The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘education’

Creationist Update: Creationism Loses Popularity, Texas Creationists Are Honest, and More Financial Shenanigans from Ken Ham

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 23, 2013

So much has been going on in the world of creationism lately that it’s been touch to keep track of it all, so I just want to give you a quick summary of three news items…

1.  Creationism Loses Popularity?

According to this blog post over at Patheos.com, it seems that creationism (and by “creationism” I mostly mean young-Earth creationism) may just be, slowly but surely, losing support among the public in the United States:

Just when we start to think the regressive policies of red states mean the battle is becoming harder, the secular movement gets more proof that what we’re doing really does matter.

poll of 1,000 people conducted by the Internet-based market research firm YouGovearlier this month indicates that since 2004, the level of public acceptance of creationism and the level for support for teaching creationism in U.S. public schools are down, and the level of acceptance of the theory of evolution is up.

Coming the week marking the 88th anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial, this is good news indeed. The numbers are far lower than what they need to be, though. While nearly half of the respondents agreed that evolution, whether guided by a deity or not, resulted in homo sapiens sapiens, significantly more than a third rejected evolution altogether and the remaining 17% claimed uncertainty.

YouGov’s poll marks substantial change from a similar CBS poll conducted in 2004. Thirteen percent of CBS’s 2004 respondents agreed with the statement. “Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process.” In 2013 the figure jumped to 21%. Correspondingly, strong creationism has taken the hardest hit. In 2004, 55% of respondents said that ”God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years,” and 5% said they were undecided. The strict creationists now account for 37% of the respondents. … [emphasis added]

Personally, I’ll take whatever good news I can get on this front, but I would like to see more than one poll yield the same information before I go celebrating too much.  Still, these results are pleasing 🙂

2.  Texas Creationists Get Honest

If you’ve followed the ongoing saga of creationism’s attempts to get into public schools, you probably know that the intent of creationists on school boards for decades, whether they espoused “teach the controversy”, “equal time”, or “academic freedom”, really meant “don’t teach evolution, instead teach (our view of) creationism.  Well, at least now the creationists who are attempting to manipulate the Texas Board of Education are now being open and honest about it (from Patheos.com) …

It used to be that creationists were sneaky.  They knew teaching creationism was against the law, so they tried to dress it up as science, or as teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.  It wasn’t exactly crafty, and it certainly wasn’t honest.

And the reason they weren’t honest is because playing fairly would result in immediate defeat (it turns out creationists don’t get to break the law more than anybody else).  This is a lesson the creationists on the Texas board of education are about to learn.  Karen Beathard, one of the reviewers, made a misstep by telling the truth.

“Religious conservatives serving on state textbook review panels have criticized several proposed high school biology textbooks for not including arguments against Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The review panels include several creationists. They urge the State Board of Education to reject the books unless publishers include more disclaimers on key concepts of evolution.

One reviewer even suggested a rule requiring that each biology book cover “creation science.” That would run counter to a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The decision banned the teaching of creationism in public school science classes. 

“I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution,” said Texas A&M University nutritionist Karen Beathard, one of the biology textbook reviewers. “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.” [emphasis in the original]

Whoops.  That’s going to look pretty embarrassing for the creationists when they inevitably get hauled into court.  Can’t help fools… at least these are honest fools.

3.  Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Government Bailout?

It seems that despite all the rosy financial projections of a few years ago, uber-creationist Ken Ham is having even more difficulty than previously thought raising funds for the newest attraction at his Creation Museum, the “Ark Encounter”.  He has resorted to some questionable methods of raising money, seemingly putting the public on the hook by dipping into taxpayer funding in Kentucky (from NCSE):

When Answers in Genesis chief Ken Ham isn’t dealing with employees being zotted by lightning, or getting schooled on theology by a college student, he’s trying to build an amusement park centered on Noah’s Ark. He wants it to be full-sized (assuming they’re right about how long a cubit was), he wants it to be built by Amish carpenters (just like Noah’s was), he wants a mock first-century village, he wants to charge admission, and, as Daniel Phelps reports at Panda’s Thumb he hopes taxpayers as well as private citizens will cover part of the bill.

