Chapter 20

Collaborative Research and Development to Produce an STS Course for School Science

Glen Aikenhead


This chapter describes how a practical deliberative enquiry guided the development of an STS science textbook for the high school.

In its education study Science for Every Student, the Science Council of Canada (1984) called for a renewal of science education, advising educators to teach scientific concepts and skills embedded in social and technological contexts relevant to all students. Curriculum theorist Joseph Schwab (1974) had argued the need for educators (1) to engage in practical deliberative enquiry (as opposed to theory-generating enquiry), and (2) to pay closer attention to what happens with students in the classroom. Both Schwab's points define the present study: a practical deliberative enquiry with students to produce an STS science textbook commensurate with recommendations proposed by the Science Council of Canada.

Deliberative enquiry guided the Science Council of Canada's education study and influenced a subsequent science education study undertaken by the Saskatchewan Department of Education. Because both deliberative enquiries define the context of the present study, they are summarized briefly before addressing the present study.

National and Provincial Deliberations

The Science Council of Canada put Schwab's deliberative enquiry approach into action during a unique science education study that spanned five years, 1979-1984 (Orpwood, 1985). The study ensured that significant problems were identified, that appropriate data were collected, and that these problems and data were considered by the diverse stakeholders (including students) attending two-day deliberative conferences held across Canada in 1983. The deliberative conferences unfolded as Schwab (1978) had predicted:

Deliberation is complex and arduous. ... It must try to identify the desiderata in the case. It must generate alternative solutions. ... It must then weigh alternatives and their costs and consequences against one another, and choose, not the right alternative, for there is no such thing, but the best one. (pp. 318-319)

This "best" solution included the following recommendations (Science Council of Canada, 1984). Along with scientific concepts and skills, students should learn an appreciation for: (1) authentic science -- the nature of science and scientists, including the way science generates and uses its knowledge; (2) technology in Canada; and (3) the interrelationships among science, technology and society.

These recommendations, as well as the process of deliberation itself, greatly influenced a provincial project that was designed to change the science curriculum in Saskatchewan (Hart, 1989). In the Saskatchewan science study, conducted between 1986 and 1987, an overwhelming 92% of Saskatchewan science teachers participating in the deliberative inquiry endorsed the goal of "scientific literacy" defined as a balance among seven subgoals:

1. the nature of science itself

2. the key facts, principles and concepts of science

3. the intellectual processes used in doing science

4. the interactions among science, technology, society, and the environment

5. the values that underlie science

6. the manipulative skills required for doing science

7. personal interests and attitudes toward scientific and technological matters.

Although 88% of the teachers believed that a science-technology-society-environment (STSE) emphasis to the curriculum should be adopted (the Saskatchewan equivalent of STS), teachers expressed many concerns about: (1) the balance between an STSE emphasis and other emphases; for example, a solid foundation for the next level of science study (Roberts, 1988); (2) the evaluation of students with respect to STSE goals; (3) the availability of appropriate teaching materials; and (4) the need to teach controversial issues. In other words, teachers were positive but certainly cautious about changing their science curriculum towards an STSE approach.

The Saskatchewan study had established the goal of "scientific literacy" and a curriculum emphasis on STSE. Saskatchewan science teachers expressed, among other things, a need for classroom materials -- such as a textbook -- to support them in their efforts to implement a new science curriculum.

The Study: Definition and Purpose

A curriculum exits in three different phases or forms: (1) the intended curriculum developed by curriculum specialists or committees authorized by governments; (2) the curriculum as taught by classroom teachers, the translation of the intended curriculum by teachers when they prepare and teach lessons; and (3) the curriculum as learned by students. Ideally, the intended, taught, and learned curricula should be similar. In reality, however, they differ widely (Cronin-Jones, 1991).

The similarity among the intended, taught, and learned curricula may be strengthened by using classroom materials -- for instance, a textbook -- designed to give students experiences that clearly convey the intended curriculum (Aikenhead, chapter 16) A textbook influences the content of the taught and learned curricula whenever the textbook is a teacher's primary resource, a condition found in most North American high school science classes (Gallagher, 1991).

In Saskatchewan's deliberative meetings, curriculum developers and classroom instructors discussed what ought to be taught in science classes. Although the perceived needs and interests of students were given high priority, students were not involved in the provincial process of curriculum deliberation.

However, students can play a significant role in determining the quality of the learned curriculum (Aikenhead, 1982; Eijkelhof, chapter 19; Kortland, 1992; Solomon, 1983). This role was explored in the present study by involving students in a new type of deliberative process: a collaboration with textbook authors to produce classroom materials that strengthen the similarity among the intended, the taught, and the learned curricula.

In the study, the textbook developer (Glen Aikenhead) consulted and negotiated with students and teachers. Students worked through, and deliberated over, draft versions of the textbook. Students offered concrete guidance on how to achieve the intended curriculum. As described below in the Results section, students contributed significantly to the textbook's content, structure, and language.

The study was primarily concerned with students learning a curriculum that had been rationalized by two successive Schwabian deliberations. The study, however, went beyond practical enquiry characterized by defensible decision making. The study included research and development that led to the publication of an academic STS textbook and teacher's guide, Logical Reasoning in Science & Technology, LoRST (Aikenhead, 1991a, b). The study not only focused on the classroom experiences of students (the learned curriculum) but also collaborated with those students and their teachers in a type of practical enquiry to produce classroom materials that were: (1) in harmony with the intended curriculum, (2) usable by teachers with limited inservice training, and (3) consistent with students' views on relevancy and practical appropriateness. This chapter describes this deliberative research and development process.

Overview of the Study

The research and development of LoRST followed a three-stage sequence that took advantage of the classroom realism well known to teachers and students. These phases are summarized here. In phase 1 (an eight-week project), I wrote and taught draft #1 in a local high school in 1987. Based on this classroom collaboration with students, the text was modified and expanded to yield draft #2. By initiating the project in a classroom setting: (1) the classroom materials evolved on the spot with average grade 10 students, (2) appropriate teaching strategies were identified (Aikenhead, 1988b), and (3) a rough draft of the teacher's guide was written. This second draft of LoRST was used in 1988 (phase 2, a twenty-week project) by three volunteer teachers who received no inservice training. The teachers taught in three different schools, representing a full cross section of student background and abilities. Classes were observed daily as teachers used draft #2 of the text and teacher's guide. This collaboration with students and teachers led to another revision of the student materials and teaching strategies. As a result of this closely monitored project, LoRST was polished into draft #3. In 1989-90 (phase 3), draft #3 was field tested across Saskatchewan and evaluated by 30 teachers both sympathetic to, and critical of, an STS approach to teaching science. Teacher feedback resulted in further revisions to LoRST. The resulting material (student text and teacher's guide) was published in 1991 and adopted by Saskatchewan as a principal textbook for grade 10. Two other provinces adopted LoRST in 1993.

The former grade 10 syllabus in Saskatchewan had been a traditional physical science course with an emphasis on chemistry. The LoRST project was initiated with the assumption that a similar content would be the basis of the new curriculum (a false assumption, as it turned out).

The three-phased research and development process that produced LoRST will be much easier to understand if one has an idea of the product of the study -- the textbook.

Product of the Study

LoRST teaches scientific content in conjunction with critical reasoning skills to a target audience of grade 10 students of average (or above average) academic ability. (For a detailed description of LoRST see Aikenhead, 1992b.) Students learn scientific facts, concepts and principles from physics, chemistry and biology in a way that connects those facts, concepts and principles with the students' everyday world. The interdisciplinary nature of LoRST places it in category 5 of the STS science scheme presented as Table 5.1 in chapter 5.

The textbook begins with courtroom testimony by scientific experts -- a social context familiar to students. This creates the need to know a host of science concepts and logical reasoning skills. In LoRST, the social issue of drinking and driving creates the need to know (1) the technology of the breathalyzer; (2) how science and technology interact with each other, and how they both interact with various aspects of society; and (3) scientific content such as mixtures, concentration, chemical reactions, photometry, electrical circuits, and the biology of body cells and systems. While the content is "driven by" the social issue of drinking and driving, the content is not limited to that social issue. For instance, students solve concentration problems in the world of recipes, false advertising, toxic chemicals, and farm fertilizers. Classification of mixtures is introduced in the context of the Red Cross and is developed via the technology of salad dressings. Electricity concepts are learned in order to bridge the gap between atomic theory and the household appliances familiar to adolescents (both female and male). Heat and temperature are taught in an historical context, accompanied by inquiry labs requiring students to construct relevant concepts.

LoRST's emphasis on logical reasoning reflects the mandate to improve students' critical thinking skills (Aikenhead, 1990; Byrne & Johnstone, 1978; National Science Foundation, 1990). Specific critical reasoning skills are taught in Unit 3, "Science & Critical Thinking: The Logic Game." These skills are then applied throughout the book. More important than the individual reasoning skills themselves is the increase in students' predisposition (habits of the mind) to analyze, to question, and to articulate a reasoned argument (McPeck, 1981).


