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Beyond STS: A Research-Based

Framework for Socioscientific

Issues Education
Department of Secondary Education, College of Education, University of South Florida,
Tampa, FL 33620-5650, USA
School of Teaching & Learning, College of Education, University of Florida, Gainesville,
FL 32611-7048, USA
Department of Secondary Education, College of Education, University of South Florida,
Tampa, FL 33620-5650, USA
Received 17 March 2004; revised 28 July 2004; accepted 14 August 2004
DOI 10.1002/sce.20048
Published online 23 March 2005 in Wiley InterScience (
ABSTRACT: An important distinction can be made between the science, technology, and
society (STS) movement of past years and the domain of socioscientific issues (SSI). STS
education as typically practiced does not seem embedded in a coherent developmental
or sociological framework that explicitly considers the psychological and epistemological
growth of the child, nor the development of character or virtue. In contrast, the SSI movement
focuses on empowering students to consider how science-based issues reflect, in part, moral
principles and elements of virtue that encompass their own lives, as well as the physical
and social world around them. The focus of this paper is to describe a research-based
framework of current research and practice that identifies factors associated with reasoning
about socioscientific issues and provide a working model that illustrates theoretical and
conceptual links among key psychological, sociological, and developmental factors central
C 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed 89:357 377, 2005
to SSI and science education. 

As the 21st century unfolds, professional associations (e.g., American Association for
the Advancement of Science, 1989, 1993; National Science Education Standards, 1996;
CMECs Pan-Canadian Science Project, 1997; Queensland School Curriculum Council,
2001) in science recognize the importance of broadly conceptualizing scientific literacy
Correspondence to: Dana L. Zeidler; e-mail:


2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.



to include informed decision making; the ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information; dealing sensibly with moral reasoning and ethical issues; and understanding
connections inherent among socioscientific issues (SSI) (Zeidler, 2001). Achieving a practical degree of scientific literacy necessarily entails practice and experience in developing
habits of mind (i.e., acquiring skepticism, maintaining open-mindedness, evoking critical
thinking, recognizing multiple forms of inquiry, accepting ambiguity, searching for datadriven knowledge). Habits of mind may suffice when arriving at individual decisions based
on an informed analysis of available information; however, they may not be sufficient in a
world where collective decision making is evoked through the joint construction of social
knowledge. In the real world of dirty sinks and messy reasoning, arriving at ideal personal
decisions through objective evaluation of neutral evidence is a phantom image.
It is clear from recent international research in science education that current reform initiatives in our field demand increased emphasis on the nature of science (NOS) and scientific
inquiry, as well as development of broad conceptual frameworks encompassing progressive
visions of scientific literacy that entail a commitment to the moral and ethical dimensions
of science educationincluding the social and character development of children (Zeidler
& Keefer, 2003). In particular, students are expected to develop an understanding of the
epistemology of scientific knowledge as well as the processes/methods used to develop such
knowledge. In addition to other considerations, it is believed that students understanding of
science as a way of knowing is absolutely necessary if informed decisions are to be made
regarding the scientifically based personal and societal issues that increasingly confront
our students. Such decisions necessarily involve careful evaluation of scientific claims by
discerning connections among evidence, inferences, and conclusions. Students capable of
such decisions display a functional degree of scientific literacy.
The focus of this paper is to provide a synopsis of current research and practice that
identifies factors associated with reasoning about SSI and distinguishes it from science
technology society (STS) education. While the study of SSI is conceptually related to
past research on STS education, it is important to point out that they represent unique
approaches. STS education, as typically envisioned and practiced, does not seem to be
embedded in a coherent developmental or sociological framework that explicitly considers
the psychological and epistemological growth of the child, nor the development of character
or virtue. The lack of a theoretical framework with respect to STS materials has been noted
by others (Hodson, 2003; Jenkins, 2002; Shamos, 1995), suggesting that STS may be an
underdeveloped idea in search of a theory. Because we suggest substantial reconsideration
of the use of the STS approach, it is important to consider limitations identified with STS
education; therefore, we do so in the following section.
By the late 1970s, many science education researchers became focused on developing a
theme of study that reflected the combined influences of science, technology, and society.
It was agreed that science would become more meaningful to students when placed in the
context of how it affects technology and how technology, in turn, directs society. In science,
technology, and society (STS) education, science teachers use curricula that engage students
due to their social dimensions. Aikenhead (1994) summarized STS teaching as follows:
STS science teaching conveys the image of socially constructed knowledge. Its studentoriented approach . . . emphasizes the basic facts, skills, and concepts of traditional science . . . but does so by integrating that science content into social and technological contexts
meaningful to students. (p. 59)



