Archive for January, 2011

Teachers in U.S. Reluctant to Endorse Evolution

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Headline: High School Biology Teachers in U.S. Reluctant to Endorse Evolution in Class, Study Finds

From the news story writeup of the journal article:

“Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America’s classrooms.”

Berkman and Plutzer say the nation must have better-trained biology teachers who can confidently advocate for high standards of science education in their local communities. Colleges and universities should mandate a dedicated undergraduate course in evolution for all prospective biology teachers, for example, and follow up with outreach refresher courses, so that more biology teachers embrace evolutionary biology.

“Combined with continued successes in courtrooms and the halls of state government, this approach offers our best chance of increasing the scientific literacy of future generations,” they conclude.

These authors wrote a book, Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms, that I recently finished reading. I hope to type up a review of this well-researched and interesting book soon. Their journal article came from research they did for the book.

And here’s an interview with the authors.

People have a lot of opportunities to take in information about evolution, but there’s a lot of information in churches and the Internet that takes a contrary position, too.

Outreach by itself has not been sufficient.

However, almost every American has taken a general biology class in high school. It’s around 97 percent of people. This seems like a place that might make the most difference. We know that the material taught in many schools is really cursory. While there are terrific teachers, most typically teach evolution as an isolated unit. Teachers also dissociate from it and not say it has been confirmed by the scientific community.

Some of these teachers change evolution from an institution to an opinion.

The Nation’s Report Card on Science in Florida

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

The National Center for Education Statistics today issued it “Report Card” on science education in the U.S., and broke their results down by participating states. The report indicates that Florida is not special at all when it comes to science. We’re buried deep in the middle of the pack.

Here’s a pdf document that summarizes the 4th grade results. Here’s a pdf document that summarizes the 8th grade results, which are rather ugly. A big 43% of our 8th graders are below basic level in science understanding. I bet it’s even worse in 12th grade, but that information is apparently not available yet. You can read the full national report (another pdf) here.

The St. Pete Times was quick to write up a story about the results. There are some great quotes in there, especially from our very own Florida Citizens for Science president, Joe Wolf:

The science results “bother me,” said Joe Wolfe, president of Florida Citizens for Science and a mathematician by training. “I’m afraid these scores show our system … is just not producing science students that have what is necessary to keep the country competitive.”

Paul Cottle, blogger over at Bridge to Tomorrow, was also quoted:

“We’re bringing in all these fancy biotech companies, and we’re importing these scientists and we’re training our students to make the beds for them,” said Paul Cottle, a Florida State University physicist who writes a blog on science education. “Nobody’s really taking this up. That’s the problem.”

Cottle, the physics professor, said the state needed to more aggressively pursue other changes, such as extra pay for science teachers, and even more professional development for them.

He pointed to the students in his physics classes: “The vast majority are poorly prepared in physics, and that limits what I can do,” he said. “We can produce more scientists and engineers at FSU if our students arrive here better prepared.”

The Orlando Sentinel story features Florida’s 2008 Teacher of the Year (and science teacher):

Richard Ellenburg, an Orange County science teacher, was on one of the committees that wrote the new standards. He said they are an improvement and will make a difference — but that it will take time.

“Are we farther along? I think in many ways we are,” he said, noting Florida was doing better than some other Southern states.

Science also begins with “foundational skills,” he said, so if the state’s fourth graders are grasping those then they will be better prepared for tougher aspects of science when they move to middle and then high school.

But Ellenburg, named Florida’s 2008 teacher of the year, said budget cuts in the past few years have undercut science education, as fewer elementary schools in his district can maintain science labs staffed with science teachers. That means students in some schools do not spend as much time on the subject.

“Inquiry-based science requires a lot of understanding and a lot of time,” he said.

“We’re doing an awful lot with very little,” he added, noting that middle and high schools also face the continual struggle of trying to attract science teachers when the private sector pays those with science degrees higher salaries.

