Science Literacy Might Lick a Mystery

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.
~Albert Einstein

March is Youth Science Month in Canada. The importance of science literacy in our daily lives may not be obvious, yet we make science-based choices every day. Science is involved when we choose what to eat, or choose products with the least impact on the environment or make informed decisions about our health-care.

Carl Wieman (2009), says “we need a more scientifically literate populace to address the global challenges that humanity now faces and that only science can explain and possibly mitigate, such as global warming, as well as to make wise decisions, informed by scientific understanding, about issues such as genetic modification.

Moreover, the modern economy is largely based on science and technology, and for that economy to thrive and for individuals within it to be successful, we need technically literate citizens with complex problem-solving skills.”

Language and literacy skills are integral to knowing and doing science.  Reading, writing, and speaking are all essential to comprehending and communicating scientific issues and ideas.

Robert Krulwich says “the best way to sell a science story each and every time, is to give the audience the experience, if you can, of actually making a discovery on their own—the ‘oh, wow’ feeling.”

You know that moment—some call it the “Ah-Ha!” moment of creative insight, when a solution or a discovery hits you all at once.  That experience—the one of initial discovery, of fulfilled curiosity.

When we use our blogs to share new ideas, we are allowing the rediscovery of wonder. The story we are telling has never been told before—no one has ever put together those associations, or drawn that unique conclusion, or made that connection between two seemingly unrelated things in quite that way before.

Here’s my “Ah-Ha” look at the connection between Science and Literacy.  SFU researcher Dongya Yang thinks he can extract Amelia Earhart’s DNA from saliva she used to seal a handful of letters prior to her famous 1937 disappearance during her attempt to fly around the world.  Yang’s findings could resolve claims that a finger bone fragment found on the island of Nikumaroro in 2009 belongs to Earhart.  Being literate might lick the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s final resting place.

Feet in Your Shoes

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. – Dr. Seuss

Dr. SeussTheodor Seuss Geisel, the man behind the Cat in the Hat, was born 107 years ago today.

He is the beloved creator of countless whimsical literary characters. His books promote the fun aspect of literacy, education and morality as well!

He wrote The Cat in the Hat in response to an article which was published in Life magazine in 1954by John Hersey, titled “Why Do Students Bog Down on First R? A Local Committee Sheds Light on a National Problem: Reading.” The piece criticized school primers as intensely boring, unchallenging, and responsible for causing harm to children’s literacy. The article called for more primers to up the excitement by energizing the language and including drawings like those of “imaginative geniuses among children’s illustrators, Tenniel, Howard Pyle, Theodor S. Geisel.” Using the piece as a call to action, Geisel and his publisher came up with a list of 400 “exciting” words, which Seuss than narrowed down for the book. The Cat in the Hat uses a total vocabulary of 236 words.

Oceanhouse Media took Seuss titles and made them into rich, interactive apps-Books for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Each book has the option to read to your child or allow them to explore the book themselves. Turning pages is as easy as swiping the screen. The apps from Oceanhouse Media not only hit that ideal middle ground between book and interactive game, but are specifically geared toward word recognition and reading. The user can tap just about any item on the page to hear and see the word for that item.

Seussville (Random House) is also a great way to explore his books, characters and have some online fun at the same time.

Were you celebrating today? What is your favourite Seuss book?

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…  — Dr. Seuss

Distance Learning for Second and Foreign Language Teaching

“Foreign language is crucial to a nation’s economic competitiveness and national security. Multilingualism enhances cognitive and social growth, competitiveness in the global marketplace…, national security, and understanding of diverse people and cultures. As we approach a new century where global communication will be essential for survival, we cannot afford the luxury of international ignorance…”
– The United States Congress, Foreign Language Assistance Act of 1994

French and English immersion programs blossomed in Canada in the 1970s, after the federal government adopted policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism.  Three decades later, immersion programs in one or both of Canada’s official languages can be found in every province and territory, although the length and intensity vary widely.

