Improving science literacy means transforming science education

To graduate with a science major, college students must complete between 40 and 60 credit hours of science coursework. That means spending about 2,500 hours in the classroom during his undergraduate career.

However, research has shown that despite all efforts, most college science courses provide students with only a fragmented understanding of fundamental scientific concepts. Teaching method reinforces the memorization of individual facts, moving from chapter to chapter of a textbook, without necessarily making connections between them, rather than learning how to use information and interpret those facts. Connect meaningfully.

The ability to make these connections is important beyond the classroom as well, as it is the cornerstone of science literacy: the ability to use scientific knowledge to accurately evaluate information and make evidence-based decisions.

As a chemistry education researcher, I have been working with my colleague Sonia Underwood since 2019 to explore how chemistry students integrate and apply their knowledge in other scientific disciplines.

In our most recent study, we examined how well college students can use their chemistry knowledge to explain real-world biological phenomena. We did this by having them perform activities designed to build cross-disciplinary connections.

We found that even though most students were not given the same opportunities that would prepare them to build those links, activities like these can help—if they are made part of the curriculum.

three-dimensional learning

A large body of research shows that traditional science education, both for science majors and non-majors, does not do a good job of helping science students apply their scientific knowledge and explain the things they have learned about. Would not have learned directly.

With this in mind, we developed a series of cross-disciplinary activities guided by a framework called “three-dimensional learning”.

In a nutshell, three-dimensional learning, known as 3DL, emphasizes that the teaching, learning, and evaluation of college students should include the use of fundamental ideas within a discipline. It should also include tools and rules that help students make connections within and between subjects. Lastly, it should engage students in the use of their knowledge. The framework was developed based on how people learn as a way to help all students gain a deeper understanding of science.

We got this Rebecca L. Matz, a specialist in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. Then we took these activities into the classroom.

make scientific connections

To start, we interviewed 28 first-year college students majoring in science or engineering. All were enrolled in both introductory chemistry and biology courses. We asked them to identify the relationship between the content of these courses and the take-home messages of each course.

Students responded with a detailed list of topics, concepts, and skills learned in class. Some, but not all, correctly identify the core ideas of each science. They understood that their chemistry knowledge was essential to their understanding of biology, but not that the opposite could be true.

For example, the students talked about how gaining their knowledge in their chemistry course—that is, attractive and repulsive forces—was important to understanding how and why the chemical species that make up DNA come together.

On the other hand, for their biology course, the basic idea the students talked about most was the structure-function relationship—how ​​the size of chemical and biological species determines how they work.

Next, a set of cross-disciplinary activities were designed to guide students in the use of basic ideas and knowledge of chemistry to help explain real-world biological phenomena.

Students review a main chemistry idea and use that knowledge to explain a familiar chemistry scenario. Subsequently, he applied it to explain a biological landscape.

One activity explored the effects of ocean acidification on sea oysters. Here, students were asked to use basic chemistry ideas to explain how rising levels of carbon dioxide in seawater are affecting shell-building marine animals such as corals, clams and oysters.

Other activities asked students to apply knowledge of chemistry to explain osmosis — how water moves in and out of cells in the human body — or how temperature can change the stability of human DNA.

Overall, students felt confident in their chemistry knowledge and could easily explain chemistry scenarios. He had a hard time applying similar chemistry knowledge to explain biological scenarios.

In Ocean Acidification Activity, most students were able to accurately predict how an increase in carbon dioxide affects ocean acidification levels. However, they weren’t always able to explain how these changes affect marine life by disrupting shell formation.

These findings highlight that there is a huge gap between what students learn in their science courses and how prepared they are to apply that information. This problem persists despite the fact that in 2012, the National Science Foundation created a set of three-dimensional teaching guidelines to help teachers make science education more effective.

However, the students in our study also reported that these activities helped them see a connection between the two subjects that they might not have noticed otherwise.

So we also came up with evidence that our chemistry students have, at least, the ability to gain a deeper understanding of science and how to apply it.

Zahlin D. Rosh Allred, Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Florida International University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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