STEPWISE in Detail

STEPWISE is a framework for developing lessons & activities that provide students with expertise, confidence & motivation for, eventually, designing & conducting “Student-led RiNA Projects” involving sociopolitical actions to overcome harms they perceive in relationships among fields of science & technology and societies & environments (STSE). As a supplement to the STEPWISE homepage, this page provides detailed theoretical background and some practical resources for this framework.

STEPWISE Tetrahedral Framework

The original STEPWISE framework, which was created in 2006, is shown at right/below. It was developed because of my lengthy frustration in promoting student-led primary research – the topic of my PhD thesis (1995). But, after reading books like The Cancer Stage of Capitalism (1999) and Real Science (2000), it became clear that capitalism – as part of its influences on most entities – was largely limiting science education to teaching widely-accepted knowledge and skills while ignoring sociological aspects of science and technology and minimizing students’ opportunities to create their own knowledge. So, using the Ontario science curriculum, I created this tetrahedral arrangement of five learning goals. In contrast to pro-capitalist foci on possessive individualism (e.g., students competing for marks), I placed STSE Actions in the centre of the tetrahedron to suggest that students could, altruistically, ‘spend’ some of their education (forms of ‘capital’) in the peripheral domains (e.g. Products & Skills Education) on personal and social actions to overcome harms they perceive in STSE relationships.

[Hover over the text in the graphic below for summaries.]


Students learn about - 'good' & 'bad' - relationships among fields of science & technology and societies & environments.

Students learn mental & physical skills for science inquiry & technology design - such as design & conduct of experiments, studies and engineering design projects.

Students design & conduct their own science research projects to evaluate predictions and/or possible inventions (or innovations).

Students learn about 'products' of science & technology, such as laws, theories and functioning of technologies (i.e., inventions or innovations).

Students use 'resources' from the peripheral categories (e.g., Students' Research & STSE Education) to design & carry out sociopolitical actions to overcome harms in STSE relationships.

Although not every student can repeat actions like those of Greta Thunberg, they might – collectively – contribute to important increases in social justice & environmental sustainability.

Needs for Science & Technology Education to Promote Civic Socio-political Actions

Humans are facing many potential and realized harms to wellbeing of individuals, societies & environments that have been linked to fields of science & technology. Some of these harms – like those from climate disruptions – are thought to be existential, threatening human existence (and much else). Other harms are, perhaps, less devastating – but, like those from manufactured & fast foods, highly problematic. Although governments have made some efforts to address many STSE harms, many people (like Greta Thunberg, as depicted in the video at right/below) feel they have not done enough – because of persistence of many of these harms. Among reasons for resistance to change, a prominent one is that it appears that many governments and most other living & non-living entities are enmeshed in a global network (dispositif) serving capitalist for-profit aims. Given their prominence in societies, fields of science & technology appear to be particular adversely effected – perhaps key to most STSE harms.

For reasons like those outlined at left/above, it seems imperative that science & technology education educate students about such harmful relationships and prepare them to engage in socio-political actions to overcome harms of their concern.

Promoting Educated Student-led RiNA Projects

With its focus on altruism (and general communitarian ethics) the main emphasis of STEPWISE is on encouraging and enabling students to design and conduct educated ‘research-informed & negotiated action’ (RiNA) projects like those depicted at right (and here). For example, after students have been educated about STSE relationships like often-hidden entities linked to apparently bountiful genetically-modified salmon and corresponding social actions, students may choose their own topics for research – such as climate change – and conduct secondary research (e.g., Internet searches) and primary research (e.g., a study of peers’ hot shower uses) to learn more about this topic. Then, using their previous education and personal experiences combined with their research findings, they may negotiate with classmates main conclusions and then develop and carry out a set of co-supportive actions – such as making posters, videos and petitions and organizing climate rallies.

