The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for the ‘education’ Category

New JREF eBook: Magic in the Classroom

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 25, 2015

I’ve been teaching physics, astronomy, and math at both the high school and college level for about 18 years. And in that time I’ve made a number of contributions to the intersection of skepticism and education. I’m proud to say that one of them is a my part in a new ebook published by the James Randi Educational Foundation, available for free download. Please pass this along to any educator whom you know is interested in preserving and encouraging scientific and critical thinking in the classroom :)

New eBook: Magic in the Classroom

Magic in the Classroom

The JREF is pleased to offer a new eBook for educators

Magic in the Classroom is a collection of essays by educators across the curriculum who are using extraordinary claims to teach critical thinking. Editor Robert Blaskiewicz gathers the contributions of fourteen authors from the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift Blog who write on topics ranging from popular culture, psychology, linguistics, evolution, exobiology, history, folklore, and many more. Together these essays represent the work of a vibrant skeptical culture in education that is bringing critical thinking skills to students across the curriculum.

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE!

Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Teaching Critical Thinking” Panel at FtBConscience3

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 25, 2015

I just got done participating in a wonderful panel on teaching critical thinking via the online FtBConscience3 event. On the panel with me was Jason Thibeault (who moderated), Chana Messinger, and Dan Linford. The panel was recorded and the video is now posted on Youtube. Enjoy! :)

Teaching Critical Thinking

How can teachers use their role as educators to instill critical thinking and ideas like rationalism and empiricism? Are such approaches intrinsic to teaching or separate? We could also go into the ethics of where to draw the line between instructing and “preaching” but I’d actually prefer to stick to the praxis and methodology of bringing critical thinking into the classroom. How do we adapt assessments and assignments? How do we model thinking behaviors we’d like to see?

Panelists: Chana Messinger, Hiba Krisht, Matt Lowry, Dan Linford

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

Satanic Temple Convinces Florida School District that Church-State Separation is a Good Thing

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2015

In recent years, the Satanic Temple has been getting more and more attention as they have been attempting to make themselves more visible in the public eye. In fact, they’ve taken a page from the tactics employed by many Christian churches, and they have begun to demand a place in erecting holiday displays, advocating for religious monuments on public land, and even distributing literature at public schools.

And it’s that last point which is so interesting and ironic: last fall a judge ruled that religious pamphlets could be handed out in public schools in Orange County, Florida. School officials seemed just fine with this scheme as long as it was only Christian literature and Bibles that were handed out to kids, but then along came the Satanic Temple…

Satanists victorious in wild scheme to disrupt Florida school district’s Bible plan

In September of last year the Satanic Temple revealed plans to disseminate the “Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities,” to kids in a Florida school district.

The Satanic Temple along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) were responding to a ruling, which let the Orange County school district allow religious and atheist organizations to distribute materials — including bibles and other pamphlets — in public schools.

Since religious and atheist materials could be handed out, the Satanic Temple made a request to hand out the aforementioned activity book, while the Freedom From Religion Foundation planned to hand out a pamphlet describing the bible as an “X-rated book.”

Now, the Satanic Temple’s request has the school district rethinking its policy, and the district is currently putting the distribution of all religious paraphernalia on hold, according to WFTV-TV.

“We don’t want our schools to become religious battlefields,” David Williamson, of FFRF, told WFTV-TV. “We’ve advocated all along to close the forum.”

So in a hilarious and embarrassing turnabout, the school district did what they probably should have done all along: they decided that in order to respect the separation of church and state they should probably just not allow any religious organizations to distribute literature in the public schools.

