The Jurisprudential Inquiry Model for STS

Ronald J. Bonnstetter and Jon E. Pedersen

University of Nebraska and University of Arkansas

How does one teach using an STS approach? Where is the curriculum material to accomplish the task? The answer to these and many other related questions come as a surprise. For example, we may never see a transportable STS national curriculum; because by definition the material must focus on local issues and build from the roots of student interest. In addition, some of the strategies that are most effective require innovative teaching skills that go well beyond just dispensing information. But if teachers are willing to meet the challenge, all could find themselves involved in a teaching model that will guide students to new heights of understanding and rejuvenate early teaching ideals. A properly orchestrated STS unit can be an exciting learning experience for both student and teacher.

Teaching Prerequisites for Maximum Success

The model presented in this chapter is somewhat complex and assumes that a number of teaching skills are understood, if not used by, the teacher. These include: cooperative learning strategies of Johnson, Grooker, Stutsman, Hultman, and Johnson (1985) and Slavin (1989); higher-order questioning skills; wait time; classroom organization and management skills. In addition, it helps to understand a constructivist approach to teaching and the need for student empowerment as both an approach to teaching and as an outcome of education. Also, the teacher must have enough content knowledge of the subject being taught so that he or she can concentrate on how to teach and not spend preparation time on what to teach. All of these characteristics must be blended with an understanding of how children learn and when to intercede for maximum learning.

The Jurisprudential STS Model of Teaching

Pedersen (1990) modified the original Joyce and Weil Jurisprudential Model (1986) to create a jurisprudential inquiyr STS model of teaching that effectively lends itself to the study of science, technology, and societal issues in the classroom. The jurisprudential inquiyr STS model approaches teaching issues by dividing a class into the issue viewpoints. Through the use of information-acquisition strategies and classmate interactions, students present their views to a class-selected board of arbiters. It is the board’s responsibility to listen to the student arguments in a public hearing and render a decision on the issue.

The final phase of this and many other STS teaching strategies involves the creation and assessment of action plans. In many ways the actual action plans developed by students are just as important an outcome as the related science concepts they learned. What follows in an outline of the six phases of the jurisprudential inquiry model applied to STS.




Phase I: Orientation to the Issue

The initial step of this model introduces students to the selected issue. This occurs on the very first day that the topic is being studied. During this initial stage, the teacher must accomplish several tasks. They include:

    1. Divide the class into teams of two or three students. Each team will be assigned a side of the issue to represent in their respective group. The purpose of the team is to cooperate in reading, researching, and interacting on the side of the issue that they have been assigned.
    2. Now arrange the teams into groups so that the number of teams in a group equals the number of sides to the issue. For example, a recycling issue may have two sides – recycling and nonrecycling. Therefore each group would have two teams of two (or three) members, a total of four (six) in the group.
    3. Assign each team within a group one side of the issue to represent. It is important to do this randomly. Inevitably some students will be assigned to a side of an issue that they do not believe in, but this is perhaps desirable.

It is important to remember that the issue selected becomes the focus of the curriculum. The content becomes the support for the issue.

Phase II: Identifying and Defining the Issue]

Students begin to use the content during the second phase of the model. The students, working in their cooperative teams, use the library and other resources to gather,

clarify, and synthesize facts about the issue. The students begin to identify values and value conflicts and raise questions about opposing views. The following should be considered when entering Phase II.

    1. Prepare for an adequate number of days in the library or for working with other resources. The teacher should be prepared to give guidance to both the students and resource people when necessary. For example, the teacher may need to address interview techniques, help students learn to read for fact versus opinion, or assist with questionnaire design. The teacher may also find it necessary to touch base with resource personnel such as librarians to ensure that students get the information they need. (The reader will find Hungerford, Litherland, Peyton, Ramsey, and Volk, 1988, especially useful in developing this phase of the project.)
    2. Allow time for the teams to be together to research, read, interview, survey, telephone, meet , discuss the issues and what they have found, and prepare each other for a public meeting.
    3. Students can use encyclopedias, magazines, journal articles, government publications, people, special interest groups, and a host of other resources. Probably the most overlooked resource will be the local or regional newspaper. It is important for the students to understand, when reading the newspaper, the difference between fact and opinion. Students may assume that an editorial, because it is in the paper, is fact.

