Research in Science Education

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 129–148 | Cite as

Students’ Research-Informed Socio-scientific Activism: Re/Visions for a Sustainable Future

  • Larry Bencze
  • Erin Sperling
  • Lyn Carter


In many educational contexts throughout the world, increasing focus has been placed on socio-scientific issues; that is, disagreements about potential personal, social and/or environmental problems associated with fields of science and technology. Some suggest (as do we) that many of these potential problems, such as those associated with climate change, are so serious that education needs to be oriented towards encouraging and enabling students to become citizen activists, ready and willing to take personal and social actions to reduce risks associated with the issues. Towards this outcome, teachers we studied encouraged and enabled students to direct open-ended primary (e.g., correlational studies), as well as secondary (e.g., internet searches), research as sources of motivation and direction for their activist projects. In this paper, we concluded, based on constant comparative analyses of qualitative data, that school students’ tendencies towards socio-political activism appeared to depend on myriad, possibly interacting, factors. We focused, though, on curriculum policy statements, school culture, teacher characteristics and student-generated research findings. Our conclusions may be useful to those promoting education for sustainability, generally, and, more specifically, to those encouraging activism on such issues informed by student-led research.


Socioscientific issues Student-led research Activism 


  1. Allchin, D. (2004). Should the sociology of science be rated X? Science Education, 88(6), 934–946.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angell, M. (2004). The truth about the drug companies: How they deceive us and what to do about it. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  4. Barnett, J., & Hodson, D. (2001). Pedagogical context knowledge: toward a fuller understanding of what good science teachers know. Science Education, 85(4), 426–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bell, R. L. (2004). Perusing Pandora’s Box: exploring the what, when, and how of nature of science instruction. In L. B. Flick & N. G. Lederman (Eds.), Scientific inquiry and nature of science: Implications for teaching, learning, and teacher education (pp. 427–446). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  6. Bencze, J. L. (1996). Correlational studies in school science: breaking the science-experiment-certainty connection. School Science Review, 78(282), 95–101.Google Scholar
  7. Bencze, J. L. (2000). Procedural apprenticeship in school science: constructivist enabling of connoisseurship. Science Education, 84(6), 727–739.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Beyer, L. E. (1998). Schooling for democracy: what kind? In L. E. Beyer & M. W. Apple (Eds.), The curriculum: Problems, politics, and possibilities (pp. 245–263). Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), The handbook of theory: Research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  10. Buxton, C. A. (2006). Creating contextually authentic science in a “Low-Performing” urban elementary school. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(7), 695–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Callon, M. (1999). The role of lay people in the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge. Science, Technology & Society, 4(1), 81–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carr, W., & Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming critical: Education, knowledge and action research. Lewes: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  13. Carter, L. (2005). Globalisation and science education: rethinking science education reforms. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(5), 561–580.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Charmaz, K. (2000). Grounded theory: objectivist and constructivist methods. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 509–535). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Dawson, V. M., & Venville, G. (2010). Teaching strategies for developing students’ argumentation skills about socio-scientific issues in high school genetics. Research in Science Education, 40(2), 133–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. dos Santos, W. L. P. (2009). Scientific literacy: a Freirean perspective as a radical view of humanistic science education. Science Education, 93(2), 361–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fensham, P. J. (1993). Academic influence on school science curricula. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 25(1), 53–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fuller, S. (2002). Social epistemology (2nd ed.). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1988). Naturalistic and rationalistic enquiry. In J. P. Keeves (Ed.), Educational research, methodology and measurement: An international handbook (pp. 81–85). London: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: science education for an alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 645–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hodson, D. (2008). Towards scientific literacy: A teachers’ guide to the history, philosophy and sociology of science. Rotterdam: Sense.Google Scholar
