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College Students Lack Scientific Literacy

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the film-at-11 dept.

Education 382

An anonymous reader writes with news of research into the scientific literacy of college biology students. Earlier studies found that students tended to "rely on mainly informal reasoning derived from their personal experiences," so the researchers derived a new instructional framework that explicitly taught principle-based reasoning. While the number of students who used this method did increase, more than half continued to use informal reasoning, which the researchers say points to a flaw in the way biology is taught (PDF). "Most college-level instruction presents students with complicated narratives about the details of key processes (e.g., cellular respiration), but does not explicitly reinforce the use of key principles to connect those processes. Therefore, students are understandably occupied with memorizing details of processes without focusing on the principles that govern and connect the processes. ... As a result, students may leave an introductory biology course with the ability to recite the reactions in the Calvin cycle but still believing that plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere, that plants photosynthesize but do not respire, or that the mass of a decomposing organism will primarily return to the soil."

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College Students Lack (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794458)

literacy AND numeracy.

They don't lack Facebook.

Yours In Novosibirsk,
K. Trout

Re:College Students Lack (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794562)

The concept of not having mass primarily return to the soil on death is a bit shocking to those who "learned" otherwise.

Thinking different could lead to innovative new urban legends, like humans vaporizing in one final gigantic burst of flatulence. From there the theory could be extended to describe planets turning into stars.

Beware the gas giant.

Re:College Students Lack (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794804)

Thinking different could lead to innovative new urban legends, like humans vaporizing in one final gigantic burst of flatulence.

Man, that happened to me this morning, cleared out the house. Wonder what I ate?

Early Development (5, Insightful)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794514)

Kids get discouraged way too early in their school lives. From their peers, their teachers and their parents, they get the message that science and math is boring and hard, and they take that to college. That's why in math classes, you might find a person that can perfectly integrate a function, but be utterly unable to describe what integration actually does. Science and math has become just an algorithm to them: If you follow X steps, then you will get the answer, then you will path the class.

Re:Early Development (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794542)

path=pass. Clearly, I didn't pass spelling.

Re:Early Development (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794596)

Don't worry, you'll still get a grade of 110% just for trying.

Re:Early Development (5, Funny)

doconnor (134648) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794846)

Spelling is boring and hard and kids get discouraged from writing way too early in their school lives.

Re:Early Development (2)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795102)

Why bother spelling write when ewe just get red squiggly lines under each tpyo?

Spelling correctly is just a right-lick a way.

Re:Early Development (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794920)

I think you mean computer science, you know, the class where you learn to type [slashdot.org] .

Re:Early Development (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795092)

I think you mean computer science, you know, the class where you learn to type

That's actually true, but not in the way that article meant. From majoring in Computer Science, and developing for a living, I went from typing 20 wpm to 60 wpm.

Re:Early Development (5, Insightful)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794660)

A huge problem with that is getting qualified (and hopefully excited) teachers in those fields. If people do well in math or science, they tend to go into higher paying jobs rather than into teaching. What happens then is the math or science teaching vacancy goes to the newly hired teacher with a general knowledge and an education degree, they're handed the book and curriculum, and told to teach.

It's my contention that those who have a nice career and a deep knowledge of math and/or science should consider spending the last few years working as a (fully qualified) teacher.

Re:Early Development (5, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794712)

It's my contention that those who have a nice career and a deep knowledge of math and/or science should consider spending the last few years working as a (fully qualified) teacher.

A while back I was reading an article by someone (engineer, I think) who looked at doing that. Then they discovered they'd have to take numerous training courses to prove they could teach kids about what they'd been doing for years and decided they had better things to do with their life.

If you really want better teachers in schools, you could start by eliminating all the roadblocks that keep them out.

Re:Early Development (5, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795072)

Yes, but in college I had a faculty member in genetics, the man definitely knew his stuff, but as a teacher he was more or less a complete flop. Yes, the requirements do need to be reasonable, but just because somebody knows their field doesn't mean that they're qualified to teach. I know that there's this common conception that teaching is easy if you know how to do the tasks, but that's really not true.

