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Guest Post: The IMPACT Summer Program

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

I’m happy to present this guest post submitted by Amanda I. De Cun, MPS Candidate Marine Ecosystems and Society, Intern with the Department of Ocean Sciences at RSMAS University of Miami.

The STEM field has become increasingly popular and important in the past few years. Encouraging grade school students to participate in STEM activities have been shown to make an impact in their chances of high school graduation and being accepted into college. In fact, one program has seen first-hand what a difference STEM immersion can do for a student.

One program that has made an incredible impact on Miami-Dade County high school students since its inception in 1999, has been the Frost Science Upward Bound Math and Science program (UBMS), funded by the U.S. Department of Education. UBMS understands the importance of science in the classroom, but has also realized that under-resourced students often miss out on a science focused curriculum in school as well as lacking science role models in their lives. To defeat this problem, the UBMS program enlists students from Title 1 schools in the Miami area and enrolls them in a four year, after school, weekend and summer program geared towards STEM curiosity. The program inspires these under-resourced students the opportunity to see a world of post-secondary study, motivating them to complete high school and become the first generation in their family to be accepted into college.

The UBMS program provides these students with access to mentors, interactions with scientists and technology as well as a six-week summer program called IMPACT (Integrated Marine Program and College Training). In partnership with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, these students are able to immerse themselves with marine science curriculum through activities with the university such as shark tagging expeditions, outdoor field experiences and field trips to state parks and marine sanctuaries and conduct research projects mentored by graduate students and M-DCPS teachers.

The IMPACT curriculum always includes the theory, practice and tools associated with different subjects ranging from oceanography, marine biology, geology, and ecology, meteorology and resource management. At the end of their six-week summer program, the students are given the opportunity to present their projects and are recognized by museum staff, scientists, families and peers for their dedicated accomplishments.

This summer, I was given the opportunity to present and give a lecture to these students during their six-week IMPACT program at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. As a current RSMAS graduate student, I am fulfilling my internship requirement under the direction of Dr. Vassiliki Kourafalou, a professor in the Ocean Science department, who is currently doing research with funding from the GoMRI project (Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative) which is a “10-year independent research program created to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies” (Gulf of Mexico Research Intiative 2013). In easier words, to understand the effects of oil on the environment and how to be better prepared in case another oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon explosion were to happen again.

During my internship, I spent most of my time researching and understanding the work related to the GoMRI project, created lectures and presentations for high school classrooms and attended outreach events. I felt really lucky to be given the opportunity to present to these IMPACT students, because coming from a previous career as a high school biology teacher, I understand the importance of communicating science to young people, while making them interested in it at the same time. To be invited by the outreach coordinators at IMPACT and asked to be a small part of an amazing program like UBMS, was extremely gratifying. Knowing I made a positive impact on these students is a feeling that every teacher, volunteer, outreach coordinator, mom, dad, whoever it may be, wants to feel and experience.

With over 1,000 students participating in their program since 1999, 98% have graduated high school and 95% have been accepted into a post-secondary institution of study, with the majority pursuing STEM fields (UBMS 2017). The UBMS program has made it extremely clear that when you provide students with the necessary tools to succeed, they will, in fact succeed.

This is not “needless fretting”

Saturday, July 29th, 2017

An editorial was published in a few papers recently, including the Gainesville Sun, opining that Florida’s new instructional materials law isn’t something to get all worked up about: Needless fretting over textbook law.

The doomsdayers among us believe Scott and the measure’s supporters have thrust open an educational Pandora’s box, exposing school districts to the “anti-science” whims of flat-earthers and climate-change deniers.

To them we reply: Deep breaths, folks, deep breaths.

There are some elements of the editorial I agree with. I agree that this law won’t wipe science subjects like evolution and climate change out of the state’s public schools. I agree that a lot of the news coverage, especially the headlines attached to the stories, are overblown and sensationalist. I believe trouble will likely only pop up in a few spots around the state where small yet vocal groups are already causing headaches.

But I disagree with the overall tone of the editorial, which is essentially saying don’t worry, this is no big deal.

This law probably isn’t a big deal when you look at it from a statewide perspective. But it’s a huge deal when you look at it from the local school district perspective. Even if only one school district decides to allow anti-science instructional materials into their school (due to a sympathetic school board majority or relentless pressure that eventually forces a school board into compromise), that’s going to potentially impact the education of hundreds or thousands of students for years. This is not just alarmist hype. I wrote the book on this topic. It’s happened before here in the Sunshine State and the chances of it happening again are now very high with the passage into law of the instructional materials bill and the religious liberties in schools bill.

