Issue 2 progress report sharing the science contact us
Canadian Language & Literacy Research Network
clarity. The result of applying science to children's language and literacy development  

the science of teaching science

An innovative research project introduces children to life-long science comprehension.

family history: the oldest potential remedy?

The enthralled audience absorbed the lesson on genetics through books, reading and activities about inheritance; why they look as they do and why they don't. They wanted more, they got it — and they were only three years old.

With a lesson plan geared for the audience, those teaching it are looking far ahead to when these children are adults and decision-makers in a society facing tough questions from gene therapy to the countless new array of scientific issues.

“When people think of literacy, they don't think of science — and vice versa,” explains Anne McKeough, professor of applied technology at the University of Calgary and member of The Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. “Most research on early science education focuses on the teaching of science concepts. What we're saying is that the road to being intelligent science thinkers is to develop science literacy — the ability to read it and understand.”

McKeough and Gay Bisanz, director of the Centre for Research in Child Development at the University of Alberta and a professor of psychology, are co-investigators of a research project funded by The Network. They are looking at the roots of children's scientific literacy and developing science learning experiences inside and outside the classroom.

“The importance of a scientifically-informed population to national economic performance has been discussed widely,” says Donald G. Jamieson, Network CEO and scientific director. “Moreover, because science is so central to many of the most controversial issues of our day, science literacy is equally important to sensible public policy.”

The work of McKeough and Bisanz involves four key activities: assessing how much science learning occurs in the home before children reach school age; analyzing children's books in popular culture that deal with science topics; developing instructional programs for pre-school children; and looking at teaching methods that will make it easier for children to decode words and terms in science texts at an earlier age.

Studies have shown that high school and university students lack the reading skills important for understanding and judging the credibility of media reports and feature articles on science topics.

“We are in a crisis in science education,” says Bisanz. “Critical, reflective reading of science genre is not taught, and the public needs and wants to be able to read this material. We live in a science and technology oriented culture — we access health research to understand treatment decisions. The system is not geared to teaching and coaching people who will need science in everyday life.”

McKeough is developing programs to teach about growth, life properties, inheritance, illness and energy through reading books and activities. The programs are being tested on three- to five-year-olds who are then evaluated for comprehension.

“Our focus is the understanding of science concepts through reading with the goal of developing usable, early science programs that we can put into child care centres. That's where we can start educating people to be life-long users of science,” says McKeough.

The Network sees science literacy as an important contribution to a successful society. Judging by the reaction of children to date, who now know why they look as they do, it's also a very interesting way to learn.


family history: the oldest potential remedy?