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My motivation for starting a science literacy program

Science literacy. It’s more than a buzz-phrase, it is a foundation stone of science itself. Without it, we would not have lively debates, new ideas building off old ideas, and the all important critical thinking to keep the cycle going.

Generally, teachers look for “literacy” in the form of understanding and doing well on exams. However, I decided to take a more direct approach to finding out if my students in both the classroom and museums where I volunteer at knew what was going on. So, I ask them to take a few minutes out and to tell me what they thought the phrase “science literacy” meant — using their own words.The answers all revolved around two concepts: Understanding and passing an exam. One of the kids summed up their feelings quite nicely with, “Science literacy is understanding the material long enough to pass the exam.”

This shows me that people are thinking about it wrong. Yes, science literacy is about comprehension and understanding. It is primarily measured by ability to pass an exam. However, they are missing a core component of being able to understand the logic and reasoning, let alone taking it a step further to wider applications in various area.

This was heartbreaking to me. The students and teachers were missing a major point of science, which is science literacy. One shouldn’t just regurgitate it for the tests, though admittedly that is a practise that is continued on into universities as well, and sometimes even through to a Ph.D.

Armed with this knowledge and experience – I am one of those that often learned for an exam, but didn’t carry the information forward – I decided to start “science literacy” classes for students a few years ago. Then, it started out as a class I held for those that English was their second language, and we covered more than just science and math, but other areas where they needed assistance so they could get along in a foreign country. Recently, I have decided to take it one step further. I want to teach the art of science literacy at a community center where I can reach a wider audience of all ages.

I am currently in the planning stages. If you have any comments, suggestions, or tips, please leave a comment. I’d be grateful for your support and constructive criticism.

Image: Wikispaces classroom