How to achieve scientific literacy


Mastering rules means practicing. There is no substitute for practice and practice will lead to a state of activity where our mind can free itself from learning and start solving problems. Practice helps us gain practical knowledge. This statement may sound trivial or self referential but its importance is reflected by distinguishing practical knowledge from technical knowledge. It is when this distinction between those two kinds of knowledge is blurred or neglected that the meaning of science literacy remains unclear. Sport education may serve as an example to highlight the difference between practical and technical knowledge. Sports is almost entirely learned by practical knowledge. Nobody would expect to win a tennis grand slam by reading an insightful and technically masterful account by a former Wimbledon winner. For science, technical knowledge, reserves the right to a bigger piece of the action. Reading a good textbook is almost always perceived as gaining scientific literacy. But every mind oriented profession nevertheless relies on practical knowledge. Only through the acquisition of practical knowledge, however, can technical knowledge be used to fully develop one's potential. An account of the distinction between practical and technical knowledge has been given by Michael Oakeshott and to achieve practical knowledge requires a close interaction between teacher and student. This is also true for science education. Smaller, and smaller, and smaller class rooms are the only answer to achieving scientific literacy. The best practice is the one-on-one instruction. As we choose a personal trainer for fitness programs, choosing a science mentor will be the ticket to success for science, math, and engineering education.


Practice is of course not something uniquely scientific, but it is so essential to science that it is necessary to include it in the three pillars to achieve true scientific literacy. Science may appear to many people as a very intellectual activity, done by brainy people in white coats, distracted professors surrounded by books and stacks of paper filled with symbols and figures. Practice in science is a lifelong process and really means the development and maintenance of manual and mental skills. Becoming a scientist is not done by reading textbooks alone, although it is a necessary preparation for it. Becoming a scientist really is about apprenticeship, i.e., learning by doing. The educational drive in public schools has embraced this idea by promoting 'learning by doing' as if our kids are scientists that learn science from other scientists, their teachers. 

Don Clark's Inventory of Learning

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Copyright © 2000-2008 Lukas K. Buehler