Why Should You Be Scientifically Literate?

Authored by Robert Hazen, George Mason University, for ActionBioscience.org and edited by Oksana Hlodan, American Institute of Biological Sciences
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Initial Publication Date: June 28, 2009


The article Why Should You Be Scientifically Literate? provides students with discussion and other activities about how science literacy will help them:

  • understand issues that you come across daily in news stories and government debates
  • appreciate how the natural laws of science influence your life
  • gain perspective on the intellectual climate of our time

The article provides both professional development ideas on best practices about how to improve science literacy in the classroom and suggestions for teaching activities that are suitable for middle high school students.

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Learning Goals

Scientific literacy is rooted in the most general scientific principles and broad knowledge of science; If you can understand scientific issues in magazines and newspapers (if you can tackle articles about genetic engineering or the ozone hole with the same ease that you would sports, politics, or the arts) then you are scientifically literate.

Why should we care whether our citizens are scientifically literate? Why should you care about your own understanding of science? Three different arguments might convince you why it is important:
  • from civics
  • from aesthetics
  • from intellectual coherence

Context for Use

It is the responsibility of scientists and educators to provide everyone with the background knowledge to help us cope with the fast-paced changes of today and tomorrow. What is scientific literacy? Why is it important? And how can we achieve scientific literacy for all citizens?

The student activities provided in the accompanying links and a lesson written specifically for the article vary in length and scope.

Description and Teaching Materials

  1. The article Why Should You Be Scientifically Literate? for professional development as well as student discussion
  2. The accompanying lesson, Why? for student activities (handout 1 for middle schools, handout 2 for high school students)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The discussion article and lesson activities are really about the nature of science through the spirit of inquiry. Students have the opportunity to use scientific inquiry and develop the ability to think scientifically. This includes asking questions, investigating, gathering data, thinking critically about how evidence and explanations are related, and communicating scientific information.


References and Resources

The article and accompanying lesson plan are also available through several major digital libraries, including BEN, the teacher vetted biology digital portal of the National Science Digital Library.