In 1982, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) published a position paper
describing characteristics of a scientifically literate person as one who would understand
and be knowledgeable of the connections and interdependency of science, technology, and
society (NSTA, 1982). This shift in emphasis was solidified with the publication of the
NSTA 1985 Yearbook, which was devoted to STS teaching (Bybee, 1985). Unfortunately,
STS education has become relatively diffuse over the course of its tenure, consisting of
approaches as disparate as isolated courses addressing STS issues or ancillary text boxes
in science textbooks (Pedretti & Hodson, 1995). Shamos (1995) noted, quite correctly,
that the problem with STS curriculum is that many of the issues under study (e.g., nuclear
power, global warming) are not particularly exciting or relevant to students because they are
removed from their everyday personal experiences. While STS education typically stresses
the impact of decisions in science and technology on society, it does not mandate explicit
attention to the ethical issues contained within choices about means and ends, nor does it
consider the moral or character development of students.
Recently, some science educators have advocated a more issues-driven STS curriculum in the form of science technology society environment education (STSE) (Hodson,
1994, 2003; Pedretti, 1997). It has become clear, however, that while STSE represents an
improvement over STS strategies, it does not directly address the personal and individual
moral and ethical development of students and it is fair to say that most science educators
do not see the subtle distinctions between them. Traditional STS(E) education (or perhaps
STS(E) education as currently practiced by and large) only points out ethical dilemmas or
controversies, but does not necessarily exploit the inherent pedagogical power of discourse,
reasoned argumentation, explicit NOS considerations, emotive, developmental, cultural or
epistemological connections within the issues themselves. Hence, STS(E) approaches have
become somewhat marginalized in the curriculum and in practice. What was once described
as a megatrend in science education (Roy, 1984) has been relegated to brief mentions in
current school science textbooks as well as in science teacher preparation texts (see, e.g.,
Chiapetta & Koballa, 2002; Trowbridge, Bybee, & Powell, 2000). This decline in emphasis
in STS(E) education is part of a striking paradox, for the commitment to the inextricable
connections between science, technology, society and the environment remains a major
theme in current science reform documents such as the United States National Science
Education Standards and Project 2061s Benchmarks for Science Literacy.
One likely reason for the recent decline in interest in STS(E) may be a lack of focus or
well-developed unifying theoretical basis. Even staunch supporters of STS have acknowledged the absence of a coherent and cohesive framework for STS. Consider the following
statements regarding STS:
In this essay I have suggested that science, technology, society (STS) consists of several
seemingly competing, if not conflicting perspectives because they relate to different notions
of power, policy, and method. Nevertheless, the perspectives can be combined. Combining
the perspectives does not mean however that we create a unitary approach of STS. What
I intend is rather a pluralistic and open approach. To open the doors among the different
perspectives is a major challenge for STS which may also require a thorough deliberation
of the different related policy interests. (Fuglsang, 2001, p. 46)

Ziman, another ardent proponent of STS education, writes, The fundamental purposes of
STS education are genuinely and properly diverse and incoherent (1994, p. 22). Although
these candid admissions of the considerable difficulties in both describing the purposes
of STS and melding the myriad STS factions could be interpreted as assertions merely acknowledging the complexity of STS, we suggest that the reported pluralism and incoherence



support the claim that STS is incomplete or underdeveloped as a pedagogical strategy.

Instead, STS is a context for a curriculum. (Yager, 1996, p. 13)
Hughes (2000) has provided a post-modern analysis of reform curriculum and identified
several reasons why three decades of STS education is out of touch with students, leaving
them ill prepared to deal with scientific and technological controversy. Her central argument
is that STS marginalizes socioscientific material and reinforces gender gaps because of how
science is embedded in a masculine hard science perspective at the exclusion of softer
socioscience orientations that allow for contextualized examination of issues and values
implicit in scientific development.
. . . when socioscience is the icing on the cake, not an essential basic ingredient, part of a
good-quality product but not fundamental to teaching science, dominant discourses of science as an abstract body of knowledge are not destabilized and implicit gender hierarchical
binaries are readily reinforced. (Hughes, 2000, p. 347)

Similarly, Bingle and Gaskell (1994) have further noted that much of STS education, as
practiced, is most closely aligned with Latours (1987) notion of ready-made science that
carries with it the connotation of positivist knowledge claims at the expense of constitutive
values that stress science-in-the-making and suggests a social constructivist view of contextual values for evaluating scientific knowledge claims. These authors stress that where
SSI arise, it is legitimate for individual citizens to acknowledge and evaluate contextual
factors deemed meaningful with respect to the scientific claims under consideration: A social constructivist view of science . . . challenges the scientists position of privilege because
individual citizens have just as much access to the standards of evaluating the impact of the
social context as do scientists themselves, a prospect that would probably be unsettling to
most scientists (Bingle & Gaskell, 1994, p. 198).
Whereas the overarching purpose of the STS approach is to increase student interest
in science by placing science content learning in a societal context, SSI education aims
to stimulate and promote individual intellectual development in morality and ethics as
well as awareness of the interdependence between science and society. SSI therefore does
not simply serve as a context for learning science, but rather as a pedagogical strategy
with clearly defined goals. Certainly, knowledge and understanding of the interconnections among science, technology, society, and the environment are major components of
developing scientific literacy; however, these interconnections do not exist independently
of students personal beliefs. It is our stance that STS(E) approaches can be remodeled and
substantially improved by adding an essential missing componentconsideration of each
students own moral and ethical development.
While STS has been defined as a context for science education (Yager, 1996), the current
usage of socioscientific issues refers to a distinctly more developed pedagogical strategy.
In contrast to STS, the SSI movement focuses specifically on empowering students to
consider how science-based issues and the decisions made concerning them reflect, in
part, the moral principles and qualities of virtue that encompass their own lives, as well
as the physical and social world around them (Driver et al., 1996; Driver, Newton, &
Osborne, 2000; Kolst, 2001a; Sadler, 2004). Accordingly, SSI education is equated with
the consideration of ethical issues and construction of moral judgments about scientific
topics via social interaction and discourse. As Zeidler et al. (2002) point out, Socioscientific
issues then, is a broader term that subsumes all that STS has to offer, while also considering



the ethical dimensions of science, the moral reasoning of the child, and the emotional
development of the student (p. 344). Further, recent research (Zeidler & Keefer, 2003) in
the area of SSI has provided theoretical and conceptual links among key psychological,
sociological, and developmental factors associated with SSI education. We envision SSI
in a manner that considers how controversial scientific issues and dilemmas affect the
intellectual growth of individuals in both personal and societal domains.
In order to advance the claim that science educators should attend to SSI related to cultivating the morality of our students to achieve a functional view of scientific literacy,
a coherent conceptual framework must be developed that is flexible enough to allow for
multiple perspectives while enabling educators and curriculum specialists to better understand the moral growth of the child. One framework recently proposed because of its utility
in addressing socioscientific discourse in terms of the psychological, social, and emotive
growth of the child is derived from a cognitive-moral reasoning perspective (Zeidler &
Keefer, 2003). This initial model served as an impetus for our article by identifying potential lines of research that might prove promising in the development of an SSI framework.
We have now further extended and refined that model with new research from within the
science education community and related research external to science education. It consists
of themes that collectively attend to many of the factors inherently limited by or missing
from STS education. This framework should be viewed as a tentative conceptual model that
identifies four areas of pedagogical importance central to the teaching of SSI: (1) nature of
science issues, (2) classroom discourse issues, (3) cultural issues, and (4) case-based issues.
These issues can be thought of as entry points in the science curriculum that can contribute
to a students personal intellectual development and in turn, help to inform pedagogy in
science education to promote functional scientific literacy (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Socioscientific elements of functional scientific literacy.



It should be noted that while our view of cognitive and moral development is conceptualized, in part, from a neo-Kohlbergian perspective, it does not preclude (and in fact,
invites) the use of post-modern perspectives of developmental reasoning (e.g., see Hughes,
2000). While these issues certainly cannot comprise all the sufficient conditions of scientific
literacy (functional or otherwise), we suggest that these are critical and necessary issues
for science educators to grapple with in order to promote functional scientific literacy. For
example, NOS issues become important because they reveal how varied epistemological
views influence the way in which students select and evaluate evidence, and are considered
to have bearing on their pre-instructional views of SSI. Discourse issues direct our attention
to how students construct arguments and utilize fallacious reasoning, and compel us to
consider how prior belief convictions help frame emotional responses, principled commitments, or stances on moral issues. Cultural issues remind us that discourse is futile without
mutual respect and tolerance of dissenting views, while underscoring that the decisions students make are the result of realizing that as moral agents, they are impacted by normative
values as well as cultural beliefs about the natural world. Case-based issues enable science
educators to move beyond STS curriculum and cultivate habits of mind that promote ethical
awareness and commitment to issue resolution and the moral sensitivity to hear dissenting
voices by examining how power and authority are embedded in scientific enterprises.
Other authors use the term functional when speaking of scientific literacy (Jenkins,
1990, 1997; Ryder, 2001; Shamos, 1995); however, it is important to note that they tend
to do so from what can be described as a technocratic perspective. For example, Ryder
(2001) presents an analysis of some 31 studies ranging in degree of technocratic decision
making on controversial topics (in that there is a lack of clear consensus within the scientific
community about data related to these topics). These topics range from risk assessment in
genetic counseling situations to managing methane from a waste disposal site. The authors
do acknowledge that the studies selected for review are not necessarily representative of
the many contexts of science, and the examples tend to focus on arguments based on utility
in a democratic and technologically sophisticated society. While it cannot be denied that
these aspects of science are important because of their inherent connections to NOS (e.g.,
understanding the role of models in science, assessing the validity and quality of data, and
uncertainty in science), we believe that this view is too narrow with regard to promoting
functional scientific literacy in that it pays scant attention to the role of personal epistemological and intellectual development in the context of varied cultural settings. For Shamos
(1995), functional scientific literacy seems to be relegated to those who are the science
elite having the expert content knowledge to fully appreciate the scientific and technological intricacies of issues (thereby achieving true scientific literacy) and have more than a
general sense of Hirschs (1987) notion of cultural literacy (i.e., general scientific terms
familiar to citizens in western society). An individual who possesses functional scientific
literacy for Shamos, therefore, is one who has command of a science lexicon, [and] also
be able to converse, read, and write coherently, using such science terms in perhaps a nontechnical but nevertheless meaningful context (1995, p. 88). In a comprehensive review of
the literature, Laugksch (2000) points out that such conceptualizations of functional scientific literacy are embedded in a meaning of literate that require[s] the scientifically literate
individual to use science in performing a function (italics added) in society (p. 84). Again,
our view of functional scientific literacy affirms what the views above do not; that any view
of functional scientific literacy falls short of the mark if it ignores the fundamental factors
aimed at promoting the personal cognitive and moral development of students.
Although Kohlberg (1986) provided educators and researchers interested in the area of
moral reasoning and development with a rich conceptual basis to raise important questions
about the nature of moral education, new questions have emerged about the adequacy of



the assumption that all one has to do to bring about changes in moral behavior is to induce
changes in moral stages or structures. Furthermore, new questions have also emerged about
the distinction between reasoning about formal societal constructs (e.g., laws, duty, social
institutions) and engaging in the resolution of differences among individuals via argumentation and discussion during face-to face interactions. The former type of reasoning deals
with what Rest et al. (1999) term macromorality, while the latter deals with issues of
micromorality. The difference can be likened to examining societal conventions from a
theoretical perspective (e.g., principles of justice, meta-ethics) and understanding a particular praxis of social constructs (e.g., face-to-face negotiations, normative ethics). Once this
distinction is made, it exposes a more robust conceptualization of the complex relationship
that exists between moral reasoning and action and has implications for decisions related to
pedagogy. For example, researchers point out that the role of affect and emotions in moral
functioning had been overlooked in past research, and that the particular realm of ones
life being considered (e.g., family, school, peers, workplace, intimate relationships) plays a
normative role in moral decision making and character formation (Berkowitz, 1997, 1998;
Nucci, 1989, 2001; Sadler & Zeidler, 2004; Turiel, 1998; Zeidler & Schafer, 1984, Zeidler
et al., 2002).
An overview of the four pedagogical issues (nature of science, classroom discourse,
cultural, and case based) identified above is presented in order to synthesize current lines
of research relevant to the exploration of SSI in science education and further articulate a
research-based model of issues central to moral education in the context of science education. The purpose is to provide educators and researchers with a thematic understanding of
how these areas are at once fundamental and interdependent, and when linked through the
exploration of the domains of SSI, address morality.
(1) Nature of Science Issues reveal the emphasis placed on students epistemological
beliefs as they pertain to decisions regarding SSI (e.g., Bell, 2004; Bell, Lederman, & AbdEl-Khalick, 2000). Epistemological orientations regarding the nature of science influence
how students attend to evidence in support of, or in conflict with, their pre-instructional
belief systems regarding social issues. In this context, moral reasoning proper is understood
to be the result of the opportunity for learners to make meaning using empirical and social
criteria in both formal and informal educational contexts through rational discourse. Abd-ElKhalicks (2001) and Bells (2003) research has suggested that students decisions regarding
SSI are analogous to decisions engaged by scientists regarding the justification of scientific
knowledge in that both processes require the use of rational discourse and invoke value
judgments and common sense. These findings highlight the importance of tapping students
epistemological orientations (including NOS views) in the process of evaluating scientific
data regarding social issues.
Likewise, Zeidler et al. (2002) have shown that students who harbor nave and relativistic
conceptions of science will likely dismiss scientific knowledge as irrelevant to decision
making when reasoning about SSI because they tend to distort whatever data, evidence,
or knowledge claims are available to them for the purpose of supporting a predetermined
viewpoint with respect to the issue under consideration. Related research informing the
issues of socioscientific reasoning and NOS confirms student reliance on personal relevance
over evaluative decisions based on contemplation of presented evidence (Sadler, Chambers,
& Zeidler, 2004). In this study, students rated articles according to which had more scientific
merit, but in determining which articles they found to be most convincing, many (40%)