Popular in the 70’s, currently French Immersion programs face steep drop-out rates among high school students.  Enrollment is highest in the Atlantic provinces.  Prince Edward Island boasts 20 per cent enrollment, followed by Nova Scotia at 12 per cent and Newfoundland and Labrador at seven per cent.  Outside the Atlantic provinces, only Quebec is higher, at 22 per cent. But in British Columbia, only 2% of the teens are in high school french immersion.  (read the indepth report).

According to statistics Canada, about 5,231,500 people reported to the 2001 Census that they were bilingual . . . these individuals represent 17.7% of the population.

Do you think the use of innovative new technology can retain students in the program?

The Internet has emerged as a powerful medium to teach and learn foreign languages.  A BC Distributed Learning School, Summit Learning Centre, is the first DL school in Canada to offer French Immersion online.  Contact Cathy Anderson for more information.

Can  learning a second language online be motivating and engaging?  Will offering French Immersion Online help students needing flexibility in their timetable?  Can a second language with such a high oral component be successfully taught online?  >Read more about tools, resources and programs for learning a second language online.

Think Before you Click

Keep Your Kids Safe OnlineFebruary 8th was Safer Internet Day, organised by Insafe each year in February to promote safer and more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones, especially amongst young people across the world.

We’ve been teaching our kids to be safe ever since they were old enough to crawl.  How do we teach them to be safe online?  Well, we don’t have to be an expert in technology, we simply need to understand how to apply what we already know about safety.

Here are a few Internet safety skills that I think are important.  What have I overlooked?  Do you have others to share?

  • Supervise.  The Province of BC cautions us to close the door on unsupervised internet use. Place your child’s computer in an open room with the monitor facing out. This allows you to see and control what is occurring on the Internet.
  • Discuss boundaries for Internet use — how much time to spend online, the services kids can use, the buddies they can add, the information they can share.
  • Take advantage of technology. Use the safety features within the products and services. Maintain up-to-date firewalls, antivirus, and anti-spyware software, and use filters and family safety tools that fit the age and maturity of your child.
  • Discuss with whom information is shared and what is disclosed. Not every friend-of-a-friend or Internet company deserves your child’s trust.
  • Chat messages can be saved and searched.  Nothing is private on the Internet.  Caution your child to say in chat, only what they would say in person.
  • Don’t Overshare. Keep personal information private. Limit what is shared publicly — sensitive personal data, pictures, feelings, etc.
  • Respect other’s privacy; don’t reveal their personal information or tag them in photos without their permission.
  • Have your child limit buddies on IM or social networks to friends they know personally.
  • Help your child choose online names and e-mail addresses that aren’t revealing or suggestive.
  • Create passwords that are difficult to guess, though not difficult to remember, and remind your child that these are not to be shared and should be changed regularly.
  • Teach children to trust their instincts. If something upsets them, don’t punish them for telling you by taking away computer privileges. Instead, solve the problem and make it a learning opportunity.
  • Teach children to never open email from someone they don’t know.
  • Real harm can come from meeting an online friend in person.
  • Immediately report to local police any physical threats, ongoing cyber-bullying, financial fraud, or any form of sexual exploitation. Report inappropriate content or behavior to the service provider.
  • Teach your children not to steal others’ work. Using music, pictures, games, and so on without permission is just like stealing from a store.
  • Use caution before opening attachments, clicking links, or accepting photos or files.
  • Avoid surveys and quizzes or entering contests. These usually are created to collect information for resale.

Add to the list and share your personal experiences with teaching your children how to be safe online.

Raising the Bar

“Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” – Abagail Adams

Despite the enormous disparities in the world today, can you visualize a converging world in which every country is equal in wealth, health and literacy?

In today’s technologically-based global economy, developing literacy skills is regarded as a key strategy for promoting national economic growth.  Literacy is linked to economic success as literacy levels help determine the kind of jobs people find, the salaries they make and their ability to upgrade their work skills.

Fiedrich & Jellene (2003) state that a substantial body of evidence indicates that literacy increases the productivity and earning potential of a population. An educated person earns more and has greater labour mobility. While analysing the impact of literacy UNESCO (2005) observes that literacy not only enhances the individuals earning, it also has positive influence upon the economic growth of a country.

