Science Lessons for the Next President—and Your Students

A recent feature in Science Magazine (21 Oct 2016) offers “Science lessons for the next president.” As I read the article I realized that these lessons exemplify the reason that all citizens need to be scientifically literate.

While by no means comprehensive, the article covers the range of science-based issues that the next president will face. Science was not an issue during the recent presidential campaign and I fear that the voice of science will be sadly silent—or at best muted—in the days ahead with the new Administration. But our next president will not decide these issues alone; Congress will weigh in on every issue and the public needs to be able to voice its concerns.

While recently released NAEP Science scores tell us our 4th and 8th graders are improving in science, the results also indicate that 40 percent of 12th-grade students perform below the “Basic” level and only 22 percent are “Proficient.” Clearly we need to increase student achievement at this grade level. Critical to this effort is to find a way to help older students (and their parents) understand the significance of science-based issues.

“Science lessons for the next president” tells the story of these issues in a focused and easy to follow format: What the Science Says, Why it Matters, and Pending Policy Issues. Consider the topics:

  • Evolution promises unpleasant surprises – Pathogens change faster than our defenses
  • The genome-editing revolution beckons – CRISPR raises tough ethical issues
  • Seas are rising sooner than you think – Regional variation means Atlantic shorelines are already at risk
  • Brain health should be top of mind – The personal and budgetary costs of Alzheimer’s disease and other maladies are immense
  • Machines are getting much, much smarter – Advance in artificial intelligence carry promise and peril
  • We aren’t so great at assessing risk – Gut instinct can lead to poor policy

For each issue, the writers present a clear, easily understood example of why science matters and why everyone has a stake in understanding it. Evolution, climate change, and computer science are especially prominent. When our students ask, “Why do I have to learn this? I am never going to use it,” invite them to read this article and take it home to their parents as well. They need to understand that, in a democracy, as we speak to our elected leaders, the voice for science has to come from citizens as well as from scientists. That voice will become loud and clear when we all have learned our “science” lessons.

NSTA Executive Director David EvansDr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Reach him at devans@nsta.org or via Twitter @devans_NSTA.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

 


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One Comment

  1. Jane Jackson
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    High school physics is an essential component of scientific literacy, and interactive engagement is the most effective method. Interactive engagement in science is minds-on, and usually hands-on, science investigations with quick feedback via student discourse.

    Evidences:
    1) On TIMSS science & math literacy tests, interactive engagement high school PHYSICS programs, including Modeling Instruction, scored highest in the world!  [See Table A1: just after page 35, in  TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study, by Eugenio Gonzalez (April 2000). Conducted for the National Science Foundation by TIMSS International Study Center, Boston College, Chestnut Hill. At   http://modeling.asu.edu/Evaluations/TIMSS_NSFphysicsStudy99.pdf 

    2) (Micki) Chi, at Arizona State University, finds that interactive engagement is most effective. She has done research on cognition in science and across the curriculum for many years. She was formerly in Pittsburgh, PA at the Learning Research and Development Center. She describes her research in a 2014 article, which you can freely download at her website: http://chilab.asu.edu/publish.html . Chi, M. T. H., & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP framework: Linking cognitive engagement to active learning outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49, 219-243

    Two policy statements recommending that high school physics be a core course are:
    1) The ACT policy platform: K-12 (2013) states (on page 8):
    “ACT research has demonstrated the benefits to student academic performance of a minimum core curriculum that includes the following: … Three years of science, including rigorous courses in Biology, Chemistry, and PHYSICS [MY CAPS] … ”
    http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Policy-Platforms-k-12-online.pdf

    2) Position Statement of the National Alliance of Black School Educators.
    http://vector.nsbp.org/2012/03/16/national-alliance-of-black-school-educators-endorses-physics-first/
    I quote: “Physics is a gateway course for post-secondary study in science, medicine, and engineering, as well as an essential component in the formation of students’ scientific literacy. …”

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