The Significance of Science Education Beyond Scientists' Perceptions

Graphical Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed that many people are willing to ignore scientific advice regarding issues such as the use of masks and vaccines. Sadly, too many people view scientific findings as simply the personal beliefs of the scientists involved, instead of being the result of a rigorous process that produces reliable knowledge. This widespread misunderstanding should alert scientists to the need for significant changes in science education. Three overarching objectives for science education are set out, starting with offering adults the ability to investigate scientific problems in a scientific way, and ending with providing them with the habit of solving everyday problems with logic, experiment and evidence. While there are examples of how to meet these goals, there is a need for concrete research into the best ways to achieve them. This work is pressing and should start with the introductory science courses at university level.

Science magazine, and as a public speaker and advocate for science education. Throughout all of these experiences, I have learned that science is not just a field of study, but a way of thinking and approaching the world around us. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to learn and share my knowledge with others, and I will continue to work towards promoting scientific literacy and understanding. In my life, I have been fortunate enough to have various opportunities to explore science from diverse viewpoints. I had the privilege of being a faculty member for 25 years where I managed a laboratory investigating the enigmas of the cell through protein biochemistry. Over the course of 12 years, I also served as the full-time president of the National Academy of Sciences and as the Editor-in-Chief of Science magazine. I even had the chance to share my knowledge as a public speaker and advocate for science education. From all of these roles, I have grasped the idea that science is not only a discipline but also a way of thinking and approaching the world. I am grateful for the knowledge that I have gained and the opportunity to impart this understanding onto others. My aim is to continue to promote scientific literacy and understanding in society. Science After being involved with a magazine for a period of 5 years and serving on the board of numerous nonprofit organizations that strive to improve society, what knowledge and understanding have I gained?

Above all, I am convinced that the key to the world’s future lies in substantially increasing the influence of science, promoting science education and connecting scientists on a global level. This viewpoint is strongly supported by the groundbreaking publication. Science for All Americans The author argues that science utilizes important human values such as integrity, curiosity, and skepticism. While scientists did not create these values, they prioritize them and demonstrate their importance in advancing knowledge and human well-being. However, unless these values and scientific thinking become more widespread, the author fears for humanity’s future.

1910, John Dewey, a renowned American scholar in the field of education, arrived at a similar result. Science Dewey believed that magazines should focus less on teaching science as a collection of facts discovered by scientists, and instead emphasize the teaching of science as a method. He believed that the future of society depended on the spread and development of a scientific way of thinking. Therefore, the biggest challenge in education was to find ways to cultivate and reinforce this scientific mindset.

In this concise composition, I aim to discuss Dewey’s primary concern in education, referred to as the ‘problem of problems’. Specifically, I will examine the extent to which we have moved forward since 1910 and explore the most effective ways to tackle this issue in modern times.

Teaching of science is still mainly focused on the subject matter of science

Dewey argued that the myriad, endless facts of the natural world are not the most suitable material for educating individuals whose lives are focused on specific, localized situations because they have no particular starting or ending point. This statement is particularly relevant today as there are exponentially more significant pieces of information regarding nature than there were during Dewey’s era. However, despite this abundance of knowledge, standard introductory college biology courses try to encompass all aspects of the subject which doesn’t allow students to develop a profound comprehension of each aspect or to appreciate Dewey’s approach to science as a method.

The use of multiple-choice tests that can be graded by machines has led to a detrimental shift in teaching. This has resulted in a widespread trivialization of science education and has turned it into a game where students memorize science facts only to pass exams, rather than truly grasping the concepts. This process fails to significantly impact their learning and cognitive development. In current education systems, the focus on testing scientific knowledge for memorized words and definitions, rather than actual understanding and skills development, undermines the value of science education and risks discouraging many students, including promising future scientists. This shift in education direction would upset Dewey.

It is not surprising that the definition of “science education” taught in college science classes becomes the standard for science education in primary and secondary schools. This creates a problem for younger students, as their science textbooks often try to cover the same vast amount of information as the college textbooks, but with significantly fewer words. This results in a situation where it is impossible for students to truly comprehend the subject matter. It is frustrating for those who are interested in biology to encounter such textbooks, which turn the subject into a meaningless exercise in memorization.

