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:
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:
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:
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:
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