Science Literacy and Civic Engagement Go Hand in Hand
Posted: Wednesday, November 16th, 2016
by Emily Schoenfelder, Martin Smith, Steven M. Worker, Andrea Ambrose, Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty, and Kelley M. Brian
Science is an integral part of the most complex social and political issues of our time. Concerns such as global warming, food and water security, and medical research show that science must be a driving force in addressing the environmental, economic, and social problems of our society. As such, members of this society must be prepared with sufficient scientific literacy to responsibly engage with such issues (Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy, 2007). Today’s youth are in need of tools, experience, and scientific knowledge to face these challenges. While classroom education provides core knowledge, informal science programs may be well-placed to help make the connections between science and civic engagement (Fenichel & Schweingruber, 2010)
Benefits of Linking Science Education with Civic Engagement
It is important that science education programming be relevant and useful to learners, providing them a context for understanding and using scientific information (Millar, 2008). For instance, service learning projects allow youth the opportunity to identify problems and provide solutions. Issues of poverty may lead youth to develop food-producing gardens that double as living laboratories. Campus litter may inspire new recycling projects that provide lessons in natural resources and climate change. Furthermore, encouraging students to keep up on current events provides endless fodder for thoughtful discussions on a plethora of science-related topics.
Linking societal issues to fields of science also has the potential to peak interest in related careers. A recent report by Sparks and Honey, a marketing firm, stated that 60% of Generation Z want jobs that have a social impact, compared to 39% of Millennials (Kingston, 2014). Civic engagement in science education provides students the chance to connect the dots between their interest in science and their desire to change the world. For example, the young person in class who likes looking at bugs may learn the possibilities in medical entomology and grow to research the cure for the Zika Virus.
Moreover, civic engagement not only benefits the youth, but communities as a whole. Involving youth in service opportunities results in contributions to the community and advances the young persons’ development (Brennan et al., 2007). Ideally, the aforementioned garden will yield crops for the local food bank and the recycling project will keep the school grounds spotless. By engaging youth fully in community-based change efforts, they also learn to function effectively in society (Nitzberg, 2005).
The Role of Nonformal Education
Twenty-first-century society requires a scientifically literate citizenry (Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy, 2007). However, it has been shown time and time again that scientific literacy among youth populations is low, and informal science programs can help attend to this issue. One example of this is the 4-H Youth Development Program – a national, nonformal education organization for individuals aged 5–19. Programmatically, 4-H focuses on advancing positive youth development through experiential educational opportunities that include civic engagement. Complementing its century-long history of offering science projects and programs ranging from geology to animal science, forestry to computer science, National 4-H established the 4-H Science Mission Mandate in an effort to expand and strengthen 4-H science education efforts through state-based 4-H programs (Schmiesing, 2008).
The University of California 4-H Youth Development Program responded to the National 4-H Science Mission Mandate by commencing a statewide 4-H Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Initiative. Organizationally, California 4-H science programming is grounded in constructivist-based pedagogical strategies. Specifically, learning opportunities utilize guided inquiry-based instruction embedded in a five-step experiential learning cycle that places an emphasis on the authentic application of new knowledge and skills—the point where civic engagement intersects with 4-H science programming. In fact, in defining scientific literacy, the California 4-H STEM initiative included a basic component of “Contribution through Applied Participation” (Smith, Worker, Ambrose, & Schmitt-McQuitty, 2015) This component seeks to provide application of knowledge and skills in authentic contexts to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of scientific concepts and develop their abilities to think critically (Jones, 2012). This is particularly relevant to the development of citizenship and life skills through civic engagement opportunities. Specifically, youth apply new knowledge and skills in ways that help address authentic community needs they have identified as important. This takes shape in many ways: teens teaching younger students robotics; community outreach about zoonotic diseases; educational mentoring for students within the juvenile justice system; and many more.
Programs like these intentionally include the social aspects of science by engaging youth directly in relevant community issues. Such civic engagement is essential to helping develop an informed public that is faced ever more frequently with decisions on science-related public policy issues.
Read the full paper at Science Education and Civic Engagement at https://seceij.net/seceij/summer15/including_civic.html.
Brennan, M. A., R.V. Barnett, &E. Baugh. (2007). Youth Involvement in Community Development: Implications and Possibilities for Extension. Journal of Extension 45(4).
Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century& Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. (2007). Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Fenichel, M., &H.A. Schweingruber. (2010). Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Jones, R.A. (2012). What Were They Thinking? Instructional Strategies That Encourage Critical Thinking. The Science Teacher, 79(3), 66–70.
Kingston, A. (2014, July). Get Ready for Generation Z. MacLean’s. Retrieved from: http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/get-ready-for-generation-z/.
Millar, R. (2008). Taking Scientific Literacy Seriously as a Curriculum Aim. Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching 9(2), 1–18.
Nitzberg, J. (2005). The Meshing of Youth Development and Community Building. Putting Youth at the Center of Community Building. New Directions for Youth Development, 106, 7–16.
Schmiesing, R.J. (2008). 4-H SET Mission Mandate. Washington, DC: United States Department of Food and Agriculture.
Smith, M.H., S.M. Worker, A.P. Ambrose, and L. Schmitt-McQuitty. (2015). ‘Anchor Points’ to Define Youth Scientific Literacy within the Context of California 4-H. California Agriculture 69(2), 77–82.
Emily Schoenfelder is the 4-H Youth Development Adviser, and Martin Smith is a Specialist in Cooperative Extension. Steven Worker is a 4-H Youth Development Adviser, and Andrea Ambrose, Director of Development Services. Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty is a 4-H Youth Development Adviser & County Director, and Kelley Brian is the Youth, Families and Communities Adviser. All are a part of the University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources, 4-H Youth Development Program. In addition, Steven, Martin, and Lynn are members of CSTA.
Posted: Thursday, January 26th, 2017
California Alternate Assessment for Science Training Sample Is Here!
The training test for the California Alternate Assessment (CAA) for Science is now available on the CAASPP Portal CAAs Web page! This training test is the same type of embedded performance task (PT) that will be administered during this year’s pilot CAA for Science. Designed to be administered one on one, the training test PT is nonsecure and for use in preparing for the pilot CAA for Science.
The training test is aligned with the grade five California Next Generation Science Standards but can be used by students in any of the tested grades to familiarize both educators, students, parents, and stakeholders with the testing format of the pilot. The CDE is preparing a letter for LEAs to use to inform parents about this innovative test and the availability of the training test. Learn More…
Posted: Saturday, January 14th, 2017
The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.
Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.
If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.
California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing
The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.