selected articles that most complemented their own personal beliefs independently of their
scientific merit. This pattern of responses suggested that for some students, scientific merit
(e.g., evidence, data) and persuasiveness were not synonymous. In order to fully appreciate
the empirical nature of science, students must understand what constitutes data and how
it can be utilized in the process of decision making. However, if that student is confused
by what data is, then assertions or arguments evoked hold little meaning. In analyzing
students comments about how data were used to support positions on global warming,
Sadler, Chambers, and Zeidler (2004) also revealed that nearly half (47%) of the students
lacked adequate conceptions of scientific data. Some of the students comprising this group
were able to recognize data without the ability to describe its use or significance, whereas
others could not even distinguish among data, unfounded opinions, and predictions.
Bell and Lederman (2003) have examined the reasoning patterns of university professors representing various fields (including science educators, science philosophers, and
research scientists) on SSI and found similar reasoning patterns among these groups, including emphases on personal philosophy and commitments over reasoning based on scientific evidence. Although the participants of this study held varied views of the NOS, their
decision-making strategies and actual decisions on science and technology-based issues
yielded no discernable patterns unique to particular NOS views. While all of these individuals showed some degree of superficial evidence-based reasoning, the primary influence
guiding their decisions were personal values, factors related to morality or ethics, and social
considerations. The authors suggested in very clear terms that moral development is a factor
of interest when assessing decision-making strategies on SSI. Their research findings also
provided supporting evidence for earlier work that revealed explicit links between college
students levels of moral reasoning and decision making on SSI irrespective of their science
content knowledge level of sophistication (Zeidler & Schafer, 1984).
Similarly, Walker and Zeidler (2003) found that students reference to empirical evidence
supporting various positions during a debate activity in high school was limited following
online exploration of SSI with previous instruction regarding NOS and exposure to multiple
articles of evidence used to gather support and frame arguments for their debate position.
Yet when other members of the class voted as to which group presented the best argument,
the majority (75%) of the students chose the group as being the most convincing that utilized
a wide base of background information, had the input of different people, quoted statistics
and generally were convinced by their arguments even when presented with a position
contrary to their own. The findings underscore the need for explicit instruction in NOS, so
that careful evaluations of evidence regarding SSI and subsequent decisions can be utilized.
This line of research has also revealed more direct transfer of NOS considerations when
reasoning about SSI during informal debate or discourse particularly when the SSI issues
centered around genetically modified foods and global warming (Sadler, Chambers, &
Zeidler, 2004; Walker and Zeidler, 2003; Zeidler et al. 2002), suggesting that the degree of
personal relevance of the issue is associated with increased validation of knowledge claims.
It reasonably follows that the degree to which students perceive personal relevance related
to scientific topics will determine, in part, the seriousness of the issues at-hand and the
merit of conflicting or competing claims. If a goal of teaching NOS in science classrooms
is to develop students abilities to critically evaluate competing scientific claims, then we
should be guiding them in the process of synthesizing and applying their understanding of
the nature of science as they evaluate and make decisions regarding socioscientific issues.
The significance of this lies not so much in that future generations of students may be
able to articulate the meaning of the nature of science and describe its relevant attributes
(although that would be a pedagogically notable benchmark), but rather that NOS understanding can benefit them in evaluating the efficacy many kinds of claimsscientific or



