Examining tensions in the socioscientific issues classroom: Students' border crossings into a new culture of science

Hyunok Lee, Hyunju Lee, Dana L. Zeidler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


In the socioscientific issues (SSI) classroom, students need to cross the border between the subcultures of science (i.e., school science vs. everyday science). Traditional school contexts tend to present science as positivistic knowledge and unshakable truth unaffected by sociocultural factors. In contrast, everyday science, including SSI, is more nuanced, context-based, socially and culturally embedded. Thus, learning in an SSI classroom requires students to make additional efforts to successfully navigate between the subcultures of science. The expected norms located within these two educational contexts can create academic and sociocultural tensions for students. It is therefore necessary to explore the tensions caused these differential norms in order to successfully implement SSI. Through the lens of cultural-historical activity theory, we attempted to identify possible tensions that originate by implementing SSI instruction in a setting where teachers and students are accustomed to traditional lecture-based classroom instruction. One hundred thirty ninth graders at a public middle school located in Seoul, South Korea, participated in SSI programs on genetic modification technology during seven class periods over three to 4 weeks. Data was collected by classroom observation, audio-taping while students participated in various types of discourse, and semistructured interviews. We identified four noteworthy phenomena including intolerance of uncertainty, scientism, a sense of rivalry, and reaching an expedient and easy consensus. By revealing and understanding these tensions and phenomena, we aim to help inform teachers (and teacher educators) recognize instructional clues that can change not only students' epistemological views and attitudes toward science and science classes, but also better navigate the norms of classroom culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)672-694
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2020

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© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • SSI teaching
  • cultural-historical activity theory
  • culture of science
  • socioscientific issues


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