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Science: Facts vs Literacy

I don’t care who you are, space stuff is just plain cool. In recent years, NASA‘s spacecrafts have performed missions that were–and are–truly far out. It’s hard for my finite human mind to grasp the seemingly infinite expanses of the universe, and yet, my imagination is attracted–with overwhelming gravitational force–to try.

A veteran educator and a lifelong learner at heart, I love mind-blowing science facts. But there’s no way I could memorize all these NASA mission details. In fact, what I love even more than discrete content is the arena of research; the sphere of reason; and the art of debate. Perhaps, I could simplify:

What do you believe? Why? Prove it.

This STEMscopes article: “Developing Student Scientific Literacy” has me thinking.

Let’s face it: increasing science literacy ain’t easy.

Critically analyzing and evaluating the manners in which we engage in science learning could go a long in making the world a better place. At the very least, how we influence science literacy in our spaces matters.

How do we go about increasing science literacy in the world around us?

Of the many features of daily instruction that may help, here were a few of my takeaways after reading the STEMscopes article:

Making Meaning

Not only would it be beneficial for kids to care about the factual content, they need to own their learning processes and experiences, too. How can educators facilitate learning opportunities in a way that inspires kids to want to learn, and not because they have to learn? A want-to approach paves a smoother road to justifying our claims and making meaning in our learning. If we don’t care about our science first, nothing will change.

Doing Learning

Want to learn something new and also be able to recall it later? Learn it by doing it.

Think about your favorite professional learning experience, such as a workshop or a conference. What you have most likely recalled was an experience in which you did something. You were active or you had time to try something and play right there on the spot.

It would be difficult to conceive of meaningful learning as sit-and-get lectures every day, where information is told to students, even if they took notes from a powerpoint and perused reading selections. Varying our instructional learning opportunities and providing choice helps. While moving, blending 2D with 3D, solving problems, and making decisions, students are constructing unique memories.  When students have a meaningful memory associated with newly-learned content, skills, and concepts, the impact is deeper, more connective, and more extensive.

Thought Processes

Google it!” How many times have you said or heard that? Since we live in the Age of Information where we can Google facts in an instant, how much time should we be investing in rote memorization of independent facts?

In his post, Are Your Science Standards Producing Scientifically Literate Citizens?, Bill Ferriter accentuated learning processes over memorizing facts. To illustrate this theme, Bill sharply contrasted North Carolina Science Essential Standards with the Next Generation Science Standards. This piece made me wrestle with literacy versus facts; process versus product; and thinking versus memorizing. It made me really consider comprehensive, cross-cutting concepts and the glue that makes all the pieces fit together.

Whatever the standards, I believe that how we facilitate inquiry-based experiences in our learning spaces every day has a huge influence on increasing science literacy in our communities.

Challenges Moving Forward

Currently, I know many situations where students do not have science class every day. More concerning, educators are wrestling harder than ever to integrate science in other areas, especially given the discipline giants of reading and math. Finally, I can’t deny that silo structures in our systems aren’t still fortifying, stronger than ever.

After collaborating with several science educators over the past seventeen years, an undeniable truth remains: Until that end-of-the-year test changes, why change anything at all?

3 Replies to “Science: Facts vs Literacy”

  • There is no point in changing, Kyle.

    Seriously.

    None.

    The last three years, I’ve been pretty darn close to statistically perfect according to EVASS and our county. Probably one of the top science teachers in the whole county.

    But given that we measure the wrong things, I’m hardly proud of that.

    http://blog.williamferriter.com/2013/12/07/if-im-84-points-away-from-statistical-perfection-why-am-i-so-darn-angry/

    But here’s the thing: My principal is pretty darn happy. She wants to know how I’m doing so well. My answer: I’m pretty good at getting kids to cram for the test in the months before it comes. They remember a lot more because of that cramming.

    #sheesh

    Bill

    • Interesting point, Bill. This is making me think about the phrase I heard George Couros say… With some things out of our control, and circumstances being as they may, how can we still make learning meaningful, or: “How can we innovate inside the box?”

      I’m still thinking in this.

      Thank you for taking time to read and comment, Bill. Your feedback means a lot to me.

      Sincerely,
      Kyle

  • Thanks for this post Kyle! The Scientific literacy pdf is a good resource and Bill’s article points out the huge gap between current science standards and the performance tasks in the NGSS. When I took time to compare the verbs myself, I was amazed: https://egchapman.com/ngss-standards-shifting-to-performance-expectations/

    You make several great points regarding the challenges that prevent the Project 2061 vision from becoming a reality…time is the big one. Silos compound the time problem. The reason for changing anything at all is the fundamental belief in scientific literacy for all citizens.

Your thoughts? I'd love your feedback!

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