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Best Teaching Practices

Scientific Literacy

This topic gained spotlight with the American Association for the Advancement of Science's publication of Science for All Americans in 1989. AAAS's Project 2061 defined the term to include significant science facts and principles, characteristics of science, interactions of science and society, and applications of science to everyday life, which must be possessed by responsible citizens in today's world. The goal of science education should be to prepare scientifically literate students who can use science to improve their own lives, cope with an increasingly complex technological world, and make science-related decisions as responsible citizens. Knowledge of science concepts along with problem-solving and critical-thinking skills will assist students to analyze all sides of an issue and weigh the benefits/risks of possible plans of action. According to the Project 2061 panel, "The life-enhancing potential of science and technology cannot be realized unless the public in general comes to understand science, mathematics, and technology and to acquire scientific habits of mind. Without a science-literate population, the outlook for a better world is not promising."

In the Classroom

To achieve scientific literacy for all, teachers do not have to teach more content, but should teach more effectively what is essential to science literacy. In other words, curriculum should focus on a common core of learning and the habits of mind essential for science literacy. The core concepts and habits are described in detail in Project 2061 publications. Important facets of Project 2061 for consideration in planning curriculum and delivering instruction include:

  • Science, mathematics, and technology are interdependent human enterprises with strengths and limitations
  • The natural world is diverse and united
  • Scientific knowledge and ways of thinking are used to serve personal and societal purposes
  • Because there is too much knowledge for anyone to acquire in a lifetime, schools must select what to teach wisely, must concentrate on fewer topics taught in a variety of contexts, and give students deeper understandings than what they might get in a comprehensive array of topics
  • Science literacy is required of ALL students, not just those who display particular talents or interests in the subject.


Journal Articles - To access most of these Journal Articles, you must be a student, faculty or staff member at an OhioLINK affiliated institution. Access to OhioLINK may be available to Ohioans through their local, public, or school libraries. Contact OPLIN, INFOhio, or your local library for more information.

Scientific Literacy: A Conceptual Overview
Science Education, Vol. 84, Issue: 1, January 2000. pp. 71 - 94
Laugksch, Rudiger C.

In this review of the published literature in English on the concept of scientific literacy, the net is cast wider than just the professional science education community, and the diverse works on scientific literacy are brought together in an interpretative synthesis of this literature. Scientific literacy is first placed in an historical context, and a number of different factors that influence interpretations of this concept are discussed thereafter. These factors include the number of different interest groups that are concerned with scientific literacy, different conceptual definitions of the term, the relative or absolute nature of scientific literacy as a concept, different purposes for advocating scientific literacy, and different ways of measuring it. The overview yields a fuller understanding of the various factors that contribute to the concept of scientific literacy, and makes clear the relationships between these factors.

Effects of Two Teaching Methods on the Achievement in and Attitude to Biology of Students of Different Levels of Scientific Literacy
International Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 45, Issue: 3, 2006. pp. 216-229
Nwagbo, Chinwe

The study was designed to investigate the relative efficacy of the guided inquiry and the expository teaching methods on the achievement in and attitude to biology of students of different levels of scientific literacy. Four research questions and four null hypotheses were posed and formulated respectively, to guide the work. It was hypothesized that effects due to teaching methods and their interactions with scientific literacy levels, were not significant Formula Not Shown, relative to students' mean achievement and attitudinal scores in biology. A pre-test, post-test, non-equivalent control group design was adopted for the study. One hundred and forty-seven Senior Secondary Two (SS11) biology students from eight intact classes, randomly selected from four secondary schools in Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria, constituted the sample.

The research questions were answered using mean and standard deviation scores, while the hypotheses were tested Formula Not Shown using analysis of covariance (ANCOVA). The results showed that the guided inquiry method was significantly better than the expository method in enhancing cognitive achievement in biology for students of all levels of scientific literacy, especially the high ones. The educational implications of the findings for biology teachers were highlighted.

Do They Know What They Read? Building a Scientific Literacy Measurement Instrument Based on Science Media Coverage
Science Communication, Vol. 28, Issue: 1, September 2006. pp. 47-63
Brossard, Dominique; Shanahan, James

The authors tested a novel approach to the conceptualization and measurement of a dimension of scientific literacy, the understanding of scientific and technical terms. Through an analysis of the media's use of scientific and technical terms randomly selected from a scientific dictionary, the authors identified the thirty-one terms most often used in the media. The authors argue that these terms represent what an individual is expected to know within the bounds of normal civic discourse. The measure that was developed therefore represents a conceptualization of a "civically literate" scientific vocabulary that avoids the possible biases that could be associated with a selection of terms based solely on experts' views. Scientific literacy results obtained through the use of the instrument at the pilot-test level are discussed and contrasted with those obtained when using the National Science Foundation's scale, which is the most widely cited public scientific literacy measurement instrument based on a more conventional approach to scientific literacy.

