Archive for April, 2007

World Class Standards: leaving the details for later?

Friday, April 27th, 2007

This all just sounds silly. So some politicians want to revamp public school standards in Florida. OK. We want those standards to be top-notch so that we can compete with other nations. OK. We’ll leave the details to someone else at some future time. Huh? Excuse me if I don’t get excited about this idea.

TALLAHASSEE – House Speaker Marco Rubio wants your child to beat the future competition in the global marketplace.

He wants to overhaul the state’s K-12 school curriculum standards to make that happen. But deciding to create “World Class Education Standards” for Florida schools is one thing. Deciding what those standards should be is another.

More civics and geography and earlier teaching of foreign languages would factor into new “world-class” standards that a proposal awaiting final House passage would create. But it leaves most of the details to the state Board of Education, experts, educators and others to figure out later.

Experts have faulted Florida’s standards, meanwhile, for offering more jargon than clear direction.

Florida is smart to revamp its standards, said Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which last year graded Florida’s system anywhere from C to F, depending on the subject area.

Problem is, he said, a world-class standard may be impossible to define, even for the experts.

“This world-class thing is an honorable, well-intended slogan,” Finn said. “But at the moment, it hasn’t any grounding in reality.”

The bill aims to replace the Sunshine State Standards with a set that are knowledge-based and appeal to higher-level problem-solving skills.

In reality, Gaetz said, the changes would dovetail with curriculum revisions that the state Department of Education has begun.

I understand the desire to teach kids foreign language, but how about dealing in reality here?  Fiddling with the standards–especially adding new subjects–isn’t going to propel students to new heights. The schools are bogged down as it is just trying to teach kids English, math and science for the dreaded FCAT. How about finding ways to really help at the classroom level with real money and time?! Sitting up there in Tallahassee dreaming up these schemes isn’t doing anyone any good.

Largest Shark that Ever Lived

Friday, April 27th, 2007

It lurks in High Springs.

At 60 feet long, 12 feet wide and 14 feet high, this model shark is the largest project ever for Archie’s Welding.

The shark is destined for the “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived” exhibit that opens in June at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the campus of the University of Florida.

From the museum:

This summer discover the evolution, biology and misconceptions regarding giant prehistoric sharks when the Florida Museum opens the temporary exhibit, “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived.”

Opening Day Activies: How big was the largest shark? What did it eat? How long did it live? Join us for a day of discovery and learn more about these large fossil sharks and their more recent cousins. Interact with local fossil clubs and Florida Museum researchers. Enjoy a gallery walk with a local expert, or try to “stump” a paleontologist with one of your own fossil finds.

Money for me? Wouldn’t that be nice.

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Seeing as how I am currently in college studying to become a science teacher, this news is very interesting. I wonder if its practical application will trickle down to me in any way. I’ll have to contact my college to see if they know anything about it.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The House approved legislation Tuesday intended to boost the number of highly qualified math and science teachers in U.S. schools.

The bill, which passed 389-22, would authorize more than $600 million through 2012 for scholarships and stipends for college students studying math and science in preparation for teaching careers. They could receive annual scholarships of $10,000 if they commit to teaching elementary or secondary pupils upon graduation.

The bill also would provide enhanced training for current math and science teachers. They could attend summer programs at universities or receive financial aid to pursue master’s degrees. It would establish a national panel to identify math and science teaching materials that have proven effective.

Feelin’ free

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Congratulations to Professor Hawking for riding the “vomit comet” and living to tell the tale. I know it had to be exciting for him, but I have no doubt there was some fear laced in there as well. However, some news reports noted he didn’t need an air sick bag. We salute you, sir!

One of the world’s foremost scientists slipped free from his wheelchair Thursday to float in zero gravity in the skies above the Atlantic Ocean.

Stephen Hawking, a renowned British astrophysicist who is stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, experienced about four minutes of simulated weightlessness aboard a modified Boeing 727 jet operated by the Zero Gravity Corp.

Hawking was laid on his back on the floor of the aircraft’s forward section. Then, when the dives began, two people — Zero Gravity Corp. co-founders Peter Diamandis and Byron Lichtenberg — helped lift Hawking and hold him in position. During a couple of dives, Hawking asked the two men to flip him around.

“He was doing gold-medalist gymnastics in zero G[ravity],” Diamandis said.

This flight is apparently meant as a step toward actual space flight in a couple of years about Virgin Galactic. It looks like he’s ready for launch now.

Dolphin tail, disappearing bees

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Here’s a very interesting story about creating a prosthetic fin for a dolphin.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium unveiled a one-of-a-kind prosthetic fin Friday that could help the young dolphin Winter avoid developing a curvature of the spine which could put her in a permanent “bend” position. The female lost her own tail fluke in an accident in 2005.

