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.
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.