Only after the second half of the nineteenth century did science become part of school curricula in Europe. At that time, scientific and philosophical societies formed by enthusiastic amateurs and scientists who attended universities recognised as prestigious began to argue about the useful value of science as a discipline at school and for society. Much has changed since then, and today we have a vast field of research in Science (and STEAM) Teaching and Learning that provides evidence not only on how to teach science but also about the role of science teaching for individuals, communities, and societies as a whole.
In light of the global challenges of building a more sustainable world, in an era of post-truth and a post-pandemic world, never before has there been so much talk about the value of science. Nevertheless, the importance of learning science is not necessarily self-evident. For example, if today we have access to scientific information on the screen of smartphones at any time, why then do new generations need to learn science?
- To be scientifically literate: Science teaching today is based on the idea that science concepts and processes are essential for learning. Science education implies teaching scientific concepts and the processes that lead to the construction of scientific knowledge so that the new generations can learn about the intricate relationships between science, technology, society and the environment and make well-informed decisions about the world.
- To develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills: The methods and pedagogies that build scientific literacy contribute to the intentional development of transferable skills such as argumentation, preparing investigations and work plans, organising and analysing data, evaluating and constructing evidence, among others. These skills can then contribute to problem-solving in multiple areas of knowledge.
- To build new knowledge: New knowledge builds on prior knowledge; by expanding students' repertoire and understanding of the world, we are helping them make the science of the following years and prepare for STEAM careers - including those that have not yet been created.
- To help them develop their metacognition: Learning science can contribute to the students' organisation of knowledge and evaluation of their learning. By thinking about what science is and what processes are associated with producing scientific knowledge, students are constantly invited to think about their ideas and how they learn them.
- To have agency in the world around them: Learning science helps youth have more autonomy and be more conscious about their surroundings, being able to act individually and collectively when scientific knowledge is required in situations of physical danger or self-care, for example.
- To develop affectivity for science and knowledge: Learning science involves curiosity, enchantment, hands-on activity and group work. In addition, when children learn science through things they enjoy (music, sports, movies, animals), there is an emotional element that helps connect them to the world they live in cognitively and emotionally.
- To consume responsibly: Learning science involves looking at the world through the lenses of many disciplines as they understand the processes that govern different life forms and ecosystems. Also, by developing transferable skills such as critical thinking, students can, for example, position themselves in the face of media manipulation and consume more sustainably.
- To deal with future problems: This occurs both by developing transferable skills and by learning specific STEAM content that can help solve issues such as global warming, new pandemics, machine learning biases, etc.
- To build a more democratic world: Scientific knowledge benefits individuals and national economies. Therefore, learning science can contribute to more participatory citizenship and the construction of public policies that can make societies more equitable and just.
- Because it is a right: Today, science is no longer confined to a select group of people, and much scientific knowledge is built with public money. Because of its emancipating role, being scientifically literate is a right of every citizen.
Author: Nathália Helena Azevedo
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