STEPWISE Pedagogy to Enable Student-led RiNA Projects

Although it would be wonderful if teachers could just ask students to design and carry out student-led RiNA projects, our research suggests that most such projects can be very inspired and helpful, they tend not to be as ‘sophisticated’ as we hope. It is unlikely, for instance, that all students are equally likely to discover abstract concepts – due to differences in intelligence and cultural & social capital and because much problematic information related to science & technology often is hidden or distorted and, so, is difficult to locate through secondary research inquiries (and, even, teaching). So, STEPWISE prioritizes teacher-supported lessons and student activities (the 3-phase sequence shown in the graphic at right) aimed at providing students with important, but often difficult-to-discover, attitudes, skills & knowledge (ASK) that they may eventually use to self-direct RiNA projects.

[Hovering over text in the graphic below provides brief descriptions of each part.]


Students are given 'stimuli,' such as pictures of common commodities (e.g., cell phones), and asked to reflect on and express their current attitudes, skills &/or knowledge (ASK) related to them. They can be asked, for instance, what they like & dislike about them, what other people or groups would support or oppose them and what might be done to overcome any harms associated with them.

Students are given an assignment that asks them to design and carry out a small-scale RiNA project to overcome an STSE harm of their choice. Teachers may help students in apparent need, but such practice projects should not be overly-led by the teacher and the teacher should allow conclusions to be open-ended; that is, not planned, depending on available data and students' abilities, knowledge, etc. - as judged by the teacher.

The teacher uses direct instructional methods (e.g., lectures, with multimedia aids) to ensure all students can learn about very important, but often hard-to-discover, attitudes, skills & knowledge (ASK) - such as role of powerful people & groups (e.g., corporations) in influencing science & technology, and related personal, social & environmental harms. They teacher also teaches about sample civic actions (including by other students) to overcome such harms. To deepen students' understanding, though, the teacher then asks students to complete activities that allows students to apply ASK just taught.

After the teacher feels that students have sufficient expertise, confidence & motivation, such as from the 3-phase STEPWISE pedagogy, students - often in small groups - can be asked to complete student-directed & open-ended RiNA project to overcome an STSE harm of their choice. Teachers should limit their involvement in such projects to providing resources as requested by students and ensuring activities are safe for everyone involved.

The 3-phase lessons & student activities above are based on constructivist learning theory – which assumes that people learn by combining ASK in their minds-bodies with ASK they experience (e.g., in activities or lessons). These lessons & activities also vary in learning control and students’ views about the nature of science (and technology). Elaborations about this framework are given here and below.

Student Reflect.

Generally, the teacher should provide stimuli (e.g., pictures of STEM products) to get students to reflect on/express their existing ASK about them. To ensure students are free to express their ASK and not try to guess responses the teacher might desire, such activities should be largely student-directed & open-ended – as described here. Teacher instructions and questions should, in other words, err on the side of divergence – allowing for multiple, different, responses. Questions asked might include: ‘What do you like/dislike about the commodity, and why?,’ ‘What other people & groups might like/dislike the commodity, and why?,’ and, ‘For harms related to the commodity, what should be done to overcome them and what work might be necessary to do so?’ In practice, as shown at right/below, teachers may encourage group reflections.

Teacher Teaches: Input, A.

Problems with Inquiry-based Learning

A commonly-encouraged movement is inquiry-based learning (IBL). Such activities seem fine if pedagogy control is more student-directed & open-ended; but, problematic (I suggest) if they are meant to be more closed-ended; that is, meant to support specific, pre-determined, conclusions (e.g., laws & theories). As explained here and illustrated at right/below on phones), such discovery or confirmatory activities appear to cause several problems. If teachers ‘scaffold’ student decisions, they may be treated like marionettes – with less real control (and learning depth). Perhaps most importantly, students lacking intelligence and/or cultural & social capital often struggle with discovery and, so, IBL can be discriminatory. Consequently, it appears that teachers need to teach difficult-to-discover ASK.

Teacher Teaches: Input, B.

Needs to Teach Often-hidden Powerful ASK

Although IBL is problematic due to limitations of some students’ intelligence &/or sociocultural capital, another crucial reason to directly teach certain ASK is because much of it is hidden from most people so that rich & powerful people & groups continue to benefit. There is much evidence & argument to suggest that most living, non-living & symbolic (semiotic) entities are assembled into a global dispositif that mainly works to support – and normalize ideals of – capitalist individuals & groups. Commonly-used in this regard is the Trojan horse concept for consumerism – e.g., as with purported food abundance from GM salmon and as perhaps clear from the video at right/below about cell phones. Excerpts from a teacher’s efforts at such expository education are provided below:

That commodities often appear isolated from their larger, perhaps problematic, network is known as punctualization or black-boxing. Teachers should aim to de-punctualize commodities.