The point is, that having to demonstrate capability exists for a reason. Sure it is cumbersome and probably could use a modernization and culling of some of the requirements, but it's there to try and minimize the cases where teachers are thrown into a classroom environment without being able to teach.

Re:Early Development (1)

turtledawn (149719) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794720)

Why exactly would I want to spend my time - especially my time right before I retire - dealing with the idiots who get promoted out of teaching and into administration? I'd rather work retail again; at least there are objective standards in that field.

Re:Early Development (5, Interesting)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794726)

In a lot of other countries with a much better education system, teachers are recruited from the top of the graduating classes and are given incentives to go and teach. I wish that's something we could implement in the US for education reform rather than grading teachers on how effective they are at teaching their kids how to take a specific test.

Re:Early Development (1)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794852)

What's sad is even when I was in school we were being taught problem solving (rather than memorization), but the tests you're talking about have eliminated that. Instead, they're taught how to pass the tests throughout the year until they take the test.

Re:Early Development (2, Insightful)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795334)

Government has learned that teaching you to think critically doesn't help them, but teaching you the joys of obeying authority figures does.

Re:Early Development (3, Insightful)

Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794978)

I've met some very bright and talented teachers but I have to say that on the whole teachers do not seem to be the cream of the crop, or even the whole milk... maybe non-fortified skim would be about right. The teachers here are very well paid. They don't seem to have much facility with logic and seem, well, woefully uneducated. It might help if they also had to complete an actual degree in something other than teaching.

I don't see teaching to tests as a problem... if the tests are well thought out.

Re:Early Development (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795114)

Which countries are these? Yes, our education system sucks, but we are still ahead of most other countries in the ways that count. People come to that conclusion reading headlines, but the reality is that our students get compared against the top students in other countries, not a representative sampling.

Meaning that it would be a bit like us comparing our APP students against our students in general. Of course we end up looking stupid, if there's any validity at all in the assessments they're making to make the decision about who to allow into advanced classes it should be that way.

If we were really in trouble in that respect, then why is it that other countries are trying to make their system more like ours? I'll give you a hint, it's not a vote of sympathy for us.

Re:Early Development (3, Insightful)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795318)

In the US, people who think rationally and value knowledge and critical thinking are considered "elitists" and derided. Just talking properly will probably get the occasional "what are you, a homo?!" thrown at you. Then there's the whole typical US rationality (which is probably more global, but what do I know?) of things like "I can't imagine a world where god doesn't exist; therefore, god exists".

Also, I remember finally being so thoroughly depressed by high school that I just gave up. The specific cause in question was that my freshman science curriculum was the same "Earth Science" book that we had used in fifth grade.

Anyway, in this country, we have a saying - "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

Re:Early Development (1)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794986)

A huge problem with that is getting qualified (and hopefully excited) teachers in those fields. If people do well in math or science, they tend to go into higher paying jobs rather than into teaching. What happens then is the math or science teaching vacancy goes to the newly hired teacher with a general knowledge and an education degree, they're handed the book and curriculum, and told to teach.

Doing not as well in math doesn't mean that the teachers would excite the students less. In fact, good teachers should do just the opposite, regardless of whether they teach their best subject. The teachers need to learn the best approach to reach the kids and that means getting them excited, and thus interested in, the material. The curriculum, if it's set by someone other than the teacher, should go a long way to doing that. Unfortunately, that's a big should and it's what's missing.

Re:Early Development (1)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795208)

I suppose the detail I left out, and saw personally back then and with my children now, is that the teachers thrown at math and science don't tend to understand the subjects very well.

That leads to inability to explain problems/solutions or to add the detail to explanations that help us all actually learn material.

Re:Early Development (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795246)

My best teacher in high school was building roads (digging ditches), before he went back to school to become a teacher. Sometimes you need experience outside of school to teach people, mainly because real life is not in books, it is ouside of school, sounds corny but its true. Most of the fresh graduates I get I have to re-teach anyways.

Re:Early Development (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795338)

A huge problem with that is getting qualified (and hopefully excited) teachers in those fields. If people do well in math or science, they tend to go into higher paying jobs rather than into teaching. What happens then is the math or science teaching vacancy goes to the newly hired teacher with a general knowledge and an education degree, they're handed the book and curriculum, and told to teach.