Bees are disappearing all across the nation and here in Florida.

In November 2006, a Pennsylvania beekeeper preparing to winter in Florida reported the unexplained disappearance of two-thirds of his hives.

Six months later, “Colony Collapse Disorder,” as science has named a phenomenon recorded in two dozen states, has affected some 700,000 hives, including as much as a third of the bee population of Florida.

More information and links here.


Research Experiences for Teachers (and students)

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Congratulations to Lake Weir High School physics teacher Mark Johnson for being chosen to attend the prestigious National High Magnetic Field Laboratory program … for the third time. Way to go!

Johnson was one of 17 teachers from around the country chosen to attend the prestigious National High Magnetic Field Laboratory program.

Called Research Experiences for Teachers, the summer residential program is held on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee. It is the third time in five years that Johnson has been chosen.

The program gives kindergarten through 12th grade teachers, who are individually mentored by one of the lab’s scientists, a chance to participate in cutting-edge magnetic field research.

The idea is for the teachers to take the knowledge back to the students in the classroom.

Here is a link to the UF Research Experiences for Teachers page.

As for students, here is a fun story about Mowat Middle School sixth-grade science students participating in a little bit of archaeology.

Also helping out was retired Mowat science teacher Pat Adams.

“Mr. Smith and I have dug more holes than a cat with loosey-goosey,” Adams said.

Dylan Barfield said it was his first dig, and he would like to do more on his own. When asked if he would start in his own yard, he winced.

“Possibly,” he said, “but my mom would kill me.”

One group got off to a slow start.

“We had to start over three times because we didn’t find anything,” Savannah Chandler said. “Then, there were too many tree roots.”

Just then, Tori Hollingshead struck something. The team excitedly dug it up.

“We found a flip-flop,” she said, her smile fading.

The Great Moonbuggy Race

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Florida Citizens for Science extends a hearty “good job” to the students and teachers of Williston High School who participated in the 14th annual Great Moonbuggy Race. I know that preparing for and traveling to the competition took a lot of time and effort. I hope they take it on again next year, and I hope more Florida teams consider joining in the fun.

WHS Science Teacher Lisa Hamilton and her husband Drue Hamilton, a Williston Middle School mathematics teacher, helped ninth grade students A.J. Collins, Chanbrie Himes and Chauncey Primous, Jeffrey Brannon, a tenth grader, Seth Stover, an eleventh grader and Amber Hollifield, a senior, as the team designed and built the WHS Moon Buggy.

“This is their design from scratch,” she [Hamilton] said. “We looked at video of some of the moon buggies built last year. This is totally different from anything else. We have rear wheel steering.”

NASA imposed some restrictions on the design. The moon buggy must carry two people, a boy and a girl. The moon buggy had to be able to be collapsed into a four-foot cube that consisted of three pieces. It had to be light. Part of the competition calls for the driver and the passenger both to be able to carry it 20 feet. That part of the testing is times, she said.

Perspective on science fairs

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

I’ve posted here before about stories lamenting the decline in science fair participation. A retired professor has a different perspective on what’s going on at science fairs and just how useful they are (or not).

My experience has been that many of these competitions, like a lot of competitions among children, are often competitions among the children’s parents.

I told the high school principal that I was all for kids doing science projects so that they could learn about the scientific method, and experience, in some small way, how what they read about in their books was discovered. But I was against competition, because it discouraged, and even embarrassed, those without resources. I suggested to the principal that the time and effort put into preparing science fair projects for a small number of students would be better used to raise the overall level of the science and mathematics curriculum, which I knew was weak. The principal suggested I look for another job.

What we do have to worry about is the level of science knowledge of the average citizen with a high school or non-science college degree. People who are making decisions at the highest levels often don’t have a basic understanding of science (think George Bush), which not only makes them incapable of making sound decisions about scientific questions themselves, but also prevents them from being about to discern the difference between good and bad advice.

Speaking of science fairs, my daughter in 8th grade is working on a science project. Unfortunately, she has been putting it off for lack of interest or motivation. For the longest time she had been casting about for a project that was at least moderately interesting. I enjoy science and so was feeling discouraged by the attitude she developed. She eventually just wanted to do something, anything, to get it all over with. Sigh.

I helped look around for something that might appeal to her. Finally, I found something that put a little spark in her eyes. We have two cats that the entire family adores. There is an experiment that can be done to determine whether cats have dominant paws like humans have dominant hands (think: is your cat left-pawed, right-pawed or not at all). It actually got her thinking and curious, which is what the science project is all about, after all! She can do science and play with cats. How cool is that? She’s still putting off doing some of the work … procrastination runs in the family … but at least she has some interest in the project whereas she didn’t before.