Recently within the primary school setting, teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to develop scientific literacy within children. This is due to the lack of understanding in the difference between scientific knowledge and scientific literacy. Throughout this essay we will focus on this explanation, and the effects of media reporting being inaccurate due to this lack of knowledge. We will also discuss fair testing in school and how this can be linked to scientific literacy.
In Maienschein’s (1998) analysis, she defines scientific literacy in two ways. Firstly, she describes ‘science literacy’ as the focus on specific scientific and/or technical knowledge which emphasises the knowledge of particular facts and skills. For example, being knowledgeable about factual information within science. This can often take over from the teaching of important life skills to children and focuses more on knowledge and facts that is often lost.
In her latter explanation, she focuses her attention on scientific processes and concepts whilst thinking critically and creatively about the natural world which in turn will help you to understand everyday life. For example, in a classroom situation we can explore and apply concepts such as gravity, using push/pull experiments. By carrying out lessons such as those discussed, teachers can encourage scientific literacy and ensure that learners deepen their understanding of these concepts. Using a hands-on approach will emphasise how the processes work and the importance of these in our lives. Furthermore, by developing scientific literacy, learners will be able to explore how they can live their best, most fulfilled lives.
A lack of scientific literacy is often linked to inaccurate media reporting, which can lead to the public gaining incorrect knowledge or understanding of a product. For example, in 2006, a ‘miracle cure’ for dyslexia appeared on the market. Wynford Dore claimed to have developed a drug-free dyslexia remedy and named it ‘Dore’.
The Mirror reported: “A revolutionary drug-free dyslexia remedy has been hailed a wonder cure by experts” (Mirror, 2012). However, a number of critical commentaries highlighted the flaws in the study behind the creation of Dore. Specifically, subjects were in fact not randomised and experimenters were able to place the child into either the control group or the treatment group which could have advantaged the Dore treatment.
Furthermore, the results of the treatment group were measured using screening tools instead of well validated tests which may have created biased results. The details of this treatment were withheld due to the fact it was “commercially sensitive”. The Independent reported that Dore used NASA technology and exercise in their remedy, which led to NASA making a public statement stating that they had nothing to do with the product, and that their technology was not used (Goldacre, 2006). The International Dyslexia Association (2004) stated that “interventions such as Mr. Dore’s are simply not supported by current knowledge.” The lack of scientific support for Dore’s dyslexia remedy may be one of the reasons that the Dore UK organisation went into administration and closed its centres in 2008 (Stephen Barrett, 2009).
Being able to conduct fair tests in school science is linked to the ability to use and understand scientific literacy. A fair test is one in which only one variable is changed, whilst the others are kept constant (Times Educational Supplement, 2015). This means that the test is reliable, and so valid conclusions can be drawn from it (Science Buddies, no date). Children can use the results from experiments to explore and understand the connections between the different variables being tested. The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) report titled ‘Maintaining Curiosity’ (2013) suggests that children best understand the concepts behind the science when they are actively involved in investigating them. The report highlighted that they learnt best when they could ‘see’ the science in action, which is what fair testing allows. Through this, fair testing can be seen as a strategy to deepen and encourage growth in children’s knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts.
Barrett, S. (2009) Dore Treatment Criticized. Available at: https://www.mentalhealthwatch.org/reports/dore2.shtml (Accessed: 8 Feb 2017)
Goldacre, B. (2006) Dore – The Miracle Cure for Dyslexia Available at: http://www.badscience.net/2006/11/the-miracle-cure-for-dyslexia/ (Accessed: 7 February 2017
Goldacre, B. (2008) ‘Determined bloggers who blew whistle’, The Guardian, 31 May. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/may/31/sciencenews.blogging (Accessed: 7 February 2017)
International Dyslexia Association (2004) Controversial Therapy (Dore Program) Lacks Research Basis. Available at: https://www.mentalhealthwatch.org/reports/dore.shtml (Accessed: 7 February 2017)
Maienschein, J, (1998) Scientific Literacy. Available at: http://science.sciencemag.org.libezproxy.dundee.ac.uk/content/281/5379/917 (Accessed: 6 Feb 2018).
Mirror (2012) ‘Dyslexia: The Cure’, 6 June. Available at: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/dyslexia-the-cure-647366 (Accessed: 7 February 2017).
Office for Standards in Education (2013) Maintaining Curiosity Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/379164/Maintaining_20curiosity_20a_20survey_20into_20science_20education_20in_20schools.pdf (Accessed: 6 February 2017)
Science Buddies (no date) Variables for Beginners Available at: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-fair/doing-a-fair-test-variables-for-beginners (Accessed: 6 February 2017)
Times Educational Supplement (2015) The Fair Test (controlling variables) Available at: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/the-fair-test-controlling-variables-6060547 (Accessed: 6 February 2017).
Written by Katie Henderson, Carra Gulland, Chloe Newton and Lucy Somerville.