This section describes specific instances of collaboration in which students and teachers contributed to the content, structure and language of the final product -- Logical Reasoning in Science & Technology. While each page in the textbook has a unique story to tell about how it evolved over the three phases of the study, only a few typical examples are described here. (More details are provided by Aikenhead, 1991c.) The examples address four topics: selection of the content, structuring the content, students "editing" the language of the textbook, and lastly, contributions by teachers.

Selection of Content

The social issue of drinking and driving was selected as an organizing STS theme in LoRST. The issue is of critical importance to every community. Alcohol is the most fatal toxic chemical in the environment when it pollutes a driver's body. The issue of drinking and driving also demands particularly realistic decisions by students, rather than the more idealistic, hypothetical decisions sometimes associated with global issues (Carter, 1991). Students in grade 10 know that they will soon take personal action based on their own decisions about alcohol and driving. Thus, an action orientation to decision making is particularly realistic for students (Rubba, 1991). Questionnaire feedback from 91 students participating in phase 2 indicated that most (83%) found the issue of alcohol and driving to be relevant and enjoyable, though they would have preferred studying science via the issues of sex and drugs.

During phase 1 of the R & D study, students vigorously quizzed me about facts and principles related to how alcohol would affect their bodies. This was science content not found in the old curriculum and therefore not intended for LoRST. (It is now part of the new curriculum.) Students' interest and curiosity convinced me to compose a new unit, "How Alcohol Affects the Body." It was added to the end of LoRST version #1. I designed this new unit in a way that systematically addressed students' questions, but also applied previously learned physical science content to biological systems; for instance, concepts such as diffusion, chemical changes, and parallel and series circuits.

To provide practice at applying physical science content to the everyday world, some decision-making activities were developed in version #2. Students fell short of my expectations on how easily they could reach a decision. When I clarified these expectations (the intended curriculum) during a class discussion, students pointed out that more guidance was needed to lead them through what they perceived to be unfamiliar territory. In other words, students suggested how the learned curriculum could be more consistent with the intended curriculum. As a consequence, another unit, "Decision Making," was tacked on to the end of LoRST version #2. It described a ten-step sequence to follow when making a decision (Aikenhead, 1985a).

Not only did students initiate the development of these two new units, they contributed to the content of other units. In a section on electricity, for instance, students were the source of questions that now appear in the text. During phase 1 of the study, I overheard a conversation between two girls about accidentally plugging a hair dryer into a 220 volt source. "It killed my hair dryer", one said. Version #2 of LoRST incorporated her story into a question that asked why 200 volts would "kill" a hair dryer.

Structuring the Content

Three examples of structuring the content in LoRST will further clarify the deliberative process that characterized the research and development study.

A post-lab discussion of an activity called "Experimenting with Mixtures" provided a forum for identifying the activity's successes and difficulties. Students expressed frustration over my expectation that they could inductively derive a distinction between homogeneous and heterogeneous mixtures. Students' preconceptions of mixtures were far richer and more complex than the scientific dichotomy of homogeneous/heterogeneous. "Why couldn't we just read about it before the activity?" they asked. The section was revised accordingly.

The second example of structuring content in LoRST deals with a section on electricity. In version #1, students were given the challenging task to explore electricity ("bulbs and batteries" revisited) and to write up what they discovered. This approach was fashioned after the Nuffield science projects in the U.K. in which students learned almost all their science content from lab activities. The expectation of the LoRST research and development project, however, was to turn the students' work produced during version #1 into an activity for version #2. With appropriate editing, version #2 incorporated the students' work into a single activity comprised of five interconnecting parts that took about five hours to complete. The students who studied version #2 did not like this long and involved activity. Instead, they wanted an activity to be more focused on one particular topic. Therefore, the five-part activity of version #2 was restructured into four activities embedded in didactic text that introduced or reinforced the four activities. In doing so, the topic of electricity was reorganized around two themes: scientific theory and scientific law. These themes reinforced the textbook's epistemic distinction between theories and laws.

The third illustration of students structuring text content occurred when one of LoRST's activities failed. I wanted students to analyze a current article from the New England Journal of Medicine to see a 1990 example of the tentativeness of science, and learn more about scientists participating in consensus making. I wrote a synopsis of the article. The first time students read it, they could not decide whether the conclusion reached was logical or not. (The conclusion was somewhat controversial within the scientific community.) During a classroom discussion of the article, I acknowledged the impasse the class had come to, and wondered aloud how the impasse might be resolved. One student pointed out that there were actually two main conclusions to the article, not one; and that one conclusion was logical while the other one was not. Her analysis was written into the next version of LoRST. Now students are given two conclusions and asked to comment on the logic of each conclusion. Difficult science content can sometimes be clarified by students themselves, and then be restructured to conform with an adolescent logical perspective.

Teachers were often helpful at identifying student problems and at articulating student concerns. Throughout phase 2, students' problems and preconceptions led me to reformulate the content and to restructure the text. In other words, collaboration with students and teachers identified problems, generated alternatives, and the best solutions were chosen. A Schwabian type of practical enquiry was working.

Students "Editing" the Textbook

Students will gladly express confusion or frustration over something they do not understand. By sitting in their classroom day in and day out, one can detect not only their confusions or frustrations, but also how they spontaneously clarify or correct the problems. Typical examples will illustrate the point.

Lab instructions were modified when I observed students making "errors" or making impromptu improvements to the instructions. The intent of LoRST was to have students reason with scientific ideas rather than simply memorize them. Consequently, the LoRST lab instructions were written much differently than lab instructions designed to have students verify facts. Teachers' extemporaneous modifications to labs (in phase 2) also contributed to the clarity and efficiency of LoRST's lab instructions.

Another issue (related to the language in LoRST) deals with the text's writing style. Young, Ruck and Crocker (1991, p. 46) claim, "Science texts violate students' expectations because the language is unlike anything they have previously encountered. The way science books present ideas is a discrepant event in the students' experience." The traditionally formal, succinctly dense, science language makes textbooks science-centered, not student-centered. Rather than requiring students to completely change their reading style in order to understand the science text language, one can modify the text's language to conform more with student expectations. This has been achieved in LoRST. The text is unusually narrative (sometimes even chatty), filled with visual imagery, and structured from a student's perspective. Thus, students indirectly influenced the writing style of LoRST because of the student-centered approach to the use of language.

However, students had a direct effect on the writing style as well. Occasionally, the text is literally interrupted by a comment from a student, usually at some key point in the development of an idea. For instance, the water content of body tissue is studied in LoRST. The textbook points out that a 70 kg female athlete (high muscle content) would be less affected by an alcoholic beverage than a 70 kg pot-bellied male (high fat content), all other variables being equal. Then a cartoon-like balloon interrupts the paragraph and points to a silhouette of a student's head in the margin. Inside the balloon the following passage appears: "That can't be true," he protested. "I read in a book that women are more affected by alcohol than men" (Aikenhead, 1991a, p. 223). The text then responds in a dialogue fashion and introduces students to the idea of a statistical fact, the type to which the student was referring. This dialogue between student and textbook paraphrases an actual classroom interaction. The dialogue emphasizes a discrepancy between a student's preconception about scientific facts (they are either true or false) and the curriculum's conception of scientific facts (they are context dependent and probabilistic). This style of highlighting discrepancies between the intended curriculum and students' preconceptions was inadvertently suggested to me by the poignancy of certain key student/teacher exchanges that took place in the classroom. These exchanges are recaptured in LoRST as a dialogue between the student and the textbook. The practical enquiry of collaborating with students allowed me to build on students' natural reaction to classroom events, and to judiciously incorporate some of those reactions into the text.

The informal, unorthodox, narrative writing style in LoRST received strong endorsement from the 91 students surveyed in phase 2. Ninety-two percent thought the style made the textbook easier to understand, while five percent thought it made it more difficult.

Teacher Contributions

It is evident from the examples cited above how the three teachers in phase 2 of the study contributed to the development of LoRST. Their contributions normally arose spontaneously during classroom action, where idiosyncrasies and constraints abound. Helped only by a rough draft of the teacher's guide for LoRST, these teachers explored new territory of STS instruction. By observing each lesson (the taught curriculum) and by listening to a teacher's out of class comments, I modified the teacher's guide in several ways: by clarifying directions, by adding specific teaching suggestions, and by writing background information. Day by day the teachers also identified problems for me to solve in the student text.

The revision of LoRST at the end of phase 2 would certainly have been suitable for most grade 10 students. After all, students themselves had contributed to its content, structure and language. But would LoRST work with other teachers? Critics of STS claim it would not (Walberg, 1991).

Phase 3 of the study, a province-wide field test of manuscript version #3, involved 30 teachers chosen by Saskatchewan Education, some of whom were supportive but others who were sceptical or even critical of an STS approach. Phase 3 was not an investigation into teacher implementation of LoRST nor an evaluation of LoRST. Rather, it was a practical enquiry into developing LoRST further. A few examples of collaboration in phase 3 will illustrate how LoRST was improved.

Unlike the day-to-day collaboration with students and teachers in phases 1 and 2, in phase 3 teachers only identified problems. (Financial and human resources were limited.) The solutions to these problems were left for me to engineer. A short case study about the topic of heat will illustrate typically what happened in phase 3.

A workshop had been organized to help teachers with some "new" content in LoRST -- the explicit treatment of critical thinking in a unit called "The Logic Game." The teacher's guide suggested that students read, analyze, and discuss. This logic game unit had been very successful in another project with average students (Aikenhead, 1979a). That success had been attributed to the fact that the logic content that students read, analyzed, and discussed, did not come from science but from the everyday world of adolescent experience. At the workshop, however, one teacher emphatically explained his class's negative reaction to this logic content, "When my students come into science class, they want to light bunsen burners and get the right answers." Because the teacher was conscientiously implementing the new curriculum, and because he likely represented a prevailing view among science teachers, his comment was taken seriously. Thus, my objective was to design:

1. Activities in which students light bunsen burners and get the right answers.

2. Activities that correlate with the content in "The Logic Game" unit, but could also function independently of this content in case teachers do not teach the logic unit.

3. Activities that reflect a constructivist and STS perspective.

4. Activities that correspond to the emerging curriculum.

One new activity, "The Law of Heating (and Cooling) Bodies," was designed according to the four specifications stated above. The activity extrapolates from the student's everyday world of temperature changes in syrup, cooking oil, and water, to the realm of scientific thinking about specific heat capacities. Students, acting as research teams, explore the variables that seem to affect heat transfer. (Exploration rather than verification occurs.) Bunsen burners are lit! Each research team works on one of the variables. Then all teams get together at an "international conference" where the class reaches a consensus on what to believe about which variables affect heat transfer. To prepare for their conference, students analyze the heat data. Students must reason on the basis of the assumption: "One gram of substance rising one degree Celsius takes in a certain number of joules of heat." After reaching a consensus, students are introduced to the term "specific heat capacity." Next, the heat transfer equation is presented as a mathematical wording to the Law of Heating (and Cooling) Bodies. Finally, several math problems are solved to gain a facility at using the heat transfer equation. Students get right answers! The teacher who wanted students to light bunsen burners and get the right answer had his specifications met.

Two further activities on heat were developed and cycled through the three phases of the deliberative enquiry process in order to complete a systematic treatment of heat and temperature (Aikenhead, 1992a). The phase 3 collaboration with the 30 teachers led to the production of several other activities that would not have otherwise been developed. The collaboration also resulted in LoRST looking more like a traditional science text (for example, chapter titles were changed to conform to traditional expectations) but without compromising the harmony between the intended and learned curricula achieved in phases 1 and 2. None of the changes undermined the book's relevancy and practicality to students.


The ultimate purpose of the LoRST research and development project was to strengthen the cohesion between (1) the intended curriculum, advocated by the Science Council of Canada and defined by Saskatchewan's Department of Education, and (2) the curriculum learned by students. Accordingly, LoRST was developed to help teachers translate (modulate) the intended curriculum into a taught curriculum, in a way that more accurately portrays the intended curriculum (Roberts, 1980).

The practical enquiry demonstrated that students can contribute significantly to a textbook's content, structure, and language. By engaging students in tasks in the natural setting of their classroom, an author can attend to information that spontaneously emerges during instruction or to information that thoughtfully evolves from informal discussions with students. Students were most helpful in (1) reflecting on how well the tasks met the provincial curriculum's objectives (that is, the consistency between the learned and intended curricula), and (2) suggesting, indirectly or directly, how to improve on the text material. In a somewhat similar fashion, Kortland's (1992) environmental education project also demonstrates how student interviews and classroom observations can judiciously guide the development of instructional materials.

Further research is needed to shed more light on the learned curriculum that results from using STS materials such as LoRST. One promising avenue of research is the systematic identification of classroom events that appear to have an impact on students' reconceptionalizations of science and STS content. Case studies of a small number of students can clarify the classroom events that affect their understanding of, for instance, the nature of heat, the role of assumptions in scientific thinking, or the nature of scientific decision making. (See, for example, studies by Larochelle and Désautels, 1991; Roth and Roychaudhury, 1993; and Shapiro, 1989.) A case study of students learning science can portray the different ways in which students' feelings, world views, and preconceptions interact with the teacher's taught curriculum, fellow students, and the classroom events supplied by a textbook. These interactions provide rich data for better understanding the learned curriculum of an STS science course.