Phase III: Synthesizing the Research Information into Arguments

At least one day prior to the public meeting, the students get back together as an intact class. At this point, the teacher will allow all of the teams representing the same side of the issue to get together to share information and prepare for the public discussion. It is during this time that the students need to plan a strategy for the public meeting. The following can be used as a guide for the students when in the large groups.

Establish a stance based on factual information

Point out the undesirable or desirable consequences of a position

Clarify the value conflict with analogies

Set priorities; assert priority of one value over another

Identify factual assumptions and determine if they are relevant

Determine the predicted consequences and examine their factual

Validity (will they occur?)

During Phase III, the teacher will also select from the class a board of arbiters, two newspaper reporters, and two camera crew members. Each of these positions should be represented by both or all sides of the issue if possible. The following instructions are used to guide each of these roles in the debate.

Board of Arbiters

  1. Prepare questions to ask each of the presenters. (These questions should be used for clarifying points.)
  2. Plan a strategy for initiating and running the public meeting. This would include who will talk first, who will talk last, and how much time will be allotted for each side and each person. (It is suggested that each student present a part of the argument for their side of the issue. Approximately 2-3 minutes per student is adequate for this purpose.)
  3. Be able to summarize those points that persuaded you in making your decision.

Newspaper and Camera Crew

  1. Prepare questions to ask selected members of the groups involved in the debate. (It will also be necessary to decide who to interview.)
  2. Be able to summarize the comments made during the interview.
  3. Be able to summarize the comments made during the meeting. (For the camera crew, the comments will be summarized by editing the videotape and/or adding comments of their own.)

Phase IV: The Public Meeting

The fourth phase of the jurisprudential inquiry STS model involves the students in a mock public meeting. This meeting involves all students in presenting the different sides of the issue being studied. During the debate it is important that the students on the board of arbiters initiate and oversee the meeting. It is important also for the teacher to see that the following guidelines are followed.

Maintain a vigorous intellectual climate where all views are respected.

Avoid the direct evaluation of each other’s opinions.

See that issues are thoroughly explored.

Respect the authority of the board.

Phase V: Clarification and Consensus

During this phase, students spend two days clarifying and arriving at a consensus on the issue. The first day is spent with the students still divided into the respective sides of the issue, the board, the newspaper crew, and the camera crew. During this time the students clarify their best arguments in support of the side of the issue they represented. The board will be responsible for clarifying why they rendered their decision. The newspaper crew and camera crew will work on preparing their respective reports.

On the second day, students separate into their original groups. The groups were originally constructed so that all perspectives of the issue would be represented. The purpose of these groups is to come to a consensus on the issue. The students should use all information available to them in drawing their conclusions. This would include information from the debate, the research done, other groups, the newspaper and camera crews’ perspective, and the board’s recommendations.

The students’ cooperative effort should represent the opinions of all the students in the groups. Their goal is to write those arguments that justify the original group’s position on the issue.

Phase VI: Application

The final phase of this model is the most important phase. It is in this phase that the students take what they have learned and apply it to their surroundings. Students must be able to see the value in the science they have learned and see that, with this knowledge, they can have an impact.

The first step of this process is for each student to propose an overall action plan with resolutions. Some of the ways students have applied what they have learned and became involved in community activities include:

Whatever actions students take should be assessed in light of their action plan


The key to this model of instruction is that students have opportunities to apply the investigation skills and action strategies to the community in which they live.

Teacher’s Role

The teacher’s role during this exercise is important. As the students are researching, discussing, and debating, the teacher should encourage the students to commit themselves to one side of the issue, but be supportive if they change their minds when confronted with new evidence, and encourage them to consider other points of view. At all times, the teacher should remain neutral on the issue, encourage differentiation of positions, and promote synthesis of the different positions presented to the class.


It is important to remember that STS issues are not things that a teacher can pull out of a book, they are not simply newspaper articles about issues in science, and they are not "discussing" an issue for ten minutes once a week. It is the integration of societal and technological issues that makes science content much more meaningful. The jurisprudential inquiry STS model can be used to accomplish that integration. Students must see the value of science. By using STS issues in this manner, students see how the issue impacts them and also how they impact the issue.


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Effects of controversy, concurrence seeking and individualistic learning on

Achievement and attitude change. Journal of Research in Science Teaching

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Pedersen, J. E. (1990). The effects of science, technology and societal issues,

Implemented as a cooperative controversy, on attitudes toward science,

Anxiety toward science, problem solving perceptions and achievements in

Secondary science. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of

Nebraska, Lincoln.

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