The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘content’

Skeptical Lesson Plans from the JREF!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 13, 2013

Over the last few years, one of the things I’ve done is to work on the Educational Advisory Board of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).  One of this board’s functions is to help assemble a variety of lesson plans and modules which emphasize skepticism and critical thinking that can be distributed to teachers everywhere.

I am happy to pass along to you some of the latest lessons from our work at the JREF.  Please feel free to share these as you see fit :)

New “JREF in The Classroom” Lesson Plans!

The James Randi Educational Foundation is pleased to announce the release of four new additions to our JREF in the Classroom offerings:

New JREF in The Classroom Lessons

Pareidolia: Do You See What You Think You See?
Teacher Edition [PDF] | Student Edition [PDF]

Illusions: Our Visual System
Teacher Edition [PDF]

Cognition: Are You Rational?
Teacher Edition [PDF]

Power Balance: Sports Enhancement, or Placebo?
Teacher Edition [PDF] | Student Edition [PDF]

These are downloadable lesson plans for use in high school and junior high school science and psychology classes that use topics in pseudoscience and the paranormal to teach critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Each lesson is designed to expose students to concepts identified in the National Science Content Standards and AAAS science literacy benchmarks.

These free lesson plans for teachers (and parents) are additions to JREF’s growing catalog of grade-specific standards-focused resources including lesson plans, activity guides, multimedia materials, and more. JREF’s aim with these free resources is to inspire an investigative spirit in the next generation of critical thinkers, providing the intellectual toolkit needed to navigate a life full of difficult decisions, confusing information, and conflicting claims.

Teachers can contact education@randi.org for a free printed classroom kit for any of the eight topics available so far, and to get more information on ways to incorporate JREF’s critical thinking materials into their classrooms.

More information on these and other classroom resources can be found here ≫

And don’t miss JREF President D.J. Grothe’s appearance on the syndicated radio show America Weekend where he discusses JREF’s new free classroom resources. Listen now ≫

Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Trio of Good News in the Battle Against Creationism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 12, 2013

I am happy to report to you that there have been three really good developments in the scientific and skeptical battle against one of the worst bug-a-boos: creationism.  Rather than go into a huge amount of detail about each one, I’ll give a few of my own comments and link to the original sources on each.  Read on to the end – the best one is last :)

1.  Ball State University Takes a Stand for Science and Kicks “Intelligent Design” to the Curb

In this article from Inside Higher Ed, a very positive development is outlined wherein the university made a very strong statement against the inclusion of so-called “intelligent design” as science under the auspices of academic freedom.  I think this was so well done on the part of the university leadership that it should serve as a template for other institutions to follow.  In part, the article states:

In what First Amendment watchdogs called a victory, Ball State University’s president on Wednesday spoke out against intelligent design as a viable scientific theory. At the same time, the university announced that a professor accused of proselytizing remained part of the faculty but was working with administrators to ensure his courses aligned with Ball State’s view that science instruction should be about science and not religion.

“Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory,” President Jo Ann Gora said. “Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies’ independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science.”

The question is not one of academic freedom, but one of academic integrity, she added. “Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.” … [emphasis added]

Read the entire article here

2. Christian Publisher Removes Loch Ness Monster From Biology Textbook

You may recall that some time ago, I reported about how some creationists were going to such ludicrous lengths to undercut the teaching of evolution that they were actually selling textbooks which taught that the Loch Ness Monster was real and evidence against evolution.  Apparently, the publishers of those same textbooks are now omitting any mention of dear ol’ Nessie since it seems that would be a claim too outlandish even for reality-challenged creationists.  Here’s more:

A Christian education publisher based in Tennessee has removed references to the existence of the Loch Ness Monster from a biology textbook.

According to Scotland’s Sunday Herald, Accelerated Christian Education, Inc. has opted to remove a statement from a textbook used in Europe and will likely do the same for American textbooks.

“Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland?” reads the deleted passage.  “‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Mark Looy, chief communications officer for the Young Earth Creationist organization Answers in Genesis, told The Christian Post that he approved of ACE’s decision.

