Practice 8 – Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information
September 23, 2019
Hi. It’s Paul Andersen and this
is Science and Engineering Practice 8. It’s on obtaining, evaluating and communicating
information. And so it’s how scientists and engineers take in information, make sense
of it and then share it with rest of the world. And that communication is super important
because in science it allows us to share our explanations. And in engineering it allows
us to share our solutions. And a study was done on communication in 2004, this is by
Tenopir and King, and they talked to scientists and engineers and what they found is that
they’re spending more than half of their working time reading, interpreting and producing text.
And so that’s wild. That means that they’re spending more then half of their time doing
what we would think of as not research. As not doing science. Not in the laboratory doing
studies. And so the reason that is, is that’s how science works. Basically scientists do
research. They gather data. They come up with theories. They test those theories. But when
they’re done, they publish them in a scientific journal. Other scientists read those, they
replicate their results. They build upon them. They approve upon them. And so this whole
idea of primary literature, scientific journals and how they drive innovation is very important.
And it drives the day of scientists and engineers as well. And so that communication can take
several forms. First of all it can be in the form of the scientific journals. It can be
in books that they publish. They can attend symposiums and they can present their data
to other scientists so they can receive information back. And they can use websites to publish
their results and share that with rest of the world. And so that formal communication
is actually publishing something that you want to have your peers review. Your peers
look at. There’s also informal communication that takes place every day. And so it’s going
to be discussions. Here’s a famous picture of Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr talking
about quantum theory. E-mail is going to drive a lot of people’s days, scientists and engineers,
as they get information from other people and they share their own information. But
it can be phone calls. It can be blogs. It can be Twitter. It can be all of these forms
of informal communication. Sharing information. And it’s very important, especially technology
is driving this now, this crowd sourcing of science. Everyone working together on solutions.
Big science we sometimes call that. Now this whole idea of making sense of information
is a struggle for students. And so students find difficulties, especially in reading science
text. And number one reason why is scientific jargon. And so let me read you a little section
from this journal. “Axonal signals transiently activate the expression of the transcription
factor oct6 in in Schwann cells that ill form myelin, and cyclic adenosine monophosphate
(cAMP) can mimic axonal contact in vitro.” I actually know what that means, but most
of you don’t. And the reason why is that we don’t live science day to day. And so that
jargon gets in the way. If I were to tell you that in vitro means in a test tube that
would help. If I were to tell you that Schwann cells will wrap around neurons to speed nerve
transmission and form a fatty substance called myelin, that might help. And so students struggle
with scientific reading and the reason why is that they don’t have this foundation. And
another reason they struggle is that the intent of science text and science textbooks for
that matter, is that the student can read them or the researcher can read them and they
get information out of it. And so it’s not a narrative. It’s not a story that’s fun to
read necessarily. It’s information that needs to be disseminated in a systematic way. And
so that makes it a struggle for our students. And then finally it’s multi modal. In other
words science journals, science textbooks are going to have, you know, graphics. They’re
going to have photographs. They’re going to have images. They’re going to have data. They’re
going to have graphs. And so it’s difficult as students are reading through that to move
back and forth between the text and then between these different modes of presenting information.
And so what’s the goal then, as a science teacher? What should be the goal in a science
classroom? We want our students to be able to consume information and then we want them
to be able to create and share information of their own. And so if we break that down
a little more in detail, we want them to be able to read books. We want them to be able
to read text. And we also want them to read primary literature. Primary literature remember
is going to be literature that is created by scientists and created by engineers. This
is those journal articles for example. We also want them to create information. We want
them to communicate their understandings. And then finally we want them to share that in
writing or in presentation. And so what’s the progression? In other words, how do we
teach this from elementary all the way through high school? How do we get students to obtain,
to evaluate, communicate this information with others? In other words how do we have
them from day one throwing darts at the dart board and then getting better and better over
time? Well you want to start by talking about explicit instruction. So don’t assume that
just because you’re a science teacher that it means you don’t have to teach reading.
You’re going to have to teach reading. You’re going to have to teach scientific reading.
And so you want to get students from the moment they can read, looking though not just narrative
but scientific information. Scientific journals. Now you don’t have to give them a scientific
journal. You can given them articles that are at their own level, but you want them
working through the text and giving them strategies. I worked with my students a lot this year
on reading strategies. Ways that they could look through the material. Preview the material
and then go back through it. You also want to give them explicit instruction on how to
look at tables or data organized in a table. How to use graphics and diagrams and how to
explain it. And then spend a lot of time going through graphs. Showing them how to interpret
a graph. What do the labels mean? What do the axis mean? And asking them questions based
on that. Don’t just assume that they’re going to learn that in your other classes. You have
to teach them how to read science in the science classroom. We also want to have them reading
primary literature. So we want them reading science. Not just narratives of science. And
so there’s a mistake that we made in science education. That was this idea that hands on
instruction is super important and this message out there that you really want students to
do hands on learning. And that’s true, you want them doing experimentation in a science
classroom. It makes it more exciting. But you don’t want to do that in the absence of
text. You want them to look through science text as well. And so there’s a movement towards
what’s called adaptive primary literature. If you just give your students primary literature,
like a journal article. I can tell you this from experience, especially, I mean even in a high
school classroom, if you give them primary literature, they’re going to be totally confused.
It’s at a level that’s written for doctoral students and they’re not going to get it.
And so there’s a movement towards adaptive primary literature. In other words instead
of just writing a book, looking at actual primary literature and then writing a narrative.
And so this is one of these adaptive, they call it a primary adaptive, primary literature
and this is from the University of Alberta. And basically they’re going through research,
this was an article that was published in geology, and then kind of writing a story
that goes with it. Then having the students move through that material. That is a lot
of work. For me, Scientific American is a scientific magazine and it’s not a journal
per se, but they have nice scientific articles that are written to disseminate scientific
information but they’re more at the level, especially of like a high school student.
And so you could look at Science News would be an example of something like that as well.
Next we want them to start communicating their own understanding. And we want them to be
able to do that from the time that they can just start reading and writing. And so a science
notebook is really important. It allows them to organize their data and also their explanations.
And so what goes in there, drawings, numbers, words, data, what they think, their guesses.
All of that should go in their science notebook. They should get into this idea that in science
you do science and you also have to share that science with others. And so this will
culminate as you move into high school and middle school with actually publishing reports.
Publishing scientific reports based on the data that you have. And so I have my students
do this in class. They’ll also give formal presentations to the rest of the class. So
kind of like a PowerPoint presentation where they take their data and they summarize it
and share it with the rest of the class. A big movement now is into the area of what
are called mini posters. Because if you do scientific research, you’ll publish your research
using a research poster, where you have an abstract, your introduction. You talk about
the methods that you’re using and so a lot of science teachers will just use double folders.
You take two folders. You glue them together. And then their students are creating these
mini posters where they’ve got their abstract, introduction, data, diagrams, things like
that. And it’s a great idea. You can then have them share that. So you can have poster
exhibit where the other students walk around and can look at that. And so again we’re gathering
information, making sense of the information, sharing it with rest of the world and that’s
a huge part of the daily life of a scientific researcher or an engineer. And it’s important
that we get our students read for that. And I hope that was helpful.}