otherwisebased upon the merit of supporting evidence in everyday life. This goal of developing transferable reasoning skills is one that is central to promoting the use of SSI in
science curricula.
(2) Classroom Discourse Issues stress the crucial role discourse plays in peer interactions and its impact on reasoning. This research underscores the importance of developing
students views about science through argumentation in the constructions of shared social
knowledge via discourse about SSI (e.g., Zeidler et al., 2003). While many science educators
acknowledge the importance of rich and diverse classroom discussions in the promotion
of scientific literacy (Aikenhead, 1985, 2000; Driver, Newton, & Osborne, 2000; Vellom,
1999; Zeidler, 1984, 1997; Zeidler, Lederman, & Taylor, 1992), those who seek to study
it have difficulty locating substantive argumentation or classroom discussions in school
(Newton, Driver, & Osborne,1999), or find the quantity and quality of discussion with explicit focus on science content very low (Levinson, 2003). Perhaps this is because teachers
find it difficult to implement sustained student discourse with confidence because of the
complex nature of argumentation. This is precisely what Levinson (2003) found in his intensive case study of one Science for Public Understanding college class whose focus
was on exploring controversial science issues (i.e., SSI). Despite the fact that the intent of
the course was to allow students to develop and express an informed personal viewpoint
on SSI, the teachers who cotaught the class dominated much of the classroom discourse.
Levinson further suggested that because of their inherent complexity, attending to moral
and ethical issues may be an unrealistic expectation for science teachers without some type
of support from other teachers representing interdisciplinary studies and/or professional
development to aid in facilitating the dynamics of argumentation and discourse.
Settelmaier (2003) focused on high school science students exchanges using a dilemma
approach. While the results revealed that dilemma-based stories were a viable tool for
introducing SSI which challenged students rational, social, and emotional skills, as well as
grounding the practice of critical self-reflection concerning their personal value and beliefs
systems, several problematic factors in using SSI in the classroom were identified including
logistical and planning problems of integrating coverage of content with moral dilemmas
and matching the appropriateness of the dilemmas with student interests. Students can
easily go off-task if the topic is not well focused, extends too long, or the outcomes are not
clear. It may be the case that students simply do not have occasion to practice tolerating
ambiguitywhether it be in the form of anomalous data or conflicting points of view.
Additional considerations entailing fallacious argumentation have been identified and
explored (i.e., validity concerns, nave conceptions of argument structure, effects of core
beliefs on argumentation, inadequate sampling of evidence altering representation of argument and evidence) and serve as a reminder of the complex nature of discourse involving
SSI (Zeidler, 1997; Zeidler et al., 2003). However, the value of argument in the development
of moral reasoning has been amply demonstrated in the research literature (Berkowitz &
Oser, 1985; Berkowitz, Oser, & Althof, 1987; Keefer, 2002; Keefer, Zeitz, & Resnick, 2000)
in terms of creating dissonance thereby allowing opportunity for re-examining ones beliefs
and thought-processes. Being exposed to and challenged by the arguments of others provides the opportunity to attend to the quality of claims, warrants, evidence, and assumptions
among competing positions. The idea of creating dissonance through the use of anomalous
data has broad meaning in the context of SSI which not only supports the use of conflicting
empirical data, but further taps into potentially conflicting counter positions and arguments
that arise through dialogic interaction between or among discussants in which logically
supported position statements may conflict with a persons pre-existing beliefs regarding a
given scientific concept or issue.



Driver et al. (1996) have demonstrated how students can handle conflicting evidence
related to SSI. They indicated that through carefully planned science instruction, students
draw on past experiences and combine them with new ideas to explain decisions in scientific contexts. Dialogic interaction, also referred to as transactive discussions in the moral
education research literature, has been shown to improve science learning and lead to more
robust ways to conceptualize the physical world: Whereas transaction can foster students
logical development by focusing on scientific problems and issues, teachers can foster
the development of social and moral reasoning by focusing on ethical and social issues
(Berkowitz & Simmons, 2003, p. 133). It is important to note that transactional discourse
occurs when one student can clearly internalize and articulate the thoughts, arguments, or
position of another student. Their reasoning then becomes transformational in the sense
that one individuals reasoning becomes integrated with that of another. Berkowitz and
Simmons reported that students who use more transactive discussions during classroom
discourse also learn to solve scientific and mathematical problems more effectively, consequently enhancing the development of scientific reasoning and problem-solving strategies.
In a comprehensive review of the literature, Sadler (2004) summarizes trends related to
argumentation as a means of expressing informal reasoning and reiterates that the personal
experiences of decision-makers emerged as a consistent normative influence on informal
reasoning related to SSI. More specifically, informal reasoning was found to either mediate
scientific knowledge or prevent the consideration of scientific knowledge. Sadler cites research that suggests conceptual understanding of content improved informal reasoning on
SSI, but more work in this area is needed. Kuhn (1993) further points out that SSI will necessarily entail the use of informal reasoning inasmuch as they are complex, open ended, and
often consist of contentious problems without predetermined solutions. Informal reasoning
is compatible with the kinds of dilemmas that face students confronted with real-world issues in that the issues at-hand are more times than not, dynamic (i.e., premises may change
as new information and perspectives arise).
It would seem, then, that opportunity to engage in informal reasoning through argumentation allows for the evaluation of evidence as well as thought, but finding appropriate
pedagogical strategies to seamlessly integrate such dynamic social interaction in the science
classroom remains a high priority. Teaching science in this context includes attention and
sensitivity to students moral commitments, emotions, and moral behavior. The development of character in children (as seen via the development of moral reasoning) becomes an
additional important pedagogical outcome arising from the intrinsic nature of argumentation as pedagogy.
(3) Cultural Issues highlight pluralistic and sociological (subsuming gender) aspects of
science classrooms. By explicitly attending to cultural issues, science educators recognize, acknowledge, and maximize opportunities afforded by diverse assemblies of learners. The diversity of modern science classrooms includes learners from various cultures
(e.g., Cobern & Loving, 2000; Lemke, 2001), developmental abilities (e.g., Mastropieri &
Scruggs, 1992; McGinnis, 2000), and genders (e.g., Brickhouse, 2001; Tsai, 2000). This
cultural/sociological perspective toward education underscores the necessity to appreciate
students as moral agents intimately involved with their own cultural, natural, and technological environments. Regarding individual students as moral agents interacting with their
classroom contexts and experiences emphasizes the moral nature of education in general
and teaching in particular. The essence of good teaching, in this view, must include the
ethical and moral development of young people (Clark, 2003; Loving, Lowry, & Martin,
2003). In fact, ethical and cognitive growth appear to be tightly linked in the development
of intercultural understanding (Endicott, Bock, & Narvaez, 2002).



