Archive for the 'In the News' Category

Lots of news

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

There’s all sorts of interesting news items related to science education lately! I’ll list them here by general topic …

Instructional Materials Law

From the Gainesville Sun
Carl Ramey: State continues assault on public schools

Equally problematic are the amendments enacted this year to Florida’s education code; specifically, the section that permits challenges to “instructional materials” used by public schools. Previously, challenges were limited to parents with children in the school district. Now, any resident of the county with an axe to grind can challenge the appropriateness of anything (textbooks, videos, software, etc.) having “intellectual content” and used as a “major tool” for instruction.

In short, a limited, parent-centric complaint procedure has been turned into an open-ended, highly accessible platform for sectarian pressure groups — more interested in advancing a particular belief than how certain material might impact a particular child. It opens up the possibility of coordinated campaigns by groups seeking to ban material deemed objectionable on religious or political grounds (such as evolution and global warming).

From the journal Bioscience, published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences
Evolution Education and State Politics

A bill passed by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott makes it easier to remove evolution education or any other “controversial” subject from a district’s curriculum. Any taxpayer who lives in the school district can file a complaint to the school board and will have the opportunity to argue why instructional materials are not “objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current,” or “free of pornography.”

Although Florida House Bill 989 did not specifically mention evolution, advocates cited the testimony of some supporters as evidence of the bill’s intentions. Some advocates for the measure wrote, “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact of creation rather than a theory,” and “I have witnessed children being taught that global warming is a reality.”

From New Scientist
Feedback: Florida turns to crowdsourcing science classes

The US has long been pioneering efforts to rejoin church and state. A recent innovation is found in Florida, where state governor Rick Scott signed into law legislation allowing any resident to challenge educational material used in public schools. Passed under the auspices of empowering parents, critics warn that the bill will allow people to target the teaching of evolution and climate change in classrooms.

Feedback can only assume that the Sunshine State’s mathematics professors will soon have to find a way to make pi equal 3, sex educators teach the controversy over stork deliveries, and rockets blasting off from Cape Canaveral recalibrate for a geocentric model of the cosmos.

From the Daytona Beach News-Journal
Textbook case: New law lets public challenge school materials

“Our concern is that school boards across the state will be forced to give a lot of time and effort and perhaps even some finances to field complaints from citizens that don’t know a lot about science themselves,” he said.

Though his area of expertise is science, Haught expressed disappointment that educators in other disciplines haven’t spoken out against the law.

“Where are the history folks?” he asked. “Where are the civics defenders?”

From NPR’s Morning Edition
New Florida Law Lets Residents Challenge School Textbooks

Members of Florida Citizens’ Alliance have other concerns, including how some textbooks discuss Islam. Others take issue with science textbooks and how they deal with two topics in particular: evolution and climate change.

Flaugh says the law, which was signed by the governor on June 26, is intended to make sure scientific theories are presented in a balanced way.

“There will be people out there that argue that creationism versus Darwinism are facts. They’re both theories,” he says.

From the Washington Post
Florida’s education system — the one Betsy DeVos cites as a model — is in chaos

Gov. Scott also recently signed a new law that has alarmed people who care about science education. Known as H.B. 989 and targeted at the teaching of climate change and evolution, it empowers those who want to object to the use of specific instructional materials in public schools. Now, any resident can file a complaint about instructional material; it used to be limited to parents with a child in the schools.

Recruiting Teachers

From the Orlando Sentinel
Commentary: School districts tasked with filling math, science teacher shortage

The numbers of first-time test-takers for high-school teaching certifications in biology, chemistry and Earth/space science stayed constant or declined a bit during the same three-year period. In physics, that number dropped by one-third.

The Colleges of Education at the state’s universities aren’t even coming close to meeting the demand. According to an estimate in the Critical Teacher Shortage Area report for 2017-18 prepared by the Florida Department of Education, there were 214 vacancies for chemistry and physics teachers in Florida’s public schools in 2016-17.

From the Sun Sentinel
South Florida schools search for new ways to find teachers

Palm Beach County schools are also considering some less obvious candidates: athletes.

The school district has been attending job fairs that colleges host for student athletes. Their dreams may be to play in the NFL or NBA, but until that happens, they may want to teach in Palm Beach County, La Cava said.

“A lot of them have degrees in math and science and we can help them get certified,” La Cava said. “There are opportunities for them to teach and be coaches.”

Good News about Science Education

From the Panama City News Herald
Rockettes and CSI: FSU PC camps foster love of physics

Across a walkway in the Holley Center, Sonya Livingston Smith, a retired Rockette, and Denise Newsome, a teacher at Deane Bozeman School, were working to convincingly disguise a physics lesson as a dance class. While dancers practiced their turns and pliés, Newsome used motion sensors to track how their arm motions increased or decreased the velocity of their spins.

“It’s a great way to help the students not be scared of physics,” said Newsome, who describes herself as a science nerd with a dancing background.

This is the first year FSU PC has held a Physics of Dance camp, and Newsome hopes to grow the two-day offering into a full week in the future.

And let’s not forget we here at Florida Citizens for Science are running a fundraising campaign to help teachers obtain needed science supplies.
4th Annual science education fundraiser LAUNCH!

FCS launched its 4th annual fundraising campaign today by creating a Giving Page at Donors Choose. On that page you can choose from several projects across the state to help fund. FCS will match dollar for dollar total donations up to $700, essentially doubling your gift. This is on top of similar offers from corporations like Orkin and Tom’s of Maine highlighted on some of our chosen projects’ pages.

A few donations have come in these first few days of the campaign, which is awesome! But we need a lot more if we hope to get all of the selected classroom projects funded before students start walking in the classroom doors. Please help us out.

If the above items sound familiar to you, then it’s probably because you follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We’re posting the newest news items there nearly every day. It’s well worth liking and following us!


Column in paper today

Friday, January 8th, 2010

FCS’s Vice President Jonathan Smith had an article in the Lakeland Ledger today entitled The Self-Deception of Ignoring Science.

Now is the time to take a long, hard look at ourselves and decide what we expect for our students our state and our nation, or face the inevitable consequences. When your child graduates from high school, only to find that the job he or she desires has been taken by a person educated in another state or more likely, another country, who then will carry the blame?

U.S. science education is stagnant

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study for 2007 was released. The bad news is that science achievement among U.S. fourth graders and eight graders was stagnate compared to 1995 results.

Neither U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders showed any detectable change in science achievement in 2007 compared to 1995.

This chart from 2003 shows U.S. eighth-grade students in 9th place compared to other countries. The 2007 chart shows a slip down to 11th place. In 2003, fourth-graders were in 6th place. In 2007, they slipped to 8th place. On the other hand, this page shows that U.S. students were consistently above average, so I guess it’s not all bad news.

The National Science Teachers Association isn’t too happy, though.

Over the last ten years numerous reports have told us how stakeholders can and must work together to increase student achievement in science. In spite of these reports, many districts simply do not value science education.

Science is being eliminated from many K-6 classrooms. Science teachers, especially at the elementary level, need better quality professional development and more classroom materials.

Bats, gravity and plants

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Seven Springs Elementary School students have been going batty lately.

Did you know that there are more than 1,000 species of bats and that they live on every continent except for Antarctica? Or that bats are mammals that groom themselves like a cat, and they actually fly with their webbed hands, not wings?

I really like the Florida Bat Conservancy web page.

A couple of teachers will be experiencing zero gravity: Carla Savage of Auburndale High School, Ellena Huston of Ballard Elementary School, and Mary Epperson of Hudson Middle School.

University of Florida reports that some plants are on the move, but it’s not yet known how.

University of Florida researchers working at the world’s largest experimental landscape devoted to wildlife corridors – greenways that link woods or other natural areas — have discovered the pea and similar species share, given a clear shot, a mysterious ability for mobility. Though their seeds are neither dispersed by birds nor borne by the wind, they are nevertheless far more likely to slalom down corridors than slog through woods.

Science news galore

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

There is all sorts of cool science news out there recently!

Could we actually see wooly mammoths roaming the land in the future? In the New York Times: Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million.

You can name the next Mars rover at NASA. And speaking of Mars, glaciers have apparently been found lurking underground. Oh, and if you find a stray spider hanging around, please let NASA know.

I had trouble finding a news story on this in the American press; there are quite a few mentions in other countries’ media. It’s about eye evolution.

Researchers unravel how the very first eyes in evolution might have worked and how they guide the swimming of marine plankton towards light.

A few Florida students are advancing in the prestigious Siemens Foundation Math, Science, Technology Competition.

On first glance, Jared Goodman and Jonathan Wang seem more the high school honor athletes they are than veteran scientists who have spent several years in the laboratory coming up with a way to treat someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Jared and Jonathan, who have already gained international attention with their work, will travel this weekend to the Georgia Tech in Atlanta to participate in the regional Siemens Foundation Math, Science, Technology Competition.

The seniors from Oak Hall School are two of six students in the regional finals from Florida. The region also includes students from Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

I had no idea that some frogs actually don’t do the free swimming tadpole thing.

The Big Picture has some smaaaaaaal subjects!

Bugs in Tampa

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Bugs are going to be featured this weekend at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Harry, a 3-inch-tall praying mantis and the star of New Orleans’ newly opened Audubon Insectarium, is making a stop in Tampa this weekend as part of a three-week tour sponsored, oddly enough, by Terminix.

The tour de insect arrives today and will feature four days of bug races, bug cooking and a bug petting zoo.

Museum link here.

2008 Outstanding Middle School Science Teacher

Friday, November 7th, 2008

The Florida Association of Science Teachers recently announced that Largo Middle School (Pinellas County) teacher Leslie Pohley is the state’s 2008 Outstanding Middle School Science Teacher!

Here’s her picture in the St. Petersburg Times back in December 2007.

On a platform 30 feet above the ground, Leslie Pohley and two-dozen eighth-graders gazed into a 17,000-gallon tank of roiling wastewater.

Most people would have seen a big vat of nasty. But Pohley, a 30-year veteran at Largo Middle School, saw a teachable moment.

Here, at the South Cross Bayou Water Reclamation Center in unincorporated Pinellas County, she prodded her students into thinking: Where does this mess come from? Where does it go? Why does it matter?

Before they knew it, Pohley had their brains clicking and whirring.

“This,” she said, “is science in action.”

FCS in the New York Times

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Florida Citizens for Science board member David Campbell has been working with New York Times reporter Amy Harmon on a story of hers for quite some time now. Finally, the fruit of the labor is out there for all to see: A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. — David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote “Evolution” in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

“If I do this wrong,” Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, “I’ll lose him.”

But at the inaugural meeting of the Florida Citizens for Science, which he co-founded in 2005, he vented his frustration. “The kids are getting hurt,” Mr. Campbell told teachers and parents. “We need to do something.”

The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.

“I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.”

It wasn’t just Bryce. Many of the students, Mr. Campbell sensed, were not grasping the basic principles of biological evolution. If he forced them to look at themselves in the evolutionary mirror, he risked alienating them entirely.

The discovery that a copy of “Evolution Exposed,” published by the creationist organization Answers in Genesis, was circulating among the class did not raise his flagging spirits. The book lists each reference to evolution in the biology textbook Mr. Campbell uses and offers an explanation for why it is wrong.

When the bell rang, he knew that he had not convinced Bryce, and perhaps many of the others. But that week, he gave the students an opportunity to answer the questions they had missed on the last test. Grading Bryce’s paper later in the quiet of his empty classroom, he saw that this time, the question that asked for evidence of evolutionary change had been answered.

Those snippets don’t do the five-internet-pages story justice. Go and read it yourself. It’s a revealing look at the individual and personal aspect of the science/anti-science battle. Our sincere appreciation goes out to David for putting the time and effort into working with Amy on this story. He really put himself out there for this. Good job!

For those of you stopping by here via Internet searches because you are looking for a way to contact Dave, feel free to leave a comment here, or send me an e-mail (bhaught(at)flascience(dot)org) and I’ll make sure he gets your message. If you are interested in learning more about the fight over Florida’s science standards, visit our Projects page. As the NYT article states, Dave did play a big role in writing those standards and fighting on their behalf. Our main website has all sorts of other useful and interesting resources, too. Check it all out.

[edited to add] The comments on the story at the NYT are so far very, very positive. It’s refreshing to see so many supportive folks! This comment is great:

I second comment #3. Bless Mr. Campbell. He was my high school biology teacher, and this article only begins to illustrate all the ways in which he is an amazing teacher. He constantly challenges his students to think for themselves, to analyze, and to test hypotheses rather than simply accept things at face value. He was the first teacher who ever taught me how, not what, to think, and Mr. Campbell is the reason I am now a biologist, studying evolutionary biology. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, and all biology teachers like you, who, in teaching evolution well, nurture the natural curiosity in young minds.

— Natalie Wright, Gainesville, FL

And this one:

If every classroom had a teacher like David Campbell, our schools would be much better places.


And this one:

Mr. Campbell is a true hero. We need more like him.

— Matthew H, Iowa