In closing, I think it’s fair to say that a picture is worth a thousand words :)

prayer-in-school

Posted in education, politics, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Physics of Santa 2.0

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2014

Years ago I posted here about how I kill Santa with science, and it goes without saying that doing so can get quite a reaction out of people. Some reactions have been negative, but a surprising number of people have contacted me actually thanking me for killing the Santa myth.  In fact, I was recently commissioned to write a formal article on killing Santa with science for TESConnect, an educational magazine and networking organization centered in the UK.  I am happy to share with you the full article in all of its colored glory, along with explicit physics calculations, below… Happy Holidays! :)

lowry1

lowry2

lowry3

lowry 4

Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

NEA Science Caucus Pushes Back Against Creationism & Pseudoscience

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 27, 2014

Last year I posted about how over the years creationists had actually infiltrated the vendors area at the national meeting (also known as the Representative Assembly or RA) of the National Education Association.  And if you think about it, such a thing is just plain silly; I mean, really, to allow creationists to come in pushing pseudoscience makes about as much sense as allowing, for example, Holocaust deniers to come in pushing pseudo-history.  Where do you draw the line and where are the policies preventing such nonsense from being promoted by a teacher’s organization?!

Well, many NEA members aren’t waiting for the leadership of the organization to act; they’ve decided to push back against this irresponsible promotion of pseudoscience by assembling the NEA Science Caucus.  The NEA Science Caucus is moving ahead by working at the political level within the NEA and by bringing in pro-science groups such as the National Center for Science Education to also have a vendor booth.

I am happy to report that last year’s efforts were quite well-received and successful; it ends up that for years many NEA members were frustrated with seeing creationist propaganda on display in the vendor area, but no one had really organized anything until recently.  But now that the Caucus has gotten started, they’re growing, as is their influence…

NEA Science Caucus

If you’re at the NEA RA this year, look for anyone wearing this ribbon :)

If you are an NEA member, and especially if you are attending or know someone who is attending this year’s RA in Denver, please consider getting involved with the NEA Science Caucus.  Specifically, you should check out their Facebook page (or if you aren’t on Facebook, they also have a new website at www.neascience.org) and attempt to contact their organizer, Toby Spencer.  In addition, you can follow them on Twitter @sciencecaucus and they’ll be using the tag #neascience.  If you’re interested in joining the Caucus, you can sign up for membership with the NEA Science Caucus here; at the very least, spread the word to your colleagues.

It is my hope that if we can bring enough political pressure to bear on the NEA, then perhaps they’ll come to their senses and follow in the wise footsteps of the Illinois Federation of Teachers which adopted a resolution in 2010 (See NEA?!  You’re behind the times!) titled “Keep Supernaturalism Out of the Science Curriculum”.  And this Caucus is a good first step in that direction.

I’ll let the Caucus have the last word; from their Facebook page…

Greetings, science lovers! First, thank you for joining the NEA Science Educators Caucus and for participating on this page. It’s been great to learn from your links and to share chuckles with you.

Success! Our money is in the bank and the NCSE: The National Center for Science Education will be hosting a booth for the second year! This time, we have the luxury of three expert speakers, including Dr. Minda Berbeco and the NCSE Director of Religious Community Outreach. They’re generously offering up to three talks on subjects ranging from climate education to evolution/creation to religion and science. We also have much business to discuss this year. Last year we had two great talks. So I ask you: How many talks do you want this year? On which topics?

And please try to connect with and invite other science organizations to affiliate with us and to purchase a vendor table at the NEA Expo. The more the merrier, in educating our membership! We are contacting HHMI, NASA, NSTA and Science NHS. Do you have other contacts? NABT? AAPT? AAAS? Dawkins? Skeptics? Beuller?

Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Help Bring Reading Rainbow Back!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 29, 2014

This isn’t necessarily a skeptical blog post, but it is an educational one in that in order for people to be skeptical and critical thinkers they must be able to share, disseminate, and critique ideas… and that means being able to read.  Thus, this blog is proud to support the new Kickstarter effort to bring back Reading Rainbow! :D

Please watch the video and consider donating to this worthy cause…

Reading Rainbow

 

 

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

Creationism in Charter Schools: A Follow-Up

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2014

My most recent post – Texas Charter Schools Teaching Creationism? – outlined news that the charter school network in Texas is using public tax dollars to push religious dogma (specifically, fundamentalist Christianity) in public schools.  That, of course, is a real no-no legally, as outlined in the 1987 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard; it is also a no-no scientifically, as it has been shown, repeatedly and clearly, that creationism is not scientific and therefore shouldn’t be taught as such.

As a follow up to my recent post, I’d like to add on a couple of interesting data points.  The first is an article from Slate.com wherein they outline the fact that this isn’t just a problem in Texas:

Slate charter Creationism Map

Image Source

… A large, publicly funded charter school system in Texas is teaching creationism to its students, Zack Kopplin recently reported in Slate. Creationist teachers don’t even need to be sneaky about it—the Texas state science education standards, as well as recent laws in Louisiana and Tennessee, permit public school teachers to teach “alternatives” to evolution. Meanwhile, in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, taxpayer money is funding creationist private schools through state tuition voucher or scholarship programs. As the map below illustrates, creationism in schools isn’t restricted to schoolhouses in remote villages where the separation of church and state is considered less sacred. If you live in any of these states, there’s a good chance your tax money is helping to convince some hapless students that evolution (the basis of all modern biological science, supported by everything we know about geology, genetics, paleontology, and other fields) is some sort of highly contested scientific hypothesis as credible as “God did it.” …

As I and others have warned previously, because these questions are settled law (and that settled by the Supreme Court) then any school district participating in these shenanigans is likely to run afoul of some very unpleasant lawsuits.  Well, now it appears that shoe is dropping…

Texas Charter School System’s Use Of Creationist Textbooks Violates The Constitution, Americans United Says

Church-State Watchdog Asks Texas Education Agency To Prohibit Responsive Education Solutions’ Use of Anti-Science Materials Or Revoke Its Charter

Jan 30, 2014

The biology curriculum used by a system of taxpayer-supported charter schools in Texas promotes creationism in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a letter today to the Texas Education Agency’s Division of Charter School Administration, Americans United warned officials that Responsive Education Solutions must not be permitted to continue to aggressively undermine the theory of evolution while receiving public funds. Americans United told the agency to either prohibit the use of this curriculum or revoke Responsive Education Solutions’ charter.

“The U.S. Supreme Court said more than 25 years ago that creationism is a religious dogma that cannot be promoted by public schools,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It amazes me that we are still fighting this battle in 2014, yet here we are.” …

Yup, here we are… once again… fighting a battle in the 21st century against those with an outdated and defunct 18th century view of science.

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

Texas Charter Schools Teaching Creationism?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 27, 2014

You have to give it to creationists, they certainly are persistent.  And none seem to be more persistent than those creationists in Texas who continue to evolve their tactics in an effort to insert their religious fundamentalism into the public schools at the expense of students’ education in science and critical thinking in general.  As our friends at the National Center for Science Education report, the newest battle front appears to be in the Texas charter school system:

“When public-school students enrolled in Texas'[s] largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is ‘sketchy.’ That evolution is ‘dogma’ and an ‘unproved theory’ with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth,” according to Zack Kopplin, writing in Slate (January 16, 2014). “These are all lies.”

Kopplin’s article reports on his investigation into Responsive Ed, which operates more than sixty-five charter schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, and receives more than $82 million in public funds to do so. Examining workbooks used in Responsive Ed’s schools, Kopplin concluded, “These workbooks both overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public-school classrooms.”

Among the claims that he cited as problematic: that there is no “single source for all the rock layers”; that “[s]ome scientists” question the established age of the earth; that evolution cannot be tested; that there is a “lack of transitional fossils,” which is a “problem for evolutionists who hold a view of uninterrupted evolution over long periods of time.” The section on the origin of life quotes Genesis 1:1.

Responsive Ed’s vice president of academic affairs was quoted as saying that the curriculum “teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories.” Unreassured, Kopplin commented, “Bringing creationism into a classroom by undermining evolution and ‘noting … competing theories’ is still unconstitutional,” citing the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.

Asked for his appraisal of the situation, NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau commented, “Some people don’t realize that the First Amendment applies to charter schools just as much as to any other public school. Teaching creationism or other sectarian religious claims as if they were science is wrong anywhere, but it’s especially bad to use tax dollars to force one person’s religion onto school kids.” … [emphasis added]

I wanted to emphasize the wording in bold above: when many people hear the term “charter” school, they mistakenly think that it means the school is private.  Thus, if it is a “private charter” school, then they can teach whatever they wish, right?  Wrong.

