Other aspects of science literacy are also important, but they are not included in this discussion because they are not often mentioned in state science standards or assessments. These include, among other things, the history of science, scientific habits of mind, science in social and personal perspectives, and the nature of the scientific enterprise.
A strong foundation of science content knowledge is a necessary component of the ability to think scientifically. The ability to plan a task, to notice patterns, to generate reasonable arguments and explanations, and to draw analogies to other problems—all key elements of science literacy—are dependent on factual knowledge (National Research Council, 1999a).
A review of both state and national standards and benchmarks calls attention to the considerable breadth of content knowledge in the natural sciences that K– 12 students are expected to attain. For example, the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) includes eight dimensions of science content: Inquiry, Physical Science, Biological Science, Earth and Space Science, Unifying Concepts and Processes, Science and Technology, Science in Social and Personal Perspectives, and History and Nature of Science. The authors of the NSES indicate that “the standards are a complete set of outcomes for students … [and that] the implementation of these standards cannot be successful if only a subset of the content standards is used (such as implementing only the subject matter standards for physical, life, and earth science)” (p.103).
The framework for organizing curriculum put forth in the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 1993) describes 12 topical areas: Nature of Science, Nature of Mathematics, Nature of Technology, The Physical Setting, The Living Environment, The Human Organism, Human Society, The Designed World, The Mathematical World, Historical Perspectives, Common Themes, and Habits of Mind. The authors used five major criteria in determining what should be included as science content in their recommendations. These are utility, social responsibility, intrinsic value of the knowledge, philosophical value, and childhood enrichment (AAAS, 1989).
Although these documents include a considerable body of content knowledge, they also emphasize that students are expected to understand science principles and be able to apply their science knowledge, not just absorb it. To do this, students cannot learn science as a series of facts, formulas, and procedures disconnected from any context.
Scientific knowledge has been characterized as hierarchical and highly organized, with many connections and interrelationships among ideas. Scientists do