What is Science Literacy?
University of Nebraska's Definition of Science Literacy: An enhanced capacity, both at the individual and collective levels, to make effective decisions grounded in STEM-informed analyses of complex, real-world challenges.
In the context of recent and going STEM education reform, the idea of ‘science literacy’ has served as a primary rationale and global vision for the impact of STEM education on society. The National Research Council defines science literacy as“knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity” (1996, p. 192). Internationally, this perspective is echoed in ongoing conversations about how global citizens should engage with disciplinary knowledge and practices. A common interpretation of this and similar definitions of science literacy is that by supporting students’ to learn science, they will naturally employ this knowledge as a tool to analyze and make effective decisions about challenging real-world issues. Conversations about science literacy often revolve around defining what baseline science everyone should know and how much knowledge is sufficient.
Yet, a sizeable body of empirical research continues to show that this perspective is over-simplistic in its assumptions about the nature of knowledge, scientific or otherwise. The utilization of abstract ideas or concepts in novel contexts is rarely observed, whether in K-12 classrooms, university classrooms, or the contexts of everyday life (Feinstein, 2010). As Mullen and Roth concisely state, “You can know all you need to know about your world and still not know what to do, which choices to make” (1991, pg. 1). A key distinction must therefore be made between supporting students simply to learn science and supporting students to learn to use science (Bybee, 2009). To truly foster science literacy amongst students and members of the public, we must go beyond simply helping them learn a pre-determined body of knowledge. Instead, they must be actively supported to learn to leverage and employ this scientific knowledge, negotiate its intersection with social, cultural, and economic values, to concretely identify relevant problems, evaluate real options for action, and move towards fundamentally different methods of accomplishing their goals. Science literacy, then, must fundamentally foreground decision-making about challenging real-world issues and how individuals mobilize science to support this process.
Bybee, R., McCrae, B., Laurie, R. (2009). PISA 2006: An assessment of scientific literacy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(8), 865-883.
Feinstein, N. (2011). Salvaging science literacy. Science Education, 95(1), 168-185.
Mullen, J.D. Roth, B.M. (1991). Decision-making: Its logic and practice. Savage, Maryland:Rowman Littlefield.
National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, D.C.: The National Academy Press.
Science Literacy Framework
The efforts to grow Science Literacy are being pursued through an integrated suite of programs grounded in a transdisciplinary body of theory and research and spanning campus, local, state, national, and international boundaries. The initiative contributes to the Innovating Agriculture and Natural Resources to 2025 goals which emphasize reaching tens of thousands of students and members of the public each year, increasing undergraduate and graduate enrollment, increasing levels of external funding, and increasing the number of young people seeking higher education opportunities and careers in Science, thus expanding the pipeline of new individuals with the requisite expertise in different Science disciplines to fill employer needs.
Cross-Cutting themes that influence the framework include:
- Food, Fuel, Water, Landscapes and People Nexus. Emphasize the interconnections among these systems and their human dimensions.
- Science Informed Decision-Making. Increase decision-making based on science and a scientific process along with the acknowledgement of using scientific rationale for making decisions.
- Citizen Science. Engage more citizens in scientific research to help solve community and/or global-scale questions and improve their ability to make decisions grounded in science-informed analyses of real-world systems.
- Systems-Thinking. Foster systems thinking through education and outreach programming.
- Integration of Science Literacy. Alignment of science literacy programming with the Institute’s strategic outlook, IANR Communities (Stress Biology, Healthy Humans, Healthy Systems for Agricultural Production and Natural Resources, Computational Sciences, and Drivers of Economic Vitality for Nebraska), and strategic campus initiatives (Center for Plant Sciences Innovation, Daugherty Water for Food Institute, Food for Health Collaboration, Nebraska Integrative Beef Systems, Integrated Translation Biology).
Additionally, the need to develop assessment of the success of this work is a high priority that needs to be addressed.
Consistent with our organizational framework, the initiative is driven by four goals, one in each of our primary domains of work:
- Improving science literacy among all University of Nebraska undergraduate and graduate students
- Effectively preparing PK-12 students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed decisions
- Informing and engaging partners and stakeholders about current programs and contemporary research
- Supporting the public to interpret, reason, and make decisions about challenging issues
Specific Goals, Objectives, Outcomes, and Strategies in the Four Domains:
Improved science literacy among all UNL undergraduate and graduate students through development of innovative programs on food, fuel, water, landscapes, people, and the integrated stewardship of agriculture and natural resources.
- Develop an innovative and effective life sciences core curriculum that connects undergraduate curricula and experiences to real-world situations and examples.
- Develop transdisciplinary programs in the sciences focused on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people that explores and identifies solutions to current and future societal issues (e.g., climate change, invasive species, biotechnology, obesity, etc.).
- Position UNL as a global leader around innovative science programs and education research focused on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- 1. 25% increase in the number of undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees associated with IANR by 2025.
- Through participation in coursework, experiential learning opportunities, and campus programming, UNL students will make informed decisions related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- UNL with increase collaborations with other Big Ten and land-grant institutions within the life sciences programs that focus on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- UNL will be recognized as a leader in innovative and transformative classroom practices that focus on student-centered learning and strategies for change in undergraduate science education.
- Continue to partner with Nebraska Community Colleges to improve science literacy among college students.
- Development of 5 science literacy courses with a focus on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people. The focus of these courses will be on important issues and challenges for the future of agriculture within the context of natural resource use, management, and long-term global needs and sustainability. Courses will be available Spring 2013 for face-to-face and online delivery. (Completed)
- Development of LIFE 120 and 121 as foundational courses for the undergraduate Life Science curriculum. (Completed)
- Build upon existing Science Literacy courses to create a comprehensive training/certification in Science Literacy and prepare student, both undergraduate and graduate to be Science Literacy educators and leaders.
- Development and evaluation of innovative and effective curricula (e.g., life sciences) that connects undergraduate curricula and experiences to real-world situations.
- Development of a Food, Fuel, and Water Systems in Society Minor. (Completed)
- Discipline-based education research that furthers our understanding of how undergraduate students learn within the context of food, energy, water, landscapes and people issues.
Students are prepared for successful careers and a lifetime of informed decisions through the development of food, fuel, water, and landscape systems as models for formal and informal science education.
- Partner with educational entities to map food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people programming with PK-12 next generation science standards.
- Offer professional development opportunities for educators (formal and informal) and volunteers focused on adoption of food, fuel, water, and landscapes systems as models for PK-12 science instruction.
- Increase the number of educators participating in campus-based research related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people (focus on science process, content, and systems-thinking).
- Increase online educational opportunities for PK-12 educators (e.g., Science for Educators specialization).
- Develop and deliver undergraduate/graduate courses for pre- and in-service teachers focused on food, fuel, water, people, and landscapes systems as educational models for the classroom.
- Provide science-based experiential learning opportunities and curriculum for youth organizations (FFA, 4-H, after school programs, etc.)
- Partner with Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education to integrated food, fuel, water, people, and landscape systems into science pedagogy courses. Also pursue partnership opportunities with other teacher education institutions.
- Seek opportunities to provide content related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, people, and the integrated stewardship of agriculture and natural resources for the development of educational resources to outside organizations (e.g., Kahn Academy, textbook companies, and other youth serving organizations).
- Develop and market additional concurrent credit opportunities for secondary, home-schooled, and gifted students.
- Capitalize on existing programs/infrastructures to engage new audiences in Science Literacy experiences (Raising Nebraska, Eastern Nebraska Research & Extension Center, etc.).
- Increased numbers of students participate in concurrent credit opportunities related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- Teachers participating in professional development opportunities will show increased understanding of food systems (production, consumption, sustainability and nutrition) and strategies for classroom implementation.
- Increase the number of educators enrolled in IANR online degree programs (e.g., Science for Educators specialization).
- Half of the Educational Service Units will provide professional development educational programming on food, fuel, water, landscapes and people as models for PK-12 instruction.
- Increase the number of K-12 students that know where their food comes from.
- LPS K-2 classrooms will use soybean as the model plant system for addressing science standards on life cycles. (Completed)
- Increased numbers of students are enrolled in academic degree programs in food, fuel, water, landscapes and people.
- Greater collaboration among PK-12 formal science educators, Educational Service Units, Nebraska Science, Center for Science, Math and Computer Education, Nebraska Department of Education, Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education, and other UNL departments to adopt food, fuel, water and landscape systems as models for science education.
- Greater collaboration with external partners to expand the use of agricultural and natural resources systems for PK-12 instructions.
- Development and delivery of a 4-H School Enrichment program on food systems (production, consumption, sustainability and nutrition) for K-5.
- Integrate food, water, fuel, landscapes, and people curricula with existing programs (4-H, FFA).
- Creation of Mobile Science Labs that will that will provide PK-12 students throughout Nebraska with hands-on, exploratory science experiences focused on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- Discipline-based education research that furthers our understanding of how PK-12 students learn within the context of food, energy, water, landscapes and people issues.
Partners (Commodity groups, government, business, and educational entities):
Informing and engaging our partners in current research and outreach related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- Develop a consistent message that encompasses food, fuel, water, landscapes and agriculture’s important relationship with natural resources, the environment and society.
- Coordinate efforts among statewide partners to collectively work together to develop, deliver and assess innovative and effective educational programs on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people with a focus on real-world challenges.
- Public and state government agencies will recognize the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a source for up-to-date, unbiased information on food, fuel, water, landscapes and people issues, and the integrated stewardship of agriculture and natural resources.
- Agencies report increased awareness of challenges to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people issues.
- Increased grants and contracts with partners related to science literacy.
- Develop courses for partners that inform them on current research and outreach related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- Offer professional development opportunities for partners focused on utilizing their educational programming related to food, fuel, water, and landscapes systems as models for K-12 science instruction.
- Work with partners to maximize resources related to increasing science literacy.
Partners (Commodity groups, government, business, and educational entities):
Increase science literacy through development of innovative programs on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- The public will view UNL as the premiere knowledge center on issues related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, people, and the integrated stewardship of agriculture and natural resources.
- Work with community leaders so they can proactively address emerging issues in food, fuel, water, landscapes, and their communities.
- 25% increase in the number of views/uses of IANR online and mobile media resources related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- 25% of all Nebraskans are reached by educational programming focused on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- By 2025, all Nebraska counties will have hosted at least one Café series (modeled after UNMC) focused on food, fuel, water, landscapes and people.
- Expose Nebraskans to the entrepreneurship opportunities based on research related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people.
- Develop and market the Nebraska Collaborative for Food, Energy and Water Education website.
- Develop interactive Apps that teach key issues in food, fuel, water, and landscapes systems to life-long learners.
- Develop the STEM Learning Center at ENREC.
- Develop an interactive, hands-on exhibit at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo focused on pollinators, soybeans, and animal agriculture.
- Develop eXtension courses on food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people for life-long learners.
- Develop a Food, Fuel, Water, Landscapes, and People Café series.
- Expand the number of participants in the Master Naturalist, Climate Masters, and other related programs.
- Establish a partnership between citizen-scientists and UNL faculty and staff to educate and engage the public on issues related to food, fuel, water, landscapes, and people by engaging them in data collection efforts designed to contribute to key issues of importance to science and Nebraska.