Scientific Literacy: Another Look at its Historical and Contemporary Meanings and its Relationship to Science Education Reform
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 37, Issue: 6, August 2000. pp. 582 - 601
DeBoer, George E.

Scientific literacy is a term that has been used since the late 1950s to describe a desired familiarity with science on the part of the general public. A review of the history of science education shows that there have been at least nine separate and distinct goals of science education that are related to the larger goal of scientific literacy. It is argued in this paper that instead of defining scientific literacy in terms of specifically prescribed learning outcomes, scientific literacy should be conceptualized broadly enough for local school districts and individual classroom teachers to pursue the goals that are most suitable for their particular situations along with the content and methodologies that are most appropriate for them and their students. This would do more to enhance the public's understanding and appreciation of science than will current efforts that are too narrowly aimed at increasing scores on international tests of science knowledge. A broad and open-ended approach to scientific literacy would free teachers and students to develop a wide variety of innovative responses to the call for an increased understanding of science for all.

Science Literacy and Academic Identity Formulation
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 41, Issue: 10, December 2004. pp. 1111 - 1144
Reveles, John M.; Cordova, Ralph; Kelly, Gregory J.

The purpose of this article is to report findings from an ethnographic study that focused on the co-development of science literacy and academic identity formulation within a third-grade classroom. Our theoretical framework draws from sociocultural theory and studies of scientific literacy. Through analysis of classroom discourse, we identified opportunities afforded students to learn specific scientific knowledge and practices during a series of science investigations. The results of this study suggest that the collective practice of the scientific conversations and activities that took place within this classroom enabled students to engage in the construction of communal science knowledge through multiple textual forms. By examining the ways in which students contributed to the construction of scientific understanding, and then by examining their performances within and across events, we present evidence of the co-development of students' academic identities and scientific literacy. Students' communication and participation in science during the investigations enabled them to learn the structure of the discipline by identifying and engaging in scientific activities. The intersection of academic identities with the development of scientific literacy provides a basis for considering specific ways to achieve scientific literacy for all students.

Science Mass Communication: Its Conceptual History
Science Communication, Vol. 23, Issue: 2, December 2001. pp. 135-163
Logan, Robert A.

This article provides a conceptual history of science mass communication, which is seen as divided into the scientific literacy and interactive science traditions. The origins of the ideas that underlie the scientific literacy and interactive science traditions, as well as some of the issues researchers have raised, are introduced. The author argues the two traditions are not mutually exclusive, although the interactive tradition is a response to the applied problems within the scientific literacy model. It is argued that the pace of research might be accelerated if there were a more comprehensive collaboration among science communication, health communication, and risk communication scholarship.

The Use of Popular Science Articles in Teaching Scientific Literacy
English for Specific Purposes, Vol. 23, Issue: 4, 2004. pp. 379-396
Parkinson, Jean; Adendorff, Ralph

This article considers the use of popular science articles in teaching scientific literacy. Comparing the discourse features of popular science with research article and textbook science - the last two being target forms for students - it argues that popular science articles cannot serve as models for scientific writing. It does, however, suggest that popular articles can make science more accessible to students, and so can play a useful role in the teaching of scientific writing as well as in the teaching of science.

The Science/Technology Interaction: Implications for Science Literacy
Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 38, Issue: 7, September 2001. pp. 715 - 729
Cajas, Fernando

This article begins with a brief history of technology education as it relates to science education and discusses how new conceptions of science and technological literacy are moving beyond the dichotomies that formerly characterized the relationship between science and technology education. It describes how Benchmarks for Science Literacy, the National Science Education Standards, and the Standards for Technological Literacy have been making a case for introducing technology studies into general education. Examples of specific technological concepts fundamental for science literacy are provided. Using one example from the design of structures, the article examines how understanding about design (i. e., understanding constraints, trade-offs, and failures) is relevant to science literacy. The article also examines how research can provide guides for potential interactions between science and technology and concludes with reflections on the changes needed, such as the creation of curriculum models that establish fruitful interactions between science and technology education, for students to attain an understanding of technology.


enGauge 21st Century Skills

This site is designed to help districts and schools plan and evaluate the system wide use of educational technology. More specifically it provides descriptions of digital age scientific literacy to achieve success in the 21st century and gain a thorough understanding of information in all its forms.

Test Your Scientific Literacy!

This essay dispels many myths about the scientific mind, detailing what scientific methods really are, and how science really gets done, based on a scientific study revealing troubling levels of scientific illiteracy among college students and high school science teachers.

Foundation for Scientific Literacy

The Foundation for Scientific Literacy resulted from the personal passion of its founder, Teresa Larsen, Ph.D. Dr. Larsen to communicate science accurately and understandably to lay and technical audiences. Recognizing the importance of communicating scientific principles and advances, and how her work had all along supported scientific literacy, she took the initiative to create an educational organization dedicated to making science accessible to all Americans. The website creates a public forum for the discussion of scientific literacy.