January 6, 2013

reading about Scientific Literacy

Children learning about Science
Young kids are learning about nature on river by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
This week on Google+, Rachelle Doorley (of Tinkerlab) shared this article – Why You Should be Scientifically Literate? – which has got the wheels turning in my head.

What is Scientific Literacy?  The article defines it as
a mix of concepts, history, and philosophy that help you understand the scientific issues of our time,
Stating that “if you can understand the scientific issues that come up in magazines and newspaper then you are scientifically literate.”

The article quotes these statistics about the average American (and I’m sure other first world countries are little different)
    • At a recent Harvard University commencement, an informal poll revealed that fewer than ten percent of graduating seniors could explain why it’s hotter in summer than in winter.
    • A survey taken at our own university (George Mason University), … , shows results that are scarcely more encouraging. Fully half of the seniors who filled out a scientific literacy survey could not correctly identify the difference between an atom and a molecule.
Do you consider yourself to be scientifically literate?

I grew up in a scientifically-minded family.  Both my parents worked as geologists.  I credit them with my interest in science and my scientific literacy.  Specifically, I think that hearing them disagree out loud with the TV or even at stories they were reading in the newspaper was my first experience of scientific literacy (and probably of media literacy).

Why is scientific literacy important?  It
  • gives you an understanding of the world that allows you to appreciate why things happen,
  • it helps you to make informed decisions. Science is an underlying foundation of many things in our society today – you need scientific knowledge to make informed decisions about many common activities – for example, to decide which foods are healthy in the supermarket or to understand a doctor’s advice.   
  • gives you the knowledge to be an active citizen who can contribute to debate about the direction of future science and issues affecting your country and the world.
Consider this statement.  Pretend it is from your newspaper.
100% of people who drink soft drinks containing hypobromphenylozine will die.

I adapted that statement from this science joke:
100% of people who drink water die
Absurd?  Of course.  Water is good for our health.  And everybody will die eventually, whether they drink water or not.  In fact, not drinking water will probably hasten their demise.

Knowledge and familiarity with science allows you to question the first statement despite the alarming chemical name.  What is hypobromphenylozine? (in case you were wondering, I made it up) How do you know hypobromphenylozine was the cause of death? 

Thinking about this scientific statement, instead of immediately being overwhelmed by the scientific word or alarmed by the story, is, for me, the essence of scientific literacy.  I find among my friends and family that so many people unquestioningly accept “scientific facts” they have read in the newspaper.

I consider scientific literacy to be an essential skill for the 21st century child.

Here are some helpful things if you want to improve your child’s scientific literacy.

This blog, from Science Geek Girl, discusses a study of why children end up loving science and gives some ideas to improve our children’s interest in science and scientific literacy.

Have you ever thought about whether the questions you ask are helping your child learn only facts or can you use an open-ended question that helps you child problem solve and puzzle out a solution.  Childhood 101 has a great post about asking questions which encourage creative thinking that will get your children thinking critically about things, a great first step towards scientific literacy.

So, tell me, do you think scientific literacy is important?  What things do you do to encourage your children to be scientifically literate?

BTW, you can add me to your circles me on Google+ here.

1 comment:

Cerys @ Rainy Day Mum said...

Great Post - and I consider it essential.

I too am a product of a science background parent - my mum studied for a Biology with Geology degree with the Open University at home when I was young. She completed it when I turned 7. I remember helping her with the studies, collecting rocks on the beach to find fossils, discussing volcanoes that she was watching on the TV. I have gone on to get a Zoology degree and a Masters degree in Wildlife Management. My kids and I explore science all the time, you ask my 3 year why plants are green and he will tell you it's so they can eat because of the Coolfills in the leaves - ok he hasn't quite got the terms right but he's getting the ideas.

Our most basic way is having kids science magazines, nature magazines and non-fiction books around the house.

PS. Thanks to Rachelle for linking up your blog on G+ I'm excited to find it