Research in Science Education

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 253–274 | Cite as

A Pedagogical Model for Ethical Inquiry into Socioscientific Issues In Science

  • Kathryn J. SaundersEmail author
  • Léonie J. Rennie


Internationally there is concern that many science teachers do not address socioscientific issues (SSI) in their classrooms, particularly those that are controversial. However with increasingly complex, science-based dilemmas being presented to society, such as cloning, genetic screening, alternative fuels, reproductive technologies and vaccination, there is a growing call for students to be more scientifically literate and to be able to make informed decisions on issues related to these dilemmas. There have been shifts in science curricula internationally towards a focus on scientific literacy, but research indicates that many secondary science teachers lack the support and confidence to address SSI in their classrooms. This paper reports on a project that developed a pedagogical model that scaffolded teachers through a series of stages in exploring a controversial socioscientific issue with students and supported them in the use of pedagogical strategies and facilitated ways of ethical thinking. The study builds on existing frameworks of ethical thinking. It presents an argument that in today’s increasingly pluralistic society, these traditional frameworks need to be extended to acknowledge other worldviews and identities. Pluralism is proposed as an additional framework of ethical thinking in the pedagogical model, from which multiple identities, including cultural, ethnic, religious and gender perspectives, can be explored.


Socioscientific issues Ethical thinking Pedagogical model Pluralism Scientific literacy 