There are just so many of these legends, like the dragon mentioned in Beowulf, the numerous accounts of St. George and the dragon, and so on, that they can’t be dismissed,” said Looy. … [emphasis added]

If the bolded statement above is any example of the shoddy standards of evidence adhered to by creationists, it is no wonder they don’t have a scientific leg to stand on.

3. Creationists and Climate Change Deniers Lose in Kentucky

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are going to push back hard against anti-scientists like creationists and global warming deniers.  Well, our friends from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) are reporting that a significant victory has been achieved in a state that you might not associate with strong science standards: Kentucky!  A few weeks back, creationists and global warming deniers attempted to derail the adoption of the NGSS by the Kentucky State Board of Education, and they were rebuffed :)

The Kentucky Board of Education declined to make any changes to a proposed regulation that would enact the Next Generation Science Standards as Kentucky’s state science standards, despite the protests of evolution deniers and climate change deniers. In a lengthy document dated August 1, 2013, the Kentucky Department of Education summarized the thoughts of all who submitted comments on the regulation, and provided detailed replies. On the topics of evolution and climate change in particular, the department wrote (PDF, p. 139):

“The agency also received statements of support related to the inclusion of particular science topics such as climate change and evolution, stating that meaningful scientific debate on the validity of evolution and climate science has ceased. Proponents of the continued inclusion of evolution pointed to the overwhelming acceptance of evolution in the biological science community. Proponents of the inclusion of climate change education contend that Kentucky students deserve the most up to date science education, which includes climate change. [The department agreed with these comments: see, e.g., pp. 104 and 105 on evolution, and pp. 115 on climate change.]

Over one hundred substantially identical emails were received stating an opposition to the continued inclusion of evolution in the proposed standards, characterizing evolution as a theory and not a fact. These commenters asked that intelligent design be added to the standards. Other commenters questioned the scientific validity of evolution. The agency also received several comments specific to the inclusion of climate change in the proposed standards, including concerns that climate change science was overemphasized to the neglect of other science concepts or that climate change is not a settled issue in the scientific community.”

The three important antievolution goals — banning the teaching of evolution; balancing the teaching of evolution with creationism, whether in the form of “creation science” or “intelligent design”; and belittling evolution as controversial — were in evidence. So were all three of the pillars of creationism — arguing that evolution is scientifically controversial; arguing that teaching evolution is linked with negative social consequences; arguing that it is only fair to teach “all sides” of the supposed controversy. The same themes were also reflected in the comments about climate change.

The Kentucky Board of Education approved the department’s report on August 8, 2013, so, as WPFL in Louisville, Kentucky, reports (August 8, 2013), “The regulation now heads to Kentucky’s Administrative Regulation Review Committee. If approved in the Kentucky General Assembly, the new standards would go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year.” Kentucky would join Rhode Island, Kansas, Maryland, and Vermont as the first five states to adopt the NGSS — unless the legislature, which includes vocal critics of evolution and climate change, refuses its approval. [emphasis added]

I want to jump on the bolded part above; the battle in KY still isn’t finished.  It will require people to lobby their state legislators in Kentucky in order to encourage them to accept the NGSS.  No doubt the anti-science lobby will pull out all the stops to derail this process, but we have to speak up and encourage the legislature to accept the NGSS as written.

And think of this: if the NGSS is accepted in Kentucky, then it will be a huge defeat for creationists and climate science deniers all over the nation.  That’s because if a religiously conservative state like Kentucky can do it, then any state can do it.

Posted in creationism, cryptozoology, education, global warming denial, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Evolution and Climate Change Come to Kansas

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 14, 2013

 

The state of Kansas has been a high-profile hotbed of creationist activity for quite some time, with battles over state science standards including (or not including) even a mere mention of evolution and, in recent years, climate change.  The strategy on the part of creationists goes as follows: if we aren’t allowed to teach creationism, specifically one brand called young-earth creationism, then we’ll make it so that nobody can learn evolution, either.  Global warming deniers are also employing a similar strategy in many states.

Of course, in the budding 21st century, if enough states in the United States allow creationists and global warming deniers to drive the discussion, then this is a recipe for disaster in terms of our nation’s capability to generate well-educated young students who are ready to tackle the looming scientific and technological challenges of our age.