It's my contention that those who have a nice career and a deep knowledge of math and/or science should consider spending the last few years working as a (fully qualified) teacher.

I agree that we need qualified teachers but it'd also help if the local community and school boards got out of the way and actually allowed teachers to TEACH science. There continues to be huge pressure, in the Mid-West US in particular, to stifle the teaching of evolution for instance. Kids come to school indoctrinated against science and teachers must spend their time countering that instead of teaching the basics.

Re:Early Development (1)

Alumoi (1321661) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794730)

And that's how it should be. The system needs drones, not people who can think for themselves.

Re:Early Development (1)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794844)

Certainly the system wants drones. "Want" != "need", but generally "want" == "what you get".

Re:Early Development (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794810)

Well that and no one bothers to teach them what integration actually does. I know my high school calculus courses missed a whole bunch of useful stuff.

Then again I was always that student who could get A's and B's by showing up to class without studying or ever taking notes and fly through the tests. We really need a way to teach the gifted children in a different manor than the dumb ones who need it repeated twenty times.

Re:Early Development (2)

y_axis (815085) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795156)

We really need a way to teach the gifted children in a different manor than the dumb ones who need it repeated twenty times.

I don't think the gifted children would care whether they were taught in a different manor, or in a regular school building with all the other kids.

Re:Early Development (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795356)

We really need a way to teach the gifted children in a different manor

I take it that you weren't one of those gifted children.

Re:Early Development (2)

slapout (93640) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795056)

I feel the same way about my math education. I feel I was taught the how, but not the why -- how to plug things into a formula rather than how the formula came to be and want it means.

Note: This is about AMERICAN students. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794516)

The title and summary don't make it clear, but this concerns American students at American colleges.

Re:Note: This is about AMERICAN students. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794754)

Of course it is, this is an American website.

However, I'm pretty confident the trends are reflected in most other countries.

Re:Note: This is about AMERICAN students. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794766)

What makes you think that Students in other countries are any different?

Disclaimer: I graduated in 1975 with a Mech Eng BSc.
My degree was very practical. We were given real situations and had to analyze them and suggest improvements in the systems. The we made those 'mods' and re ran the tests. We had to back it all up with sound facts, logic and maths.

Fast forward to today.
My nephew is doing a Computer Science degree here in the UK. I knew more about algorithms, compiler development and basic stuff at the end on my degree than he will grasp at the end of his some 35+ years later.

Message to America. You are not alone here

Re:Note: This is about AMERICAN students. (1)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794896)

I'm an American. Why am I not pleased to hear we're not alone in this?

Re:Note: This is about AMERICAN students. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794962)

There's really little difference between the UK and America. You've got the same multinational corporations running the show, the same flawed political ideologies in play, and the same ignorant populace. It's not a new problem, either. It goes back decades, and really started to get worse when Reagan and Thatcher were in power.

Will this be on the test? (1)

BenSchuarmer (922752) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794522)

If it is, I'll memorize it. If not, I need to check my email.

Logic Fail (5, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794548)

[They still believe that...] plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere

How could this possibly work? Farmers ship millions of tons of foodstuffs every year, unless they're spreading an equal volume of human excrement on their fields they'd be farming in pit mines after a few decades. That doesn't even begin to address that the soil that plants actually grow in is only a matter of inches deep in many locations, or the fact that you can grow plants in water more efficiently than in soil. So yeah, I'd say we're missing some basic logic tools if biology majors can't think that one through.

Re:Logic Fail (2)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794590)

Duh, there's a lot of dirt in the rain...

Re:Logic Fail (4, Insightful)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794610)

It points out the real problem with science education: we're not teaching the big facts and then delving into the intricacies, we're teaching the intricacies and hoping the big facts are obvious.

It's nothing about "informal" or "principle-based" reasoning, it's just inadequate communication.