Keep in mind that the group mentioned in the editorial, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, took credit for writing the bill. They took credit for recruiting legislators to sponsor the bill. They took credit for helping to successfully navigate the bill through all of its committee stops and votes. They took credit for helping it become law.

Why in the world would they go through all of that effort?

The law’s authors and supporters said:

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” [Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh] said.

And that goal was repeated:

“The science here is not proven on either side,” Flaugh said. “There are lots of scientists on both sides of that equation: Creationism versus the theory of evolution. They’re both theories. And all we’re asking for is both sides of the discussion in a balanced way be put in front of the students.”

And it was repeated yet again:

“We’re not trying to ban books,” said Keith Flaugh, founder of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which pushed for that state’s bill.

He said his group is seeking balance in school instruction, including teaching both evolution and creationism and the various arguments about climate change.

Those quotes lead me to the next point I want to make. The editorial questions why nearly every news story focuses primarily on science education.

The whole reason why the media is fixated on the science aspect of this law is because we here at Florida Citizens for Science — who specialize in science education, of course — were vigilant and aggressive. We brought the pitfalls of this law to the media’s attention and we made it incredibly easy for them to report on it, having done most of their work for them.

I’ve lamented to a few reporters that no one has stepped up to defend the other academic subjects under attack. There apparently is no Citizens for Civics organization out there, for instance. And many reporters should shoulder some blame for not bothering to do their own digging and questioning about those other academic subjects. The Alliance is much more focused on civics and history and religion than they are on science.

But science became the media’s focal point because evolution and climate change lessons in schools are hot button topics and we constantly monitor those topics and immediately take action, such as alerting the media, when problems pop up. Florida Citizens for Science would likely have never been involved in this fight if the Alliance hadn’t included science topics in their long list of “objectionable materials.”

Whereas I agree that many news stories have gotten some facts wrong and over hyped the impact of the instructional materials law, I disagree that we’re engaging in “needless fretting.” I appreciate that the news coverage has highlighted this issue because now citizen science advocates across the state are aware of the laws and are ready to act if needed. We’ve been flooded with correspondence, membership requests, and social media followers.

And the interest has led to yet more calls from reporters (I know that a few more stories are currently in the works). I make sure to emphasize to those reporters the facts of this issue, not the hype. We want reality-based awareness of this issue, not the-sky-is-falling screaming.

This is not “needless fretting.” This is citizen activism provoked by very real attacks on science education.

Announcement: Florida Citizens for Science meeting July 15

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Florida Citizens for Science will hold an interim meeting to discuss the many science education developments since we held our regular annual meeting back in January.

Date: July 15 (Saturday)
Time: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Place: Room 2702 USF Marshall Student Center, 4103 Cedar Circle, Tampa, Florida 33620

The event announcement is also on Facebook.

We will have a structured “open forum” meeting to discuss the following:
**Seeking members willing to serve on the Florida Citizens for Science Board of Directors, willing to form and serve on committees, and willing to take on other active roles.
**What actions to take in response to new Instructional Materials law.
**What actions to take in response to new Religious Liberties in Schools law.
**What actions to take when the Florida Department of Education starts the science textbook review/adoption process.
**What actions to take in response to consistently poor results on annual state science assessments.
**Guage interest in reinstating our annual fundraising campaign for science supplies requested by Florida teachers on Donors Choose.

We will attempt to make the meeting accessible remotely via Skype, Google Hangouts or some other video conferencing method. If anyone wishes to assist in setting this up, please let us know.

We will ask all participants to stay on topic. We will politely yet firmly cut off comments/discussion that ramble or get off topic. Please review the list of topics and prepare any remarks or suggestions you have ahead of time so that the meeting can run smoothly.

The fight will now be won or lost where you live.

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Unfortunately, the devious Instructional Materials bill, which creationists and climate change deniers absolutely love, is now signed into law by Governor Rick Scott. This means our fight is only just now beginning. Each and every one of us has to be on alert. You must keep an eye on your local school board and everyone who brings forth a complaint about textbooks. If you don’t, we truly lose. At this point the fight is at the local level. If you’re not there and willing to stand up for sound science education, then we’re done.

Are you ready?

Edited to add: If you’re not familiar with this new law, please read through our Instructional Materials bill blog category. In a nutshell, the new law will allow any resident, not just parents, to protest against what’s found in textbooks, including coverage of evolution, climate change, vaccines, etc. On top of that, school districts must appoint a hearing officer to consider such complaints. It’s bad news all around.

To make things worse, a separate bill was signed into law earlier concerning Religious Liberties in schools. Part of that new law states: “A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.” We already know for a fact that at least one organization will combine both laws in their crusade against what they view as in balanced inaccuracies in Florida textbooks. The group’s leaders have gone on the record with their intentions.

“[Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith] Flaugh said his group will use it in conjunction with the instructional materials bill to contest textbooks that demonstrate ‘bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity,’ and promote those that push for a Christian view of the origins of life. ‘Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,’ he said.”

Unfortunate students stuck in the middle of a debate they don’t understand

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

wnyc_square_logoNew York’s flagship public radio station WNYC recently broadcast/published stories about conflicts over teaching evolution and climate change in classrooms across the country. I spent quite a long time talking with a reporter about the situation here in Florida, especially in relation to the Religious Liberties and Instructional Materials bills approved by our state legislature and awaiting the governor’s signature. The first couple of stories went live today.

One story is on a show called The Takeaway: New Law Would Let Citizens Fight to Get Climate Change, Evolution Out of Florida Classrooms. It’s an interview with Glenn Branch from the National Center for Science Education. Overall, it’s a good, informative story. But I feel some nuance was missed, as indicated in the story’s title. Even those who promoted the bill have said it’s not about getting subjects they don’t like out of the science classroom, but rather trying to balance them with other views. And the bill doesn’t directly impact the curriculum but rather just the instructional materials, such as textbooks. I’m not sure if the reporters who I’ve talked with aren’t understanding that or they are choosing to simplify the topic for their audiences.

upset-studentThe other story is on a show called The United States of Anxiety: “Would you debate gravity?”: climate change in the classroom. The main story can be played right at the top of the page, but there are several other audio clips further down the page, including mine roughly halfway down. My clip features some fumbling pauses in the beginning because I was trying to think of the best way to tell my story without providing too much detail that might identify and embarrass or upset the story’s subjects if they were to happen to hear it. The main point I was trying to make was that some poor students find themselves stuck in the middle between a teacher and his/her family. The student brings a question to me but as I delve deeper into the question with the student it becomes clear that the student is just relaying it from a parent and doesn’t even understand the question.

But there was more that I told the reporter that didn’t make it into that 28 second clip. I said that’s a horrible situation for the student and I refuse to use the child as a messenger. Instead, I decline to answer the question, explaining that I want to hear questions that the student comes up with, not the parent. What I teach is a very basic foundation and this is probably the first time students are hearing about climate change in an academic setting. The questions the parents come up with are full of misleading inaccuracies and outright false information that would take forever to try to explain to a child who has just learned for the first time from me what the greenhouse gases are (other than carbon dioxide) and what the albedo effect is. Honestly, I think the students are relieved that I take that stance.

With that in mind, I want to point out that if the instructional materials bill is signed into law by the governor, we’re going to see the situation I described much more often.

I was told that more clips from my long interview might be used in other stories still to come.

Heartland’s junk mail arrives in Florida

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Today was my last day of school with students for the year. After saying a final farewell to my students, I wrapped up my day with my usual trek to the mail room and I found a little gift in my mailbox:


For those of you who don’t know, it’s climate change denial garbage from a conservative think tank. This New York Times Op-ed explains.

The book is unscientific propaganda from authors with connections to the disinformation-machinery of the Heartland Institute. In a recent letter to his members, David L. Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said that “labeling propaganda as science does not make it so.” He called the institute’s mass mailing of the book an “unprecedented attack” on science education.

Judging from the responses of educators I know who have received “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming” in recent weeks, most copies of it are likely to be ignored or discarded. But if only a small percentage of teachers use it as intended, they could still mislead tens of thousands of students with it year after year.

Knowing that the other science teachers at my school received the same package, I sent an email to my department explaining what’s going on and pointing them to the National Center for Science Education’s material that refutes Heartland’s junk. I’m glad I did. I later spoke with a fellow teacher who didn’t know anything about Heartland. With that in mind, I advise that all teachers educate their coworkers when this junk mail shows up!

“They’re both theories”

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

senateWelcome to the final week of the Florida legislative session. Today, the creationist-enabling Instructional Materials bill (SB 1210) is being debated on the Senate floor. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out the Instructional Materials bills ’17 blog category here to find out why creationists, climate change deniers and anti-vaccine nuts love this bill that could impact how textbooks are chosen on the local school board level.) As of this writing, I don’t know if the bill has actually been debated yet or if that will come later. I’ve been at work all day, as I’m sure most of you have been, so I haven’t been able to monitor today’s proceedings. If I understand the process correctly, senators will just ask questions and debate the merits of the bill today without any voting. Then the bill needs to be scheduled for a full Senate vote on some later date. Of course, I could be wrong about that. I’m no expert, and it is the final week of session. I don’t know if the process can be expedited before the session ends on Friday. We’ll see.

While we wait to see what happens, the online news website Motherboard published a story today about the Instructional Materials bills: Florida Bills Would Let Citizens Remove Textbooks That Mention Climate Change and Evolution. I’m excited about the story because for the very first time, one of the main bill creators/supporters, Florida Citizens’ Alliance’s Keith Flaugh, has finally been directly confronted with our science education concerns. His thoughts on the matter are quite revealing:

Keith Flaugh, co-director of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, a libertarian advocacy group, argued the bills are about transparency and giving communities greater say in school materials, which he said are currently being chosen by “politicized” school districts and “establishment” textbook companies.

“The science here is not proven on either side,” Flaugh said. “There are lots of scientists on both sides of that equation: Creationism versus the theory of evolution. They’re both theories. And all we’re asking for is both sides of the discussion in a balanced way be put in front of the students.”

If only this view had been drawn out of Flaugh so much earlier! I don’t know if it would have done any good. But at least now there is clear evidence that Flaugh wants something in Florida schools that has been repeatedly judged by the court system to be unconstitutional.

What happens now? Assuming the Senate bill is voted on and approved by Friday, I believe the next step is that the House and Senate versions, which have some differences, need to be reconciled before a final joint version can be forwarded to the governor for signature. Does the merging of the different versions need to happen before Friday? I don’t know. I’m out of my depth right now. Anyone with better knowledge of the process is more than welcome to chime in.


Marching for Science across Florida

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

The March for Science events across Florida were awesome! I attended the Space Coast March and I was genuinely excited to see how many folks attended. From the front of the march I could look back and see the mass of chanting and sign-waving people stretching out for blocks behind us. This definitely wasn’t some minor protest with a handful of die-hards. This was, in fact, a movement. And that was just from my view in Titusville. The same big crowds were seen all across Florida and the country. Check out these two photos I took. I tried to capture the size of the march as best as I could. In the first photo you can obviously see the marchers in the foreground, but then also look in the distant background: more people!



Here’s a story about the Space Coast March: Hundreds in Titusville march for science

“We think it is extremely important for all children to realize that science is a way of life, not just part of life. I hope this event reminds Brevard County of our roots. We are the Space Coast after all. We should all celebrate and appreciate the diversity that NASA has brought to this area and how fortunate we are to have rocket launches in our back yard.”

And here are more stories about Florida marches:

Orlando joins world in March for Science on Earth Day

“Science is inherently apolitical. There are facts, and then you make decisions based on those facts,” Emerson, 31, said.

“Science isn’t about one side being good and one side being bad. Science is about one side being right and one side being wrong,” he added.

‘Science not silence’: Hundreds of mad scientists descend on downtown Miami

Organizers said that it was more than the actions of the current administration that drove them to the streets. Protesters, like retired marine scientist Susan Markley, expressed concern over a societal shift away from science.

“I’m particularly upset that there’s a contempt for science now,” Markley said. “There’s a rejection. It’s described as an elitist approach when that’s not what it is at all.”

[Tallahassee] March for Science draws thousands, calls for education

“Science matters.”

“Science matters.”

It was the rallying cry for more than 4,000 people who attended Saturday’s March for Science in Tallahassee.

People held signs saying, “Science will not be silenced” and “The truth has no party affiliation.” They came from as far away as Fort Lauderdale and were as young as a few months old. But they all held the same belief.

Scientific integrity is important.

[Gainesville] Saturday’s March for Science draws nearly 1,000 protestors

“We’re out here because we have to be,” said Candace Biggerstaff, the assistant manager general of the chemistry lab at UF. “Before, we didn’t have to be political because science wasn’t being actively stomped on. Now this attack is forcing us to get out of our house and march down the street on a hot day in Florida. I hope the kids don’t forget this moment. I hope we continue to fight.”

We here at Florida Citizens say THANK YOU for supporting science. But don’t stop with one day of marching. Keep on marching!