  1. Aikenhead, G. (1994). Consequences to learning science through STS: A research perspective. In J. Solomon & G. Aikenhead (Eds.), STS Education: International perspectives on reform (pp. 169–186). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  2. Aikenhead, G. (2000). STS Science in Canada: From policy to student evaluation. In D. Kumar & D. Chubin (Eds.), Science, technology and society: A source book on research and practice (pp. 49–89). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aikenhead, G. (2001). Science communication with the public. In S. M. Stocklmayer, M. Gore, & C. Bryant (Eds.), Communicating in theory and practice (pp. 23–45). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aikenhead, G. (2002). Cross-cultural science teaching: Rekindling traditions for aboriginal students. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 2, 287–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aikenhead, G. (2006). Science education for everyday life. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  6. Allchin, D. (1991). Dissecting classroom ethics: Teaching philosophy in science. The Science Teacher, 58(1), 44–49.Google Scholar
  7. Allchin, D. (1999). Values in science: An educational perspective. Science and Education, 8, 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Applebaum, S., Barker, B., & Pinzino, D. (2006, April). Socioscientific issues as context for conceptual understanding of content. Paper presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, San Francisco, CA.Google Scholar
  9. Baggott la Velle, L., Brawn, R., McFarlane, A., & John, P. (2004). According to the promises: The subculture of school science, teachers’ pedagogical identity and the challenge of ICT. Education, Communication and Information, 4(1), 109–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Barab, S., Sadler, T., Heiselt, C., Hickey, D., & Zuiker, S. (2007). Relating narrative, inquiry, and inscriptions: A framework for socioscientific inquiry. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36, 239–253.Google Scholar
  11. Bartholomew, J., Osborne, J., & Ratcliffe, M. (2004). Teaching students ‘Ideas-about-Science’: Five dimensions of effective practice. Science Education, 88, 655–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bauman, Z. (1994). Postmodern ethics. Blackwell: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Beauchamp, T., & Childress, J. (1983). Principles of biomedical ethics, 3rd edn. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Beauchamp, T., & Childress, J. (2008). Principles of biomedical ethics, 6th edn. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Berkowitz, M., & Simmons, P. (2003). Integrating science education and character education. In D. Zeidler (Ed.), The role of moral reasoning on socioscientific issues and discourse in science education (pp. 117–138). Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Brickhouse, N. (2001). Embodying science: A feminist perspective on learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 282–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Burnham, M., & Mitchell, R. (1992). Bioethics—an introduction. Retrieved April 11, 2004, from Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute:
  18. Burns, R. (2000). Introduction to research methods, 2 edn. Cheshire: Longmans.Google Scholar
  19. Bybee, R. (1997). Achieving scientific literacy: From purposes to practical action. Portsmouth: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  20. Cajas, F. (1999). Public understanding of science: Using technology to enhance school science in everyday life. International Journal of Science Education, 21, 765–763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Carter, S. (1996). Integrity. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  22. Cobern, W., & Loving, C. (2000). Defining “science” in a multicultural world: Implications for science education. Science Education, 85, 50–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Conner, L. (2002). Learning about social and ethical issues in a biology class. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Monash UniversityGoogle Scholar
  24. Davies, I. (2004). Science and citizenship education. International Journal of Science Education, 26, 1751–1763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dawson, V. (2001). Addressing controversial issues in secondary school science. Australian Science Teachers Journal, 47(4), 38–44.Google Scholar
  26. Dawson, V. (2007). An exploration of high school (12–17 year old) students’ understandings of, and attitudes towards, biotechnology processes. Research in Science Education, 37, 59–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dawson, V., & Taylor, P. (1999). Teaching bioethics in science: Does it make a difference? Australian Science Teachers Journal, 45(1), 59–64.Google Scholar
  28. Dearden, R. (1981). Controversial issues in the curriculum. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 13, 37–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Driver, R., Newton, P., & Osborne, J. (2000). Establishing the norms of scientific argumentation in classrooms. Science Education, 84, 287–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fensham, P. (2002). Time to change drivers for scientific literacy. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 1, 9–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fien, J., & Fien-Williamson, J. (1996). Global perspectives in studies of society and environment. In R. Gilbert (Ed.), Studying society and environment: A handbook for teachers (pp. 125–140). Melbourne: MacMillian.Google Scholar
  32. Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Goldfarb, T., & Pritchard, M. (2000). Ethics in the science classroom: An instructional guide for secondary school science teachers with model lessons for classroom use. Retrieved April 11, 2006, from
  34. Goodrum, D., Hackling, M., & Rennie, L. (2001). The status and quality of teaching and learning of science in Australian schools. A research report prepared for the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs.Google Scholar
  35. Hall, E. (1998). Science education and social responsibility. School Science Review, 81(295), 14–16.Google Scholar