Cultural issues are particularly significant for educational experiences related to SSI.
Whereas moral theorists adopting cognitive-developmental perspectives on morality (e.g.,
Kohlberg, 1986; Rest et al., 1999) have assumed the primacy of moral principles, critical theorists who adopt cultural perspectives on morality (e.g., Belenky et al., 1986; Gilligan, 1987;
Noddings, 1984; Partington, 1997; Snarey, 1985) have expanded the scope and challenged
the construction of moral discourse in order to include care, emotion, and contextual factors. The contributions of multicultural (Boyes & Walker, 1988; Snarey, 1985) and feminist
(Donenberg & Hoffman, 1988; Hekman; 1995; Gilligan, 1987; Noddings, 1984) research
on morality inspired some science education researchers to look beyond isolated cognitive
factors (viz. situated cognition) contributing to socioscientific decision making in order to
perceive the significance of affect.
Zeidler and Schafer (1984) produced some of the first empirical evidence suggesting the importance of emotions in the resolution of SSI. Although a priori notions of
morality drove their research design consistent with a Kohlbergian perspective, qualitative analyses of dyadic interviews led the authors to postulate the significance of emotional reactions to controversial environmental issues. Sadler and Zeidler (2004; in press)
extended the investigation on the role of emotions in informal reasoning regarding SSI.
Both studies focused on student reactions to, perceptions of, argumentation toward, and
resolutions of genetic engineering issues. These findings confirmed the significance of
emotion for the resolution of SSI. More specifically, participants actively displayed a
sense of empathy toward fictitious characters described in scenarios to which they were
responding as well as to friends, family members, and acquaintances experiencing situations reminiscent of these scenarios. For example, one participants decision making
regarding cloning issues was driven primarily by her feelings toward a very close family member who desperately wanted to have children but remained infertile even after
conventional fertility treatments. This individual and many others like her in the study exhibited a genuine sense of care that ultimately guided her negotiation and resolution of
Howes (2002) also noted the appearance and use of empathy and other relationally based
concerns in her teacher-research studies with 10th-grade biology students. Three main
aspects of a semester-long human genetics course were examined: (1) a unit focusing on
prenatal testing for genetic conditions, (2) a set of imaginary cases posed to individual
students during interviews, and (3) students writing and classroom talk concerning the role
of science in society. During the instructional unit on the subject of prenatal tests, the girls
in this study considered the comfort and safety of the fetus, and occasionally of the woman
carrying the fetus, as primary aspects in making decisions concerning prenatal testing. This
may have been an artifact of disincentives to discuss abortion in a high-school classroom,
especially on the teachers partdeflecting the more deeply emotional and controversial
decisions concerning abortion to those concerning prenatal tests alone. These girls explicitly
utilized the aspects of comfort and safety when arguing for their decisions as to whether
tests should be utilized in particular fictional cases, and used stories from direct personal
experience, or related those they had heard from female adults, to illustrate their points.
Boys were not studied in the prenatal testing instructional context. In the second research
context, boys and girls were presented with similar fictional cases in which they were asked
to put themselves in the place of a scientist in charge of ameliorating an urgent situation
(e.g., the imminent extinction of an endangered animal, or a town suffering from a cholera
outbreak). The small sample from this study indicated that girls put the safety and comfort
of both the suffering parties and the scientist her/himself in the forefront of their decision
making more than boys. This finding is complicated in the third portion of the study. In
writing and discussion throughout the semester, both girls and boys strongly stated that



the role of science in society was to provide cures for human diseases, to avoid disturbing
ecosystems, and, in general, to do good for the Earth and for humanity. Their passion in
this regard is also evident in preservice elementary teachers, as indicated by Cobern and
Lovings (2002) survey study.
The empathy and care demonstrated in these studies is consistent with notions of emotionbased morality and care originally conceptualized in research with women (Belenky et al.,
1986; Gilligan, 1987; Noddings, 1984). In addition, feminist critiques of science have
led to a notion that leaving emotional, political, and social influences out of scientific
decision making is not only impossible, but dangerous. Importantly, however, feminist
researchers insist that care and emotion not be assigned solely to women, as this supports
a dichotomy that equates men with rationality and women with emotion (Harding, 1998;
Hughes, 2000). Helping students to practice both of these segments of their personalities
and knowledge-making skills may be where much of the promise of feminist approaches
lies (Gilligan, 1987; Tong, 1996).
Several researchers have corroborated the importance of this perspective in the context
of SSI (Korpan et al., 1997; Sadler & Zeidler, 2004, 2005; Zeidler & Schafer, 1984). For example, Sadler and Zeidler (2005) not only concluded that individuals may rely on emotions
for the resolution of SSI, but that informal reasoning based on emotion was often equivalent
to strictly cognitive approaches to decision making in terms of logical constructs such as internal consistency and coherence. Whereas the Kohlbergian paradigm suggests that emotive
decision making represents inherently underdeveloped moral reasoning, Sadler and Zeidler
used an evaluative framework derived from argumentation and informal reasoning theory
and research (Kuhn, 1991; Toulmin, 1958) that did not discount any modes of decision making a priori. Rather, the quality of decision making was assessed based on logical criteria
of informal reasoning. Using this framework, it was concluded that evaluative distinctions
among emotive and other forms of reasoning in terms of their decision-making adequacy
were unfounded.
These findings draw attention to the importance of cultural issues and individual students
beliefs when addressing SSI in science classrooms. Particular situations are, by definition,
embedded in particular cultures and thus intertwined with particular relationships (Gruen,
1994; Plumwood, 1993). Recommendations that science education be grounded in local
community issues (Aikenhead, 1997) and in students interests (Calabrese Barton, 1998a,
1998b; Seiler, 2001) draw on the conclusion that individual students create identities through
experiences and perspectives shaped by a culturally diverse society. Here is where we find
a link between feminist and cultural perspectives, as both sets of theorists recognize personal identity as embedded in individual and social circumstances (Kozoll & Osborne,
2004). That identity shaped by culture is made clear through the worldview perspective
as developed by Cobern (1993), who states that a peoples world view provides a special
plausibility structure of ideas, activities, and values that allows one to gauge the plausibility of any assertion [emphasis in original] (p. 57). While students cultural experiences,
therefore, will certainly influence their decisions, it is also clear that personal identities are
not fixed, but vary with setting and are fashioned through students social, intellectual, and
moral growth (Hughes, 2000; Kozoll & Osborne, 2004). Kozol and Osborne (2004) offer
the intriguing possibility that science education can support students development when it
opens up the horizons from within which science and self are understood and contributes
toward the evolution of both (p. 170).
Explorations of identity, culture, and their relationships to science, while describing
personal identity as influenced by context (e.g., classroom, family, ethnic group), recognize
identity as a vehicle through which individuals interact with and explain their world. Given
this, it follows that we need research in this area to see how we might create culturally



