STEPWISE in Detail

STEPWISE is a framework – as described in the video at right or below on phones – that teachers can use to develop lessons & student activities that can encourage & enable students to eventually independently develop & implement research-informed & negotiated action (RiNA) projects to overcome harms they determine in relationships among fields of science & technology and societies & environments (STSE). This page is a supplement to the STEPWISE Homepage, providing details about its history, rationale and examples.

Also see our STEPWISE-informed resources, including Students Acting for All (distance education website) and Science Education for Civic Action (PDF resources).

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

The STEPWISE framework was developed to encourage & enable students to use their education (and other resources) to try to overcome – in and out of school – STSE Harms of their concern. Many such harms, like those from climate disruption, are considered existential, while others, like illnesses from manufactured & fast foods, are persistently problematic. Encouragement of civic actions to overcome STSE harms through science & technology education appears necessary because governments (and transnational groups; e.g., OECD) often struggle to adequately address them. Although reasons for government struggles are complex, much evidence & argument suggests that politicians, along with most other living & non-living entities (natural & engineered) are woven into a global network (dispositif) largely serving pro-capitalist entities (e.g., financiers & corporations). For example, while capitalists often compromise integrity of science & technology, they also often work to cast doubts on science results that problematize commodities (e.g., pain killer drugs).

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

STEPWISE Tetrahedral Framework

As scholars like Sir Ken Robinson have suggested, education tends to be narrowly-focused on and modeled after capitalist systems – helping to engineer sociotechnical systems (dispositifs) that are conducive to profit maximization. Key roles in such sociotechnical engineering appear to be played by fields of science & technology education – which appear to overly focus on (see here): identifying & educating small cohorts of students who may pursue higher education & careers in science & technology (or ‘STEM‘) and much larger groups of students who may – to varying extents – function as compliant workers and enthusiastic & unquestioning consumers. I believe, instead, that – although societies need experts like scientists & engineers, etc. – societies also need well-educated community members who can critically analyze STSE relationships and develop & implement social actions to overcome harms they perceive in them. Accordingly, adapting learning goals from Ontario science curricula (also see elaboration here), I developed (in 2006) the STEPWISE tetrahedral framework shown at right/below. Although it is structured to acknowledge reciprocal relationships among all 5 learning domains (e.g., STSE Education <–> Products Education), it is intentionally oriented to encourage & enable students to ‘spend’ at least some of their socio-cultural capital (e.g., in the form of learning in the peripheral domains [e.g., Students’ Research]) on ‘STSE Actions‘ that may overcome harms they perceive in STSE relationships. In contrast to many capitalist systems’ foci on possessive individualism, in other words, STEPWISE prioritizes altruistic community engagement.

Hovering over the text in the graphic below provides more information about STEPWISE components.


Students learn about relationships (e.g., 'good' & 'bad') among fields of science & technology and societies & environments (STSE); and, they learn about the 'nature' of processes & products of science & technology (NoST) and characteristics of societies (e.g., politics) and environments (e.g., ecology).

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

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) and from their backgrounds and personal characteristics & priorities to design & carry out sociopolitical actions to overcome harms of their interest in STSE relationships.

Promoting Educated Student-led ‘RiNA’ Projects

Although the STEPWISE tetrahedral framework above emphasizes uses of the peripheral learning domains (e.g., STSE Education, Skills Education, etc.) – much of which would be provided by the teacher – to inform STSE Actions, priority is given towards encouraging students to use findings from their self-led (SD/OE) research (‘Students’ Research’). Students’ findings from their own research (often with peer collaboration), through which they garner significant ownership, can be highly motivating for them. Having said that, their actions may not be very effective without prior education in the other domains (e.g., STSE Education) – which are meant to have considerable teacher engagement. Accordingly, overall, STEPWISE prioritizes educated, student-led, research-informed & negotiated action (RiNA) projects – like that illustrated at right/below (with examples here) to overcome harms that students perceive in STSE relationships.

STEPWISE Pedagogy to Enable Student-led RiNA Projects

Because most students struggle to independently develop very effective RiNA projects without first experiencing lessons & student activities to increase their expertise, confidence & motivation for such projects, I developed – in consultation with teachers & graduate students – the 3-phase STEPWISE pedagogical schema at right/below. Based on constructivist learning theory, students are first urged to reflect on their existing attitudes, skills & knowledge (‘ASK’) – which can help students & teachers become more conscious of them – before teaching them about some essential, but hard-to-discover, ASK (e.g., Products, STSE Harms & RiNA Projects) and then asking them to develop & implement small-scale, ‘practice,’ RiNA projects to overcome STSE harms of their choice. Such 3-phase lessons & activities can be repeated with different topics until the teacher feels students are ready to design & implement ‘Student-led RiNA Projects’ on topics of their choice.

Hovering over the main text in the graphic below yields a brief summary of each stage.


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 roles 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.

Variations in Learning Control in STEPWISE

The 3-phase STEPWISE pedagogical schema above, encourages teachers to vary who controls learning decisions. Such variations can be explained in terms of Roger Lock‘s model at right/below (hovering over text at the ends of spectra provide definitions). As elaborated here, activities in the Students Reflect phase should be mainly student-directed & very open-ended, lessons in the Teacher Teaches phase should be mostly teacher-directed & closed-ended, with student activities to apply such instruction being somewhat more student-directed & very open-ended. RiNA projects in the Students Practise phase, meanwhile, should be more student-directed & open-ended – while, by definition, RiNA projects in the Student-led RiNA Projects phase should be very student-directed & open-ended. There are several reasons for such variations, including regarding student motivation. A major concern, however, is that orientations to engage in more student-directed & open-ended activities (which are prioritized in STEPWISE) appear to closely align with teachers’ & students’ views about the nature of science – as elaborated here.

Lock Model

At this extreme end of the Procedures continuum, the teacher makes all decisions - such as for topic choice, investigation procedures and analyses methods.

At this end of the Conclusions continuum, decisions about conclusions from investigations, etc. depend on available data & theory, for instance, and can vary from one person to another.

At this end of the Conclusions continuum, there is only one - pre-determined - conclusion.

At this end of the Procedures continuum, students control all (except for safety, for example) decisions - such as for topics, investigation procedures and analyses methods.

Detailed Suggestions & Examples for Implementing STEPWISE-informed Pedagogies

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 many 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 indicating 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., like supposed food abundance from GM salmon (and related actions) and as perhaps clear from the video at right/below. 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 on & Revisions of 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.