AbstractRecent years have seen greater emphasis upon science education in school, right from the time children step into school to the time when the young exit to take up higher education. While a greater emphasis on science is justifiable considering the enormous developments that have occurred in science, technology and medicine in recent decades, school teachers and educationists remain concerned about the disconnect that many children have between the scientific inputs they receive and its relationship with their actual surroundings.This research assignment delves into the issue of the development of literacy in school children, the role that literacy plays in scientific education and the intersections where literacy and science meet each other.
A number of issues that concern these two issues have been investigated and researched in detail in the process of arriving at findings and conclusions. Table of ContentsSerialDetailsPageAbstract11Introduction32Research Methodology4aMethodology4bChoice of Research Methodology4cResearch Questions5dLimitations of Study53Literature Review64Findings and Analysis125Conclusions13References15 1. IntroductionScience education at the school level has continually increased over the course of the last century, (especially in the post Second World War era), despite a continuing perception of it being an exceedingly difficult subject, suitable only for more intelligent and hardworking children. While the necessity of increasing the subject matter related to science in schools has undoubtedly been caused by the explosion that has occurred in the body of scientific and technical knowledge in recent years, the phenomenon has increased pressure on both pupils and teachers who have to struggle with a significant and increasing body of scientific knowledge, both for transmission and effective absorption.
The matter is compounded further by the increase in the numbers of children joining school, their diverse ethnic, cultural, traditional, social, and educational backgrounds, their different family backgrounds and the vastly varied significance attached by different parents to education, as well as to different subjects of study. These factors pose significant and ever increasing challenges to teachers who need to deal with a diverse student mass and adopt teaching methods that are effective and suitable for the inculcation of scientific education.While teaching methods have become progressively sophisticated, and teachers adopt various techniques to make their subjects more interesting and easier to assimilate for their students, science, in the common perception, continues to be a complex and difficult subject, requiring far greater effort and concentration for success than the liberal arts, the performing arts and sports, the three other common areas for student involvement in school.Much thought is being given in recent years by educationists and teachers about the role of literacy in science education and the areas in which literacy and science education interact and intersect with each other. Teachers realize that literacy problems and its inadequacy can impede student progress and create barriers to assimilation of science content in existing school curricula. This research assignment aims to delve into the issue of literacy and the role it plays in furthering science education in school.2. Research Methodologya.
MethodologyThe methodology for a research assignment consists of distinct functions, which include detailed study of primary and secondary sources in the Literature Review, framing of appropriate research questions, deciding on the requirement and the practicality, if at all of conducting primary research, defining and quantifying of respondents for primary research, formulating the research procedure, recording findings, and arriving at conclusions.b. Choice of Research MethodologyThe choice of the basic methodology for primary research depends upon the nature of the assignment and the suitability of different available methods. Primary research strategies involve a choice between Quantitative and Qualitative methodologies for obtaining and analyzing data. Both these methods use specialized techniques and require detailed planning, preparation, and knowledge of methods of data collection, ability to analyze collected data, both statistically and interpretatively, validate results and arrive at appropriate conclusions. Researchers often choose to adopt one of the two methods; sometimes they use a mix of both, concurrently or sequentially.The subject assignment is a complex issue and deals with primary education, teaching, child and teacher psychology and social issues.
While primary research is an important component of intensive research, its scope, in this context, would have to be significant, cover both qualitative and quantitative techniques and span practices adopted at a large number of schools and the results obtained therein if it were to be truly representative. The undertaking of a primary research effort of such huge proportions is outside the ambit of this exercise and replacing it with a small primary research attempt will not serve any valid research purpose. However, an extensive and detailed study of the primary and secondary literature available should throw up a number of relevant findings and help in furthering an understanding of the problem and the current situation. This assignment has thus depended upon a detailed literature review of both primary and secondary sources available with the researcher.c. Research QuestionsThe research questions for this assignment are framed as under.· What is the role that can be played by literacy in teaching science at school?· How can literacy help in better assimilation of science content in schools?d.
