Refine teaching to improve scientific literacy: Biologist studies Australian and American systems

Oct 05, 2012

Biologist Karen Burke Da Silva (pictured), who recently returned from a Churchill Fellowship in America, is on a quest to increase Australia's levels of scientific literacy.

Scientific literacy, Ms Burke Da Silva says, consists of attaining the knowledge to understand the range of scientific issues and debates affecting society, from global warming to stem cells and cloning.

The benefits of scientific literacy can operate at the level of the individual, such as understanding options for medical treatment, through to broader issues, such as an appreciation of the vulnerability of ecosystems.

Under the current Australian system, students can give up science even before completing high school.

"Australia has a much lower scientific literacy than most countries in the Western world," said Ms Burke Da Silva, who is Associate Dean of and Learning in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

By contrast, the American university system requires all university students to study science for at least one semester, which prompted Ms Burke Da Silva to visit the US on a Churchill Fellowship.

While the strategy results in higher levels of in the general population, Ms Burke Da Silva said surprisingly little thought has been given in the US to adapting science teaching specifically for non-scientists; teaching 'dumbed-down' versions of the core science curricula is assumed to be enough.

Ms Burke Da Silva believes a focus on refining teaching methods and content of first-year science topics is a key to improving students' engagement, retention levels and . At Flinders she teaches a topic called Biology and Society, which encourages students to analyse scientific information and provide critiques of contemporary science-based issues.

She is part of a growing Australia-wide network of university teachers that aims to strengthen student interest in science from the start of their degrees.

While many of the first-year students in biology and other sciences at Flinders come from courses that are not science-based, achieving a broader understanding of science and its role in society is just as important for those who intend to make it a career, Ms Burke Da Silva said.

"It's a good idea for to apply their knowledge beyond what they see through a microscope or in the lab," she said.

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mystery of the missing breast cancer genes

May 08, 2012

Researchers from the University of Adelaide are hoping to better understand why the mutated genes for breast and ovarian cancer are not passed on more frequently from one generation of women to the next.

How to advance scientific literacy

Sep 03, 2009

Society needs science, and scientists need an informed, thoughtful, and open-minded citizenry. Thus, the obvious dependence of American society on science is strikingly inconsistent with the low level of scientific literacy ...

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

irjsiq
1 / 5 (3) Oct 05, 2012
First Grade is not to early to begin introducing Scientific Words, terms, Names and Subjects, along with some relevance 'sprinkled into' the discussion. Such approach could provoke those with inquisitive minds to begin their own journey toward enlightenment, perhaps attracting earlier Mentoring for interested/promising students.

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.