From personal health to climate change and from bioethics to energy, a myriad of personal and societal issues requires citizens to make informed decisions based on their understanding of science and its applications. These issues provide a rich and motivating context in which students can learn scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering, and the disciplinary core ideas of the sciences and engineering (Klosterman and Sadler 2010). These disciplines influence every aspect of our lives, and in turn, we influence the direction and use of scientific and technological endeavors (Roberts and Bybee 2014). In addition, science and engineering are central to our well-being and success as individuals, as members of society, and as members of the global community. Therefore, NSTA advocates that K–16 science and engineering instruction be provided within the context of personal and societal issues. Contextualizing science learning through compelling issues not only showcases applications of science and engineering, but doing so can also transform the learning experience itself such that more impactful learning outcomes can be achieved (Zeidler 2014).
NSTA strongly promotes the education of a citizenry that understands the interdependence of science and engineering and the influence they have on society and the natural world as promoted in A Framework for K–12 Science Education (NRC 2012). This requires that we not only know, understand, and value scientific and engineering core ideas, practices, and crosscutting concepts, but that we are able to use and apply science and engineering in our personal and social lives (Sadler 2011). Both science and engineering are human endeavors that involve similar basic procedures; however, science involves exploration of the natural world seeking explanations—based on evidence—for objects, organisms, and phenomena encountered, while engineering focuses on solutions to problems in the human-made world.
There is a national consensus about the central role that science and engineering play in our society and its connection to our nation's competitiveness and future economic prosperity (Business Roundtable 2005). However, we have yet to ensure all students have the ability to use what they have learned when making decisions about what is appropriate in personal, societal, and global situations involving science and engineering, and to value these endeavors (Lee et al. 2013).
The purpose of understanding science and engineering is not solely for the sake of learning, but rather to enable and motivate citizens to contribute to and engage in society (DeBoer 2000). Therefore, NSTA sets forth the following declarations to promote the teaching of science and engineering within the context of personal and societal issues.
Regarding what students should be able to know and do in science within the context of societal and personal issues, NSTA recommends that students
Regarding how science instruction should occur within the context of societal and personal issues, NSTA recommends that science instruction
—Adopted by the NSTA Board of Directors, November 2010,
Revised, July 2016
Business Roundtable. 2005. Tapping America's potential: The education for innovation initiative. Washington, DC: Business Roundtable. Found online at http://www.tap2015.org/about/TAP_report2.pdf.
DeBoer, G. E. 2000. Scientific literacy: Another look at its historical and contemporary meanings and its relationship to science education reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37, 582–601.
Klosterman, M. L., and T.D. Sadler. 2010. Multi-level assessment of scientific content knowledge gains associated with socioscientific issues based instruction. International Journal of Science Education, 32, 1017–1043.
Lee, H., J. Yoo, K. Choi, S. W. Kim, J. Krajcik, B. C. Herman, and D. L. Zeidler. 2013. Socioscientific issues as a vehicle for promoting character and values for global citizens. International Journal of Science Education, 35 (12): 2079–2113.
National Research Council (NRC). 2012. A framework for K–12 Science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next generation science standards: For states by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Roberts, D. A., and R.W. Bybee. 2014. Scientific literacy and science education. In Handbook of research on science education, eds. S. Abell and N. G. Lederman. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Sadler, T. D. 2011. Socio-scientific issues in the classroom: Teaching, learning and research. New York: Springer.
Zeidler, D. L. 2014. Socioscientific issues as a curriculum emphasis: Theory, research and practice. In Handbook of research on science education, eds. S. Abell and N. G. Lederman. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.