The project has already been promised a tourism-related state tax rebate and state road crews will widen the road leading to the park, but apparently the campaign to raise capital for construction has not been meeting expectations (neither has Creation Museum attendance, reportedly). So Ken Ham is looking for a new way to scare up money. He sent out an appeal to the Answers in Genesis mailing list offering people a chance to buy bonds to fund the park, bonds issued by the city of Williamstown, Kentucky. …

From the Panda’s Thumb link, I found the following comment to be of particular interest:

… Unfortunately, what it sounds like is that the City of Williamstown is going to issue some type of municipal bonds.

Municipal bonds are a loan made by a public entity. If you buy the bonds, you get a stream of “coupon” payments, as with any other type of bonds (“zero coupon” structure is just a variant of a coupon stream). You can think of the coupon payments as interest on the loan, even though it works slightly differently than the variable interest savings account that most people are more familiar with. Bottom line, a municipality borrows money and taxpayers pay the interest.

The hypocrisy here is unbelievable. I’m going to use the term “corruption” as well. There may or may not be anything technically illegal going on. But if this a surreptitious issuing of municipal bonds to fund a religious display, that may raise legal issues, and absolutely raises ethical issues. …

Ethical issues, indeed.  In my mind, the more I look at this entire situation with Ken Ham and his attempts to use public money to fund his creationist theme-park, the more I am reminded of this famous scene from The Simpsons:

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DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack Panel – Creationism and Intelligent Design

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 5, 2013

While at DragonCon this past Labor Day weekend, I had the good fortune to participate in two wonderful panels in the Skeptrack.  The first panel was titled “Creationism and Intelligent Design”, and it featured me as the moderator, philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, and science blogger Jon Voisey.  We had a wide ranging conversation on the topic of creationism, the tactics employed by creationists in their attempts to undermine science education, and related issues.  I recorded the audio of the panel and share it with you below – enjoy!

Skeptrack
DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack – Creationism and Intelligent Design

Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Ken Ham Drops All Pretense and Admits Creationism Isn’t Scientific

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 17, 2013

Wow.  Advocates of science and skepticism have been saying it for a really, really long time: creationism (including its latest variation, “intelligent design“) is not scientific and therefore has no place in the public school science classroom.

Well, get ready for a bombshell.  Now one of the most prominent young-Earth creationists out there, Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis fame, has openly admitted that creationism is not science.  In fact, he basically goes on to say that if you are given a choice between science and (his particular interpretation of) the Bible, then you should choose the latter.

Read on for more details, including a video wherein Ham says as much in his own words:

Creationism Advocate Admits That Science Proves Evolution, But Says We Should Believe The Bible Anyway (VIDEO)

Ken-Ham-Creationism

They are doing this because they oppose the scientifically supported process known as evolution. Creationism advocates usually contend that evolution is full of holes. Of course, the great majority of scientists, nearly all of them in fact, support evolution. Supporters of creationism believe that every word in the Bible is the only factual description of reality, therefore blatantly ignoring reason and logic.

But a radio ad for the Creationism Museum in Kentucky operated by Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham blew a major hole in the creationism effort on Thursday. Ham admitted that there is ZERO scientific evidence to support creationism, although he still contends that the Bible is evidence enough to force people to learn about it.

“We have solid proof in our hands that evolution is a lie: the Bible. You see, we can’t depend solely on our reasoning ability to convince skeptics. We present the evidence and do the best we can to convince people the truth of God by always pointing them to the Bible.”

Here’s the video via Raw Story:

All I can say now is two things: 1) this shows, clearly and for all to see, that at its heart creationism is fundamentally anti-science.  It seems that Ken Ham and his ilk see science as “the enemy”, so this confirms what I and many others have said for a long time: the spread of creationism is a threat not only to evolution but to all of science.  Think about the implications of that for a bit before you blithely dismiss creationists as random nutters.

