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Education Science

College Students Lack Scientific Literacy 382

An anonymous reader writes with news of research into the scientific literacy of college biology students. Earlier studies found that students tended to "rely on mainly informal reasoning derived from their personal experiences," so the researchers derived a new instructional framework that explicitly taught principle-based reasoning. While the number of students who used this method did increase, more than half continued to use informal reasoning, which the researchers say points to a flaw in the way biology is taught (PDF). "Most college-level instruction presents students with complicated narratives about the details of key processes (e.g., cellular respiration), but does not explicitly reinforce the use of key principles to connect those processes. Therefore, students are understandably occupied with memorizing details of processes without focusing on the principles that govern and connect the processes. ... As a result, students may leave an introductory biology course with the ability to recite the reactions in the Calvin cycle but still believing that plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere, that plants photosynthesize but do not respire, or that the mass of a decomposing organism will primarily return to the soil."
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College Students Lack Scientific Literacy

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  • Early Development (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Friday January 07, 2011 @01:59PM (#34794514) Journal

    Kids get discouraged way too early in their school lives. From their peers, their teachers and their parents, they get the message that science and math is boring and hard, and they take that to college. That's why in math classes, you might find a person that can perfectly integrate a function, but be utterly unable to describe what integration actually does. Science and math has become just an algorithm to them: If you follow X steps, then you will get the answer, then you will path the class.

    • path=pass. Clearly, I didn't pass spelling.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Don't worry, you'll still get a grade of 110% just for trying.

      • by doconnor (134648) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:23PM (#34794846) Homepage

        Spelling is boring and hard and kids get discouraged from writing way too early in their school lives.

        • Why bother spelling write when ewe just get red squiggly lines under each tpyo?

          Spelling correctly is just a right-lick a way.

    • by I8TheWorm (645702) * on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:10PM (#34794660) Journal

      A huge problem with that is getting qualified (and hopefully excited) teachers in those fields. If people do well in math or science, they tend to go into higher paying jobs rather than into teaching. What happens then is the math or science teaching vacancy goes to the newly hired teacher with a general knowledge and an education degree, they're handed the book and curriculum, and told to teach.

      It's my contention that those who have a nice career and a deep knowledge of math and/or science should consider spending the last few years working as a (fully qualified) teacher.

      • by 0123456 (636235) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:13PM (#34794712)

        It's my contention that those who have a nice career and a deep knowledge of math and/or science should consider spending the last few years working as a (fully qualified) teacher.

        A while back I was reading an article by someone (engineer, I think) who looked at doing that. Then they discovered they'd have to take numerous training courses to prove they could teach kids about what they'd been doing for years and decided they had better things to do with their life.

        If you really want better teachers in schools, you could start by eliminating all the roadblocks that keep them out.

        • by hedwards (940851) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:39PM (#34795072)
          Yes, but in college I had a faculty member in genetics, the man definitely knew his stuff, but as a teacher he was more or less a complete flop. Yes, the requirements do need to be reasonable, but just because somebody knows their field doesn't mean that they're qualified to teach. I know that there's this common conception that teaching is easy if you know how to do the tasks, but that's really not true.

          The point is, that having to demonstrate capability exists for a reason. Sure it is cumbersome and probably could use a modernization and culling of some of the requirements, but it's there to try and minimize the cases where teachers are thrown into a classroom environment without being able to teach.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Except that you don't have to demonstrate that you can teach, you just have to meet a set of semi-arbitrary standards that are primarily designed to ensure employment for those who teach "Education".
            If they wanted to ensure that potential teachers could teach, they would test the students at the beginning and end of the student teaching assignment and only those whose students showed an improvement in understanding the subject above a certain level would get certified. Designing the tests and defining the
      • Why exactly would I want to spend my time - especially my time right before I retire - dealing with the idiots who get promoted out of teaching and into administration? I'd rather work retail again; at least there are objective standards in that field.

      • Re:Early Development (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:14PM (#34794726) Journal

        In a lot of other countries with a much better education system, teachers are recruited from the top of the graduating classes and are given incentives to go and teach. I wish that's something we could implement in the US for education reform rather than grading teachers on how effective they are at teaching their kids how to take a specific test.

