Archive for September, 2008

TX: All together now

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Texas scientists are standing in unison against antiscientific nonsense!

Scientists from major Texas universities are joining to oppose efforts to bring supernatural and religious teaching into public school science courses.

They say any attempts to teach students “weaknesses” in evolution should be blocked.

The newly formed 21st Century Science Coalition announced Tuesday it has 800 scientists in its growing group.

Here’s the group’s website. Check them out. Florida scientists could learn a few things.

What was in that evolution lesson?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The Tampa Tribune, specifically Hernando Today, has a story out this morning about an evolution lesson that had apparently gone awry. The story is a bit confusing, though. The problem didn’t actually involve evolution, but rather some mentions of religion. A sixth-grade student from  Explorer K-8 in Hernando County told mom about things she heard in science class that day concerning reincarnation and the Catholic Church. Mom got upset because the weird things the girl heard were inaccurate and certainly odd things to pick up during a lesson on evolution.

A further reading of the story reveals that the teacher, David Liptak, wasn’t trying to push any particular religion or even express an opinion on the matter. But the general classroom conversation just grew its own wings and took off. I can understand that.

But why did religion come up in the first place?

Explorer’s principal, Dominick Ferello, said the teacher stuck to the textbook lesson about creation, then went on to explain that there are other beliefs, as well.

“He told students there are other (beliefs), and everyone chooses what to believe,” Ferello said. “He mentioned the others, then told them to talk to their parents for anything further when the kids started asking questions.”

A textbook lesson about creation? That sounds familiar. In 2006 FCS had kept an eye on a biology textbook selection process in Brevard County. The school board was looking at Biology: The Dynamics of Life, which contains an out-of-context reference to divine origins and intelligent design in two paragraphs at the end of a chapter on the history of life. Here’s an old post of mine about it, and another one. Here’s a 2006 editorial in the St. Pete Times on the general subject. Brevard County eventually apopted an edited version of Biology: The Dynamics of Life. Take a look at page five of the March 2006 school board meeting minutes. Some of the wiser board members predicted there would be problems if the original text was approved:

Bea Fowler stated she is concerned that discussion will be held in science class led by science teachers and not by comparative religion teachers.  This subject should be taught by trained comparative religious teachers and not science teachers.

The questionable text in the book was two paragraphs:

“Common to human cultures throughout history is the belief that life on Earth did not arise spontaneously. Many of the world’s major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being. The followers of these religions believe that life could only have arisen through the direct action of a divine force.”

“A variation of this belief is that organisms are too complex to have developed only by evolution. Instead, some people believe that the complex structures and processes of life could not have formed without some guiding intelligence.”

My guess is that Hernando County took the opposite road of Brevard and adopted the original version of the textbook with those paragraphs intact, and now that decision has come back to haunt a poor science teacher.

If anyone is in or near Spring Hill, could you do a bit more digging and learn the facts that were left out of the newspaper story? It looks to me like the reporter or editor wasn’t clear on what the story should have focused on. Quite a few paragraphs detail evolution’s new role in the state science standards, but that has little, if anything, to do with what happened in the classroom. It looks to me like this was a case of a bad textbook tripping up an otherwise standard biology lesson. What did evolution have to do with anything?

Arizona Science Teachers “Zoned In” on Evolution

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

It was my privilege to be a guest speaker last Friday, 28Th September, at the Arizona Science Teacher Association, annual conference in Mesa Arizona. The theme of my talk was “Why students consider a fundamental theory of science to be faulty and what to do about it”and “How to achieve a deeper understanding of student’s underpinning religious beliefs concerning evolution”

My talk was scheduled for 9:00 am in the morning over a free breakfast, so I really was not expecting a large audience,boy was I ever wrong!! The room, that I estimated would hold approx 100 people was packed and then some. My talk was to last 55mins, went into a hour and 15 mins much to the annoyance of the organizers,who finally came in and asked us to end.

The teachers ALL agreed that evolution was a fundamental concept of science that has to be taught in a science class and they were all determined to do this no matter what the contradictions may be. Many of them had visited the Florida Citizens for Science web site and studied the “personal development” section that Brandon has written and had also read Dave Campbell’s article. Yes guys we are known and respected as far away as Arizona.

These were a great group of teachers and educators, who I can confidently say of, the science education for the kids in Arizona, is in very capable hands.

“… the book doesn’t only promote stupidity, it demands it.”

