Science-Technology-Society as Reform – Robert E Yager

Science-Technology-Society (STS) has been called the current megatrend in science education (Roy, 1984). Others have called it a paradigm shift for the field of science education (Hart & Robottom, 1990). In 1980, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) called the STS the central goal for the science education in its official position statement for the 1980’s. the specific statement indictated:

The goal of science education during the 1980’s is to develop scientifically literate individuals who understand how science, technology, and society influence one another and who are able to use their knowledge in their every-day decision making. The scientifically literate person has a substantial knowledge base of facts, concepts, conceptual networks, and process skills which enable the individual to continue and learn logically. This individual both appreciates the value of science and technology in society and understands their limitations. (NSTA, 1982, p.1)

During the decade that followed, STS became the focus for two yearbooks for NSTA (Bybee, 1985; Bybee, Carlson & McCormack, 1984) and one for the Association for the Education of Teachers of Science (James, 1985.). STS sessions have become a program category for NSTA conventions. A new national organization has been formed – the National Association for Science-Technology-Society (NASTS); it has a growing membership. There have been several major NSF grants awarded to foster STS approaches to school science and related curriculum fields. Two of the largest grants have been awarded to the Pennsylvania State University which boasts of establishing one of the first STS programs in a major United States university.

The first of the major STS grants by NSF was awarded to Rustum Roy of Penn State in 1985 and supported a project called Science Through STS. The effort involved surveying STS initiatives kindergarten through college throughout the United States and other nations. Materials were collected, a newsletter was initiated, and new instructional materials developed. It was from these initiatives that NASTS was launched. A second grant has established a network for promoting STS among science and social studies leaders in all 50 states and providing a communication for STS activities.

Nearly every textbook publisher has embarked on actions to add STS materials in response to state mandates and local curriculum developments. Often industrial and private foundations have added support for specific STS projects. All indicators seem to suggest that STS indeed is a megatrend. How did it occur? How has it evolved? What is the rationale for the movement?


STS efforts were underway in several European countries before becoming a major force in the United States. Two national programs have existed in the United Kingdom for several tears; both are active and sponsored by the Association for Science Education in the United Kingdom. The first of these was Science in Society (Lewis, 1981) and the second is called Science in a Social Context (SisCon) (Solomon, 1983). SciencePlus has been a curriculum development in Canada which enjoys widespread use in most provinces in the middle schools years (Atlantic Science Curriculum Project [ASCP], 1986, 1987, 1988).

STS as a term was coined by John Ziman in his book Teaching and Learning About Science and Society (1980). Ziman identified several courses and titles and special projects which had many common features. All were concerned with a view of science in a social context – a kind of curriculum approach designed to make traditional concepts and processes found in typical science and social studies programs more appropriate and relevant to the lives of students.

There have been many attempts in the United States to initiate STS programs in the Secondary Schools. One such attempt centered at the University of Iowa in the Laboratory School in the early 1960’s. faculty from social studies and science conceived a course called "Science and Culture" which met graduation requirements in science or social studies. The course, in operation until the school closed in 1972, received a grant from the Department of Education and was the subject of a Ph.D. dissertation (Cossman, 1967) and several publications (Yager &Casteel, 1966, 1968). The research indicated that students were able to attain and retain many skills and competencies defined as science literacy. Such skills and competencies were not developed as a result of study in standard social studies or science courses.

Although the many efforts and their results were encouraging, STS did not get underway in the United States until 1981 with the report of Norris Harms’ Project Synthesis study (1977). Harms included STS as one of five areas of concern as school science programs were studied in terms of how they met criteria for excellence established by expert task forces. Project Synthesis was organized around four goal clusters which served as on basis for a variety of analyses. These goal areas offered justifications for the inclusion of science in schools and requiring it each year for ten to thirteen years. The four goal clusters are:

    1. Science for meeting personal needs. Science education should prepare individuals to use science for improving their own lives and for coping with an increasingly technological world.
    2. Science for resolving current societal issues. Science education should produce informed citizens prepared to deal responsibly with science-related societal issues.
    3. Science for assisting with career choices. Science education should give all students an awareness of the nature and scope of a wide variety of science and technology-related careers open to students of varying aptitudes and interests.
    4. Science for preparing for further study. Science education should allow students who are likely to pursue science academic knowledge appropriate for their needs.