        • by I8TheWorm (645702) *

          What's sad is even when I was in school we were being taught problem solving (rather than memorization), but the tests you're talking about have eliminated that. Instead, they're taught how to pass the tests throughout the year until they take the test.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Seumas (6865)

            Government has learned that teaching you to think critically doesn't help them, but teaching you the joys of obeying authority figures does.

        • by Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:33PM (#34794978)

          I've met some very bright and talented teachers but I have to say that on the whole teachers do not seem to be the cream of the crop, or even the whole milk... maybe non-fortified skim would be about right. The teachers here are very well paid. They don't seem to have much facility with logic and seem, well, woefully uneducated. It might help if they also had to complete an actual degree in something other than teaching.

          I don't see teaching to tests as a problem... if the tests are well thought out.

        • by hedwards (940851)
          Which countries are these? Yes, our education system sucks, but we are still ahead of most other countries in the ways that count. People come to that conclusion reading headlines, but the reality is that our students get compared against the top students in other countries, not a representative sampling.

          Meaning that it would be a bit like us comparing our APP students against our students in general. Of course we end up looking stupid, if there's any validity at all in the assessments they're making to
          • Re:Early Development (Score:4, Informative)

            by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Friday January 07, 2011 @03:03PM (#34795446) Journal


            Noting: "Attracting and Retaining Top-Third Graduates to Careers in Teaching ,” we review the experiences of the top-performing systems in the world—Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. These countries recruit, develop, and retain the leading academic talent as one of their central education strategies, and they have achieved extraordinary results. In the United States, by contrast, only 23 percent of new teachers come from the top third, and just 14 percent in high poverty schools, where the difficulty of attracting and retaining talented teachers is particularly acute."


            From the Article: "The United States has fallen from top of the class to average in world education rankings, said a report Tuesday that warned of US economic losses from the trend. .... ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

            Incidentally, the PISA Report on education on which the previous article is about uses a sampling of 15 year old students. It's not comparing our students with the cream of their crop. It's comparing our average students with their average students.

            Most other countries are trying to make their education system more like Finland, South Korea and Singapore, not our's. Heck, even in the US, there are non-Asian parents who send their kids to Chinese school as an afterschool supplement because the math and science education offered there is often much better than what's offered in public schools.

          • []

            This is a nice, recent attempt to answer that question.

            Being beaten by South Korea is nothing to be ashamed of, but being beaten across all three categories by Poland has got to be embarassing.

            As for attempts worldwide to change school systems, the talk in the UK at least is in trying to imitate the Swedes and the Norwegians.
          • Re:Early Development (Score:5, Interesting)

            by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Friday January 07, 2011 @03:16PM (#34795662)

            In a lot of other countries with a much better education system, teachers are recruited from the top of the graduating classes and are given incentives to go and teach.

            Which countries are these?

            Finland is a good example and among the best in the world. Their teachers are one of their highest paid professions and are government jobs. Less than 3% of grade school students go to private school. All education is free right up through doctoral degrees and includes free meals and healthcare.

            Many other countries are starting to use them as a model for changes to their own educational system, including China who has been taking great interest in reforming their education along those lines. I don't expect it to ever happen in the US though, we're a bit too isolationist and the majority opinion is that we're "better" at education and many other things despite objective evidence to the contrary.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Seumas (6865)

          In the US, people who think rationally and value knowledge and critical thinking are considered "elitists" and derided. Just talking properly will probably get the occasional "what are you, a homo?!" thrown at you. Then there's the whole typical US rationality (which is probably more global, but what do I know?) of things like "I can't imagine a world where god doesn't exist; therefore, god exists".

          Also, I remember finally being so thoroughly depressed by high school that I just gave up. The specific cause

          • by nomadic (141991)
            In the US, people who think rationally and value knowledge and critical thinking are considered "elitists" and derided.

            You really think people look down on doctors and scientists?

            Just talking properly will probably get the occasional "what are you, a homo?!" thrown at you.

            Dude, you seriously have to move. Don't judge the entire country by your yokel neighbors. Then there's the whole typical US rationality (which is probably more global, but what do I know?) of things like "I can't imagine a wo
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward
              "You really think people look down on doctors and scientists?"

