Archive for August, 2017

Get to work! It’s science textbook review time!

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

The Florida Department of Education has now issued a “Call for Reviewers Invitation for Science.”

Every year the FDOE reviews and approves a list of recommended textbooks for that year’s academic subject. Last year it was Social Studies. This year it is Science. Once the state compiles a list of approved instructional materials, each of the state’s school districts then select from the list the books they want to purchase to be used in their classroom for the next several years. Reviewing and approving these instructional materials is important work and we know without a doubt that our opposition — those who challenge the validity of evolution and climate change and vaccines — will be out in force. We need to step up to the plate to ensure that the textbooks selected are of the highest quality.

We need you. Without you, we can’t do this.

Go to the FDOE Instructional Materials website. Go to the pdf document “Call for Reviewers Invitation for Science”. Below is a copy and paste of some of the relevant sections (but please go read the full document for yourself, these are just excerpts):

To evaluate the quality of instructional materials for use in district classrooms, the Florida Department of Education (the department) is seeking reviewers with content expertise and an indepth understanding of the current Florida Standards. State standards detail what students should know and be able to do as the result of a quality educational program. Instructional materials shall be made available electronically to the state instructional materials reviewers, who shall complete an electronic evaluation of the items to assess whether the materials align to the Florida Standards.


State Reviewer Qualifications:
State instructional materials reviewers will hold one or more of the following credentials in the field of Science:
1. A master’s degree or higher;
2. Certification;
3. Substantial experience with evidence of Science content expertise and student achievement;
4. Recognition as a Science content expert. Such recognition may include, but is not limited to, awards received or publications related to the field of Science.


State Instructional Materials Reviewer Registration:
To register as a reviewer:
Open the hyperlink and select the Register link.
Select State Instructional Materials Reviewer under account type, and complete the  required registration information page.
Please be sure to retain your Login Name and Password; you will need to access the IM Review Portal upon your account being activated.
All reviewer notifications for the review process will be sent via email; hence, please be sure to provide an accurate email address.

Sign up, folks. It’s time to get to work!


Wow, quite a week: Florida Citizens for Science in Nature and Science Friday!

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Do you listen to Science Friday? Even if you don’t, can I convince you to tune at 3 p.m. tomorrow (Friday, Sept 1)? Because that’s when I’ll be on the show! Yes, that’s right, your Florida Citizens for Science communications director will be chatting with Ira Flatow about science education, our state’s new instructional materials law, activism and whatever else comes up. I’ve been paired up with another guest for the segment: Julie Palakovich Carr, who works at the American Institute of Biological Sciences and is a scientist who is making her voice heard in politics. I can’t wait!

But wait … there’s more. I was invited to write a piece for the prestigious science journal Nature. My World Views column was just published: Keep on marching for science education.

Scientists might have made a difference, had they protested against laws that now threaten what can be taught in our classrooms, argues Brandon Haught.

The response so far to it has been awesome!

If any of this incredible national exposure motivates you into wanting a piece of the action, we have a long wish list of things we would love to see get done. We just need the people who are willing to donate some valuable time and energy to making things happen. Our determined opposition isn’t resting. They are tirelessly working to push their ideological agenda and the only way to counter it is to be even more resolute and active. Contact us and we’ll plug you into a network of others willing to make a stand for quality science education. Let’s make a difference!

The Heartland Institute, Truth in Textbooks, and Time magazine are interested in Florida

Monday, August 28th, 2017

The interest in Florida’s new textbook law might have faded into the background lately but today it’s jumped back into the spotlight with a vengeance. The Heartland Institute, the purveyor of climate change denial nonsense, is definitely aware of what’s going on here in the Sunshine State as is an organization called Truth in Textbooks. And Time magazine published a story online today about the new law.

I’ll start briefly with the Heartland Institute. The originator of the textbook law, the Florida Citizens Alliance, is likely now cozy friends with Heartland. I stumbled across this web page at the Institute’s publications and resources section of their website. They added to their collection the Alliances’s bogus list chock full of complaints about textbooks used in Florida. For instance:

Unacceptable curricular examples included the glorification of teen sex and distorted accounts of America’s founding. One sixth grade history textbook explicitly stated children are descended from apes, and another declared anyone can qualify as an American citizen simply by wanting to be one.

So, we definitely want to be on the lookout for any future teamwork from Heartland and the Alliance. Keep in mind that Heartland has deep pockets.

