Archive for January, 2009

Year of Science / Darwin Day in Florida

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

I finally got around to compiling a list of Year of Science / Darwin Day events. Find it on the bottom of the Florida Citizens for Science home page.

If you know of any other events, tell me about them and I’ll add them to the list.

Where to draw the line between reality and respect for cultural beliefs

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Maybe this would be a good place to draw that line: Was High School Girl Possessed In Class?

Students at a Mississippi high school said a fellow student spoke in tongues and made grave predictions for her classmates for three days.

Some of those predictions included when students would die.

Sparks and his classmates said they think an evil spirit possessed the girl. They were so convinced that Sparks and his friends brought Bibles to school and had a devotional.

“Some believe, some don’t.” Clanton said. “They say it was the devil, but the devil only tells lies. Everything I said was the truth.”

Clanton said she admits she spoke in tongues and made predictions for her classmates. But she said it was God speaking through her, not the devil.

Checking my calendar I see that, yup, it is 2009. I realize there is a chance this is purely attention-seeking on the part of both the “possessed” and the victims. The TV station mainly talked with the students who had been the ones to reach out to the media. But the “possessed’s” mom seemed to be going right along with this.

Kylie Sturgess on PodBlack Cat has launched a good conversation about how a teacher should approach the subject of skepticism vs. cultural respect in the classroom. Is it OK to base a critical thinking-type lesson on debunking horoscopes, ouija boards or ghosts? Or would such subjects spark too much controversy and thus be off limits? But is marking such lessons as off limits irresponsible and thus promoting the exact opposite of critical thinking, which then perpetuates the goofy “possessed” junk?

I think Kylie nails it on the head when she says: “Talking to counselors, deputy principals and certainly my Head of Department – and being prepared to compromise if need be for what is still more about a method – rather than a particular topic.”

So, how do you handle a situation where a student is acting, in all seriousness, “possessed”? And how do you talk to the other kids who are convinced something is going on and are freaked out about it?

End-of-course exams

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

The Orlando Sentinel picks up on my previous post about a bill proposing to do away with the 11th grade science FCAT, and talks about end-of-course exams.

Florida educational leaders have indicated support for end-of-the-year exams in high school. They think testing what students learned at the end of a course in, say, biology or chemistry, could make more sense than testing knowledge on lots of subjects — 2/3’s of the way through 11th grade (FCAT being given in early March).

Teacher of the year

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Congratulations to Pasco County teacher of the year, science teacher Kathryn Bylsma! It should be noted the Kathryn served on the committee that wrote the state’s new science standards.

“It pays to be a nerd,” she said.

O.K., so leaving it at just that quote is unfair.

“She makes us think in different ways instead of just making us read a textbook,” said Casey Chitty, 11. “She’s hands on.”

Alex Van Hulle, also 11, called Bylsma “funny” and said she makes learning fun.

“Her knowledge of science is immeasurable, and her worth is immeasurable,” Principal BethBrown said.

He gets hate mail

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Attenborough reveals creationist hate mail for not crediting God

Sir David Attenborough has revealed that he receives hate mail from viewers for failing to credit God in his documentaries. In an interview with this week’s Radio Times about his latest documentary, on Charles Darwin and natural selection, the broadcaster said: “They tell me to burn in hell and good riddance.”

Florida science news dump

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

When I see an interesting science tidbit in the news I post it in Twitter as a way to bookmark it until I get a chance to post it all here. Here’s the latest news dump for y’all!

An adopt-a-school program results in a new science lab for Trafalgar Elementary.

School officials transformed an empty storage room into the new lab after BJ’s Wholesale in Cape Coral donated $1,200 for materials and supplies through its Adopt-A-School program. The lab features models of the human body, microscopes, magnifying glasses and even two classroom animals -“Duke” the hedgehog and “Tinkerbell” the bearded dragon.

Students at the Marine Oceanographic Academy had to research theme parks and then create their own.

“It’s not your typical high school, but I think that’s what I like about it,” said Bolduc, a Port St. Lucie resident. “We don’t always have class. We’re out in the field. We’re getting dirty. It’s perfect.”

The Institute of Biotechnology is established at Santa Fe High School.

Members of the faculty and staff collaborated with the University of Florida, Santa Fe College and the Center of Excellence in Regenerative Health Biotechnology to develop the first courses in Biotechnology to be offered in Florida.

Florida father and son science team works at the South Pole.

“It wasn’t a vacation,” Mike Potash said. “It was definitely done in a spirit that we had a mission to accomplish.”

I like this story mainly because of this quote:

“This thing was basically a set of testes looking for the female.”

So far, no “strengths and weaknesses” garbage in the Texas science standards, but another problem did crop up. An amendment narrowly passed for the time being:

Describe the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.

Texas updates

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Still a long way to go, but there is hope in Texas. “Strengths and weaknesses” garbage narrowly defeated in a preliminary vote. Texas Freedom Network is a great source for up to date info.

Time for deep breaths. One: The failure of creationists to reinsert “strengths and weaknesses” into the standards is a huge victory for sound science education. We need to fight to keep it out in tomorrow’s formal vote and again in the final March votes on the standards.

Second: Board members — none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists — appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards. That’s why it’s foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen play-pretend that they’re scientists. The result is that the standards draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not necessarily disastrous overall.

Third, and this is more of a problem, McLeroy has succeeded in inserting language that would have students waste time evaluating evidence on a concept that is established science — in fact, it’s a core concept in the study of evolution, common descent. Even worse, it’s such a complicated and bizarre standard that teachers will have a very difficult time even translating it, much less teaching about it. (TEA has not yet posted it.) What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he knows more about science than scientists do.

What’s happening in Texas

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

A couple of Florida newspapers ran stories this morning about the fight over evolution instruction in Texas.

Sarasota Herald: In Texas, a Line in the Curriculum Revives Evolution Debate

Many biologists and teachers said they feared that the board would force textbook publishers to include what skeptics see as weaknesses in Darwin’s theory to sow doubt about science and support the Biblical version of creation.

“These weaknesses that they bring forward are decades old, and they have been refuted many, many times over,” Kevin Fisher, a past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, said after testifying. “It’s an attempt to bring false weaknesses into the classroom in an attempt to get students to reject evolution.”

Bradenton Herald: Texas wrestles with science standards, evolution

Critics say the use of the word “weaknesses” has been used to undermine Darwin’s theory of evolution and promote creationism – or intelligent design.

“In science education, ‘weaknesses’ has become a code word in the culture wars to attack evolution and promote creationism,” said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. “If it weren’t, we wouldn’t see this crusade by some of the board members and outside pressure groups to keep this single word in the science standards.”

Anyone in the WInter Haven area? You might want to send in a letter to the editor to counter the garbage Grace Discher wrote in the News Chief: Evolution is a religion, not a provable science.

When debating the validity of Creationism, versus Evolution, many evolutionists seem to believe that the conflict is a disagreement between a well-proven scientific fact and the Christian religion. In reality, it is a battle between two opposing religions and their subsequent world views. Evolution is as much a faith-based religion as Christianity, Islam, etc.