And 2) this admission by Ken Ham is going to play hell with the attempts by outfits like the Discovery Institute to try promoting “intelligent design” or any other variation of creationism in public school science classes.  I have to think that Ken Ham’s open and honest admission is probably not going to be liked much by those who have tried a variety of cynical strategies in the past to try dressing up creationism in the language of science.  This might even cause a bit of a dust-up in creationist circles, which is fine by me 🙂

Posted in creationism, education, scientific method | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

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 »

ALERT! Creationists Are Back in Texas Textbook Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 1, 2013

I just received the following update from the Texas Freedom Network regarding the upcoming review of science textbooks for Texas public schools; it seems that the creationists are at it, yet again.

Note, even if you don’t live in Texas, this is a big deal because the textbook market for Texas is so large that many publishers will adjust all of their books for many other states to fit Texas standards rather than publish different versions.  So if creationists in Texas can influence science textbooks there, it could very well be reflected in your local schools.

Read on for more info:

Alarm Bells Are Ringing: Creationists Get Influential Positions in Texas Science Textbook Review

It looks like the Lone Star State’s reputation as a hotbed of anti-science fanaticism is about to be reinforced. At least six creationists/”intelligent design” proponents succeeded in getting invited to review high school biology textbooks that publishers have submitted for adoption in Texas this year. The State Board of Education (SBOE) will decide in November which textbooks to approve. Those textbooks could be in the state’s public school science classrooms for nearly a decade.

Among the six creationist reviewers are some of the nation’s leading opponents of teaching students that evolution is established, mainstream science and is overwhelmingly supported by well over a century of research. Creationists on the SBOE nominated those six plus five others also invited by the Texas Education Agency to serve on the biology review teams. We have been unable to determine what those other five reviewers think about evolution.

Although 28 individuals got invites to review the proposed new biology textbooks this year, only about a dozen have shown up in Austin this week for the critical final phase of that review. That relatively small overall number of reviewers could give creationists even stronger influence over textbook content. In fact, publishers are making changes to their textbooks based on objections they hear from the review panelists. And that’s happening essentially behind closed doors because the public isn’t able to monitor discussions among the review panelists themselves or between panelists and publishers. The public won’t know about publishers’ changes (or the names of all the review panelists who are in Austin this week) until probably September. Alarm bells are ringing.

Following are the six creationists/evolution critics we have identified so far on the biology review teams:

  • Raymond Bohlin is vice president of vision outreach for Probe Ministries in Plano and a research fellow for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute promotes the pseudoscientific concept “intelligent design” over evolution. Founded in 1973, Probe works “to present the Gospel to communities, nationally and internationally, by providing life-long opportunities to integrate faith and learning through balanced, biblically based scholarship.” Bohlin has a doctorate in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, making him a star performer for anti-evolution groups. He is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website. Probe and the Creation Science Hall of Fame promote a fundamentalist, literal interpretation of the Bible’s creation story. We know that Bohlin is in Austin this week to participate in the biology review panel meetings.
  • Walter Bradley is a retired Baylor University professor of engineering who coauthored a book, The Mystery of Life’s Origins in 1984, that essentially launched the “intelligent design” movement. “Intelligent design” suggests a scientific basis for creationism (creationism dressed up in a lab coat). Bradley, founding fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, is also listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website. He is participating in the biology review panel meetings this week.
  • Daniel Romo is a chemistry professor at Texas A&M University and is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website. We don’t know yet whether Romo made it to Austin for the biology review panel meetings.
  • Ide Trotter is a longtime standard-bearer for the creationist movement in Texas, both as a source of funding and as a spokesperson for the absurdly named creationist group Texans for Better Science Education. Trotter, listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Creation Science Hall of Fame website, is a veteran of the evolution wars at the SBOE and is participating the biology review panel meetings this week. He testified before the board during the 2003 biology textbook adoption and again in 2009 during the science curriculum adoption. In both instances, Trotter advocated including scientifically discredited “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science classrooms. Trotter, who has a doctorate in chemical engineering, runs his own investment management company and served as dean of business and professor of finance at Dallas Baptist University. He claims that major scientific discoveries over last century have actually made evolutionary science harder to defend:

    “The ball is rolling and it’s going downhill. There are not enough forces on the side of Darwinism to keep pushing it back uphill forever.”

