Archive for November, 2008

Saving science

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Here’s a good article explaining the challenges science teachers face and the high turnover in the field.

With very little experience behind her [Melissa Guinta] and limited resources at her disposal, many science teachers would buckle under the pressure of corralling a group of rowdy 9th, 10th and 11th graders and abandon the profession.

Guinta was recently accepted to participate in the National Science Teacher’s Association’s New Science Teacher Academy, a program which aims to keep science teachers in the profession by equipping them with strategies to survive in the classroom.

“It’s really a battle everyday to try to teach the kids.” Guinta said. “They learn if I push them to learn. Everyday you’re pushing against this wall and its exhausting.”

Many science majors who enter the teaching profession leave within a matter of a few years for high-wage jobs in fields like engineering.

The revolving door that science teachers pass through is a cycle the association is trying to curb. While the more experienced science teachers leave the profession for better opportunities, a new wave of fledgling science teacher take their place.

“One of our goals is to try to keep Science Teachers in the profession,” said Paul Tingler, project manager for the academy. “Teachers today are asked to do an extremely difficult job with limited resources.”

Here’s a link to the New Science Teacher Academy.

Origins ’09 in Tallahassee

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Mark your calendars for March 16-28, because there’s going to be all sorts of science going on in Tallahassee.

For two weeks in March, the Tallahassee community will have the rare opportunity to see and hear renowned scholars discuss how fundamental discoveries in science, religion, philosophy, history and the arts have shaped our understanding of life, civilization and our grasp of what lies ahead.  Please make your plans to join us for this event which was inspired by a global celebration of the extraordinary legacy of Charles Darwin in his 200th birthday year.  All events are designed for general audiences, and unless otherwise noted, are free.

New museum in Daytona

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

A new children’s museum opened in Daytona Beach. Sounds cool! Link to museum.

DAYTONA BEACH — After her classmates helped hoist her high above the ground on a seat attached to a series of pulleys, Anna Strong grabbed the rope and sat watching silently as other children squealed with delight Friday in the Charles and Linda Williams Children’s Museum.

“I like pulling myself up; it’s fun,” said Anna, a 7-year-old first-grader at St. James Episcopal School in Ormond Beach.

She was one of about 160 children from St. James and Holly Hill Elementary School who got to try out the interactive science center during its grand opening at the Museum of Arts & Sciences.

The 9,300-square-foot children’s museum features more than 15 hands-on exhibits where children can learn about principles of science, engineering and physics.

Single-Celled Giant Upends Early Evolution-Or Does it?

Friday, November 21st, 2008

ScienceDaily (Nov. 21, 2008)— Groove-like tracks on the ocean floor made by giant deep-sea single-celled organisms could lead to new insights into the evolutionary origin of animals, says biologist Mikhail “Misha” Matz from The University of Texas at Austin. “If our giant protists were alive 600 million years ago and the track was fossilized, a paleontologist unearthing it today would without a shade of doubt attribute it to a kind of large, multicellular, bilaterally symmetrical animal,” says Matz, an assistant professor of integrative biology. “We now have to rethink the fossil record.”

However, Professor Joe Meert Florida Citizens for Science Vice President is not so convinced. Here is his response.

I would not be surprised if some of the Precambrian tracks were indeed made by similar single-celled organisms, but I hesitate to ascribe ‘all precambrian tracks’ to such creatures.  Some are weird sedimentary artifacts and others are difficult to attribute to protists like these.  We don’t have access to this journal at UF so I can’t look at the traces.  The more convincing Precambrian traces I’ve seen tend to be quite deeply furrowed and unlikely to result from simpler protists. So my bias is that multicellularity has deep roots in the Precambrian albeit with a low diversity.

Valid disagreement within the realms of scientific research is the driving force of progress and stimulates the continuing search for knowledge.

In our corner

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

State Rep. Marty Kiar really fought hard on our behalf last legislative session against those deceptively-named academic freedom bills. It looks like we’ll see plenty more of him in the upcoming session. Why don’t you send him a note of thanks and encouragement?

Science news galore

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

There is all sorts of cool science news out there recently!

Could we actually see wooly mammoths roaming the land in the future? In the New York Times: Regenerating a Mammoth for $10 Million.

You can name the next Mars rover at NASA. And speaking of Mars, glaciers have apparently been found lurking underground. Oh, and if you find a stray spider hanging around, please let NASA know.

I had trouble finding a news story on this in the American press; there are quite a few mentions in other countries’ media. It’s about eye evolution.

Researchers unravel how the very first eyes in evolution might have worked and how they guide the swimming of marine plankton towards light.

A few Florida students are advancing in the prestigious Siemens Foundation Math, Science, Technology Competition.