The Alliance was also prominently featured in an article published at Time magazine’s website: Florida’s Textbooks Are a New Battleground in America’s Fight Over Facts. I spoke with the reporter quite a bit and so did someone from the National Center for Science Education and yet neither one of us are mentioned in the article at all, which is deeply disappointing, especially since the Alliance wound up being the centerpiece of the story. However, despite that omission I thought the story was good. It revealed yet a little bit more about the Alliance’s activities and players.

Mike Mogil doesn’t believe climate change is caused by humans. The 72-year old former National Weather Service meteorologist says global temperatures have been fluctuating for millennia, and recent extremes could very well have nothing to do with mankind. Now, he wants to make sure Florida’s public school students get the same perspective.

To Mogil, who is a member of the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, the conservative group that helped write the bill, “objective” means that any textbook including climate change information should leave open the possibility that humans are not at fault, even though that goes against the overwhelming scientific consensus that global temperatures are rising and carbon emissions by humans are to blame. “You shouldn’t start off with a political agenda from either side,” he says. “We’re all taxpayers in one form or another, and I would like to have a say in how that money is being spent.”

We here at Florida Citizens for Science didn’t get a voice in the story, but others on our side did.

“This could be really misused by a lot of people to the detriment of the job of educating our kids,” says Richard Grosso, a Florida attorney and Nova Southeastern University law professor who believes the new law is unnecessary. He is concerned that already-underfunded districts will have to spend time and money hearing textbook challenges even if they’re “completely frivolous.”

Have you heard of Truth in Textbooks? The Alliance has …

In the meantime, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance urged its 20,000 supporters to become “textbook reviewers” by taking a three-month, mostly online training course run by Truth in Textbooks, a Texas-based conservative group that encourages its volunteers to oppose what it calls a “pro-Islam/anti-Christian” bias in history books. The Truth in Textbooks course doesn’t officially give participants a leg up in textbook objections, but the Florida Citizens’ Alliance hopes the training will add credibility to members’ challenges to school boards this fall.

Truth in Textbooks, which started in Texas and is expanding nationwide, now has their fingers firmly in Florida and we’ll undoubtedly be hearing from them and their trainees quite often in the near future.

And the Time story ends with this interesting tidbit:

Mogil, the former meteorologist, spent the summer teaching about weather and sharing his views on climate change with about 30 middle and high school students at a summer camp he runs in Naples, Fla. He hopes that by offering a different view than what the kids learn in school, and by challenging textbooks under Florida’s new law, he will teach students to be skeptical, like him, of widely accepted knowledge.

Are any of you reading this in the Naples area? Can I talk you into finding out more about this summer camp?

Thank you! You’re awesome!

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

There are now 14 Florida classrooms and about 1,831 students who are going to have extra help when it comes to science education because of our team effort. Our 4th annual fundraising campaign through Donors Choose raised a total of $2,943. You gave $2,243 and then we here at Florida Citizens for Science pitched in our promised $700. That blows away our previous fundraising record of $1,775 in 2009. Wow!

Here are the amazing projects we funded together:

Palmetto Grades 6-8: a document camera, graphic novels about hurricanes, and marbling art supplies to visually learn about the science of hurricanes and create a work of art representing the hurricane storm formation.

Plant City Grades 9-12: students will learn how to reconstruct a crime scene and develop suspects after evidence is recovered. Students will learn to determine the caliber of bullets, determine the trajectory/path the bullet traveled, identify striations left on recovered bullets, and will later dust for latent finger prints that may have been left on the cartridge.

Ft Lauderdale Grades 6-8: modeling clay will be used to create 3-D models of Earth’s features to planets and other celestial objects in outer space. We’ll use the plaster to investigate how fossils are preserved on Earth for hundreds of thousands of years. Having these supplies means less time with our heads in the book and more time creating and exploring.

Tampa Grades 3-5: students will learn how to measure and read exact amounts of liquid such as in an environmental investigations testing water samples. They will use the tools to understand water displacement when adding a solid material. Graduated cylinders are critical for measuring liquid volumes.

Miami Grades 6-8: students will be able to grow bacteria, look at cells and organisms, and see and work with models of the solar system in a hands on way. The materials will provide opportunities for my students to explore science concepts, test hypotheses, and learn through observation.

Orlando Grades 3-5: students will be able to complete labs and experiments so they can connect their learning to what they are doing scientifically. They will have safety glasses, beakers, different types of scales, magnifying glasses and a microscope to complete the activities accurately and safely. They will also have different types of magnets so they can manipulate the magnets to show how they can attract and repel.

