The Human Genome Project. Stem cell research. Climate change. Even the experts can find fast-advancing science hard to keep up with. But science literacy is essential—we just need to start teaching it better.
HERE'S A TEST FOR YOUR INNER "GROSSOLOGIST." Which of these statements is false: (A) Silent but deadly farts are produced almost entirely by bacterial metabolic by-products; or (B) A normal person may pass gas around five times a day? If you’re not sure, try asking one of the 900 kids who attended Science Venture camps at the university this summer and played Grossology. The game with questions and answers only a kid could love tests players’ knowledge about things like burps and farts, armpits and earwax, slug slime and animals that eat their own poop. It’s fun, it’s engaging and it bears little resemblance to the way science is taught in most school classrooms—which is the whole point.
“We want to make [the camps] really accessible to everybody,” says Science Venture program director Roberta McDonald, BA ’87. “We want to keep the idea in their minds that science is fun and something they might want to choose as a career.”
Of course playing giggle-inducing games is just one way of doing that. The week-long day camps for students entering grades one to eight investigate biology, chemistry, physics and engineering concepts through a wide range of innovative hands-on activities (from chocolate chip cookie mining to making borax snowflakes), interactive experiments, outdoor pursuits and building projects, as well as visits to university labs and direct contact with working scientists and engineers from on and off campus.
“The children can come and explore freely and they don’t have to worry about getting a mark at the end of it,” says MacDonald. They also “get to see scientists doing science”—an opportunity that she says is rare in the regular education system and which helps kids “realize you can ask questions and go find out the answers yourself through your own research.”
In the 16 years Science Venture has been operating at UVic it has gained many fans, among them Faculty of Education Prof. Larry Yore, grandfather of two young former campers. “It’s a fantastic experience,” says Yore, his eyes sparkling. “There’s a bit more noise [compared to a typical school classroom], there’s a little chaos, and you have to have some extra hands and eyes there, but those kids are truly excited.” And that excites him.
Yore is one of the world’s leading authorities on science literacy, which he defines as the ability to read and understand a newspaper article about a scientific event or idea. “It isn’t simply taking meaning from text”—being able to “decode” or say the words. “It’s making meaning with text and that means you have to bring something to it.”
Several “somethings” actually, including cognitive abilities, experience in critical thinking, familiarity with scientific language and an understanding of the unifying concepts of science. Elaborating on the last point, Yore says: “It’s not (about) knowing the minutia of science, the isolated infobits that we learn and memorize for the test. It’s understanding the big picture, how all those little bits fit together to make sense of the world.”
Kid Appeal | Science With