On first glance, Jared Goodman and Jonathan Wang seem more the high school honor athletes they are than veteran scientists who have spent several years in the laboratory coming up with a way to treat someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Jared and Jonathan, who have already gained international attention with their work, will travel this weekend to the Georgia Tech in Atlanta to participate in the regional Siemens Foundation Math, Science, Technology Competition.

The seniors from Oak Hall School are two of six students in the regional finals from Florida. The region also includes students from Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

I had no idea that some frogs actually don’t do the free swimming tadpole thing.

The Big Picture has some smaaaaaaal subjects!

Texas science standards hearing

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Here is a live, first person account of Texas science standards hearings going on today. I’m not sure, but I believe more updates will be posted today.

Actually, here is another one that looks like it’s a bit more current.

The new legislative session

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

The shape of the next Florida legislative session is developing. As we watch and prepare for any bills that might affect science education, or education overall, here is a snapshot of the past and the future of the state Senate. I will try to do a similar analysis for the House, but that will take quite a bit more time and effort.

What happened in 2008 in the Senate:

Democrats voting no on the academic freedom bill = 12
Republicans voting no on the academic freedom bill = 5

Democrats voting yes on the academic freedom bill = 1
Republicans voting yes on the academic freedom bill = 20

Did not vote on the academic freedom bill = 2 (1 Democrat and 1 Republican)

Final vote was 21 yeas and 17 nays

In the Senate Education preK-12 committee, Bullard voted Y, but later voted N on the floor.

2008 Senate debate on the academic freedom bill notes:

Unfortunately, Senator Geller is no longer in the Senate. He was the one who kept trying to get Senator Storms (the bill sponsor) to answer questions about intelligent design. His debating in opposition was outstanding and will be missed! We can only hope that someone else with his depth of knowledge on the subject steps up to fill his shoes.

Senator Wilson debated against the bill, citing previous Supreme Court decisions. She was worried that any version of religion could slip into the classroom, not just Christianity.

Senator Gaetz debated for the bill by using the critical analysis canard. In debate, he used an example of a classroom lesson on gravity, but completely twisted the meaning of the lesson away from ‘how science works’ into ‘we should be allowed to question everything no matter what’.

Senator Joyner debated against the bill by saying that the bill would allow religion in the classroom.

Senator Wise debated for the bill (he had also co-sponsored it) by referring to the movie Expelled and claiming folks are being silenced for daring to question evolution.

Senator Rich debated against the bill by saying that the state standards already promote a form of critical analysis. Experts put together the standards; let’s not interfere with their hard work.

Senators Rich and Deutch had attempted to amend the bill with a provision that allowed “academic freedom” to be extended to sex education. The amendment failed, but it was a nice try.

New in the Senate for 2009:

The party makeup of the senate is the same as last year: 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

There are 7 new members in the senate.
Of those, 4 came over from the house. In the house, 3 (Altman, Gardiner, and Richter) of them had voted for the bill and 1 (Gelber) had voted against the bill. However, those house votes match the votes cast by the senators they replaced, so there is no loss or gain of votes likely from them.

That leaves us with 3 (Detert, Smith, and Sobel) complete unknowns.

Another item to keep in mind is that last year Senator Atwater-R did not vote. (I don’t know what the reason was. Perhaps it was a procedural thing.) He is now the Senate President.

Additional debate notes:

New member Senator Gelber was in the House last session. He debated there in opposition to the bill. He said the purpose of the bill was to get religion into the classroom. He also argued that the BoE already addressed the issue; no need to rehash.

New member Senator Altman was in the House last session. He debated for the bill, saying that not allowing critical analysis makes evolution nothing more than dogma and a religion of its own.

Next session information:

The legislative session kicks off in early March. Bill filing has already started, though, primarily in the House. There are no bills related to education in the Senate yet. There are a few bills now in the House related to education, but nothing on science education yet. Here is what is in the House already:

HB 13 – Public K-12 Education
GENERAL BILL   by McBurney
Public K-12 Education: Requires Sunshine State Standards for social studies to include emphasis on civics education; requires social studies standards to be included in assessments; requires FCAT to measure student content knowledge & skills in social studies; provides requirements for administration.
Effective Date: upon becoming a law
Last Event: Filed on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 8:09 AM

HB 17 – Public School Attendance
GENERAL BILL   by McBurney
Public School Attendance: Creates Student Preparedness Pilot Program to include Duval County School District as one of selected school districts; allows students 16 to 18 years of age to terminate school enrollment if they meet pilot program requirements for attendance & completion; provides for nontraditional academic options; provides for study & report by OPPAGA.
Effective Date: July 1, 2009
Last Event: Filed on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 8:12 AM

HB 19 – Public K-12 Educational Instruction
Public K-12 Educational Instruction: Deletes provisions that require schools to teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age students as part of instruction in human sexuality.
Effective Date: July 1, 2009
Last Event: Filed on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 8:13 AM