Re:Logic Fail (2)

Bureaucromancer (1303477) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794862)

Agreed. There may well be (no, never mind, there definitely is) a failing in the teaching things like method and reasoning, but this is the great failing. The whole system is tailored to teach detail and intricacy, and to largely do so by rote. The only thing this will teach is the regurgitation of specific facts and techniques - it certainly won't impart any kind of understanding.

Re:Logic Fail (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795260)

That's a problem. But it's more of a symptom really. The big problem with science and education is that the educational establishment doesn't do scientific analysis of the teaching methodology that they're looking at implementing or ones that they've already put in place.

The issue there is that some things despite being complete bunk, end up living in the districts for long periods of time. And assumptions about how students as a whole function and learn are never actually tested for any sort of validity, nor are the outliers ever evaluated to see if there's a reason to change.

Science is a fairly high level skill in some respects, and while you can introduce elements of it quite early, you have to be really mindful of boring kids away from it with stupid things like meal worms.

All in all, I'd be more concerned with the exposure to bunk studies that the media seems fascinated by. If it hasn't been peer reviewed, replicated at a minimum, it shouldn't be reported outside the academic establishment, or publications catering to the same.

Re:Logic Fail (2)

turtledawn (149719) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794752)

Suburban kids go into biology and most of those think of it as pre-med. Farmers' kids have the sense to go into agronomics, which is where the money is, such as it is. Those suburban kids have probably never seen a farm field over the years to realize that (with decent to ok management) it doesn't gradually sink into the ground.

Re:Logic Fail (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794782)

The problem is that they were never asked the question, and never asked themselves the question either (presumably because they had simply assumed the mass come from the soil from a young age). This was never addressed in any of my science courses which included two highschool biology courses - though I did have to memorize the details of the Krebs cycle and RNA transcription (which I have since forgotten).

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I did not realize that the bulk of the mass came from the air until I vacationed in China long after graduation, and saw large trees growing from tiny pads of dirt on mountain cliffs. That was a strong indication that the mass was most likely coming from the air.

Re:Logic Fail (2)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794784)

I think that was the whole point, that they weren't "thinking things through", rather, they were intuitively "knowing" (i.e. assuming) things that weren't correct.

Re:Logic Fail (2)

WarwickRyan (780794) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794848)

Huh. They teach you in high school biology that 60%+ of the mass of most organisms is water.

Re:Logic Fail (2)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794870)

Well, for one, isn't most plant weight due to water? Farmers certainly put millions of tons of water on their farms every year.

Re:Logic Fail (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794916)

A lot of life is mostly water, including you.

Re:Logic Fail (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795174)

You ugly bag, you.

Re:Logic Fail (1)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795008)

And you're ignoring the fact that farming for more than a few years in a row in most places completely depletes the soil and growth stops.

And you're ignoring fertilizers which replenish the soil.

And growing plants 'in water' requires you to saturate the water with nutrients that are absorbed into the plant.

Just because you don't understand how the soil gets replenished, doesn't mean its not.

And for the record, farmers have on many occasions fucked themselves into unfarmable land by raping it year after year rather than allowing it to recover and rotating crops.

Re:Logic Fail (-1, Troll)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795022)

How could this possibly work? Farmers ship millions of tons of foodstuffs every year, unless they're spreading an equal volume of human excrement on their fields they'd be farming in pit mines after a few decades. That doesn't even begin to address that the soil that plants actually grow in is only a matter of inches deep in many locations, or the fact that you can grow plants in water more efficiently than in soil. So yeah, I'd say we're missing some basic logic tools if biology majors can't think that one through.

As if the existence of "The Tea Party" and The Creation Museum [creationmuseum.org] were not evidence enough for you? Seriously, basic critical thinking skills have been scarce for some time, it's not just the students in freshman college biology courses. So it seems obvious then, that the problem is far more fundamental than how we teach science in high school No?

Re:Logic Fail (2, Funny)

PRMan (959735) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795164)

I think you'll find more critical thinking and science at the Creation Museum than the average freshman could fathom. While you may not agree with their evidence that evolution and the big bang have major holes that cannot be explained and that some evidence points to creation more than to evolution, your statement only proves that you have never been to the Creation Museum, thereby committing exactly what the Slashdot article is outlining: people making scientific "statements of fact" without ever considering the evidence.

