Research in Science Education

, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 687–708 | Cite as

Developing Students’ Futures Thinking in Science Education

  • Alister JonesEmail author
  • Cathy Buntting
  • Rose Hipkins
  • Anne McKim
  • Lindsey Conner
  • Kathy Saunders


Futures thinking involves a structured exploration into how society and its physical and cultural environment could be shaped in the future. In science education, an exploration of socio-scientific issues offers significant scope for including such futures thinking. Arguments for doing so include increasing student engagement, developing students’ values discourse, fostering students’ analytical and critical thinking skills, and empowering individuals and communities to envisage, value, and work towards alternative futures. This paper develops a conceptual framework to support teachers’ planning and students’ futures thinking in the context of socio-scientific issues. The key components of the framework include understanding the current situation, analysing relevant trends, identifying drivers, exploring possible and probable futures, and selecting preferable futures. Each component is explored at a personal, local, national, and global level. The framework was implemented and evaluated in three classrooms across Years 4–12 (8 to 16-year olds) and findings suggest it has the potential to support teachers in designing engaging science programmes in which futures thinking skills can be developed.


Classroom research Futures thinking Primary Secondary Socio-scientific issues Teacher professional learning 



This work was part of a larger project (McKim et al. 2006) funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Research, Science and Technology.


  1. Amara, R. (1981). The futures field: searching for definitions and boundaries. Futures, 15(2), 25–29.Google Scholar
  2. Barnett, R. (2004). Learning for an unknown future. Higher Education Research & Development, 23(3), 247–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bassey, M. (1999). Case study research in educational settings. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bell, W. (1996). An overview of futures studies. In R. Slaughter (Ed.), The knowledge base of futures studies: Foundations (pp. 28–56). Hawthorn: DDM Media.Google Scholar
  5. Biotechnology Learning Hub. (2006). Robotic milking. Retrieved April 22, 2009, from
  6. Burton, L. (2005). The fascinating future: futures studies—past, present, and future. Futures Research Quarterly, 21(1), 69–74.Google Scholar
  7. Cabinet Office. (n.d.). The future and how to think about it. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from
  8. Capra, F. (2002). The hidden connections: Integrating the biological, cognitive, and social dimensions of life into a science of sustainability. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  9. Carr, M. (2004). Key competencies/skills and attitudes: A theoretical framework. Background paper prepared for the Ministry of Education. Hamilton: University of Waikato.Google Scholar
  10. Carter, L., & Smith, C. (1997). Educators’ views of the future. Proceedings of the XV World Futures Studies Federation conference. Brisbane: University of Queensland.Google Scholar
  11. Carter, L., & Smith, C. (2003). Re-visioning science education from a science studies and future perspective. Journal of Future Studies, 7(4), 45–54.Google Scholar
  12. Coates, J. (1996). An overview of futures methods. In R. Slaughter (Ed.), The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, Volume 2: Organisations, Practices, Products (Vol. 2). Hawthorn, Victoria: DDM Media Group.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education (5th ed.). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. Cambridge: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  15. Conner, L. (2003). The importance of developing critical thinking in issues education. New Zealand Biotechnology Association Journal, 56, 58–71.Google Scholar
  16. Conner, L. (2010). In the classroom: Approaches to bioethics for senior students. In A. Jones, A. McKim, & M. Reiss (Eds.), Ethics in the science and technology classroom. A new approach to teaching and learning (pp. 55–67). Rotterdam: Sense.Google Scholar
  17. Cornish, E. (1977). The study of the future. An introduction to the art and science of understanding and shaping tomorrow’s world. Bethesda: World Futures Society.Google Scholar
  18. Department of Education Training and Employment. (2001). South Australian curriculum, standards and accountability framework. Adelaide: DETE.Google Scholar
