Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Cory T. Forbes

Second Advisor

Jenny M. Dauer

Date of this Version



Peterson, A. McKenzie (2017). Problematizing socio-scientific issues: An approach to understanding student decision-making using Construal Level Theory. Masters Thesis, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science Major: Natural Resource Sciences Under the Supervision of Professors Cory T. Forbes and Jenny M. Dauer Lincoln, Nebraska May, 2017

Copyright (c) 2017 Ashley McKenzie Peterson


Socio-scientific issues (SSIs) are challenges at the intersection of science and everyday life that require use of scientific knowledge, argumentation skills, personal values, and morals to articulate science-informed decisions. While addressing SSIs, the ways in which individuals define a problem will influence the solution or decision reached. The problem definition can differ along many dimensions, including content and construal level. A construal is a mental construction of the past and future, other places and people, and unlikely events. Construal Level Theory (CLT) suggests pro-environmental intentions are associated with abstract situations. I explore the application of CLT to teaching and learning about science-informed decision-making through two instructional units: an undergraduate biodiversity SSI (n = 73) and a 6th grade wind energy SSI (n = 116). Data collected included student artifacts and, for the undergraduate study, a survey on value orientations. Research questions explore how students problematize each SSI topically and along a continuum from concrete to abstract and how their problematization is related to the decision-making processes and their ultimate decision. In the undergraduate population, students’ abstract and concrete problematizations was related to values they chose to use as criteria in their decision-making processes, however it did not predict their decisions. In the 6th grade population, abstract and concrete problematizations and perceptions of the wind turbine were associated, but there was no association with their decisions.

Advisers: Cory T. Forbes and Jenny M. Dauer