Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Media-Savvy Scientific Literacy: Developing Critical Evaluation Skills by Investigating Scientific Claims

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Media-Savvy Scientific Literacy: Developing Critical Evaluation Skills by Investigating Scientific Claims

Article excerpt

In the past few decades, there has been enormous effort to advocate for science curricula that prepare adults for navigating our scientifically and technologically complex society (AAAS, 1990, 2010; Bybee, 1993; Millar et al., 1998). From deciding on a course of action for medical therapies, to understanding the relative risks and benefits of vaccination, to discriminating among various dietary plans, adults are bombarded with contradictory claims. Many of our current science curricula fail to prepare adults to evaluate the quality of sources of scientific information and weigh evidence to make informed decisions about scientific claims (Bramble & Workman, 2007; Bray Speth et al., 2010; Osborne, 2010; Porter et al., 2010). Faculty would like to see a greater effort put toward teaching these skills (Coil et al., 2010; Brewer & Smith, 2011). With the Internet and other media increasingly serving as the major source of scientific information for scientists and the public (Fox & Jones, 2009), information literacy skills must comprise a critical component of instruction (Porter et al., 2010). However, most science courses do not include instruction on evaluating sources, and without this ability, students acquire erroneous conceptions and fail to improve their understanding of scientific issues (Wiley et al., 2009).

In response to the evident need for curricula specifically designed to focus on the scientific literacy involved in evaluating source quality and weighing evidence, we created an approach called project-based applied learning (PAL). This curriculum was specifically designed for students fulfilling their general education (Gen Ed) science requirement, and as such was designed to nurture habits of thinking and emphasize connections to everyday life (Meinwald & Hildebrand, 2010). Each project revolves around authentic life situations that provide opportunities for adult students to develop source-evaluation and argumentation skills while simultaneously engaging their interest. The guiding principle for each project is to allow students to focus on what the National Science Education Standards advocate as using "scientific information to make choices that arise every day," "engaging intellectually in public discourse and debate," and "sharing in the excitement and personal fulfillment that can come from understanding and learning about the natural world" (National Research Council, 1996). We discuss the challenges encountered and make suggestions for enacting PAL curricula in the often large-enrollment Gen Ed college classroom.

* Project-Based Applied Learning (PAL): An Approach to Develop Skills in Scientific Inquiry & the Nature of Science

We chose to adopt a project-based science instructional approach because of its demonstrated potential to build students' content knowledge as well their skills (Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006; Cook, 2009) while also providing an opportunity to integrate information resources (Land & Greene, 2000). In project-based instruction, students choose a project of interest and engage in collaborative investigation about a compelling problem. Classroom time is spent supporting students' ability to build arguments (Belland et al., 2008) as well as evaluating others' scientific arguments (Novak et al., 2009). The projects require students to seek sources of information, interpret quantitative data concerning the problem, draw conclusions, and communicate the results, in a way that mimics how science is conducted (Colley, 2008; Krajcik et al., 2008). In addition, students confront discrepancies in data interpretation, methods, and diversity of approaches to solving problems that provide a more complex view of the nature of science (Bybee, 2006). This is a constructivist learning approach: students reevaluate their previous knowledge during the process of addressing the problem, which helps them consolidate their existing knowledge and elaborate further (von Aufschnaiter et al. …

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