  • Richard White, a systems (network) engineer in Austin, testified at an SBOE hearing on the proposed science curriculum standards on March 25, 2009. At the time, he advocated the inclusion of phony “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science standards:

    “…These are all well-known scientific problems with modern evolutionary theory, and they do not exhaust the list. The entire list is a very long one.”

    White went on in his testimony to insist that teaching the mainstream scientific consensus concerning evolution without also presenting its alleged “weaknesses” amounted to forcing religious dogma on students. We don’t know whether White is participating in the review panels this week.

  • David Zeiger is a seventh-grade teacher at a Christian private school in North Texas. He holds a biochemistry degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. In 2009 he and his wife, Heather, opposed removing from the state’s science curriculum standards the requirement that students learn about so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. Creationists has used that requirement to insist that publishers include discredited arguments challenging evolution, such as supposed “gaps” in the fossil record. We don’t know whether Zeiger is participating the review panels this week.

We’ll have more on this soon.

The state board is scheduled to hold its first public hearing on the textbooks at its September 17-20 meeting in Austin. The board has scheduled a final vote on which textbooks to adopt for November.

If you want students to learn real science in their science classrooms — not discredited creationist arguments that will leave them unprepared for college and the jobs of the 21st century — then join thousands of Texans who have signed our Stand Up for Science petition here. The Texas Freedom Network will keep you informed about the textbook adoption this year and what you can do to stop anti-science fanatics from undermining the education of Texas kids.

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

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Science Resources for Children

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2013

On my second day at  SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The first one was an excellent panel titled “Science Resources for Children”, and it was geared towards talking to and discussing with people about what kind of good sources of science education are available to kids outside of schools.  What books and activities can you do to promote science understanding in kids? From the best on the bookshelves to how to extract DNA in your kitchen, we talked about great ways to learn about science in the home.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Windy Bowlsby, Brandy Snyder, and Nicole Gugliucci, a.k.a. The Noisy Astronomer.  Below the linked recording of our panel I have also listed notes made by Windy Bowlsby in case anyone would like to peruse them 🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Science Resources for Children

conv

“From the “Science Resources for Kids” panel, this is the list of resources and advice that was gathered:

Make Magazine (website and hardcopy)

SkepticalTeacher.org

NASA Wavelength (webpage)

SciStarter (webpage)

Mars Globe app

Google Earth and Sky app

GoSky Watch app

MN Parent Blog (posts Nature Center activities)

Science Museum Hacker Spaces – like our local Hack Factory

Cosmos (book)

Demon-Haunted World (book)

Scientific American blog

Discovery News blog (news.discovery.com)

How Things Work – book

Vlog Brothers

You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)

Basher Books

Mythbusters

Bill Nye (who now has an app!)

Mr. Wizard

Google+ has science Sunday

Radiolab (podcast)

BrainsOn.org (podcast)

Free Range Kids

Reference Librarians

Zuniverse.org

Magic School Bus (on Netflix)

Beakman’s World (tv show)

CoolTools.org

How Its Made (book)

321 Contact (tv show)

Connections (tv show)

TED Talks (podcasts and YouTube)

Edible DNA (fun experiment)

MadArt Lab (website)

tinkering activities (give kids old machines & electronic to take apart)

Having adults around you express interest in science Science is a Methodology

Anytime you try to figure something out – you’re a scientist”

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Announcing the NEA Science Educators Caucus

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 28, 2013

If you are into public education, you might know that one of the largest teachers’ unions in the nation is the National Education Association (NEA).  Every year, the NEA holds what is called a Representative Assembly (RA) in order to discuss internal matters, lobbying issues, and whatnot.

