Author: Antik Dey
“I am not going to be a scientist, so I don’t need to know scientific literacy.”
Should we prioritize scientific literacy in all science courses regardless of our student’s destination?
In order to critically examine the importance of scientific literacy, we must first define it. Scientific literacy pertains to the ability to think scientifically (Piaget, 1964; Lawson, 2002). Thinking in a scientific way requires one to be able to create a hypothesis; make thorough observations, while taking detailed notes; analyze results; compose findings in a report with sufficient evidence to either support or reject the primary hypothesis (Chiappetta and Kiballa, 127). Scientific literacy is more than the regurgitating of definitions.
In this post, I will argue that regardless of our students’ destinations—be it scientist, historian, artist, mathematician, economist, professional athlete, to name a few—scientific literacy is a useful asset and, hence, we as educators must prioritize scientific literacy in our classrooms.
Last year, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Bassam Shakhashiri, a notable chemistry educator who has spent most of his life celebrating the fun of science by giving public demonstrations at schools, fairs, and on television. During the lecture, he coined the term ‘scientist-citizen’ to describe an utopian society that he imagined. I didn’t understand the meaning in that instance, but as he continued to speak about science education, it became clearer to me. Dr. Shakhashiri mentioned that life is about making judgements or choices. These choices are global choices relating to malnutrition, climate change, population growth, war, and human rights. In order to be successful, one must make good choices, which require a great deal of problem solving skills. I believe that scientific literacy fosters problem solving and critical thinking skills in students. Students in science are required to make a hypothesis and critically examine their data to see if the hypothesis was supported or rejected. Not only critical thinking skills, but students also learn to think objectively as they are encouraged to use numbers as evidence, rather than emotion, to solidify or nullify their hypothesis (Chiappetta and Kiballa, 129).
Thinking objectively is crucial as it teaches students to make judgements after the evidence, not before. Making judgements before evidence is known as pre-judging, or more commonly known as prejudice. I believe that scientific literacy can help to alleviate prejudice from society, based on reasons already mentioned above. Therefore, I believe that if scientific literacy is presented to students as a means to make a better future for themselves and those around them, by addressing global issues mentioned above, it will motivate a whole host of students aspiring to be ‘scientist-citizens’.
A student may or may not study science in the future, but the skills that he/she will acquire in a science classroom will be indispensible. You could be an artist or a historian and still have to make a choice about climate change. You could be a professional athlete or an economist and still encounter prejudice, war, famine. The choices that you make will determine your future, so think critically and objectively, as in your science classroom.
Chiappetta, E., Koballa, T. (2015). Science Instruction in the Middle and Secondary Schools: Developing Fundamental Knowledge and Skills. Pearson Education Inc., 127-129.
Lawson, A. E. (2002). Science teaching and development of thinking. Belmont, CA: Thomson Custom Publishing.
Piaget, J. (1964). Part I Cognitive development in children: Piaget, development and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 2(3), 176-186.
Author: Antik Dey