Archive for November, 2008

Getting ready for “the e-word” in the Treasure Coast

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

A newspaper article turned up today concerning the schools in the Treasure Coast getting ready to incorporate evolution into the classroom lessons. There really isn’t much newsy to the story, but the online reader comment flamewars are certainly entertaining. This story will also likely spark a series of letters to the editor, so be on the lookout for them. You may even want to throw in your own two cents if you are living in that area. One thing you can set the record straight on is this tidbit:

The controversy is creationism as opposed to evolution, said Fran Adams, Indian River County assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

“It’s pretty clear-cut in the textbooks,” Adams said. “(Evolution) is presented as one of many theories, but they don’t get into the other theories.”

I think Adams is on the right track concerning the fact that some folks with literal belief in a religion’s creation story have problems with the science of evolution. But then Adams trips over the word theory, thus confusing the issue a bit. I wonder how the textbooks he is referring to actually phrase the bit about “other theories.” Fact: there are no other scientific theories competing with evolution. None. There are other beliefs and ideas, based in religion, but no other theories. This site gives a good, easy-to-understand explanation concerning the confusion over the word theory (or the intentional misuse of the word).

Scientific theories are explanations that are based on lines of evidence, enable valid predictions, and have been tested in many ways. In contrast, there is also a popular definition of theory — a “guess” or “hunch.” These conflicting definitions often cause unnecessary confusion about evolution.

Definition: in science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world.

There is another concern that is a serious and valid one that only gets a brief mention in the article:

But wording in a new education law passed last spring requires the Board of Education to adopt new academic standards by 2011. The Florida Department of Education won’t say if this means revisiting the debate on teaching evolution.

Here is my past post on this subject that goes into much more depth.

Counting birds

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

South Florida teams ready for Christmas Bird Count

First conducted in 1900 with just 27 volunteers, the Christmas Bird Count has grown into an event involving thousands of people, one of the biggest and most venerable examples of citizen science in the world. Like the backyard astronomers who collect data for professional scientists, the thousands of birders are able through sheer numbers to put more eyes on nature than can the professionals.

“Scientists use the Christmas Bird Count for all kinds of things,” said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society. “There are something like 400 scientific studies based on the Christmas Bird Count.”

Here’s more information from Audubon about the annual count.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Give Thanks? Science Supersized Your Turkey Dinner:

Your corn is sweeter, your potatoes are starchier and your turkey is much, much bigger than the foods that sat on your grandparents’ Thanksgiving dinner table.

Most everything on your plate has undergone tremendous genetic change under the intense selective pressures of industrial farming. Pilgrims and American Indians ate foods called corn and turkey, but the actual organisms they consumed didn’t look or taste much at all like our modern variants do.

A History of Thanksgiving in Space

The U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving may be a longstanding tradition that dates back to 1621 on Earth, but it’s a relatively recent phenomenon in void of space.

Astronauts share freeze-dried Thanksgiving feast

It is somewhat unusual for shuttle and station crews to eat a meal together, given their different schedules and various chores. The crew members will take several precautions for the meal — keeping fire extinguishers and gas masks in the dining area, for instance.

“So, if anything happens when they’re all sitting in one place, you don’t have to run in all the wrong directions to grab all the equipment you need,” said flight director Holly Ridings.

Thanksgiving in space: stiff turkey, bland yams

A week before Thanksgiving, NASA gave reporters a taste-test of the astronauts’ holiday dinner. The smoked turkey was slightly stiffer than deli meat, like after it has been left in the refrigerator a week past its expiration date. The candied yams had a syrupy sweetness outside that dissolved into blandness in the middle. The green beans with mushrooms tasted like they have been frozen and then microwaved to an inch of their life.

The saving grace was a sublime cranapple dessert. There was a tartness to the apples and sweetness to the cranberries mixed with pecans and syrup in a dish that resembles cobbler filling.

NASA takes special pride in desserts.

“All our desserts are wonderful,” Perchonok said.

Physics Talks Turkey This Thanksgiving — Tips From Science On How To Cook A Better Bird

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

 Whether you like dark or white meat, cooks can look to physics for some tips for making sure that Thanksgiving turkey is quickly gobbled up.

McGee has two solutions to the this troublesome turkey problem. The first is a trusty meat thermometer. “There’s no substitute for checking the temperature of the bird often.” The second is a good supply of ice.

Here’s what McGee also suggests:

Critical teacher shortages

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

During the next state board of education meeting, the need to address critical teacher shortages in certain teaching fields for the 2009-2010 school year will be discussed. This action item shows that “middle and high school level science” is one of those areas in trouble. That’s nothing new, though, since science has been identified in years past, too. Once all of these critical shortage areas are officially recognized, then some programs meant to help alleviate those shortages can kick in: Critical Teacher Shortage Tuition Reimbursement Program and the Critical Teacher Shortage Student Loan Forgiveness Program. Here’s a short description of both programs. It is nice to get financial aid, of course. But it’s definitely not like winning the lottery. Here’s a summary of the programs from years past:

The Critical Teacher Shortage Tuition Reimbursement Program provides financial support to qualified teachers by assisting them with the repayment of undergraduate and graduate education courses that will lead to certification in a critical teacher shortage subject area. Eligible applicants may receive payments for up to $78 per credit hour, for a maximum 9 hours per award year or $702. The maximum amount eligible applicants may receive is up to $2,808 for up to 36 credit hours. Awards are prorated based upon the number of submissions and the amount provided by the Legislature. The average amount awarded in 2006-07 was $117, which is an award of $16 per credit hour.

The Critical Teacher Shortage Student Loan Forgiveness Program provides financial assistance to eligible Florida teachers by assisting them in the repayment of undergraduate and graduate educational loans that led to certification in a critical teacher shortage subject area. Eligible applicants may receive an annual award of up to $2,500 to repay undergraduate loans and $5,000 for two years to repay graduate loans for support of postsecondary education study. Participants may receive up to a maximum of $10,000 for the duration of the program. As with the Tuition Reimbursement Program, awards are prorated each year. The maximum prorated award amounts were $1,012 for graduate loans and $506 for undergraduate loans in the 2006-07 award year.

Most of the science teachers receiving awards seek certification in middle grades science or biology, while fewer are in areas of the physical sciences–earth science, chemistry, or physics.

“Awards are prorated based upon the number of submissions and the amount provided by the Legislature.” In these tough financial times I don’t see that provided amount being very much.

Pond scum in the classroom

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

The fifth-grade students learned some interesting hands-on stuff, but the teacher was a little … worried.

Casey Turner watched as two buckets of fresh pond water — full of writhing bloodworms, mosquito larvae, water bugs and other aquatic wildlife — were heaved into the center of his fifth-grade classroom on a recent Wednesday.

On this date:

Monday, November 24th, 2008

On this day in 1859, On the Origin of Species by British naturalist Charles Darwin was first published.

UCF becoming a debate hotspot

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education had visited UCF earlier this month to talk about evolution and the attempts to undermine evolution teaching in the public schools. Now a student group on the campus hosted their own event “Questions for Evolution.” Unfortunately, it’s hard to judge how this young earth creationism event fared as the linked article doesn’t mention how many people attended, and the writer didn’t do anything more than cursory reporting. The only thing we can glean from this article is the obvious fact that opposition to evolution is based on religion and not science.