Developing Scientific Literacy

Tue Feb 07, 2017 2:48 PM

Hello educators,
I am curious what you have used in your practice that engages students through hands-on/minds-on STEM learning experiences that provide valuable context for students to develop literacy skills. Any examples, resources, websites, or guidance would be helpful.

Thank you!

Brenna Pavluk
Brenna Pavluk
50 Activity Points

Wed Feb 22, 2017 4:43 PM

Hello, Brenna and others,

To create experiments that are both effective and fun, I worked with a couple of Finnish teachers to develop the Phenomenon-Based Learning Books (from NSTA Press). Here are links to the elementary version

the middle-school version

and the high-school version

On any of those pages, you can scroll down, and under “Details,” you’ll find a link for downloading a sample chapter. And if you click on that link, you get not only the sample chapter, but also the table of contents and the Introduction. Teachers will find the Introduction quite informative in describing how they should present the activities in ways that will be most pedagogically effective for all levels of students.

The books are based on "Phenomenon-Based Learning" (PBL), which builds knowledge of, and interest in, physical science as a result of observations of real-world phenomena, in this case, some fun gizmos and gadgets. Why PBL? PISA assessments showed that Finnish students were among the top in science and reading proficiency levels. So, as I mentioned, I worked with a couple of Finnish teachers to develop the PBL pedagogy, which combines elements of what's done in Finland with what's known about effective science teaching based on science education research to present science in ways that are both fun and educational. The idea is to teach broader concepts and useful thinking and performance skills (as with NGSS) rather than asking students to simply memorize facts and formulas. Students will investigate an interesting gadget and, motivated by their own curiosity, explore and discover how it works and what physical phenomena are involved. Thus the book’s approach to learning is based on curiosity and creativity — a fun way to learn!

There are also kits of materials designed to go with the book, which are sold by Arbor Scientific. You can see them here:

Click on any book to see the kit(s) for that book.
The kits are expensive, but they provide enough materials for dozens of activities and would be a great investment for any school, even without the books.

Best regards,

Dr. Matthew Bobrowsky
Delaware State University
Dover, DE 19901-2202
302-857-7729 (office)
443-812-5466 (cell)

Matt Bobrowsky
Matthew Bobrowsky
3855 Activity Points

Tue Feb 07, 2017 6:12 PM

Hello Brenna,
Here are a couple of resources you may find helpful in developing literacy skills, especially when integrating science and engineering practices:

1) The Missing Link: Engineering Design Process and Thinking Skills
2) Literacy and Science Better Together

Design challenges, which include connections to reading issues (societal, environmental challenges), support the development of reading comprehension. I have found that embedding a relevant story/external readings as a component in engineering design engages learners with textual information in a meaningful ways.

Kimberly Staples
Dr Kimberly A Staples
390 Activity Points

Sun Feb 19, 2017 7:12 PM

Dr. Staples,
I really love "The Missing Link" resource. The website for incorporating literacy and STEM education is straightforward, easy to read, and has a multitude of visuals that aid in the message. I also appreciated the abundance of examples with using music, writing, stories, and sketches to support the engineering process. As a newcomer to the science teaching field, I can use all the examples and visual aids that I can get. Both resources you suggested have meaningful opportunities (ones that I can actual visualize myself doing in the future) which will be beneficial for both myself and my students.


Brenna Pavluk
Brenna Pavluk
50 Activity Points

Thu Feb 16, 2017 6:05 PM

Hi Breanna,

In both my studies and implementation in the classroom, I have found that science literacy is further developed when students can relate to the content in more than one context and even more so when the curriculum resonates with their personal life and/or culture. Moreover, try encouraging your students to connect their personal identities with the science - as science learners; there needs to be a harmony between the individual and/or cultural identity and the scientific identity. Failing to do so creates a disconnect and irrelevancy, and sadly, encourages science illiteracy.

For more information on the topics and techniques that you can implement as a teacher to build scientific literacy skills, I recommend the following sources:

Ambitious Science Teaching (2015)
Primer - Eliciting Students Ideas
A Discourse Primer for Science Teachers

Brown (2005) - "It Isn't No Slang That Can Be Said about This Stuff": Language, Identity, and Appropriating Science Discourse.

Brown, et al. (1989) - Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning

Gee (2004) - Situated Language and Learning: A critique of traditional schooling

Hope these help!


Kristy Zukswert
Kristy Zukswert
80 Activity Points

Sun Feb 19, 2017 7:27 PM

Thank you for your reply and recommendations for ways to build literacy skills in the classroom. You have contributed greatly to my growing knowledge about science teaching! I agree wholeheartedly that students relate more to the content when it relates to their own lives. Finding those connections for every student can seem impossible, but I am hopeful that I can do so. You also brought up a great point about recognizing and trying to connect the content to student's cultural identities as well as their personal identities. Doing so may take extra effort, but will be worth it to promote engagement with the students and have them feel excited about their learning.

There is a quote in the second link you suggested for me that said "answers are valued over thinking". That quote really stood out to me because as a student teacher I know I find myself evaluating students on their ability to tell me the right answer instead of their thought process. The link is full of advice and knowledge and I will certainly share it with others.


Brenna Pavluk
Brenna Pavluk
50 Activity Points

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