Enter the Next Generation Science Standards, which Kansas has recently adopted (mostly because they helped to actually write the standards), that mandate the teaching of both evolution and climate change in a manner which is broadly interwoven into the curricula of public school science classes…

Kansas science standards: Schools to teach evolution, climate change

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – The Kansas state school board Tuesday approved new,  multi-state science standards for public schools that treat both evolution and  climate change as key concepts to be taught from kindergarten through the 12th  grade.

The State Board of Education voted 8-2 on for standards developed by Kansas,  25 other states and the National Research Council. The new guidelines are  designed to shift the emphasis in science classes to doing hands-on projects and  experiments and blending material about engineering and technology into  lessons.

WEIGH IN: Discuss this story on Facebook  http://on.fb.me/14wfFtA

“I can concentrate on teaching processes — teaching kids how to think like  scientists,” said Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, who teaches physics at Hays High School  and traveled to Topeka to publicly endorse the new standards as vice president  of Kansas Citizens for Science. “I’m more concerned whether they can design and  analyze an experiment. That’s what science is all about.”

Past work on science standards in Kansas have been overshadowed by debates  about how evolution should be taught. The latest standards were adopted in 2007  and treat evolution as a well-established, core scientific concept, but Kansas  law requires the academic standards to be updated at least once every seven  years.

Though the new standards drew some criticism over their treatment of  evolution, it wasn’t anywhere as vocal or public as in the past. Together,  Democrats and moderate Republicans control the board, and social conservatives  wanting to inject skepticism of evolution into the standards were likely to have  found little support.

The same political factors blunted criticism of the standards’ proposed  treatment of climate change as an important concept that should be part to  lessons in all grades, rather than treated separately in upper-level high school  classes…

There has been some pushback from certain political quarters, which tend to be ideologically aligned with creationists and climate change deniers, that these standards are taking away states’ rights.  Nothing could be further from the truth, seeing as how the NGSS are NOT a federal mandate because they were written by states who volunteered to put them together.  So, if anything, the NGSS is actually strongly in favor of states rights!

Looks like public science education in the United States might just finally be evolving :)

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Climate Change Science Coming to U.S. Classrooms

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 7, 2013

Recently I made a blog post about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which will likely be adopted by most states in the United States over the next few years, and how these standards placed heavy emphasis on both evolution and climate change.  To drive this point home further, the National Center for Science Education’s Mark McCaffrey was recently on NPR discussing just how widespread and sweeping will be these changes…

Climate change education on NPR 

NPR

National Public Radio highlighted climate change education in a segment of its Morning Edition show broadcast on March 27, 2013, featuring NCSE’s Mark McCaffrey. “By the time today’s K-12 students grow up, the challenges posed by climate change are expected to be severe and sweeping,” the segment began. “Now, for the first time, new nationwide science standards due out this month [i.e., the Next Generation Science Standards, now expected in April 2013] will recommend that U.S. public school students learn about this climatic shift taking place.”

McCaffrey told NPR, “the state of climate change education in the U.S. is abysmal,” citing survey data indicating that only one in five students “feel like they’ve got a good handle on climate change from what they’ve learned in school” and that two in three students feel that they’re not learning much about it at all in their schools.  NCSE’s recent report “Toward a Climate & Energy Literate Society” (PDF) was cited as offering recommendations for improving climate and energy literacy in the United States over the course of the next decade.

The politicization of climate change education is a barrier, however. Besides the spate of legislation, such as the bills considered in Arizona, Colorado, and Kansas in 2013, NPR observed, “educators say the politicization of climate change has led many teachers to avoid the topic altogether. Or, they say some do teach it as a controversy … The end result for students? Confusion.” And the NGSS may provoke a backlash from climate change deniers: a representative of the Heartland Institute indicated that his organization was prepared to be critical of their treatment of climate science.

Heidi Schweingruber of the National Research Council, which developed the framework on which the NGSS are based, said, “There was never a debate about whether climate change would be in there,” adding, “It is a fundamental part of science, and so that’s what our work is based on, the scientific consensus.” She emphasized that climate change presents pedagogical challenges: teachers need to avoid (in NPR’s words) “freaking kids out”. McCaffrey concurred, adding that teachers will need not only training on the science but also preparation to deal with the pressure that comes with teaching it.

