A scientifically literate person may be described as “one who is aware that science, mathematics, and technology are interdependent human enterprises with strengths and limitations; understands key concepts and principles of science; is familiar with the natural world and recognizes both its diversity and unity; and uses scientific knowledge and scientific ways of thinking for individual and social purposes” (Derek Hodson, “In Pursuit of Scientific Literacy” 1998. p. 2).
Hodson describes three different aspects of science education: learning science, learning about science, and doing science. The three different aspects of science education are discrete; however, they are clearly connected and provide a well-rounded science education. He goes on to explain that learning science teaches about science facts and knowledge; learning about science develops an understanding of the nature and methods of science and the interaction with science, technology and society; while, doing science engages and develops scientific inquiry and problem-solving. All three aspects of science must play a role in science education because they allow different areas of a student’s scientific literacy to be developed.
So what does this mean for educators? Well, not all of the students in my science classes will go on to pursue science related careers; however, they must all have critical thinking, inquiry, and problem solving skills in order to make well-informed decisions, both for themselves and for society as a whole. I think that a great way to develop scientific literacy is to use realistic examples, scenarios, and case studies during science classes. An example of this is the mining case I posted earlier:
The fictional town of Drew’s Falls, Ontario faced quite a dilemma: as a town based on a strong summer and winter tourism industry, townspeople needed to decide if they should mine a nearby copper deposit. The townspeople were split in their decision—some argued that the mine would create new jobs, improve the economy, and create a new industry to support the citizens. On the other hand, several residents discouraged the mine development as it would pollute the surrounding town, lake, forests and parks, endanger animals, and threaten the tourism industry. Before the town can reach a decision, several issues must be carefully considered to determine the consequences of both choices.
Another way to develop scientific literacy is to use real-life issues; for example, in 2005, legislation was passed to create a greenbelt around the Golden Horseshoe area of Ontario. The purpose of this greenbelt is to prevent urban sprawl from decimating the natural green space (i.e. agricultural land, conservation parks, wetlands, forests, and watersheds) surrounding some major cities. Since this is a critical issue in Southern Ontario, it is important that my students understand both the benefits and challenges of the greenbelt and how it will affect them.
I’ve provided a short text explaining the Ontario Greenbelt and a QAR student sheet to help you promote scientific literacy in your classroom (and it’s cross-curricular with Language Arts!). Even if you do not live in Southern Ontario, you could discuss the relevance of a greenbelt with your students and determine whether a protected area like that would benefit your town, city, or province/state.
For further reading about scientific literacy, here’s a great article by Derek Hodson, a professor at OISE/UT: http://www.mun.ca/educ/faculty/mwatch/fall05/hodson.htm
Here’s the student text, worksheet, and teacher answer key! Just click the image below!