Miami Grades 3-5: having complete STEM kits and books, students will have all the materials they need, to do projects and have extra materials for other projects. The STEM kits will be used to engineer and create projects. The students will need the writing and science journals to write about, design, create, and redesign their STEM projects.

Naples Grades PreK-2: The “larvae” (caterpillars) are one way that our students not only get hooked on science, but also understand one of those mystifying processes of science. How does a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? It sounds like make believe to them until they get to see it.

Brooksville Grades 6-8: Mini Stream Tables will engage students and allow them to have hands-on interactions with weathering, erosion and deposition so they can complete their challenge successfully. Students who are engaged and can actually interact with the material will want to learn!

Seffner Grades 3-5: Most classrooms are not equipped with the materials needed to provide for safe experimentation, and just reading about electricity doesn’t give students the best learning experience. Being able to actually create open and closed circuits as well as figuring out how switches work through hands-on investigations will ensure that students will have a better understanding of the content that they are expected to learn. It will allow for greater application later.

Palm Bay Grades 3-5: students will be able to learn how to use various weather instruments and make predictions about the weather. Learning to use tools has become lost to this generation of people who can simply turn on the television or a computer to find the answer to something. Students will dig deeper by taking learning outdoors to compliment the learning in the classroom. Students will explore, record and chart the weather in their garden using proper weather instruments.

Leesburg Grades PreK-2: students will be able to enjoy pouring, washing, experimenting, and splashing (just a little!) in the safe environment of their very own classroom. It will be an important tool for science experiments and be a fun setting for imaginative students to pretend to wash cars or animals or create an ocean ecosystem. All of these experiences will allow students, who come from varied backgrounds that include different primary languages, to communicate with their classmates while they learn and play!

Navarre Grades PreK-2: This raised garden will offer students from all walks of life the ability to build, plant, water, nurture and harvest herbs, vegetables, and fruits. Gardening allows surprises to arise when insects land in the vicinity or when the weather surprises everyone and disrupts the plan for the day. These surprises show that nature is in control and they give students immediate and personal reasons for wanting to know the answers to pressing questions.

Tallahassee Grades PreK-2: On August 21st, 2017, a very rare event will occur. A total solar eclipse will occur for the United States to view. In Tallahassee, FL, we will receive 90% totality of the eclipse. The peak time is estimated to be about 2:40 PM. Our students may not have another chance to experience this natural occurrence for another 30 years. We will be partnering with another grade level to share this experience with. The students will be able to interact with the older students/science buddies and talk about the amazing phenomena happening before their eyes. With solar viewing glasses, students can view the eclipse safely, gain a science buddy to talk to and of course remember their ultimate hands on experience!

Let’s start off the school year right!

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

My room is all set up and ready for about 160 high school freshmen (over the course of 6 class periods) to get excited about environmental science starting Monday. I was in my room all day Saturday putting on the final touches. I could spend all of today in there, too, but I don’t want to get burned out before school even starts. I love teaching environmental. It’s so relevant to every single student’s life and only the most stubborn of teens are going to fail to see that when I’m done with them. Heck, even those stubborn ones will probably see the light but just refuse to admit it.

I’m ready to go. However, there are some teachers who are still wanting to work some science magic on their students but they don’t have the supplies to do so. Yes, I’m talking about our 4th annual fundraising campaign through Donors Choose. We’re trying to help a few Florida teachers obtain the materials they need to make science come alive in their classes.

Your giving so far has funded three classroom projects. One class will be learning about insect life cycles through caterpillars. Another group of lucky kids will learn about environmental science because they will now have hands-on experiences in new gardens. And young students will be able to safely view the upcoming solar eclipse because of the special glasses you funded for them.

But we’re short of our goal! There are five other projects that need your help to cross the finish line. The students want to learn about electricity, erosion, weather and water. As I said at the beginning of this post, school is back in session. The kids are walking through those classroom doors now.

Let’s give them a good year of science. Please give at our Donors Choose Giving Page. Florida Citizens for Science will match your donations up to a total of $700.

And excuse me while a show off a bit. Here’s a few pictures of my room, all ready to go!

Guest Post: The IMPACT Summer Program

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

I’m happy to present this guest post submitted by Amanda I. De Cun, MPS Candidate Marine Ecosystems and Society, Intern with the Department of Ocean Sciences at RSMAS University of Miami.