Posted in education, global warming denial, science funding, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Next Generation Science Standards Fight Back Against Creationism & Global Warming Denial

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 27, 2013

Some time ago I posted about the Next Generation Science Standards (in the United States) and how important it is for teachers and those who support science and education to speak up about the NGSS.  Since then I have been fortunate enough to get more involved with this process, learn more about NGSS, and think ahead about its implementation.

First of all, let me note that I got all this information first-hand from Dr. Carol Baker, who is a member of the writing team for the NGSS and who also gave me and my colleagues an excellent presentation on the topic.  Some facts I think are important for everyone to know about the NGSS:

*It is not a federal mandate.  The NGSS is funded by private organizations – most especially by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching - and it is a collaborative effort between these private sources and a number of states in the U.S.  States may choose to accept the NGSS or not, but it should be noted that if they do accept them it will cost the states nothing.  Essentially, they get the standards for free!

*Right from the outset, the people organizing and drafting the NGSS wanted to get “buy in” from the states, so they invited every state in the country to send representatives to serve on the writing team for the standards.  26 states (called Lead States) sent representatives and have been directly involved in drafting thse standards as a result.  Here is some more information about these states (highlighted in blue below)

NGSS Lead States

So you can see that these states have a broad demographic representation, are bipartisan in breadth, and they also account for over 58% of public school students, and most require three years of science for high school graduation.

*As the NGSS were drafted, the writing team sought feedback from educators in the Lead States, and after the second round of such revisions almost 95% of the original draft has been reworked based upon this feedback.  So this is definitely a bottom-up process!

Now, I’d like to mention something very interesting about that last point: it ends up that one of the states which gave the most feedback was Kentucky (which was actually 3rd – beat out only by California and New York).  And it appears the vast majority of the feedback from Kentucky educators was in support of emphasizing evolution within the NGSS.

In fact, Dr. Baker (and I agree) seems to think that this is, in effect, a reaction to the Creation Museum residing in Kentucky and the subsequent trouble it makes for science teachers in that state.  It also appears that many teachers from many other states are likewise fed up with the political tactics employed by creationists and global warming deniers in their attempts to dumb down the teaching of evolution, climate science, etc.

Bottom line: Teachers are getting tired of this nonsense, and the NGSS is giving them a way to fight back in a very broad manner.  The NGSS emphasizes, unflinchingly and unapologetically, evolutionary and climate change science; the states that choose to adopt the NGSS will have the most up-to-date science standards that show creationism and global warming denial to be the pseudosciences that they are.  And they will be held to those standards.  Good, it’s about damn time!

I would like to close by sharing Dr. Baker’s response when questioned on this topic about the fight this could create.  She said, “Bring it on!” :)

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial, science funding, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Speak Up For Strong Science Standards!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 26, 2013

I just received the following alert from our friends at the National Center for Science Education about the Next Generation Science Standards.  Please take action and pass this along to all of your friends/colleagues who have an interest in strong public school science standards.  Time is of the essence – the deadline is Monday, January 28th!

For the last year, the National Center for Science Education has been advising an effort to produce modern and consistent Next Generation Science Standards. Dozens of states have committed to consider using these new standards instead of continuing to write their own state by state.

Genie-200x250The effort to produce standards which can be widely implemented is coming to a close, and we want to be sure that you have a chance to weigh in. The final public review is under way now, and will close next week. The framework for the standards rightly grants evolution and climate change central roles, and we’re optimistic that the new standards will revolutionize American science education. We still worry about the harm that could come if these standards give any loopholes that can be exploited by creationists, climate change deniers, or other ideologues.

We’ve provided resources to help you share your thoughts on the standards at our website. Once there, you can learn more about how to file your own comments on the standards, how you can help make sure NCSE’s comments are taken seriously as the final revisions are made to the standards, and how you can stay involved as the finalized standards are sent to the states for adoption.

Please act by January 28 to ensure your voice is heard.

Many thanks for your help and support.

Sincerely,

Eugenie C. Scott

P.S. NCSE relies on your support to be able to participate in efforts like NGSS, while fighting threats to science education in legislatures across the country, and guiding teachers and school districts away from science denial.  You can help us stay active and effective by donating $10, $35, or $100 today.

Posted in education, science funding, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 103 other followers

%d bloggers like this: