When it comes to math and science graduates, the United States is far behind many advanced democracies, ranking 24th in the world (Linn, 2012). As one of the most powerful countries in the world, the United States lags too far behind when it comes to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) field. Compared to other countries, the United States is far behind in the scientific field. One reason is the lack of focus in science education. More importantly, however, it is the poor teaching methods of educators who do not concentrate on the importance of scientific literacy. Scientific literacy is defined as the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making (National Science Education Standards, 1996). It is imperative that all students, especially students who major in the sciences, understand scientific literacy and its importance in everyday life. Science educators should encourage their students to strengthen their interests in language, reading and the art of writing.
When the average individual thinks about scientific literacy, they think about scientific literature and being informed about new advances in the science world. Those thoughts do draw a parallel with the idea of scientific literacy, but there is a lot more to consider. This century, scientific knowledge and new discoveries have and continue to occur rapidly. In this new century, science literacy is the occupational capacity to apply information in an appropriate contest, to analyze information, to synthesize information from various sources or on various topics, and evaluate information to determine the best course of action (Science Education and Society, 2008). Being scientifically literate means that we understand the nature of science, the nature of our minds, body and environment. Scientific literacy is more about knowing how to read scientific articles. It is also your ability to critically think and interpret scientific information.
Achieving an understanding of scientific literacy requires more than teaching and learning science as a body of knowledge (Bell, Maeng & Peters, 2010). It requires a broad understanding of the nature of science and scientific inquiry; these concepts and ideas are the backbone and building blocks that need to be understood before trying to understand scientific literacy.
Scientific Inquiry in my Classroom
As a science educator, I think that it is essential that scientific literacy be taught in every science classroom. This is not something that should be stressed or taught to students in a single lesson plan, but that should be incorporated in every lesson plan and every aspect of the science classroom. The idea of scientific literacy should be engaging to students and presented in a manner as such. One way to make scientific literacy engaging is by helping students become part of society’s science conversations by using real-world applications of science in instruction and by inviting students to discuss and debate relevant and motivating content (Grant & Lapp, 2011).
In my science classroom, I will encourage my students to read science articles or stories that they find interesting and summarize them. Having students read these articles allows students to gain knowledge somewhere different than a textbook, but it also allows students to be comfortable with reading and digesting scholarly scientific articles. Many students may not feel comfortable or confident when reading such articles because they are intimidated, but practice makes perfect. I will also have students writing a daily journal where they express themselves and feelings about the class. This will give the instructor feedback as well as allow students more practice with writing. Another way to incorporate scientific literacy in the science classroom is by assigning students more reading and writing assessments. The more students write about science the more they will think critically. As a science educator, I believe that it is important to include writing assignments in the science classroom. Students should develop skills that allow them to make connections with the sciences to their everyday life. My students will be taught to read like scientists, question things that they are reading and think about different possibilities. As students engage in reading more scientific articles, they will also gain a deep understanding of related vocabulary.
As an educator, I plan to always challenge my students and set the bar high. If educators have high expectations for their students, the students will meet them if they are excited enough and being engaged in the classroom. Students should always be pushed and educators should always be their support system. Educators should mention to students that it is alright to not know an answer, but students should seek the answer to all questions.
Students and Scientific Inquiry
Students understanding of scientific literacy should be a major goal to all science educators; it is such an essential part of the science education experience. How will educators know that their students understand scientific literacy and its applications? One way to test students understanding of scientific literacy and its applications is having essay questions on unit exams that allow students to include vocabulary, understanding of different concepts and connect the material to real life situations. Oftentimes, it more important for students to make connections with the material that they are learning rather than just memorizing it and discarding it after the course it over. Educators can always include the understanding of scientific literacy on rubrics so students know that this is something they should wrap their heads around and work towards understanding. Group discussions also work well because they allow students to gain an understanding of other students’ thought processes.
It’s fundamental for students to understand scientific literacy and its applications. As students develop a better understanding of scientific literacy they will think more analytically, process information differently. Like any subject matter or topic, scientific literacy can be taught in many different ways. It should be taught consistently and in an engaging manner. Educators should allow students to have fun while learning and allow them to engage other students.
Bell, R., Maeng, J., & Peters, E. (2010, May 11). Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition
Scientific Inquiry and the Nature of Science Task Force Report. Retrieved fromhttp://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CC0QFjAB&url=http://www.vamsc.org/projects/VMSC_Inquiry_and_NOS_White_Paper_5_11_10.doc&ei=Nj9BT_T5Msn0AGy3pTPBw&usg=AFQjCNG5DFTvu1Akg7ai4MnVUlsiYQ2wAw&sig2=FdAgU5hkCiTNdkWgELIoaQ
Grant , M., & Lapp, D. (2011). Teaching Science Literacy. Educational Leadership, 68(6), Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar11/vol68/num06/Teaching-Science-
Linn, A. (2012, February 10). US Workers Behind in Science and Math. Retrieved from http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/10/10366521-us-workers-behind-in-science-and-math
National Science Education Standards. (1996). Retrieved from http://www.literacynet.org/science/scientificliteracy.html
Science Education and Society. (2008, May 14). Retrieved from http://sciedsociety.blogspot.com/2008/05/importance-of-scientific-literacy.html