Archive for June, 2011

Dinosaur Adventure Land on the auction block

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

PZ mentioned that Kent Hovind’s Pensacola-based Dinosaur Adventure Land is up for auction. Where will people learn about “science and spiritual lessons” now? Here’s an explanation from back in March about what is going on from the Creation Science Evangelism site.

Education Commissioner

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

It looks like Gerard Robinson is Florida’s new education commissioner. It happened mighty quick and thus raises some questions about whether anything improper was going on behind the scenes. And where does science education fit into all of this? Nowhere, apparently. There are some mentions of Robinson promoting STEM education in the past, but I haven’t found much. We’ll just have to wait and see how things shake out.

Evolution in Miss USA contest

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Contestants in the current Miss USA contest were asked a few questions during pre-recorded interviews, including “Should evolution be taught in schools?” A Christian Post article provides examples of some answers:

Despite concerns of compromising beliefs for the sake of appealing to the public, contestants have so far been open about their values in the pre-recorded questions.

While many contestants expressed an openness to include evolution in public schools, one contestant – Miss Kentucky Kia Ben-et Hampton – said that evolution should not be taught, alluding to the differing opinions expressed in the scientific and religious communities.

Miss Mississippi Keeley Patterson discredited evolution in her answer. “I think evolution should be taught as what it is; it’s a theory, so I don’t think it should be taught as fact.”

A few other contestants including Miss Nebraska Haley Jo Herold, Miss Alaska Jessica Chuckran and Miss New Hampshire LacyJane Folger answered affirmatively, but expressed their desire to see the other side – such as creationism – given equal time in the classroom.

Chuckran said in her answer, “I think it’s necessary that evolution is taught in schools … However, personally, I do not believe in evolution. I believe that each one of us were (sic) created for a purpose by God and that just gives my life so much more direction and meaning.”

I looked up Miss Florida’s response. Lissette Garcia had this to say:

Evolution should be taught in schools. It’s something that, you know, people do believe in, in its existence, and we really don’t know where the first level, the first person, came from.

Science FCAT 2011

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Results for Florida’s annual science exams taken by 3rd, 8th, and 11th graders were released today. The good news? Scores overall improved since last year. The bad news? The rise in scores is small, and 50 percent of our state’s students aren’t proficient in science. I’m tired of being a broken record here, so I’ll just link to my coverage of previous years’ scores (2008, 2009, 2010). It’s all disappointingly the same old story.

Today’s write up in the Orlando Sentinel opens with a focus on science, which is refreshing.

Florida students did better this year on the FCAT science exams, though fewer than half of those tested scored at grade level, results released this morning showed.

“I’m very encouraged by the continued progress we are seeing in science, but the overall performance of our students is still far too low,” said Education Commissioner Eric Smith.

Students in grades 5, 8 and 11 take the FCAT science exam. This year, 51 percent of fifth graders scored at grade level — earning a 3 or better on the five-level test — while 46 percent of eighth graders and 40 percent of 11th graders did as well.

The science scores were the highest since that FCAT exam was first given in 2003, increasing two to three percentage points at each grade level from last year.

The St. Petersburg Times’ story talks about science, too:

All three science FCATs were also used for the last time. In the future, the state will rely on science end-of-course exams in high school. It will roll out FCAT 2.0 versions of the fifth- and eighth-grade science tests next year.

Statewide, students showed improvement on all three science tests, but in no grade did more than 51 percent of students score at grade level or above.

“I’m very encouraged by the continued progress we are seeing in science, but the overall performance of our students is still far too low,” Smith said in a written statement. “Important changes have recently been made to accelerate this progress, including increased graduation requirements that include critical science courses, our next generation curriculum standards that hone in on core science concepts and our Race to the Top win that has given us additional resources to concentrate on this vital subject area.”

Dissections

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Paul Cottle wrote on his blog about an ABC news report focused on a push to reduce dissections in schools, replacing them with virtual dissections. There is a Florida connection here. A company is working hard to get its particular dissection program into schools and hooked at least one Florida school district.

Animal-rights groups aside, the company says school systems from all over North America are signing up for its software. The Miami-Dade school system in Florida, it said, has contracted for software for all 85 of its middle schools and high schools.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Virtual dissection programs are a valuable tool in the classroom. Here in Florida students have the option of not doing a dissection and instead doing another activity. Virtual dissections fit that bill nicely. But completely replacing all real dissections is a bad thing.

The ABC story is grossly slanted in favor of the virtual stuff. There is no voice in the story defending real dissections. This is as close as it comes:

“Sure, some kids like the wet lab because they like to mash the frogs’ brains,” said Tracie Treahy of Digital Frog. “Others don’t like it because there’s a kid behind them with a scalpel.”

That’s one heck of an inflammatory quote. I had the good fortune to serve my student teaching internship during the biology classes’ fetal pig dissection week. Not one of the more than 60 kids wanted to mash brains. There were some disinterested students, but even the ones who were initially squeamish couldn’t help but participate as time went on. The students liked the experience because it was engaging and active and interesting!

I’ve experienced a couple of different virtual dissections. Even the best of the virtual can’t come close to the real experience. You miss the feel, the weight, the texture and the opportunity to freely explore and discover and experience. In the virtual dissections you are directed along through steps you can’t really deviate from, and everything is essentially handed to you. But in the real thing, you oftentimes have to put real thought and effort into finding organs that are tucked away in difficult to reach spots. You can explore from all angles and really see how everything is connected, and also see how it isn’t all clean and simple.

The bottom line is effort. You can either be guided along through a thoughtless process of clicking the mouse, or you can actually turn on the brain and explore. We had students who wanted to see things that weren’t on our “scheduled tour” and we let them go for it. Wow, that pig skull is hard to crack open, which isn’t something you would know from a computer simulation.

Virtual stuff is fine as an alternative for students who don’t want to do the dissections. But the two students who elected to use the computer during my time in the classroom were clearly nowhere near as engaged!

One element of the story I really don’t understand is the cost issue. The pigs in my school were paid for with student lab fees. So, I don’t know how eliminating real dissections would save the school any money. I also don’t know what that story is referring to when it says schools have to hire a company to capture live frogs, keep the frogs until dissection time, and then kill them. Where in the world does that happen? In my school, the fetal pigs were ordered from a company that shipped the preserved specimens.

Finally, the part of the story that really got me steamed was:

Most of the 2,600 students taking science courses this year will never go into the life sciences, he [Kevin Stipp] said; for those who do, they’ll get other chances to do dissections in college.

What in the world?!?!?! By that logic, let’s not give students instruments in band because most of them won’t go on to music careers. Let’s not use chemicals in chemistry class because hardly any students will go on to be chemists. What an inane comment! School is where students get to experience this stuff so that they can form opinions that inform their future choices.

Unfortunately, it looks like dissections overall are fading in importance. I remember doing several dissections back in my high school days. Now only one dissection is done in the basic biology courses in my internship school, and the teacher really has to be creative in justifying its inclusion in the course. It’s a sad state of affairs.