How to achieve scientific literacy


On Standards and Diversity

Guide for college students

Literacy is understanding the context of a sentence, a statement, a scientific fact. Literacy does not stop with the recitation of facts, but allows to convey context to the facts, to understand there whereabouts. Scientific literacy means applying rules in order to solve problems and to know which rules to use for solving which problems. Scientific literacy starts with reading about facts, practicing the rules of scientific discovery, and learning about the establishment of facts. For what we call a fact is a relation between objects. Achieving scientific literacy means to grasp the origin of this relation. Scientific literacy is ever more important in a world dependent on technology and science, communication and 'making money'. Reading, writing, and mathematics help us to comprehend and to express our own goals. To read a sentence is to understand the context it is written in. To use numbers is to understand the relation among objects and to see how values of things important to us compare. Literacy also means to practice, practice, practice what you love.

Reading, Math, Practice ... three steps in achieving scientific literacy. The first step includes learning of facts by reading, observing, and listening. This is much like absorbing information through rote memorization. Rather like the mechanical learning of rules; letters into words, words into sentences. Rules can be learned without the relation to contextual meaning. At this early stage, the rules are the meaning, but do not reflect context, and thus do not promote true scientific literacy (see Morris Shamos, The Myth of Scientific Literacy). Indeed, not to understand the difference between the meaning of rules and context of a sentence is not to understand the difference between a dictionary and a poem. Yet, rules are important. Rules structure an activity and give direction to a task. Mastering the rules gives a sense of accomplishment. And acquiring new knowledge simply means using the rules you already know.


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Copyright © 2000-2012 Lukas K. Buehler

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