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What does it mean to be scientifically literate?

Outside the Pipeline: Reimagining Science Education for Non-Scientists

Feinstein et al. 2013

The authors lay out a definition of science literacy with foundations in public engagement in science, supported by evidence about how people actually use science in their everyday lives.

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Salvaging Science Literacy

Feinstein 2011

Feinstein argues that there is little evidence that efforts to improve science literacy have an impact on people’s lives, and presents a model of how to educate students as competent outsiders to science, rather than marginal insiders.

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Civic Scientific Literacy

Miller 2012

Jon Miller has been testing Americans’ understanding of science since 1988, using a 12-question quiz that focuses on basic understanding of fundamental science content such as “True or False: Lasers work by focusing sound waves.”

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Science Literacy at Oberlin College

Steyer et al. 1998

A group of faculty at Oberlin have summarized a wide range of justifications for teaching science to students outside the STEM majors, including the ideas that science is a foundation for problem-solving, and that science is intrinsically valuable.

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Science for All in a Core Curriculum: Frontiers of Science at Columbia University

Kelley 2010

At Columbia University, all first-year students attend lectures by distinguished scientists who tell them about the most exciting ideas at the forefront of particular STEM fields, and attend discussion sections to reinforce these ideas.

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Why should you be scientifically literate?

Hazen 2002

Robert Hazen argues that the goal of college education in the sciences is for students to finally grasp a core set of the most important scientific concepts, for which he and James Trefil provide a college textbook.

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How do we assess scientific literacy?

The Experimental Design Ability Test (EDAT)

Sirum & Humburg 2011

The goal of this assessment is to determine whether students are able to design an appropriate experiment to evaluate an assertion. Two distinct assertions are provided for use at the start and end of a course, and there is a clear and simple rubric for assessing results.

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Developing a Test of Scientific Literacy Skills (TOSLS): Measuring Undergraduates’ Evaluation of Scientific Information and Arguments

Gormally et al. 2012

This article describes the Test of Scientific Literacy Skills (TOSLS), a very good assessment tool, featuring primarily multiple-choice questions, that explores whether students have a suite of skills in science literacy, based on a list developed by surveying science faculty from a variety of institutions.

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A Novel Instrument for Assessing Students’ Critical Thinking Abilities

White et al. 2011

The authors describe a tool for assessing how well students can use critical thinking to resolve a complicated scientific problem about the causes of an unspecified disease, and report results. A major strength is the incorporation of messy evidence and conflicting results, and the availability of an explicit and clear rubric. The full set of materials for the assessment is available from the authors.

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Student Assessment of Learning Gains

This website provides a useful tool for developing a customized instrument to assess learning gains by students.

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Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT)

This website provides a variety of resources related to the Critical Thinking Assessment Test, a 15-question test that uses a short-answer format to assess how well students are able to use critical thinking skills to solve problems. The actual test must be purchased, but this article describes some of the details of the test.

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Science Motivation Questionnaire

This website provides free access to a questionnaire that probes students about their motivations to study science. Versions specifically for biology, chemistry, and physics are also available.

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Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide

This resource provides access to and information about assessment tools, including many sources of information about classroom assessment techniques like portfolios, concept maps, and attitude surveys. One particularly valuable component is a table that links specific learning goals with particular assessment tools.

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Results of Twenty Years of Testing the Scientific Literacy of Undergraduates

Impey et al. 2011

In this provocative article, the authors present the results of 20 years of assessing the science literacy of undergraduates, while providing the full assessment instrument, which consists of multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank questions. One important result: science majors score no better on average than non-majors do.

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How do we foster scientific literacy?

Teaching for Transfer

Perkins & Salomon 1988

In this classic paper, the authors argue convincingly that transfer is an essential element of education and that achieving it requires explicit design of instruction and assessment, focusing on the practices of “hugging” and “bridging”.

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Teaching basic science to optimize transfer

Norman 2009

Specifically addressing transfer in science courses, the author explores how limited transfer actually is, and why, but argues that explicit instruction can improve transfer.

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The Transfer of Learning

Leberman et al. 2005

In this broad overview, the authors outline major ideas about the transfer of learning and provide a toolkit of foundational concepts, including near versus far transfer, and automatic versus mindful transfer.

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Transfer Talk—Tips on Teaching for Transfer

University of Delaware Social Studies Education Project

This very useful website provides succinct and practical tips for how to teach to help your students achieve transfer.

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Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century (2012)

National Academy of Sciences 2012

This thorough report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences highlights the importance of “deeper learning” in 21st century education and the central role that transfer plays in this learning, with a specific chapter on teaching and assessing transfer. Free download with registration.

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Vision Learning

The real prize in this wide-ranging website, which features online readings and simple quizzes on topics from many scientific disciplines, is the section on the Process of Science, which covers important topics for non-scientists such as Ethics in Science and Scientific Institutions that are rarely addressed elsewhere.

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Case Studies from AAC&U

These excellent case studies place science within particularly large contexts, focusing, for example, on debating tar sands oil transmission, whether autism is linked to vaccines, and whether doping by athletes should be legal. Student and instructor resources are provided for free.

