated by the above model, science & technology/engineering processes are reciprocal, each influencing the other – and, so, have similarities. Nevertheless, it seems helpful to think of them as being somewhat different – with ‘science’ mainly focused on generating products like laws & theories, as explained in the video at right/below. For example, a solid (e.g., ice) can change ‘state’ to a liquid (e.g., liquid water) and then a gas (e.g., invisible water vapour in the air), perhaps explained by the ‘particle theory‘ – which can explain the above changes of state (e.g., ice -> liquid water) because particles can separate from each other as they they gain heat energy.
Sign –> World: ‘Engineering’ Products
Again, as indicated in the above model, ‘science’ & ‘technology’/’engineering’ co-affect each other, suggesting they can have similar products. However, very broadly, some evidence suggests that engineers mainly aim to generate phenomena of the ‘World’ that hadn’t existed. As noted in the video at right/below, generating new products & services often is not straightforward, however, often requiring much ‘trial-and-error.’ This can create compromises. Many engineering products, such as cell phones, are appreciated by many people – although there may be some harms linked to them. But, such technologies often are worth learning about, including in terms of science knowledge used to develop them – like the particle theory explaining hot air balloons.
Science Education Subjects
Political jurisdictions have typically grouped myriad ‘products’ of science & technology into larger ‘subjects’ and unit ‘topics,’ like those shown at right/below for Intermediate grades in the Ontario science curriculum (where I work). Doing so can send semiotic messages about priorities for Products Education over that for other leaning domains (e.g., STSE relationships). Such siloing also can limit students’ awareness & uses of concepts, skills, attitudes, etc. inherent to other subjects e.g., physics & biology) and topics (e.g., chemical reactions & climate change). This problem can be exacerbated by shifting teaching/learning through a series of unrelated topics – about which a student once said,
[S]cience education was like riding in a train with the windows darkened and being forced to get off at stations not announced ahead of time and listen to what the conductor tells you. Because the windows on the train are darkened, you do not know how the different stations are related to each other, although you assume the conductor knows and is guiding you carefully.
A solution to such problems like those above has been to promote theme-based curriculum arrangements – which allow for much subject/topic integration.
I recommend teachers base lessons & student activities for learning ‘products’ of science & technology on the 3-phase schema at right/below. This schema is based on constructivist learning theory, which assumes that learners already have ‘ideas’ (e.g., laws & theories) that can influence their reactions to (learning) topics they are taught. Hovering over the text in the graphic provides more information about each phase of this approach. For example, in a unit on green plants, a teacher could show students different green plants (and/or photos of them) and ask them to explain what they know about them. Soon afterwards, the teacher may teach students about photosynthesis, for example, and then ask them to complete an application activity in which students are likely to use concepts of photosynthesis. Students should, then, be encouraged to carry out other activities in which they may evaluate merits of using photosynthesis.
Students are urged to express (e.g., say, write, draw, model, etc.) their current 'ideas' (e.g., knowledge, understanding, attitudes, etc.) about phenomena (e.g., green plants) that relate to a knowledge topic (e.g., photosynthesis) to be addressed in the course. Such activities should be mostly student-directed & very open-ended (with many, perhaps conflicting, 'ideas' expressed).
The teacher should use direct teaching approaches to ensure all students learn essential 'products' (e.g., laws, theories & inventions) of science & technology - such as processes of photosynthesis that convert water & carbon dioxide into carbohydrate (& other) molecules, with oxygen released as a bi-product of that process. To help ensure students learn such facts, concepts, etc., teachers should also ask students to complete application activities - in which students may use 'ideas' (e.g., laws, theories, inventions) just taught. Such application activities may be somewhat more student-directed & open-ended (although the teacher may want to make them more closed-ended, to ensure all students learn well).
Students should be given activities that further encourage them to apply 'ideas' (e.g., laws, theories & inventions) just taught (in the Learning Ideas phase). Such activities should be much more student-directed & open-ended, allowing students to more freely & creatively evaluate ('judge') ideas available to them (e.g., their ideas from the Expressing Ideas phase and 'ideas' they learned in the Learning Ideas phase).
Products Education & STEPWISE Pedagogy
Products Education, as illustrated by the STEPWISE tetrahedral schema, is in 2-way relationships with learning in other domains – including, for instance, STSE Education. Accordingly, there seems to be justification for combining teaching & learning of more than one leaning domain in individual learning activities. That is, indeed, assumed in the STEPWISE pedagogical framework illustrated and linked at right/below. When students express their existing conceptions of commodities (e.g., cell phones) in the Students Reflect stage, for instance, they may express concepts about Products (e.g., electronic circuitry) and about STSE relationships (e.g., government de-regulations permitting child labour in mining). Teachers can teach about different domains in the Teacher Teaches phase – including aspects of Products, Skills, STSE, STSE Harms, STSE Actions & Sample RiNA Projects. For example, students could learn about GM salmon as part of larger actor-networks and educational videos (e.g., here) discussing relative merits of such technologies. Students can then choose to use such teaching and other learning to design & conduct of practice RiNA projects in the Students Practise phase and in Student-led RiNA Projects.
Links to STEPWISE Framework Elements: