Environmental Socio-Scientific Issues in Initial Teacher Education

Modules for Initial Teacher Education

On this site we will publish 12 teaching modules on environmental socio-scientific issues (SSI) for higher education (HE) to be used in lectures and seminars for future mathematics and science students in initial teacher education.

The modules will address future teachers’ competencies in dealing with environmental issues themselves, thus learning about them first, and then second, their skills in teaching such issues.

Both learning and teaching these skills relate to

  • scientific competencies
  • transversal skills like critical thinking, innovative mind-sets and forward-looking skills and
  • taking into account the social ethical and cultural aspects related to SSI when making decisions.

Module 1: The nature of environmental SSI

Module O1 will be developed as a basis for the other modules in this project and it promotes a comprehensive understanding of environmental socio-scientific issues (SSI) guided by research and the educational discussion on SSI. It will provide meta-knowledge on characteristics of SSI and on how to deal with them. The aim of this module is to present a conceptual foundation for the other modules. In relation to the overall aim of motivating and enabling future teachers to include SSI into their teaching it will also initiate first reflections on future teachers’ beliefs on including SSI into teaching and give future teachers reasons for doing so.

As an introductory module ‘The nature of environmental SSI’ will focus on the following topics:


  1. First examples for environmental SSIs
  2. Reflection on specific characteristics of environmental SSI
  3. Definition of SSIs
  4. How to deal with SSI in general: Steps needed to deal with an SSI in the sense of active responsible citizenship.

When thinking about teaching SSI the first important thing is convincing future teachers of including SSI into teaching. Therefore, this module will also encourage reflecting on future teachers’ beliefs on teaching environmental SSI and will provide motivation and purpose of including them into teaching. Another important aspect is the explanation about the relevance of SSI in relation to the (HEI, national and European) curriculum and educational directives.


  1. Making students aware of their own opinion on the connection on environmental SSI and mathematics and science and their beliefs related to such issues.
  2. Why should environmental SSIs be included in mathematics and science teaching?
  3. Environmental SSI in classroom teaching: an example for use on secondary level.
  4. What do students learn when dealing with such a task?


Dealing with Socio-Scientific Issues


From Maass, Doorman, Jonker, Wijers (2019).

Module O1 raises the aspect of environmental SSI in initial education for future science and maths teachers and gives first insights in the potential of SSIs with regard to science and maths teaching and what roles (future) teachers and their beliefs play. This module for higher education (HE) will be used in lectures and seminars for science students in initial teacher education (ITE).

Lead Partner: Pädagogische Hochschule Freiburg

Module 2: Reasoning, Argumentation & Critical Thinking

The aim of module 2 is to enhance future teachers’ competences in reasoning, argumentation and critical thinking. Therefore, this module provides resources and strategies to help prospective teachers to grasp underlying ideas and to create effective learning environments for reasoning, argumentation and critical thinking. To achieve this objective, we use media reports as a starting point.

The focus will be on future teachers’ learning, but module 2 will also give an outlook on how to use media reports in future teachers’ teaching. Intellectual Output 2 will propose some examples involving in strategies that can be adapted by future teachers as a model for designing their own activities.

In this module 2, we will innovatively promote prospective teachers’ understanding about socio-scientific issues (SSI) through STEM-related media reports. Our goal is to use media reports as an instructional tool to help prospective teachers, and, in return, their future students to become better informed and more discerning consumers of scientific information and to increase their motivation and willingness to learn STEM. We will put a particular emphasis on reasoning, critical thinking and argumentation skills, which includes evaluating the credibility of evidence, establishing the validity of explanatory conclusions, models or predictions, and evaluating sources of both conclusive and inconclusive science. Advanced reasoning and argumentation skills are necessary to grasp the underlying ideas behind media reports of STEM related to environmental SSI.

Module 2 will focus on the following topics:


  1. Media Literacy
  • Media Literacy and scientific literacy
  • Environmental SSI in the media
  1. Reasoning, Argumentation and Critical Thinking
  • Models on reasoning, argumentation and critical thinking
  • Similarities and differences of these models
  1. Using media reports as a starting point to discuss environmental SSI
  • Strategies for evaluating media reports of scientific research
  • Analysing media reports of scientific research
  • Using science-related news and different reasoning, argumentation and critical thinking models to discuss SSI in the media

HEI teaching staff and science and maths ITE students/users will gain awareness on how to use STEM media reports to extract relevant data and become better informed but also understand how to form an opinion on through media-provided data. We expect that a general awareness on the complexity of information provided through media will evolve and an awareness on how individuals can critically question provided information.

Lead Partner: Hacettepe University

Module 3: Collecting data

The aim of module 3 is to provide a foundation for future science teachers on data collection, preparation and analysis in the context of environmental issues. Through this module future teachers will develop competences in planning and carrying out experiments, surveys or interviews, in collecting, preparing and analysing data and representing them according to correct statistical inference. They will learn about what needs to be considered when they start planning data collection activities with the help of experiments, surveys or interviews / questionnaires. In the next step, students will learn how to represent data. This includes lists, tables and different methods for graphical data representations, measures for centre and spread and their respective pros and cons. Additionally, methods for data analysis will be discussed. Module 3 will form the basis knowledge for data collection and data analysis in the context of environmental data sources.

Lead Partner: Institute of Mathematics and Informatics at the Bulgarian Academy of Science

Module 4: Analysing big data

The aim of module 4 is to provide a foundation for future mathematics and science teachers on data visualization and the ability to decide upon as well as create (true and wrong) data-based stories in the context of environmental issues. Module 4 will show the connection between environmental socio-scientific issues (SSI) and mathematics (statistics) by providing illustrative examples and visualizations of big data sets of environmental issues. These examples will be connected to topics that can be addressed in the statistics curriculum. The particular focus of this module – in contrast to module 3 – is on handling very big amounts of data, where it is very easy to lose overview and forming an opinion based on it. In our current data driven society it has become important to be able to understand, communicate about and critically reflect on quantitative information. The aim of module 4 is to address the mathematics behind the construction of (true and wrong) stories based upon data. With case studies we will focus on strategies to select numbers from datasets, the explanatory power of measures for centre and spread, and use various visualization techniques. In connection with these mathematical tools we will also focus on the language for talking about spread and trends.

Lead Partner: Utrecht University

Module 5: Decision-making

In Module 5 future science teachers will develop competences in decision-making concerning environmental socio-scientific issues (SSI) using the example of confronting scientific positions on global food provision. The aim of this module is to present conditions and influencing factors for decision-making related to global food provision and to provide orientation on the global food market, e.g. on aspects like food sources, food production, food distribution and food consumption. Whilst the focus in this module is on learning, there will be also insights into including these aspects into science teaching at school. The module 5 will address future teachers’ values and attitudes and confront them with their role as active responsible citizens since topics such as “world hunger and malnutrition” have a very strong emotional and emphatic component. It will also contain concrete ideas on how to include issues with such an emotional aspect in science and maths teaching and learning.

Lead Partner: Charles University

Module 6: Negotiating social, political or ethical dimensions in SSI

The aim of module 6 is to raise and foster future science teachers’ awareness for the interconnection between scientific knowledge and social, political and ethical challenges under the topic of “mobility”. Future science teachers will have the opportunity to learn about approaches for subject-specific as well as interdisciplinary teaching topics and to experience directly applicable teaching methods. Module 6 provides an example of an environmental SSI with multiple references to real-life experiences of future teachers as well as gain experience with materials and methods for use in the classroom. “Mobility” is a socially relevant topic that illustrates the extent to which research and technology influence everyday life, the heterogeneity of needs and the unequally distributed opportunities of different social groups. The mobility situation of a region affects not only ecological but also social, political and ethical aspects. The interaction of these aspects of mobility poses a particular challenge for the sustainable development of cities, regions and global systems. “Mobility” as a teaching topic creates individual points of reference for children and young people to a socially relevant problem area and offers a variety of points of contact in order to link their own experiences in life with scientific concepts from science and mathematics. With a diverse spectrum of inquiry-based classroom activities and diversity-sensitive didactic approaches, impulses are set to reflect on the individual mobility situation, to discover technologies from the mobility sector and to gain insight into fields of work there.

Lead Partner: Universität Klagenfurt

photo: pixabay

Module 7: Aims of SSI and the Curriculum

Module O7 for Higher Education will be used in lectures and seminars for mathematics and science students in Initial Teacher Education (ITE). The module will focus on the aspects of environmental socio-scientific issues (EnvSSIs) that are related to the educational goals of schools and how future teachers can embed them in curricula. In European countries, curricula are mainly given through national authorities.

The literature review suggests that there is a need for integrating Environmental Socio-scientific issues in science and mathematics curricula.

Some of the arguments that support this view are:

  • students’ development of argumentation skills and sensitivity to such issues;
  • improve students’ conceptual understanding of the related notions (e.g., global warming) and processes (e.g., modelling) involved;
  • resolving students’ misconceptions on such issues;
  • enriching the mathematics and science curriculum material.

The rationale to include EnvSSIs in classroom results in preparing teachers in this direction. It seems that several challenges exist that teachers face in designing and implementing these tasks in classroom activities. Some of these challenges are teachers’ value-free beliefs; teachers’ ill-preparedness in teaching EnvSSIs; many contextual restrictions and difficulties teachers face as regards classroom management issues.

Thus, developing a professional development model in order to prepare European prospective mathematics and science teachers to handle these issues in classroom teaching is a necessity in these years. The module O7 aims to provide specific directions related to teaching and learning EnvSSIs.

Topics for learning Mathematics and Science

  1. Areas of mathematics and science education suitable to be related to EnvSSIs.
  2. STEM as a framework for identifying EnvSSIs. How can EnvSSIs and STEM education be implemented through curriculum materials and key practices?
  3. Levels of knowledge, social and cultural NOS, ethical development. This part of the module will be connected to module 1, which focuses on the nature of SSI, module 6 and negotiates the social, political or ethical dimensions underlying SSIs.
  4. Aims of teaching EnvSSIs including students’ conceptual development and higher-order thinking.
  5. Students’ understanding of the socio-political elements involved in EnvSSIs and competences in ethical reasoning and decision-making.
  6. SSI in mathematics curricula: examples of relevant thematic areas, practices and situations
  7. EnvSSIs in science and mathematics curricula: examples of relevant thematic areas, practices and situations in partners’ national curricula.
  8. Developing a model for EnvSSIs on learning and teaching in mathematics and science. This part of the module will be the basis and point of reference for the modules 9-12



Extending a typical mathematical textbook task

One of O7 aims is to support prospective teachers to extent typical textbook tasks.

Module O7 is innovative in that it analyses curricula in relation to environmental issues. It connects them to day-to-day teaching by supporting future teachers in understanding the curricula and adopting their requirements in their teaching.

The expected impact is that future teachers will be enabled to interpret the curriculum so that they see options for implementing environmental issues and can also justify their proceeding to anyone questioning this (e.g. parents favouring traditional approaches to science teaching).

Lead Partner: Ethniko Kai Kapodistriako Panepistimio Athinon

Module 8: Beliefs on teaching SSI

A problem that is still unexplored in environmental socio-scientific issues (SSI) is how different people (e.g. from different cultural backgrounds, with different experiences) identify with the SSI they are exploring. Even though we know that peoples’ cultural experiences and personal narratives influence their decisions, not much is yet known about how teachers’ beliefs influence whether and how they teach SSI. Therefore, the aim of module 8 is to help teachers recognize how their own beliefs, narratives, cultural backgrounds and personal identities might influence their choice to teach or not teach specific SSI, and how they teach it. With the development of a tool (questionnaire), based on the review of the literature, the module helps teachers to reflect on their own beliefs, narratives and biases teaching SSI. This tool will also help perspective teachers understand their limitations when it comes to teaching SSI, and critical reflect on them. We will develop 3-4 case studies of teachers teaching specific SSI with their classes. These case studies will present specific biases that teachers have (their own subject background, personal narratives, cultural background, beliefs about teaching science). The case studies will also include examples from intercultural classes, identifying issues of concern when presenting SSI in diverse classroom settings.

Lead partner: University of Nicosia

Module 9: Developing a SSI lesson I – focus on didactic aspects

This module gives future teachers help with designing a lesson. On one side it will be based on research related to socio-scientific issues (SSI) and on the other side on education for sustainable development (ESD). The module will also draw on the educational approach of inquiry-based learning. As an example, we will use the huge challenge of “plastic waste”, implications for human kind and nature, and proposals on how to deal with this in an educational context. The aim of this module 9 is to present an up-to-date status of the research on SSI issues related to plastic waste, and contribute to raise public awareness among the young generations. In this work schools and teachers have an important role to increase students’ knowledge and awareness about plastic as a waste problem, as well as the scale of the problem. While amount and types of plastics/micro plastics waste are quite well documented, there is still a lack of knowledge on physiological impacts. In the field of SSI and education related to plastic waste, the research is fragmented, and results related to public awareness and public induced actions are incoherent.


Module 9 will focus on the following topics:

Learning dimension:
Future teachers are supposed to

  • Understand the life cycle of plastic bottles, from production to waste, mainly in their own country, but also with an international perspective
  • Identify different dimensions of the plastic dilemma (historically, economically, socially, environmentally) and take part in discussions on this dilemma
  • Develop competencies (knowledge and skills) that enable them to take critical action (action competence)

Teaching dimension:

Future teachers are supposed to

  • Apply plastic dilemmas to teach about the role of science in society
  • Use inquiry-based learning approaches to teach plastic dilemmas in an SSI-perspective
  • Learn to set up socio-scientific issues (“wicked problems”) on plastics in their context
  • Teach students to work with socio-scientific issues (identify and argue for different aspects)
  • Plastic pollution as a “wicked problem” in their national and/or local curriculum – how is it treated?

Plastic bottles from all over the world, photo by Mausund Feltstasjon

Poster module 9

This module will exemplify how to deal with a complex, cross-subject theme and through this include more classic science content, as well as environmental SSI related themes.

Lead partner: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Module 10: Designing a SSI lesson – II

Module 10 will support future teachers in designing an SSI lesson based on the nature of SSI and particular features of socio-scientific issues (SSI) as dealt with in modules 1 – 6. The focus of module 10 will be on enabling future teachers to support their students in developing creativity, critical thinking and reasoning. They will learn to design their own related lesson. Transversal skills like critical thinking, reasoning and creativity can be enhanced in students by selecting controversial topics which promote these transversal skills and by choosing appropriate pedagogical methods, which allow for reasoning, critical thinking and creativity. Examples are plenary discussions, debates, group work, world cafes and many more. Prospective teachers will learn to choose these methods in relation to the specific aims of the lesson and in order to support transversal skills, also considering the need to consider social, cultural, political or ethical aspects of SSI.

Lead partner: Constantine the Philosopher University

photo: pixabay

Module 11: Scaffolding

The aim of module 11 is to show future teachers how they can support their students in dealing with complex environmental socio-scientific issues (SSI) by providing a scaffolding framework. For example, using the topics “forests” and “climate change”, this module provides an example of an SSI with multiple references to life experiences of future science teachers and their future students at school. In module 11 we will develop a meta-knowledge for environmental SSI for lower secondary students. We will introduce future teachers into using it for supporting their students and they will also learn how to adapt it to the age and achievement level of their specific students. We will introduce this scaffolding framework by using the example of forests and climate change. Mitigation and adaptation measures for climate change have become a global concern. Climate change has and will have significant effects on the environment, leading to complex social and economic questions. The concept of potential natural tree compositions allows identifying the most suitable trees for any stand. A free online-model (http://wamo.e-c-o.at/) can also be used for modelling future conditions. We want to make future science teachers familiar with the tool and show the different concrete status of forests in theory and in excursions as well. Based on this we invite future teachers to discuss and work with land-owners, foresters and experts from wood production to investigate on the interconnection of ecological (scientific) questions and social and economic matters.

Lead Partner: Universität Klagenfurt

photo: pixabay

Module 12: SSI and assessment

When was the last time that you watched fireworks?

Fireworks are often part of our celebrations, be it the New Year celebrations or a national event. They are used to light up and colour the evening sky in some theme parks. In Malta, for example, fireworks make up one of the characteristics of the warm summer nights and days! All towns and villages have their Festa, usually during one of the weekends between June and September. Fireworks enthusiasts work throughout the year to create these fireworks during their free time in specially constructed sites. Many consider it to be a tradition and part of the Maltese culture. The artistic displays attract many local people and tourists. But have you ever thought about the possible environmental impact of the use of fireworks in celebrations and festivities?

photo: pixabay

As part of the ENSITE project, students following initial teacher education courses will be invited to carry out an inquiry related to the use of pyrotechnics and the possible impact on the environment. They will be invited to consider different points of view on the matter and arrive at a conclusion on whether they should be banned or not. As student-teachers share their views and ideas, their colleagues will assess the arguments, evidence and views presented and provide feedback. They will reflect on how student learning may be assessed during lessons involving socio-scientific issues. Student-teachers will consider how they may use assessment in their classrooms to support and develop their students’ skills and competences when dealing with controversial topics. In this way students will be better equipped for dealing with complex dilemmas that they will face in life.

Lead Partner: University of Malta

Module 13: Guidelines for Open Learning Environments

Socio-Scientific Issues and how to include them in STEM teaching

The nature of Socio-Scientific Issues

Socio-Scientific Issues (SSI) require students to engage in dialogue, discussion, and debate. They are mainly controversial in nature but also require forming opinions and making decisions including moral, ethical or social reasoning issues (Zeidler and Nicols 2009). Most of the time, people have to deal with these issues through incomplete information because of conflicting or incomplete scientific evidence and incomplete reporting. Often these issues involve a cost-benefit analysis in which risk interacts with ethical reasoning (Ratcliff and Grace 2003). Consequently, such contexts especially serve the purpose of educating for scientific citizenship (Owen et al. 2009).

An example of an SSI in the area of biology is the question whether vaccination against measles should be obligatory or not. Opponents of vaccination ignore scientific evidence on vaccination and epidemics, and tend to refer to their own evidence and experts. In order to follow the discussion on this issue as an active citizen, young people need to learn about such issues and how they are influenced by ethical, moral and cultural issues.

photo by Liz Masoner pixabay

We suggest that when dealing with SSIs to follow a cyclic process including steps like search for information and (risk) analysis of sources of information, discourse about (possibly) contradicting scientific results and ethical, social, cultural reasoning (Zeidler and Nicols 2009). Particularly the difference between scientific results and conclusions has to be made clear (Ratcliff and Grace 2003). A possible resulting process is shown in Figure 3.


Fig. 3. Working process for socio-scientific issues (Maass, Doorman, Jonker and Wijers 2019)


Research has shown that SSIs can be used as contexts for learning scientific content (Applebaum et al. 2006; Walker 2003; Zohar and Nemet 2002) and for understanding the nature of science (learning ‘about science’, see part 1) and for citizenship education (Herman et al. 2018; Radakovic 2015; Sadler et al. 2007). In this respect, the authors highlight the following important aspects when dealing with SSIs: (1) recognizing the inherent complexity of SSIs, (2) examining issues from multiple perspectives, (3) appreciating that SSIs are subject to ongoing inquiry, (4) exhibiting skepticism when presented with potentially biased information.

How to include Socio-Scientific Issues in STEM teaching

One approach that has proven to be helpful in science education is inquiry-based learning (Knippels and van Dam 2017). Consequently, combining inquiry-based teaching approaches with SSIs seems to have the potential to promote active citizenship in STEM-education.

By IBL, we refer to a student-centered learning paradigm in which students are involved in inquiry-related processes like observing phenomena and creating their own questions, selecting mathematical approaches, creating representations to clarify relationships, seeking explanations, interpreting and evaluating solutions, and communicating their solutions (Dorier and Maass 2014).

On the teacher’s part, pedagogies evolve from a ‘transmission’ orientation, in which teacher explanations, illustrative examples and exercises dominate and are not questioned, towards a more collaborative orientation. The teacher’s role includes making constructive use of students’ prior knowledge, challenging students through probing questions, managing small group and whole class discussions, encouraging alternative viewpoints, learning from mistakes and helping students to make connections between their ideas (Swan 2005, 2007).

Definitions of IBL, however, differ in the degree of autonomy given to students in the selection of problems and in the responsibility for inquiry processes (Artigue and Blomhøj 2013). In our approach to IBL, we refer to a socio-cultural approach in which learning needs to happen in interactive social classroom settings (Radford 2010) and the teacher takes an active role by creating learning situations inspired by inquiry-related processes. Teachers who take these active roles in guiding their students are more effective than those who take passive roles and let students discover on their own (Askew et al. 1997; Swan 2006).

For the purpose of promoting citizenship education, students need to have an active role, similar to that in IBL, for developing critical thinking and decision making, for learning to take into account ethical, social and cultural aspects, and for learning to deal with controversy (Zeidler and Nicols 2009; Geiger, Goos and Forgasz 2015). Already Dewey (1916) emphasized the connection between IBL and education serving democracy.


Guidelines for Open Learning Environments PDF



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The creation of these resources has been co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union under grant no. 2019-1-DE01-KA203-005046. Neither the European Union/European Commission nor the project’s national funding agency DAAD are responsible for the content or liable for any losses or damage resulting of the use of these resources.

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