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

That’s from a thorough dismantling of the creationist/anti-evolution book Explore Evolution. The book has been mentioned here at FCS before, and has been dissected elswhere for good measure. The main thing to take away from all of this is that we all need to be aware that the book is out there and we need to watch for it being jammed into any Florida classrooms. Pay attention to any “supplemental” textbook purchases or donations going on in your school districts. From the most recent article: “The leading lights of the Intelligent Design Movement, the Discovery Institute, have written this textbook on evolution, and they are doing everything they can to make sure it gets into schools.”

Meanwhile, in Texas:

The Texas Education Agency on Tuesday released to the public an early recommendation for the state’s new science curriculum that would excise ideas “based upon purported forces outside of nature” from what Texas students are taught in biology classes.

The recommendation, which covers many courses, also removes language in the current curriculum requiring that students be taught the “strengths and weaknesses” of all scientific theories. Several State Board of Education members have said they support that language. Critics of the teaching of intelligent design and creationism — ideas that hold that the universe was created by a higher power — say such language has been used to undermine the theory of evolution.

Science FCAT “Lessons Learned”

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

The Department of Education announced today that they released a publication entitled “FCAT Science Lessons Learned: 2003–2006 Data Analyses and Instructional Implications” (pdf is here). This document was created by a Task Force that analyzed the data supplied by science FCAT scores from 2003 to 2006. The Task Force identified trends in the data and proposed some “implications” of what the findings mean for the classroom. As I thumbed through the 139-page document, I saw a common theme running through the implications.

Physical and Chemical Sciences
Grade 5, page 52
The task force recommends that instruction should include teacher-demonstrated laboratory activities (labs), as well as student-designed labs. Students should have opportunities to apply, analyze, and explain the concepts of energy, force, and motion. [...] Students should move beyond knowing definitions into practical applications of the concepts to include hands-on experiences, connections to their real-life experiences, and manipulation of variables in experiments.

Grade 8, page 59
The task force recommends that instruction should include opportunities for students to investigate science concepts using a variety of laboratory activities. Instruction should provide the opportunity for students to connect concepts to real-world applications (e.g., objects sink or float according to density relative to a given medium).

Grade 11, page 67
The task force recommends that students should have the opportunity to compare and contrast, interpret, analyze, and explain chemical and physical concepts during laboratory activities and classroom discussions.

Earth and Space Sciences
Grade 8, page 77
Student should conduct laboratory activities that focus on the processes that shape the Earth (e.g., experiments with soil that demonstrate weathering and erosion).

Grade 11, page 83
The task force recommends that students should have practice explaining earth and space concepts using words and labeled diagrams. Laboratory activities can be used to model and demonstrate relationships such as plate interactions, gravity and tides, planetary motion, and climate and weather patterns.

Scientific Thinking
Grade 5, page 105
Along with this, instruction should move beyond just observations and demonstrations, and into hands-on opportunities for students to analyze (i.e., synthesize, compare/contrast, draw inferences, determine causes and effects, average, classify, categorize), draw appropriate conclusions, and apply concepts.

Grade 8, page 111
The task force recommends more inquiry-based activities followed by class discussions and written lab reports. Students should be given the opportunity to design and conduct experiments to test hypotheses (e.g., science fairs).

Grade 11, page 118
The Lessons Learned task force recommends that students practice designing experiments and using the scientific method throughout the science course. Teachers should incorporate the scientific method through more inquiry-based activities.

Conclusion, page 120
Instruction should integrate the use of the scientific process or nature of science (Strand H) throughout the other reporting clusters. Students should have the opportunity to conduct hands-on experiments in all areas of science, with analysis and reflection to emphasize the concepts and cause-and-effect relationships.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? The Task Force is recommending more labs and other hands-on work. For you teachers out there reading this, what do you think about that? Is more lab time needed? If so, can it be done?

And as an aside, I noticed this tidbit:

Life and Environmental Sciences
Grade 11, page 97
Students who are unsuccessful have the greatest difficulty with:
• explaining the processes and results of mutations and natural selection;
• predicting the impact of stress on a population (e.g., carrying capacity, limiting factors); and
• explaining the principles of ecological succession (see Sample Item 26).

Rover, tunnel, gross, astronomy, canopy

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

==> I’m amazed that the Mars rovers are still poking and prodding the red planet. They’ve been there since 2004 and Opportunity just got new marching orders to check out a huge crater seven miles from its current location.