NEAImage source

I was amazed to find out a few years ago that creationists have successfully infiltrated the NEA, because a colleague of mine who was our representative at the RA that year reported to me that creationists had a pretty strong presence in the vendor area of the RA.  *facepalm*

Well, I am happy to announce that there is now an effort among science teachers within the NEA to push back.  The NEA Science Educators Caucus is officially forming this year, and it is hitting the ground running by organizing at this year’s RA in Atlanta.  For more information on them, and to get involved, read the following information from Toby Spencer, co-chair of the group, and consider connecting with them at their Facebook page…

First, thanks for  committing to help improve science education in our union, in our classrooms, and in the legislature!  And thank you for your patience over the past school year, I know many of you are very interested in furthering our goals and spotlighting our most important issues. I’ve waited to email the group until I had good news to share…

AMAZING news, actually!  Colleen Keenan (CA) succeeded in convincing the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) to sponsor an Expo Booth this year in Atlanta!  NCSE will be staffing a booth for two days before the RA sessions begin.  They want our ideas!
Furthermore, we will have two NCSE speakers at our caucus meetings!  Dr. Eugenie Scott, NCSE Executive Director, will address us on July 1st at 4pm in our first caucus meeting.  She will focus on the legalities and politics of evolution.  On the following day, July 2nd, Dr. Minda Berbeco will speak to us about climate change, her area of expertise.
Drs. Scott and Berceco are asking us to give them some direction both for the exhibit booth and their talks.  Could you please reply with your suggestions.  We know evolution/creation brought us together, but we have an opportunity to expand and further our agenda this year.
Speaking of creation (!), we need to write a constitution and bylaws  this year, allowing us to elect officers.  We should create a budget and probably establish a nominal dues structure.  All your input will be appreciated.
I’d like to invite each of you to join our Caucus Facebook Group.  Please find us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/nea.science/.  The facebook page is for any and all things, serious or funny.  Please join and post to the caucus page to say hi or to make suggestions.
 
We’ll likely need volunteers for the NCSE booth and for caucus operations.  Please be thinking about how you can help.  Any bright ideas to spark interest in our cause or in our caucus meetings? 
 
Please try hard to make our caucus meetings on the 1st and 2nd of July.  These are before the RA session days, so we won’t be crunched for time.  I’ll update you with meeting room location(s) when I receive them.  And bring a friend:  we are in membership GROWTH mode.  
 
Again, thank you for your patience and support.  Please send your ideas my way or post them to the facebook page.  I’ll be in touch soon.
And here is more information specifically on the caucus meetings that Toby mentioned…
Hi Everyone! I’m excited about our caucus meetings, NCSE speakers and booth, and membership drive this year. Our room assignments are in: July 1st @ 4-5:30pm in room A405 SectA and July 2 @12-1pm also in A405(A). We’ll have guest speakers from the NCSE both July 1+2. Please come! Then we switch rooms to B309(B) for the four days of the RA–those meeting times are 9-9:30am and at breaks. I’m sure we won’t need to meet every day of the RA, but that’s up to you! I’ll also email this info to the group. And if you’ve read this far…the ribbons are coming this week!
If you are a member of the NEA and you value solid science education in our public schools, please consider getting involved in the Science Educators Caucus.  If defenders of science education don’t stand up, then the creeping influence of creationists will go unchecked, and they will have a disproportionate voice on matters of importance to us.
Once more, here’s their Facebook page.  Look them up and get involved!

Posted in creationism, education | 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.

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“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 🙂

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Kickstarter Project: Portable Planetarium

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 8, 2013

I love astronomy… so much so that it motivated me to major in physics (it’s the closest I could get to astronomy as an undergraduate).  I’ve taught astronomy at the college level, too, and I have to say that one of the most engaging things you can do is show students the night sky.  For this, going outside is best, but sometimes the weather and light pollution conspire to make night-time skygazing an impossibility.  And that’s where planetariums come in!

Enter Lauren Ard, a teacher who has a really great idea to take her portable planetarium on the road for teaching not just her students but also others (such as attendees at science fiction and fantasy cons) about astronomy and the night sky.  Lauren is attempting to raise some money for her effort, and I thought it was worth advertising her Kickstarter campaign in this blog post.

For more information, read on…

Portable Planetarium = Astronomy for All!

by Lauren Ard

Planetarium Kickstarter

A sun-inspired inflatable planetarium that will bring astronomical theater to local schools, youth groups, and geek gatherings.

The Cause

Kids just love inflatable planetariums; they get to crawl inside a space built just for them, one that has popped up right in their classroom or meeting place to show them the wonders of the sky. Regular classroom disruptions fall away as students become engaged in learning about astronomy in a new and exhilarating way. Kids relate to the fun and interactive medium of a portable planetarium in a manner that no other astronomy instruction can match.