Re:Logic Fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795128)

From personal experience:
Step 1) Non-farmer lifestyle and not thinking about it much.
Step 2) Taught nutrients travel into the plant through the roots, and know enough that roots grow down.
Step 3A) Fail to realize/get taught Soil != Dirt != Any clump of Earth.
Step 3B) Plants die, decompose, renew soil is assumed
Step 4) Pass biology course in 8th grade, with one chapter on plants and never touch the subject again.

Physics and tech were always more interesting for me. It wasn't till my junior year of college it dinged on me when hearing about plants that grow on tree branches in certain parts of the world that: Plants = A Lot of Carbon = CO2 from air, not soil.

Re:Logic Fail (1)

sorak (246725) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795322)

Unless I misread it, this is about everybody who takes the equivalent of Biology 101. Since that class is a requisite in many universities, we are talking about college students of all majors. I would hope that biology majors did better in this respect, but is it no surprise that business majors, philosophy majors, etc, just memorized the material and never put much thought into their implications?

Interesting Litmus Test (2)

iethree (666892) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794558)

Why is litmust test of biological knowledge (for college freshman) whether they know where plants get the majority of there mass? I'm not a biologist... but that doesn't seem to be the deepest or most fundamental principle of biology...

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (1)

alta (1263) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794614)

Litmus(t) test FAIL :)

Just teasing, I had to look it up to be sure.

And I'm no bio person either.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794616)

It's surely not "the" litmus test - but it makes sense in that context, namely students being able to recite the main pathways of plant biochemistry but being unable to integrate that knowledge to answer this question. If you truly understand the Calvin cycle - the reaction series that takes care of carbon fixation from the air in plants - you should be aware where plant biomass comes from.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (1)

chronosan (1109639) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794722)

Understanding photosynthesis seems like it'd be very important in biology. There are very few living things that don't depend on it. Even mushrooms need something that was once alive due to photosynthesis to sponge off of.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794750)

I wouldn't think that examining their knowledge about the "deepest or most fundamental" idea of a particular subject would be a good litmus test. Something like this shows that they understand the biological processes involved rather than possessing the ability to regurgitate facts.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (3, Interesting)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794778)

Actually, I think that the assertion that most of a plant's mass comes from the soil is correct.

The majority of plant species are mostly water by mass, and water enters a plant primarily through the roots.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794864)

And the carbon comes from the atmosphere, which is what the structure is made of.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794926)

But the structure is only a small part of the mass.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (1)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794928)

Yeah, but if you have a plant that's 90% water by mass, who cares where the carbon in the non-water portion comes from?

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (1)

mibe (1778804) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795320)

Well, er, me. The carbon-based part is the complicated fun bit.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795172)

Sure if you don't read the questions.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794798)

Well, this is the sort of stuff that children aged 5 to 6 learn in European schools. It's among the most basic of common knowledge that most people have, and is something that every science major (regardless of any specialization) should know.

Re:Interesting Litmus Test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795206)

Its from a poll they did of harvard graduates. Most did not get the right answer and thought the mass of a plant comes from soil and water from the roots. Really its CO2 and water vapor through the stomata. They taught us this poll they did and thats why I know the right answer. I think they just wanted to cover their ass incase anybody asked their graduates the same question.

Math Illiteracy leads to science illiteracy (5, Interesting)

ral (93840) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794702)

Science illiteracy is strongly rooted in math illiteracy. Cliff Mass, a Seattle area Professor of Meteorology, gives his incoming freshman students a math test [washington.edu] . This is a test of basic math skills that should be mastered before high school. Yet the average score for college freshman science students is only 58%.

You can find the answers to the above test in his blog article [blogspot.com] .

Re:Math Illiteracy leads to science illiteracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794906)

Math education sucks. It never ceases to amaze me how something that can be very interesting is reduced to drudgery, rote memorization, and mechanical busy work.

Teach math with applications and the folks who want to go onto becoming "pure" mathematicians can do that in grad school.

