“Why do I have to know anything about Chemistry?”May 23, 2010 at 8:46 am | Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment
Musings on the importance of Science Literacy
Posted by Chris Grayeski
It is rare that student opinions factor much into my stream of consciousness in any given day but there is one comment that regularly stops me in my tracks (and I assume many other teachers as well). The comment being “why do I have to learn this?” This includes any other iterations (i.e. when do I have to know this, why is this important, why should I care etc.) as well. Are my students so far removed from the world around them that they fail to make any connections between the classroom and their lives? I certainly hope not, and I do not think that is the case. Our students have gotten too busy to notice how every subject, every curriculum; every test can teach them something about the world they live in.
There is something that every school subject has in common that could potentially unite them in a battle against student apathy. Reading occurs every minute of every day for every student. Even the weakest of our students (and readers) still have developed enough reading ability to function on a day to day basis (granted that some of their reading levels are only helpful in 8th grade real-world situations). This cross-curricular connection can give teachers an opportunity to mold better readers beyond the one period they sit in my classroom. If all of our students are reading (and learning how to read better) in all of their classes, everybody wins (Yay!).
Science literacy, specifically, demonstrates a whole new ballgame. Filled with seemingly endless facts and information, why would the average citizen deem it important in their daily lives? If it is worded this way, I can’t say I blame the students for asking why it should matter to them. In an article titled Why Should You Be Scientifically Literate?, Robert M. Hazen from actionbioscience.org states:
“More and more, scientific and technological issues dominate national discourse, from environmental debates on ozone depletion and acid rain, to economic threats from climate change and invasive species. Understanding these debates has become as basic as reading. All citizens need to be scientifically literate to:
- appreciate the world around them
- make informed personal choices
It is the responsibility of scientists and educators to provide everyone with the background knowledge to help us cope with the fast-paced changes of today and tomorrow…”
I have no problem believing in and supporting what Hazen says, science literacy is without a doubt becoming increasingly important (i.e. BP oil spill). My difficulty is in figuring out how to get this across to students. What kinds of text resources could best demonstrate this connection to the students and in the process create better readers in science and other subjects as well? Current events are great, but do the students possess enough background knowledge to make them relevant today? Pre-reading strategies become of utmost importance when it comes to dissecting (pun intended) science texts.