Limitations of StudyThe research topic deals with a topic that, while having its roots in the present educational system, concerns a vast number of psychological and social issues, both historical and current. The subject matter under discussion is vast in its scope and the absence of primary research on an appropriately large scale limits the scope of the assignment to what is available from primary and secondary information sources. In addition, any research into a complex issue of this nature, especially where the scope of the assignment extends to child behavior, different cultures, psychology, and social structures is limited by the understanding of the researcher of the many variables that come into play.While due care has been exercised in trying to collect reliable data, obtain different opinions, and access as much information as possible, the possibility of incorrect information creeping into the assignment cannot be ruled out, a factor that could affect the quality of the findings of the study.3. Literature ReviewIt is widely accepted that learning occurs within social and cultural contexts and students need to correlate and validate their studying with their actual life experiences for better assimilation.
However, as science is often absolutely unfamiliar territory for students from ethnically diverse backgrounds, because it does not relate or correspond to their actual life experiences, there is very often a disconnect that occurs between their consciousness and what is taught to them. This in turn leads to conflicts in understanding where the world of real life and science meet. While, some of the current educational policies, (especially the No Child Left Behind Act), are leading to some dilution in the teaching of science at school, policymakers have largely been very firm in the need for providing good science education to all children. The formulation of National Science Education Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy provides comprehensive details about the extent of science education thought to be desirable, reaffirms state commitment to improving the level of scientific knowledge in students, and strives to ensure achievement of scientific literacy in all learners. (Bybee, 1995)Literacy is a critical component of scientific enquiry and its need is felt throughout the process of learning science. According to the National Science Education Standards it is the ability to engage intelligently in public discourse about scientific and technological matters. (Rivard and Shume, 1999) Scientific Literacy can be termed to be the possession of a set of skills that marries knowledge of science, concepts, facts, and processes with the ability to use language and communicate about ideas.
(Anderson, 2006) Again a scientifically literate person is one who is aware that science, mathematics and technology are interdependent human enterprises with strengths and limitations. Such persons understand the key concepts and principles of science; they are familiar with the natural world, recognize both its unity and diversity, and use scientific knowledge and scientific ways of thinking, for social and individual purposes. (Peterson, Rochwerger, Brigman and Wood, 2006)Despite the obvious need for scientific literacy in the education process of schoolchildren, educationists have been concerned about the difficulties students have in relating scientific knowledge and concepts with their outside lives, and the trouble they have in grasping its nuances and their connection with the physical world around them. They have been concerned about the limited ability of children to read, comprehend and assess scientific information. While educationalists realize that knowledge of science, mathematics and technology makes the world more comprehensible and understanding, a broad tendency still exists to treat scientific education esoterically, keep it within the parameters of the classroom and isolate it from their actual lives and real experiences.
Cobern, Underwood and Gibson (1995) argue that despite the inclusion of a significant amount of science in the material studied at school the connection between scientific issues remains peripheral if not superficial.· While students tend to use technical jargon and words like the big bang and ozone emissions on a regular basis, there is little integration of their understanding of nature and the physical world into their thinking.· Students are not taught to make critical connections between what they are taught and their outside lives.
· The structured school curriculum encourages students to compartmentalize their thinking and knowledge process and creates barriers between integrating the knowledge obtained from different subjects into one integrated knowledge body.The authors go on to state that scientific literacy must be the stated objective of all students right from the day of their entering school until the time they go to college. Furthermore scientific literacy needs to be actively taught through appropriate modification of the school curriculum and strategies that will help students to think about science in context of other things that they do know will need to be specifically adopted.Despite a number of issues that need attention for the inculcating of scientific literacy in young children and middle graders, a number of progressive educationists and teachers are experimenting in many ways to engage young schoolgoers in the study of science and to explain the mysteries of the world that exists around them. The fact that children are naturally curious and love investigating enables them to take a delight in picking up new skills and understanding their surroundings.
These natural traits coupled with the inherently colorful and engaging aspects of science study like the beauties of nature, and the fascinating world of insects, birds and animals, can help greatly in instilling a deep regard and interest for science in the minds of young children. Barclay, Benelli, and Schoon (1999) state that teachers and parents can take advantage of the myriad natural occurrences happening around children, and help them to attain five important scientific processes, namely observing, comparing, classifying, measuring and communicating. One of the most effective ways for children to acquire these scientific processes is through providing them with substantial opportunities to engage in open ended enquiries and in stoking their curiosity and knowledge to know through open ended questions. While knowing what questions to ask, as well as how and when to ask them is a challenging task for teachers, the great use of this method in fostering scientific curiosity and investigation makes it an invaluable tool in creating a liking for the study of science.
