New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

Socio-Scientific Inquiry Based Learning (SSIBL): Gearing Social Action to Scientific Knowledge

Ralph Levinson, University College London – Institute of Education (United Kingdom)

Ruth Amos, University College London – Institute of Education (United Kingdom)


This research arises from an EU FP7 project (Promoting Attainment of Responsible Research & Innovation in Science Education, PARRISE) designed to support teachers in promoting inquiry through socio-scientific issues. There are three features behind the SSIBL framework: an authentic question or problem with a scientific component which derives from student interest and the perceived need for change; proposed actions which address the question; and enactions which encompass processes in enabling action. SSIBL is not hierarchical and is predicated on the basis that solutions contain the seeds of new questions. In that sense it reflects Deweyan inquiry where emergent scientific knowledge is based on the need for change and action.

SSIBL presents a pedagogic challenge because it problematises the epistemological boundary between normative questions on one hand and descriptive statements on the other, an implicit feature of science curriculum in the UK and many other countries. Another challenge is that authentic questions on socio-scientific issues do not necessarily arise spontaneously from students. Because such an approach challenges the canonical ‘Vision I’ approach of the science curriculum in the U.K. we were keen to identify the possibilities and challenges of implementing an approach through pre-service teachers in schools. We ran activities which encouraged pre-service teachers to generate authentic questions of their own and to plan their own SSIBL activities in their practicums. We gathered questionnaire data from 72 student teachers on their experiences in teaching SSIBL and from this drew on three through a focus group format. Through descriptive analysis of the questionnaires and narrative analysis of the case studies a picture emerged of possibilities of enactment where school science departments were open to change and not confined by performative outcomes. Where such possibilities were implemented students both learned how to carry out socio-scientific inquiries but used this knowledge to underpin their emergent scientific knowledge. Impediments to implementation ranged from fear of dealing with ‘political’ matters to a reluctance to challenge curriculum orthodoxy. Successful implementations were used as exemplars to enhance SSIBL teaching in schools with improved acceptance.


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