The STEM field has become increasingly popular and important in the past few years. Encouraging grade school students to participate in STEM activities have been shown to make an impact in their chances of high school graduation and being accepted into college. In fact, one program has seen first-hand what a difference STEM immersion can do for a student.

One program that has made an incredible impact on Miami-Dade County high school students since its inception in 1999, has been the Frost Science Upward Bound Math and Science program (UBMS), funded by the U.S. Department of Education. UBMS understands the importance of science in the classroom, but has also realized that under-resourced students often miss out on a science focused curriculum in school as well as lacking science role models in their lives. To defeat this problem, the UBMS program enlists students from Title 1 schools in the Miami area and enrolls them in a four year, after school, weekend and summer program geared towards STEM curiosity. The program inspires these under-resourced students the opportunity to see a world of post-secondary study, motivating them to complete high school and become the first generation in their family to be accepted into college.

The UBMS program provides these students with access to mentors, interactions with scientists and technology as well as a six-week summer program called IMPACT (Integrated Marine Program and College Training). In partnership with the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, these students are able to immerse themselves with marine science curriculum through activities with the university such as shark tagging expeditions, outdoor field experiences and field trips to state parks and marine sanctuaries and conduct research projects mentored by graduate students and M-DCPS teachers.

The IMPACT curriculum always includes the theory, practice and tools associated with different subjects ranging from oceanography, marine biology, geology, and ecology, meteorology and resource management. At the end of their six-week summer program, the students are given the opportunity to present their projects and are recognized by museum staff, scientists, families and peers for their dedicated accomplishments.

This summer, I was given the opportunity to present and give a lecture to these students during their six-week IMPACT program at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. As a current RSMAS graduate student, I am fulfilling my internship requirement under the direction of Dr. Vassiliki Kourafalou, a professor in the Ocean Science department, who is currently doing research with funding from the GoMRI project (Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative) which is a “10-year independent research program created to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies” (Gulf of Mexico Research Intiative 2013). In easier words, to understand the effects of oil on the environment and how to be better prepared in case another oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon explosion were to happen again.

During my internship, I spent most of my time researching and understanding the work related to the GoMRI project, created lectures and presentations for high school classrooms and attended outreach events. I felt really lucky to be given the opportunity to present to these IMPACT students, because coming from a previous career as a high school biology teacher, I understand the importance of communicating science to young people, while making them interested in it at the same time. To be invited by the outreach coordinators at IMPACT and asked to be a small part of an amazing program like UBMS, was extremely gratifying. Knowing I made a positive impact on these students is a feeling that every teacher, volunteer, outreach coordinator, mom, dad, whoever it may be, wants to feel and experience.

With over 1,000 students participating in their program since 1999, 98% have graduated high school and 95% have been accepted into a post-secondary institution of study, with the majority pursuing STEM fields (UBMS 2017). The UBMS program has made it extremely clear that when you provide students with the necessary tools to succeed, they will, in fact succeed.

Lots of news

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

There’s all sorts of interesting news items related to science education lately! I’ll list them here by general topic …

Instructional Materials Law

From the Gainesville Sun
Carl Ramey: State continues assault on public schools

Equally problematic are the amendments enacted this year to Florida’s education code; specifically, the section that permits challenges to “instructional materials” used by public schools. Previously, challenges were limited to parents with children in the school district. Now, any resident of the county with an axe to grind can challenge the appropriateness of anything (textbooks, videos, software, etc.) having “intellectual content” and used as a “major tool” for instruction.

In short, a limited, parent-centric complaint procedure has been turned into an open-ended, highly accessible platform for sectarian pressure groups — more interested in advancing a particular belief than how certain material might impact a particular child. It opens up the possibility of coordinated campaigns by groups seeking to ban material deemed objectionable on religious or political grounds (such as evolution and global warming).

From the journal Bioscience, published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences
Evolution Education and State Politics

A bill passed by the Florida legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott makes it easier to remove evolution education or any other “controversial” subject from a district’s curriculum. Any taxpayer who lives in the school district can file a complaint to the school board and will have the opportunity to argue why instructional materials are not “objective, balanced, noninflammatory, current,” or “free of pornography.”

Although Florida House Bill 989 did not specifically mention evolution, advocates cited the testimony of some supporters as evidence of the bill’s intentions. Some advocates for the measure wrote, “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact of creation rather than a theory,” and “I have witnessed children being taught that global warming is a reality.”

