Scientific literacy is a difficult idea to pin down.[i] To some people it means having a basic level of scientific understanding, though nobody fully agrees on how much understanding is needed or even which specific ideas should be understood. To others, it is more important to understand the core processes of science, which can be applied to any area of science. Again the problem exists of figuring out exactly which processes are most important (and which are distinctly scientific).[ii]
Even when people disagree about what it means, there is almost always this common thread: scientific literacy somehow involves preparing students and adults for the science they will encounter outside of school, very often in media reports. George DeBoer highlighted this in his history of scientific literacy: (more…)
Posted by mcshanahan on August 27, 2013
[Yes, it's been a long time since I posted something new. One reason is that I've been busy preparing for a big move. You can read about it here.]
After our discussion about using dry ice with 8 year olds had died down, this year’s crop of space camp counsellors asked a question that plagues almost everyone who teaches, writes about or in any way works to share scientific information: what are the right words to use to explain difficult concepts?
Questions like that come up every year in my undergrad science ed classes and in almost every science communication workshop I’ve ever attended. And they’re hard questions to answer. The answers always depends on exactly who the audience is and on the purpose of the article, video or lesson. But the message often boils down to: Scientists and science communicators of all kinds need to cut the jargon and explain things simply.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. (more…)
Posted by mcshanahan on June 4, 2013
“Helvetica emerges in that period in 1957 where there’s felt to be a need for rational typefaces which can be applied to all kinds of contemporary information whether it’s sign systems or corporate identity and present those visual expressions of the modern world to the public in an intelligible way.”*
This is one of the opening descriptive passages of Gary Hustwit’s 2007 documentary Helvetica, which traces the meaning, history and importance of the near ubiquitous typeface. Think of a corporate brand that has a sleek minimal brand image? Chances are the typeface is Helvetica, from the AAs of American Airlines to the very recognizable G in the Gap, all Helvetica. Even the New York subway signs, designed by Massimo Vignelli, are Helvetica. But what does that have to do with science communication and education? (more…)
Posted by mcshanahan on October 9, 2012
What does it mean to be a good role? Am I a good role model? Playing around with kids at home or in the middle of a science classroom, adults often ask themselves these questions, especially when it come to girls and science. But despite having asked them many times myself, I don’t think they’re the right questions.
Posted by mcshanahan on May 28, 2012
By far the best panel on science education I’ve seen recently was given by a few of the most important people in the field: kids.
I met them at LogiCon, an Edmonton-based science and critical thinking outreach event held annually at The Telus World of Science. The two-day meeting, April 14-15 this year, was open to all science centre visitors, adults and kids, and featured talks by researchers, writers, educators and more. There were talks on scientific topics, from vaccines to particle physics, and scientific thinking, such as how to evaluate claims in the media. One section of the conference was devoted to sessions for families and kids, and of course that’s the part I couldn’t resist attending. (more…)
Posted by mcshanahan on April 27, 2012
Scientific American blog editor Bora Zivkovic‘s visit to the University of Alberta was a wonderful whirlwind of talks on science education, science communication, open science, peer review and the scientific publishing industry. I’ve summarized his talks in an overview of the week. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look, Bora has also shared a list of links to the sites, posts and people he mentioned or used in his talks (or intended to use in some cases). It’s a terrific guide to exploring these issues online. (more…)
Posted by mcshanahan on April 3, 2012
Enjoying some Tim Horton's treats while visiting Joel Dacks's lab
Just a few weeks ago I waved goodbye to Scientific American blogs editor Bora Zikovic and thanked him for a wonderful week of talks at the University of Alberta. Somehow in just a week we’d managed to chat about science teaching, science blogs, the history of academic publishing, open-access, post-publication peer review, science on Twitter and so much more. It was exciting and exhausting, and my ideas notebook is completely full.
As part of the University’s Distinguished Visitor program, a small group of faculty from cell biology (Joel Dacks), anthropology (Bora’s brother, Marko Zivkovic) and science education (me) brought Bora to town to speak with students and faculty. No matter what the topic, the theme seemed to be: keep an open mind. Be willing to consider new ways of doing things but also remember that they might not be as they first appear. (more…)
Posted by mcshanahan on April 3, 2012
I got very brave a few weeks ago and participated in a storytelling event as part of Science Online 2012, an annual science communication conference held in North Carolina. Instead of the usual guest speakers and awards ceremonies that haunt most conference banquets, this was a partnership with The Monti that brought members of our own online science community together to share intimate and often funny parts of their lives. It was a nod to the spirit of the conference, which encourages open sessions and audience contributions over slide presentations and lectures. That’s why it’s my favourite conference of the year, and it works because it’s a conference filled with fascinating people: science writers, researchers, bloggers, artists, programmers, physicians, teachers, and librarians all interested in science in the online world.
Posted by mcshanahan on February 8, 2012
“Science educators, here’s what you’re up against. A debate in the comments on this story over whether the movie “Mission to Mars” proves that ancient Martian life was used to seed life on Earth.”
There’s no way I could pass over a Facebook status like this one. My friend K.O. recently made the comment in reference to a Popular Science article called “A Significant Portion of Mars Could Be Friendly to Life, New Models Suggest.” The article itself is a short summary of a paper published in the journal Astrobiology, which uses models to predict how deep a microbial biosphere might extend into Mars’s surface. And while I might quibble when the author uses the phrase “slam-dunk” to describe the evidence for water on Mars, the interesting story isn’t in the article. The real story, for me and for K.O., is in the comments.
Posted by mcshanahan on December 21, 2011
Originally posted December 10, 2010
“For 45 minutes on Dec. 6, 1989 an enraged gunman roamed the corridors of Montreal’s École Polytechnique and killed 14 women. Marc Lepine, 25, separated the men from the women and before opening fire on the classroom of female engineering students he screamed, “I hate feminists.” Almost immediately, the Montreal Massacre became a galvanizing moment in which mourning turned into outrage about all violence against women.”
This summary from the CBC news archivesdescribes well the horrifying incident of that day and the impact that it has had across Canada. At most Canadian universities the day is marked with candlelight gatherings and vigils for victims of violence against women. To this day, though, I’ve never been to one.
Posted by mcshanahan on December 6, 2011