              Doctors are highly regarded, scientists however are definitely not. Scientists are the mad freaks who are hell bent on destroying the world, or the clueless fools who carelessly come within a half-second of accidentally wiping out the human race, or are the corrupt assholes sucking down megabucks from (insert taxpayer/government tit, Big Oil, Big Pharma, or other common target here) while doing next to nothing except fabricating results, or a
          • by Americano (920576) on Friday January 07, 2011 @03:24PM (#34795810)

            Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.

            There's an uncomfortable element of truth to this too, and I say this as a devoted son of two career teachers: If you are top in your Computer Science class, Google or Apple or Microsoft comes along to hire you, offers you a good starting salary with benefits, and a brand-name employer that you can show off to your friends. There's less demand for "the guy who graduated last," which means that the lower-paying jobs - i.e., teaching - will fall to those who... 'can't' get the job at Google.

            There simply isn't a great deal of incentive for the "top of the class" to go into education: fight your way through a mystifyingly complex government bureaucracy for a full day of discipline problems and budget cuts, all for the same pay as the meathead who barely graduated college? Gee, where do I sign up?

            A couple changes that I think would go a long way towards addressing some of this:
            1) Abolish tenure. If you're good, your job is safe. If you're not good, you should be turfed.
            2) Merit pay for teachers. GOOD merit pay - competitive with industry, and awarded in equal measure to your effectiveness & talents as a teacher.
            3) Incentives for effective teachers to work with disadvantaged students.
            4) Expand grants, scholarships, etc. - think the Americorps concept. "We give you a scholarship, and in return, you teach for several years after graduation."

            • by rekenner (849871)
              The problem with merit pay is that it then pushes teachers away from wanting to teach those that are hard to teach, and towards kids that are 'easy' to teach. Teachers that teach students with mental handicaps or are also learning English as a second language *along with* the standard school subjects rarely do as well or improve as much as other students. How do you account for that? You did mention that in 3), at least, but it would be very hard to make the system fair.

              Then, on the other side of the pro
        • There are several things that would go a long way towards improving education in the US. First, stop worrying about "education in the U.S." and warry about education in your state. Second, get rid of teacher's tenure. Third is related to the first, shrink school districts, so that a few parents can influence the outcome of schoolboard elections.
        • by SeaFox (739806)

          I wish that's something we could implement in the US for education reform rather than grading teachers on how effective they are at teaching their kids how to take a specific test.

          Except that's all parents really care about. Do they really care if their child learns the material? No, they want high test scores because the test scores are what decides who gets into what college and therefore who gets into higher paying jobs and is (at least by many standards) who's more successful in life.

          Have you every met people in top jobs who don't seem to know what they're doing? They didn't learn it in school, but they passed the right tests and sold themselves well enough to the right people. T

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        Easy for you to say.

        My dad took about a 30% pay cut in addition to the time and money it took to get a graduate teaching degree in order to switch from software development to teaching. He really had been wanting to do that all his life, but the simple fact is that objectively it's a bad economic decision. Why? Simple - we don't like paying teachers anything close to what their level of education would get them in any other field. An entry-level engineer makes an average of $125K per year total compensation

        • by I8TheWorm (645702) *

          I think you're missing my point. The idea is to do it for a few years after your regular career... once you've earned your comfortable living. The income from teaching would be a nice padding... along with the benefits provided.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        It's my contention that those who have a nice career and a deep knowledge of math and/or science should consider spending the last few years working as a (fully qualified) teacher.

        And put up with the headaches of putting up with a bunch of bored, spoiled brats who don't give a damn in the first place?

        No thanks. High school sucked, reliving it every day to put up with crap from teenagers just isn't worth it.

        I generally agree with what you're saying, I just don't see the reward as being worth the hassles.

    • by slapout (93640)

      I feel the same way about my math education. I feel I was taught the how, but not the why -- how to plug things into a formula rather than how the formula came to be and want it means.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      State education departments don't use the scientific method to figure out which bad teachers to fire, they don't use it to figure out which education methodology works best, they don't use it to figure out optimal class size or technology investment...

      It seems self-evident to me that they wouldn't effectively teach a tool they've never used.