Opportunity will have to pick up the pace to get there. The rover team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 110 yards each day it is driven toward the Endeavour crater. Even at that pace, the journey could take two years.

==> Palm Beach County schoolchildren are going to be some lucky ducks next year when the Science Tunnel exhibit sets up shop at the South Florida Science Museum.

The futuristic, interactive multimedia exhibit will make its U.S. debut in a 10,000-square-foot tent behind the museum. Using 16 video projectors, 26 DVD players and 14 sound systems, the 3-year-old exhibit explores the world of natural science — from the complexity of molecules to the origins of the universe.

==> But there is no reason to wait for January to roll around. Head there now for some gross fun.

The museum’s newest exhibit, “Grossology, the (impolite) Science of the Human Body,” uses interactive displays and games — including The Burp Machine, a Toot Toot station and a short climbing wall that resembles an enlarged section of skin, with warts and all — to teach children and adults about embarrassing, yet necessary functions of the human body.

==> If I had an 8th grader at Canterbury School, I would definitely be at Astronomy Night!

Guest speakers Cara and Mark Summit will lead the star-watching extravaganza.

This talented duo, Canterbury School science teachers who taught astronomy for the Catalina Island Marine Institute, will discuss how galaxies, stars and solar systems are formed.

==> Canopy Meg (Dr. Margaret Lowman) writes a regular column, and her most recent one discusses “Transforming science education.”

At a time when American science and technology are losing ground, national initiatives to revitalize science education are critical. Last week, I chaired a national workshop of science education experts representing cultural and ethnical diversity. Together, we created an action plan for the next five years to inspire advances in ecology education. Initiatives included:

“No child left indoors,” a national movement to prioritize getting kids outside to learn about their local ecosystems;

Integrating technology with real ecosystems (virtual versus real ecology);

Training the next generation of scientists to communicate with public and policy audiences, not simply to create technical messages for their peers; and

Re-configuring national science so that it is not dominated by a testing system that fails to inspire creativity on the part of teachers.

==> Headline time! Make a headline using the words in the post title. “Rover misses astronomy lesson while stuck in gross tunnel under Mars rock canopy.” Ugh. I know you can do better.

One More Homeschooled Kid Lost To Science.

Friday, September 19th, 2008

I have to admit to being some what saddened after reading a letter published in the Lakeland Ledger newspaper today. The letter was written by a “homeschooled” fourteen year old girl named Kelly Freed and it was in response to FCS board member Dave Campbell’s article from the New York Times.

My first angry thought was that I would write my own letter to the newspaper and point out all the glaring errors and false quotes she had made.   I mean just look at some of them.

“Actually, it takes much more faith to believe in evolution than to believe that the world was created by a divine Creator, God.”
“Regarding life, there must be a designer and an orderly first cause, not simply a “Big Bang.” Let’s say that everything just evolved. From where did it start? How did the “Big Bang” bang? The teleological argument states that there is a design in nature. In addition the universe is orderly and there are specific discoverable laws.”
“Did you know that fossils actually condemn geological records? Many complex life forms appear in the earliest rock formations. Also, there is no evidence of any creatures changing from kind to kind. There are no transitional forms in the fossil record. The “missing links” are still missing. Where did they go?”
… ad nauseam.

After thinking for a while, I realized that this obviously bright young women had simply been lied to. Lied to by her parents (or whoever homeschools her), lied to by her friends, and lied to by those who are supposed to be responsible for her spirituality. I was sad to think she will join the increasing number of young Americans who are ignorant about science and reject critical thinking.

NYT reporter’s answers

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

I had mentioned in an earlier post that New York Times reporter Amy Harmon would be answering readers’ questions concerning her work writing stories about science. The questions and her answers are well worth the time to check out. Some of the questions:

Q. Why the continuing foil of science vs. creationism by The Times and the press in general? There seem to be other topics about the subject as worthy or more so, yet so less frequently are they addressed in newspapers? Will you be broadening your coverage and comments on religion and science (better way to put it than “religion vs.science”). I am glad you are framing the discussion more in that way.

Q. Ideally, how should the media treat the Creationism/”Intelligent Design” problem to support science and prevent returning us to the Middle Ages?

Q. Why has the scientific community been silent in the presidential campaign about evolution education? There is no credible evidence for creationism. Our nation is going to be among the most ignorant in the world. Can’t the scientists open their mouths or are they afraid they’ll lose funding?