relevant or culturally responsive pedagogy (see, e.g., Foster, 1995; Gay, 2000; Hollins &
Oliver, 1999; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Quintanar-Sarellana, 1997; Smith, 2004; Tate, 1995)
employing SSI contexts. Central to this research should be the results of SSI in teaching
science with all students, as well as further learning concerning students identities and
worldviews. In their complexity, SSI may offer multiple connections to varied interests and
belief systems, thus assisting students in creating pathways to science learning. However,
we cannot say this with certainty, as the uses of socioscientific issues per se have not been
widely examined in science classrooms with an eye to cultural and feminist perspectives.
Research in this area may provide a richer picture of moral codes and ethical perspectives,
thus supporting teachers in engaging their students in socioscientific issues.
Students possess diverse arrays of cultural experiences that necessarily contribute to the
manners in which they approach and resolve controversial issues including SSI. Worldviews and identities engendering moral choices are brought into any classroom. Therefore,
it is imperative for science educators to foster classroom environments that encourage the
expression of diverse perspectives even when those perspectives are not consistent with
traditional notions of science. In recognizing the moral nature of teaching and the fact
that students are active moral agents, it is essential for teachers to understand that their
classrooms cannot be value-free, but they certainly should be value-fair (Loving, Lowy, &
Martin, 2003).
(4) Case-Based Issues reinforce the stance that in order to develop scientifically literate
citizens, the science education community must reach beyond past STS practices which
usually do not pay explicit attention to the moral growth of the child and instead involve
students with the kinds of issues and problems to ponder that embrace both their intellect
and their sense of character. Recent studies involving example cases of genetically modified foods (Walker & Zeidler, 2003), human genetic engineering (Sadler & Zeidler, 2004;
Zohar & Nemet, 2002), animal experimentation (Simonneaux, 2001; Zeidler et al., 2002),
and environmental dilemmas (Hogan, 2002; Kolst, 2001b) provide strong support for the
efficacy of using controversial socioscientific case studies to foster critical thinking skills
and moral and ethical development. These studies strongly suggest that curricula using such
issues provide an environment where students become engaged in discourse and reflection
that affect cognitive and moral development. The essence of the strategy of using SSI has
been described as follows:
If we hope to stimulate and develop students moral reasoning abilities, then we must
provide students with rich and varied opportunities to gain and hone such skills. The present
argument rests on the assumption that using controversial SSI as a foundation for individual
consideration and group interaction provides an environment where students can and will
increase their science knowledge while simultaneously developing their critical thinking
and moral reasoning skills (Simmons & Zeidler, 2003, p. 83).

Similarly, other researchers have developed (or modified existing) protocols that have addressed the implementation of case-based issues in science classrooms. Pedretti (2003) has
had successful experiences with preservice teachers who embraced the idea of incorporating
SSI via STSE in the curriculum. Using Ratcliffes (1997) model as an organizational framework has allowed Pedrettis (2003, p. 231) students to develop their own decision-making
models for pedagogy outcomes and includes
1. OptionsIdentify alternative courses of action for an issue;
2. CriteriaDevelop suitable criteria for comparing alternative actions;
3. InformationClarify general and scientific knowledge/evidence for criteria;



4. SurveyEvaluate pros/cons of each alternative against criteria selected;

5. ChoiceMake a decision based on the analysis undertaken;
6. ReviewEvaluate decision-making process identifying feasible improvements.
Keefer (2003) has reported the results of using case studies with undergraduate and
graduate science students and has noted that the values of the domain of concern for the
issue, rather than gender or a general disposition for a particular moral orientation (contra
Gilligan), accounted for differences in students reasoning. His work examined ethical
care responses in professional contexts and led to an empirically derived model for decision making in practical contexts using moral case issues. Keefers (2003, p. 253) model
entails the following:

identify the moral issues at stake;

identify the relevant knowledge and unknown facts in a problem;
offer a resolution;
provide a justification;
consider alternative scenarios that argue for different conclusions;
identify and evaluate moral consequences;
offer alternative resolution.

This moral heuristic has been used successfully in the analysis of engineering ethics case
studies for professionals and is strikingly similar to the six-component model described
above. Keefer makes it clear in his analysis that ethical instruction is most successful
when it is integrated into those authentic contexts that will subsequently be practiced by
Another complementary approach to case-based SSI provides a more explicit critical
examination of students personal interests and values as they provide arguments that evaluate scientific knowledge claims. Kolst (2000) reports on a consensus project model used
mainly with upper secondary science students which emphasizes that scientific knowledge
is formulated by consensus building via critical discourse among (competent) peers. The
major premise of the consensus approach is that a general knowledge of the human nature and limitations of scientific claims is needed to place scientific statements in adequate
terms so consensus decisions regarding SSI can be achieved. Necessarily broad in nature,
consensus projects tend to have four key attributes (Kolst, 2000, p. 652):
1. Presentation and defense of data/conclusions against possible opposition from the
teacher and fellow students with a goal toward consensus of issues;
2. Views of professionals and nonprofessionals are solicited on a particular socioscientific issue so balanced recommendations can be formulated and passed on to politicians and/or policy-makers;
3. Students search for a common conclusion on which they can all agree while seeking
input from experts defined as anyone with relevant knowledge exceeding general
4. Students write a report containing their assessments and conclusions, which is made
available to the public and politicians and/or policy-makers.
Such an approach no doubt places great demands on the teacher whose role is that of a
counselor, consultant and critic, as well as an expeditor. Students realize from the onset that
their positions will be challenged and met with critical appraisal in the process of consensus