  • Logic Fail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:01PM (#34794548)

    [They still believe that...] plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere

    How could this possibly work? Farmers ship millions of tons of foodstuffs every year, unless they're spreading an equal volume of human excrement on their fields they'd be farming in pit mines after a few decades. That doesn't even begin to address that the soil that plants actually grow in is only a matter of inches deep in many locations, or the fact that you can grow plants in water more efficiently than in soil. So yeah, I'd say we're missing some basic logic tools if biology majors can't think that one through.

    • Duh, there's a lot of dirt in the rain...
    • Re:Logic Fail (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blair1q (305137) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:06PM (#34794610) Journal

      It points out the real problem with science education: we're not teaching the big facts and then delving into the intricacies, we're teaching the intricacies and hoping the big facts are obvious.

      It's nothing about "informal" or "principle-based" reasoning, it's just inadequate communication.

      • Agreed. There may well be (no, never mind, there definitely is) a failing in the teaching things like method and reasoning, but this is the great failing. The whole system is tailored to teach detail and intricacy, and to largely do so by rote. The only thing this will teach is the regurgitation of specific facts and techniques - it certainly won't impart any kind of understanding.
      • by hedwards (940851)
        That's a problem. But it's more of a symptom really. The big problem with science and education is that the educational establishment doesn't do scientific analysis of the teaching methodology that they're looking at implementing or ones that they've already put in place.

        The issue there is that some things despite being complete bunk, end up living in the districts for long periods of time. And assumptions about how students as a whole function and learn are never actually tested for any sort of validity
      • by blueg3 (192743)

        Actually, the OP is a great example of how applying principle-based reasoning (well, just regular reasoning, in this case) gets you much better results than people using casual reasoning based on their personal experiences.

        You can't possibly teach all the "big facts" -- like "plants get their nutrients from the air". If the big facts you teach are basic principles and you require that people apply thought to those facts to adapt them to a particular question, then that's exactly what the article is saying.

      • Re:Logic Fail (Score:4, Interesting)

        by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Friday January 07, 2011 @03:09PM (#34795562)

        It points out the real problem with science education: we're not teaching the big facts and then delving into the intricacies, we're teaching the intricacies and hoping the big facts are obvious.

        It's nothing about "informal" or "principle-based" reasoning, it's just inadequate communication.

        Ugh. We should be teaching the intricacies and allow the students to derive the big facts. Doing otherwise reinforces memorization. If you do it your way then yes, they'd be able to tell you that plants get most of their mass from the atmosphere, but they still wouldn't understand it. They'd be reciting trivia.

        The problem is that we don't teach people how to reason. Look at how MozeeToby explained the big fact. He used a number of intricacies, "farmers ship millions of tons of foodstuffs every year", "plants grow in soil only inches deep", "plants can grow in water more efficiently than in soil." From these tools, he's able to derive the "big fact." He's not reciting trivia, he's giving you small facts and demonstrating that he understands their significance.

        Ideally, that's how science classes would be taught. You give the student the equations, you explain the theory. Then you don't ask them to recite them back to you on tests. You give them problems which force them to show understanding. Ask for the big fact in the test, "explain, and back up with reaction equations, where plants get most of their mass from. Explain how they acquire each chemical at every step of the process."

        I used to have a professor while in college for an EE class that insisted in individual oral exams. The class was small enough, but it still took him about two weeks to go through everyone, each time. When you were taking the exam, he'd start by pointing you to the blackboard with a calculator and asking you a tremendously complicated question, which you could solve if you really understood the material. Most people couldn't, but that's ok: He would ask you a somewhat simpler question, which, if you could solve would lead you part of the way to the answer to the original question. If you couldn't solve that, he'd break it up into simpler questions. Eventually, he'd break it down far enough that everyone would have an a-ha moment, and he'd grade you based on just how much he had to help you before you got the answer. I swear I learned more in that one class than in any EE course I had taken before, and most of it was right there during the exam. I had equations memorized, but I didn't understand them until I was forced to think.

        • by blair1q (305137)

          If you do it your way then yes, they'd be able to tell you that plants get most of their mass from the atmosphere, but they still wouldn't understand it.

          No, if you do it my way then they learn that plants get their mass from the air and how it happens, instead of just how it happens. They'll also learn how you go from an observed fact (plants aren't taking mass from the ground, where's it coming from? it must be the water or the air) and figure out how it works. That's science.

          Nature doesn't give you intricate theories that you can turn into facts, it just gives you facts. If you want mathematics, that's down the hall.

    • Suburban kids go into biology and most of those think of it as pre-med. Farmers' kids have the sense to go into agronomics, which is where the money is, such as it is. Those suburban kids have probably never seen a farm field over the years to realize that (with decent to ok management) it doesn't gradually sink into the ground.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The problem is that they were never asked the question, and never asked themselves the question either (presumably because they had simply assumed the mass come from the soil from a young age). This was never addressed in any of my science courses which included two highschool biology courses - though I did have to memorize the details of the Krebs cycle and RNA transcription (which I have since forgotten).

      I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I did not realize that the bulk of the mass came from the air

    • I think that was the whole point, that they weren't "thinking things through", rather, they were intuitively "knowing" (i.e. assuming) things that weren't correct.
    • Huh. They teach you in high school biology that 60%+ of the mass of most organisms is water.

      • Actually it is a fail from the quote taken from the article. The actual study says that this is the misconception: "Gases such as carbon dioxide lack sufficient mass to lead to the development of dry biomass in plants. Plants get mass from the soil."
        So, the actual problem is that students believe that plants get most of their dry bio-mass from the soil, which is incorrect.
    • Well, for one, isn't most plant weight due to water? Farmers certainly put millions of tons of water on their farms every year.
    • by sorak (246725)

      Unless I misread it, this is about everybody who takes the equivalent of Biology 101. Since that class is a requisite in many universities, we are talking about college students of all majors. I would hope that biology majors did better in this respect, but is it no surprise that business majors, philosophy majors, etc, just memorized the material and never put much thought into their implications?

  • Why is litmust test of biological knowledge (for college freshman) whether they know where plants get the majority of there mass? I'm not a biologist... but that doesn't seem to be the deepest or most fundamental principle of biology...
    • by alta (1263)

      Litmus(t) test FAIL :)

      Just teasing, I had to look it up to be sure.

      And I'm no bio person either.

    • It's surely not "the" litmus test - but it makes sense in that context, namely students being able to recite the main pathways of plant biochemistry but being unable to integrate that knowledge to answer this question. If you truly understand the Calvin cycle - the reaction series that takes care of carbon fixation from the air in plants - you should be aware where plant biomass comes from.
    • by The_mad_linguist (1019680) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:19PM (#34794778)

      Actually, I think that the assertion that most of a plant's mass comes from the soil is correct.

      The majority of plant species are mostly water by mass, and water enters a plant primarily through the roots.

      • And the carbon comes from the atmosphere, which is what the structure is made of.
      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        Sure if you don't read the questions.

      • by l2718 (514756)

        Actually, I think that the assertion that most of a plant's mass comes from the soil is correct. The majority of plant species are mostly water by mass, and water enters a plant primarily through the roots.

        For this reason biologists (including the paper under debate) are careful to define biomass as the mass excluding water.

      • by blueg3 (192743)

        Surely those silly scientists miss this ingenious answer!

        Wait, let's check the paper:

        6. a mature maple tree can have a mass of 1 ton or more (dry biomass, after
        removing the water), yet it starts from a seed that weighs less than 1 gram. Which
        of the following processes contributes the most to this huge increase in biomass?
        circle the correct answer.
        (A) absorption of mineral substances from the soil via the roots
        (B) absorption of organic substances from the soil via the roots
        (C) incorporation of CO2
        gas from the atmosphere into molecules by green leaves
        (D) incorporation of H2
        o from the soil into molecules by green leaves
        (E) absorption of solar radiation into the leaf


        3. the trees in the rain forest contain molecules of chlorophyll (c55H72o5n4Mg).
        Decide whether each of the following statements is true (t) or false (F) about
        the atoms in those molecules. Some of the atoms in the chlorophyll came from...
        T F carbon dioxide in the air
        T F sunlight that provided energy for photosynthesis
        T F water in the soil
        T F nutrients in the soil
        T F glucose produced by photosynthesis
        T F the seed that the tree grow from

        • To be fair, I have a Ph. D. in chemistry from a very prestigious university and I thought some of these questions were inappropriately tough. The chlorophyll one sticks out in my mind as being both tough (need to know the pathway for chlorophyll biosynthesis) and wrong: the test indicated that it was false that some of the atoms come from glucose produced by photosynthesis. Without knowing the metabolic pathway leading to chlorophyll, there's no telling if those carbon atoms were derived from glucose or
  • by ral (93840) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:12PM (#34794702)
    Science illiteracy is strongly rooted in math illiteracy. Cliff Mass, a Seattle area Professor of Meteorology, gives his incoming freshman students a math test []. This is a test of basic math skills that should be mastered before high school. Yet the average score for college freshman science students is only 58%.

    You can find the answers to the above test in his blog article [].
    • by compro01 (777531)

      He ought to add a percentage question or two to that test. I'm frequently amazed by the number of people who cannot correctly calculate sales tax or a discount.

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      I disagree. Math is not science.

      Math is a creative process of seeking answers to questions, which are purely imaginative.

      So from the very beginning, Math is rooted in imagination - imagining an abstract problem to solve for the heck of it.

      Secondly Math is about finding an interesting 'beautiful' to the mind solution to the problem that was imagined.

      Science on the other hand is about observing phenomena and trying to find the mechanisms by which the phenomena can be explained. Science is about discovery of n

    • by hedwards (940851)
      It's largely an issue of political tinkering. In WA state we have an assortment of standards that lead one to the logical conclusion that a zombie Dr. Seuss is running things. But, the bigger problem is that the standards may or may not be adhered to. People may be allowed to continue in classes without meeting the requirements, and those that are able to hit the standards for several years in the future aren't allowed to skip grades, due to the perception that it's harmful. Unfortunately, it's not always h
  • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:13PM (#34794704) Homepage

    I would speculate that at a logical philosophical level, a large number of students are ignorant of what science actually is. Science is often taught as a series of completed results, as a series of facts to be memorized. While to some extent this is difficult to avoid when teaching base knowledge, I suspect many students concentrate on what "gets them the grade", which is demonstrated knowledge of specific material, often memorized. In most high school programs, students are not adequately taught the reasons for knowledge (the International Baccalaureate program is often an exception to this). They are not explicitly taught logic and reason. And since the root of science is logic and reason, I would argue that most students are hobbled in their studies.

    • by doconnor (134648)

      I recently discovered a remarkable fanfiction retelling of a fantasy series that could teach these lessons in an inspiring way: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality []

    • by Creepy (93888)

      Rote is a great way to force ideas into people's heads, whether true or not. Religion has done that for generations (and by that, I mean some religion has to be wrong, if not every religion, otherwise they would all be the same).

  • by dweller_below (136040) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:15PM (#34794732)

    > but still believing that plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere..

    I may be a hick from a cow college, but most of the mass of my plants is water. Water that is sucked up from the soil via a root-system.

    Granted, the atmosphere moves the water around, but the plant gets it's water (and thus most of it's mass) from the soil.


    • by Ironchew (1069966)

      > but still believing that plants obtain most of their mass from the soil rather than from the atmosphere..
      It's the supreme irony of the self-righteous that the strawmen they set up occasionally have valid points.

    • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:22PM (#34794842) Homepage
      You confused current mass with intake/outtake. While most organic life is water, we are talking about intake and out take, not current composition

      The Cycle they mentioned means that plants consume 6 C20 (12 Carbon + 6 Oxygen) for every 5 H20 (10 Hydrogen and 5 Oxygen), every time they photosynthesize.

      This means that while the end plant may be mostly water, they are consuming more of their weight in Carbon dioxide than in water.

      So now you are asking, if the plant is consuming more carbon dioxide than water, what happens to the carbon dioxide, as the water is at least partly kept? The Carbon is kept, while the oxygen is given off. The amount of water that is taken in and kept is relatively small compared to the carbon that is kept PLUS the oxygen that is given off.

    • The actual test explicitly specified "(dry biomass, after removing the water)".

