Science Literacy

On-line Resources: Science Literacy

Science literacy? What is it? Why is it important?

Let’s take the second question first. Science literacy is important because many of the economic, political and even social challenges we face are based on issues grounded in science. Every functional citizen, every adult, and certainly every college graduate, should possess a working understanding of basic science.

As for what that working knowledge should include, that’s a harder question. Not surprisingly, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has has given the matter some thought. Their Project 2061 – Science Literacy for All Americans has produced a wealth of resources to help educators, parents, and students answer the question of what science literacy should include.

science for all americans thumbnail   Project 2061As part of its Project 2061 the American Association for the Advancement of Science has produced a series of books detailing what science literacy should include for people of all ages. One of the first, Science for All Americans details what school children from early elementary though grade 12 should learn. This book, and the others produced as part of this project, can be ordered in printed form or read on-line for free.

Earth Systems Science

On-line Resources: Earth Systems Science

Earth systems science is a new name for an old topic. You might call it earth science, but that name fails to capture the complexity of the many interlocked systems that make up our “system” earth.

Earth systems science is about looking at geology, and the atmosphere, and the oceans, and the biosphere as a single system.

physical geography text online thumb   PhysicalGeograpy.netAn introductory college physical geography textbook. The book is online, and free, with terms and definitions hyper linked to the glossary.

Computer Science/Information Systems

On-line Resources: Computer Science/Information Systems

Computer scientists like to think about what they call “hard problems”. Hard problem are those problems that a computer can’t solve in a reasonable amount of time, say a few billion years. Surprisingly these kinds of questions have everyday implications. The data encryption scheme used to protect private communications on the Internet is based on the difficulty of finding the prime factors of really big numbers, say a number with 200 digits. Given enough time, any number can be factored using the Sieve of Eratosthenes (and there are much faster methods as well). But factoring our 200 digit number, even using the fastest methods, would take something like 300 years on a standard desktop computer.

We mention this because providing a guide to Internet resources in for computer science and information systems feels like a “hard problem”. There may only be tens of thousands of good resources in these topic areas, but it feels like there are many more. And finding one really good resource commonly leads to a dozen others. There’s only so much time.

TED video thumb   A multi-touch computer interfaceComputer science is not just about finding ways to factor big numbers really fast (though that could bring you fame and fortune), some of things that computer scientists work on fun and interesting stuff. In this TED video, Jeff Han demonstrates a new way for people to interact with computers that brings gasps and cheers from the assembled audience.


On-line Resources: Biology

The mapping of the human genome has ushered in what many are calling the century of biology. It is widely predicted that the next few decades will bring a flurry of medical advances that will allow people to live longer and healthy lives. From the perspective of scientific literacy, no topics may be more important than genetics and biotechnology. As humans develop the ability to extend life, and to manage diseases in entirely new ways, it is likely that daunting ethical and social questions will arise.

brain reward pathways thumb   Reward Pathways of the Brain: The Science of AddictionThe University of Utah Learn.Genetics web site provide a broad primer on genetics and cell biology. The site uses animations, short videos, and interactive lessons to provide the user with a foundation in these topics. One particularly well done section discusses reward pathways in the brain and the role that structures play in addiction and addictive behavior.


On-line Resources: Chemistry/Physics

Physicists and chemists love to share what they know about the world. This means that a vast number of exceptionally well done simulations, demonstrations, videos, and learning resources of every imaginable type can be found on the Internet. We’ve selected a few of the best to feature here. The list is updated periodically so check back often.

OLI Andes Thumb   Physics from the Open Learning InitiativeCarnegie Mellon University provides free access to courses developed specifically for the Internet (not for credit). Among the best is an Introduction to Physics. The complete content of the course; video, text, and interactive activities, is available on-line, to anyone who wants to use it.The Open learning Initiative courses make use of a program called OLI Andes that you must download and install to take full advantage of course resources. Simply follow the links at the start of the course to get the latest version of Andes.


Online Resources: Science

On-line collaboration is changing the way that scientists work. For students, making use of science related resources from the Internet is not a question of finding something useful, it’s a question of filtering and selecting. In many topic areas, good resources abound

PhET website image   Physics Education Technology at the University of ColoradoArguably the best science demonstrations/simulations on the Internet. The PhET site has expanded beyond the original focus on physics to include mathematics, chemistry, biology, and earth science. You can download the simulations and run them locally or you can run them entirely on-line. Either way, if you are curious about science do not visit this site when you have course work to get done. Some of the simulations found here have addictive properties.