Teacher internship, day 13

Monday, January 24th, 2011

There wasn’t much to report from the teacher internship front last week due to it being the final week of that semester. We were busy wrapping up the semester and administering exams. The real excitement begins this week when new students file into the classroom Tuesday for the first day of the fresh semester. I get to see how my host teacher establishes her procedures and rules. This week will be focused primarily on getting students set up with science binders and lab folders, issuing textbooks and teaching about lab safety.

On Wednesday I will face my first observation. This is when a person from my college sits in during a class period to see I how I handle things, and then he completes an evaluation. For this one I am merely teaching something my host teacher has planned, so I’m not worried.

The following week, though, I am teaching a few lessons where I’ve done all of the planning. I already put together the plans and showed them to my host teacher. She really liked what I had! Now comes the hard part of actually fleshing out the plans, creating my presentation materials, gathering needed equipment and all of that stuff.

Here are a few of the ideas I will incorporate into my plans, which focus on “what is science” and “the scientific method”.

  • Here’s a neat puzzle that teaches students an important aspect of science: that ideas can change when new information is discovered.
  • Here’s a Richard Wiseman video that will be useful in teaching about natural explanations for seemingly unnatural phenomenon. Unfortunately, the school blocks all access to YouTube, so I have to find some way to get a copy of the video.
  • Here’s a great idea from Richard Dawkins: a card game (pdf file) that uses the scientific method (see page 7 of the pdf)!
  • And we will do an icebreaker activity based on the Forer effect (variations used before by James Randi and Derren Brown).

Of course, there will be plenty of other lectures and discussions (such as lecturing on Redi, Needham, Pasteur, and their spontaneous generation experiments), but I’m really trying to break away from passive listening and striving for active engagement. Wouldn’t you love to be in my classroom?

Science Project from HELL

Monday, January 24th, 2011

This is an interesting story about a mother, her child, a B, the child’s teacher, a frazzled school official, and the science project from hell.

For some families, it’s a magical time. They bond, they learn. Parents can be involved in the teaching process, which strengthens the school community.

Some educators, such as Waite and Hillsborough elementary science supervisor Shana Tirado, say a child can do the work with minimal help from parents.

Orlopp and Williams disagree.

“It’s a parent project,” Williams said, surveying page after page of Carson’s instructions. From the multiple trials to the data compilation and double-space typed paper, she said, “There is absolutely no way a child can do this.”

Since mid-December, she has written to the teachers and principal. She photographed the children’s written comments, which reflect they were glad when the assignment ended.

In the grading rubric, she found no satisfactory explanation for the B. So many other projects got A’s, she said. She asked the teachers to reconsider, but they didn’t.

She has compared notes with friends, heard stories about kids who were coached on how to answer questions from the judges at competitions. She might go to the school board or to Tallahassee, even.

The question I have is, who is suffering more here? I pity that poor teacher.

Teacher internship, day 7

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

My apologies if my teacher internship is dominating this blog lately. It’s been quiet on the business end of Florida Citizens for Science, so there isn’t much to write about there. But there is plenty going on in my classroom: pig dissections!

Unfortunately, the biology curriculum does not allow for much in the way of dissections nowadays. I can remember way back to my high school biology days when we dissected a whole list of critters. However, the curriculum has shifted focus away from dissections, and small budgets also play a role. Teachers can actually go all the way through biology without a single dissection! My host teacher believes students should have some dissection experience and so fits pigs into the curriculum section on human body systems, using the pigs for comparative anatomy.

The dissections started Wednesday and quickly became the talk of the whole school. There are typically several absences in each of the three biology periods, but there were barely any that day! The students were excited, and plenty were initially squeamish, of course. With aprons, gloves and goggles on, they did a quick exterior examination and then got busy cutting into the abdomen. There was plenty to see inside; these pigs were huge! They were generally about 35 cm from snout to tail base. Today, the kids picked up where they left off from yesterday. They found the parts of the digestive, urinary and reproductive systems. Tomorrow, they wrap up with the respiratory and circulatory systems.

