science literacy

Inspiring Future Scientists at Four Heroes Elementary School in Lakewood

I was a guest at Career Day at Four Heroes Elementary School in Lakewood. I got connected to one of the teachers through the marine biology undergrad advisor at the University of Washington, who sent out an email to the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (where I work) listserv.  The main theme the teachers wanted us to share was “what kinds of jobs are available to our students?”  We were asked to talk about (1) a basic career overview, (2) what education and training you needed for that particular career, (3) what they are learning now that can be used for that career, and (4) a hands on activity.  

Five different groups of third through fifth grade students cycled through my station during the morning. For my hands-on activity, I took advantage of the fact that my parents were cleaning out their attic and that I had acquired basically the entire sea-creature Ty© Beanie Baby collection when I was younger.  I had set a sea creature out on each desk before the students arrived, and they showed great excitement in choosing a particular seat. Then I asked them to identify the creature, throw it up to me in the front, and then talked a bit about each creature and the fact that marine biologists could study any of those animals.

Marine biologists study biology in the ocean.  So there were many research paths available to them as a marine biologist.  The kids were full of questions about the individual animals... What do sea horses eat?  Who would win in a fight between a dolphin and a shark?  How are dolphins and orcas cousins?  Could you grab a jellyfish by the bell and not get stung?  

It wasn’t exactly what I was supposed to spend the majority of my time on, but the kids were so curious and enthusiastic and that is exactly what being a scientist is: asking questions about the world, doing experiments, and making observations to learn new things.  At the end we talked briefly about how the scientific method (which they were currently learning about in Science class) could be used to learn about how many sharks are in the ocean, or the weather, or basically to solve any question they have about the natural world.  I only spent three hours there, but it was very refreshing to see the kids so interested. I think all of them would make great marine biologists one day.

--Nicole Baker, Member of Seattle 500 Women Scientists, co-leader of Science Literacy team

Scientific Literacy Update

The scientific literacy sub-team of Seattle 500 Women Scientists has started meeting bi-weekly via Skype. We have about 10 core members and would welcome more. We’ve focused our first couple of meetings on defining what we would like to achieve and the first steps to make that happen.

Defining our role:

Promoting Scientific Literacy:  At our first meetings, we’ve spent time discussing what our role should be and what success would look like. We see our main goal as promoting understanding of scientific ideas and demystifying the scientific process for the public. Non-scientists often don’t know about the years of data collection, debate about ideas, and careful elimination of other possibilities that happen before an idea gets accepted as scientific fact. We believe this contributes to the prioritization of trusting opinions from non-experts over facts communicated by experts.  We want to find ways to help the public understand the scientific process and provide them with some tools to think critically about the scientific and not-so-scientific things they hear.

Reaching the right audiences:  One of our goals as a group is to get “out of our bubble.” What we mean by this is we want to reach communities that are not already engaged in science, commonly due to a lack of resources prohibiting access (eg particular school districts) or belief that science does not affect them directly.  We’re brainstorming ways to meet people where they are and connect with diverse communities.

Building Connections & Being a Resource: Another important role for us is to lend our expertise when needed or solicited. When groups want to learn about the scientific consensus on an issue, we want to be available to share that information. We also want to show that scientists are real people who care about how their work affects other people.   

First Steps:

Scientific Communication Workshop: Talking about science isn’t easy. We want to give everyone tools for doing this successfully. So, in September, we will be hosting one of our salons focused on how to share science to the public.  Stay tuned for more details.

First Op-eds:  We would like to organize a group to go through the process of writing and submitting our first op-eds together.  We’ve discussed broadly focusing on how the scientific process works and why we trust it. We envision that each person will personalize her writing based on her area of expertise, values, and intended audience. Our plan is to initially target venues in communities we’re part of outside of science (so perhaps we won’t seem like outsiders trying to lecture or simply persuade people to change their minds on a particular issue). Examples might include hometown newspapers, religious community newsletters, service clubs, etc. We will move through the writing process together: brainstorming ideas, researching best practices, editing each other’s drafts, etc.

Getting Involved:

  • Participate in our scientific communication workshop
  • Think about if you might want to join us in writing an op-ed about the scientific process
  • Share your connections with us. If you’re part of a group that might be interested in hearing form a scientist, let us know.

-Hannah Director & Nicole Baker, Scientific Literacy Team Leads