Helping youth succeed in science – Part 9: Obtain, evaluate and communicate information

Help youth obtain, evaluate and communicate information by encouraging them to search for answers from multiple sources.

In 2011, the National Research Council released a report, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education.” Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H are working to increase science literacy through the inclusion of the Scientific and Engineering Practices described in the framework – and you can too!

The Scientific and Engineering Practices outlines eight simple but powerful practices about how to engage youth in science and engineering to increase STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) literacy. The practices are:

  1. Asking questions (science) and defining problems (engineering).
  2. Developing and using models.
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations.
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data.
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking.
  6. Constructing explanations and designing solutions.
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence.
  8. Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information.

Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information may seem like a summation of all the STEM practices, but it really isn’t. A retired high school and college teacher of mine once said, “This practice is so very important and youth who get a good handle on it will be way ahead of their peers who don’t. It is rather the basis of writing a paper or report in most any subject and at most any level, along with the critical thinking skills that come from reading.” In today’s world, obtaining, evaluating and communicating information is a vital practice in helping youth succeed in life.

You can help youth engage in obtaining, evaluating and communicating information by encouraging youth to search for answers from multiple sources as they explore their world. Help them develop the skills to compare and contrast information and summarize information from a variety of sources.

You could also encourage youth to evaluate the reliability of the sources:

  • What types of internet sites do you think would have more accurate information? For example, would a personal blog or a peer-reviewed posting from a university, or something in between, be most reliable?
  • Is the author biased? How can you spot bias?
  • Is the information based on evidence or an unsupported claim? How can you determine evidence-based versus unsupported claims?
  • Is the information supported by multiple sources or not?

Recognizing bias or unsupported claims does not necessarily mean the information is unreliable, but generally accepted practices in STEM suggest you should keep digging until you find additional sources to support, or refute, the initial findings.

You can help youth practice evaluating information by providing age-appropriate articles about issues in their community or articles they are interested in. Science News for Students from the Society of Science offers articles on current events and items of interest for youth. To learn more about identifying credible sources and ways to critically think about any source of information, read my article “Drowning in information? Stay afloat with these tips on scientific research.”

The language of scientists and engineers is not just written and spoken, but it may also contain sketches, diagrams, graphs, models and even products. Knowing how to use such informational resources is important for both non-science and science career fields alike. You can help youth make sense of and use multiple means of communicating information by asking youth to evaluate infographics, like at 4-H Hands-on Learning Programs Attract Youth to STEM or Indiana 4-H Military Youth. You could even encourage youth to make an infographic about their 4-H project.

Youth who are able to obtain, evaluate and communicate information develop the skills to critique and build on others’ ideas, making themselves an integral and valuable part of any team. This skill is helpful in areas far beyond science, such as listening to political candidate claims, assessing commercial advertisements for products or making decisions about their future career.

This article is part of a series that will explore a variety of ways you can help youth engage in Scientific and Engineering Practices. Although the series will address individual practices, it is important to remember that as a whole they increase STEM literacy. Like science itself, the individual practices do not function in a vacuum, but are intertwined with STEM exploration. To learn more about the Scientific and Engineering Practices, you can download a free copy of “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” or Appendix F of the Next Generation Science Standards.

To learn more about helping youth succeed in science, read the other articles in this series (listed below) and explore MSU Extension’s Science and Engineering webpage.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office. To learn more about 4-H and Extension opportunities in Alcona County, stop by our Harrisville office at 320 S. US-23 or visit our Alcona County MSU Extension Facebook page.

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