If it’s green or wriggles, it’s biology.
If it stinks, it’s chemistry.
If it doesn’t work, it’s physics.
~Handy Guide to Science
One of the primary goals of science in schools worldwide and particularly, here in the United States is to achieve scientific literacy. As defined by the National Science Education Standards, scientific literacy is, “the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.” Surveys conducted in the U.S. and Europe have determined that many citizens do not know basic scientific facts and concepts, nor do they understand the scientific method.
A model curriculum in school science should engage all students and have a dual purpose: increase scientific literacy and provide a solid foundation for advanced study in science. Ideally, this type of exposure would begin in the pre-school years and continue through the length of formal education. In biology, chemistry, math, and other science fields, learning the lessons well is like building a pyramid: the concepts build upon one another. The understructure must be secure, or the frame will collapse in a heap of blocks around the base. Grasping the basics is even more critical in a fast-moving field such as molecular biology.
For example, the teaching and learning of biology entails nurturing students’ capacities to capture, analyze, apply, and integrate information. These are important lifelong “process skills,” and it is imperative to identify and then ameliorate the difficulties preventing full mastery. Support from the public and the scientific community is there, but the strategy and implementation present the challenge.
What is being done to address the problem of scientific literacy? How do we improve school science education? The following are some methods and programs in the learning toolbox:
• The New Science of Learning –as outlined in the July 17, 2009, issue of the journal Science, three tenets affect human learning: learning is computational (machine learning); learning is social; and learning is facilitated by brain circuitry that is adaptable and pliable. Fundamental to learning and development are imitation, shared attention, and empathy.
• “CREATE”—an acronym for Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze data, and Think of the next Experiment. With less emphasis on textbooks and more focus on reading a series of journal articles that follow the evolution a single project or theme over a given period, the authors have been successful at demystifying scientific literature and enhancing student interest (Hoskins SG and Stevens LM, 2009).
• Twenty-First Century Science—a model course commissioned by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the government body responsible for regulating school curriculum in England and Wales. The core course for all students aged 14 to 16 was developed for greater understanding and student discussion of key science explanations.
• Summer Research Institutes, Math/Science Partnerships with school systems, and Revision of Teaching Resources and Construction of New Materials at the Elementary Level—a faculty member and professor of biology at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Jose` Bonner, describes his involvement in scientific literacy on his website (http://www.bio.indiana.edu/faculty/directory/profile.php?person=bonner).
Finally, the case for improving scientific literacy is summed up well in a quote from Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Terrence J. Sejnowski, Ph.D., ‘Our brains have evolved to learn and adapt to new environments; if we can create the right environment for a child, magic happens.’
References and Read-more-about-it:
1. Science Centric. New Science of Learning Offers Preview of Tomorrow’s Classroom. Available at:
http://www.sciencecentric.com/news/article.php?q=09071665-new-science-learning-offers-preview-tomorrow-classroom. Accessed January 21, 2010.
2. Meltzoff AN, Kuhl PK, Movellan J, Sejnowski TJ. Foundations for a New Science of Learning. Science 2009 July 17; 325(5938):284-288.
3. Gehring KM, Eastman DA. Information Fluency for Undergraduate Biology Majors: Applications of Inquiry-based Learning in a Developmental Biology Course. CBE-Life Sciences Education 2008 Spring; 7:54-63.
4. Hoskins SG, Stevens LM. Learning our L.I.M.I.T.S.: less is more in teaching science. Adv Physiol Edu 2009; 33:17-20.
5. Millar R. Scientific Literacy Can the school science curriculum deliver? Chapter 25 In Communicating European Research 2005 Proceedings of the Conference, Brussels, 14–15 November 2005; Springer Netherlands, 2007; pp. 145-150.