Thursday, April 22, 2010

Science Education

This is one of the most discouraging things I've ever seen. A survey of 1,005 adults chosen at random was conducted by phone last June. The subjects were asked twelve questions based on general scientific knowledge. The questions are very simple. I got all twelve right, which is fine -- except that I am among only 10% who did so.

Did I mention how simple these questions are? Take the survey for yourself, at The web page following the quiz gives the scoring breakdown.

What are we teaching in our schools??


Ruhan Zhao said...

I only got 11 problems right...and my son Muxing (11 years) got 10 problems right. He was frustrated to find that there was no choice of his age on that web page after he took the quiz. The minimum age they provide there is 18.

TheOFloinn said...

Some of the questions weren't so much science as policy. Whether Pluto is a "planet" is a matter of philosophy, for example. That doctors recommend aspirin is not science. Why they recommend aspirin may be science. (Though it may be only statistics.) Anyhow, I knew the answer because I'm supposed to follow that advice. I don't recommend learning that answer the way I had to.

The sample is a self-selected web-poll, not a random sample; so the results cannot be projected onto the population at large. We can't for example, claim that 10% of the genpub would answer all 10 correctly.

Two thirds of the respondents answered 7 or more correctly, so it is not entirely a tragedy.

José Iriarte said...

I got them all right as well, though there were one or two at the end where I was less than 100% certain.

I wouldn't be too quick to blame the schools. The fact is that in our society the correct answer to most of those questions is "Who gives a damn?" So much of our culture is telling kids that academic knowledge is a waste of time, that educated people form some sort of snobbish evil elite, and--worse--that facts that are well and widely known are actually subject to debate.

Look at the way adults consume the news these days: find the outlet that provides the news and interpretation that you prefer, and consume only the news that has the proper spin. If experts profess things you don't want to believe in, then you're welcome to reject their studied opinions and find experts who say what you want to here. Is the earth six-thousand years old, or is it much older? Is global warming really happening? Well, tell me what your political or religious beliefs dictate the truth should be, and then you can find a source of information that will give you the answers you want.

Sorry for the rant, but I've seen a lot of rhetoric and legislation this year that wants to punish the teachers until they work whatever miracles the author wants to believe should be possible.

Kendall said...

Most of it's about science or based on scientific facts . . . but a couple of the Qs (like "recently discovered on Mars") is more news (if scientific news), really. Those Qs weren't necessarily something that people out of school (most of the 18+ crowd, including me *) wouldn't learned in school. And your knowledge of recent scientific info depends on what kind of news you follow--if any--not how good your schooling was.

That said, I'm kinda surprised more people didn't have in the 10-11 range.

* I got 12, but the Mars one was a total guess; I didn't think water on Mars was a recent discovery, so I thought it was a trick question and I'd missed something about mold or plants. ;-)

Kendall said...

Sorry, I wrote "Those Qs weren't necessarily something that people out of school (most of the 18+ crowd, including me *) wouldn't learned in school." but I meant "would've learned in school." Those Qs weren't necessarily something that people out of school would've learned in school (it being more recent than their [our] [my] schooling).

Unknown said...

Everyone doesn't get these right? And instantly?

Ok, I know NOTHING about football.

Eve Barbeau said...

Hmm, maybe it helps to be oldish. I got 12/12 correct. Perhaps that 10% number will edge on up.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

I was a little worried but I got 12 for 12. I has been more than fifteen years since my last science class. Must be all that dirty science fiction I've been reading.

Anyway, if you think that is bad, you ought to see what I get in my history classes. I get comments like, "Washington and Custer fought in the same war, right?" and "Theodore Roosevelt was President during the Civil War."

Mighty hard to be president when you are struggling with childhood asthma.

Thus in answer to your question, the public schools do not seem to be teaching them anything. In my classes at the community college level I find that many of my students can not read, can not write, and they certainly can not think. It is better in Western Civ classes but then most Western Civ students have had a couple of history classes by that point.

S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches

bluesman miike Lindner said...
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bluesman miike Lindner said...
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bluesman miike Lindner said...

I ran the table. But then, I had an advantage: I attended Catholic through the 3rd grade.

The shocking decline of American education in the last 50 years can only be the result of a deep-laid plot by the Mold Men of Mars.

I don't know their plans, exactly. But if the history of our other interactions with aliens is any guide, Earth women fascinate them.

To Arms, Men of Terra!

Am I the only one who see this?

Am I the David Vincent of the 21st century?

Neal Holtschulte said...

I admit I missed the aspirin, cortizone, antacid question. Also, those questions were more trivia than science. I guess it's harder to test problem solving and reasoning.

Trent Walters said...

Hello, Nancy,

Old Clarion student of yours--99. Since I am now a science teacher, I thought I'd post.

Hope you are well.

I'm proud to say that I scored with your echelon. Lots of cogent thought already here. (Ditto: validity, etc.)

The following are items I might teach in the course of science classes:

1) All radioactivity is man-made (by implication--hopefully students understand that decay is random--but that misunderstanding would be less important to me than understanding half-life.)

2) Electrons are smaller than atoms. (By gar, they'd better know that!)

3) Antibiotics will kill viruses as well as bacteria (I just spoke with a student today who said she prescribed antibiotics for what they believe is a virus.)

4) Lasers work by focusing sound waves (If I skip anything in physical science, light and sound may be it. I shouldn't, but we cover earth, space, chemistry and physics in one year. Crazy.)

5) The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. (Should know)

6) What have scientists recently discovered on Mars? (may mention, but not essential)

7) How are stem cells different from other cells? (Covered in advanced biology)

8) What gas do most scientists believe causes temperatures in the atmosphere to rise? (should know)

9) The global positioning system, or GPS, relies on which of these to work? (not covered)

10) Which of the following may cause a tsunami? (covered in 8th grade)

11) According to most astronomers, which of the following is no longer considered a planet? (may mention, but not essential)

12) Which over-the-counter drug do doctors recommend that people take to help prevent heart attacks? (may mention, but not essential)

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