SSI Framework

SSI: Socio-Scientific Inquiry vs. Socio-Scientific Issues

The acronym SSI in the SSINetwork stands for "Socio-Scientific Inquiry". While many have been using the acronym SSI as in Socio-Scientific Issues, we are more concerned about the inquiry-based instructional approach on socio-scientific issues in this network. To avoid confusion, the acronym SSI will only be used for Socio-Scientific Inquiry and Socio-Scientific Issues will be written in lowercase without the acronym.

What are Socio-Scientific Issues?

Socio-scientific issues are usually controversial in nature but have the added element of requiring a degree of moral reasoning or the evaluation of ethical concerns in the process of arriving at decisions regarding possible resolution of those issues (Zeidler & Nicols, 2009). Examples include fish farming, genetic engineering, animal testing, global warming, and captive breeding in zoos.

Characteristics of a good socio-scientific issue for classroom use are:

  • Connection to course objectives
  • Data-supported
  • Real rather than fabricated
  • Contemporary relevance
  • Controversial
  • Illustrates the nature and process of science
  • Invokes ethical considerations

Framework for Teaching Socio-Scientific Issues

Socio-scientific issues-based instruction places science content that require students to engage in dialogue, discussion and debate within a social and ethical context in a way that encourages both motivation and ownership of learning to the student.
The approach is similar in its teaching strategies to case-based and problem-based teaching in that they both frame science content within a story. In problem-based or case-based learning, students are given a scenario and asked to find an answer or resolve a problem.

A socio-scientific issues-based teaching approach is different in that students are challenged to explore the controversy around an issue which is informed by science, integrate the social aspects (moral, ethical, economic, etc) and other individuals' or groups' perspectives, and develop a position based upon their investigations. For example, students will not be able to solve the issue of global warming, however they will be able to develop a position based upon the research they discover as they explore the issue and learn science content (Klosterman & Sadler, 2010).

The intent is that such issues are personally meaningful and engaging to students, require the use of evidence-based reasoning, and provide a context for understanding scientific information.

Why teach science using SSI-based instruction?

  1. It requires students to use higher order thinking (Bloom, 1980; Krathwohl & Anderson, 2001) to evaluate, analyze and synthesize information to address the issue under discussion, rather than a focus on recall of definitions or descriptions of processes.
  2. It allows us to more holistically explore the context of science in our society and the nature of science (Lewis, 2003; Herreid, 2005). It is a productive way to add pertinence and relevance to the facts and concepts taught in science classes.
  3. Using SSI-based teaching approach helps improve students' understanding (Sadler 2002; Hazen & Higby, 2005). It causes them to discuss issues with one another and explore multiple perspectives (Tanner, 2009).
  4. Employers are looking for people with 21st century skills such as decision-making, negotiating, oral and written communication, self-awareness, and teamwork, which are cultivated as students work through SSIs with their peers.
  5. Students need to be exposed to multiple perspectives and develop their own position if they are to become prepared to tackle the issues that they will face in the world outside of the formal school environment (Sadler & Zeidler, 2004).

Teacher’s Role in SSI Instruction

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Copied from: Wilmes, S. and J. Howarth. 2009. "Using issues-based science in the classroom." The Science Teacher 76(7): 24-29. Published by the National Association of Science Teachers.

Bloom, B. S. (1980). All Our Children Learning. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN-10: 0070061203. ISBN-13: 978-0070061200. 275 pages. A summary of Bloom's work.
Hazen, M.A, & Higby, M.A. (2005). Teaching an issues-based interdisciplinary course: diversity in management and marketing. Journal of Management Education, 29, 403-426.
Herreid, C.F. (2005). Using case studies to teach science. Published in American Institute of Biological Sciences's
Klosterman, M. L. & Sadler, T. (2010). Multi-level Assessment of Scientific Content Knowledge Gains Associated with Socioscientific Issues-based Instruction. International Journal of Science Education, 32, 1017-1043.
Krathwohl, and Anderson. 2001.
Lewis, S. (2003). Issue-Based Teaching in Science Education. September 2003.
Sadler, T. & Zeider, D. (2004). Negotiating Gene Therapy Controversies. The American Biology Teacher, 66, 6.
Tanner, K. D. (2009). Talking to Learn: Why Biology Students Should Be Talking in Classrooms and How to Make It Happen. Life Sciences Education, 8, 89 –94.
Wilmes, S. & J. Howarth. (2009). Using issues-based science in the classroom. The Science Teacher 76, 24-29.
Zeidler, D. L. & Nicols, B. (2009). Socioscientific Issues: Theory and Practice. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 21, 49-58.
Zeidler, D. L., Sadler, T. D., Simmons, M. L., & Howes, E. V. (2005). Beyond STS: A research-based framework for socioscientific issues education. Science Education, 89, 357-377.