If Canada raises its national literacy score by one percent, the country’s national income will increase by $32 billion, said Craig Alexander, a chief economist and vice-president of TD Bank Group. Presenting some sobering statistics, he said the International Adult Literacy Survey found 40% of youth and 50% of adults in Canada don’t have the desired amount of literacy to succeed in a knowledge-based economy.

Around the world, renewed emphasis is being placed by governments and employers on literacy for all people to enhance their employability, level of remuneration, health and community participation.

Statistician Hans Rosling uses animated statistics to help us visualize how far we have come over the past 200 years and that it is possible, in our lifetime, to experience a converging world in which every country is equal in wealth, health and literacy.

Do you think that literacy is the key to health, wealth, peace and economic growth?

Can a Rapper Make Reading More Attractive?

“Persuasion is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do, and to like it.” -President Eisenhower

I have heard from many secondary school educators that their students experience a declining interest in reading.  Why do they “lose both the skill and the will to read when it is clear that both traits are necessary to function as a strategic reader in a complex society?” (Paris, Lipson and Wilson, 1983)

Some students seem naturally enthusiastic about learning, but many need-or expect-their instructors to inspire, challenge, and stimulate them.  Unfortunately, there is no single magical formula for motivating students. Many factors affect a given student’s motivation to work and to learn (Bligh, 1971; Sass, 1989): interest in the subject matter, perception of its usefulness, general desire to achieve, self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as patience and persistence.  And, of course, not all students are motivated by the same values, needs, desires, or wants. Some students will be motivated by the approval of others, some by overcoming challenges.

I wonder why the onus is on the school to motivate students to read when clearly family and society play an equally significant role. What if community stakeholders were to form a collaborative persuasion effort and covertly market reading?

Persuasion strategies have been used successfully by advertisers to motivate consumers. Look at these old advertisements that persuaded people to smoke.

Our environment is rich in visual images and print, very little of which is aimed at encouraging reading. What if we were to use advertising to persuade people to read?

Children’s author Vi Hughes asks, “why don’t we make reading experiences available to children in their neighbourhoods and in the larger community by placing brightly illustrated stories and poems in public places?”  (Follow the discussion in the Literacy Forum)

Imagine replacing TV commercials and perfume and beer ads with teens reading.

It was this YouTube video that got me thinking.  Although I find his body language and some of his words offensive, do you think Julian Smith will entice the “Now Generation” to pick up a book?

The Power of Words

“Reading aloud to children can awaken their sleeping imaginations,improve their language skills and change their attitude toward books. That’s very important in a nation where so many children can’t read, won’t read or hate to read.”
–Jim Trelease, author, The New Read Aloud Handbook

In the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo walked in on Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, and found him . . . reading to himself:

When he read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still. Anyone could approach him freely and guests were not commonly announced, so that often, when we came to visit him, we found him reading like this in silence, for he never read aloud.
(The Confessions, c. 397-400)

Whether Augustine was impressed or appalled by the bishop’s reading habits remains a matter of scholarly dispute. What’s clear is that earlier in our history silent reading was rare.

But reading aloud in school and at home, often stops, or is greatly cut back, once a child learns to read on his own.  It is assumed to be suitable only for very young children.

Why?, wonders author Jim Trelease in his book The Read Aloud Handbook:

“Reading aloud is a commercial for reading. …Think of it this way: McDonald’s doesn’t stop advertising just because the vast majority of Americans know about its restaurants. Each year it spends more money on ads to remind people how good its products taste. Don’t cut your reading advertising budget as children grow older.”

Reading aloud to children helps them develop and improve literacy skills — reading, writing, speaking, and listening, Trelease adds. And since children listen on a higher level than they read, listening to other readers stimulates growth and understanding of vocabulary and language patterns.

Instructionally, reading aloud books, poems, articles, and short stories gives teachers and parents endless opportunities to highlight great writing and model reading strategies.

Reading aloud removes roadblocks to comprehension like unfamiliar vocabulary and contextualizes words the readers do not know. Listening to a fluent reader gives the listener a reading role model for their own oral reading skills.

Reading aloud builds community.  Shared experiences create memories that connect us to each other. Reading aloud offers unifying moments. While reading together, we laugh and cry together, comrades on the same journey.

We are never too young or too old to be read to.  What book are you reading out loud?