      [ Using "mass" as an informal shorthand for dry mass is common in plant science. Wet weight is used to indicate that water is included. ]

  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:21PM (#34794818)
    makes sense. When I was a kid doing well in school meant you were a nerd & a loser. Other countries don't allow that to happen. But we've got to devalue education so we can slash funding you know.
  • by alvinrod (889928) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:22PM (#34794824)
    It's not just scientific literacy, it's mathematical and grammatical as well. It's not that American kids are getting dumber, it's that American colleges are accepting anyone to a four year program if they sign up for one. The downside of that is that the average ability of incoming students trends downward.

    The problem is that we've created a system that values a piece of paper that says you were in college for four years, even if those four years have absolutely nothing to do with the job position. There's nothing wrong with going to trade school, and in more than just a few trades you'll end up laughing all the way to the bank, making more money with your two year degree than a lot of people with a four year degree, all while paying a lot less for it.

    Even many four year programs could be significantly shortened. A cousin of mine received a business degree from a program that crammed it all into one year. His job was school, his off-time was school, and they expected him to be there everyday in appropriate dress. They didn't fuck around and neither did he, and know he's out and being productive while a bunch of other kids are pissing away four years on classes they don't care about and keg parties.
    • by roman_mir (125474)

      it's that American colleges are accepting anyone to a four year program if they sign up for one

      - yes, and the reason for this is that gov't got into business of handing out student loans, which on one hand allows more people to go to colleges (ok, good) on the other hand it gives colleges an excellent way to make more money through raising tuition fees immediately, after any gov't loan increase (bad) and at the same time the expected level of education out of any student is supposedly higher every year, but this only leads to handing out of more gov't loans and in a vicious cycle to tuition fee hik

    • To a lot of people, college has become a way to stave off real life for four more years. As life expectancies have risen in the last century, people are having families later and working longer. It makes some sense we would also want to "grow up" more slowly.

      College has been turning into the new high school for years. I think there will always be a place for top tier 4-year residential colleges, but the number of people in 4-year programs who could better spend their time elsewhere is high. Trade schools
    • Where I live vocational work will get you minimal wage ($400 a month; I have two masons in the family), and all foreign companies require Bsc. That's Hungary, Eastern-Europe. And tuition is free. (for 9 semesters for a Bsc degree; going to masters you get 4 additional free semesters)

  • "[they] rely on mainly informal reasoning derived from their personal experiences,

    I hang around this lot! []

  • News Flash! Students in conventional schools often memorize facts without truly understanding them!!!!111!

    Film at eleven...

  • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:43PM (#34795132)


    We'll all be computers in robot bodies in the next 100 years anyway.

  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Friday January 07, 2011 @02:46PM (#34795188)

    I think the problem is that exams, which determine whether you pass or not - is the only point for studying that subject.

    I used to love science when I was younger, and I used to ask a ton of questions during class, some of which returned the answer "Because that's how it is" or "That's not in the sillabus"

    The idea that we're implanting into people's heads is "You study You get a good mark in the exam". The exam will ask you to regurgitate the knowledge that you know back on the paper - and don't bother reasoning it or thinking it out.

    At higher levels, then science or whatever does touch into 'you have to think', but for the first few years, the idea implanted into your head is that the exam is the most important thing, and it is a test of memory. Not logic. That's where it fails.

  • ent sample diagnostic questions administered to students at 13 US universities that illustrate "informal," "mixed," and "principle-
    based scientific" reasoning by students. The correct answer is bold.

    Question 1 asks students to reason about conservation of matter and energy at the ecosystem scale: A tropical rainforest is an example of an ecosystem.
    Which of the following statements about matter and energy in a tropical rainforest is the most accurate?
    Please choose ONE answer that you think is best.
    Please ex

  • Looking at the test, possible mistakes a student can make include believing that glucose can be converted into ATP. (To avoid making this mistake you have to understand that ATP contains phosphorous.) Also, you have to know that most of a plant's mass comes from CO2 it takes in, not things it absorbs in the soil, which is also tricky because most people know that gas doesn't weight very much. Another question is "An animal inhales O2 and exhales CO2, what happens to its mass?" The correct answer is that

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