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National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

This website provides a wide range of polished case studies for STEM fields, with some of the most appropriate for non-majors including “The Last Spruce Grove” and “Kermit to Kermette” because of their authentic focus on real-world situations. Access to instructor keys requires a paid subscription, but student materials are useful on their own.

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Role-playing with the "Sleeping Mountain Scenario"

This activity, developed for an introductory geology course, provides an excellent example of how role-playing can provide students with opportunities to connect the science they’re learning to a real world situation with no easy answers, and stakeholders whose points of view range far beyond science.

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Tutorial on the life cycle of scientific information

Through quiz questions, simple activities, and short online readings, this web tutorial provides an overview of how science is done, with a focus on sources of scientific information, including an explanation of gray literature, and differences between book chapters and primary papers.

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Explore Gapminder World

An inexhaustible, free graphical resource with unlimited potential for use in STEM classrooms, inviting students to connect ideas from across disciplines and through time, and with pointers to fantastic supplemental TED videos by gapminder’s developer, Hans Rosling.

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This collection of world maps, where countries are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest, can be explored through broad categories (e.g. health, energy, disease, environment, resources) that provide wonderful entry points for exploring scientific topics.

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Profiles of scientists

Developed by NOVA for public television, this site brings science to life by providing videos of diverse scientists who have interesting biographies, including Mae Jamison, an astronaut and dancer who appeared in Star Trek, and James Levine, an obesity research and slam poetry champion.

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NOVA virtual laboratories

Developed by NOVA, this site provides a suite of engaging, hands-on, interactive activities that feature evolution, cybersecurity, sunspots, sustainable energy, clouds, and RNA.

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BioQuest Numb3r5 Count!

Providing a host of data-oriented resources, the real gem here is the resource on basic statistics, which provides a wealth of interactive activities for developing foundational skills in interpreting statistics and graphs.

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Virtual labs from HHMI

These well-produced virtual laboratories address a variety of biological topics with societal relevance, including identifying bacteria, quantifying evolution, creating transgenic flies, and observing neuronal activity.

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BioInteractive from HHMI

This rich collection of free, sortable, and ratable online biology materials offers short films, animations, teacher guides, and lectures on topics as wide-ranging as skin color and mapping genes to traits in dogs.

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Science in the Classroom

This extensive collection of papers published in Science is a great resource for teaching about scientific papers because it provides automated annotations that allow students to easily highlight different components of the text, including references to prior work and policy implications.

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How Science Works

This video, produced by the California Academy of Sciences, uses a discovery about spiders to challenge the conventional and simplistic view of how science is done, providing a wonderful supplement to the excellent, rich, online materials on understanding science from the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

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Using PBL to investigate scientific claims

Brickman et al. 2012

The authors describe an approach to having students work in teams to investigate scientific claims in the media, a useful and transferrable skill.

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Graph Design IQ Test

This short but engaging Flash-based quiz presents pairs of graphs and asks users to identify which of the pair does a better job at one particular aspect of data presentation, then provides immediate results on quiz performance.

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Pedagogy in Action

This site provides a rich catalog of resources about student-centered teaching, with brief descriptions of each technique so that you can easily determine if it is suited to your purposes.

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Videos of alternative teaching strategies in action

These videos, developed by the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia, provide real examples of alternative pedagogies in practice, including the use of worksheets, clickers, and flipped classes.

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Resources for Problem-Based Learning

From the University of Delaware’s site on problem-based learning, this page provides access to real syllabi and sample exams from courses that make heavy use of problem-based learning and case studies.

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Chapter from 'How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition'

This chapter from a book by the U.S. National Academies Press provides fascinating examples of how experts differ from novices in their understanding, and how this can affect teaching.

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Reacting to the Past

Primarily designed for the teaching of history, this collection from Barnard College requires students to investigate a historical incident from many perspectives and then to participate in a role-play of the events, which can take as much time as a semester or as little as a few days of class. Several of the events have scientific themes, including one on acid rain in Europe in the 1980s, and another on evolution versus creationism in Kansas in 1999. Free registration is required for full access.

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Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims

Sutherland et al. 2013

In this paper from Nature, the authors present a list of twenty tips for policy-makers to interpret scientific claims, which are useful for non-majors as well.

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Courses that have won Science prizes for inquiry-based instruction

Each of these courses has been selected by Science magazine as an outstanding example of the use of inquiry-based instruction in the sciences, and many feature strong components that engage students in doing science in the real world.

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iBiology Active Learning videos

By providing motivation, examples, and support, the videos on this site support instructors making the shift towards student-centered learning using evidence-based pedagogies.

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Cultivating Change

(PULSE) The Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education

For faculty and administrators interested in transforming their institutions. These materials provide multiple starting points for cultivating change.

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The PULSE Vision and Change rubrics

A particularly useful place to begin. The section on curriculum is specific to the life sciences, but the other sections transcend any particular discipline.

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