Archive for December, 2006

Holiday Time!

Saturday, December 23rd, 2006

Happy Holidays (or Merry Christmas if you prefer) from Florida Citizens for Science to all of you! If I could send out a card to you, I think this would be my choice. Enjoy.

What a pitiful year

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

John Lynch at his Stranger Fruit blog gives us a rundown of creationist activity over the past year. Summary of the creationist effort? Full of crap, defeated and “no one cares.” Hopefully, they’ll stay the course.

Georgia stickers lose

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

A suburban school board that put stickers in high school science books saying evolution is “a theory, not a fact” abandoned its legal battle to keep them Tuesday after four years.

The Cobb County board agreed in federal court never to use a similar sticker or to undermine the teaching of evolution in science classes.

In return, the parents who sued over the stickers agreed to drop all legal action.

Science Teachers Selected for Grant Participation

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Wakulla County High science teacher Ann Kennedy was selected by the district’s superintendent for a unique training opportunity made possible by a $25,000 grant from Progress Energy. The timing of this training is critically important because, in 2006-2007, student FCAT science scores are tied to school grades.

“Because science is a field that changes daily due to research, it is important to stay abreast of new developments,” said Brenda Crouch, a consultant with the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium (PAEC). “One of the best ways to stay current is to attend a national conference that offers pre-conference institutes and more than 1,200 concurrent sessions for science educators. Professional development of this caliber is expensive, and our small, rural districts cannot afford to pay for teachers to attend the conference and for travel costs associated with attendance.” 

That is, until now. Kennedy joins eight other science teachers from northwest Florida who will attend the 55th Annual National Science Teachers Association National Conference March 29-April 1 in St. Louis, thanks to Progress Energy. 

Hunting for pythons

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Here’s a good story about the threat exotic species (pythons) pose to the Everglades and what scientists are doing about it. Notice the creative ideas for catching the elusive pythons.

After slipping, sliding and tumbling down a rocky embankment, Snow, a wildlife biologist, grabbed one of the creatures by the tail. The python, Oberhofer says, did not care much for that.

“It made a sound like Darth Vader breathing,” she says, “and then its head swung around and I saw this white mouth flying through the air.”

Snow saw the mouth, too – the jaws open 180 degrees, the gums an obscene white, the needle-sharp teeth bared in an almost devilish grin.

Yet, as vast and threatening as these wetlands may appear, they have been so drained and abused by humans in the last century that a population of pythons, if left unchallenged, could take down this fragile web of life within a generation.

“It’s a now-or-never thing,” Oberhofer says. “We still have a chance, with the python’s numbers being so limited, to do something. But if we let this go, we don’t know how far the pythons will migrate, how much they will reproduce.”

One thing is certain, Snow says. “They’ll eat just about everything that’s warm-blooded.”

“I’ve walked right by pythons and not even known they were right next to me,” he says. “Most times, you can’t see the enemy until you stumble across it.”

Crunching his way back to the off-roader, eyes darting this way and that, he described tactics to control pythons. One idea, recommended by snake management experts, has produced results: implanting captured pythons with radio transmitters and releasing them into the wild to track their movements, habitat use and breeding patterns – and to betray the locations of other pythons.

“It’s all based on the Judas concept,” Snow said, noting that four “tagged” pythons had led to the capture of 12 others through October and that three more pythons with transmitters have since been released.

Snow suspects that female pythons lay down trails of chemical scent “cues” for suitors. If scientists could develop synthetic cues, he says, the chemicals might be used to draw pythons into one of his traps.

Pick a major … any major

Friday, December 15th, 2006

Here is a list of majors high school freshman can pick from starting next year. Interesting list. Aviation Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic? Obviously, this full list of 440 approved majors is not available everywhere across the state to all students. My daughter will be right in the middle of this as she is currently in 8th grade. It will interesting to see what all is actually available at the high school she will be attending.

For instance, Palm Beach County has this list approved for their schools:

A month ago, Palm Beach County School Board members approved the Florida Department of Education’s high school major areas of interest.

Those 16 majors, or career clusters, include:
Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; Architecture and Construction; Arts, A/V Technology and Communications; Business, Management and Administration; Education and Training; Finance; Government and Public Administration; Health Science; Hospitality and Tourism; Human Services; Information Technology; Law, Public Safety, Corrections and Security; Manufacturing; Marketing, Sales and Service; Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; and Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics.

Personally, I look at that list and go “ick.” I think back to my days in 8th grade and I can’t imagine many of those “career clusters” being appealing.

