Scientific Literacy: What is it and why does it matter?

Science TDT

In our last science workshop, we were focusing on scientific literacy. For our TDT, we were asked to form groups of 4 and write a short essay focusing on what scientific literacy is, the importance of it and how it links to science in schools.

Explanation of the concept of scientific literacy

Scientific Literacy is the knowledge and understanding of processes in science. It involves pupils being aware of and being able to identify skills and concepts associated with science which allows them to make informed decisions relating to science (National Science Educational Standards). It focuses on giving young people a wider variation of skills and knowledge whilst encouraging them to explore the question of ‘Why’ things happen.

Scientific literacy highlights ways in which we understand how to critically think of the modern world in a way which allows us to be creative whereas science literacy focuses more on embedding facts into pupils and the end result (Maienschein, 1998).

Within schools scientific literacy is at the centre of the curriculum standards for science as it moves away from the standard science curriculum enhancing understanding and allows us to change the way in which we teach science and thus learn it. Smith (2011) highlight that often science is the first subject which people forget about when they leave school. It is hoped that the progression of scientific literacy will make learning science more interesting and will embed new knowledge and skill into young people so that they can carry on these skills to future learning.

Analysis of an example of where a lack of scientific literacy has led to inaccurate media reporting

Being scientifically illiterate can lead to inaccurate media reporting and have a severely negative effect on society. A famous example of this was Dr Andrew Wakefield’s research (1998) which claimed there was a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism. His paper was retracted due to fixed and fraudulent results and other scientific papers have shown no link between the MMR vaccine and autism (Taylor et al., 1998). The supposed link with autism heavily influenced vaccination rates as between 1996 and 2004, rates fell from approximately 92% to 80% despite the target being 95% to stop the spreading of the disease (BBC, 2015). Due to the fall in numbers of people being vaccinated, there were a number of breakouts all over the country. The herd immunity effect was not in place, meaning that since a significant percentage of the population were not vaccinated, the chances of a non- immune individual coming into contact with an infectious individual were increased. This shows the importance of scientific literacy as it can affect society as a whole.

Discussion of how teaching fair testing in school science links to scientific literacy

It is important to conduct fair tests as it is the essential part of doing a good scientifically valuable experiment, ensuring you only change one factor at a time while keeping the rest of the conditions the same (Science Buddies). This is important for us as teachers, that we ensure our pupils are shown the importance of fair testing, so it helps their understanding and development of science literature. Although it is not always the most interesting science experiments it covers the most important aspects of scientific literacy, it is important pupils are taught this to gain skills throughout experience (Fizzics Education). Fair testing gives children an opportunity to be taught in a way to give them a better understanding of what scientific literacy is. It is considered vital as it ultimately gives pupils a better understanding of what scientific literacy is hence why it is important the pupils learn about fair testing.

It is clear to see the importance of scientific literacy being taught through science experiments in school and that they are given a deeper understanding of what they are learning in terms of science. This will allow them to develop their skills and understanding of the basics so they can continue to enhance their understanding of science throughout their school lives. As shown above, if scientific literacy is not present, there can be serious misunderstandings which can cause issues to numerous people in terms of health or perhaps other issues. By teaching about fair testing to children at a young age, this will help them understand why we carry out certain experiments and what their purpose is thus showing us that scientific literacy is vital to a pupils understanding and should be a main focus in schools.

Anna Mcewan, Eilidh Purdie, Robyn Risbridger and Hazel Neill

References

BBC (2015) Childhood MMR vaccination rates fall. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34335509 (Accessed: 09 February 2018)

Fizzics Education (no date) Available at: https://www.fizzicseducation.com.au/Blog/x_post/Variables–fair-testing-teaching-the-heart-of-science-experiments-00085.html (Accessed: 11 February 2018).

Maienschein, J. (1998). ‘Scientific Literacy’, Science, pp.917. Available at: http://science.sciencemag.org.libezproxy.dundee.ac.uk/content/281/5379/917 (Accessed: 4 February 2018).

National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Science Buddies (no date) Available at: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-fair/doing-a-fair-test-variables-for-beginners (Accessed: 11 February 2018).

Smith, K. (2011). Scientific Literacy Under the Microscope: A Whole School Approach to Science Teaching and Learning. Australia: Sense Publishers.

Taylor, B ; Miller, E ; Farrington, C P ; Petropoulos, M C ; Favot-Mayaud, I ; Li, J ; Waight, P A. (1999) ‘Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association’, Lancet, Vol.353(9169), pp.2026-9

Wakefield, A.J., Murch, S.H., Anthony, A., Linnell, J., Casson, D.M., Malik, M., Berelowitz, M.,

Dhillon, A.P., Thomson, M.A., Harvey, P. and Valentine, A. (1998) ‘RETRACTED: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children’, The Lancet, Vol.351(9103), pp. 637-641.

1 thought on “Scientific Literacy: What is it and why does it matter?

  1. What a great post, covering all the important things. The issue of science facts (knowledge) and thinking scientifically are slightly different so you could perhaps reflect on this. The discussion of MMR (and other vaccines) and herd immunity is so important for everyone, not just teachers, to understand so I’m really glad you’ve pointed this out. Thanks for this!

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