In the field of cell biology, children in the United States are typically required to memorize the different components of a cell, such as the nucleus, mitochondrion, Golgi apparatus, and endoplasmic reticulum, by the age of 12. These terms are emphasized in textbooks through bolding and brief definitions. For instance, the endoplasmic reticulum is described as a network of channels that manufactures, stores, and transports materials. At the end of each chapter, students are asked to complete a self-test that requires them to write a sentence using the vocabulary words from the chapter. However, since the textbooks only provide brief and inadequate descriptions of these concepts, students may perceive science as boring and irrelevant.

I have witnessed my seven grandchildren’s negative attitude toward science multiple times. For instance, when I inquired about a middle schooler’s biology class, they described a cell as a dull box with numerous labeled components. Similarly, a high schooler deemed biology to be their least preferred class and shared that they had been studying the parts of a flower that day. However, instead of observing actual flowers, they were memorizing a diagram from their textbook.

One of my top examples is from a mother who shared after a speech I gave on science education that her child had a sudden realization about science in school. The child exclaimed, “I understand now! Science is like spelling; you only have to memorize it, and it doesn’t have any meaning.”

After devoting more than four decades to crafting cell biology textbooks for college and postgraduate learners, a seasoned researcher shares their experience of persistent revision. The aforementioned examples have left me surprised and disheartened. In my opinion, the living cell is the most remarkable thing in the entire universe, functioning as a chemical system made up of a network of self-duplicating catalysts. I believe that having students memorize the names of cell parts, like the endoplasmic reticulum, is pointless. When I was in school, I didn’t learn most of these names until I was in graduate school and had a better grasp of chemistry. Instead, we should teach students about cells by making them realize how complex it is to create a self-replicating system. For instance, we could challenge them to engineer a self-replicating robot, a task that has yet to be accomplished by humans. What inputs and outputs would such a robot require?

Students who are finding it difficult to solve this problem can analyze yeast cells that are commonly available for purchase at grocery stores. They can investigate how yeast cells fulfill the same three types of needs (materials, energy, instructions) that a robot would require, as well as how they eliminate waste while producing the same desired outcome.

The Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) is a US nonprofit organization that emerged from the National Academy of Sciences in 2003. They have produced open-source materials for free, which aims to revamp middle school biology education with innovative ideas. (Fig.  1  ).

Fig. 1  Open in figure viewer  PowerPoint The following passage is from a science curriculum called the Sensational Single Cell, which is made for students aged 11 to 13. The curriculum has a total of 24 units divided into various subjects such as Units of Measure, Science Thinking, Energy, Ecology/Evolution, and Matter. This is the first of three units that focuses on Cells. The curriculum has been developed by the Strategic Education Research Partnership and is available for free.

The way people are taught is being transformed due to newly discovered information on how individuals acquire knowledge

I agree with the aforementioned example, where teachers should challenge students to solve a problem before providing them with the answer, regardless of the level of education. However, the question remains as to how this can be achieved. Fortunately, we have made significant progress beyond what Dewey could have envisioned, thanks to decades of scientifically-based research in education resulting in a set of general principles. Numerous studies carried out in elementary, secondary, and tertiary institutions have provided insights into how people learn, which can be utilized to design successful teaching strategies.

To demonstrate the more effective modern approach to teaching science, I like to use a science lesson aimed at 5-year-olds. This lesson shows that even young children can gain experience solving problems scientifically using evidence and logic. The lesson involves a kindergarten teacher who supplies each child with a pair of white socks and asks them to walk around in an area where there are seeds on the ground. When they return to the classroom, the students are asked to remove any dark specks from their socks and place them in different numbered squares on a piece of paper. They then use a cheap plastic microscope to examine each square and draw what they see on a separate piece of paper. The teacher then asks the students which specks they think might be seeds, based on their drawings. Rather than telling them the answer is correct, the teacher guides a class discussion to lead the students to agree on a solution. The next day, the class is asked how they might test their idea. A student suggests that they plant all the regularly shaped objects in one pot and the rest in another to see which pot produces plants. This experiment is then carried out by the students. The aim of these lessons is to make the students feel that they are following their own ideas rather than just copying the teacher’s instructions. In modern education terms, the students feel that they have agency over their learning.