Calculus didn't make any sense to me until I had physics. Sets didn't make any sense until I had computer science and business stats.

Re:Math Illiteracy leads to science illiteracy (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795040)

He ought to add a percentage question or two to that test. I'm frequently amazed by the number of people who cannot correctly calculate sales tax or a discount.

Re:Math Illiteracy leads to science illiteracy (2)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795212)

I disagree. Math is not science.

Math is a creative process of seeking answers to questions, which are purely imaginative.

So from the very beginning, Math is rooted in imagination - imagining an abstract problem to solve for the heck of it.

Secondly Math is about finding an interesting 'beautiful' to the mind solution to the problem that was imagined.

Science on the other hand is about observing phenomena and trying to find the mechanisms by which the phenomena can be explained. Science is about discovery of natural phenomena and finding answers to the question: how does that work.

Math is about coming up with a completely imagined idea and then trying to see if there is a way to grind this idea down to nuts and bolts that are already explained and showing the process.

Math is about beauty of the mind and of the unknown but also of totally imagined.

Science is about answering questions that are raised every day to how things work, how to make things work better, how to fix things, how to come up with new things based on already known things, how to find things that may exist but are not known yet.

---

I'd say that math literacy is not extremely important for a natural scientist who is just observing and trying to come up with simple explanations of phenomena, but math will make it easier to generalize the explanation.

You do not have to understand math at all to come up with reasonable explanations on how things work by doing observations and experiments.

However math will make you a better scientist, because math does require and improve understanding of logic and of imagination and it allows to build frameworks for explaining natural phenomena that can be described very tightly through math.

Re:Math Illiteracy leads to science illiteracy (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795350)

It's largely an issue of political tinkering. In WA state we have an assortment of standards that lead one to the logical conclusion that a zombie Dr. Seuss is running things. But, the bigger problem is that the standards may or may not be adhered to. People may be allowed to continue in classes without meeting the requirements, and those that are able to hit the standards for several years in the future aren't allowed to skip grades, due to the perception that it's harmful. Unfortunately, it's not always harmful, I fit in a lot better once I got to college, even though I was over a decade younger than the average age of 27 was for that campus.

But, there's also the issue of increasing homework loads. Students aren't going to spend a lot of time contemplating the meaning of the work if they're spending several hours every day on homework. It's just not realistic, and represents a serious failing on the educational establishment to deal with that.

Ignorance of the Philosophy of Science (5, Interesting)

catchblue22 (1004569) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794704)

I would speculate that at a logical philosophical level, a large number of students are ignorant of what science actually is. Science is often taught as a series of completed results, as a series of facts to be memorized. While to some extent this is difficult to avoid when teaching base knowledge, I suspect many students concentrate on what "gets them the grade", which is demonstrated knowledge of specific material, often memorized. In most high school programs, students are not adequately taught the reasons for knowledge (the International Baccalaureate program is often an exception to this). They are not explicitly taught logic and reason. And since the root of science is logic and reason, I would argue that most students are hobbled in their studies.

Re:Ignorance of the Philosophy of Science (2)

doconnor (134648) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794982)

I recently discovered a remarkable fanfiction retelling of a fantasy series that could teach these lessons in an inspiring way: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality [fanfiction.net]

Most of the mass of a plant is water. (2)

dweller_below (136040) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794732)

> but still believing that plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere..

I may be a hick from a cow college, but most of the mass of my plants is water. Water that is sucked up from the soil via a root-system.

Granted, the atmosphere moves the water around, but the plant gets it's water (and thus most of it's mass) from the soil.

Miles

Re:Most of the mass of a plant is water. (2)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794836)

> but still believing that plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere..
It's the supreme irony of the self-righteous that the strawmen they set up occasionally have valid points.

Re:Most of the mass of a plant is water. (3, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794842)

You confused current mass with intake/outtake. While most organic life is water, we are talking about intake and out take, not current composition

The Cycle they mentioned means that plants consume 6 C20 (12 Carbon + 6 Oxygen) for every 5 H20 (10 Hydrogen and 5 Oxygen), every time they photosynthesize.

