Archive for April, 2012

Missed Opportunities

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

I know that things move a little slower in the South, particularly in our own state and I’m sure that’s all well and good if you’re cutting grass or picking oranges. However, when it come to making decisions in planning future science education for our nearly 2.5million students, you would think that dragging your heels would not be the obvious course of action.

In Brandon’s previous 2 postings he pointed out the missed opportunities which caused Florida to lose any input in the National Science Standards. Not that the National Standards will suffer in Florida’s absence, however, it would have been advantageous for us to have at least some input. The current position it now seems is to “put a band aid” on the current state standards and hopefully the FBOE who meet on May 9th, will decide (with lots of political wrangling) to to adopt the national standards. In the mean time, the wounded state standards will be repaired and nursed for a year or two.

All this time and expense could have been avoided with just a little more urgency from those in Tallahassee. Now Paul Cottle over at “Bridge to Tomorrow” has expressed his opinions on this issue, stating that “the best option of all is simply to do nothing – and to wait for the final national standards to be released next year.” I agree with Paul and that should go down well with the decision makers of Florida, after all,taking things slow seems to be the way to do things here in good old Florida-sigh.

This article now linked to the Grade Book at the Tampa Bay Times

Florida is not at the party

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

So, a little more than half the country (26 states) are at the party, so to speak, doing the exciting work of preparing a set of Next Generation Science Standards. Experts are taking their time and crafting an exemplary guide for the teaching of science. It’s time to review the work and those with a stake in the process are getting first dibs.

The National Science Standards should be available this week to those states that are partners in the process.  Unfortunately Florida is not one of those states.  The standards will be available for about a week for review before they are released to the public.

These standards are being written by some of the best science educators and scientists in the country.  We are looking forward to seeing them and we wish could do so before they are released to the public; then we could have some true input to them.  Florida could still sign up so we could all do that.  Given the shortness of time, it would be worth a phone call to FDOE (Florida Department of Education) to tell them that they should sign up.

Dueling letters

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

There’s been an interesting series of letters in the Naples Daily News these past few weeks about evolution and creationism. It started with Dr. Malnak’s letter April 11 in which he promotes evolution and dismisses creationism. Mr. Dudley then attacks Malnak’s arguments by claiming that DNA studies show how impossible it is for humans to have evolved from chimps due to “6 billion nucleotides that must be haphazardly rearranged to change the monkey into human.” Mr. Harvey points out that Dudley is in error: “That ‘explanation’ shows you have little knowledge of evolution.” And Mr. Stoler writes “No one said we evolved from apes or chimps.” Mr. Sernovitz also says Dudley is ignorant about evolution.

It’s fun to be able to read the whole sequence of letters online like that. Even more entertaining are the readers’ comments at each of those links.

Can the science FCAT be defended?

Friday, April 20th, 2012

The Tampa Bay Times education blog, The Gradebook, published an e-mail exchange that was sparked by Robert Krampf’s (the Happy Scientist) critique of the science FCAT. The Department of Education tries to defend the test and not very well, I think. Krampf’s points are definitely still valid.

Also, NPR’s StateImpact readers have Krampf’s back.

These tests are bad ” gotcha” tools that do nothing to test real science knowledge, and will turn kids who are excited about science into frustrated, science-hating robots. The state claims to care about STEM subjects, but this is an example of how politicians, test companies, and others who are hundreds of miles from actual classrooms are grading our children. It makes me so sad for curious, potential young scientists.


When right is actually wrong on the science FCAT

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Florida’s own “the Happy Scientist” Robert Krampf notes some serious problems with the science FCAT. For examples:

Sample Item 2 for SC.5.N.1.6 (page 32), which assesses the following benchmark.
SC.5.N.1.6: Recognize and explain the difference between personal opinion/interpretation and verified observation.

This sample question offers the following observations, and asks which is scientifically testable.

The petals of red roses are softer than the petals of yellow roses.
The song of a mockingbird is prettier than the song of a cardinal.
Orange blossoms give off a sweeter smell than gardenia flowers.
Sunflowers with larger petals attract more bees than sunflowers with smaller petals.

The document indicates that 4 is the correct answer, but answers 1 and 3 are also scientifically testable.

I wonder how many students got “wrong” answers on the FCAT because their teachers taught them too much. How many “F” schools would have higher grades if those scientifically correct “wrong” answers were counted as correct answers. How many “B” schools would get the extra funding that “A” schools get, if those scientifically correct “wrong” answers were counted as correct answers?

It’s worth a few moments to read about the other troubling issues he’s discovered. Krampf is getting noticed, which is great! The Gradebook blog and BoingBoing both picked up on it.

Op-ed in Gainesville Sun

Monday, April 16th, 2012

My op-ed about Florida’s science standards was printed in the Gainesville Sun! Brandon Haught: Florida needs ‘Next Generation” science education standards

The Palm Beach Post responded to me, saying that my article was too complicated and readers might not understand it all. It was suggested that I simplify it. I took the recommendation in good faith. But when I read my article again, I just couldn’t figure out how anyone could consider it too complicated. I ease into it by explaining what science standards are, why they’re needed, how our standards came to be, where they stand now, and how to move on to something better. Other than drawing pictures, I don’t know how to make it simpler. I’m glad that not everyone thought the same.

We need a better road map to science education success

Friday, April 13th, 2012

The following is a news release/opinion piece approved by the Florida Citizens for Science board and submitted to newspapers across the state for their publishing consideration.

We need a better road map to science education success

Florida students have a destination they’re driving toward: a diploma that signifies they’re ready for the challenges ahead, equipped with all the experiences and knowledge that will help them be successful. Their teachers guide them to that goal, but to be truly effective as educators, they need an accurate education road map that outlines what needs to be taught. Ask 20 physics teachers what knowledge and skills are imperative to cover in their courses and you are likely to get a variety of responses, agreeing in some areas but diverging in others. This is not an ideal situation since that would mean a graduate in Polk County might then possess a higher or lower skill set than a Duval County graduate. That’s where the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards come in. Unfortunately, Florida’s standards in science are a weak road map to science literacy success. Our students deserve something better and there is a way to accomplish that.

Florida’s science standards were revised in 2008, replacing a previous set that were grossly substandard. A lot of hard work was poured into our new standards, and those who produced them should be commended. It was a monumental task tackled by enthusiastic professionals. But their working conditions were far from ideal. The time frame from start to finish was much too short and the busy framers and writers worked on it part time in addition to their own occupations. The result was an improvement over the previous standards, but it was later discovered that errors and oversights had crept in. Florida’s science standards fell short of the world class product everyone wanted. The goal was an A. We wound up with a C (link to report PDF), according to an official review by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

That leaves Florida with a dilemma. Keep in mind that student assessments are developed based on adopted science standards. This means that standards drive what happens in the classroom. How do we get our science standards to an A? One possible solution that we here at Florida Citizens for Science advocate lies in the efforts of the National Academy of Sciences to create Next Generation Science Standards (information available here and here). This project is similar to Common Core standards in mathematics and English/language arts that Florida has already signed on to. So far, 26 states are participating in the NGSS development, which recently passed the framework stage and is about to dive into the standards’ writing stage. The states-led project has the full support of the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Nationally recognized experts and world class scientists are engaged in this. Unfortunately, Florida isn’t involved.

If Florida joins this project now, we’re not obligated to commit to NGSS adoption when it’s done, making it a low-risk venture. But not joining means missing out on the opportunity for Florida educators to influence the final product. Working with others states will spread the financial load, making the effort a lot cheaper for Florida’s taxpayers. We encourage the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Board of Education to put our state in the forefront of this worthwhile endeavor. A poll released in March showed that an impressive 97 percent of voters believe “that improving the quality of science education is important to the United States’ ability to compete globally.” It would be foolish to “circle the wagons” around a current state standards/assessment system that is not providing students what they need. Anything that allows us to compare learning gains across districts and states helps us to understand how to better support science learning. Scientifically literate graduates are an essential part of Florida’s future. We owe them the best possible science standards. Let’s not fail them!

The United Methodist Church and Creationism

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

The United Methodist Church’s Quadrennial Conference will be in Tampa this month. One topic up for discussion: creationism. Will the Church’s current science friendly stance be reversed?

A resolution has been introduced to remove the word evolution from the Book of Discipline. Another has been introduced to retract the endorsement of The Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend. And still a third has been introduced to delete the Church’s clear opposition to creationism in the science classroom.

If you’re one of the 12 million members of the denomination, speak up loudly and let your representatives to the Quadrennial Conference know your feelings. There are 998 delegates and you can find out who represents you by contacting your local annual conference office or the United Methodist Church general headquarters.