This research sought to examine the experiences of secondary science pre-service teachers when planning and integrating SSI-based learning methods, as well as their interpretations of those experiences. The phenomenological approach was employed to guide the analysis as illustrated by Van Manen (1990). The analysis of the interviews revealed the following themes: Transformation, dilemmas, critiques, struggles, and change. In this part, the findings were presented under these themes.
The participants clearly emphasized the transformation of their ideas when explaining their experiences during the study process. Owing to their participation in developing and implementing their SSI-based instructional processes, their firm views, understandings, and concepts have shifted dramatically. The transformation did not happen suddenly, rather it extended over time. The types of ideas transformed varied greatly, including the areas of science, data, and environment, as well as truth and ethics.
Science and data
One of the greatest transformations occurred in the participants’ perception of what science and scientific evidence meant. The participants firmly agreed that their prior understanding of science and data was not adequate to better address SSI. Their research on SSI has, however, led them to extend their understanding of how science works. As they investigated the issues that they focused in their instructional modules, they first realized the social and cultural impacts on science. They stated that how scientists go about their business was quite different from how they thought it was. This was the result of their prior learning experiences about science and scientific method, according to the participants.
The participants found this transformation of ideas about science quite surprising though. As pre-service science teachers, they did not expect themselves to have misconceptions about science. One reason behind the transformation was that they did not have experiences of learning SSI.
“I don't believe I've ever known much about SSI before. Of course, we heard about climate change or the contamination of water and air. But, you know what I mean, they didn't teach us these subjects, like SSI. Just the facts, a bunch of information.”
According to another participant, because her experiences of learning science were mainly based on science content and sometimes doing lab experiments, she learned science that was decontextualized from the society and environment in which it occurs.
In addition to science, the participants of the study reported that their views on data were dramatically altered. The findings showed that the participants’ initial views about data were mostly numbers, while verbal comments were included in their interpretation of data after being exposed to SSI. As they researched SSI, they realized that the insights of the people from diverse perspectives and backgrounds were essential.
“Data does not mean just numbers and tables. It is unfortunate that most individuals just believe in numbers. After doing research on SSI, I found that the words and statements of persons who face these challenges personally are worth more than anything.”
Moreover, they noted that scientists were not the only group who collects data, yet they can use secondary data that was from the people who witness and/or experience these issues. Hence, it is fair to say that their definition of what constitutes data has shifted significantly during the process. Just one participant maintained that empirical evidence should be based on a quantitative methodology, while three of the participants openly suggested that qualitative data, such as observations and interviews, was required for a holistic interpretation of the SSI.
“If we wanna understand the scientific aspects of SSI, yes, the data is necessary. But how to understand facets of economics, sociology, society, and so on. We need other kinds of evidence, such as observations and interviews, and qualitative data.”
The analysis of the data revealed that another transformation occurred in the participants’ understanding of the environment. Initially, the participants approached the environment independently of human society. They claimed that while they acknowledged the human impact on the environment, they were not aware of the clear boundary between the environment and society. Their statements, however, suggested that the essence of SSI helped them appreciate the intertwined relationship between humans and the environment, as well as how these two affect each other. Hence, they accepted the truth that human beings are an essential part of the environment.
“The environment should not be treated as isolated from human society. We also sound that the world is on one side, while on the other side is culture. This isn't real. That’s not true. As we have been researching SSI subjects. I found that we are living in the environment, really. As well as animals and trees, we are part of this system. In most SSI, that's where the social component comes from.”
One of the participants argued that they felt isolated from the world by living in a very developed area, so they did not consider themselves part of the ecosystem. Since SSI are mostly environmental issues that have strong ties with scientific and social situations, their environmental pre-conceptions blossomed into a comprehensive and inclusive way. His perception of the environment, as one of the participants said, originally consisted of plants, flowers, and animals, while SSI’s comprehensive and multidimensional framework made her realize that there was more to the environment than these components. She added that in the sense of the environment, social elements of SSI, such as economics and culture, should also be taken into account.
Truth and ethics
The statements of the participants demonstrated how their sense of truth and ethics was transformed as they explored the SSI topics while planning and teaching SSI-focused units. Most of the participants said that before the SSI study process, they were more likely to accept the basic principles of ethics. However, as they researched the SSI issues more closely, they found that due to the existence of SSI, it was hard to speak about generally agreed ethical codes. The participants, therefore, felt that addressing SSI with preconceptions of fundamental reality and ethics could make it difficult to consider every aspect of the issue. To explain, one participant claimed that the SSI topics affecting groups of individuals with diverse worldviews allowed them to be mindful of these individuals’ realities. In the sense of SSI, she added that the generally recognized ethical principles, like social and environmental ethics, could not be admissible because they have driven persons to view SSI from a particular viewpoint, which is not relevant to SSI.
“Well, universal truth, as we all know, is an easily embraced idea. Still, is it really ok to judge different groups based on those universally accepted ethical principles? With global rules that were invented without directly understanding that dilemma, how do we address a local issue?”
One of the participants, on the other hand, claimed that he found this proposal troublesome. He concluded that to address any SSI, regardless of the views and positions of various actors, there must be a widely agreed reality.
“We are all human Different roles and viewpoints exist, but there are laws decided upon by all humans. Truth is truth. Reality is reality regardless of what different people think. Truth, regardless of what various individuals believe, is reality. In SSI situations, all persons must follow them. That's what our students should get.”
During the development of SSI-based instructional modules, another theme found in the data was called the ‘dilemma’. The data showed that because of the substantial variations between their prior and final understandings and beliefs, the participants faced dilemmas.
Perspective taking or being right
In SSI situations, understanding the viewpoints of the multiple actors is considered to be a crucial skill in coping with these problems. The participants were also well-aware of the value of this unique capacity. The interview results revealed, on the other hand, that the participants grappled deeply with the notion of being on the right or wrong side. Some respondents claimed that knowing the views of various SSI groups might lead them to the wrong conclusions. Even though they acknowledged that sympathy was essential to address SSI comprehensively, it was claimed that sympathize with incorrect claims by the classes would be misleading. Giving the example of a local environmental problem, one participant claimed that one of the leading actors with clear statements regarding the topic undoubtedly had anti-environmental views. She explained her dilemma as follows:
“I recognize that in order to live, they should consider their economy, but sympathy is a strong word. I don't believe corporate owners across the city necessarily care about the environmental harm they are creating. They advocate their actions strongly and do not listen to others. But, we need to understand their point. They need money for their family, kids. The reality of life itself.”
Besides, another participant felt that it was necessary to take a firm stance against the groups on the wrong side. Even though it was found to be necessary to take the viewpoints of various SSI stakeholders, he was quite cautious about the possibility of sympathizing with the guilty party.
“You will find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks if you express support for those with false claims. There is no middle, right side or wrong side.”
Conversely, two of the participants strongly appreciated the perspective-taking approach by claiming that being able to consider one’s point does not mean whether you agree or disagree.
“Being able to take views of other entities does not mean endorsing them. It just helps you see the issue from a broader perspective. For instance, when teaching climate change, we need to teach our students the claims of manufacturing factory owners. That does not hurt anyone, even little children.”
Social and cultural embeddedness of science
Even though the sociocultural influence on science is generally neglected, it is important to recognize the intertwined relationship between science and the socio-cultural context in which it occurs, particularly in SSI contexts. However, little emphasis is given to the social and cultural embeddedness of science in the curriculum. In the situations in which they interacted with SSI, the participants often failed to grasp the social and cultural embeddedness of science. Due to their pre-existing conceptions of science, some participants were not able to adequately understand the social and cultural influences affecting scientific knowledge. To illustrate, one of these participants stated that it would be much easier to deal with SSI if science was fully isolated from the social, cultural, and even economic impacts.
“Perhaps, we can first attempt to consider SSI from a scientific viewpoint. If there is pollution, scientific data tells you. It doesn't matter where the scientist who collected the data came from. Science is removed from any social effect, also in SSI cases.”
On the other hand, two of the participants’ dilemma about the sociocultural influences on science did not lead them to advocate “pure science”. They argued that contextualized learning processes were more effective than the old-fashioned way of learning science, decontextualized from its real-world context. They added that comprehending science within its sociocultural context was necessary for SSI learning. Despite their view, these participants added that to grasp such sociocultural influences, students require high-order thinking ability. Hence, teaching SSI via contextualized learning processes was a dilemma for teachers, according to these participants.