Exposing children to skilful questioning without instilling emotions of inadequacy or fear in them encourages them to ask questions of their own and try to locate answers, thus engaging them in pursuit of scientific knowledge. While not all classrooms have interesting animals like rabbits or mice, freely available creatures like earthworms and other insects can be used by teachers to start their students off on their fantastic and exploratory journeys. Teachers like Michele Shamlin have obtained good results in younger classes, in increasing regular literacy through using elementary scientific information about animals and the use of animal puppets.
Shamlin found that within a few weeks the need to know more about animals led the children to develop their skills in different areas. In fact reading, writing and mathematics were used regularly to examine the subject and record findings. (Shamlin, 2001)Researchers like Hapgood and Palincsar also reiterate that providing children with character recognition skills, enabling them to recognize words, and narrating stories, is simply not enough to build literacy. Children need to be given opportunities to use oral and written language to examine objects and communicate their impressions if they are to build good language skills. Inquiry based science gives children an ideal forum to examine real world phenomena and use scientific tools to answer questions about them in graphic or word form. Such learning experiences, being collective in nature, provide opportunities where literacy activities intersect with scientific study and reinforce each other, not only to engage the attention of children, but also to build reading, writing, and math skills, and develop scientific curiosity.
By establishing a strong relationship between science and the surrounding world, inquiry based learning helps significantly in fostering scientific literacy. (Hapgood and Palincsar, 2006)While the importance of fostering inquiry and personal experience sharing cannot be overemphasized, reading and writing also play extremely important roles in creating scientific literacy. Reading writing and oral discourse, all important literacy skills are essential to creating a base for scientific inquiry. The very fact that scientists constantly write about their findings in technical journals and extensive debate, both verbal and written is integral to the development of scientific thought indicates the importance of acquiring literacy for relevant scientific study. (Worth, Moriarty and Winoker, 2004) Writing is a habit that needs to be seriously developed as a literacy skill for the study of science to progress apace with a child’s mental and physical development.
The process of writing helps learners to think deeply, inculcates an attitude of questioning and skepticism, and enables them to examine the information they would have received through reading, observing and experiencing. Experts argue that the process of putting pen to paper enable students to make sense of the numerous conflicting ideas, thoughts and actions that rush through their mind and give shape, body and coherence to their thoughts. The very act of writing sentences about a topic throws up new thought processes and enlarges the scope of understanding of a subject. (Peterson, Rochwerger, Brigman and Wood, 2006)The concept of learning in groups, with students reinforcing the learning processes of each other, has been found to be extremely effective in enhancing scientific literacy.
Collaborative or group learning needs to occur under the supervision of expert teachers and commonly involves the whole class in collaborative problem solving exercises. In such cases students brainstorm as a group and in the course of their learning suggest, on their own, that group members should (a) respect everyone’s ideas, (b) listen to all members of the group, (c) share ideas, (d) take turns, (e) share materials, (f) stay on task (g) work together and (h) be quiet when others are talking. Collaborative learning enables students to establish connections between the studied material and the outside actual world, as students come forward with solutions that relate to their own experiences and thus help in significantly increasing scientific literacy.
(Andersen, 2006)Teachers have in the past made good use of science fiction to foster scientific literacy. Science fiction engrosses readers on two counts, namely because firstly it provides enjoyment and thrills and secondly it digs into scientific literature and uses scientific concepts. While science fiction often indulges in fantasy and unreal situations the constant connection between the described activities and science enhances reader interest in science. Researchers now accept that science fiction can play a significant role in enhancing scientific literacy by encouraging students to think about new knowledge frontiers like space travel, genetics or molecular biology and develop the urge to indulge in exploratory reading.Another tool is the use of analogies. Analogies help in fostering scientific literacy by allowing students to compare esoteric scientific phenomena with natural everyday occurrences thus underlining the existence of science in the functioning of the world around them.
