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Changing Practice: Toward Scientific Literacy
Unformatted Document Text:  known as UFOs, sometimes visit the earth,” and “the spirit world can be contacted through séances or through psychic people known as mediums.” Although a faculty panel had rated these beliefs as clearly inconsistent with the principles of valid and acceptable knowledge, a significant number of the students accepted all of these “New Age” statements. Furthermore, 50% or more had no opinion or agreed with several “anti-scientific” statements including: “the primary purpose of scientific language is to confuse the average person,” “for any hope of solving the significant problems facing mankind, we ought to put our faith in spiritual or supernatural means,” “physical disease can be cured by faith or mental powers alone,” and “never trust statistics because numbers can be twisted to support any line of argument” (Yates and Chandler, 2000). Teachers hold alternate/mis-concepts about key concepts in every field of science (Duit, 1998). Their alternate concepts confound their presentation of important scientific ideas to their students and become a source for the formation of similar or related misconceptions in their students. Yip (1998) suggests that misconceptions formed by children can be attributed to three sources: 1) naïve ideas arising from everyday experiences and language usage of the learners; 2) erroneous concepts formed by the learners during the lessons due to misunderstanding or lack of understanding; and 3) misconceptions passed from teachers through wrong or inaccurate teaching. Not only do teachers hold alternate conceptions about science content, they typically have naïve views of many aspect of the nature of scientific inquiry (Abd-El-Kjalick & BouJaoude, 1997; Pomeroy, 1993; Aguirere, et al., 1990; Bloom, 1989; Carey & Stauss, 1968, 1970). A significant portion of teachers did not endorse the tentative nature of scientific knowledge, but believed that science is a body of knowledge that has been “proven” to be correct (Aguirere et al., 1990). A majority of teachers still held a positivistic, idealistic view of science (Pomeroy, 1993); others believed in a universal stepwise procedure, “The Scientific Method,” for “doing science,” thus dismissing the creative and imaginative nature of the scientific endeavor (Abd-El-Khalick & BouJaoude, 1997; Lederman, 1992). Contribution: Why should we be concerned with the scientific literacy of teachers and their students? A democracy cannot address issues of global warming, health risks, or the issues surrounding stem cell research if the populace is scientifically illiterate. In fact, popular misconceptions of scientific issues can be found almost weekly in our newspapers, witness these examples: “Finding of Fact: Myth About Lung Cancer Can Be Deadly” (O’Connor, 2003) “Vaccine Refusal is Cited in Whooping Cough Case” (Perez-Pena, 2003) “Scientists Find Lemmings Die as Dinners, Not Suicides” (Yoon, 2003) The popular myth that cancer spreads by contact with air stops some Americans from agreeing to potentially lifesaving surgery (O’Conner, 2003). A recent outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, whooping cough, began with children whose parents had refused to have them vaccinated (Perez-Pena, 2003).

Authors: Hammrich, Penny. and Myers, Michelle.
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known as UFOs, sometimes visit the earth,” and “the spirit world can be contacted
through séances or through psychic people known as mediums.” Although a faculty
panel had rated these beliefs as clearly inconsistent with the principles of valid and
acceptable knowledge, a significant number of the students accepted all of these “New
Age” statements. Furthermore, 50% or more had no opinion or agreed with several “anti-
scientific” statements including: “the primary purpose of scientific language is to
confuse the average person,” “for any hope of solving the significant problems facing
mankind, we ought to put our faith in spiritual or supernatural means,” “physical disease
can be cured by faith or mental powers alone,” and “never trust statistics because
numbers can be twisted to support any line of argument” (Yates and Chandler, 2000).
Teachers hold alternate/mis-concepts about key concepts in every field of science (Duit,
1998). Their alternate concepts confound their presentation of important scientific ideas
to their students and become a source for the formation of similar or related
misconceptions in their students. Yip (1998) suggests that misconceptions formed by
children can be attributed to three sources: 1) naïve ideas arising from everyday
experiences and language usage of the learners; 2) erroneous concepts formed by the
learners during the lessons due to misunderstanding or lack of understanding; and 3)
misconceptions passed from teachers through wrong or inaccurate teaching.
Not only do teachers hold alternate conceptions about science content, they typically
have naïve views of many aspect of the nature of scientific inquiry (Abd-El-Kjalick &
BouJaoude, 1997; Pomeroy, 1993; Aguirere, et al., 1990; Bloom, 1989; Carey & Stauss,
1968, 1970). A significant portion of teachers did not endorse the tentative nature of
scientific knowledge, but believed that science is a body of knowledge that has been
“proven” to be correct (Aguirere et al., 1990). A majority of teachers still held a
positivistic, idealistic view of science (Pomeroy, 1993); others believed in a universal
stepwise procedure, “The Scientific Method,” for “doing science,” thus dismissing the
creative and imaginative nature of the scientific endeavor (Abd-El-Khalick & BouJaoude,
1997; Lederman, 1992).
Contribution: Why should we be concerned with the scientific literacy of teachers and
their students? A democracy cannot address issues of global warming, health risks, or the
issues surrounding stem cell research if the populace is scientifically illiterate. In fact,
popular misconceptions of scientific issues can be found almost weekly in our
newspapers, witness these examples:
“Finding of Fact: Myth About Lung Cancer Can Be Deadly” (O’Connor, 2003)
“Vaccine Refusal is Cited in Whooping Cough Case” (Perez-Pena, 2003)
“Scientists Find Lemmings Die as Dinners, Not Suicides” (Yoon, 2003)
The popular myth that cancer spreads by contact with air stops some Americans from
agreeing to potentially lifesaving surgery (O’Conner, 2003). A recent outbreak of a
vaccine-preventable disease, whooping cough, began with children whose parents had
refused to have them vaccinated (Perez-Pena, 2003).


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