  19. DERA. (2001). Strategic futures thinking: Meta-analysis of published material on drivers and trends. London: Performance and Innovation Unit, Cabinet Office.Google Scholar
  20. Dror, Y. (1996). Futures studies for contemplation and action. In R. Slaughter (Ed.), The knowledge base of futures studies, Volume 3: Directions and outlooks (pp. 85–86). Hawthorn: DDM Media.Google Scholar
  21. Eames, M., Berkhout, F., Hertin, J., & Hawkins, R. (2000). E-topia? Contextual scenarios for digital futures. Final report. (Brighton, UK: Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Sussex) Retrieved October 1, 2010, from
  22. Ellyard, P. (1992, July). Education for the 21st Century. (Address to the New Zealand Principals Federation conference, Christchurch, New Zealand).Google Scholar
  23. Engeström, Y. (1999). Activity theory and individual and social transformation. In Y. Engeström, R. Miettenen, & R.-L. Punamaki (Eds.), Perspectives on activity theory (pp. 323–347). Cambridge: Cambridge University.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fensham, P. J. (1988). Approaches to the teaching of STS in science education. International Journal of Science Education, 10(4), 346–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fensham, P. (2007, July). Policy issues for science education. (Discussion paper presented at the World Conference on Science and Technology Education. Perth, Australia).Google Scholar
  26. Guindon, G. E., & Boisclair, D. (2003). Past, current and future trends in tobacco use. HNP Discussion Paper 6. Retrieved July 31, 2009, from,%20current-%20whole.pdf.
  27. Haas, J., Hendrickson, I., Johnson, J., LaRue, R., Miller, B., & Schukar, R. (1987). Teaching about the future: Tools, topics and issues. ERIC Document Reproductive Series No. ED 288 769. Denver: Centre for Teaching International Relations.Google Scholar
  28. Hicks, D. (1994). Education for the future: A practical classroom guide. Godalming: World Wide Fund for Nature.Google Scholar
  29. Hipkins, R. (2009). Complex or complicated change? What might biology education learn from disciplinary biology? New Zealand Science Teacher, 122, 33–35.Google Scholar
  30. Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: science education for an alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6), 645–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hodson, D. (2009). Technology in science-technology-society-environment (STSE) education: Introductory remarks. In A. T. Jones & M. J. de Vries (Eds.), International handbook of research and development in technology education (pp. 267–273). Rotterdam: Sense.Google Scholar
  32. Jarvis, S. H., Hickford, J., & Conner, L. (1998). Biodecisions. Lincoln: Crop and Food.Google Scholar
  33. Jensen, B. B., & Schnack, K. (2006). The action competence approach in environmental education. Environmental Education Research, 12(3–4), 471–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers though society. Cambridge: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  35. Lloyd, D., & Wallace, J. (2004). Imaging the future of science education: the case for making futures studies explicit in student learning. Studies in Science Education, 40, 139–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Maxwell, S. (1998). Where will the world be in 2015? Analysis of trends and discontinuities. A paper prepared for CARE UK. London: Overseas Development Institute.Google Scholar
  37. McKim, A., Buntting, C., Conner, L., Hipkins, R., Milne, L., Saunders, K., et al. (2006). Research and development of a biofutures approach for biotechnology education. Report commissioned by The Ministry of Research, Science & Technology. (Hamilton, New Zealand: Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, University of Waikato).Google Scholar
  38. Miettinen, R. (2001). Artifacts mediation in Dewey and in cultural-historical activity theory. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 8, 297–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.Google Scholar
  40. Ministry of Research, Science & Technology [MoRST]. (2003). New Zealand Biotechnology Strategy. (Wellington, New Zealand: MoRST) Retrieved July 31, 2009, from
  41. MoRST. (2005). Futurewatch: Biotechnologies to 2025. (Wellington, New Zealand: MoRST) Retrieved July 31, 2009, from
  42. MoRST. (2006). Futurewatch: Stem cell research in New Zealand. (Wellington, New Zealand: MoRST) Retrieved July 31, 2009, from
  43. MoRST. (2009). Futurewatch: The economy, the environment and opportunities for New Zealand. (Wellington, New Zealand: MoRST) Retrieved July 31, 2009, from
