I am not a scientist, but I consider myself science literate. I understand how studies are conducted and I have a basic knowledge of statistics. But more importantly, I actively keep up with science articles in everyday magazines, compare them to each other, and ask questions of people I know in the science fields. Being science literate means I care about how science affects my life. I also thinks it’s pretty cool.
My children are surrounded by scientists in the family: Their father, aunt, and grandfather all have PhDs in molecular biology, and their great-aunt is currently working on her doctorate in nursing. Granted, the science topics veer towards biology more than astrophysics, but as scientists, they all enjoy talking about any new discoveries.
I started college as a psychology major, not because it was better than “undeclared” but because I thought it was interesting. I ended up in music, but I still enjoy hearing about new studies in that social science. All this means is that my children consider science a part of life, not just a subject in school.
I decided to take this science literacy skill into our homeschooling group. For six weeks, I led a class of kids from ages six to fourteen on a discovery of what science literacy means. Their homework was to find a science article from a lay-person’s source, and then try to find the original scientific article referenced. This was very tough because real science journals are often expensive for libraries to carry, are not easily accessed on the web unless you are part of a scientific community, and are generally not for sale in stores. Yet, many were at least able to find the original title and abstract for their chosen article. The most amusing part of class was when the children would read the lay person title like: Alzheimer’s Linked to Lack of Zzzz and then the scientific study title, Rapid appearance and local toxicity of amyloid-beta plaques in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. They came to appreciate good science writing for non-scientists.
That first class, I told the kids to choose any topic, as long as it was a current scientific study. I’m running a science literacy class again this spring and decided to narrow down the topic to health and nutrition. This time around I’ve also allotted more time for discussion. I hadn’t counted on how intense the kids’ options would be on the various studies presented in the first class. I had to cut them off just to make sure everyone had a chance to present.
What about at your home? Don’t have a couple of PhDs to pass the potatoes and ask a question about the validity of the latest diet craze? Start reading good science articles. Science News is by far the most accessible, varied, and current science publication. Regardless of your educational background, you will be able to understand and get a quick look at the most recent and groundbreaking work in a variety of scientific fields. Read one of the shorter articles aloud at dinner and start a conversation about possible life on the moon of another planet, how robots are learning like babies, or if obesity is linked to too many hours playing video games.
Here’s a short checklist for evaluating science in the news:
-Who funded the study?
-How broad was the sample (people of different ages? genders?)
-How many people?
-Was it a blind study? Double blind?
-Did the reporter tell you about other similar studies to compare?
-Did other scientists review and comment on this study?
Science shapes our culture, politics, and personal health. Read about it, talk about it, become more science literate with your kids!