Critical ThinkingScience

A Schema for Science Literacy

For those who are fans of Blooms’s Taxonomy, you may like this schema for science literacy presented by Chris Impey at the 126th Meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. This was included in a plenary session that touched on many, many aspects of science literacy and how it affects our practice as education and outreach professionals.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 10.28.11 AM

Credit: Chris Impey

Often, tests of public science literacy, as well as much of the testing of students in formal education settings, focus on the third level in this pyramid: scientific content. All too often, basic facts are seen as the most important part of science education, but that’s starting to change.

Educators, both informal and formal, are talking about and focusing more on the “process of science.” That fits into the fundamental literacy at the very base of the pyramid. How do we know what we know? But even more basic: How does science work? The fact that “evidence-based reasoning” is a foundation of science is something that is fundamental to understanding science.

But you can’t just say, “Hey! Science is based on evidence based reasoning!” and say you’re done with your lesson. We already know that humans do not learn by having facts dumped at them, so we need to help learners to integrate that into their pre-existing knowledge structure by modeling and showing examples. This is a key component of the Next Generation Science Standards, and it’s a major component (or should be) of hands-on and inquiry based activities in informal settings.

When I was with Dark Skies Bright Kids, I liked to share astronomy knowledge with the third, fourth, and fifth graders in our club. But our biggest goals were to get them to ASK GOOD QUESTIONS and see themselves as scientists as they explored the activities, such as ultraviolet beads.

So when you hear another study about science literacy amongst adults or Americans or teens or whatever population, check to see what they are testing. Do they care about facts? Or do they test how facts are discovered and known. The latter is much harder, but it’s important as the foundation of true science literacy that is needed to get to the highest levels of the schema above, the use of science in society.

Previous post

Plagiarism, support for higher education, anti-cheating efforts, and The Onion: Required Readings for 8.5.14

Next post

Children and Technology; New Qualifications; Air Force Cadets in Trouble; Steiner Schools: It's Required Readings!



Nicole is a professor, astronomer, educator, geek, dog mom, occasional fitness nerd, and maker of tiny comets. She is also very loud under the right circumstances. Like what you read? Buy me a coffee:


  1. August 6, 2014 at 10:26 pm —

    While I agree with the intent and message of this post, I am confused about the pyramid itself. I’m not sure on what basis the hierarchy is determined. Are they an order of steps which follow each other, or a set of concepts that cannot stand without the lower-lying concepts? Neither, I would argue, works. It is possible to understand science concepts without understand the nature of science, and it is possible to have citizenship literacies without any science content knowledge. While I agree that questions such as “What is science and how (and why) does it work?” are invaluable in a science education, I’m not sure they are fundamental in either the “order” of science understanding or as a requirement for each higher level. In fact, as many, many scientists THEMSELVES have serious misconceptions about the nature of science, I can say fairly conclusively that doing science doesn’t require a fundamental understanding of the nature of science. This is not to discredit those scientists. Scientists study the nature of the world, not the nature of science. That study is for philosophers and sociologists (or scientists who choose to be interested in why what they do works). So I don’t get the pyramid, but then, I was always questioning about Bloom’s Taxonomy too, so I guess I’m naturally skeptical of well-organized charts. Let me know why you think the pyramid is shaped and structured as it is.

    • August 11, 2014 at 1:38 pm —

      I agree that a truly organized pyramid for education is about as realistic in practice as a linear flow chart for the scientific method. In reality, it is messier than that. However, I think what he was trying to show here is a model for thinking about science education, and underscores important literacies that too often get looked over in favor of science content. I think the point of the chart is that there’s no one monolithic “Science Education” but various levels that at least need to be touched upon in someone’s education if we’d like for them to be considered scientifically literate.

      I’ve only just begin to dig into the speaker’s writings on teaching science, which can be found here: (and will probably be fodder for future posts!)

Leave a reply