I was impressed by how engaged the kids were. Even the most squeamish among them eventually couldn’t resist getting a good look at what was going on. There were a couple of students who chose to do the computer virtual dissections, but not many. Overall, this was a great experience for both me and all of the students. The kids are at their best when they are actively doing something versus just sitting, reading and listening.

Paying to be a teacher

Monday, January 10th, 2011

My wife has been a elementary school teacher for about 10 years now. I’ve listened to her complain about all of the fees she has to pay just to become a teacher and maintain her certification. Now that I am embarking on the same journey I get to be the one to shell out the dough. Today I had to schedule my fingerprinting/background check with the county office. The fee to do so was $80! Heck, I’m not even a new employee, but rather an intern, and I am still required to pay this. I’m unemployed, folks. That $80 hurt.

I also had to pay about $130 for my state required general knowledge test (I passed this one quite a while ago). Then there is another $200 for the state required subject area exam (Another one I passed a while ago). And yet another $150 for the state required professional education exam, which I am taking at the end of this month. Finally, there is the $85 Praxis biology test that my college requires, which I am taking this Saturday. And all of this has to be done before I can even start applying for teaching jobs. That’s about $645 I’ve had to fork over so far. What the heck else will I have to pay for? Sheesh!

Social Studies textbooks

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Here is a post (and news release & documents) about an apparently well-organized group going after social studies textbooks. Take a look at the list of inaccuracies they’ve made (see links at the bottom of the linked post). These folks really got down into the details, didn’t they?

Patriots United, a Tea Party organization, headed by Sheri Krass, a retired Secondary Math teacher, has created the Florida Textbook Action Team (TAT). County TAT’s have been formed throughout the State.

Citizens for National Security (CFNS) spent over 14 months researching all Social Studies textbooks approved by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE). They identified over 200 excerpts that have pro-Islam/anti-Jewish/Christian/Israel bias.

Although the CFNS research was focused on Islamic inaccuracies, the TAT is also concerned about incorrect information our children are learning about our history, government, and constitution.

Biology class internship, 3 days in

Friday, January 7th, 2011

I wrapped up my first three days of teacher internship. Unfortunately, I’ve entered the classroom near the end of a semester when the teacher is trying her hardest to cram in the final few topics. There just isn’t enough time in the schedule to give everything the attention it needs during the semester, and so some topics have to be stuffed in at the end as best as possible. This means there is little creativity involved. It’s all straight lectures and guided reading out of the biology book. The teacher hates doing this, but she has no other option. The last thing to be done this semester is the pig dissection and she doesn’t want to shortchange the kids on that. That’s why she is essentially forced to fly through a few other topics in a few days.

However, since I’ve already worked with this teacher on other college assignments in the past, she was familiar with me. That helped me when I asked to take over a few lectures. She had no problem with it. Lecturing and interacting with the kids is so much better than sitting in the back of the class watching the same lecture three times in a row. I watched her give a lecture with her first group of students. Since I was already familiar with the subject, that one lecture was all I needed to see. I then gave the same lecture to the remaining two groups. I fumbled a bit with one group, but once I was warmed up I think I did great with the last group.

So far this has been a positive experience. I have yet to encounter any serious behavior problems in my assigned biology class or in any of the other classrooms I’ve observed. The only thing that has been mildly irritating is some kids’ inattention. Their eyes are glazed over or they are obviously daydreaming. Others get a bit loud and start creating minor disturbances. But you can’t really blame them. The material Thursday and Friday has been delivered in a dry and rushed manner. However, on Wednesday the students did a web quest project on computers and were much more awake and into it.

There is a test on Monday. Then I think the remainder of the week is all about dissections! The pigs came in the mail today and they are really big! I’m looking forward to that.