Another benefit of this activity was displayed. Prior to SSI instruction, students seemed to be fixated on their beliefs and opinions and
didn’t consider other participants’ points of view on the issue. Working with an SSI taught the students to be more open-minded and
respectful of others’ opinions, as reflected during the rebuttals provided in the debate. Similar observations were displayed in a study
by Zeidler et al. (2018), in which answers to the SSI became more
robust in description as participants acknowledged other viewpoints
and exercised empathy.
Empowering future citizens to evaluate situations and make
sound decisions that bring about positive change is highly recommended to aid in the reinforcement of critical-thinking skills that
enable SSR. Boosting a science course by involving negotiation
with an SSI that offers real-world scenarios, such that students
can evaluate solutions and the social implications leading to a
solution while applying science content, is doable but challenging. Lessons rich in critical thinking and discourse need teachers
that can leave curriculum materials and instructional routines
aside and become more flexible and resourceful (Zohar, 2007).
These higher-order thinking activities involve shifting from a
teacher-centered instruction of knowledge transmission to a more
student-centered active instruction of knowledge constructors
Debates can bring about conceptual change but can also tap
into the moral aspects and beliefs of the participants. According
to Zeidler and Sadler (2007), “students’ reasoning is greatly
impacted by ambiguities or contradictions in the values of culture
and context.” The Puerto Rican culture and identity display a special appreciation for the island and everything that happens in it.
The inclusion of a local SSI triggered an emotional reaction in students, being an issue they could relate to. However, different postures were adopted by students who lived or were closely related
to the area and those who were not. While some based their arguments on concepts learned and the lack of policy enforcement,
others defended residents’ basic rights as a way to support the fairness of their decision.
Driven by these considerations, future studies will involve the
use not only of local SSIs but also of foreign ones. As noted above,
place and emotional attachment may be factors affecting SSR and
decision-making skills when students are familiar with local scenarios. Moreover, these participants share the same culture and
similar values, which may or may not affect their judgment. However, only one SSI was introduced to these students for which
changes in debate and discourse abilities were observable. Including more SSIs related to topics covered in class should provide
more opportunities for these future informed citizens to negotiate
and apply relevant science content knowledge and present solutions to real-world situations not only in their island, but in other
These Spanish-speaking students faced an open-ended SSI that
promoted the content knowledge domain and student engagement,
sparking an interest in topics related to environmental justice and
sociopolitical inclusion. This activity challenged high-achieving
and low-achieving students to exercise higher-order thinking skills
that were lacking from a traditional teacher-centered, content-based
classroom, thus fostering SSR.
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studies – can we improve higher order thinking skills of nonscience
majors? Science Education, 87, 767–793.
Hertler, H. (2002). The implications of resource management in La Parguera,
Puerto Rico. PhD dissertation, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA.
Jiménez-Aleixandre, M.P. (2007). Designing argumentation learning
environments. In S. Erduran & M.P. Jiménez-Aleixandre (Eds.),
Argumentation in Science Education (pp. 91–115). Dordrecht, The
Romine, W.L., Sadler, T.D. & Kinslow, A. T. (2017). Assessment of scientific
literacy: development and validation of the Quantitative Assessment of
Socio‐scientific Reasoning (QuASSR). Journal of Research in Science
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Sadler, T.D., Klosterman, M.L. & Topcu, M.S. (2011). Learning science
content and socio-scientific reasoning through classroom explorations
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Sadler, T.D. & Zeidler, D.L. (2005). The significance of content knowledge for
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Valdés Pizzini, M. & Schärer Umpierre, M. T. (2014). People, habitats,
species, and governance: an assessment of the social-ecological system
of La Parguera, Puerto Rico (pp. 5–9). Mayagüez, PR: Interdisciplinary
Center for Coastal Studies, University of Puerto Rico.
Zeidler, D.L., Applebaum, S., Mitchell, M., Wilkman, K., Nkruhman, T., Willis, S.,
et al. (2018). Socioscientific issues: teaching and learning in an evolving
context. Paper presented at the 91st Annual Meeting of NARST, Atlanta, GA.
Zeidler, D.L. & Kahn, S. (2014). It’s Debatable! Using Socioscientific Issues to
Develop Scientific Literacy. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
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argumentation: conscience, character, and care. In S. Erduran &
M.P. Jiménez-Aleixandre (Eds.), Argumentation in Science Education
(pp. 201–216). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.
Zeidler, D.L. Sadler, T.D., Simmons, M.L. & Howes, E.V. (2005). Beyond STS: a
research‐based framework for socioscientific issues education. Science
Education, 89, 357–377.
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LORRAINE J. RAMÍREZ VILLARÍN is a Science Education PhD candidate
attending the Florida Institute of Technology, where she currently works as a
graduate teaching assistant. Her teaching career has mostly included being an
elementary general science and secondary biology teacher in Puerto Rico. For
questions or comments, contact her at email@example.com or https://orcid.
org/0000-0002-1872-2023. SAMANTHA R. FOWLER is a Professor at the
Florida Institute of Technology as part of the STEM Education Program within
the Department of Mathematical Sciences; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.