Sunday, November 26, 2023

Scientific Literacy: Short Version

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Literacy

Ed Hessler

Jacob Mazurek who is described as a biology professor in the column below has been an adjunct biology professor at Bethel University, tells how he turned a waitress's observation into a teachable moment. He told the story in a letter to the Star Tribune (July 7, 2023).

While dining out, a dragonfly tattoo on his arm caught the eye of his waitress. She said  "I keep seeing dragonflies everywhere," saying she thought that "the universe is trying to tell me something," asking if she could take a picture.

As she was taking the image, Mazurek  asked whether he could tell her "what I think it means" and of course she agreed. His answer left her both "dumbfounded and offended." (It left me happy.) He didn't indulge "her mysticism." Mazurek's simple statement was "I think all it means is that dragonflies exist, and therefore sometimes you might see them."

After leaving the restaurant he "thought about our species' predilection to assign meaning and purpose to that which can be adequately explained by coincidence...our collective tendency to reject what is most rational to what is most satisfying...the hostility with which those tendencies are met and the implications for society." 

The remainder of his column is scientific literacy nutrition for it is about what it means to be literate in science, to think rationally, the use of facts and evidence in supporting claims, the "reliable and repeatable methodology" used in science to advance understanding and solve problems, and the importance of such thinking in a future that requires this.

It was a terrific letter, one of the shortest courses in scientific literacy I've read, an aim of science educators.  I'm delighted that it is available on-line so you can find that out for yourselves. The title the editors chose is above the picture of the dragonfly.

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