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Exploring Science-Literacy-in Practice: Implications for Scientific Literacy from an Anthropological Perspective

Article Topics: Scientific Literacy
1 (1) 2001

Science literacy has been constructed within the science education community as an endpoint to be attained by all students. The scientific facts, concepts and habits of mind that we wish all citizens to possess have been mapped out in a series of standards and benchmarks. While having such an endpoint in mind is both valuable and necessary for science educators, as an anthropologist, I also find value in approaching such questions from the opposite direction. What are the meanings of science that are constructed within a particular learning community in a particular time and place and how does this shape participants’ developing science literacy in that context? This paper examines the construct of science-literacy-in-practice within the context of a university biology department. I explore the social spaces to which undergraduate students had access, and demonstrate how undergraduate biology majors within these spaces came to make sense of what it meant to do science and to be a scientist. These students received differing messages about science in a number of social spaces, including classes (both lecture and lab), informal study groups, life science clubs, and experiences working in research labs. As students passed through the more widely accessed social spaces and into more tightly controlled and restricted social spaces, the meanings of science and scientist changed. The kind of scientific literacy that was required of individuals within this community differed greatly depending on the social spaces an individual occupied. This paper points to a trajectory of definitions of science literacy, and what these definitions imply for science educators as we struggle with how to enact "science literacy for all."

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