Science is one of the most valuable tools in the modern world. Still, for it to affect positive change on a global level, well-educated individuals must be capable of utilizing it effectively. The Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Curriculum and Instruction in STEM Education online program from Southern Oregon University (SOU) helps educators develop the knowledge and pedagogical understanding to foster science literacy in the classroom.
Why Is Science Literacy So Important?
According to Discover Magazine, “scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.” Without scientifically literate individuals, the principles of science would exist only in textbooks or on the periodic table of the elements. Science literacy allows students to utilize skills and methods for productive endeavors such as:
- Reading and comprehending articles about scientific topics
- Explaining or forecasting various types of natural phenomena
- Determining the accuracy of scientific information by evaluating both the sources and the methodology used to acquire it
In a world where inaccurate or misleading information can spread quickly, students must develop the science literacy required to make well-informed determinations.
What Are Some Science Instruction Strategies That Encourage Critical Thinking and Analysis?
The key to science literacy is abandoning outdated methods like memorization and progressing to a level of instruction where students become active participants in scientific research. Instructors can emphasize critical thinking and analysis with the following strategies:
- Argumentation, Explanation and Model Building
This is an excellent strategy that allows students to see firsthand how the scientific community uses critical thinking and analysis to arrive at consensus opinions. Teachers can employ this model by identifying a phenomenon for which scientists have yet to explain.
In one example, teachers asked their students to examine the unexplained mutations of a specific population of frogs. Students then had to discuss potential reasons for the mutation, offer their own hypotheses and conduct investigations to prove or disprove their various theories. This is a far more engaging model than simply learning about phenomena that have already occurred. In this model, students are active participants in the scientific method.
- Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI)
While reading-based scientific instruction may not seem very dynamic, there are multiple layers to Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction that allow for full immersion in the scientific process. In this model, students select a topic upon which they will delve into by reading scientific texts. Teachers support students by helping them identify quality sources, analyze what they’ve read and moderate the scientific discussions between students as they become more and more knowledgeable on their respective topics.
Once the reading and research phase is complete, students move on to real-world practice. They conduct experiments and observations or collect data to supplement the knowledge they acquired while reading. This final step is an excellent opportunity for students to think critically about what they read — and how it meshes with their observations of real life.
Science Literacy and Experiential Learning
Experiential, or scenario-based, learning should be the new gold standard for science instruction. It is proven to engage students in the learning environment, increase their comfort level discussing or implementing new concepts and enhance their ability to retain knowledge. Teachers can effectively create experiential learning opportunities both in and outside the classroom. Here are a few examples:
In-class experiential learning:
- Dissecting owl pellets
- Examining slides under a digital microscope
- Programming a 3D bioprinter
Experiential learning outside the classroom:
- Visiting the local water treatment facility as a field trip
- Shadowing local science professionals
- Volunteering at a wildlife hatchery or with a conservation group
The experiential learning options for students and teachers are plentiful. No matter which project is selected, the goal should be for students to gain real-world, practical experience working alongside professional science practitioners.
The Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Curriculum and Instruction in STEM Education from SOU is a transformative educational experience for teachers who want to help their students achieve science literacy. Students can complete this fully online program in as few as 16 months.