This means that while the end plant may be mostly water, they are consuming more of their weight in Carbon dioxide than in water.

So now you are asking, if the plant is consuming more carbon dioxide than water, what happens to the carbon dioxide, as the water is at least partly kept? The Carbon is kept, while the oxygen is given off. The amount of water that is taken in and kept is relatively small compared to the carbon that is kept PLUS the oxygen that is given off.

You fail. (-1, Flamebait)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794858)

It gets 99% of it's mass from the AIR. It's pretty basic.

Re:You fail. (2)

FrootLoops (1817694) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795162)

That's unhelpful. Even if you're right, you didn't say why, and you implied the GP is stupid. They gave their reasoning, which you didn't bother to refute. (It just annoys me when people debate poorly.)

Re:You fail. (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795248)

It gets 99% of it's mass from the AIR. It's pretty basic.

Actually, trees are about 50% water. The rest is mostly cellulose (C6H10O5). The carbon comes from the air; the hydrogen and some of the oxygen come from water. 6CO2 + 6H2O -> C6H12O6 + 6O2.

This was covered in 7th grade when I was in school.

Re:Most of the mass of a plant is water. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34794904)

In context, it appears they were talking about the carbon-cycle (thus specifically the mass of carbon in the plant).

Re:Most of the mass of a plant is water. (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794950)

Exactly, and the farmer applies the water. It's kind of depressing to consider this when looking at how much plant food costs, though I guess compared to bottled water, it's not so bad.

Re:Most of the mass of a plant is water. (2)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795068)

The actual test explicitly specified "(dry biomass, after removing the water)".

[ Using "mass" as an informal shorthand for dry mass is common in plant science. Wet weight is used to indicate that water is included. ]

Americans, I presume? (2)

rsilvergun (571051) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794818)

makes sense. When I was a kid doing well in school meant you were a nerd & a loser. Other countries don't allow that to happen. But we've got to devalue education so we can slash funding you know.

Re:Americans, I presume? (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794942)

How exactly do they "not allow" it?

Re:Americans, I presume? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795028)

How exactly do they "not allow" it?

By encouraging their kids to do well in school and rewarding nerds rather than jocks?

Treating sports as more important than maths, science, etc, seems to be a very Anglo trait; see the British public schools of the Victorian era, for example, where being good at Rugby was considered far more important than being good at academic subjects.

As for the grandparent post, the available evidence would seem to indicate that the more you increase spending on schooling in a first world nation, the worse the results become. In many countries 'teaching' is just a cushy job at the taxpayers' expense where you're impossible to sack even if you're the worst teacher ever... at worst you'll probably be sent off to the glorious heights of admin and get a pay rise in the process.

Re:Americans, I presume? (1)

jirka (1164) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795170)

Some countries do better, but the rest of the world is moving towards how the US does it (some are already worse). The US is not the worst in the world in primary education. I can see the trend in Czech when I go back. Under socialism, there was no incentive to water down curriculum. There was a protected group (kids of communist party cronies and friends) and there was a repressed class (those people that didn't agree with the system or happened to be
born into such families). But if you happened to have parents that didn't piss off the commies (majority of the population), then the system was rather fair to you (within that class of people).

With capitalism, there is a movement away from "schooling is a right" to "grades are a service to be paid for." If you have rich parents, then the teacher doesn't want them complaining in all the wrong places. So quality of education (on all levels) is slowly declining even there. When colleges start being run primarily from private funds, then those providing the funds might stop unless their kids get the degree. It seems that majority of people do not see the folly with this approach.

Re:Americans, I presume? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795258)

When colleges start being run primarily from private funds, then those providing the funds might stop unless their kids get the degree. It seems that majority of people do not see the folly with this approach.

Nope. The problem is the folly of believing that education should be about getting a piece of paper that allows you to get certain jobs you wouldn't get otherwise.

Which is largely down to the 'professionalisation' of recruitment and the elimination of apprenticeships. A kid who years ago might start out sweeping floors in a hangar and end their career designing a jet airliner is now expected to have a degree before 'Human Resources' will even talk to them.