Imagine an educational experience that involves tackling challenges throughout the entire 13-year period leading up to high school graduation. As children age, the difficulties of the challenges increase. For example, 10-year-old students may construct simple pendulums using string, tape, and metal weights to explore the correlation between swing frequency and string length. This is part of a series of lessons that encourage systematic manipulation of a single variable in order to solve problems. I believe that children who are extensively prepared in this manner will become exceptional problem solvers in the workplace. They will possess a strong ability for abstract, conceptual thinking and will be able to apply this prowess to complex real-world problems, including those that involve technical or scientific knowledge, and have multiple valid solutions. These problems are often nonstandard and fraught with ambiguities. Additionally, they will become individuals who prioritize the use of logical reasoning and supporting evidence to make informed decisions for the betterment of their families, communities, and countries.

If we want significant developments to occur during the formative years of education, we need to modify how we teach science in college

The latest voluntary national standards for reading, mathematics, and science in the United States necessitate significant changes in K-12 education. 2 Those who teach science in elementary, middle and high school learn their science knowledge at the college level. They tend to teach the same way they were taught, and the teaching at prestigious universities defines what is meant by ‘science education’. This means that if introductory college biology courses try to cover all of biology in a year and only assess students with superficial multiple-choice exams, then the teaching at lower levels will suffer. This creates students who are forced to memorize science names and facts without understanding their meaning. Also, if professors at the college level only lecture and don’t engage students, it can lead to hostility towards science among college educated adults. Research shows that active engagement is critical for learning science.

Fig. 2  Open in figure viewer  PowerPoint The most recent precollege education standards in the US that are optional align with each other. Despite being created by different specialists, the literacy, math, and science standards all emphasize the same approach to student learning. (Courtesy of David Dudley, Strategic Education Research Partnership).

I became the full-time president of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1993 and moved to Washington, DC for 12 years. As I was committed to improving science education in public schools, I closed down my research laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco in order to focus on this work. The committee of Academy members that chose me believed that I could make a significant difference to US science education. During my presidency, the Academy worked on producing the first-ever US National Science Education Standards which took us three years to complete, but we were successful in doing so. Throughout my time as NAS president, more than one hundred education reports would be released by the National Academies in addition to others already published. They believed that the primary focus of the Academy should be on more advanced scientific research and innovation. However, a group of researchers disagreed with this viewpoint and expressed their belief that a strong foundation in science during the K-12 years is crucial for the development of future scientists. They argued that the Academy should take an active role in advocating for science education and supporting programs that aim to improve science education at all levels. Ultimately, the debate highlighted the tension between the Academy’s role as an organization focused on scientific research and its potential to influence policy and education initiatives. th Our control has no influence over the determination of grades, as this decision lies solely in the hands of school boards, teacher unions, and textbook companies.

It is evident from my earlier writing that I hold a firm opposing stance on this matter. Throughout my 12-year association with the Academy, I have formed the opinion that teachers of higher education science, particularly members of the esteemed Academy, may play a crucial role in creating a productive science education system that extends to all levels, including even 5-year-old students who are learning how to explore seeds like budding scientists. This implies that we could be the critical component in the chain towards successful science education.

The National Academies have created numerous documents that endorse this perspective, among them a useful guide for college professors on the proper methods and rationale, which is accessible for free in the form of a PDF.Effective instruction for science and engineering undergraduate students is explored in the research findings on how to reach them.

