General-education science classes are often the last chance we have to empower students with the science literacy skills necessary to navigate today’s world. But what is science literacy? Memorizing facts and following recipe-like labs? Or is it understanding how the process of science learns about the world by testing explanations and critically scrutinizing the evidence? A good science education teaches students how, not what, to think. Science isn’t just what we know; it’s how we know.
This presentation explores a novel course developed using a backward design approach designed to teach the essential skills of critical thinking, information literacy, and science literacy. By focusing on the process of science over content, students learn how to evaluate the evidence for claims to determine how we know something. Directly including pseudoscience (e.g. astrology, psychics, homeopathy, Bigfoot) and science denial (e.g. climate change, evolution, GMOs) increases engagement, addresses common misconceptions, and teaches students how to recognize the characteristics of good science. Assignments and activities in which students actively create misinformation inoculates them against the real thing. Finally, providing students with a structured toolkit to evaluate claims (with lots of opportunities to practice) helps students apply what they’re learning to the “real world.”
The goal of general education science should not be memorizing facts, but learning the essential skills of critical thinking, information literacy, and science literacy.
Melanie Trecek-King (Massasoit Community College)