The Collaboratorium: Media Literacy in Science

Steve's face in a cartoon spacesuit, as generated by Google Meet. Steve looks amazed at learning the Next Generation Science Standards have a media literacy component.

Being a Life-Long Learner

I consider information literacy, and by extension media literacy, to be one of the most important areas of instruction for today’s students. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn I was ignorant about a particular avenue for addressing media literacy: Science classes!

As I’ve previously mentioned, it’s important to admit our ignorance. This helps us learn and grow. So I’m going to admit that I was completely ignorant of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), beyond that they existed. 

But I recently had the opportunity to work with an assembly of educators, supervisors, administrators, and education-adjacent “civilians” addressing the issue of scientific misinformation in K-12 education. This was truly a fascinating project, and one that reminded me once again of the importance and impact of school librarian-teacher collaboration. 

A Short Digression

When my school got its first remodel in more than fifty years, one of the spaces created was dubbed the Collaboratorium. It’s a large, open space with lots of movable tables and chairs, and large display screens mounted on two of the walls. 

The idea was that it could be used by teachers for professional or class work that would benefit from easily rearranged groups. 

While trying to figure out what to call this post, I realized the name of that school space is perfect for what I hope will be an ongoing, if irregular, discussion about collaboration! The portmanteau of “collaboration” and “laboratory” precisely fits my ideal image of working with other educators – working together to try out different approaches to engaging students.

Back to Science and Media Literacy!

Until this past week, I thought of science as a subject that deals with textbooks and experiments focused on facts. I was truly surprised to learn that the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices Learning Progression includes multiple media and information literacy concepts, including:

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing explanations
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information

These are key concepts I have taught students for years to help improve their information literacy skills. They may look familiar, as they are pretty close to several of the AASL Standards Framework for Learners. And it wasn’t until I shared a draft of this post that I learned there is also a crosswalk between the NGSS and the National School Library Standards!

It never occurred to me that the science teachers down the hall were engaging with the same skills! 

Opportunities to Learn From Each Other

Likewise, the group I was working with was surprised to hear that school librarians have been working with, and are trained in teaching, these concepts. 

And the more we discussed, the more it became apparent that information literacy skills and science are quite an ideal match. Not only that, but school librarians and science teachers have the opportunity to set students up with skills that can then be used and reinforced in pretty much every other subject. 

Media Literacy: Not Just for English Anymore!

As a former English teacher, I considered media literacy and research part of the ELA domain. After all, students write research papers in practically every grade! They learn about citation from their English teachers! They have to support their literary claims with evidence from the text! 

But these are also key concepts in science. And the growing amount of science-focused misinformation in the world has skyrocketed over the past several years. Germ theory, herd immunity, vaccination, transmissibility – these have been front-and-center topics. Misinformation about them can have literal life-or-death consequences. 

Science Misinformation: An Ongoing Issue

But the science teachers reminded me that evolution versus creationism has had a long history of muddying their waters. The current spate of science misinformation around Covid-19 has only been one (particularly public) aspect of this problem. 

One of the people in the discussion is researching conspiracy theories, and pointed out that the “flat earth” movement continues, despite evidence to the contrary. Of course, as her interviewees pointed out, it’s only evidence if you’re willing to accept information beyond your own senses. 

Identifying Experts: A Key Media Literacy Skill

This ended up being one of the strongest through-lines of the discussion: The importance of finding the balance between self-conducted research and the acceptance of expert information. 

As part of instruction on research, school librarians teach students how to identify reliable and accurate sources of information. Many states’ science standards require the same instruction. But it seems rare that I hear school librarians collaborating with their science teachers. 

More Knowledge = More Opportunities

I know I have been missing this incredible opportunity to work with the science department, but I hope to remedy that as the next school year unfolds. 

As with students, the more I know, the more opportunities are open to me. Now that I know more about the NGSS, I can help the science staff, and all our students, get a better handle on misinformation. 

Hopefully, this will be the first of many science-focused collaborations! And I hope to make this science-focused media and information literacy work cross-disciplinary by explicitly pointing out to teachers and students alike that these skills are highly transferable. After all, better information leads to better outcomes – regardless of the subject! 


Author: Steve Tetreault

After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!

Categories: Community/Teacher Collaboration, Literacy, STEM/STEAM

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