Effective instruction at all levels requires well-conducted research on education, much of which should take place in actual classrooms

One of the most crucial responsibilities of a society is to give its young people a high-quality education, but it is a very intricate job to do correctly. Thankfully, with the help of scientifically gathered information about what enhances student learning, we can build education systems that improve continuously at all stages. Conducting research in education is a specialized and refined area that necessitates a profound understanding, but its significance has been minimally perceived in academia, where education schools are frequently undervalued by other scholars.

research conducted at the National Academies, while I served as the president of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC from 1993-2005, has contributed significantly to my understanding of this matter. How People Learn  report previously cited. Two studies were conducted one after the other, with committees focusing on a question: “Why has research advanced innovation and continuous improvement in fields like medicine, agriculture, and transportation, but not in education, and what measures can be taken to change this?” The fundamental conclusion was that education lacks an equivalent of a teaching hospital, which exists in medicine. field sites Practice settings are locations where researchers, teachers, and designers collaborate to gain new knowledge by observing, explaining, documenting, replicating, and evaluating practices. They define problems and test their solutions in such settings while simultaneously training new researchers and practitioners in “use-inspired” research and development practices.

A proposal was put forward to create a fresh, independent group known as the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP). Its objectives would be aimed at addressing the shortcomings which had been pinpointed. Despite being smaller than its original proposal, SERP has been dedicated to expanding the use of research to benefit others for the past 18 years. Suzanne Donovan, the founding Executive Director, has been its guiding force. SERP first started in the Boston Public Schools where it focused on enhancing the reading, writing, and speaking skills of 11- to 14-year-olds, as requested by the school district. This resulted in the creation of free, easily accessible resources such as Word Generation and STARI, which are aimed at helping teachers and students improve adolescent literacy.

SERP’s emphasis on practical applications is demonstrated by its ‘5×8 Card’, a small tool designed to assist school principals in conducting classroom observations. Created in response to feedback from school district principals in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Card provides a concise set of guidelines for conducting teacher evaluations. Recognizing that principals may not have subject-specific knowledge and valuable time to spend reading lengthy documents, the Card simplifies the observation process by instructing principals to focus on 7 critical actions, such as how often students participate in class discussions. second The teaching approach emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to discuss and revise each other’s ideas, and ensuring that all students participate, not just those who raise their hands. Research has shown that students learn best when they are prompted to explain their thinking and actively engage in classroom activities. To facilitate deeper learning, students need to integrate new information with their existing knowledge, make inferences, and explore consequences. This process is most effective when they interact with each other’s ideas.

There are four goals for science education that are progressively more ambitious

The COVID-19 outbreak has been a wake-up call for me that effective science education should hold a greater importance in education across all levels. The significant amount of thinking that lacks evidence, logic, and reason such as vaccines and masks, leaves one wondering how humanity can survive without valuing scientific judgments, truth, and logic. Nowadays, our world is complex and risky, making scientific thinking essential. However, recent studies indicate that science education in US elementary schools is only given 20 minutes per day for a few days a week, contrasting the many hours dedicated to reading, writing, and mathematics.

I think scientists are mainly responsible for the undervaluation of science education worldwide. The issue is that those teaching science in colleges and universities are only focusing on one of four possible goals for science education. Regardless of the subject, the aim is to teach students many of the amazing discoveries that scientists have made in recent centuries. However, with new discoveries being made every year, time is limited, and there’s generally no opportunity to focus on other aspects of science education. This emphasis on science facts also dominates many elementary schools, as what’s taught at the university level defines science education at all lower levels. However, as Dewey observed, the multitude of inexhaustible facts of nature has no clear start or end. Therefore, it’s challenging to argue that this brand of science education deserves more time in schools.

To give science education the recognition it deserves in society, we need to broaden our perspective on the possible outcomes of such education by highlighting various other goals that are progressively more ambitious. These goals have been outlined in the table. 1  along with the traditional  Goal 1 The goal is to give all grown-ups an overall understanding of the findings of scientists on various aspects of our planet.

 Goal 2 The aim of science education is to educate students in a manner that enables them to mature into individuals who explore the world with scientific principles such as experimentation, reasoning, and facts. For instance, when I mentioned the 5-year-olds examining seeds previously, it was an instance of inquiry-based science education, which is widely advocated in the US National Science Education Standards. This has been further supported by the newer substitute that has been introduced. The French Academy of Sciences has launched significant science education programs that have focused on IBSE. The IAP is a global organization made up of the scientific academies of different countries. In more than 50% of French elementary classrooms, this particular methodology of imparting scientific knowledge has been effectively implemented within a centralized education structure.

