YOU NEED SCIENCE
No one can afford to be scientifically illiterate.
When people don’t learn the basics of science, they can’t make good choices based on a solid understanding of how the world around them (and inside them) works. They risk making decisions based on advertising and propaganda instead of evidence. They become vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation by powerful interests. Not only does this lack of education negatively affect a person’s quality of life, it can negatively affect us all as a society, and leave us vulnerable as a nation.
As Belle Boggs wrote in her Slate article on the state of American science education:
The National Research Council’s Board on Science Education goes a bit deeper:
Science learning should start early.
From a report by West Ed and the Lawrence Hall of Science on the state of California public elementary school science education:
What should we be teaching?
The National Research Council’s Board on Science Education wrote in A Framework for K-12 Science Education:
When should we start teaching science?
Elementary school aged kids are curious about everything, and educationally adventurous. They ask endless questions about what things are made of, and how they work. This is the time to start providing good answers!
I’ve taught elementary school kids the basics of botany, chemistry, physics, cells, our immune system, and the circulatory system. Science isn’t memorization for an exam, it’s just fun. Science isn’t about parroting back every step in the Krebs cycle, it’s about big ideas. Science is a thinking tool, for everyone to use. Young children feel connected to science, and rightly see it as a way to better understand the world around them. A practical science education sets learners up for success in the future, by consistently building on their knowledge, experiences and interests in science from an early age. Science isn’t just an academic skill, it’s a life skill.
We are failing to provide even the minimum of basic science education.
The study by West Ed and the Lawrence Hall of Science found that:
Test scores reflect the lack of attention to science education.
It’s crucial for kids to define themselves as successful at science at a young age. But according to current research, only one in ten California elementary school students are considered proficient in science. This matches other findings that only 10% of teachers are offeringhigh-quality science learning experiences. Students do not have the opportunities they need to participate in high-quality science learning experiences because the conditions that would support such learning are rarely in place.
Why aren’t we doing a better job teaching science?
The reasons underlying the lack of high-quality learning opportunities in the state’s elementary schools are many.
Across the state, teachers do not have time in the school day to teach science. Teachers do not feel prepared to teach science — especially in comparison to the support they get to teach English language arts and mathematics. Too many districts and schools do not have the resources (staff, time, or funds) to provide professional science training and development. Moreover, high-quality science teaching sometimes requires specialized materials, which teachers also say they lack. And again, districts and schools are often too strapped to provide these resources.
Teachers also need systematic feedback on their students’ progress in science, but science assessment systems do not exist in most California school districts. These shortcomings are rooted in part in the state and federal accountability systems that place the greatest emphasis on English language arts and mathematics, which consequently receive the greater share of political and practical attention. In addition, over the past decade, the infrastructure for supporting science education in California has eroded significantly.
The end result is that California does not have a coherent system that enables teachers and schools to consistently provide students with quality science learning experiences.We all pay the price for this.
It’s a nationwide problem.
If you’re feeling smug because you’re not in California, and you’re assuming that things are much better elsewhere…California is not the only state or country facing a failure of basic science education. We just have data to look at for California.
Nationwide, science education statistics are grim. From the National Science Foundation:
…and school resources are vastly unequal
What about adults?
The Pew Research Center is doing some interesting research on what the adult American public does and doesn’t know about basic science, by asking adults 12 questions about a number of different scientific topics. (You can take the quiz on their website at the link above to test your own knowledge).
Only 6% of quiz takers got all 12 questions right. White men scored the highest out of all the groups. Women scored better in biology than they did in chemistry or physics. The results basically reflect who receives the most educational resources in our society.
Imagine if we could even the playing field and train everyone in basic science concepts, instead of just those lucky enough to have access to resources.
So how do we solve this?
It’s hard enough to change even one local school, much less a state or national educational system. Where will we find the political will to provide adequate resources? Strengthening science education has to be a priority. But how? If we solve the problem for one school, how can we replicate our solution elsewhere?
And what about those adults who already missed out on a quality science education? Do we just write them off? If your school science education had a lot of gaps and holes in it, then what?
You need science.
I’m a science communicator, entrepreneur, web designer, educator, problem-solver, and mom. I have a B.S. degree in Ecology with an emphasis on Botany, and studied for a Master’s in Evolutionary and Systematic Biology. I taught science classes and workshops to elementary school students as a volunteer for 6 years. I wrote lesson plans, created hands-on activities, designed experiments, did demos, organized science fairs, and created lunchtime science clubs. I’ve worked with teachers to improve the quality of their lessons and activities. I’ve been on task forces to boost science in schools. I’ve homeschooled my own children in science when they weren’t getting any science at school from their teacher that year.
All this has been a hard uphill slog. There are so many systemic obstacles to change. In the meantime, we are in dire need of improved science education in the US right now. How can we fix this problem? And who can fix it?
Every part of our society must be involved in meeting the challenge. That part has stuck in my mind. We can’t wait around for someone else to solve this problem. We can’t wait for resources to become available. We have to do something, all of us.
I’m not a Nobel Laureate. I’m not a professional educator. I don’t have star-studded credentials. But I am an idea person, I’m a creative person, I understand people, I understand science, I can design and build websites. I’m good at explaining things in a way that people can understand, and when I teach science, the students really enjoy it and absorb it. I’m extremely practical. I’m stubborn. I’m a hard worker. I’m a blue-sky thinker. So I’m willing to take a stab at this.
I think most of the problems and challenges of our time are directly related to the widespread lack of scientific literacy and critical thinking skills. I see people at all levels making bad decisions every day, because they simply don’t know any better. They don’t understand how things work, and they don’t have adequate thinking tools to make sense of what they are told by others.
After several years of mulling over how to improve this situation, and seeing endless suggestions made to put adequate resources into teacher training (which is an excellent idea, but I’ve lost hope that it will ever happen), here is my idea.
Let’s create a self-paced elementary science curriculum online, accessible by anyone with an internet connection, on any device. Let’s make it video-based, and funny, and clever, and thought-provoking.
Let’s start teaching at the very beginning, starting with simple principles of how to sort, organize and classify. Then let’s build on that foundation over time, bit by bit, covering all the basic fundamentals of biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, critical thinking, and the scientific process.
Let’s give everyone the opportunity to build a knowledge base of practical, real-world science, no matter what their age, ability, race, gender, religion, location, financial resources, or educational status.
Let’s make it work in a classroom setting OR for use at home. Learners can study at their own pace, on their own schedule, at no cost. Everyone can be assured of a comprehensive science education with no curriculum gaps.
A quality science education should be available to everyone.
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