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CIRTL Network
Faculty Knowledge Essentials, Pedagogy: How people learn

Series: Teaching Scientific Literacy to Undergraduate Students

  • Eleanor Pardini, Washington University
    Assistant Director, Enviromental Studies

To teach quantitative literacy in my upper-level, elective Introduction to Ecology course, each student develops a 5-page grant proposal on a topic of their choice. Students develop short outlines, peer-review chalk talks on experimental design, get instructor feedback, and hold a review panel before revising their final versions. Many students regard the project as valuable because they get to practice they have learned in many science courses. They anticipate using the critical thinking and writing skills they learn in future professions.

Eleanor tells her students: “The best way to learn science is to do science. This grant proposal project goes beyond the process or conducting a two-hour lab exercise and then writing a lab report. It allows you to deeply explore a topic of your choice. The act of combining the fruits of your research and your ideas about an experiment into a written product crystallizes your knowledge. Writing requires you to synthesize hypotheses and logical arguments in a coherent way. It’s how scientists wrestle with ideas. Not only do I want you to learn a lot about an ecological topic of your choice, but also to learn to find, gather and use information. One of my goals is for you to leave this class as a practiced and deep critical thinker who can tackle problems in an analytical way. This grant proposal project will allow you to practice critical, analytical thinking that can be applied broadly, no matter what you do after you take this class.”