  22. Khishfe, R., & Lederman, N. G. (2006). Teaching nature of science within a controversial topic: integrated versus nonintegrated. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 43(4), 395–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kleinman, D. L. (2003). Impure cultures: University biology and the world of commerce. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  24. Krimsky, S. (2003). Science in the private interest: Has the lure of profits corrupted biomedical research? Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  25. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Lawson, A. E. (2005). What is the role of induction and deduction in reasoning and scientific inquiry? Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(6), 716–740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lehrer, K. (2001). Individualism, communitarianism and consensus. The Journal of Ethics, 5(2), 105–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lester, B. T., Ma, L., Lee, O., & Lambert, J. (2006). Social activism in elementary science education: a science, technology, and society approach to teach global warming. International Journal of Science Education, 28(4), 315–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Loving, C. C. (1991). The scientific theory profile: a philosophy of science model for science teachers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28(9), 823–838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lynas, M. (2008). Six degrees: Our future on a hotter planet (updated edition). London: Harper Perennial.Google Scholar
  31. Merton, R. K. (1973). The normative structure of science. In R. K. Merton (Ed.), The sociology of science: Theoretical and empirical investigations (pp. 256–278). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  32. Ministry of Education [MoE]. (2008). The Ontario curriculum, grades 9 and 10: Science. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.Google Scholar
  33. Ministry of Education and Training [MoET]. (1999). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 and 10: Science. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.Google Scholar
  34. MoE. (2008). Reach every student: Energizing Ontario education. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.Google Scholar
  35. Nadeau, R., & Désautels, J. (1984). Epistemology and the teaching of science. A discussion paper for the Science Council of Canada (D84/2). Ottawa: Ministry of Supply and Services.Google Scholar
  36. Pedretti, E. (2003). Teaching Science, Technology, Society and Environment (STSE) education: preservice teachers’ philosophical and pedagogical landscapes. In D. Zeidler (Ed.), The role of moral reasoning and socio-scientific discourse in science education (pp. 219–239). Dortrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  37. Pouliot, C. (2009). Using the deficit model, public debate model and co-production of knowledge models to interpret points of view of students concerning citizens’ participation in socio-scientific issues. International Journal of Environmental & Science Education, 4(1), 49–73.Google Scholar
  38. Roberts, D. A. (2011). Competing visions of scientific literacy: the influence of a science curriculum policy image. In C. Linder et al. (Eds.), Exploring the landscape of scientific literacy (pp. 11–27). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Roth, W.-M. (2009). Activism or science/technology education as byproduct of capacity building. Journal for Activist Science & Technology Education, 1(1), 16–31.Google Scholar
  40. Sadler, T. D., Barab, S. A., & Scott, B. (2007). What do students gain by engaging in socio-scientific inquiry? Research in Science Education, 37(4), 371–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schlosser, E. (2001). Fast food nation: The dark side of the All-American Meal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  42. Simonneaux, L., & Simonneaux, J. (2009). Students’ socio-scientific reasoning on controversies from the viewpoint of education for sustainable development. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 4(3), 657–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tripp, P., & Muzzin, L. (Eds.) (2005). Teaching as activism: Equity meets environmentalism. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.Google Scholar
  44. van Eijck, M. (2010). Addressing the dynamics of science in curricular reform for scientific literacy: the case of genomics. International Journal of Science Education, 32(18), 2429–2449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. von Aufschnaiter, C., Erduran, S., Osborne, J., & Simon, S. (2008). Arguing to learn and learning to argue: case studies of how students’ argumentation relates to their scientific knowledge. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(1), 101–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wasser, J. D., & Bresler, L. (1996). Working in the interpretive zone: conceptualizing collaboration in qualitative research teams. Educational Researcher, 25(5), 5–15.Google Scholar
  47. Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Zeidler, D. (Ed.). (2003). The role of moral reasoning and socio-scientific discourse in science education. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  49. Zeidler, D. L., Sadler, T. D., Simmons, M. L., & Howes, E. V. (2005). Beyond STS: a research-based framework for socio-scientific issues education. Science Education, 89(3), 357–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ziman, J. (1984). An introduction to science studies: The philosophical and social aspects of science and technology. Cambridge: CUP.Google Scholar
  51. Ziman, J. (2000). Real science: What it is, and what it means. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Australian Catholic UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations