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Addressing the Science Literacy Challenge through Educator Professional Development
It is imperative that individuals be able to make informed decisions about the science and technology in everyday life, yet national and international assessments reveal that the levels of science literacy among youth in the United States are well below those of other developed nations—and the problem is worsening. The root cause of this problem lies in relying on lectures and demonstrations to teach science. These methods provide only a surface level understanding of the nature and processes of science and do not promote critical thinking skills. Furthermore, lectures and demonstrations tend to alienate youth who perceive science as too complicated and irrelevant. Youth science literacy can be improved with the use of Experiential Learning (EL), a strategy that involves direct experience and builds understanding through inquiry and reflection. Experiential Learning is similar to hands-on learning, yet goes much farther by including the discussion and analysis of experiences that deepen and broaden understanding. Teaching strategies such as EL encourage youth to use their own thinking to test ideas, reflect on and analyze information, and predict outcomes. Research indicates that youth retain and learn more when they are taught through experience because they are actively engaged in activities with visible outcomes and demonstrate their knowledge through practice. Those who train educators must model EL as an alternative and effective approach to teaching science. Otherwise, future youth educators will remain unprepared and unwilling to use EL and will continue to teach science with methods proven to be ineffective.

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