Provocation: Science literacy for all.

Hi all,

I am really excited to help lead our discussion on “science literacy and pedagogy” two broad topics that I am personally very interested in.

In this post I will:

  • Talk generally about why I think today’s topic is important
  • Highlight pieces of each of the assigned materials that stood out to me
  • Provide questions for us all to think about together

Why is science literacy important? 

Science literacy is important. The effects of scientific work are felt by everyone. 

As we have talked about in previous classes, science is not as cut and dry as it is thought to be. Scientists are human beings with internal biases that can not be fully controlled for. The products of scientific studies, even when peer-reviewed, are biased products. But these built-in biases are only dangerous if you do not know they are there. Improved science literacy allows you to see past what is presented to you and start to envision how the authors got to that point. Why did they do what they did? Does this result help them in any way? Is there any way that something else could be true?

We can think of this in terms of something we have all dealt with: superfood health fads. Every so often a new superfood will pop up. Through news feeds, pop articles, and shows like Dr. OZ, we will be fed an idea that this new food can cure all our problems. Drink one glass of ginger water every 3 hours and lose 50 pounds! Blend spinach into your morning smoothie and learn a new language!

What do all of these fads have in common? Why does there seem to be a new one every few months? The common trend is very simple: humans desperately want an easy solution to our problems. Think of how you would feel if there truly was a magic potion that would allow you to instantly accomplish something astounding. Scientists are humans, scientists also want a magic potion. When you really want something to be true, it becomes a lot easier to start to believe that it is.

Scientific results should be thought of as a tool, rather than directions. As a society, we need to get better at questioning what is presented to us in productive ways.

Thoughts on assigned readings:

Next Generation Science Standards

Science affects all of us, even those who do not pursue scientific careers. It is important that we try to instill a basic understanding of scientific methods in everyone. I think it is common to think of science as a stagnant field. What more could there be to learn? When you were first learning about science you may have been shown black and white images of men in lab coats, mixing chemicals. Science is still moving forward. Each field is continuously making their own advances, some of which allow for the creation of improved methods to be used by others.

As science itself grows, it only makes sense for science education to grow to reflect it. Additionally, as science pedagogy evolves, it is imperative that the most beneficial techniques are actually applied.

Engaging Students in Authentic Microbiology Research in an Introductory Biology Laboratory Course is Correlated with Gains in Student Understanding of the Nature of Authentic Research and Critical Thinking

A peer-reviewed article!!!

It is becoming increasingly clear that success in the current-standing format of introductory STEM education is not based on student knowledge. There are many many outside factors that play into the success of junior-level undergraduate students during their first few semesters. Namely, the academic status of a student’s family members. One huge barrier to success in early undergraduate STEM education is the presence of, what we can call, soft skills. Things ranging from “how to email a professor” and “what are office hours/how to use them” to things like “how to manage your own time”. Not all students begin their undergraduate careers with knowledge of the academic world. To some having to learn all of these skills on their own, in addition to taking 4-5 classes, is catastrophic. If we want students to succeed at the beginning of their careers we need to reassess how we approach introductory education.

Racism derails our attempts to save the planet

First, I would like to restate the Toni Morrison quote that was included in this piece by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: “The very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.”

This was true in 1975 and it is true today. Like every aspect of society, racism and ignorance have a disheartenedly solid relationship with science. There are countless examples of racist ideologies being used as grounds to either perform (or fail to perform) experiments.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson highlights that with issues like climate change, those who are most affected by climate changes are also the most likely to attempt to make a positive change. But, thinking of Friere, how can we expect the oppressed (those who directly suffer from climatic changes) to dismantle oppressive systems (a society that is not making the decisions necessary to fight against the harm that has already been caused to our ecosystem) while they are being oppressed.

Science Senses

I really enjoyed this video series. As far as accessibility goes, I think that short, clear videos posted online (specifically to youtube) are amazing resources. Considering the shortfalls of a transferred-to-online education, more and more students are looking towards open access educational videos on youtube to supplement their learning (i.e. Crash Course). This opens the door for students to continue to search online for educational materials, potentially leading to watching videos out of curiosity instead of necessity. So, in short, easily-digestible educational resources posted online act as a gateway into openly science-curious people.

Guiding questions to move forward:

Can you think of an example of utilizing “science senses” in your daily life?

How can we tackle common misconceptions about science?

How can we work to improve science literacy for all?

Is science pedagogy different from pedagogical practices in other fields?