From the FLDOE press release:

Students will be able to select their major area of interest through Florida’s online student advising system, the Florida Academic Counseling and Tracking for Students or FACTS.org. In early 2007, eighth-grade students can go to FACTS.org, locate the high school they plan to attend and review the major areas of interest that will be available at that school. Students can complete an ePersonal Education Planner (ePEP), an interactive course planner for middle and high school students based on the major area of interest and on their educational goals. Students will be able to pre-enroll in a major area of interest, and once enrolled, a student may change his or her mind the following year with no penalty.

Some reactions out there are skeptical:

There are 440 titles on the list, released this week. Do you know a lot of 13- and 14-year-olds who could pick a career path from that kind of list?But state mandate, as part of Gov. Jeb Bush’s “A Plus-Plus Plan,” says they must pick a major. Palm Beach County has smartly narrowed the menu down to 12 to 14 major areas of study at each of 23 high schools. Broward should follow this path to simplify the process.Students can change majors during high school, and you can be sure they will. You can also bet school staffs will be thrilled with the extra paperwork.

And another one:

Gov. Jeb Bush’s A-Plus-Plus Plan, which will gear middle school students toward a particular career path and 10th-graders toward picking a major, is unreasonable.As a high school senior, having just been accepted to the University of Florida, I am struggling with this decision myself. Checking “undecided” as one’s major on college applications is the norm among today’s graduating seniors. Why should it be any different for middle school students? Attempting to decide your future is a nerve-wracking experience and it’s not something one can do as early as sixth grade.

(Update added later …) I recently spoke with a person in a local school administration who told me that for the most part the majors are really not that big a deal at all. Supposedly what happened was that all school systems submitted to the state major-type programs the various local schools already have in place. The state then compiled them into one big list and “blessed” them. For the individual school systems, life goes on as normal; very little changes. It sounds like that is all just a dog and pony show put on by the state that accomplishes nothing of any significance. Of course, this was one person’s view from one school district. If you know of anything different, leave a comment.

Solving crime in the classroom

Friday, December 15th, 2006

High school biology teacher Amye O’Steen has a great background from which to draw to help her teaching. She was a lab technician for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and now in addition to Biology courses she teaches about crime scene investigations. It seems like a great idea to show students how science has real world applications.

While with FDLE, her lab work was instrumental in bringing to justice the Jacksonville serial killer who murdered five women while working as a taxi driver. O’Steen would also visit high schools and give presentations on her work.
When she came on board at KHHS, she proposed to Principal Susan Sailor that this school year she be allowed to teach CSI to her Biology 2 honors students. Sailor gave O’Steen’s innovative idea the green light.
Consequently, she now has two classes a day, composed of a total of 35 students who are exposed to the full gamut of CSI activities-everything from observation of a crime scene and the deductions that can be drawn from it, to collection of the most minute evidence.

Catching up on the news

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

Middle school goes beyond the classroom.

Boca Raton · In a middle school with a voracious appetite for innovation, half a dozen teachers are pushing back the walls of the classroom.

They’re using cameras so that students at home or on vacation can get their lessons.

Podcasting and live streaming video from classes at Don Estridge High Tech Middle School are parallel experiments to discover how cameras can add to learning.

Cash for teachers, FCAT spur interest in Palm Beach County science fair

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to generate more interest in this year’s Palm Beach County School District Science and Engineering Fair.

It just took a little cash. Add the buzz about Scripps Florida and, of course, the science FCATs, and entries in this year’s science fair are up more than 40 percent.

More than 1,000 entries, up from last year’s 700, are a sign of health for the 50-year-old county science fair as it showcases middle and high school projects today at the South Florida Fairgrounds.

“We want to make sure that science is as important as athletics, and we’ve been pushing teachers to be more involved in science research,” Barch said.

The annual stipend is $1,700 for middle school and $2,900 for high school teachers. To earn it teachers must attend workshops, do extra paperwork, coordinate a school science fair and take their top students to the county competition.

Dovetailing with that financial motivation is new emphasis on the science portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test this year. It is the first time FCAT science scores will be a factor in determining the grade a school earns from the state. In past years, the school grade was based on FCAT scores only in reading, writing and math.

“Teachers are so concerned with preparing for the FCAT that sometimes in the past, teachers didn’t want to spend much time on things like the science fair,” Barch said.

The merging of the stipend and FCAT goals are complemented by the visibility of Scripps in the county and a growing interest in biomedical careers, Barch said.