A last approach worth consideration in terms of the professional development of secondary preservice teachers is described by Loving, Lowy, and Martin (2003) where a science methods course has built-in explicit case studies related to professional codes of ethics.
While the focus is on teaching and learning with respect to academic freedom, the cases are
situated in real science classroom contexts. The authors note that preservice science teachers require practice in making decisions with ethical repercussions, and having explicit
opportunities to engage in moral and ethical discourse is central to the development of the
ethical teacher. Questions such as What are your immediate moral intuitions and stirrings
about this case? and Are you experiencing any conflicting moral feelings as you think
about this case? provided students with the opportunity to frame an issue and access it in a
manner consistent with the kind of valid forms of informal reasoning students used to construe SSI found by Sadler and Zeidler (in press). While the focus for Sadler and Zeidler was
not on teacher education, the college students in their study (both science and nonscience majors) reacted to and made decisions about multiple scenarios involving genetic engineering
by displaying rationalistic, emotive, and intuitive informal reasoning patterns. Rationalistic
forms of reasoning have typically been fostered and honored in science classrooms. However, the fact that students also use emotive and intuitive forms of reasoning in making
decisions about SSI suggests that relational perspectives based on empathy and care, and
initial gut level reactions where a sense of conscience is invoked, is a reasonable means
to interpret and negotiate difficult moral dilemmas. As educators, we need to value students thinking, thereby providing them with opportunities to become personally engaged in
From these perspectives, socioscientific issues may be equated with the consideration
of ethical issues and construction of moral judgments about scientific topics via social
interaction and discourse. Students will be confronted with multiple perspectives to moral
problems that inherently involve discrepant viewpoints and information, sometimes at odds
with their own closely held beliefs. The joint construction of scientific knowledge that is
at once personally relevant and socially shared therefore relies on exposure to, and careful
analysis of, cases involving considerations of data, evidence, and argumentation that may
be in conflict with ones existing conceptions regarding various socioscientific moral and
ethical issues.
As the cases described above help to illustrate, the SSI approach represents a reconstruction and evolution of the STS model that provides a means to not only address societal
implications of science and technology, but also to tap into students personal philosophies
and belief systems. As constructivist-learning theory suggests, each students knowledge is
built as a result of the combination of all influences, be they external or internal. Where STS
fails to overtly consider the epistemological foundations, moral and ethical development,
and emotional aspects of learning science, SSI specifically targets these essential personal
aspects of learning. The STS approach served to convince the educational community that
science, technology, and society are not isolated from each other, but did not provide a
focus that addressed the intrinsically personal nature of knowledge and belief about science. By addressing the moral, ethical, emotional, and epistemological development of the
student, the SSI approach provides a nexus that unites the various forces contributing to
the development of scientific knowledge. The introduction of case-based socioscientific
issues represents a pedagogical strategy addressing not only the sociological but also the
psychological ramifications of curriculum and classroom discourse. A major strength of
the SSI approach therefore lies in its unification power, where the major forces resulting in



the construction of personal knowledge are simultaneously addressed in planned pedagogy

based on a sound theoretical framework.
Neo-Kohlbergian research has led those concerned with moral reasoning to realize that
simply possessing the reasoning competence to make decisions consistent with available
structure does not ensure performance at that level across all contexts. Kohlberg came
to realize and accept this toward the end of his research (Colby & Kohlberg, 1987),
and other researchers have confirmed the lack of coherence between the ability to form
higher moral judgments and the likelihood of exercising that reasoning in varied contexts
(Carbendale & Krebs, 1992; Wark & Krebs, 1996). With the keen interest in recent years of
couching science in real-world problems, this point becomes increasingly important. SSI
by their very nature occur in a world where the ceteris paribus conditions are unlikely to
be met. All things are not equal, and in fact, are a bit messier in most social settings and
during deliberative contexts where competing interests obfuscate principled rules or acts.
If we are to use socioscientific issues as a basis for science curriculum, we will be
placing scientific knowledge and its uses squarely within our and our students social,
political, and cultural lives. We acknowledge science as a human production, and we recognize its role in a society that is less than perfect, but strives toward (at least in some of
its ongoing streams) morality of a sort that values equity and justice for all. As Goodlad
(2003) writes, If our moral ecology encompasses equality and social justice, and if we
want that moral ecology to guide our society, then equality and social justice must be
taughtcarefully taught (p. 19). Science educators can look to scholarship in intercultural education to help us think about the role that socioscientific issues can play in helping students develop morally as well as cognitively. According to Endicott, Bock, and
Narvaez (2002), encountering multiple frameworks should be an effective way of enhancing both moral and intercultural schemas, thereby facilitating more advanced ethical
and intercultural problem solving and attitudes (p. 2). Cultural differences may imply
ethical disagreements, and in our pluralistic society, these are things that our students
need to learn about, and practice negotiating, within and without familiar settings and
situations. Socioscientific issues provide engaging and complex contexts for such work.
Perhaps an even loftier goal for SSI education is the mobilization of students who will
take action based on their newly acquired understandings of science and its ramifications. In a dramatic call for an intentionally politicized approach to science education,
Hodson (2003) promotes an issue-based curriculum that is . . . intended to produce activists: people who will fight for what is right, good and just; people who will work to
re-fashion society along more socially-just lines; people who will work vigorously in the
best interests of the biosphere (Hodson, 2003, p. 645). Whether the development and
implementation of SSI curriculum will result in the production of individuals who will
be sociopolitically active remains to be seen; however, students exposed to such issues
will be more likely to consider the moral, political, and environmental aspects of political
Students who are able to carefully consider SSI and make reflective decisions regarding
those issues may be said to have acquired a degree of functional scientific literacy. Accordingly, these individuals may cultivate a positive skepticism concerning the ontological
status of scientific knowledge. Their decisions ought to be tempered by an awareness of
the cultural factors that guide and generate knowledge. Perhaps most importantly, their
decisions should not occur in a vacuum. If educators structure the learning environment
properly, then opportunities for the epistemological growth of knowledge as fostered by the
SSI framework will help students recognize that the decisions we all face involve consequences for the quality of social discourse and interaction among human beings, and our
stewardship of the physical and biological world. Moreover, if we as science educators



wish to cultivate future citizens and leaders who care, serve the community, and provide
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