Improving science literacy means changing science education

College students need between 40 and 60 credit hours of science class to graduate with a science major. They will spend 2,500 hours in the classroom during their undergrad career.

Research shows that most college science courses give students only a fragmented understanding of fundamental scientific concepts. Instead of learning how to use the information and connect those facts meaningfully, the teaching method reinforces memorization of isolated facts, proceeding from one textbook chapter to the next without making connections between them.

Science literacy is based on the ability to make connections between information and evidence.

I am a chemistry education researcher and have been working with a colleague to learn more about how chemistry students integrate and apply their knowledge to other scientific disciplines.

College students can use their chemistry knowledge to explain biological phenomena. We made those cross-disciplinary connections by having them do things.

Even though most of the students have not been given the same opportunities that would prepare them to make those links, activities like these can help if they are included in the curriculum.

Three-dimensional learning

Traditional science education for both science majors and non-majors doesn't do a good job of teaching science students how to apply their scientific knowledge and explain things that they don't have learned directly


A framework called " three-dimensional learning" was used to guide the activities.

The teaching, learning, and assessing of college students should involve the use of fundamental ideas within a discipline. Tools and rules should be used by students to make connections. Students should be engaged in using their knowledge. The framework is based on how people learn to help students understand science.

Rebecca L. Matz is an expert in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The activities were taken to the classroom.

Making scientific connections

First-year college students in the sciences or engineering were interviewed. The students were taking introductory chemistry and biology courses. They were asked to identify what they believed to be the take- home messages from each course.

The students gave a long list of topics, concepts, and skills that they had learned. The core ideas of each science were identified by some. They understood that their chemistry knowledge was important to their understanding of biology, but they didn't think the reverse was true.

Students talked about the importance of their knowledge gained in their chemistry class to understand how and why the chemical species that make up DNA come together.

The structure-function relationship was the main idea that the students talked about most in their biology class.


A set of activities was designed to help students understand real-world biological phenomena.

The students explained a familiar chemistry scenario after reviewing a core chemistry idea. They used it to explain a biological scenario.

The impact of ocean acidification on sea shells was explored. Students were asked to use basic chemistry ideas to explain how increasing levels of carbon dioxide in seawater are affecting shell-building marine animals.

The students were asked to apply chemistry knowledge to explain how water transfers in and out of cells in the human body.

The students were able to explain the chemistry scenarios easily. The chemistry knowledge they used to explain the biological scenarios was different.

The majority of the students were able to accurately predict how an increase in carbon dioxide would affect the ocean. They weren't always able to explain how these changes affect marine life

There is a big gap between what students learn in their science courses and how prepared they are to apply it. The National Science Foundation put out three-dimensional learning guidelines in 2012 to help teachers make science education more effective.

The students in our study said that the activities helped them see links between the two disciplines that they wouldn't have seen otherwise.

The chemistry students would like to have the ability to gain a deeper understanding of science and how to apply it.