From Science Definitions to Science Literacy for Outstanding Teachers

Continuation of Six Focus Questions for Science Educators

It would be nice if all six questions could be dealt with simultaneously, the way a teacher seems to when he or she is teaching. However, since most humans focus on one idea at a time each is studied singularly. However, keep in mind they are not isolated. All are constantly interacting in the classroom.

Our adventure continues now with a quest to understand and explain what science literacy is. Before you do you may want to reflect on your science axtivity in the next section.

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From Science Definitions to Science Literacy

Glad your back. I hope that was encouraging.

Now, let's tame the powerful question: What is science literacy? Another Focus Questions.

First, a little history. - In 1989 a group of scientists and educators compiled a book, Science for All Americans. It includes a comprehensive descriptions of what science is and introduces "science literacy" as a better term for professional educators to use as a framework to understand what people need to know to be science literate.

Before we head off into the wilderness on a quest to understand science literacy; let's review a couple of ideas.

First, in science there are no right answers. Science is never done. There are ideas that are more accepted, by the scientific community, than others, but the nature of science is every idea is open to change.

Second, no matter how much science you know it will never be enough. The information included in Science for All Americans, is a compilation created by an expert panel of scientists, mathematicians, social scientist, and technologists of what they believe every American graduate should know and be able to do to be science literate; not what a person needs to know to be a scientist, nor is it what a student needs to know to be awarded a science scholarship to a prestigious college or university to study in a science field, but what everyone should know.

More importantly for you, it is what a professional educator should know to teach at any grade level.

The following information and links will help you discover the full power of science literacy and its many dimensions.

Science Literacy Resources

Two organizations created documents to describe science literacy:

  1. AAAS created Project 2061,
  2. NSTA (Natonal Science Teachers Association)

I have prepared a chart to guide your review of how the four dimensions of all subject areas are related to the dimensions and categories created by AAAS and NSTA. science literacy dimensions and categoreis.

That is a lot of information

Yes it is. However, I can explain it all by building on what you are good at - observation.

Let's start with the nature of science (NOS). It isn't easy, but it is the foundation for science literacy, so open you mind and try your hand at answering a few questions about the nature of science (NOS). Oh... Remember I said I would help you? Here are some suggestions and misconceptions that I believe will help you with the questions.

I imagine the thinking you did responding to the nature of science questions was pretty deep. The information is pretty good for an overview of what science is and what a person needs as a foundation to be science literate. However, as you continue your study you will revisit these ideas and the many other categories and ideas for all the dimensions of science literacy. There are two main sources where you can find this information, NSTA and AAAS. Each of these organizations publish different documents to provide for curriculum development and facilitating science literacy. I have created some summaries and outlines.

Before we move to other focus questions, I suggest you select either the AAAS or NSTA dimensions and subdiemsions outlined in the sceince literacy dimensions and categories chart. If you want to know more about the organization of subjects by dimensions click this link. You may use any of these three organizations of science dimensions or create one of your own. However, all science information that students need to know to be science literate need to fall under one of the dimensions or it's subcategories.

When you select one, try it out and see if you can categorize these ideas for science literacy within the dimensions and categories.


Observation is also critical to use as a mediator with students. Since observation is a great motivator it can be used to access the inherent curiosity of students to understand what they see or have seen. Further all the ways of understanding begin with our personal observations. It is the students' personal observations that each student acts on with their mathematical-logical reasoning at their current developmental level to create their understanding. Equally important is their abilities to use visual spatial reasoning to interpret their observations.

So, science, at its naked beginnings, is observation, thinking and reasoning about observations, and using them to determine future observations. Anyone reading this, has been doing that successfully for many years and has the ability to succeed in becoming an outstanding science educator. The connection to science is learning how the processes of science are derived from the different ways of using or reasoning with observations.

Science is NOT the information needed to build a rocket, or the results from decoding the human genome, or an explanation of nuclear physics and black holes. Science was and still is being used to create understanding in these and other areas, but everything that you know about the world and can use to explain what will or may happen before it happens you learned by doing science, whether you knew it or not.

The way that you grew to understanding repeatable events is the same science used by scientists in all sciences at the most advanced levels and in the most advanced topics. Too often people think science is complicated and used only to understand advanced science topics, or one has to be able to understand science topics at an advanced level to be able to do and use science. However, they are mistakenly confusing science (viewing and doing) with the ability to comprehend secondary written reports of somebody else's observations and explanations. Understanding information presented in written form, is reading comprehension and when it is presented orally it is listening skills. Both, valuable tools for learning secondary information, but not for doing science and learning from scientific inquiry.

Other class focus questions

You may not have previously studied and reflected on the rest of the focus question specifically for science literacy, but you do have a lot of general information for them:

  1. How do people learn?
  2. How is learning facilitated?
  3. How do we know what students know?
  4. How do professional educators improve professionally?

Have you organized what you know into a document that summarizes and connects the information so it can be reviewed and used to plan and reflect on your practices?

As you review and discuss ideas for these questions consider how the information relates and can be used to plan and reflect for you, your students, and your peers learning. For example you might create a generic model of ideas, their connections to students, and mediators for decision making.

It won't take long as you add ideas to your web until you have quit a bit of information.

Here is another sample with additional information in a slightly different arrangement.

If the amount on the initial page increases you can move groups of information to different sheets of paper and use arrows to indicate pages with additional information. Or if you use an electronic format, these pages can become links. For example.The category facilitating science literacy can be linked to more specific information on another page.

The sample is a first draft of general pedagogical information. While in most situations general information is applicable to all subject areas specific science education information can be added.

Documents that use and include this kind of information are science education position paper, a professional portfolio, and curriculum documents.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©