Goal 3 In the past, this matter was mostly disregarded, but due to the pandemic, the necessity of it has become glaringly apparent. The objective is to equip all grown-ups with knowledge on how the scientific process operates so that they can rely on the consensus opinions of science concerning topics such as smoking, vaccination, and climate change.

Many people mistakenly assume that Science is only based on the beliefs of scientists. They question why they should listen to scientists when there are other belief systems. However, they fail to comprehend the process of how scientific knowledge is established. It begins with individual scientists conducting their own experiments and research, which eventually results in a collective body of well-established scientific knowledge. [  30  ] Science is a unique process that involves a collaborative effort among individuals who use logic and evidence to develop knowledge. It operates with particular values and regulations to ensure that its conclusions are both global and independently revised.

Whatever the reason, I now believe that I was wrong to ignore Goal 3. In my career as a college-level science instructor, I, like many of my colleagues, failed to prioritize Goal 3. One possibility is that we assume our students already possess an understanding of the scientific enterprise. Another reason could be that we struggle with finding effective methods to convey to students that science is a unique way of comprehending the world. Science is an exceptional human innovation with its own customs and principles that have astonishingly benefitted humanity throughout history. Regardless of the cause, I have come to realize that neglecting Goal 3 was a mistake. th Is the beginning of the century where this all began? It’s crucial that we put in strong efforts to assist teachers in making sure that students in introductory science courses have a solid comprehension of how scientific consensus is formed. This may include delving into scientific history, examining a limited selection of published works, or engaging in science-themed games. What forms of educational materials are already available through open education resources, and what studies need to be carried out to measure and better them? I will come back to this topic towards the end of my essay.

 Goal 4 The most daring goal is to employ science education to cultivate individuals who can solve their daily problems like scientists, relying on logic, experimentation, and evidence. To achieve this, knowledge acquired in science class must be applied to general thinking patterns. However, research in education has shown that transferring this knowledge is a challenging task. Students tend to confine their acquired scientific ways of thinking in a science classroom only to science issues, rather than using them in other areas of thinking.

In order to make progress towards achieving our objective, we must try out novel approaches to teaching science that establish clear links between scientific reasoning and the real world beyond the classroom. I will now give a concise overview of two instances of such education that show potential in this area.

Schools can effectively incorporate community activities

I have been a jury member for the Yidan Education Prize since 2017, a program that gives out two awards worth 4 million dollars annually. The prize has already had 10 recipients, with half being recognized for their contributions in education research and development.  Vicky Colbert was granted the first development award for her long-standing efforts in creating small rural schools in Colombia. Despite facing significant resource limitations, she managed to create numerous curricula for thousands of these schools through repeated trial and error. Furthermore, due to limited resources, the students themselves were forced to take on a more active role in their education rather than relying solely on the teacher. A video reference is available for more information. 

Textbooks have been replaced by a variety of “Learning guides” that are affordable and come in a small size. These guides promote collaborative learning among students using activities that take place within their own communities. For example, when studying water, students create a map highlighting various sources of water and differentiating clean and dirty water sources. After learning about the dangers of drinking contaminated water, students share their knowledge with their families and show their completed work to their teacher for recording of progress. The training materials provided encourage teachers to tailor instructions according to the local conditions and promote creativity by allowing students to suggest changes to the activities.

The Learning guide is a combination of a textbook, a workbook, and a teacher’s guide, which are reusable to save costs. These guides are made specifically for Colombia, and most of them are only available in Spanish. Although there are not many guides pertaining to science, there are plans to create a new series of guides that concentrate on the science behind the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). This initiative will be built upon the project mentioned below.

Science education focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, implemented through community involvement

The Smithsonian Science Education Center in Washington, DC and the world’s science academies (represented by the InterAcademy Partnership) joined forces several years ago to launch an ambitious project known as the Smithsonian-IAP ‘Science for Global Goals’ program, headed by Carol O’Donnell. This project’s main goal is to enlist local scientists and volunteers across the globe to educate and empower young people to use science to promote sustainability. Drawing on the underlying principles of the 17 UNSDGs, the program aims to provide students with free, extensive content that will help them examine global issues using their local environment as a laboratory. The final step involves taking local action in their community to address these specific issues. To illustrate: one unit focuses on mosquitos, in which students learn about mosquitos and mosquito-borne diseases, set up egg traps in their community, observe the mosquito life cycle, determine local animal hosts of mosquito-borne diseases, survey the community’s knowledge and ideas about mosquitos, and ultimately come up with a community action plan to reduce mosquito-borne diseases.