According to the Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT), students retain learning longer when that learning comes from an engaging, hands-on activity. When they are captivated by a unique opportunity such as an inflatable planetarium, they are more likely to share what they’ve learned with family members and friends, deepening their understanding with each repitition. These activities also transcend language barriers with their visual appeal.

We need more exciting educational activities in order to fight the intellectual apathy so common in our students today (what RAFT calls “the engagement gap”)! As the pace of scientific research advances, the average person is faced increasingly with science and technology in his or her daily life. Yet, a study done by the University of Sciences in Philadelphia indicates that American students’ interest in science is drastically waning.

My inflatable planetarium offers kinesthetic and visual learning to students who are hungry for stimulation. The wonders of the night sky can be brought right into the classroom! Right here, you have the opportunity to help bring science to life.

The Story

Five years ago I was a middle school science teacher working at a Title I school. The school (and its students) had little money for field trips or fancy science equipment, but I longed to find a way to bring Astronomy to life for my seventh graders. Through much trial and error with my crappy sewing machine, I created the magnificent monstrosity you see on my cover photo.

Using a box fan (for inflating) and a $150 “toy” projector from Japan, I’ve given planetarium shows to thousands of students over the last several years. Even when I left teaching to become a mom and foster parent, I continued to give presentations to schools, youth organizations, and clubs.

The Goal

To build a bigger, better planetarium! Planetarium 2.0 will be able to fit 30 students instead of 15. It will be made out of more durable fabric. And it will be a golden yellow to represent our Sun! This way, the half-sphere shape of the planetarium serves a second purpose – to be part of a scale model of our Solar System (with the planets being represented by sports balls).

If I were to purchase a boring, black inflatable planetarium from a commercial company in the United States, it would cost at least THREE TIMES as much as my Kickstarter goal! By creating a planetarium myself, I am able to make the planetarium more fun AND more economical.

Click here to read more

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The Real Meaning of Grades and the Importance of Standards

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2013

*Sigh*… at the end of nearly every single semester that I teach, be it high school or college level, I have to deal with the same thing over and over again: grade grousing.  After grades for the semester have been posted, it is inevitable that I have to address some kind of request from a (former – note the semester is concluded) student asking me to increase their grade.  Most notable are the requests from students who missed an excessive number of classes, failed to turn in the required work, or who performed abysmally on exams (or a combination of all of the above) – yet they feel they deserve a better grade anyway.

Rather than go on in my own words, I would like to pass along the wise words of Prof. Kurt Wiesenfeld, a physics professor at Georgia Tech (at the time the article was written) back in 1996.  These words are just as important now as they were then, and for those of us who consider ourselves skeptics and hold to high standards of evidence when confronted with extraordinary claims, I think the connection is obvious…

MY TURN

MAKING THE GRADE

© Copyright NEWSWEEK Magazine, 1996

Many students wheedle for a degree as if it were a freebie T shirt

BY KURT WIESENFELD

Kurt's PictureIT WAS A ROOKIE ERROR. AFTER 10 YEARS I SHOULD HAVE known better, but I went to my office the day after final grades were posted. There was a tentative knock on the door. “Professor Wiesenfeld? I took your Physics 2121 class? I flunked it? I was wonder if there’s anything I can do to improve my grade?” I thought, “Why are you asking me? Isn’t it too late to worry about it? Do you dislike making declarative statements” After the student gave his tale of woe and left, the phone rang. “I got a D in your class. Is there any way you can change it to ‘Incomplete’?” Then the e-mail assault began: “I’m shy about coming in to talk to you, but I’m not shy about asking for a better grade. Anyway, it’s worth a try.” The next day I had three phone messages from students asking me to call them. I didn’t.

Time was, when you received a grade, that was it. You might groan and moan, but you accepted it as the outcome of your efforts or lack thereof (and, yes, sometimes a tough grader). In the last few years, however, some students have developed a disgruntled-consumer approach. If they don’t like their grade, they go to the “return” counter to trade it in for something better.

