Archive for September, 2009

Darwin’s Darkest Hour

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Nova have released their new Docu-drama Darwin’s Darkest Hour which will be a two hour movie, split into two hour long sections. It will be aired Tuesday October 6Th at 8.00pm on most PBS stations. I did call my local PBS stations, WEDU in Tampa and WMFE in Orlando who both assured me that they would be showing the program. I would suggest that you contact the PBS station in your own area to confirm the day and time of the airing. Darwin’s Darkest Hour, National Geographic Television’s first scripted film, portrays a crisis in Charles Darwin’s life, showing us Darwin’s struggle to endured the year before the publication of “On the Origin of Species”.

House Bill not good enough

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Florida State University professor Paul Cottle is working his rear end off on behalf of improving science education here in Florida. He has a new My View article printed today in the Tallahassee Democrat. Paul says that HB61 currently filed in advance of the next legislative session is just too weak.

Florida House Republican and speaker hopeful Erik Fresen of Miami has filed a bill for next spring’s legislative session that is being touted as a way to raise standards for high-school graduation. But in science, Fresen’s bill would leave Florida behind Georgia, Alabama and even Mississippi.

This n That

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The Orlando Sentinel School Zone blog has a few interesting items up recently. Apparently, to raise money in lean budget times some school systems are looking into letting businesses advertise in the schools. PETA made an offer to Volusia County.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say it has sent a letter to Superintendent Margaret Smith offering to place ads in all of the county’s middle and high school science classrooms advocating an end to dissecting animals in class.

The School Zone blog also notes that end of course exams are being taken out for a spin in algebra.

The Grade 9 FCAT-2 Mathematics exam (told you it was clunky) will test mostly knowledge of algebra, and, if the Florida Legislature agrees, it could become the state’s algebra end-of-course exam — and passing it could, eventually, become a new graduation requirement, according to a memo Education Commissioner Eric Smith sent to district school superintendents last week.

Florida State University professor Harold Kroto’s GEOSET project is a collection of short, engaging videos to teach science. The St. Petersburg Times is calling it ‘Mr Wizard’ for the Internet age.

Kroto’s goal is to harness the Internet and modern technology to revolutionize the way schoolchildren learn science, math and technology.

The head of Freedom High School’s science department in New Tampa was cited for animal cruelty after some gerbils were found dead.

School district officials say they found no evidence Barthel intentionally let the gerbils die, and also say she has never been disciplined for misconduct in her years with the district.

Still, representatives for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say the deaths are a clear case of animal cruelty and are calling on the district to ban the use of all animals in classrooms.

This new shark movie at Orlando Science Center is no ‘Jaws’.

“We’re trying to let them see that sharks aren’t largely mindless killers,” he says. “They’re an incredibly important component of the oceans. We need them to be there to have a healthy ocean.”

Osceola adds “Missions Labs” to all its elementary schools to improve science lessons.

“The goal was to give the students a hands-on experience and get them really excited about the whole idea of really doing science,” said Sharon Kelley, a curriculum supervisor who works with math and science. “The real goal is the excitement, the exploration, the discovery aspect of science.”

“When Louisiana officials recently passed a new law governing the classroom materials that can be used to cover evolution lessons, some predicted that controversy—and possibly lawsuits—would follow. Now a committee of the state board of education has signed off on new rules that seek to clarify how complaints and challenges stemming from the law will be handled in school districts. Whether those rules clarify things, or merely roil the waters on the bayou, remains to be seen.” Curriculum Matters blog.

Second annual fundraising wrap up

Friday, September 18th, 2009

We’re all done, folks! This year we gave a total of $1,775 to 13 classrooms across Florida for science education learning tools. (Last year we gave $1,507 to seven schools.) Here are the schools we helped this time and the kinds of stuff they now have because of you:

>> Pride Elementary School, Tampa (Owl Pellet, Owl Puke Workbook)
>> Chets Creek Elementary School, Jacksonville (Igneous Rock Collection, Rocks & Soil Book Library)
>> Kate Sullivan Elem School, Tallahassee (Hand Lens, Round 5″ Magnifier)
>> Florosa Elementary School, Mary Esther (Inclined Planes and Wedges, Stop Watches)
>> Lockhart Middle School, Orlando (Super Science Concoctions, Mixtures and Solutions)
>> Gibbons Street Elem School, Bartow (Simple Machines Activity Tub, Force & Motion Activity Tub)
>> Ocean Palms Elementary School, Ponte Vedra Beach (Solar System Floor Puzzle, Space Theme Book Library, Solar System Activity Tub)
>> Royal Palm Charter School, Palm Bay (Terrarium Set, Leopard Gecko, Tree Frog)
>> Franklin Park Magnet Elementary School, Fort Myers (Solar System Science Cards, Solar System Model)
>> Palmetto Elementary School, Poinciana (Butterfly Pavillion)
>> Kinnan Elementary School, Sarasota (Binoculars, Color Mixer Lab, Giant Thermometer)
>> Just Elementary School, Tampa (Dissection Sets)
>> East Milton Elementary School, Milton (Watch-It-Grow Window Greenhouse, Real Bugs Discovery Kit, Magnet Discovery Board)

This project was done through our DonorsChoose.org giving page.  Shall we do this again next year?

