STEPWISE in Detail

Science & Technology Education Promoting Wellbeing for Individuals, Societies & Environments (STEPWISE) is a framework that teachers use to develop lessons and activities that provide students with expertise, confidence and motivation for eventually designing and conducting “Student-led RiNA Projects” to overcome harms they perceive in relationships among fields of science & technology and societies & environments (STSE). As a supplement to the STEPWISE homepage, his page provides detailed theoretical background and some practical resources for this framework.

STEPWISE Tetrahedral Framework

The original STEPWISE framework, which was developed in 2006, is shown at left. It was developed as a result of my frustration with struggling for several years to promote student-led primary research – which was 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 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, based on the Ontario science curriculum, I created this tetrahedral arrangement of five learning goals. In opposition 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. If this framework were to be widely implemented, we could see great increases in social justice and environmental sustainability.

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. For example, after students have been educated about such STSE relationships as 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

The 3-phase STEPWISE teacher-supported lessons & student activities shown above are based on constructivist learning theory – which assumes, for instance, that people learn by combining ASK that already exist in their minds with new ASK they experience (e.g., in activities or lessons). Ideas and resources for each of the three phases (and for Student-led RiNA Projects) are given here and below.

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 at left) aimed at providing students with often difficult-to-discover and important attitudes, skills & knowledge (ASK) that they may eventually use to self-direct their own RiNA projects.

Student Reflect.

Generally, the teacher should provide stimuli (e.g., pictures of STEM products, like those at right) to get students to reflect on/express their existing ASK about STSE relationships, STEM knowledge, research and actions that may be necessary to address problems; e.g., Regarding human physiological systems (respiration, digestion, etc.), students are shown pictures of different foods; e.g. fast foods. Students are asked to state what they like and dislike about them and for what reasons. They also may be asked to name people or organizations that would promote or criticize such foods and for what reasons. For harms they identify, they could also be asked to describe some better possible solutions and how to promote them. Note: Although the teacher would provide some stimuli and directions/questions for such activities, they should be mostly student-directed and open-ended (re: Learning Control Model).

Teacher Teaches: Input.

To avoid difficulties with inquiry-based learning, the teacher should directly teach lessons to help ensure all students learn very important ASK relating to STSE relationships (and NoST) and RiNA projects that may be helpful to them. Such lessons should combine theoretical schema like those shown at left with practical examples with which students may identify. The schema for RiNA projects shown at lower left may be interesting to many students, given ubiquity of uses of commercial shampoos. The teacher could show students this schema and tell them a ‘story’ about  students who did research into shampoos and produced the actor-network map and graphs on the right. Teachers may have to review ideas about actor-network theory (ANT), such as here. Students’ ANT map of shampoo is, in effect, a more detailed version of the STSE schema shown above that they developed from their secondary research. The lesson sequence here may help teaching about ANT. A particularly important ANT concept is that of a dispositif, an assemblage of living, nonliving & symbolic actants that collaborate to, as explained here, normalize underlying assumptions about thoughts and actions among actants – including to accept uses of commercial shampoos in plastic containers. Students’ analyses, including results of their studies of peers’ shampoo uses, were then used by them (along with their previous education) to design and create an organic shampoo (as a social action) that they suggested use local materials and fair labour practices. The teacher might also point out that much work would be needed, likely over a long time, to normalize uses of such eco-just products across networks.

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 ASK that have been presented – 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) that provides deadlines and mark values for particular stages of a RiNA project. Although such practice projects should be mainly student-directed & open-ended, teachers often need to provide some students with ideas, prompts, suggestions upon request, etc. Students may, for instance, be given a set of STSE issues from which to choose projects. Also, the teacher may provide a series of supplementary lessons and student activities to help students develop expertise and confidence for different aspects of science inquiry, technology design, reporting and civic actions. Given possible harmful outcomes of experiments, teaching how to design and conduct correlational studies – e.g., via the lessons here – is very important.

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, of course, the ultimate goal of STEPWISE – hopefully helping students to become critical and civically active community members aimed at increasing wellbeing for individuals, societies & environments.