Archive for February, 2007

Students study sharks

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Catching, measuring and tagging sharks … cool stuff. Especially when students are doing it.

Out here on clear, silky Florida Bay and under the warm winter sun, marine-biology students from the MAST Academy, Palmer Trinity School and the University of Miami are coming face to face with the oceans’ top predators and building a vital database for scientists. During this six-hour excursion they will catch another 10 Atlantic sharpnose sharks — one more than three feet long. They soon become so adept that the sharks, hauled to the dive boat’s makeshift gurney, are out of the water only three to four minutes.

The students are building an inventory of the sharks in Florida waters. They record the latitude and longitude where each animal is found and test the water quality every hour.

Hammerschlag, 27, originated the South Florida Student Shark Program (SFSSP) in 2006. He envisioned high school marine-biology students not only taking inventory but also acting as shark ambassadors to spread the word about the animals’ endangered status.

Now that vision has become multifaceted and scientifically important not just for high school and university students but also for ocean researchers.

Great teacher resources

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Here are a couple of outstanding science teacher resources …

My Science Box: “The My Science Box website is a closte full of lessons, hands-on activities, assessments and field trip ideas for science teachers. Each box contains a complete set of scaffolded lesson plans to teach a four to six week middle school science unit.

“The guiding mission behind My Science Box is that teachers should have free access to the best hands-on, classroom-tested science lessons. Every time science teachers introduce new content into their repertoire, they should not be required to pay thousands of dollars for a new teacher’s guide, nor should they recreate activities and assessments that other teachers have already designed and used.”

BioLogica: “This site offers interactive features that foster independent inquiry and scientific reasoning. By solving a sequence of activities, students build a body of scientific knowledge as BioLogica monitors their progress, offers helpful hints, and builds a portfolio of their work.”

One of the cool-looking activities is breeding dragons to learn about genetics.

(Hat tip to Kelly.)

Theme change

Monday, February 26th, 2007

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I changed the blog theme. The previous theme just gave me too many technical problems that I couldn’t fix. Personally, I preferred the old look, but this theme is much easier for me (and you) to work with. The beach theme works for a Florida blog … don’t ya think?

I encourage you to test things out, especially the comments. Let me know if anything breaks.


Interview with Wesley Elsberry

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

I had written a college paper on the subject of introducing intelligent design into the public school classroom. For that paper I had to do some primary research, which involved either an interview with a subject expert or a survey. I opted for an interview and I chose Wesley Elsberry of the National Center for Science Education because I have worked with him briefly in the past when I took over this Florida Citizens for Science website. It was a good, informative phone interview way back in October of 2006. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to use many quotes from him in the paper. So I thought I would get some other use out of the interview by posting it here.

Wesley is just starting a one-year leave-of-absense from the National Center for Science Education. According to his blog:

Where I am headed is Michigan State University where my new position is as a Visiting Research Associate in the Lyman Briggs School of Science where I will be working with Prof. Rob Pennock on a project looking at the evolution of intelligent behavior using the artificial life platform Avida. This project brings together a number of the topics that have interested me throughout my life: computation, evolutionary biology, and cognitive science. We’re likely to be applying some ideas from artificial neural systems, which was the topic of my master’s degree. I’m looking forward to it.

I asked him if I could publish the full interview here and he agreed. Here it is for your information … (more…)

Comments tweaked

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

This is just a quick note to let you know that I messed with the comments code a bit. Before when you typed in the comments box you couldn’t see what you were writing. That problem should now be fixed. If you have any other problems, let me know. I’m not claiming I can fix any further bugs, but I’ll give it a try.



Florida fossils

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

There is an interesting story about the Orlando Science Center’s Fossil Fest. One of the first things to note is that there is no silly “presenting both sides of the controversy” in this story. Not that I would expect such a thing, but it’s always nice to see science presented as science and not as an opinion. In any case, I learned from this story that horse ancestors were in Florida long before Europeon settlers and our land was under water during the time of dinosaurs. Ya learn something new every day.

I also learned about an organization I knew nothing about before: Florida Fossil Hunters.

Sinks drain into buckets in science lab?!

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Now here is a sad state of affairs. It’s not like it’s expected that every school in the state should have state-of-the-art science labs, but could some at least hook up some plumbing?

NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. — At a time when science is a growing part of Duval County student education, parents of some high school students at the beaches said their children do not have access to the proper laboratory facilities.

According to leaders, the school is at 124 percent capacity. Space is tight, but the school is also facing a new challenge because beginning this year ninth-graders in Duval County have to take four years of science instead of three.

Also, science Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores will now count toward the school’s grade.

A portable science lab is one of the school’s priorities because experiments in the lab cannot involve gas and the sinks there drain into buckets because they are not connected to plumbing.

“We make due by rotating teachers in and out of labs. If we had more labs and more modern up-to-date labs, it would definitely benefit our teachers and students,” Fletcher High School principal Dan Gilbert.

Another sad science fair story

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Here’s yet another story lamenting the decline in science fair participation. It’s good to see that some schools actually offer science project classes that kids apparently enjoy. But for the rest … gotta prepare for the test, ya know!

Science fairs used to be big deals — competitions that exercised critical-thinking, research and public speaking.

But participation in county science fairs has dropped dramatically among Florida high-school students — ironically, at the same time the state has ordered teachers to focus more intensely on biology, chemistry and other sciences.

The new science portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, in fact, is helping fuel the trend because teachers and students are so occupied with the FCAT, they don’t spend as much time and effort on science fairs, many educators say.

In Lake, only five qualified for the fair there. Last year, 20 did, said Lake’s science specialist, Claudia Rowe. She said changes in the rules for science projects in recent years have discouraged students, too. The main complaint: paperwork.

“Instead of it being a fun thing to learn, it’s become more of a paperwork thing and jumping through hoops,” Rowe said.

Experts across the country said no studies exist and no one collects data for science-fair participation.

But Anne Holbrook, a University of Maryland professor who teaches educators how to teach science, said based on many anecdotes, it appears to be a national problem. She thinks the problem is the national push for tests such as the FCAT. She said schools need to do a better job integrating science into other classes.