  44. Osborne, J., & Collins, S. (2000). Pupils’ and parents’ views of the school science curriculum. School Science Review, 82(298), 23–31.Google Scholar
  45. Osborne, J., Ratcliffe, M., Collins, S., Millar, R., & Duschl, R. (2001). What should we teach about science? A Delphi study. Retrieved March 1, 2011, from
  46. Otrel-Cass, K., Unterbruner, L., Eames, C., Keown, P., Harlow, A., & Goddard, H. (2009, September). Young people’s hopes and fears for the future environment: A three country study—Austria, Germany and New Zealand. Paper presented to the European Education Research Association Conference. Vienna.Google Scholar
  47. Paige, K., Lloyd, D., & Chartres, M. (2008). Moving towards transdisciplinarity: an ecological sustainable focus for science and mathematics pre-service education in the primary/middle years. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 36(1), 19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Parker, M. (1990). Creating shared vision. Oak Park: DIALOG.Google Scholar
  49. Pedretti, E. (2005). STSE education: Principles and practices. In A. Alsop, L. Bencze, & E. Pedretti (Eds.), Analysing exemplary science teaching: Theoretical lenses and a spectrum of possibilities for practice (pp. 116–126). Maidenhead: Open University.Google Scholar
  50. Ratcliffe, M. (1997). Pupil decision-making about socio-scientific issues within the science curriculum. International Journal of Science Education, 19(2), 167–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rawnsley, D. (2000). A futures perspective in the school curriculum. Journal of Educational Enquiry, 1(2), 39–57.Google Scholar
  52. Robson, C. (2002). Real world research: A resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  53. Rosegrant, M., Paisner, M., Meijer, S., & Witcover, J. (2002). Global food projections to 2020: Emerging trends and alternative futures. Washington: International Food Policy Research Institute.Google Scholar
  54. Roth, W.-M. (2005). Talking science: Language and learning in science classrooms. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  55. Roth, W.-M., McGinn, M., Woszczyna, C., & Boutonne, S. (1999). Differential participation during science conversations: the interaction of focal artifacts, social configuration and physical arrangements. Journal of Learning Sciences, 8, 293–347.Google Scholar
  56. Rychen, D., & Salganik, L. (Eds.). (2003). Key competencies for a successful life and a well-functioning society. Cambridge: Hogrefe and Huber.Google Scholar
  57. Schultz, W. (2003). Infinite futures. Retrieved July 31, 2009, from
  58. Scott, D., & Morrison, M. (2006). Key ideas in educational research. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  59. Simmons, M. L., & Zeidler, D. L. (2003). Beliefs in the nature of science and responses to socioscientific issues. In D. L. Zeidler (Ed.), The role of moral reasoning on socioscientific issues and discourse in science education (pp. 81–96). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  60. Slaughter, R. (1995). Futures tools and techniques. Hawthorn: Futures Studies Centre.Google Scholar
  61. Slaughter, R. (1996). Futures studies: from individual to social capacity. Futures, 26(8), 751–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. UNESCO. (2002). Teaching and learning for a sustainable future. Retrieved July 31, 2009, from
  63. Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  64. Wertsch, J. V. (1991). Voices of the mind. A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  65. Wertsch, J. V. (1998). Mind as action. New York: Oxford University.Google Scholar
  66. Zeidler, D. L., & Nichols, B. H. (2009). Socioscientific issues: theory and practice. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 21(2), 49–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Zeidler, D. L., Sadler, T. D., Simmons, M. L., & Howes, E. V. (2005). Beyond STS: a research-based framework of socioscientific issues in education. Science Education, 89(3), 357–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alister Jones
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cathy Buntting
    • 1
  • Rose Hipkins
    • 2
  • Anne McKim
    • 1
  • Lindsey Conner
    • 3
  • Kathy Saunders
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of EducationUniversity of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand
  2. 2.New Zealand Council of Educational ResearchWellingtonNew Zealand
  3. 3.Faculty of EducationUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations