Archive for the 'In the Classroom' Category

Pond scum in the classroom

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

The fifth-grade students learned some interesting hands-on stuff, but the teacher was a little … worried.

Casey Turner watched as two buckets of fresh pond water — full of writhing bloodworms, mosquito larvae, water bugs and other aquatic wildlife — were heaved into the center of his fifth-grade classroom on a recent Wednesday.

Math and science education getting attention

Monday, November 10th, 2008

This article in the Northwest Florida Daily News highlights a program to help schools teach math and science.

With academic standards changing every year, it can be difficult for teachers and administrators to keep pace.

Principals across Okaloosa County are joining 600 school administrators from throughout Florida in a yearlong professional development course aimed at building standard-based curriculums and improving students’ academic achievement in math and science.

The Partnership to Rejuvenate and Optimize Mathematics and Science Education (PROMiSE) recently has been introduced in Florida. The three-year initiative is supported with federal funding from the Math and Science Partnership program at the U.S. Department of Education.

Here’s the website for Florida PROMiSE if you want to learn more.

Meanwhile, in higher education there is a push to produce better math and science teachers out of colleges. The St. Petersburg Times Gradebook blog mentions FSU joining up with the Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative.

Florida State University is among more than 75 public colleges and universities that have joined forces to increase the number of math and science teachers in public schools.

The newly formed Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative hopes to address what some have seen as a tendency among top public universities to shortchange teacher education in favor of lucrative research and grants.

And finally, Dr. Harry Kroto is getting the word out on a project he’s been working on for a while now called Global Educational Outreach. There are two sites you can visit to get a feel for what Dr. Kroto is trying to do: GEOSET and Kroto Research Insititute.

The ultimate aim of GEOSET is the empowerment of teachers by giving them, wherever they are, access to educational materials of the highest possible quality plus presentation instruction by the best communicators, free-of-charge. This will enable them to teach essential concepts, introduce students to science at the cutting edge and encourage the students to consider seriously careers in STEM.

Science Fever

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Anyone in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties want to help kids catch the science fever? Here’s your chance:

I LOVE Science (Increasing Local Opportunities for Volunteers Enthusiastic about Science) is looking for volunteers interested in leading monthly, one hour hands-on science activities in fifth-grade classrooms during the 2008-2009 school year. Training for volunteers will be on August 27 at 5:30 pm at the Gulf Power Corporate Office on Bayfront Parkway.

Volunteers are partnered directly with classroom teachers in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. They are given activity guides, materials and training on the lessons. Volunteers do not need to be scientists; they just need to care about science education.

In other news, Ocean Breeze Elementary School recently got a new science room.

After all the bake sales, family-night dinners, talent shows, and community festivals, the Parent Teacher Organization that is charged with organizing the school’s fundraising activities finally met its goal.

The money raised went to create a new science lab for students from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Science makes kids smile? Who knew?

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Let’s take a time out and be positive for a bit. To succeed in this society we live in, we need to have a basic grasp of the science that drives all of our technology and medicine. So, it’s always a pleasure to read about school science programs that take the edge off of students’ fear of the subject. And it’s great to see how the teachers and parents work so hard to get it done, despite the inevitable obstacles.

Stinky cheese, bouncing eggs, dancing raisins and bubbles. – All, it turns out, can be the makings of something scientific.

For six weeks, 28 Cypress Elementary students got to try out those experiments and more as part of a free after-school science program.

That’s thanks to a $300 teaching grant from the Pasco County Education Foundation Inc., two enthusiastic teachers willing to put in some extra time and effort, and a spark from parent, volunteer and School Advisory Board member Pam Binder.

The lessons from the after-school Science Club also turned out to be far-reaching.

Robinson and Scherer said they each adapted some of the experiments for the students in their own classrooms.

“I think it made us better teachers,” Scherer said.”

Robinson noted that students in the club seemed especially hyped for the upcoming school Science Fair. “It sparked some enthusiasm for other projects.”

And take a look at those smiling kids in the pictures. If nothing else, those smiles make it all worth the effort.

It’s time to move on

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Setting aside the anti-science nonsense brewing in the Florida senate for a moment, let’s think about the future. The new state science standards are approved. It’s time for schools statewide to think about how to best implement them. The Bradenton Herald has a story on this subject.

Now that the excitement over the teaching of evolution has peaked, educators statewide are hunkering down to figure out how to incorporate the state’s new science standards in the classroom.

That is going to take some work, both for students and teachers – after teachers digest the new requirements and the school district figure out how to pay for the upgrade of many of its science lab equipment.

The new standards will require more in-depth work involving labs. Labs mean lab equipment. Lab equipment means money.

“Our labs situation in Manatee is abominable. It’s a horrible budget time to be recognizing this,” she [Jane Pfeilsticker, a Manatee County school board member who helped write the new standards] said. “We will need to be partnering with the business community to build up our lab equipment.”

Some of the microscopes are 30 years old and are outdated. Microscopes of the future will be wired to computers, she said.

With this in mind, it’s exciting to see that the experts who wrote our new science standards didn’t just walk away when the work was done. The writers and framers sent a letter to education commissioner Dr. Eric Smith, as well as state board of education members and state legislators. You can read the full letter here. Some suggested action items from the letter:

4. Establish a permanent panel of scientists, business leaders and educator-leaders that advise the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education on science education issues.

5. Support the development and adoption of research-based instructional materials, including laboratories and authentic field experiences.

6. Commit at least $100 million per year to professional development of science teachers that is based on the best research about how students learn this subject.

Of course, the writers/framers know full well that the state is in financial trouble. But investing now will pay off later, they say.

So, should the state legislature waste time on an “academic freedom act” or do some real work?

What’s happening in the classroom? No one really knows.

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

The St. Petersburg Times has been the only newspaper in Florida I’ve seen that really puts a lot of attention on the evolution in the state science standards issue. A story in today’s paper attempts to peek into the science classroom. That’s where the actual teaching happens, after all. But it was difficult for the reporter to get an accurate sense of what’s going on when it comes down to teacher and student interaction. Note that the reporter tried to reach 50 teachers, but only got 17 to respond. The opening paragraphs get right to the point of what’s going on:

Sometimes, Allyn Sue Baylor doesn’t teach evolution in her science class, even though the state requires it. She knows of other teachers who duck the issue, too.

They fear a backlash.

“There are cases when parents have gotten really upset,” said Baylor, who teaches at Palm Harbor Middle School in Pinellas County. “It’s scary. You can lose your job.”

It’s sad that someone can be in fear of losing his or her job for doing the job. That’s essentially what the above quote says. Can you imagine a dentist being in fear of teaching patients how to properly floss? I sure can’t, but that’s what is happening in some Florida science classrooms. Evolution is not just part of biology, it is biology. And yet the teacher feels that teaching the subject is fraught with danger. Why is that?

“In short, there are too many biology teachers who won’t, or don’t, or can’t teach evolution properly,” according to an editorial in the January edition of the American Biology Teacher.

Some may be glossing over the subject because of their faith. A 1999 survey of biology teachers in Oklahoma, for example, found that 12 percent wanted to omit evolution and teach creationism instead. A similar survey in Louisiana found that 29 percent of biology teachers believed creationism should be taught, while in South Dakota, it was 39 percent.

Others may fear being dragged into a battle over belief. In a 2005 survey by the National Science Teachers Association, 31 percent of respondents said they had felt pressured by students, parents, or administrators to include creationism, intelligent design or other faith-based alternatives to evolution in their curriculum. Thirty percent said they felt pressure to de-emphasize or omit evolution.

This is one heck of a vicious circle. First, a vocal, passionate group of people don’t have an understanding of basic science education, as evidenced by the the constant cry of “it’s not a fact, it’s a theory” or “it’s just a theory.” This group raises such a stink, based on their lack of science education, that they suppress current science education through fear. That in turn fosters a new generation of future students who don’t have an understanding of basic science. This horrible cycle will continue until enough people have the courage to break it.

Do you have that courage?

Loose lips and all that

Friday, February 1st, 2008

The Florida Citizens for Science membership has been debating the authority of one school district’s order for its science teachers to stay mum when it comes to the media calling and asking about evolution. The Gradebook mentions that St. Petersburg Times reporters have been trying to collect teachers’ opinions about evolution in the classroom. Seminole County didn’t like all that snooping and so issued the following notice:

It has come to our attention that press calls are being made to some schools regarding the question of teaching evolution in our schools.

Please remind your staff members, who may be contacted, that if they receive calls they are to be referred to the district office, specifically to my office. This question is a district issue, not one to which individuals should respond. We are aware that the St. Petersburg Times is currently making some random calls.

Previously, when I was contacted by the media concerning this question, I responded: It is the official position of the administration that is responsible for making curriculum decisions that the science curriculum of Seminole County Public Schools is aligned with the Sunshine State Standards and meets the requirements of law. No discussion beyond that statement is held.

If a teacher wants to speak with a reporter after school hours, off of school property and makes it clear he or she is not speaking on behalf of the school district, can the school district stop the teacher? If I understand correctly, the reporter in this specific case wants to hear from teachers about personal experiences when in a classroom full of kids. Provided the interview is not about general policy, what is the problem with relating personal anecdotes?

Quite a few FCS members have said that the teacher should be able to speak under the above outlined circumstances, but that doing so could still result in an uncomfortable working environment. Maybe the teacher won’t be formally disciplined, but some FCS members have made it clear that there are plenty of other ways to make a teacher feel the heat, unfortunately.

What do you think?

Dropping the curriculum for FCAT

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

And now for some non-evolution science education news … the FCAT is so dang important that regular science curriculum is being dropped in some schools in order to do an intense FCAT prep. (The FCAT is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It’s a high stakes test that determines if kids can advance to the next grade in some cases, and if they can can graduate from High School. The results of the test also determine whether schools are rewarded or punished based on their students’ performances. More info here and here.)

When Priya Mistry returned from winter break, she expected to spend the next quarter in chemistry learning about Avogadro’s number and converting moles to mass. Instead, her teacher said he was throwing out the chemistry curriculum for the next seven weeks and teaching a review for the science FCAT.

The science FCAT is given in grades 5, 8 and 11. Students at all levels posted lackluster scores last year, but high schools were particularly hard hit. One reason, science teachers say, is that the test encompasses a broad range of science disciplines taught over several years.

Some advanced students taking honors classes who expected to ace the test have failed it because they haven’t seen earth and space science since eighth grade, Hicks said.

Most students need a review to do well on the test, said Nicole Dougherty, a science teacher at Santaluces High School. Her students do a daily warm-up drill modeled after FCAT questions. When they struggle with a specific tested topic, she spends more time on it.

But devoting seven weeks to review would be a “disservice” to her students who need to learn her courses’ intended content, she said.

“They don’t come to FCAT school, they come to high school to learn a topic,” she said. “If I was a teacher who only cared about scores, I could very well be wooed” to suspend the regular lessons. “We just feel like a good education for these kids will, in turn, give them good, positive scores on the FCAT.”