“Not Just a Theory” lesson makes the local TV news

September 24th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

The Heritage Middle School lesson about the scientific meaning of the word theory that stirred up a parent made the local TV news last night. WKMG Channel 6 has the story: Parents: Science lesson inappropriate

A controversial class assignment has forced a Volusia County school to issue an apology.

The lesson has since been pulled from Heritage Middle School. It was called “Not Just a Theory.” The assignment was on scientific standards, differentiating between a scientific theory and scientific lawd. The lesson, however, turned personal for parents because of two lines.

The readers’ comments are pretty much what you would expect.

Update to “Not Just a Theory” in Volusia County

September 22nd, 2015 by Brandon Haught

A letter was sent out from the principal of Heritage Middle School, Deltona, Florida, concerning an 8th grade science lesson I wrote about in a previous post. The letter was posted on the public Facebook page of the parent who originally complained about the lesson.

not just a theory apology letter

A spark

September 18th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

theoryAn interesting situation is percolating in Volusia County. A mother of an 8th grade student recently found a science assignment in her son’s binder that upset her. The part that really stood out to her is:

“Next time someone tries to tell you that evolution is just a theory, as a way of dismissing it, as if it’s just something someone guesses at, remember that they’re using the non-scientific meaning of the word. If that person is a teacher, or a minister, or some other figure of authority, they should know better. In fact, they probably do, and are trying to mislead you.”

I believe the mother felt that the passage undermined her authority as a parent and was derogatory toward her Christian faith. She posted a picture of the handout on her public Facebook page and said:

“I encourage you to call the school, call the school board. We need to rally together as parents and let them know this is UNACCEPTABLE. They can teach evolution as a theory, but to say that it is not just a theory and to tell students to question authority on this matter is CROSSING THE LINE! Please share and call the school. Call the schoolboard. Call the news! Stand up for what is right. Something needs to be done.”

Further comments and posts from her indicate that she has called the school. She said: “I was told that this assignment has since been removed from the curriculum. Too little too late. The school has no right to indoctrinate our children and to undermine the authority of other teachers, ministers, or any figure of authority that tells them evolution is not just a theory.”

Furthermore, she said she was contacted by the local Fox News station (WOFL 35) to find out if she would give an interview. She said yes but it doesn’t look like any appointment has been set yet.

The mother’s posts on this started Friday morning (September 18). She is attempting to get friends and supporters to share the information in an effort to get it to go viral. Based on the comments others have left on her posts, she is getting some support.

The teacher’s handout apparently was copied fully and directly from the website http://www.notjustatheory.com/.

Note that in accordance with the Florida Sunshine State Science Standards, 8th grade teachers are expected to instruct students on the meaning of the word theory in science (science standard SC.8.N.3: The role of theories, laws, hypotheses and models). However, evolution is not in the standards for 8th grade. It is in the standards for 7th grade, so it is covered to some extent in middle school but not in 8th grade. Additionally, Volusia County’s curriculum map has evolution being taught in 7th grade but not in 8th grade.

I don’t advocate attacking or debating the mother or her supporters in any way. The purpose of the “theory lesson” was obviously lost on her and I don’t think it would be worthwhile debating that aspect of this situation with her or her supporters.

As far as teaching about the scientific meaning of the word theory goes, the teacher is not only OK with teaching the meaning but the teacher is expected to teach it. Bringing evolution into the lesson might not have been the best decision, especially in light of evolution not being in the curriculum. But using evolution as an example in a theory lesson is acceptable, especially in light of the fact that 8th grade students were taught about evolution the previous year. Where the teacher might have gone too far is in using the Not Just a Theory website text word for word. The section that upset the mother in this situation should have been left out. The teacher should have been more sensitive to the possibility that the passage could be unnecessarily confrontational in nature.

I haven’t named the parties involved. But since the mother’s Facebook posts are public and are being shared, I’ll provide a link.

If anything more comes of this, I’ll keep you posted.

Problem with Florida textbook over climate change?

September 16th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

sciencebookcoverSteven Newton from the National Center for Science Education reports that there is a problem with a science textbook here in the Sunshine State. The issue? Climate change. Here’s the opening paragraphs from his story: Epic Climate Change Textbook Fail.

Are our children learning science?

If those children are being taught about climate from Florida’s fifth grade science textbook from publisher Scott Foresman (Pearson), then those children are learning from a text so riddled with glaring and obvious errors that it’s hard to know how such a book could see the light of day, much less be adopted by Florida public schools.

Head over to the link to read the specifics on the inaccuracies in this textbook.

Anyone know of any schools using this textbook?

Science is science, hopefully

August 20th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Tampa Bay’s Creative Loafing blog Political Animal has a post up entitled School of thought: Florida schools are ripe for potential church-state violations. Of interest to us is this observation:

Science is science. You’d think there wouldn’t be any argument over whether something that’s not based on empirical evidence should be taught in science classes. But creationism still creeps into some classrooms. Obviously if a teacher is discussing religious tenets in the context of a humanities class, that’s one thing. But anyone who thinks Satan put dinosaur bones underground to trick us into thinking the universe’s age exceeds 6,000 years should probably not be teaching science. Or anything at a public school.

“If you’ve got a teacher telling you that creationism is the way and that you need to pray, we will come in there and we will fix that,” Seidel said. “If we can’t fix it, we will sue that school.”

Unintelligent Design

August 5th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Lynn University in Boca Raton has a series of courses called Dialogues of Learning that tackle the main topic of Belief and Reason. One of the courses offered in the Dialogues series is Unintelligent Design. The course description says:

Ever since its original publication, the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection has been attacked by certain segments of society, largely on religious grounds. The most recent version of these attacks has been the invention of what is claimed by its proponents as an “alternative theory” called Intelligent Design. In this course we will study the scientific theory of Evolution, including how it has been expanded in the 150 years since Darwin first proposed it, and then compare it with the pseudoscientific idea of Intelligent Design. We will evaluate Intelligent Design in terms of its fitness as a scientific theory, and also analyze its arguments against naturalistic evolution. The goal of the course is to have students learn about a significant scientific theory, the difference between science and pseudoscience, and learn how to critically evaluate both scientific and non-scientific claims.

The Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin isn’t happy about it. Essentially, he doesn’t think intelligent design should be referred to as pseudoscience. Poor guy.

Sidestepping an important question about school vouchers

August 3rd, 2015 by Brandon Haught

science experimentThe Palm Beach Post published a Q & A session with representatives of Step Up for Students about Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program: Accountability next debate for private vouchers

I want to emphasize that Florida Citizens for Science as an organization doesn’t get directly involved in the voucher debate. Some people think vouchers are good and some people think vouchers are bad, but that’s not a debate we are going to get into. It’s not really in our mission.

But when it comes to science education in voucher accepting schools, we do take a stand. There needs to be some form of accountability, especially in the religion-based schools that teach some form of creationism. Quite a while ago I posted about at least “163 voucher accepting public schools in Florida that use creationist materials or boldly state that they teach anti-science.”

In the Post Q & A I’m happy to see science addressed. First, it’s clear that there is no accountability in the voucher accepting schools when it comes to science:

POST: Are these kids getting standardized tests on things other than reading and math?

EAST: They are not. They are getting history and science, yes. But not being tested.

I’m happy to see the question of creationism is posed:

POST: Are they being taught evolution versus creationism at the religious schools? Is that being asked by SUFS? Are there standards based on their curriculum?

But a big journalistic mistake is to ask a list of questions at once instead of just one at a time. That lets the interview subject pick which question to answer. Notice that Jon East doesn’t bother answering the creationism question. He just answers the last question about standards.

EAST: There are not. The teachers do not have to be certified. The schools do not have to be accredited.

The next question allows East to steer right into the same old unsatisfactory answer that’s been given over and over again for the past several years.

POST: Is that a gap or hole in the program that needs to be filled? What about accountability?

EAST: Accountability isn’t just regulation. Accountability also comes with choice. When a parent can decide whether or not he or she wants to leave a school because their kid may or may not be learning, there’s accountability there too.

Supposedly, parents will hold a school accountable by switching if the school isn’t meeting the parents’ expectations. What is never addressed is what to do when parents actually want bad education? Should something be done in the case of parents wanting their children to learn horribly wrong science? If state money in the form of vouchers or Scholarship Programs is going to anti-science instruction, shouldn’t the state and/or taxpayers stomp on the brakes?

We think so.

“Talk Science With Me” event in Gainesville

July 30th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

science-communicationThere is an interesting event happening in Gainesville tonight called Talk Science With Me. Scientists from the University of Florida will be at various locations around town standing by to chat with you and answer your burning science questions. Their publicity/social media isn’t the best at this point so I’ll try to help them out. I know where some scientists will be at but others aren’t as clear. Here’s what I pieced together from their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

  • Joe Meert is a geologist: Gainesville Public Library downtown from 6-8 pm
  • Andree George is a microbiologist who specializes in soil and water science. Right now he’s studying how salmonella interacts with tomatoes: Know Where Coffee, 5:30-7:30 pm
  • Jack Hutchings’ specialty is in Geology and Paleontology: (location is unclear)
  • Kim Hawkins is a medical scientist and her area of specialty is in neuroscience: (location is unclear)
  • Mike Perfit is a geologist: Gator Laundromat
  • Library Headquarters in downtown Gainesville in on the venue list but it’s unclear who will be there.

They’re going to try and live-tweet the event and use the hashtag #talkscience. If you know anything more about this event, please leave a comment.