Four videos here (starting below, then viewed clockwise from right/below) review efforts of a teacher of tenth-grade science to teach students about actor-network theory (ANT) & ANT mapping, with a fifth video of students’ later in-class ANT mapping shown below, right.

Teacher Teaches: Input, C.

Needs to Teach About Capitalist Influences on Science & Technology

As suggested by this simple STSE model, fields of science & technology have 2-way relationships with (other members of) societies & environments. However, deeper and more critical analyses suggest needs to teach students about influences of powerful societal entities on most everything else – using actor-network theory and the dispositif concept. Especially important is education about adverse influences of capitalists on fields of S&T (also see A, B, C, D, E, F & G) – as illustrated at right/below, which would be part of STSE and NoST education and education about sociology of science & technology and teaching about STSE Harms. Students have, indeed, used such concepts to, for instance, develop more ecojust technologies (e.g., here).

Teacher Teaches: Input, D.

Needs to Teach About Student/Civic Actions

Although teaching students about different STSE relationships and harms are essential, students also should learn about sociopolitical actions that people – including students and other citizens – have taken to overcome some of them. The video at right/below may be a good starting point, especially perhaps because of student enthusiasm and diversity of projects. Teachers also can get other examples from our page of RiNA project examples. Teachers may use such examples to teach students about fundamental STSE relationships and RiNA projects (e.g., as here).

Teacher Teaches: Applications.

After the teacher has taught students about particular RiNA projects to overcome harms in STSE relationships, students should be asked to evaluate such taught ASK – in activities that are somewhat more student-directed and open-ended. A good example of such an evaluative activity is to engage students in one or more STSE-RiNA case methods – following, perhaps, the general model at right, which combines lower through higher order instructions & questions to get students to learn about an issue like those regarding cell phones (refer to full example, here).

Students Practise.

To deepen students’ expertise, confidence and motivation for them, students should be asked to develop and implement practice RiNA projects to address harms they determine in STSE relationships — obtaining help from the teacher, as needed. The teacher may provide students with an assignment sheet (e.g., here), with deadlines and mark values for stages of a RiNA project. Although such practice projects should be mainly student-directed & open-ended, teachers may need to provide some students with ideas, prompts, suggestions upon request, etc. Students may, for instance, be given a set of possible STSE issues. The teacher also may provide a series of lessons and student activities to help students develop expertise and confidence for different science, technology & communication skills, such as concepts of evidence, science inquiry, technology design, reporting and civic actions. A good starting point would help in library use, as depicted in the first video at right/below. Given possible harmful effects of experiments, teaching about correlational studies – e.g., via the lessons here – is very important.

After students have experienced lessons & activities to further develop their expertise, confidence & motivation for research & actions, they typically work in groups to design & conduct (with teacher supports, as they request) RiNA projects to address STSE harms of their concern – such as with commercial shampoos, as depicted in the videos below.

Students’ Reflections & Actions RiNA Projects

After students have completed an initial, perhaps practice, RiNA project, it can be very helpful to facilitate activities that encourage and enable them to analyze & evaluate characteristics of STSE relationships, harms in them, and RiNA projects. Using such analyses, students can then apply some or all of such characteristics to design & implementation of their next RiNA projects. A model for such reflection and actions on RiNA projects is given here. Our research suggests that students engaged in such meta-analyses and actions greatly improve their understanding and uses of RiNA project work.

Student-led RiNA Projects

Eventually, after one or more sets of 3-phase lessons and activities like those above, the teacher may feel students are ready to self-direct (SD/OE) RiNA projects to address STSE problems of their interest/concern. Although students’ self-directed RiNA projects cannot, of course, be entirely predicted, some examples of such projects – such as that in the video at right – may help teachers to imagine possibilities. Such independent RiNA projects are the ultimate goal of STEPWISE – hopefully helping students to become critical and civically active community members aimed at increasing wellbeing of individuals, societies & environments.