Metsala and Glynn (1996) illustrate the use of an interesting analogy where they compared the entry of a spacecraft in the earth’s atmosphere and its subsequent drifting from the point of its entry to the place of its landing with the passage of a penny in a water filled container, where the penny is similarly buffeted by forces on its passage through another medium, which force it off its original course. The authors found this analogy extremely effective in helping students to relate scientific occurrences to their own experiences.Other educationists have similarly worked with existing educational practices like homework and notebooks effectively to inculcate scientific literacy. Homework has always meant the carryover of schoolwork to the home environment with students having to sit down at their desks, take out their books and write out answers or assignments. Teachers like Trueworthy (2006) experimented with making homework assignments interesting by laying down tasks that would involve the student in the house and the neighborhood.
Assignments like observing the organisms in the garden patch, preparing the food chain for the items served at the dining table, and similar other exercises helped in provoking curiosity and making homework fun. This also enables students to tackle regular assignments with more zest and helps in making learning a continuous process, including both school and home. Student notebooks, another existing learning device can become a force multiplier if used properly. The proper utilization of notebooks, their use for data collection using a variety of methods like tables, charts and diagrams can make each notebook assignment interesting and focused, thus helping to drive home points that are under discussion or study.4. Findings and AnalysisDespite the enormous increase in developments in science and technology in recent years, science still remains an area of concern for school teachers. While policymakers are firm on the need for providing good science education to all students, both educationists and school teachers feel that the assimilation of science studies by students needs to be made more effective and the tendency to compartmentalize subjects eliminated. The common literacy tools, namely reading, writing and public discourse are essential for proper absorption of scientific concepts by young learners.
On many occasions teachers are able to use topics in science and nature to enable children to improve their reading, writing and language skills, thus creating situations where science study and literacy reinforce each other. While literacy and science study intersect at such occasions literacy plays a major and critical role in the absorption of scientific concepts by young learners. Literacy tools, especially language skills and ease with reading and writing allow children to organize their thoughts, structure their output, and remove confusion, all of which aid enormously in the assimilation of scientific knowledge.Modern day teachers employ a range of methods to make the study of science more interesting, especially the area of the relationship of science with the everyday world. Most teachers feel that the study of science should be less compartmentalized and deliberate efforts should be made to link science and its many facets and manifestations with the realities of the existing world.
This will enable science to become integral to the lives of children and go a long way towards fostering scientific literacy. Modern day tools include the creation of an atmosphere of scientific inquiry, use of open ended questions, honing of reading, writing and language skills, and collaborative learning. The use of science fiction to stoke curiosity and wonder and the use of analogies have proven to be significantly effective in fostering scientific literacy. Apart from innovative new ideas teachers are also getting good results from making orthodox learning practices and tools like homework and the use of science notebooks more interesting, relevant and connected with everyday life. There appears to be a broad based focus among teachers to connect the study of science everyday life on the premise that establishment of these relationships will enable young learners to internalize scientific knowledge, realize its wonders and enable them to realize its enormous worth and relevance.
5. ConclusionsLiteracy plays an essential role in the fostering of scientific knowledge, as it does in other areas of human thought and knowledge. Literacy tools, namely reading, writing, public discourse and language skills enable young learners to grasp the many multi hued facets of science study and realize its magnificence and grandeur. The study of science plays a reinforcing role; it helps in strengthening literacy skills even as acquiring literacy skills help students to understand science better. This is quite understandable if education is thought of as a composite whole with each of its segments constantly strengthening and reinforcing each other. Knowledge of music, for example, has been known to strengthen mathematical skills.
While many teachers are adopting novel and engaging methods to provoke interest, marry literacy and science study and foster the development of scientific literacy, these efforts are largely isolated and the emergence of specific teaching methods first for using literacy and science jointly among early users and secondly stressing on the role of literacy in fostering and internalizing science study in the middle years is still to come about. This is particularly important considering the increase in students from varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds, these being factors that often hinder the development of scientific literacy and create barriers to the absorption of scientific concepts in young learners.Further research in this area across a spectrum of teachers could reveal interesting results about the best methods to follow for achieving these objectives. ReferencesAnderson, D, 2006, December, Consistency + diversity + scientific literacy, Science Scope, 30,4, 46Barclay, K, Benelli, C, Schoon, S, 1999, Spring, Making the connection!, Childhood education, 75, 3, 146Bybee, R., 1995, October, Achieving scientific literacy, The Science Teacher, 62, 7, 28Casteel, C and Isom, B, 1994, April, Reciprocal processes in science and literacy learning, The Reading Teacher, 47, 7, 538Cobern, W, Gibson, A, and Underwood, S, 1995, December, Valuing scientific literacy, The science teacher, 62, 9, 28Coskie, T, L, The synergy of science and reading, Science and Children, 44, 3, 62Cox-Petersen, A and Spencer, B, 2006, Summer, Access to Science and Literacy through Inquiry and School yard habitats, Science Activities, 43,2,21Creech, J and Hale, G, 2006, February, Literacy in Science: A natural fit, The Science Teacher, 73, 2, 22Crowther, D and Cannon, J, 2004, September, Strategy makeover, Science and Children, 42, 1, 42Czerneda, J, 2006, February, Science fiction and scientific literacy, The Science Teacher, 73, 2, 38Ebbers, M, 2002, September, Science text sets: using various genres to promote literacy and inquiry, Language Arts, 80, 1, 40Hapgood, S and Palincsar, A.., 2006, December, Where literacy and science intersect, Educational leadership, pg 56Hobson, A, 2000, December, teaching relevant science for scientific literacy, Journal of college science teaching, 30, 4, 238Klentschy, M, 2005, November, Science Notebook Essentials, Science and Children, 43, 3, 24Koballa, T, Kemp, A, and Evans, R, 1997, October, The spectrum of scientific literacy, The Science Teacher, 64, 7, 27Loranger, A, 1999, Mar/Apr, The challenge of content area literacy: a middle school case study, The clearing house, 72, 4, 239Meichtry, Y, 1992, December, Using laboratory experiences to develop the scientific literacy of middle school students, School science and mathematics, 92, 8, 437Melber, L, 2003, October, True tales of science, Science and Children, 41, 2, 24Metsala, J and Glynn, S, 1996, March, Teaching with analogies: Building on the science textbook, The Reading Teacher, 49, 6, 490Mole, P, 2006, Skepticism in the classroom, Skeptic, 12, 3, 62Moore-Hart, M, Liggit, P and Daisey, P, 2004, Summer, Making the science literary connection: After school science clubs, Childhood education, 80, 4, 180Moore-Hart, M, Liggit, P and Daisey, P, 2004, Summer, Making the science literary connection: After school science clubs, Childhood education, 80, 4, 180Palincsar, A.S, Anderson, C, and David, Y.V, 1993, May, Pursuing Scientific literacy in the middle grades through collaborative problem solving, The Elementary School Journal, 93, 5, 643Peterson, S, Rochwerger, L, Brigman, J, Wood, K, 2006, December, Cross-curricular literacy; Writing for learning in a science program, Voices from the Middle, 14,2,31Potter, G, and Ritz, W, 2006, October, Sense of wonder science, Science and Children, 44, 2, 40Rivard, L and Schume, T, 1999, May, Scientific literacy for today’s students, Science Scope, 22, 8, 18Sadler, T, 2004, spring, Moral and ethical dimensions of socio-scientific decision-making as integral components of scientific literacy, Science educator, 13, 1, 39Schlichting, K, 2002, September, Parents as teachers: How teachers can help parents promote science literacy, Science scope, 26, 1, 46Shamlin, M, 2001, August, Inquiry in kindergarten: learning literacy through science, Primary voices K-6, 10, 1, 19Schmidt, P.R, Gillen, S, Zollo, T.C, and Stone, R, 2002, March, Literacy learning and Scientific Inquiry: Children respond, The Reading Teacher, 55, 6, 534Trustworthy, M, 2006, 2006, December, Science Homework Overhaul, Science and Children, 44, 4, 50Varelas, M, Pappas, C, Barry, A and O’Neill, A, 2001, April, Examining language to capture scientific understandings, Science and Children, 38, 7, 26Worth, Moriarty, R, and Winoker, J, 2004, February, Capitalizing on Literacy Connections, Science and Children, 41, 5, 35Yopp, H.K and Yopp, R.H, 2006, November, Primary students and informational texts, Science and Children, 44, 3, 22