“Our SSI teaching experience has told us that science can be taught in the sense of real life. This way it is learned easier and better. Otherwise, it is often meaningless for our students. In this way, we show them how to use scientific expertise in their lives. But, you know, not every student gets that, they need high order thinking.”
Pro-environmental decisions or personal and societal benefits
Another big dilemma observed in the participants’ statements was either taking a pro-environmental stance or considering personal or societal benefits. Even though the participants were more inclined to advocate environmental positions in SSI scenarios, they sometimes showed empathy towards individuals who take action for people’s benefit. Their statements indicated the challenge they face when determining their position. For instance, one participant argued that despite the negative consequences on the river that runs through the area, the use of the riverbank by the local people was reasonable. She added that it was really hard to choose one side or another to make the ultimate decision.
In the local food production scenario, another participant stated that it was unfair to recommend people consume locally produced food due to the overpricing. Despite the fact that her research indicated the positive outcomes of locally grown food for both environment and the local economy, she sympathized with the people who can only afford the food from groceries. She also criticized that the groceries can offer more affordable food than locals despite their extra costs, such as shipping and wholesale intermediaries.
“I mean, everybody wants to support the community by purchasing local food. But, if the stores are cheaper, why not? Why would you expect to spend extra to help the local community? That local goods are more costly doesn't make sense. I cannot persuade my students to purchase more expensive items just for the sake of their community.”
The data analysis revealed that the participants made clear critiques of the different facets and actors participating in education. The participants realized numerous challenges to their work during their experience of planning and teaching SSI. Hence, they illustrated those concerns and attacked them.
Based on their previous experiences, the participants questioned the content-centered education, arguing that SSI allowed students to explore the subjects while moving beyond the boundaries of conventional education methods. All participants exhibited positive attitudes on the way SSI transformed teaching and learning. To illustrate, one of the participants argued that SSI-based experiences helped students learn more comprehensively and inclusively, which was not possible with traditional instructional approaches. She added that centralized multiple-choice tests spoiled the education. While the SSI-based learning processes were not entirely successful in succeeding in those tests, according to the participant, the knowledge and skills that students obtained via SSI were more in line with the ultimate objectives of education. She claimed that education should aim to raise individuals who are responsible citizens with a certain degree of fulfillment and happiness. Based on her experiences, she concluded that the students in SSI classes were more motivated to take responsibility for making meaningful improvements in society in SSI circumstances. Hence, she strongly advocated SSI to achieve these goals.
“I assume that SSI is necessary to accomplish the objectives of education in general, but our national examination-based educational system does not encourage teachers to fully address SSI in their classrooms. If you don’t reform the system, how are you going to meet the aspirations of scientifically literate citizens?”
Moreover, in order to promote the concept of SSI-based learning environments for students, another participant identified several elements, such as critical thinking, ethics, and multidimensional thinking. He concluded that he would rather be a pupil in an educational environment that brings students in such competencies, instead of offering only content.
The data collected from the participants also indicated that the current structure of science education was firmly called into question. After analyzing thoroughly SSI-based instructional processes, the participants criticized the science curriculum and teaching which is highly dependent on content, rather than skills and competences. They claimed that too much content was involved with the current science curriculum. Thus, the content-driven science curriculum had to be reformed, according to the participants. The nature of SSI that aims to foster essential skills, such as critical thinking, interdisciplinary viewpoints, and problem-solving, was deemed suitable for this change.
“The science curriculum itself was one of the strongest barriers we encountered when teaching SSI. We have so much content to cover; hence it does not encourage you to address anything extra. Whenever I wanted to give SSI-based interactions to my classmates, I was very nervous about the topics we had to address.”
In addition to the content-driven structure of science education, the participants also discussed the divergence of the content of science education from its real-world meaning, so that the participants called it “decontextualized”. Designing and implementing SSI-based instructional units, the participants often intended to present the SSI-based content in its social and cultural context. Based on their experiences around SSI, the participants believed that science instruction should be supported with contextual aspects in order to make the content more relevant to the students. Hence, learning science becomes more meaningful and effective for students.
“You will not take advantage of the context if you plan to use the national curriculum that is synchronously used all over the country. I would prefer to address contextualized content, but the curriculum was not designed for that. The content that has been fully decontextualized is not acceptable for use in SSI.”
As they created their SSI-based instructional plans, the participants frequently linked the community and school. They encouraged the students to visit their neighborhood to gather data. On the other hand, the participants commented on the physical layout of the schools that isolates them from the culture in which they are situated. They argued that a strong drawback to the SSI was generated by the school body. To illustrate, one of the participants complained about the fact that the school building and the walls around it did not encourage the students to be conscious of their community’s problems. The barriers between the school and the community should be annihilated in order to meet the goals of the SSI strategy. Furthermore, the physical structure of the schools was an important part of this solution.
“Our school is completely segregated from the city. They feel super awkward whenever I invite my students to go visit their neighborhood to observe the issue. The school building carries the message that outside is very unsafe. Really, is it? That’s where students spend most of their time.”
In addition, the school infrastructure was not sufficient enough for students to explore SSI topics. Two of the participants noted that the schools did not have large classrooms, computer labs, and so on; hence, the students could not study SSI topics effectively. To illustrate their point, these participants shared an anecdote where the students were not able to work in groups cooperatively to do their projects due to the limited number of computers in the school, as well as limited physical spaces to work independently.
As they described their experiences during the process, the participants shared certain aspects that caused them to struggle. These aspects were listed as changing students’ habits, collaborating with the classroom teacher, and working with the community.
After designing and implementing SSI, the participants believed, more than ever, that the students should not be passive learners. They constantly stated that the role of students in society should be more evident. As instructors in SSI-based classes, the participants frequently struggled to have students actively participate in the process because of students’ second nature of passively receiving information. Hence, the participants wished the students had previous SSI encounters. In order to encourage students to change their habits, two of the participants used community-involvement activities. To illustrate, one participant claimed that she needed to take her students outside of the school twice to teach them that working outside of the school borders was still part of formal learning. Another participant shared that she asked her students to conduct brief interviews with the community members about an ongoing SSI. According to the participants, despite their attempts, the students were still reluctant to do work outside the classroom.
“I have worked so hard to encourage them [students] to go outside and explore the problem actively. But they are not, you know, capable of doing so. They want to sit in the classroom and listen to their teachers. Sometimes, I almost begged them. It is not in them because they have been taught to be passive receivers for years.”
Besides being unwilling to leave their comfort zone, the students were not conscious of their position in their local community, according to the participants. That is why, the participants strongly struggled to make their students feel responsible for the issues in their own community, as well as taking actions to address those issues.
“Students don’t think the problem is theirs. You live there, I say, but they believe they have no responsibility whatsoever for anything. So, they just don't want to be part of the solution.”
Thus, the participants sought for the change of the attitudes and perceptions of students about their position in the community. Most participants claimed that if the students were as they were, it was almost impossible to teach SSI effectively. They believed that it was quite difficult to achieve the objectives of SSI-based instruction because students insist on becoming passive recipients of the information and not leaving their comfort zone.
Another struggle encountered by the participants in the context of SSI was about their mentor teachers’ attitudes and actions. Some participants addressed that the teachers were not bold enough to present the controversial aspects of SSI, especially those that were directly connected to their local communities. Thus, the teachers presented SSI in a less controversial manner in their classrooms, according to them. One of these participants shared that as she was implementing her SSI-based instruction, she was constantly warned by the classroom teacher.
“It was an interesting experience. I have been warned by her anytime I address the controversial aspects of the issue. She constantly told me to be careful about what I teach.”
They believed that the way they were counseled to teach SSI could not bring students in the objectives of SSI. Another participant, on the other hand, agreed with the instructor who recommended that the contentious aspect of SSI be discussed less frequently. He said the teachers deeply feel the burden of their society, particularly the parents. Therefore, if the teachers address the views against their community, they could face even legal actions.
“I understand her. They are the ones who interact with the parents, as well as other community members. Our mentor is held accountable for that if we make any mistake. It is for this purpose that she wants to control everything. She is not in a position to take any risk.”
Besides the hesitancy of students, the pre-service teachers were also in struggle due to the community’s approach when students investigate community-based issues. The participants often stated that their students were not welcomed by the community. Thus, the students were hesitant to fully approach these issues. The participants mentioned that whenever they urged their students to go outside their school to do first-person research, they were not able to get adequate support from the community members. One of the participants emphasized that the community should be informed and educated about how student learning should be facilitated, especially on community-related issues.
“People in this area are not ready to support kids. Our students went outside to do research, but only few people helped them. Most of them did not have enough information, but the ones who have knowledge did not have time for the kids. The students then gave up and decided to talk to their teachers and parents instead.”
The participants noted that the community should provide students with a safe and friendly atmosphere while discussing the struggle they experienced. Otherwise, the teachers do not feel comfortable leading their students to transcend the boundary of the classroom.
The last theme that emerged from the data was called changes. As the participants experienced SSI-based processes, they observed changes in their behaviors and habits.
The participants believed that the SSI-based experiences induced them to modify certain aspects of their teaching. Some participants stated that they began to use SSI-based approaches in different scenarios. To illustrate, one participant shared that after being exposed to SSI, she began to use approaches such as argumentation. Her teaching habits were used to be what she considered conventional methods, she said.
“I used to lecture, I think, like the way we were taught in classrooms. I found out new forms of teaching, more neutral ways of teaching when attempting to learn how to teach SSI. That doesn't say I wasn't aware of these ways of teaching, I know them entirely in theory. But, you know, how can I use them, how do they look in practice. I agree that SSI has provided me a rich context, like an opportunity, like a chance to see them whether they are effective or not in reality.”
Similarly, another participant said that while teaching SSI, she was able to use a variety of different teaching strategies. The explanation behind this, she explained, was the flexible nature of SSI. Last, one of the participants highlighted changes in her way of teaching science in terms of the content she chose to use. He added that he felt compelled to enrich the content through different resources like news, documentaries, and other tools due to the existence of the SSI.
“I realized that textbook is not enough to teach SSI. I feel like I was unsatisfied with the details I had when I began working on developing my SSI strategy. I then looked for additional resources that I could use in my plans. Therefore, I searched for additional resources that I could use in my plans. Same in teaching. I often used extra resources related to nuclear energy.”
Based on the statements of the participants, it was fair to claim that SSI-based context required them to transform their teaching practices. They felt that they were challenged to improve their instructional strategies, as well as the resources that they had access to.
The participants of the study also discussed the impact on their everyday lives of developing and integrating SSI-based units. Two of the participants specifically stressed the shift in their everyday routines after the process. To illustrate, one of the participants stated that he acted in a more pro-environmental manner in his life after he realized the short-term and long-term effects of his daily routines on the environment. He also added that before expecting anyone who had vested interests in the SSI situations to do something, he had to adjust his actions.
“Yeah, we want farmers to use environment-friendly farming practices, for sure, but what about us? I realized that my awareness of the environment, which redounded my behaviors, increased. About these topics, I feel more sensitive.”
Another participant stated that while she was a student, which means having less income, she tried to buy locally produced food items to support the community. She stated that because she was able to get to know local farmers during the SSI-based teaching process, she felt responsible for being part of the solution. Hence, her everyday life patterns were changed dramatically based on what she learned while teaching SSI.
Different from other participants, one participant addressed how SSI-based processes altered the way she looked at the issues. She specifically pointed out that she was able to approach issues through sympathy and multiple viewpoints. She also claimed that she was not an easy-going person in certain scenarios, but she was able to sympathize with others due to her experiences of listening and understanding individuals who were usually blamed in SSI scenarios.
The last changing aspect under this theme was the resources to get information. The participants shared that when they needed information about SSI, they were more likely to obtain it from the first person, if possible. Criticizing the fact that much of the resources present the issues from a single viewpoint, they believed that one should be able to reach out to different actors in the issue in order to be able to make decisions. Based on that, the participants asserted that they sought to find the information from multiple sources after their experiences in SSI. According to the participants, they began to express this action in their everyday lives. In addition, although the initial thoughts of the participants had mostly been to receive information from the academic resources, after their experiences of SSI, they were mostly to acquire information from non-academic sources of information, such as newspapers, magazines, internet pages, and even social media.
“Hmm, scientific resources are important, and first to listen, but you know, you cannot hear people’s reactions and voices in those resources. We need a variety of different resources, like social media, to understand SSI.”