STEPWISE Historical & Theoretical Background

The STEPWISE Theoretical Framework

The STEPWISE project began in 2006 with development of the theoretical framework shown at right (below on phones). This schema arranges learning domains of Ontario science & technology curricula into a tetrahedron to emphasize 2-way relationships among all domains (e.g., STSE Education <–> Products Education). [Clicking on links in the graphic provides details.] STSE Actions is placed in the centre of the tetrahedron to indicate that the framework encourages students to ‘spend’ some of their cultural & social ‘capital’ (e.g., learning in the peripheral domains) on altruistic civic actions to help overcome STSE Harms of their concern. Although this schema is based on much theory, it has been difficult to implement and, so, needs further action research. Consequently, until we learn how to implement it, most teachers use the STEPWISE pedagogical schema (explained below).


Rationale for STEPWISE

The STEPWISE programme (e.g., frameworks, action research, resources, etc.) was developed in response to global (and local) conditions and based on educational (and other) research and related theoretical conceptions. In the sub-sections below, brief summaries of rationale for STEPWISE are provided.

Capitalism is a cancer!

Also see McMurtry’s (1999) The Cancer Stage of Capitalism.

Although it is apparent – e.g., re: Gaia Theory – that all living & nonliving things on earth are interconnected into a giant global actor-network, it also seems quite apparent that the most influential actants in this network are pro-capitalist, such as financiers & corporations; but, also, supranational groups like the World Trade Organization. Although existing in different forms, pro-capitalist entities seem to have arranged – or assimilated, like The Borg™ – most actants to form a pro-capitalist dispositif; that is, a network of actants (mostly) supporting private ownership, regardless of related costs. Rather than thinking of ourselves as dominated by the Anthropocene, attributing harms to all of humanity, we might best think of ourselves engulfed by the Capitalocene. As Monbiot’s video at left/above suggests, capitalists can seem like cancer cells, resembling humans; but, like aliens, damaging or destroying their environments as they attend to their needs. In that vein, capitalist corporations have been said to be like psycho-(socio-)paths. Elaborations about global capitalism are at: A; B; C; D; E; F; G.

Several STEM fields are instruments of capitalism!

Also see Krimsky’s (2003) Science in the Private Interest.

Many fields of ‘STEM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) – which are greatly promoted in education as essential for economic viability – appear to be key agents in pro-capitalist dispositifs. As analysts like Krimsky (see video at left/below), Ziman & Mirowski suggest, integrity of topic choice, research methods, results obtained, results reporting, etc. in some fields can be corrupted due to contracts and/or influences from capitalists. As they and Dr. Marcia Angell note, influences of the private sector over STEM fields is largely possible due to supportive government legislation. Such active government (and transnational) support for capitalist interests appears, indeed, to be a major feature of neoliberalism (A, B), which seems to involve active normalization of pro-capitalist ideologies, like possessive individualism as often seen in consumerism, among most actants in pro-capitalist dispositifs. Given power of such large and complex networks, they appear responsible for many of the STSE Harms faced by humanity – several of which seem existential. While such harms are being perpetrated, wealth appears increasingly concentrated.

STEM education often facilitates capitalism!

Sharing features of the so-called Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), fields of science & technology (and STEM) education in different primary, secondary & tertiary contexts often appear to support capitalism in at least two broad ways; i.e, to 1) select & educate relatively few potential knowledge producers, such as engineers, money speculators & business managers, and 2) condition most students to be knowledge consumers, both as compliant followers of labour instructions from authorities and as enthusiastic & unquestioning purchasers of products & services. Such goals appear to be facilitated, for example, through emphases on inquiry-based learning (IBL), which may discriminate among students based on their abilities and cultural & social capital, and through some STEM education initiatives, which often sacrifices education about STEM harms for foci on knowledge & skills education to support economic growth. Related to this, refer to our summary of frequent adverse effects of IBL & STEM education.

Needs for enlightening & altruistic STEM education!

Given extents to which capitalists appear to manipulate some fields of science & technology (or ‘STEM’), their educational counterparts and much else in ways that seem to be compromising social justice and environmental sustainability, it seems clear multiple, coordinated, actions are required to help develop alternative dispositifs that may improve global social & environmental conditions. STEPWISE frameworks described above, with many field-tested resources, may help in this regard by, for instance, actively educating students about STSE harms and their possible causes and preparing them to engage in independent, research-informed & negotiated sociopolitical actions to altruistically help overcome harms of their concern. Such changes seem difficult, although – as argued here – the CoViD-19 pandemic may have opened windows of opportunity for unprecedented change.

STEPWISE Pedagogical Theory
Clicking on parts of the STEPWISE pedagogy graphic below provides relevant theoretical background. See also this summary article.


