Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


School of Education

First Advisor

Dr. Augusto Z. Macalalag Jr.. Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Dr. Foram Bukhanwala, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Dr. Greer Richardson, Ph.D.


Research Problem

Reforms in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education over the past several decades have resulted in a somewhat steady pressure to infuse personal, social, and cultural relevance into STEM education (DeBoer, 1991; Gallagher, 1971; Hekimoglu & Sloan, 2005; ITEEA, 1996, 2020; NCTM, 2000; NRC, 1989, 2009, 2010, 2012). This emphasis on relevance eventually resulted in a push for social justice in education as a means to both engage learners and to develop students’ moral and ethical reasoning abilities in hopes that this would lead to a more just world (Dos Santos, 2009; Zeidler, 2016). Amidst rising concerns for relevant and equitable curricula, socioscientific issues (SSI) can be seen as an avenue to provide STEM teaching through a more justice-centered approach (Dos Santos, 2009; Morales-Doyle, 2017). However, engaging in social justice pedagogies in general is not always easy for teachers, and often underexplored for STEM teachers in particular (Kokka, 2018). For instance, teachers often struggle with implementing SSI due to issues with time constraints, confidence, and support (Fadzil, 2017; Saunders & Rennie, 2013).

Conceptual Framework: PCK of Social Justice STEM Pedagogy

Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) can be a useful model for describing and analyzing the different facets of teacher knowledge involved in successfully planning for and implementing classroom instruction (Gess-Newsome, 2015; Shulman, 1986). Important in understanding PCK are both the different pools of teacher knowledge contained within PCK (e.g. Magnusson et al., 1999; Chang & Park, 2020), and a holistic understanding of the context-specific particularities of teacher knowledge (Gess-Newsome, 2015). This study will use PCK of Social Justice STEM Pedagogy (SJSP) as a conceptual framework for understanding how teachers can teach STEM for social justice. This PCK of SJSP Framework (Figure 1) organizes instruction around an authentic, organizing SSI and is used to embed STEM content within sociocultural contexts relevant to students’ lives (Minken et al., 2020, 2021; Sadler et al., 2019; Zeidler, 2016). Through exploration of this SSI, the teacher is able to reframe the SSI as related to issues of injustice through problematization (Dos Santos, 2009; Freire, 1970/2000; Morales-Doyle, 2017, 2020) and develop students agency and move them to act in order to help resolve the issues of injustice revealed by the SSI (Dimick, 2012; Rodriguez, 1998; Sadler et al., 2019).

Research Methods

This study used a case study design (Creswell & Poth, 2018; Yin, 2018) to explore the ways teachers in the J-STEM program develop and conceptualize their Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) relating to Social Justice STEM Pedagogy (SJSP). Specifically, this study explored the ways in which teachers participating in the J-STEM program developed and refined their pedagogical content knowledge of SJSP throughout the course of the program. This study was guided by the following research questions:

RQ1: To what extent did teachers adapt their PCK of SJSP in the (re)development of a unit of study?

RQ2: To what extent did teachers use their PCK of Agency & Action to extend learning for students beyond the walls of the classroom?

RQ3: To what extent were teachers’ PCK of SJSP similar and different as they (re)developed a unit of study?

In this case, all of the research questions were focused on the PCK of SJSP for teachers participating in the J-STEM program. Therefore, the case under investigation was identified as the development of secondary teachers’ PCK of SJSP in the context of the J-STEM Program. This constitutes what Creswell and Poth (2018) refer to as an intrinsic case, as it “presents an unusual or unique situation” (p. 99) where teachers of STEM subjects are engaging in structured professional learning centered around infusing social justice into STEM. Bounding the case is important in deciding how to focus the case, such that there is clarity between what constitutes the case and what constitutes the context thereof. This case was bounded to the experiences and perceptions of teachers in the inaugural cohort that relate to the development of their PCK of SJSP. Other participants, staff, program activities, etc. were seen as the context within which the case resides. Three of these teachers were enrolled as participants in this study. All three are white, veteran teachers with more than 10 years of teaching experience teaching in public schools in low-income neighborhoods. Mr. Rubin is male, while Ms. Rossi and Ms. Moretti are female. Ms. Moretti and Mr. Rubin taught 6th grade science, while Ms. Rossi taught 11th & 12th grade physics and chemistry. None of these teachers had experience teaching with SSI prior to joining the J-STEM program.

Findings and Conclusion

Teachers in this study expressed PCK of Authentic Activity throughout their SJSP unit of study, showing that they sought to make learning authentic while they incorporated each of the additional four SJSP domains consecutively. Teachers did this by incorporating and valuing student voice, making learning relevant to their students, and engaging community partners throughout their units of study. Regardless of the order they chose in moving through the framework, the teachers expressed their PCK of Sociocultural Context by engaging students in exploring socioscientific issues, and analyzing these issues through multiple perspectives, and expressed their PCK of STEM Content through their use of modeling and through the ways in which they had students collect and analyze data. After guiding their students through the STEM Content and Sociocultural Context relevant to the SJSP unit of study, teachers engaged students in problematizing the underlying SSI. Teachers in this study expressed their PCK of Problematization in a variety of ways, including engaging students in reflecting on the relationship between the perspectives people have based on their backgrounds and experiences (reflexivity) and engaging in meaningful dialogue around these varied perspectives and implications relative to the SSI (dialogic conversation). Teachers further expressed their PCK of Problematization in the way they illuminated tensions inherent in the SSI central to their SJSP unit of study by asking students to consider how implications of the SSI and potential resolutions thereof would play out on a local vs. a global scale (magnification), and furthermore how the particulars of the SSI shifted depending on the locale the SSI was applied to (comparative localization). Finally, teachers built on students’ capacity to problematize the SSI, surfacing issues of injustice, to cultivate students’ Agency and support them in Action related to resolving the SSI. Teachers expressed this PCK of Agency & Action through the ways they had students elucidate their own positions and solutions with respect to the SSI and by engaging students in community improvement projects. In extending student learning beyond the walls of the classroom, teachers seemed to primarily emphasize the importance of community improvement projects. Teachers’ PCK of SJSP differed in the ways in which they emphasized different domains. Implications, limitations, and directions for future research are discussed.