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Developing Scientific Literacy-Using News

Developing Scientific Literacy-Using News

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Published by: muhammad soenarto on Feb 19, 2011
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Intended learning outcomes

This teaching sequence, designed for use with able 15–16-year-olds, focuses
on science ‘enquiry’. It exploits a science-related article to teach about the
characteristics of science-in-the-making and about the social context of
science. The intended learning outcomes relate to the recognition that expla-
nations do not simply emerge from data, to the uncertainties associated with
cutting-edge science and to the regulation of scientific research.


Students read ‘closely’ the article ‘Brushing teeth every day can keep the
doctor away’ (Figure 7.9). After confirming that they understand any new
terminology, they answer the following questions individually.



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Figure 7.9 Brushing teeth every day can keep the doctor away

Belfast Telegraph8 February 2005

Brushing teeth every day can keep the doctor away

By Lyndsay Moss

Brushing your teeth may help to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack,
research suggested today.

A US study found that people with gum disease were more likely to suffer from
artherosclerosis – the narrowing of blood vessels that can lead to a stroke or heart

While past research has suggested a link between periodontal disease and vascular
disease, researchers said their study was the strongest evidence yet of the

The team, from Columbia University Medical Centre, concluded that preventing
gum disease could significantly improve the chances of avoiding vascular problems
in the future.

Researcher Dr Moise Desvarieux said ‘This is the most direct evidence yet that gum
disease may lead to stroke or cardiovascular disease. And because gum infections
are preventable and treatable, taking care of your oral health could well have a
significant impact on your cardiovascular health.’

The researchers, writing in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation,
measured bacteria levels in the mouths of 657 people with no history of stroke or
heart attack.

They also measured the thickness of the participants’ carotid arteries – which are
measured to identify artherosclerosis.

The team found that people with a higher level of the specific bacteria that cause
periodontal disease also had an increased carotid artery thickness.

They were able to show that artherosclerosis was associated with the type of
bacteria that cause periodontal disease – and not any other oral bacteria.

Dr Desvarieux said one possible explanation for the link was that the bacteria that
cause gum disease may migrate throughout the body via the bloodstream and
stimulate the immune system – causing inflammation that results in the clogging
of the arteries.

Dr Desvarieux said ‘We will continue to study patients to determine if
artherosclerosis continues over time.’



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Activity One

Students complete a ‘worksheet’ based on tasks (a), (b) and (c):

(a) Identifying the variables that were measured

In this study, which pair of variables did the scientists measure?

Whether a person brushed


How often that person

his/her teeth everyday

had visited a doctor

Whether a person brushed


Whether that person had

his/her teeth everyday

suffered a stroke/heart attack

Whether a person


The thickness of that

had gum disease

person’s carotid artery

Whether a person


Whether that person had

had gum disease

suffered a stroke/heart attack

The bacteria levels


The thickness of that

in a person’s mouth

person’s carotid artery

The bacteria levels


Whether that person had

in a person’s mouth

suffered a stroke/heart attack

(b) Studying the study

Complete the following table (Figure 7.10) using sentences/statements from
the news article.

* the thickness of the carotid artery wall is measured by ultrasound scan

Figure 7.10 Table showing the key elements of the study

Elements of the scientific study

Sentence/statement from the news article

Information that probably
prompted the study




One possible explanation

Presenting the results/ideas to other
scientists for scrutiny

Follow-up studies



BL2430-08-Chap 7:BL2430 Chap 7 12/3/07 18:32 Page 115

(c) Are you certain?

How certainare the scientists that high levels of the bacteria that produce
gum disease cause people to have artherosclerosis?
Reread the article and circle any ‘uncertainty signals’ – words, phrases
and statements that suggest uncertainly.
In addition to what is written in the news article, can you suggest
reasons why the scientists should be cautious about claiming that gum
disease causes artherosclerosis?
It is sometimes useful when watching, listening to or reading news
reports about science studies to form a mental picture of the certainty/
uncertainty of the conclusions drawn. One idea is a mental ‘certainty
meter’ like that shown in Figure 7.11.
Where would you place the needle for the conclusions of this study?
Be prepared to justify your decision!
The answers are reviewed in whole-class discussion. Time should be
spent on the third question set exploring the characteristics of science-in-
the-making and the time required and difficulties involved in generating
reliable scientific knowledge. In this case, for example, it should be explained
to students that this single study does not establish a causal link.

Figure 7.11 A ‘certainty meter’






BL2430-08-Chap 7:BL2430 Chap 7 12/3/07 18:32 Page 116

Activity 2

In the final activity students, this time working in groups, consider,
through role play, the ethical issues associated with the follow-up study:

As indicated Dr Desvarieux and his team of scientists are following
up the 657 people who participated in the initial study. They plan
to invite them back to Columbia University Medical Center and to
conduct the same procedure, under the same conditions, every
three years over a lengthy time period.

Your group represents the university’s research ethics committee.
How would you respond to Dr Desvarieux’s request for permission
to undertake the next phase of this study?

No matter how short the news item is, more information about a study
can almost always be obtained on the web. A short search indicates that Dr
Desvarieux gave a radio interview about his study in which the issue of
ethics was raised. In the debriefing discussion with the students, it may be
interesting to inform them of the following exchange:

InterviewerSo is it ethical to follow these people up when there’s a
suspicion that gum disease is causal in terms of heart disease and you’re
following up and not doing anything and therefore potentially exposing
these people to coronary heart disease when you think they’re at
increased risk?

Dr DesvarieuxYes it is. Why? Because it is not established that gum
disease causes artherosclerosis. I don’t know right now whether there is
a relationship.

InterviewerSo do the people who have high levels of bacteria know
they’ve got it in your study?

Dr DesvarieuxYes, but what we have noticed is that the patients who
come in for the follow-up visit three years later, a good number of them
have actually improved their oral health. And that’s great, but what it
means is that we have to follow them up if the relationship is true for a
longer period of time for them to get an ‘event’.

The session can be drawn to a close by highlighting, in Millar’s (1997)
words ‘the sheer difficulty of obtaining valid and reliable data about the
natural world’.



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And finally …

Through the use of appropriately chosen news items, students’ learning in
science – in relation to both its ‘content’ and its ‘enquiry’ – can be pro-
moted and aspects of their scientific literacy developed. Such items can be
drawn from news –broadcasts, papers and websites. In addition there are a
number of very useful science news-related websites designed specifically
for students and teachers, for example, ‘Science UPD8’ and ‘The Why Files’.
Many will have had experience of using the news to show the relevance
of science in everyday life and this is an important intention. There is a
case, however, for exploiting news to develop students’ ideas about scien-
tific enquiry. Indeed, we believe these could have considerable value as a
resource for teaching understandings about science for which, as Millar
(2004: 19) suggests ‘methods other than practical are likely to be required’.
The next chapter explores the third dimension of ‘scientific literacy’
mentioned in Chapter 1, namely the interactions of science, technology
and society.



BL2430-08-Chap 7:BL2430 Chap 7 12/3/07 18:32 Page 118

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