Currently, there are six online resources available called ‘community research guides’. These guides cover a variety of topics including Mosquito, Food, Biodiversity, Sustainable Communities, Vaccines and COVID-19. The creators are also working on additional guides at this time. (Fig.  3 The use of these guides does not require any costly materials or specialized equipment as they have been created to be translated into various languages and utilized in regions with limited resources.

Fig. 3  Open in figure viewer  PowerPoint The Smithsonian-IAP initiative, Science for Global Goals, has created six guides for community research. These guides can be downloaded for free in various languages and are accessible at the given location

The structure of the community research manuals and their deep concentration on a specific issue may appear more appropriate for casual post-school utilization rather than for educational institutions. However, I will contend in the conclusion of this article that their composition could assist us in modifying official scientific instruction to confront current pressing issues.

Revamping the science education curriculum to tackle more challenging objectives

I maintain that science education has undergone significant changes in recent years. Research on education over the years has proven that traditional teaching methods of rote learning are not effective for the majority of students. Instead, new, more efficient teaching techniques have been revealed which require students to use information acquired in class to construct arguments, solve problems, and defend their reasoning – some of which may have no definite answer. Thus, teamwork is encouraged rather than being frowned upon, and classrooms can be bustling with activity.

Don’t forget to read “Advantages of Enrolling in a Science-Based Course

The next idea is to use new educational models that focus on connecting science learning with improving the lives of both students and their community. This would not only help children apply scientific thinking to their daily lives, but also make school more engaging for them amidst numerous distractions on the Internet. A critical issue to consider is how to engage adult volunteers in the community, drawing from the example of long-standing volunteers such as coaches for Boy and Girl Scouts. Additionally, the utilization of Zoom-like technologies could be explored to extend education beyond the traditional classroom setting.

The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed the danger posed to democratic systems by individuals who lack comprehension and reverence for scientific reasoning and frequently make decisions without demanding proof. Therefore, it is imperative to allocate more time to a renewed form of “science education” for students aged 5 to 18, one that strives to meet all four objectives listed in the table. 1 It is evident that science education should receive equal attention as mathematics throughout all years of school. This significant transformation in precollege education may take several years, possibly even decades, to achieve. However, universities have the capacity to implement change at a faster pace. Regardless, higher education institutions must take the lead with regards to science education.

Modifications in the curriculum of science courses offered to beginners in college can have a significant impact presently

Due to the critical significance of spreading and ingraining Dewey’s idea of developing a scientific mentality, we must concentrate on establishing a science-based education for science. This implies that several “trials” must be launched to experiment with varied methods of achieving impressive objectives for science education. Each approach should be assessed utilizing instructional research techniques to determine their comparative efficiency. New resources need to be devised to facilitate this process. For instance, there is no known method to measure an individual’s comprehension of how the scientific society arrives at joint decisions. When researchers agree on an effective approach, they can evaluate various methods of achieving their objective, such as comparing the teaching of scientific culture in a clear and direct manner. The new method relies on reviewing a set of genuine scientific documents instead. Alternatively, one could utilize a methodology centered around analyzing the historical developments of scientific practices. It refers to the lives of individual scientists..

Usually, scientists who are passionate about spreading knowledge of science in society teach introductory college science courses such as first-year biology classes. They have more leeway to come up with new ideas and resources as compared to teachers who teach younger students. Those who work at universities whose science departments have invested in discipline-based education research (DBER) are in a particularly good place to improve the way science is taught. DBER faculty are assessed based on their research on education rather than their disciplinary research, which allows them to be an invaluable resource in making sure new education experiments are well thought-out and properly controlled. We need to focus on the latest research that shows ways to make science more appealing and inclusive to a wider range of people when doing our work. 

To sum up, scientists worldwide have a chance to benefit the public by spearheading a significant change in how we understand science education.

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