Published in The Science Teacher, Sara Wilmes and John Howarth

Read the full article here


Issue-oriented science helps students see how science is connected to their lives and communities. The issues in SEPUP's Issues and Science provide context for relevant and connected anchoring and investigative phenomena within the unit. Not just an event or process that links scientific content - an issue is meaningful to students' lives and connects science to real-world events that affects them and their communities. These issues connect the why for students, helping them answer "Why does learning this matter?" Students investigate such questions as:

    Why should a person take a full course of antibiotics?

    How can a family reduce energy costs?

    What are the trade-offs involved in using a human crew on a space mission?

In Issues and Science, these kinds of issues contribute to a coherent storyline for students’ work and reflection. The activities and investigations also require students to apply scientific evidence to and analyze the trade-offs involved in personal and societal decisions.

Within the context of the unit issue, inquiry-based instructional strategies give students experience with scientific processes and natural phenomena. SEPUP’s instructional activities follow an inquiry continuum, from guided to open-ended. Guided inquiry introduces students to important ideas and gives them a model for scientific approaches. More open-ended inquiry experiences encourage students to develop their abilities to ask and investigate questions, to understand how to apply scientific principles to new problems, and to think critically about scientific evidence. Connecting these experiences back to the issue anchors the learning to specific, real-world conversations happening today.

In one of its position statements, the National Science Teachers’ Association (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). 

SEPUP believes that students should be able to explain how real-world phenomena, such as the release of wastes that results from using chemicals to make everyday products or the invasion of non-native species, affect people and the environment. SEPUP curricula provide support for students to use scientific and engineering practices, along with their understanding of disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts to explain, justify, and argue their point of view about various issues.

If students are to be motivated to learn, the context of the lesson and the language must be real and purposeful. In SEPUP units, issues that relate to personal and societal perspectives on real-world applications are woven through the activities, and the science content is taught in the context of the issue. In this way, the issue provides a connection to students’ lives and increases their motivation to learn.

Explore SEPUP's unit issues in Issues and Science, Designed for the NGSS