Academic journal article Science Educator

Scientific Literacy: Resurrecting the Phoenix with Thinking Skills

Academic journal article Science Educator

Scientific Literacy: Resurrecting the Phoenix with Thinking Skills

Article excerpt

Abstract

Prior research suggests that students' understanding of scientific concepts is pre-determined by their reasoning ability. Other efforts suggest that American students' scientific literacy is in decline. One difficulty Bybee (2009) acknowledges is that there are two divergent philosophical models of scientific literacy. The first describes the content knowledge and conceptual understanding that is desirable for future scientists. The second is an application of science to "real life" that is critical for every American citizen. In either case, we propose that the essential subordinate skill required for scientific literacy is scientific thinking ability as defined by Piaget (1964) and Lawson (2002). This article outlines the relation between students' scientific thinking ability and both their conceptual understanding and literacy. It also provides national norms for students in grades 10-12 using a measure of scientific thinking skills, the Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning (CTSR). These norms can be used by educators when making curricular and policy decisions regarding student achievement.

Keywords: literacy, thinking skills, reasoning ability, achievement, assessment, Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning, CTSR, science, algorithmic, conceptual

Introduction

It has often been suggested that teaching should focus on conceptual understanding. In fact, Alan Greenspan (2002) described a conversion to a conceptualbased economy. Therefore, students need the prerequisite skills to be competitive. However, we find in Bybee (2009) that students are continuing to underperform relative to our national expectations. As he points out, one of the areas of continuous or additional intervention is scientific literacy. It is also important to note that conceptual understanding has been linked to scientific thinking skills (BouJaoude, Salloum, & AbdEl-Khalick, 2004; Cracolice, Deming, & Ehlert, 2008); therefore, these skills ought not be neglected at the expense of scientific literacy. One difficulty Bybee acknowledges is that there are two divergent philosophical models of scientific literacy. The first describes the content knowledge and conceptual understanding that is desirable for future scientists. The second is an application of science to "real life" that is critical for every American citizen. In either case, we propose that the essential subordinate skill required for scientific literacy is scientific thinking ability. Scientific thinking includes the traditional reasoning abilities as described by Piaget (1964), as well as the hypothesis-testing skills described by Lawson (2002).

Conceptual understanding.

Herrón (1975) described the relationship between scientific thinking skills and chemistry's conceptual difficulty. In essence, after looking at the traditional content and assessments of his course, he found that most of his teaching required students to have welldeveloped scientific thinking skills to be successful. Gabel (1999) agreed, suggesting that the vast number of student misconceptions regarding chemical concepts from the elementary school to the graduate level are due to the abstract nature of chemistry. Herron (1975) went on to suggest that chemistry instructors should challenge students to develop these high-level scientific thinking skills in order to give them an opportunity to be successful in chemistry. Similarly, Coletta and Phillips (2005) found a positive correlation between scientific thinking skills and student achievement on the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) in physics.

Nurrenbern and Pickering (1987) found that students were more successful solving algorithmic problems (those which could be solved with a memorized set of procedures) than conceptual problems (those for which a memorized procedure was not available). This line of algorithmic versus conceptual problem solving research, including Nurrenbern (1979), Sawrey (1990), Nakhleh (1993), Sanger (2005), Sanger, Campbell, Felker, and Spencer (2007), and Sanger and Phelps (2007), has provided extremely insightful knowledge about the nature of students' problem solving abilities. …

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