  36. Hand, B., Alvermann, D., Gee, J., Guzzetti, B., Norris, S., Phillips, L., et al. (2003). Message from the “Island Group”: What is scientific literacy? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40, 607–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hildebrand, G. (2007). Diversity, values and the science curriculum. In D. Corrigan, J. Dillon, & R. Gunstone (Eds.), The re-emergence of values in science education (pp. 45–60). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  38. Hitchcock, G., & Hughes, D. (1995). Research and the teacher, 2nd edn. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: Science education for an alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 645–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hodson, D. (2008). Towards a scientific literacy: A teachers’ guide to the history, philosophy and sociology of science. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  41. Hodson, D. (2009). Teaching and learning about science: Language, theories, methods, history, traditions and values. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Jarvis, S., Hickford, J., & Conner, L. (1998). Biodecisions. Lincoln: Crop and Food.Google Scholar
  43. Keefer, M. (2003). Moral reasoning and case-based approaches to ethical instruction in science. In D. Zeidler (Ed.), The role of moral reasoning on socioscientific issues and discourse in science education (pp. 241–260). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kolstø, S. (2000). Consensus projects: Teaching science for citizenship. International Journal of Science Education, 6, 645–664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kolstø, S. (2001). Scientific literacy for citizenship: Tools for dealing with the science dimension of controversial socioscientific issues. Science Education, 85, 291–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  47. Lemke, J. (2001). Articulating communities: Sociocultural perspectives on science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38, 296–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Levinson, R. (2001). Should controversial issues in science be taught through the humanities? School Science Review, 82(300), 97–102.Google Scholar
  49. Levinson, R. (2003). Teaching ethics to young people. In R. Levinson & M. Reiss (Eds.), Key issues in bioethics (pp. 3–13). London: Routledge Falmer.Google Scholar
  50. Levinson, R., & Reiss, M. (2003). Key issues in bioethics. London: Routledge Falmer.Google Scholar
  51. Levinson, R., & Turner, S. (2001). Valuable lessons: Engaging with the social context of science in schools. London: The Wellcome Trust.Google Scholar
  52. Lock, R., & Ratcliffe, M. (1998). Learning about social and ethical applications of science. In M. Ratcliffe (Ed.), ASE Guide to secondary science education (pp. 109–117). Cheltenham, UK: Stanley Thorne.Google Scholar
  53. Lyons, T. (2006). Different countries, same science classes. Students’ experiences of school science in their own words. International Journal of Science Education, 28, 591–613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mastropieri, M., & Scruggs, T. (1992). Science for students with disabilities. Review of Educational Research, 62, 377–412.Google Scholar
  55. McGinnis, J. (2000). Teaching science as inquiry for students with disabilities. In J. Minstrell & E. van Zee (Eds.), Inquirying in to inquiry learning and teaching in science (pp. 425–433). Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science.Google Scholar
  56. McGregor, D. (2004). Coming full circle: Indigenous knowledge, environment and our future. American Indian Quarterly, 28, 385–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Miles, M., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  58. Morris, L. (1994). Bioethical dilemmas: Decision-making and the Human Genome Project. The Science Teacher, 61(2), 39–41.Google Scholar
  59. Noddings, N. (1992). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  60. Ogunniyi, M. (2007). Teachers’ stances and practical arguments regarding a science-indigenous knowledge curriculum: Part 2. International Journal of Science Education, 29, 1189–1207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Osborne, J. (2006). Towards a science education for all: The role of ideas, evidence and argument. Proceedings of Boosting science learning—what will it take? Research Conference (pp. 2–5). Canberra, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research.Google Scholar
  62. Osborne, J., & Dillon, J. (2008). Science education in Europe: Critical reflections. London: The Nuffield Fundation.Google Scholar
  63. Oulton, C., Dillon, J., & Grace, M. (2004). Reconceptualising the teaching of controversial issues. International Journal of Science Education, 26, 411–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pedretti, E. (1996). Facilitating action research in science, technology and society (STS) education: an experience in reflective practice. Education Action Research, 4, 307–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Pedretti, E. (2003). Teaching science, technology and society and environment (STSE) education. In D. Zeidler (Ed.), The role of moral reasoning on SSI and discourse in science education, science and technology education (pp. 219–240). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  66. Pedretti, E., & Hodson, D. (1995). From rhetoric to action: Implementing STS education through action research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32, 463–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pedretti, E., & Little, C. (2008). From engagement to empowerment: Reflections in science education. Toronto: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  68. Ratcliffe, M., & Grace, M. (2003). Science education for citizenship: Teaching socio-scientific issues. Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Reiss, M. (1993). Science education for a pluralist society. Bristol: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Reiss, M. (1999). Teaching ethics in science. Studies in Science Education, 34, 115–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Reiss, M. (2003). How we reach ethical conclusions. In R. Levinson & M. Reiss (Eds.), Key issues in bioethics (pp. 14–23). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  72. Reiss, M. (2006). Teacher education and the new biology. Teaching Education, 17, 121–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Reiss, M. (2007). In D. Corrigan, J. Dillon, & R. Gunstone (Eds.), The re-emergence of values in science education (pp. 13–28). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  74. Rennie, L. (2005). Science awareness and scientific literacy. Teaching Science, 51(1), 10–14.Google Scholar
