Scientific Literacy and Education
Recently within a primary school setting, teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to develop scientific literacy with 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. In doing lessons such as those discussed, teachers can promote 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, in 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.
Katie Henderson, Carra Gulland, Chloe Newton, Lucy Somerville.
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).
Overall, I found Semester 1 to be an enjoyable, stimulating experience and I feel that my knowledge acquired will aid me in my further professional development at University and on placement.
In terms of the three modules (Values, Working Together and French). Values was the one that challenged me most but that also felt the most fulfilling once completed. The module made me question a lot of things about myself and my approaches towards certain topics/issues. Furthermore, I gained a stronger appreciation for the importance of values in teaching and how I can apply these in my practice to create an inclusive and nurturing environment for the children.
However, a milestone for me in my professional development from Semester 1 was the agency visit as part of the Working Together module. I was able to see first-hand how an organisation in my home town supported unpaid carers and disabled people of all ages and the importance of organisations such as this in giving everyone equal opportunities regardless of their circumstances. Throughout the module we had been discussing and learning about the importance of Education, Social Work and Community Learning and Development professionals working with one another. I felt I had a sufficient understanding and awareness of the importance of collaborative working, however, the agency visit gave me an insight into this in practice and heightened my appreciation. From this incident, I have learned how the different professions approach certain situations and how they can come together using these different approaches to ensure the service user gains the greatest possible outcome/experience. I have also learned to be more open-minded and not just listen and stick to what my education course mates say but other professional opinions too.
I can see how the process of reflection in going to be of great importance in my practice as it will not only allow me to look back on my achievements in University and on placement but to also see where I can improve upon to make sure that the children and myself can attain their full potential.
In the workshop, each group were given a pack of resources which -unbeknown to each other- contained less resources than the next. We were then asked to create a product for new students that would be useful during their first few weeks at university. Our group were lucky enough to be given the largest number of resources and so the task was a great success. We decided to create a university starter pack containing all the necessary items that we, as a group, agreed would have made our first weeks at university a little easier. Inside the pack we included:
- A campus map
- A guide to making your way around the Dalhousie building
- A recipe book for students living in halls
- Hints and tips for lectures
- Information about Freshers’ Week and the union itself,
- A personalised timetable.
Our group all saw these items as being a great aid to new students, especially the guide to the Dalhousie building, as this would have helped us massively on our first few days.
Throughout the seminar and during the presentation of each groups ideas, our group received great support and appreciation. Derek repeatedly described us as “industrious” and complimented both our work ethic and product. This gave us a boost and we assumed all the groups were receiving the same treatment. However, during the presentation it became very clear that not all the groups had been so lucky. Our table was scattered with items to use and our presentation received great positive feedback. Whereas other groups had a mere 3/4 items to work with and were not treated as well by Derek as we were. An example of this was that we were gifted with biscuits and showered in praise yet other groups were completely ignored and Derek even sat on his phone while some of them were presenting.
We were lucky enough to have been in the more ‘privileged’ group and so most of us sadly took no notice during the activity to the fact that everyone else had almost nothing and near to no help/support. This activity was used to highlight to us the inequality in society and the difficulties certain places/people endure.
In joining the Primary Teaching profession, it is important that we recognise that not all learners will come from the same background and not all schools will be as well-equipped as one another. For example, we may be working in a more deprived area that does not have access to resources that other areas might, or working with children who:
- May not have a great support network at home
- Families are struggling financially
- Have learning/social difficulties
- Are of a different race/ethnicity/religion
This means that we need to adapt teaching methods to ensure everyone feels included and are all treated equally. No matter the background/circumstances it is our duty to aid every child in reaching their full potential.
This was our first workshop for the Values: Self, Society and the Professions module. I thoroughly enjoyed both the activity and widening my understanding of the inequalities in both teaching and society and how we can work through these to create a more equal and supportive network for our pupils. I am really looking forward to the rest of these workshops over the semester and I am eager to further my knowledge for this module.