Impact of Socioscientific Issues on Middle School Students' Character and Values for Global Citizenship

Impact of Socioscientific Issues on Middle School Students' Character and Values for Global Citizenship

Wardell A. Powell, Mark H. Newton, Dana L. Zeidler
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4558-4.ch003
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This chapter demonstrates the impact of an animal cloning socioscientific issues instructional unit on a group of middle school students' abilities to use their ecological worldview, social and moral compassion, and sense of socioscientific accountability to determine the permissibility of animal cloning. Seventy-seven 7th grade students at a public middle school in the Southeastern region of the United States participated in this investigation. Results from a non-parametric two-tailed Wilcoxon test indicated the students' social and moral compassion (Z = -2.505, p = .012) and socioscientific accountability scores (Z = -2.381, p = .017). In contrast, the results did not demonstrate a statistically significant difference between students' pre and post ecological worldview (Z = -1.185, p = .236). Qualitative analyses of the data revealed several interesting trends and themes discussed in the chapter. The findings from this investigation support the use of SSI as key pedagogical strategies in promoting character and values for global citizens among middle school students.
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A perennial goal of science education is to develop students with the capacity to contribute to the resolution of contentious issues in socially and environmentally sustainable manner. This aim is evident in the global recommendations for science education (Lead States, 2013: UNESCO, 2019). This mission is paramount in helping students to act responsibly when confronted with opportunities to support social justice movements aimed at preserving the environment and supporting others in need. Citizens are expected to make decisions on the environment, our health, and the safety of others, whether through engagement in the democratic process or through direct decisions based upon their employment in today’s society, which has been deemed functional scientific literacy (Zeidler, 2003). Making informed decisions requires careful examination of data in order to evaluate evidence. Studies that examined the types of evidence that are essential in the evaluation of controversial issues have reported that participants made fewer requests about the research findings, who conducted the research, and where the research was conducted (Korpan, Bisanz, & Henderson, 1997). This finding is troubling in light of calls from researchers for students to exhibit skepticism to carefully evaluate information that is potentially biased (Sadler, 2007; Sadler, et al., 2011). Equally troubling are reports that students tend to accept information without evaluation of evidence (Owens, Sadler, & Zeidler, 2017; Ratcliffe, 1999). At a time when policy-makers can ignore a city’s water contamination in the United States as in the case of Flint, Michigan, when lawmakers deny climate change (Fisher, Waggle, & Leifeld, 2012; McCright & Dunlap, 2011), or when lives are endangered due to where natural gas pipelines are erected (Brito, de Almedia, & Mota, 2009; Sklavounos & Rigas, 2006), it is critical for students to learn to think for themselves, evaluate evidence, and make appropriate and informed decisions. The acceptance of claims without evaluation only adds to the difficulty of making informed decisions.

The spread of COVID-19 around the world is a case in point of why students in general, and the public in particular need to be able to make informed decisions on scientific phenomena. During the midst of the pandemic, we have seen regular citizens, faith-based leaders, and politicians make egregious claims based on feelings and ideology, rather than on known scientific facts. Some who heeded to these false claims paid the ultimate price with their life. For example, many pastors and politicians in the United States down played the threats COVID-19 pose. They encouraged their followers to ignore the social distancing guidelines that were initiated by members of the scientific community. Some who followed this ill-fated advice made the ultimate sacrifice by losing their life to the virus. Such a blatant lack of respect for science and what it has to offer must not become commonplace in our society, because science matters, and scientific knowledge is imperative. Therefore, teachers must provide their students with opportunities to develop their skills in making informed scientific decisions on SSI.

Scholars have suggested a socioscientific issues (SSI) framework as a potential approach to develop the skills requisite of a functionally scientific literate citizenry capable of negotiating complex issues (Zeidler, Berkowitz, & Bennett, 2013; Zeidler & Sadler, 2008; Zeidler, Applebaum, & Sadler, 2011; Zeidler, Sadler, Applebaum, & Callahan, 2009). SSI are typically contentious in nature, can be considered from a variety of perspectives, do not possess simple conclusions, and frequently involve morality and ethics (Zeidler, Walker, Ackett, & Simmons, 2002). SSI call upon individuals to use moral considerations, empathetic concerns, perspective taking, and feelings of responsibility as they evaluate evidence and make informed decisions on controversial issues connected with scientific phenomena (Kahn & Zeidler, 2014). SSI are well positioned to allow students to better understand their own socioscientific responsibility to the environment as well as their moral responsibility to others (Sadler, Klosterman, & Topcu, 2011). Students’ abilities to freely discuss, evaluate evidence, and determine a path of action to complicated questions represents the hallmark of a democratic system (Aikenhead, Orpwood, & Fensham, 2011; Kolstø, 2001; Miller, 1983; Miller, 1998; Sadler, 2004; Shamos, 1995).

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