  75. Roberts, D. (2007). Scientific literacy/Science literacy. In S. Abell & N. Lederman (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 729–780). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  76. Roth, W., & Barton, A. (2004). Rethinking scientific literacy. London: Routledge Falmer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Roth, W., & Lee, S. (2002). Scientific literacy as collective praxis. Public Understanding of Science, 11, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Sadler, T. (2004). Informal reasoning regarding socioscientific issues: A critical review of research. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41, 513–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sadler, T. (2008). Socioscientific issues in science education: labels, reasoning, and transfer. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 4(3), 697–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sadler, T., & Zeidler, D. (2004). The morality of socio-scientific issues: Construal and resolution of genetic engineering dilemmas. Science Education, 88, 4–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Sadler, T., Barab, S., & Scott, B. (2007). What do students gain by engaging in socio-scientific inquiry? Research in Science Education, 37, 371–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Saunders, K. (2009). Engaging with controversial science issues—a professional learning programme for secondary science teachers in New Zealand. Unpublished doctoral thesis, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia.Google Scholar
  83. Schwarzt, T. (2007). Chemistry education, scientific literacy and the liberal arts. Journal of Chemical Education, 84(11), 1750–1756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Settelmaier, E. (2003). Dilemmas with dilemmas: Exploring the suitability of dilemma stories as a way of addressing ethical issues in science education. Paper presented at the annual meeting of National Association of Research in Science Teaching. Philadeplhia, PAGoogle Scholar
  85. Sherborne, T. (2004). Immediate inspiration: Ready-made resources for teaching ethics. School Science Review, 86(315), 67–72.Google Scholar
  86. Simonneaux, L. (2001). Role-play or debate to promote students’ argumentation or justification on an issue in animal transgenesis. International Journal of Science Education, 23, 903–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Snively, G. (2004). Graduate program in environment and First Nations education. Victoria: University of Victoria. Unpublished document prepared for the Faculty of Education.Google Scholar
  88. Snively, G., & Corsiglia, J. (2001). Discovering indigenous science: Implications for science education. Science Education, 85, 6–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Stake, R. (1997). The art of case study research. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  90. Stenhouse, L. (1970). Curriculum research and development in action. London: Heinemann Educational Books.Google Scholar
  91. Stradling, B. (1985). Controversial issues in the curriculum. Bulletin of Environmental Education, 170, 9–13.Google Scholar
  92. Tsai, C. (2000). The effects of STS-oriented instruction on female tenth graders’cognitive structure outcomes and the role of student scientific epistemological beliefs. International Journal Of Science Education, 22, 1099–1115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Tytler, R. (2007). Re-imaging science education: Engaging students in science for Australia’s future (Report prepared for the Australian Council for Educational Research). Retrieved November 20, 2007 from
  94. Van Rooy, W. (2000). Controversial issues within biology: enriching biology teaching. Australian Science Teachers’ Journal, 46(1), 20–27.Google Scholar
  95. Van Rooy, W. (2004). Bringing controversial issues into science teaching. In G. Venville & V. Dawson (Eds.), The art of science teaching (pp. 194–208). Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  96. Wellington, J. (2004). Ethics and citizenship in science education: Now is the time to jump off the fence. School Science Review, 86(315), 33–38.Google Scholar
  97. Willmott, C., & Willis, D. (2008). The increasing significance of ethics in the bioscience curriculum. Journal of Biological Education, 42, 99–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Yager, R. (1998). STS challenges for accomplishing educational reform: The need for solving learning problems. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 18, 315–326.Google Scholar
  99. Yin, R. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  100. Zeidler, D. (1997). The role of fallacious thinking in science education. Science Education, 81, 483–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Zeidler, D. (2003). The role of moral reasoning on socioscientific issues and discourse in science education. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Zeidler, D., & Keefer, M. (2003). The role of moral reasoning and the status of socioscientific issues and discourse in science education. In D. Zeidler (Ed.), The role of moral reasoning and the status of socioscientific issues and discourse in science education (pp. 7–38). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Zeidler, D., & Sadler, T. (2008). Social and ethical issues in science education: A prelude to action. Science and Education, 17(8), 799–803.Google Scholar
  104. Zeidler, D., Walker, K., Ackett, W., & Simmons, M. (2002). Tangled up in views: beliefs in the nature of science and responses to socioscientific dilemmas. Science Education, 86, 343–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Zeidler, D., Sadler, T., Simmons, M., & Howes, E. (2005). Beyond STS; a research based framework for socioscientific issues education. Science Education, 89, 357–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Curtin University of TechnologyPerthAustralia

Personalised recommendations