Rationale & Background
Need for Science Education and the Goal of Scientific Literacy
For a Functioning Democracy - A functioning democracy requires a knowledgeable citizenry as the public helps shape public discourse and policy around issues involving science. Young people in the United States are the future leaders and voting public who will help shape the state of public policy in the 21st century. In order to take on this role effectively, youth need scientific knowledge, skills, and opportunities to apply these in authentic participation to address important societal issues, including challenges around public health, water quality, agriculture, transportation, communication, and energy conservation (NAS, 2007).
As Preparation for Life - As the world grows ever more complex and reliant on science and technology, young people will need to be scientifically literate in preparation for the 21st century workforce and in order to be critical consumer of information (and the media). In addition, science is a way of examining and constructing knowledge about the world – a powerful habit of mind valued in the U.S. Becoming scientifically literate advances humanistic goals such as promoting “practical utility”, human values, and connectedness with societal events (Aikenhead, 2006).
Low Levels of Scientific Literacy in California and the U.S.
Unfortunately, scientific literacy in the U.S. is undesirably low: California ranks 49th in 8th grade science literacy and only 21% of seniors are considered proficient in science (NCES, 2011). The National Assessment of Education Progress, found that from 1996 to 2005 there was no overall improvement in eighth grade and a decline at twelfth grade occurred. Scores from the most recent assessments showed that although slight improvements at some grade levels had occurred, less than 40 percent of the 4th and 8th grade students, and less than 25 percent of 12th grade students could be considered proficient in science (NCES, 2011, 2012). Additionally, data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrated U.S. high school students’ science scores were below the average scores of their age group counterparts in eighteen other countries that participated in the evaluation (Fleischman, Hopstock, Pelczar, & Shelley, 2010).
Defining Scientific Literacy
Advancing scientific literacy among K-12 youth in the United States is important; however, measuring the construct has been problematic since there is no consensus about its meaning or component parts. Although a number of definitions have been developed, most have focused principally on the content and processes of major science disciplines while ignoring social and everyday aspects of science.
Focus-on-Situations Approach to Scientific Literacy
We take a focus-on-situations approach to science education with the recognition that science learning is contextualized; persons within a community have unique science knowledge bases; and that each person develops their own science learning trajectory influenced by their unique, personal values and desires. We posit that scientific literacy must be developed in situations from the viewpoint of the person and emphasize science-related situations individuals may encounter in their lives. This position counters definitions of scientific literacy, often advanced by state science standards and assessed by standardized tests, that focus on generalized knowledge related to the major science disciplines (e.g., physical sciences, earth and space science, life science).
Our vision for science education, an everyday science and community science approach, is essential in an out-of-school time community-based program like 4-H (Smith, Worker, Ambrose, Schmitt-McQuitty, 2015). California 4-H science programming is guided by environmental, social, and economic issues. A focus-on-situations perspective allows the component parts that comprise scientific literacy to be specified broadly enough that they address these diverse societal issues yet also provide opportunities to develop 4-H science programming that is culturally relevant and specific to individual county-based 4-H programs.
While the 4-H program advances a long term goal to increase the number and diversity of youth pursuing higher education and careers in science, engineering, and technology fields, it is not our intent to only prepare future scientists. 4-H science programs are designed to help youth see science as a powerful tool to make sense of and construct knowledge about the world; address and think about issues in their lives that involve science, engineering, and technology; and connect learning with real-world situations where youth can adopt and use new science methods or improved technology to solve problems.
Based on the UC ANR Strategic Vision 2025 and a focus-on-situations orientation, the expected learning goals for youth participation in 4-H science programming include four intertwined anchor points: science content; scientific reasoning skills; interest and attitude; and contribution through applied participation. These anchor points provide guideposts for curriculum and program development, teaching and evaluation, and are flexible enough for adaptation to local needs and situations.
From Smith, M., Worker, S., Ambrose, A., & Schmitt-McQuitty, L. (2015). Scientific literacy: California 4-H defines it from citizens’ perspective. California Agriculture, 69(2), 92-97. http://calag.ucanr.edu/Archive/?article=ca.v069n02p92
History of Science Education in 4-H
Read more: Worker, S. (2012). History of science education in the 4-H Youth Development Program. Monograph. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. http://www.ca4h.org/files/135384.pdf
Healthy Families and Communities Strategic Initiative Plan 2016 Update
Scientific literacy is an important individual, community, and societal goal (e.g., National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, 2016), and can be advanced through formal (e.g., school) and nonformal education programs (e.g., 4-H; afterschool programs; summer camps) (National Research Council, 2009). Furthermore, scientific literacy goes beyond knowing basic facts about science; current definitions of scientific literacy include understanding and using the processes and practices of science, interest in and attitudes toward science, and an ability to apply science in authentic ways, including civic engagement (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2016; Smith et al., 2015).
Traditionally, scientific literacy was thought of as an individual manifestation; however, it must be recognized that individuals are nested within communities, which are further nested inside societies, and therefore scientific literacy can be expressed collectively. The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (2016) advances the concept that scientific literacy is developed at three levels – the individual, the community, and society. Thus, using the four anchor points described earlier, advancing scientific literacy in UC ANR will be framed and explored at these three levels.
- Individual-Level Scientific Literacy: Investigating the effects of UC ANR education and outreach programs on the science content knowledge, scientific reasoning skills, interest in and attitudes toward science, and contributions through applied participation on individuals.
- Community-Level Scientific Literacy: Investigating the effects of UC ANR education and outreach programs on the collective contributions by individuals (human capital) and shared resources within communities to addresses issues that contribute to a community’s overall well-being.
- Society-Level Scientific Literacy: Investigating the effects of UC ANR education and outreach programs on public policies, resources, and institutions, including disparities in scientific literacy with respect to diverse and underserved populations.