We recommend teachers often begin lessons by stimulating students to reflect on past experiences and express their current attitudes, skills & knowledge (ASK) relating to a topic (e.g., plant biology) to be learned & explored. Stimuli can involve any item(s) in STSE relationships, such as pictures of common commodities. About these, students might be asked questions like, 'What do you like/dislike about this?,' 'What people &/or groups may support/critique it?' and 'What could/should be done - and why - to overcome any harms you see related to this?' Providing such stimuli makes the Students Reflect phase somewhat teacher-directed, but the phase should be most student-directed & open-ended - to help ensure students' intellectual independence. Based on constructivist learning theory, such activities can help students to become more conscious of often-subconscious ASK that can greatly-influence their interpretations of experiences - such as different images people 'see' in this photograph. Commonly, students' expressed ASK in such activities are quite varied, which we suggest teachers must respect because of variations in students' abilities and cultural-social capital. Finally, an overall description of the Students Reflect phase of this pedagogy is available here.

Although some students may express ASK that align with those of the teacher and other professionals, those of many other students may not - again, because of variations in students' abilities and cultural-social capital. For social justice reasons, therefore, it is necessary for teachers to ensure that all students develop ASK that may serve them well in societies. To accomplish this, we strongly urge teachers to directly teach students very important - but often difficult to discover through student-led inquiries - ASK. Particularly important to teach are STSE Harms that often are results of intense influences of capitalist individuals & groups on fields of science & technology and most other entities on earth. Although very problematic, such influences often are hidden from people or discredited (e.g., Merchants of Doubt). In this regard, a common technique is subterfuge - based on actor-network theory (ANT), as with genetically-engineered salmon, commodities often are presented in reductionist ways (in ANT terms, punctualized), like a Trojan horse, hiding or distracting consumers from knowing about possibly-problematic networks to which they belong. Such purposeful networks are called dispositifs, assemblages of actants that largely cooperate in support of common purposes (e.g., for-profit consumerism). In addition to teaching about such problematic STSE relationships, however, students should be taught about RiNA projects undertaken by people to overcome STSE harms of their concern. Teaching ASK like that above must - based on knowledge duality theory - also, however, be accompanied by activities enabling students to apply newly-taught ASK, such as case methods activities like that for evaluating cell phones.

Although teachers may have 'taught' - in the Teacher Teaches phase - students about curriculum 'content,' including about Products, Skills, STSE relationships, STSE Harms, possible STSE Actions and Sample RiNA projects, again in light of knowledge duality theory, students' learning may not be very deep or committed until they have opportunities to more independently design & conduct practice RiNA projects to help overcome STSE harms of their concern. For this Students Practise phase, accordingly, the teacher can given students an assignment to complete a small-scale RiNA project to overcome an STSE harm of their choice. Such an assignment should be mostly student-directed & open-ended, except in terms of assistance provided by the teacher for aspects of such projects about which many students may be unfamiliar. Students may benefit, for instance, from lessons & resources relating to: STSE Issues; correlational study methods; and, STSE action types.

Although students may have developed & implemented effective RiNA projects in the Students Practise phase, again referencing knowledge duality theory, it is essential for them to be allowed/encouraged to self-direct such projects; that is, for them to be as student-directed & open-ended as possible. In doing so, students may be well-prepared for functioning independently as critical and action-oriented community members. To promote such independence, teachers may limit their influences over student projects to ensuring student safety and, perhaps, again providing them with lists of possible STSE issues to address.

The STEPWISE pedagogy is based on several theoretical conceptions. Of particular importance are variations in control-of-learning - as recommended by Roger Lock (1990). As explained in this summary, teacher and student control over procedures and conclusions in the STEPWISE pedagogy should vary, as follows: Students Reflect: activities should be mostly SD/OE; Teacher Teaches: lessons should be very TD/CE, while application activities may be somewhat more SD/OE; Students Practise: mostly, depending on student needs, SD/OE. Student-led RiNA projects should, of course, be very SD/OE. Reasons for such variations in learning control also are based on constructivist learning theory. As elaborated in this summary, although students always construct ASK based on those in their brains/bodies, directions of their constructions tend to be limited the more teachers control procedures and conclusions. So, while the STEPWISE pedagogy does promote TD/CE instruction in the Teacher Teaches phase, the other two phases - and, of course, student-led RiNA projects - are to err on the side of SD and OE experiences. Finally, learning control variations can influence students' conceptions of the nature of science & technology (NoST). As explained in this summary, students may develop more holistic - and, likely, realistic - NoST conceptions if teachers balance TD/CE & SD/OE lessons & activities.