In the United States (and last I looked Texas was still part of the Union), a charter school is one which is a kind of public/private partnership; but the key point is that charter schools are still a part of the public school system.  And as such, they must adhere to the same rules as the rest of the public school system, the key one in this case being that it is against the law to teach creationism as science in public schools.

To my knowledge, while the issue has been clearly hashed out in the courts involving cases of the broader public school system, I don’t know of a case yet where this question has come up in a charter school system.  If I had to gamble, I would bet that the courts would rule against creationists in such a case specific to charter schools; but, despite all that, it seems that the creationists in Texas are happy to spend taxpayer money in what is certain to be a futile attempt to circumvent both the law and good science education.

Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Big Win for Science Education in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 27, 2013

I have written here many times in the past about how creationists have tried to use the textbook adoption process in Texas to attempt to dumb down science texts. And the recent textbook adoption process wrapping up in Texas is no different; even if you don’t live in Texas, this is potentially an issue for your school district, because since the textbook market is so large, book publishers often feel pressure to change their textbooks nationwide based upon feedback and criticism from the Texas Board of Education. And, unfortunately, too many times in the past creationists and other science-deniers have been successful in their efforts.

However, this time I am more than happy to report that the creationists in Texas have lost, and they’ve lost big time. And that means it’s a big win for the rest of us :)

Our good friends at the National Center for Science Education have a full report, which I list below in two parts:

Texas Creationists Beware: The Posse’s Comin’

By Josh Rosneau

After last month’s Texas textbook vote, I was ready to declare total victory. I wrote:

“It’s a joy to be able to report on a sweeping victory for science education in Texas, and to be able to give an eyewitness report of the fight over the textbooks that will be used in that massive textbook market for years to come.”

But there was a shoe left to drop, a panel that the board would appoint to review a disputed list of purported errors in the Pearson/Prentice-Hall Biology textbook written by Ken Miller and Joe Levine. As New York Times reporter Motoko Rich explained:

“The Texas Board of Education on Friday delayed final approval of a widely used biology textbook because of concerns raised by one reviewer that it presents evolution as fact rather than theory. …

the state board, which includes several members who hold creationist views, voted to recommend 14 textbooks in biology and environmental science. But its approval of “Biology,” a highly regarded textbook by Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, and Joseph S. Levine, a science journalist, and published by Pearson Education, was contingent upon an expert panel determining whether any corrections are warranted. Until the panel rules on the alleged errors, Pearson will not be able to market its book as approved by the board to school districts in Texas.”

Well, the panel of experts has returned with their conclusions to the Board, and the news is good. The NCSE has a full rundown:

A final victory in Texas

… As NCSE previously reported, at its November 22, 2013, meeting, the board quarreled about whether to heed a review panel’s criticisms of Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine’s popular biology textbook, published by Pearson, but decided to adopt it, contingent on the outcome of a further review by a panel of three outside experts. Subsequently, the names of the experts were divulged: Ronald Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University and a recipient of NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award; Arturo De Lozanne, a professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at the University of Texas, Austin; and Vincent Cassone, a professor of biology at the University of Kentucky (and formerly at Texas A&M University). As NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau commented at the Science League of America blog (December 11, 2013), “it’ll take about 5 minutes for them to dismiss the claims leveled against Pearson’s Biology.”

According to TFN, “A Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokesperson told us that it has forwarded the panel’s report to Pearson. TEA won’t release the report publicly until Pearson has had a chance to review it, but our sources said all three panelists dismissed the claims of factual errors and recommended no changes to the textbook.” Assessing the outcome, TFN contended, “The panel’s approval of the Pearson textbook essentially marks the end of efforts by anti-evolution activists to hijack this year’s science textbook adoption. Throughout the process, they and their board allies — including [the board’s chair Barbara] Cargill — tried to pressure publishers into watering down and distorting the science on evolution and climate change. They failed completely when publishers resisted their pressure while TFN, the National Center for Science Education and other science education advocates rallied support for the textbooks.” …

So if you’re looking for a worthy organization to donate to for your end-of-the-year giving, and you value good public science education, I suggest donating a few bucks to the NCSE. It’ll be money well spent :)

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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 »

 
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