Through regular posts on my new WordPress site I hope you’ll enjoy and engage with me on my personal journey through the ongoing challenges in teaching science in the high school environment and also in the success (or otherwise) of the stated key aim of most high school science curricula around the world – to produce scientifically literate adult citizens. Measurements of public scientific literacy indicate we are either not succeeding or that there some other issue with how we do that or in what we are actually measuring as I charted in my doctoral thesis.
A greater issue is emerging with many high school students now having ready access to increasingly rich data information technologies. Generation Z and, behind them, Generation Alpha, have never known a world not connected to a vast web of ready information. They can also multi-task naturally in ways others seem to have to learn how to do. While Gen Zers know how they like to learn, is it necessarily the best way to learn? How will we measure these students’ progress now or in the future and for careers of which more than half have not yet been invented? Will this high school generation more scientifically literate than any other generation before them?
I’ve been fortunate to have talked personally with great people who have influenced my thinking – cosmologist Dr Carl Sagan was the earliest. But also evolutionary biologist Prof Richard Dawkins, and especially cosmologist Prof Paul Davies who has become both a close friend and colleague together with his wife Pauline. Others have been influential too – Prof Ariel Anbar at Arizona State University, and Prof Roger Summons at MIT. They have all challenged and shaped my thinking.
The scientist who has taught me most about the difference between rhetoric and evidence is Prof Malcolm Walter who was my lead supervisor on my doctorate. At times our discussions plumbed the chasms described by C.P. Snow in his watershed lecture “Two Cultures” given my arts background as a former journalist. I have come to understand Rick Borchelt’s comment that for a data driven enterprise it is surprising science does not demand evidence of effectiveness in science communication. I also sadly still agree with Sless and Shrensky’s 2001 view “…the evidence for the effectiveness of (science) communication is about as strong as the evidence linking rainmaking ceremonies to the occurrence of rain.”
All of my work and my projects are aimed at facing the above challenges and providing the required evidence. My objective is to make a difference to the student and public scientific literacy debate as well as to provide alternative pathways for students who might not otherwise have taken science in their senior years, or to encourage them to take at least some science at university level.
I hope others will engage with me through comments and sharing their efforts in the same area, so that we may share learning in how to do better in the communication of science among both students and the public.
Borchelt, R. (2001) Communicating the Future: Report of the research roadmap panel for the public communication of science and technology in the twenty-first century, Science Communication 23(2):194-211
Sless, D. and Shrensky, R. (2001) Science Communication in Theory and Practice, eds Stocklmayer, S., Gore, M.M. and Bryant, C.R. Kluewer Academic Publishers.
Snow, C.P. (1998) The Two Cultures, Cambridge University Press, first published 1959, 31st reprinting.