Think n Drink September summary

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

The South Florida Museum hosts a monthly Think n Drink science talk. The subject for September was: “‘Hey, its just a Theory’ – Evolution 101.” Jason Bilotta attended and was kind enough to write up a summary of what happened for us. Here is Jason’s guest post:

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At the most recent Think n Drink, the public got to join Jeff Rodgers, Director of Education at the South Florida Museum, for an overview of what the theory has to say about life on Earth, and a discussion about the current state of the debate.  In the end, we really never made it to the “controversy” – we were all way too involved with the science!

Imagine sitting at a table with several other people, enjoying your adult beverage and chatting it up, when you are given a group assignment:  Take a dozen photos, each one a scene of either Little Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs, and for good measure add in a few new items, like a scene in the woods showing Grandma tied to a tree, the pigs proudly standing over her.  Or how about a picture of grandma pushing a pig into a trap?  Got it?  Good.  Now, your group needs to take these pieces of data and form an explanatory story that accounts for all the data.  Keep in mind your own prior knowledge, beliefs and point of view as you do this.

Now imagine a room of 60-70 people, all in their own little groups, all looking at the same data, and all working up a general explanation that puts all the data points (cartoons) into play and does not contradict itself.  If you were a gambler, would you bet that every group produced the same explanation?  Of course, every group produced a completely different story, even though they all started from the same data!  Why is that?  Precisely because we all do bring our own preconceived notions, prior knowledge, bias and beliefs!  And it was with this understanding that we joyfully learned about the origin of On The Origin of Species.

The event was originally billed as a discussion on Evolution 101 and the state of the debate, but the discussion stayed with the history of the development of the theory of natural selection and evolution in general. This group simply had too many great questions about natural selection, deep time, and the mechanics of evolution.

Other topics were discussed as well, such as the future, where we fit into it genetically, what the impact of genetic engineering of people and foods and other crops will have, and what the pros and cons of these are.  (This happens to be the topic of the next Think n Drink, so we didn’t go too deep into it).

In the noise of the never ending battle over evolution, when half to a third of the nation does not even accept evolution, we can lose sight of this one great inspiring point:  The story of how we got here is elegant, simple, undirected, random, long and beautiful.  Jeff Rodgers did a great job of telling that story, and it was quite refreshing!

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Thank you for that summary, Jason. Jason is the founder of Skeptikids, a SW Florida hands-on science program for kids that gets kids contributing to real, current science. They’re branching out and forming chapters around the country.  Jason is also a contributor to Science Based Parenting, a website for parents about raising critical thinkers.

US is “Dissing Darwin” Update

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

After months of resistance, the creators of the Charles Darwin bio-pic ““Creation”  say they’re close to getting a distribution deal in the United States. “There is now a bidding war for the film in the US. A US deal will be in place by the end of the week.” a spokesman tells NBC Bay Area. That’s a turnaround from just a few days ago, when the film’s creators were lamenting film distributors’ fear of being associated with the film.

Creationism back in Florida headlines

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

We’ve heard from St. Petersburg politician Bill Foster before. When the new Florida science standards were being written and reviewed, Foster wrote a letter to his local school board warning about the evils of evolution.

Now Foster is running for mayor and his creationist beliefs are under the microscope. Will those beliefs hurt him or help him? I guess we’ll find out on election day. From the St. Pete Time article:

St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Bill Foster believes, contrary to the overwhelming majority of scientists, that dinosaurs and humans co-existed. He believes the world was created in six literal days, and he once complained to school officials when his son was taught about Darwin’s theory of evolution in fifth grade.

Is that relevant to the campaign for mayor of Florida’s fourth-largest city?

In an interview at his law office, Foster talked about some of his beliefs and refused to talk about others.

“Dinosaurs are mentioned in Job, so I don’t have any problem believing that dinosaurs roamed the earth,” he said, referring to the book of Job, which mentions the “behemoth.” He said he believes dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, though most scientists say there is a gap of at least 60 million years between dinosaurs and mankind.

But in this election Foster has been dogged by questions about his religious beliefs after he sent a controversial letter to the Pinellas School Board, urging members to allow discussion about alternatives to the theory of evolution, such as the Genesis account. His letter suggested that Darwin contributed to the rise of Hitler and the Columbine massacre.

Foster insists he was merely promoting free speech for students.

Upcoming stuff reminders

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Think + Drink science series at the South Florida museum: “Hey, It’s Just a Theory” – Evolution 101 Wednesday, September 16, 7 – 9 pm.

Northwest Florida State College lecture series: “Cellular Evolution: tracing our cellular lineage,” by Ritter on Sept. 18

Christian Study Center of Gainesville lecture series: September 28 Brent Henderson, Department of Linguistics “Can Science and Theology Make Peace in the Age of Darwin?”