An analysis of the three NSF status studies (Helgeson, Blosser, & Howe, 1977; Stake & Easley, 1978; Weiss, 1978) and the Third Assessment of Science by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were also basic parts of Harm’s Project Synthesis. Several findings concerning the actual state of science teaching combined to encourage more attention to STS approaches. These included:

    1. Ninety percent of all science teachers used textbooks for science instruction in excess of 90% of the time.
    2. Textbooks were devoid of any considerations of the first three goal areas (material dealing with personal needs, societal issues,, and/or career awareness).
    3. The curriculum was determined by the textbooks where variation from one anther was less than 10%.
    4. Instruction focused on textbook readings, teacher lectures, question and answer techniques and verification-type laboratories.
    5. Over 90% of the evaluation in science classes were based upon the recall of information.
    6. Teachers viewed themselves as the determiners of information to be covered and the evaluator to see what information was acquired by each student.
    7. The only goal area of concern to teachers and in evidence in schools was the fourth one, i.e., preparing students for further study of science.

Harms concluded his analysis of Project Synthesis report:

a new challenge for science education emerges. The questions is this: "Can we shift our goals, programs, and practices from the current overwhelming emphasis on academic preparation for science careers for a few students to an emphasis on preparing all students to grapple with science and technology in their own, everyday lives, as well as to participate knowledgeably in the important science-related decisions our country will have to make in the future? (Harms & Yager, 1981, p.119)

In one sense, STS efforts are seen as responses to the first three goal clusters of Project Synthesis. STS means focusing upon the personal needs of students, i.e. science concepts and process skills that are useful in the daily lives of students. It focuses upon societal issues, i.e., issues and problems in homes, schools, and communities as well as the more global problems that should concern all humankind. STS also means focusing upon the occupations and careers that are known today; it means using human resources in identifying and resolving local issues.

Evidence is mounting that concentration on the first three goal clusters (STS foci) allows one to ignore goal are a four. Students who are actively involved in studies that meet their personal needs, assist them to deal with current societal issues, and consider occupational/career awareness also find that science information is required – the same information that is widely accepted as needed preparation for further study in particular science disciplines. Students who experience their science in an STS format are well-equipped to study and learn on their own whether in college or in living outside of an educational institution.

For many, a focus on personal needs is an especially important concept for science in the elementary school. A focus on social issues and career awareness is often reserved for the middle and high school levels. When STS is viewed primarily as an approach to teaching and a meaningful view of science in the l9ves of the people, differences among the levels of teaching (i.e. kindergarten through college) becomes less significant than if STS is viewed primarily as a curriculum change.

STS is seen by many as a response to many of the perceived problems of traditional science teaching. The most critical problems with traditional science teaching are:

    1. Students generally cannot use the science (either concepts or processes) that they learn. The number of misconceptions that typical high school students have is large, and the misconceptions that the most successful students have is shocking. For example, recent reports indicate that 80% of the university physics majors have misconceptions of nature even though they recite contrary information and can perform, exercises in the laboratory which contradict their own views of the world (Champagn & Klopfer, 1984). As many as 90% of engineering majors cannot relate their preparation to the real world (Mestre &Lochhead, 1990).
    2. Well over 90% of all high school graduates do not attain scientific literacy even though they pass courses and generally do well (Miller, Suchner, & Voelker, 1980). Science instruction does not seem to produce persons with traits of scientific literacy which are deemed important – perhaps the fundamental goal of instruction (see quote from 1982 NSTA Position Statement in the opening paragraph).
    3. Interest in science and further study of science declines across the K-12 years.. In fact, positive attitudes about science, science classes, science teachers, and the usefulness of science to living declines the more science is studied in school (ETS, 1988; Hueftle, Rakow &Welch, 1983; NAEP, 1978; Yager & Penick, 1986).
    4. Creativity is central to basic science from the questions asked of nature, the explanation offered, and the tests devised to determine the validity of such explanations. Yet the study of typical science results in a diminution of the creativity skills originally possessed. Typically science instructions causes students to be less curious, less prone to offer explanations, less able to devise tests, and less able to predict causes and consequences of certain actions. (Educational Testing Service [ETS], 1988; Yager & Penick, 1986).
    5. There is no evidence that traditional science teaching results in persons who possess the traits which characterize a scientifically literate person. In July of 1990, NSTA approved a new listing of the characteristics of a person who is scientifically literate. Such a person:

uses concepts of science and of technology and ethical values in solving everyday problems and making responsible everyday decisions in everyday life, including work and leisure

engages in responsible personal and civic actions after weighing the possible consequences of alternative options

defends decisions and actions using rational arguments based on evidence

engages in science and technology for the excitement and the explanations they provide

displays curiosity about and appreciation of the natural and human-made world

applies skepticism, careful methods, logical reasoning, and creativity in investigating the observable universe

values scientific research and technological problem solving

locates, collects, analyzes, and evaluates sources of scientific and technological information and uses these sources in solving problems, making decisions, and taking actions

distinguishes between scientific/technological evidence and personal opinion and between reliable and unreliable information

remains open to new evidence and the tentativeness of scientific/technological knowledge

recognizes that science and technology are human endeavors

weighs the benefits and burdens of scientific and technological development

recognizes the strengths and limitations of science and technology for advancing human welfare

analyzes interactions between science, technology and society

connects science and technology to other human endeavors, e.g. history, mathematics, the arts, and the humanities

considers the political, economic, moral, and ethical aspects of science and technology as they relate to personal and global issues

offers explanations of natural phenomena which may be tested for their validity (NSTA, 1990)

STS means viewing science in a way quite different from the post-Sputnik period where the emphasis was upon the identification of the central concepts, the unifying themes, and/or the major theories that characterized the various science disciplines if not science itself. The prevailing view is that science could be made meaningful, exciting, and appropriate for all if it were presented in a way known to scientists. Science educators were anxious to see, to learn, and to transmit this science to students. There was no chance for student ownership, student questions, or student views of the world in which they lived. Instead, the attempt was to get students into the world seen, known, and experienced by scientists. That was seen as the major task of the science teacher.

During the 1960’s, every effort was made to distinguish between science and technology. Science was in and technology was out. STS means using technology as a connector between science and society. The applications of science are seen as closer to the lives of students, including food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication, and careers.

Certainly, STS is viewing school science in broader terms than the science concepts accepted by practicing scientists and the process skills they use to discover new concepts and/or to test old ones. The effort assumes that equating science only to specific concepts and processes and then assessing the degree each has been acquired isnot an adequate indicator of real learning. It provides no information concerning how the concepts and processes can be used in the lives of students and for future problem resolution.

If STS is to be a megatrend in science education, it must focus on educational goals and tieing most disciplines together to meet common goals. Its strength is the use of personal, societal, and career imperatives as organizers for schooling. Such organizers bring relevance to study and build upon past and continuing experiences of students. STS, when considered broadly, is free of specific topics, its own concepts, special processes, and unique teaching strategies. In final analysis, STS is focusing upon real issues of today with the belief that working on them will require the concepts and processes so many consider basic. In traditional schools and curriculum outlines, the concepts and processes of a given discipline are central. Time and effort are expended to figure out better ways to present this information and these skills to students. STS means starting with a situation—a question, problem, or issue—where a creative teacher can help students see the power and utility of basic concepts and processes. STS means starting with students, their questions, using all resources available to work for their resolution, and whenever possible, advancing to the stage of taking actual actions individually and in groups to resolve actual issues. STS makes science instruction current and a part of the real world.

STS means dealing with students in their own environments and with their owe frames of references. It means moving into the world of applications, the world of technology, the world where the student makes his or her own connections to living and to the traditional disciplines.

Dealing with the real world and problems in it tends to sharpen student attitudes and to use and sharpen creativity skills. These are called the enabling domains. They provide access to the concepts and processes as seen, advanced, and practices by the professionals in a given discipline. When one starts with these concepts and processes (as in the case in traditional discipline-bound programs), most students are lost before they can apply anything to their own lives. Attitude worsens and creativity skills decline the more one considers the concepts and processes for their own merit and centrality. Those who maintain that scientific literacy is a non-goal usually assume that such literacy is dependent upon the mastery of such standard concepts and processes. They insist that it is impossible to make all students knowledgeable of all basic/central concepts and processes that characterize discipline. This is so if one accepts a definition of science/technological literacy and focuses only a recitation of basic concepts and process skills.

Concept mastery is a goal but mastery to be real learning means that information and process skills are useful. Such a situation seldom occurs as a result of typical instruction. STS means that concepts and processes are useful because they are encountered when the students need them to deal with his or her problems. This occurs because of high motivation and interest and because he or she has questions, has offered explanations, and is interested in the validity of these explanations. This is science and these are basic ingredients of creativity.

STS teaching will require new models for pre-and inservice teacher education. One of the greatest problems of shifts to STS teaching is the failure of most teachers, even those newly certified, to have ever experienced science study and learning themselves as STS, i.e. learning in the concept of human experience. The current focus upon the Constructivist Learning Model (Yeany, 1990) indicates the importance of learning (including learning to teach differently) by direct personal experience.

A rationale/framework for STS can be discerned from a set of contrasts dealing with concepts, processes, attitudes, creativity skills, and applications. Figures 1-5 provide lists of these contrasts.

STS programs exist in every state, and where they operate, information that indicates the effectiveness of STS approaches is being reported. Many of these reports center upon massive efforts in Iowa where 18,000 teachers have learned about STS by direct experience and have tried such approaches with their own K-12 students. Assessment has been a basic part of the Iowa Chautauqua Program since its beginning in 1983 with but 30 middle school students. With 225-250 new teachers enrolled each year, information about changes in student and teacher perceptions as well as studies contrasting STS with traditional teaching have been found repeatedly (Mackinnu, 1991; McComas, 1989a, 1989b, 1989c, 1989d, 19089e; Myers, 1988; Yager, 1989, 1990). From these reports, the following general results can be reported:

    1. Students who experience STS are four times more effective in using basic science concepts and processes.
    2. Students who experience STS develop attitudes that not only do not decline (as in traditional course) but are more positive by a factor or two.
    3. Creativity skills increase with STS; questions, ideas on causes, and predictions of consequences increase by a factor of two and quality/unique responses increase by a factor of six.
    4. Student ability to use science process skills, especially those used in daily operations, increase by a factor of two.
    5. Student mastery of science concepts is as great as in traditonal classrooms but the mastery lasts much longer, presumably because it was developed by the student first-hand and has been used.
    6. Students have better perceptions of the nature of science and its role in their own daily lives with STS instruction than is the situation with traditional instruction.
    7. Teachers become more confident in their ability to teach science and to stimulate student involvement and learning when utilizing STS approaches.
    8. Teachers and students are better able to construct meaning for themselves as a result of STS instruction.
    9. STS results in improved attitudes and confidence among female students than do their counterparts in traditional classrooms.
    10. STS approaches result in greater career awareness and accuracy about careers in science than what occurs as a result of traditional instruction.

STS as a movement is less than 10 years old in the United States. In that short time, it has grown from a seemingly new idea to a major effort in every state. There remains conflicts as to what it is and what it is not. Many cannot deal with a movement like STS which is not curriculum based. Instead of a curriculum, it is a context for a curriculum. Many want to reserve judgement on STS until they see a curriculum and some goals and assessment instructions focused on basic concepts. Others are moving from STS to integrated science themes, thereby retaining a more common concept of science courses and topics in them. Many in the STS movement are resisting the temptations of preparing a curriculum outline, of adding