From New Scientist
Feedback: Florida turns to crowdsourcing science classes

The US has long been pioneering efforts to rejoin church and state. A recent innovation is found in Florida, where state governor Rick Scott signed into law legislation allowing any resident to challenge educational material used in public schools. Passed under the auspices of empowering parents, critics warn that the bill will allow people to target the teaching of evolution and climate change in classrooms.

Feedback can only assume that the Sunshine State’s mathematics professors will soon have to find a way to make pi equal 3, sex educators teach the controversy over stork deliveries, and rockets blasting off from Cape Canaveral recalibrate for a geocentric model of the cosmos.

From the Daytona Beach News-Journal
Textbook case: New law lets public challenge school materials

“Our concern is that school boards across the state will be forced to give a lot of time and effort and perhaps even some finances to field complaints from citizens that don’t know a lot about science themselves,” he said.

Though his area of expertise is science, Haught expressed disappointment that educators in other disciplines haven’t spoken out against the law.

“Where are the history folks?” he asked. “Where are the civics defenders?”

From NPR’s Morning Edition
New Florida Law Lets Residents Challenge School Textbooks

Members of Florida Citizens’ Alliance have other concerns, including how some textbooks discuss Islam. Others take issue with science textbooks and how they deal with two topics in particular: evolution and climate change.

Flaugh says the law, which was signed by the governor on June 26, is intended to make sure scientific theories are presented in a balanced way.

“There will be people out there that argue that creationism versus Darwinism are facts. They’re both theories,” he says.

From the Washington Post
Florida’s education system — the one Betsy DeVos cites as a model — is in chaos

Gov. Scott also recently signed a new law that has alarmed people who care about science education. Known as H.B. 989 and targeted at the teaching of climate change and evolution, it empowers those who want to object to the use of specific instructional materials in public schools. Now, any resident can file a complaint about instructional material; it used to be limited to parents with a child in the schools.

Recruiting Teachers

From the Orlando Sentinel
Commentary: School districts tasked with filling math, science teacher shortage

The numbers of first-time test-takers for high-school teaching certifications in biology, chemistry and Earth/space science stayed constant or declined a bit during the same three-year period. In physics, that number dropped by one-third.

The Colleges of Education at the state’s universities aren’t even coming close to meeting the demand. According to an estimate in the Critical Teacher Shortage Area report for 2017-18 prepared by the Florida Department of Education, there were 214 vacancies for chemistry and physics teachers in Florida’s public schools in 2016-17.

From the Sun Sentinel
South Florida schools search for new ways to find teachers

Palm Beach County schools are also considering some less obvious candidates: athletes.

The school district has been attending job fairs that colleges host for student athletes. Their dreams may be to play in the NFL or NBA, but until that happens, they may want to teach in Palm Beach County, La Cava said.

“A lot of them have degrees in math and science and we can help them get certified,” La Cava said. “There are opportunities for them to teach and be coaches.”

Good News about Science Education

From the Panama City News Herald
Rockettes and CSI: FSU PC camps foster love of physics

Across a walkway in the Holley Center, Sonya Livingston Smith, a retired Rockette, and Denise Newsome, a teacher at Deane Bozeman School, were working to convincingly disguise a physics lesson as a dance class. While dancers practiced their turns and pliés, Newsome used motion sensors to track how their arm motions increased or decreased the velocity of their spins.

“It’s a great way to help the students not be scared of physics,” said Newsome, who describes herself as a science nerd with a dancing background.

This is the first year FSU PC has held a Physics of Dance camp, and Newsome hopes to grow the two-day offering into a full week in the future.

And let’s not forget we here at Florida Citizens for Science are running a fundraising campaign to help teachers obtain needed science supplies.
4th Annual science education fundraiser LAUNCH!

FCS launched its 4th annual fundraising campaign today by creating a Giving Page at Donors Choose. On that page you can choose from several projects across the state to help fund. FCS will match dollar for dollar total donations up to $700, essentially doubling your gift. This is on top of similar offers from corporations like Orkin and Tom’s of Maine highlighted on some of our chosen projects’ pages.

A few donations have come in these first few days of the campaign, which is awesome! But we need a lot more if we hope to get all of the selected classroom projects funded before students start walking in the classroom doors. Please help us out.

If the above items sound familiar to you, then it’s probably because you follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We’re posting the newest news items there nearly every day. It’s well worth liking and following us!