They lack general literacy (5, Interesting)

alvinrod (889928) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794824)

It's not just scientific literacy, it's mathematical and grammatical as well. It's not that American kids are getting dumber, it's that American colleges are accepting anyone to a four year program if they sign up for one. The downside of that is that the average ability of incoming students trends downward.

The problem is that we've created a system that values a piece of paper that says you were in college for four years, even if those four years have absolutely nothing to do with the job position. There's nothing wrong with going to trade school, and in more than just a few trades you'll end up laughing all the way to the bank, making more money with your two year degree than a lot of people with a four year degree, all while paying a lot less for it.

Even many four year programs could be significantly shortened. A cousin of mine received a business degree from a program that crammed it all into one year. His job was school, his off-time was school, and they expected him to be there everyday in appropriate dress. They didn't fuck around and neither did he, and know he's out and being productive while a bunch of other kids are pissing away four years on classes they don't care about and keg parties.

Trade Schools can't accept this (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795038)

TFA notes that some carpenter can't find workers who know basic arithmetic to cut up the wood. So, even trade schools couldn't accept this low a math skills level.

Re:They lack general literacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795146)

It's not just scientific literacy, it's mathematical and grammatical as well.

  They didn't fuck around and neither did he, and know he's out and being productive while a bunch of other kids are pissing away four years on classes they don't care about and keg parties.

Oh the irony.

Re:They lack general literacy (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795292)

it's that American colleges are accepting anyone to a four year program if they sign up for one

- yes, and the reason for this is that gov't got into business of handing out student loans, which on one hand allows more people to go to colleges (ok, good) on the other hand it gives colleges an excellent way to make more money through raising tuition fees immediately, after any gov't loan increase (bad) and at the same time the expected level of education out of any student is supposedly higher every year, but this only leads to handing out of more gov't loans and in a vicious cycle to tuition fee hikes but also to artificial inflation in education levels.

Yes, gov't does not only print money and inflate your currency and steals your purchasing power while destroying the future of the country by destroying savings and capital required to make country productive through being a producer of consumer goods, it also inflates education and forces people to get into more and more loans to get this higher levels of education they don't need.

Hey I know These Guys! (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794964)

"[they] rely on mainly informal reasoning derived from their personal experiences,

I hang around this lot!

http://www.slashdot.org/ [slashdot.org]

This just in... (1)

DCheesi (150068) | more than 3 years ago | (#34794968)

News Flash! Students in conventional schools often memorize facts without truly understanding them!!!!111!

Film at eleven...

grade inflation (1)

jirka (1164) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795014)

I would partly blame grade inflation. Nowdays it is possible to pass all your classes without doing much work at all. Given that certain counties (according to the census) have nearly universal college attendance (95% in orange county in CA if I remember correctly) means that college curriculum must be brought to a level such that only the dumbest 5% of the population cannot obtain a degree (unless you make a convincing argument that being born in a richer county automatically adds braincells).

Point is, that the half that didn't get it wasn't supposed to get further. This isn't going to fly if current political climate all over the western world treats college education as a service to be provided for a fee.

Science or Study? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795124)

Is biology a science, or is it merely a study?

Why bother? (2)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795132)

Biology?

We'll all be computers in robot bodies in the next 100 years anyway.

I blame the 'exam' system myself. (2)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34795188)

I think the problem is that exams, which determine whether you pass or not - is the only point for studying that subject.

I used to love science when I was younger, and I used to ask a ton of questions during class, some of which returned the answer "Because that's how it is" or "That's not in the sillabus"

The idea that we're implanting into people's heads is "You study You get a good mark in the exam". The exam will ask you to regurgitate the knowledge that you know back on the paper - and don't bother reasoning it or thinking it out.

At higher levels, then science or whatever does touch into 'you have to think', but for the first few years, the idea implanted into your head is that the exam is the most important thing, and it is a test of memory. Not logic. That's where it fails.

Um, duh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795216)

Early on you learn to learn just what you need to in order to pass a class, nothing more if you have no interest in the class.
Tests, quizzes, the purpose they serve is to test your knowledge and understanding, but ironically they undermine this very effort.

fuc4? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34795336)

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