Troy E. Hall, Jay Well, and Elizabeth Emery, 2021
NSTA/Connected Science Learning May-June 2021 (Volume 3, Issue 3)
As all science teachers know, the rate of scientific advancement is accelerating, far outpacing the ability of teachers or students to master. Nevertheless, scientific understanding is crucial to address contemporary social and environmental challenges, from climate change to food supply to vaccines. Citizens must be able to interpret scientific claims presented in the media and online to make informed personal and political decisions. Informed decision-making requires scientific literacy, the ability to decipher fact from fiction, and a willingness to engage in open-minded, productive discussions around contentious issues. Scientific literacy does not come naturally for most people; these skills need to be taught, practiced, and honed (Hodgin and Kahne 2018). Such scientific literacy skills are recognized specifically in the science and engineering practice of Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States 2013). However, these skills can be difficult to integrate into lessons because—while these practices have been identified as important—it is not well understood how to teach them in the digital age.
This article describes a biology lesson we developed that incorporates a relatively new approach to teaching middle and high school students how to fact-check online information. This lesson emerged out of a partnership between school science teachers, an academic unit at Oregon State University (OSU), and OSU’s Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program. SMILE is a longstanding precollege program that increases underrepresented students’ access to and success in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and careers. For more than 30 years, the program has provided a range of educational activities, predominantly in rural areas, to help broaden underrepresented student groups’ participation in STEM and provide professional development resources to support teachers in meeting their students’ needs. Our lesson focuses on social media posts about genetic engineering (GE) of plants, but this promising approach to digital literacy can be adopted for other scientific topics and internet information sources.