Girls’ responses to the teaching of socioscientific issues

University of Leeds, United Kingdom

Supervisors: Professor Jim Ryder, Professor Jim Donnelly

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This thesis reports on an empirical study of the written, enacted and experienced curriculum in relation to the teaching of socioscientific issues. Socioscientific issues involve the use of science and are of interest to society. They raise ethical and moral dilemmas, and are multidisciplinary. Examples of such issues could include reproductive genetic technology or the safety of mobile phones. Since a reform of Key Stage 4 science in England in 2006, socioscientific issues have had an increased emphasis in the science curriculum. It has been suggested elsewhere that such an approach will appeal to girls, and increase their interest and participation in science. This context is used as an opportunity to analyse the responses of girls to the teaching of socioscientific issues.

The study was conducted in one school and employed three main data sources.

First, to examine an important element of the written curriculum, the science textbooks used in the school were analysed. Socioscientific issues are shown to be interpreted in the textbooks as ‘scientific-technical’ issues, that largely do not take account of perspectives from social science based disciplines.

Second, sequences of lessons were observed in the school of high-, mid- and low-attaining classes across the different science subjects (biology, chemistry and physics). The resulting data were used to provide a critical account of how socioscientific issues are realised in science classrooms (the enacted curriculum). Analysis of the lesson observations shows that lessons involving socioscientic issues have many similar characteristics to lessons that focus on more traditional scientific concepts, and display less innovation than some supporters of the reform might have anticipated.

Lastly, focus groups, consisting entirely of girls, were conducted after each lesson sequence. Such discussions provide evidence about the girls’ responses to lessons involving socioscientific issues (the ‘experienced’ curriculum). The girls’ experiences of socioscientific issue lessons show a diverse, patterned response, including positive and negative perceptions. Overall this thesis argues that many of the policy expectations around the introduction of socioscientific issues in school science education are not realised.

Thesis reference:
Morris, H. (2012). Girls’ responses to the teaching of socioscientific issues. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Leeds, Leeds.

Related publications:
Morris, H. (forthcoming). Socioscientific issues and multidisciplinarity in school science textbooks, International Journal of Science Education.

Morris, H. (forthcoming). ‘It’s still science but not like normal science’: girls’ responses to the teaching of socioscientific issues, School Science Review.


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