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Keywords:

  • sociocultural issues;
  • socioscientific issues;
  • environmental education;
  • informal education

Abstract

There is a growing consensus that simply learning enough science to decipher public debates on socioscientific issues will not make citizens better equipped to handle the complex and ill-structured problems these controversial issues present. This study highlights the interaction and complex interplay between youth authored and appropriated frames for making sense of socioscientific issues. To do so, we analyze how two middle-school aged youth, in an after-school program focused on green energy technologies, made sense of and took a stance on whether their city should build a new hybrid power plant over the course of a 13-week unit. Using critical sociocultural perspectives on learning and qualitative case study, we examined how the two youth navigated the issue and the resources, scientific and otherwise, they leveraged in defining the problem spaces involved in whether their city should build a new power plant. Our findings indicate that the scientific knowledge youth brought with them and acquired over the course of the investigation influenced how they made sense of the issue, but their knowledge was deeply connected to a range of personal and public discourses that influenced how they defined the issue and why it mattered to them. In particular, it was through how they framed their range of knowledge and experiences that they were able to recognize the multi-dimensional nature of the problem and propose complex solutions resonant with the science they understood. Our study offers conceptual tools for teaching and learning socioscientific issues. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 49: 541–567, 2012