What alarms me is their indifference towards grades as an indication of personal effort and performance. Many, when pressed about why they think they deserve a better grade, admit they don’t deserve one, but would like one anyway. Having been raised on gold stars for effort and smiley faces for self-esteem, they’ve learned that they can get by without hard work and real talent if they can talk the professor into giving them a break. This attitude is beyond cynicism. There’s a weird innocence to the assumption that one expects (even deserves) a better grade simply by begging for it. With that outlook, I guess I shouldn’t be as flabbergasted as I was that 12 students asked me to change their grades after final grades were posted.

That’s 10 percent of my class who let three months of midterms, quizzes, and lab reports slide until long past remedy. My graduate student calls it hyperrational thinking: if effort and intelligence don’t matter, why should deadlines? What matters is getting a better grade through an undeserved bonus, the academic equivalent of a freebie T shirt or toaster giveaway. Rewards are disconnected from the quality of one’s work. An act and its consequences are unrelated, random events.

Their arguments for wheedling better grades often ignore academic performance. Perhaps they feel it’s not relevant. “If my grade isn’t raised to a D I’ll lose my scholarship.” “If you don’t give me a C, I’ll flunk out.” One sincerely overwrought student pleaded, “If I don’t pass, my life is over.” This is tough stuff to deal with. Apparently, I’m responsible for someone’s losing a scholarship, flunking out or deciding whether life has meaning. Perhaps these students see me as a commodities broker with something they want – a grade. Though intrinsically worthless, grades, if properly manipulated, can be traded for what has value: a degree, which means a job, which means money. The one thing college actually offers – a chance to learn – is considered irrelevant, even less than worthless, because of the long hours and hard work required.

In a society saturated with surface values, love of knowledge for its own sake does sound eccentric. The benefits of fame and wealth are more obvious. So is it right to blame students for reflecting the superficial values saturating our society?

Yes, of course it’s right. These guys had better take themselves seriously now, because our country will be forced to take them seriously later, when the stakes are much higher. They must recognize that their attitude is not only self-destructive, but socially destructive. The erosion of quality control – giving appropriate grades for actual accomplishments – is a major concern in my department. One colleague noted that a physics major could obtain a degree without ever answering a written exam question completely. How? By pulling in enough partial credit and extra credit. And by getting breaks on grades.

But what happens once she or he graduates and gets a job? That’s when the misfortunes of eroding academic standards multiply. We lament that schoolchildren get “kicked upstairs” until they graduate from high school despite being illiterate and mathematically inept, but we seem unconcerned with college graduates whose less blatant deficiencies are far more harmful if their accreditation exceeds their qualifications.

Most of my students are science and engineering majors. If they’re good at getting partial credit but not at getting the answer right, then the new bridge breaks or the new drug doesn’t work. One finds examples here in Atlanta. Last year a light tower in the Olympic Stadium collapsed, killing a worker. It collapsed because an engineer miscalculated how much weight it could hold. A new 12-story dormitory could develop dangerous cracks due to a foundation that’s uneven by more than six inches. The error resulted from incorrect data being fed into a computer. I drive past that dorm daily on my way to work, wondering if a foundation crushed under kilotons of weight is repairable, or if this structure will have to be demolished. Two 10,000-pound steel beams at the new natatorium collapsed in March, crashing into the student athletic complex. (Should we give partial credit since no one was hurt?) Those are real-world consequences of errors and lack of expertise.

But the lesson is lost on the grade-grousing 10 percent. Say that you won’t (not can’t but won’t) change the grade they deserve to what they want, and they’re frequently bewildered or angry. They don’t think it’s fair that they’re judged according to their performance, not their desires or “potential.” They don’t think it’s fair that they should jeopardize their scholarships or be in danger of flunking out simply because they could not or did not do their work. But it’s more than fair; its necessary to help preserve a minimum standard of quality that our society needs to maintain safety and integrity. I don’t know if the 13th-hour students will learn that lesson, but I’ve learned mine. From now on, after final grades are posted, I’ll lie low until the next quarter starts.

WIESENFELD, a physicist, teaches at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

From NEWSWEEK JUNE 17, 1996

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