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BUILDING SCIENTIFIC LITERACY Art Hobson, University of Arkansas.

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Presentation on theme: "BUILDING SCIENTIFIC LITERACY Art Hobson, University of Arkansas."— Presentation transcript:

1 BUILDING SCIENTIFIC LITERACY Art Hobson, University of Arkansas

2 Based on my textbook for non- science college students. Pearson, 5 th edition 2010 YES, THIS IS THE ADVERTISEMENT.

3 OUTLINE Teachers must engage with the problem of global survival by teaching scientific literacy to all. Evidence that science literacy courses can significantly improve a nation’s science literacy. Hobson’s recipe for physics literacy courses: 1) Conceptual 2) Only the main ideas of classical physics 3) Plenty of modern physics 4) Social connections 5) Unifying theme: We learn through evidence and reason.

4 Brainstorming: Please think of a significant global problem, and shout it out.

5 Carl Sagan put it well: We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

6 Editorial in Science, “Bridging Science and Society” “Virtually every major issue now confronting society has a science and technology component, and this means that the need for general scientific understanding by the public has never been larger, and the penalty for scientific illiteracy never harsher.” - Nobelist Peter Agre and AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, 19 Feb 2010.

7 Stephen Hawking’s website question: “In a world that is in chaos politically, socially, and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?” 17,000 responded within a few days. Many doubted that we will survive.

8 Yet the world remains scientifically illiterate Seems obvious in America. I’ll present quantitative evidence.

9 We physics educators aren’t taking this responsibility seriously HS: Only 37% of grads have taken physics. HS: Most courses not designed for SL. College: most physics depts place low priority on non-scientists—90% of our students.

10 Yet judging from the state of the world: Teaching non-scientists is our most important task.

11 MESSAGE: Every physics department needs to teach a physics literacy course that is taken by the vast majority of all students in every high school and on every college campus.

12 Evidence of effectiveness of SL courses John Miller: scientist, sociologist, expert on the measurement of SL. He measures the SL of nations all over the world.

13 Miller’s def of SL: The understanding of sci & tech needed for citizens to function (and VOTE) in modern society. ~ The knowledge needed to read science & tech in the newspapers. Minimal level of understanding—not ideal.

14 Miller finds evidence for two dimensions of SL: Knowledge of key concepts: molecule, energy, biological evolution, Earth’s orbit, etc. Understanding the process of science: conclusions based on evidence & reason.

15 Miller developed a test used to study adults in ~35 nations. Obtained consistent measurements of adult SL since A score > 70 implies SL. Much lower: unable to understand discussions of global warming etc.

16 Sample questions, and % answering correctly (US, 2005) Open-ended% Define “molecule” 80 Define “DNA”75 What does it mean to “study something scientifically”67 Define an “experiment”61 What is the meaning of a “probability of one in four” 44 True-false% Lasers work by focusing sound waves76 Nuclear power plants destroy the ozone layer68 Electrons are smaller than atoms67 Light travels faster than sound57 Astrology is not at all scientific52 Humans developed from earlier species of animals37

17 Results, 34 developed nations, 2005: 1st place Sweden: 35% were SL 2nd place United States: 28% Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Denmark: 20-25% 15 European nations: 10-19% 13 Euro, Japan, Turkey: <10% : Similar results (high US scores), but gradually increasing.

18 Two robust conclusions 1) SL levels are low. 2) US does well. #2 is surprising: On basis of PISA scores, we’d expect US SL to rate below 10%, not 28%. Why?

19 In US tests, 2005, Miller obtained the following info: Age, gender, highest educ level, number of college sci courses, number of children in household, informal sci info (museums etc), religion. He correlated these with people’s SL score. Strongest predictor: number of college sci courses. Number of courses was lumped into 3 groups: A: no science courses; B: 1-3 courses; (other nations have no group B!) C: >3 courses. Groups B & C were far more SL than group A. Explains 75% of variability in SL scores!

20 Why does the U.S. score so highly? Miller suggests that the explanation is: The US is the only major nation to require all 4-year college students to complete “general education” courses, including at least 2 science literacy courses.

21 Conclusions: SL courses make a huge difference! All nations should emulate the US: require 2-3 SL courses in college. The US needs to strengthen its SL education, especially at the college level. To repeat: All HS and college students need to take a physics literacy course.

22 Hobson’s recipe for SL courses— HS and college:

23 1. Physics literacy should be conceptual: no algebra PER shows that even science students who can solve standard algebraic problems are misunderstanding the concepts. Non-scientists have no need to learn to solve traditional algebra-based physics problems. But “numerate”: metric system, powers of ten, estimation, graphs, proportionalities, probabilities

24 2. Present only the essence of the great classical ideas… …go light on details. Get beyond Newtonian mechanics asap. Emphasize energy, second law of thermo. Just enough E&M for EM fields and EM waves. Move on to modern physics by mid-course!

25 3. Include plenty of “modern physics” --an ironic title for physics since the beginning of the preceding century. Still, many intro courses nearly exclude it.

26 Thus most non-science and science students never learn the contemporary view of: time, space, matter, radiation, particles, fields, energy, causality, locality, what the universe is made of, or the universe’s origin & structure.

27 Many students love this stuff It’s ironic that we don’t teach “the good stuff”. How many popular books are there about Newtonian physics? ---about modern physics? Brian Greene’s book: GR, QFT, string theory (no math!). #4 on NY Times best-seller list for months!

28 4. Connect physics with its social implications Modern civilization has brought its own survival into question, yet physics education continues as usual: with little or no social context. It’s as though we were sitting in a sinking lifeboat, discussing inclined plane problems. Must find room to discuss the health of this rare jewel of a planet. There will be no physics education on a devastated Earth.

29 Every intro science course should include social topics Insert at appropriate points. Can be a few minutes, or entire lecture. Can be just a couple of topics, or many.

30 A few suggestions ozone depletion, global warming, all sorts of transportation issues, the precautionary principle, risk assessment, biological effects of radioactivity, the steam-electric power plant, fossil fuels, nuclear power, all sorts of renewable energy resources, exponential growth, population explosion, energy efficiency, pseudoscience, nuclear weapons, the energy future, the scientific process.

31 5. Teach the scientific process as a unifying theme Science is based on evidence and reason --not on feelings, beliefs, ideologies, ancient manuscripts, authoritative statements, tradition, or your daddy’s opinions

32 Incorporate it into every class session: With each new principle: “How Do We Know?” --especially for modern topics. (Hard to believe) --and especially for social topics. (Controversial)

33 It’s the basis of the modern age: Knowledge comes from reasoning based on evidence. In other words: Trust the universe.

34 THANKS! To join AAPT’s physics & society education discussion list: give me your address, or QUESTIONS? COMMENTS? Ideas for spreading science literacy?


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