The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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 »

“Skeptical About Climate Skeptics” from NCSE

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 17, 2012

As many of you know, one of the best pro-science groups out there is the National Center for Science Education; they specialize in defending the teaching of evolutionary science while simultaneously battling attempts by creationists to push their non-scientific ideas into the public schools.  However, in recent months the NCSE has brought its expertise into a new fight: the climate science wars.  Many climate science deniers employ the same kinds of tactics in their denial of global warming as creationists apply in their denial of evolution, and the NCSE decided it was time to start exposing these pseudo-scientific tactics.  So, to help facilitate this process, I wanted to share with you a talk by NCSE’s climate expert Mark McCaffrey wherein he dissects climate change denial; the use of doubt, delay, and denial; myths and misperceptions deniers push, and more…

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

The State of U.S. Science Education: Not Good

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 27, 2012

It seems that in the United States we could be doing a much better job of teaching our young people about science (big surprise there).  However, it doesn’t become apparent just how troublesome the situation is until you take a look at the standards for public science education laid down by the states.  One look at this map gives you some idea of the challenge we face…

Image from Your State Sucks at Science

The well respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which regularly tracks issues related to science and education, has provided a summary of the survey of state science standards.  You can read more about their summary, as well as a breakdown of the standards state-by-state, here…

American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but  our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Reviewers evaluated science standards for every state for this report and their findings were deeply troubling: The majority of states earned Ds or Fs for their standards in this crucial subject, with only six jurisdictions receiving As. Explore all the state report cards and see how your state performed. [emphasis added]

This is particularly problematic because the 21st century is going to be one of intensifying competition between the United States and developing nations such as China and India.  If we cannot (or will not) beef up our science education then we are only hurting ourselves in the long run.

Why is it that the U.S., the most powerful and technologically advanced nation (so far) on the planet, seems to have this weird relationship with science where we appear to almost disdain it?  My thoughts on that in a future blog post…

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Skeptical Homeopathy Homework Assignment

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 4, 2012

I found this image via a skeptical Facebook friend, and it just screams “skeptical teacher”!  I’m just jealous that I didn’t think of it first 🙂

Three words: FOR THE WIN!!!

Image source: Reddit

The solutions (pardon the pun) to these questions reveals one glaring fact: homeopathy, there’s nothing in it, except water.

**Update (2/5/12): For those interested, I have calculated the actual answers to these questions.  Contact me if you would like to see the math; here are the answers:

a) 3.46 x 10^21   or   3,460,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms

b) 3.46 x 10^15   or   3,460,000,000,000,000 atoms

c) 3.46 x 10^-39  or  0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 00346 atoms (a number so stupidly small we can safely say that there are effectively NO arsenic atoms remaining within the solution!)

Posted in education, medical woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

“Educating/Debunking: What’s the Difference?” Video from Dragon*Con 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2012

This past September I attended Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and I participated in many events and interviews, etc.  However, in my role as both a skeptic and a teacher, one of the most fruitful things I did was to participate in the Skeptrack discussion of how to approach the question of debunking in the context of education.  The panel was an important discussion moderated by JREF President, D.J. Grothe on the topic of Education vs. Debunking, how they are different and when and how each should be used to the greatest effect.  The discussion dealt with the issue in the context of the classroom as well as beyond in the broader culture.  Below is the video footage of the discussion; I hope you find it useful…

Image and video footage courtesy of the fine folks at Skeptrack.org 🙂

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

NCSE Now Taking on Climate Change Denial

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 19, 2012

There was some very welcome news this week on the science education front: the National Center for Science Education, long associated with the strong defense of evolutionary science curricula in public schools, is now joining the cause of defending climate science from the deniers.  This statement from the NCSE illustrates why they’ve taken this important step…

Why is NCSE Now Concerned with Climate Change?

NCSE has long focused upon defending and promoting the teaching of evolution and the nature of science. Why are we now adding climate change to this list?

Although both evolution and climate change are accepted by the scientific community, both topics remain controversial among the public. As a result, teachers trying to teach evolution and/or climate change too often face opposition in their communities. Such opposition is based on ideology, not science, although the ideologies differ: religious ideologies in the case of evolution, economic and political ideologies in the case of climate change. In both cases, the result is that teachers are pressured to downplay these topics, misrepresent them as scientifically controversial, and air supposedly scientifically credible alternatives to them.

There are parallels, then, in the ways these two scientific topics are viewed by the general public, in the reasons for the widespread rejection of them by a substantial portion of the public, and in what happens when teachers try, responsibly, to teach them. So we decided to do what we can to help. …

In true NCSE fashion, they provide a page of resources for teachers, scientists, parents, and concerned citizens to help with the promotion of good climate science education while also battling back against the climate science deniers.  Check it out and pass it along…

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

Questions vs. Answers

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2012

I recently wrote another guest post for the James Randi Educational Foundation over at the Swift blog, and I just wanted to share it here as well.  I hope you find it thought-provoking…

Questions VS Answers

Anyone who knows me knows that I have no children of my own, and in all honesty I try to avoid little kids when I can.  However, there is one thing I find really endearing about kids, especially the younger ones: their unbridled curiosity and willingness to ask questions.

I think the reason why I like this curious nature in children is pretty simple: to them the world is so new and fresh, everything is wondrous and interesting.  In addition, they come at things so much more openly and honestly than most adults, because they are ignorant in the truest sense of the word and have no embarrassment whatsoever about asking direct questions about pretty much anything.  To them, no subject is off limits or taboo; they manifest the spirit of free inquiry in its most unblemished sense.

And this sense of free inquiry and curiosity usually comes out in the form of asking question after question on all manner of topics.  I think it is most especially interesting when it is related to topics regarding mythology, religion, life, death, the afterlife, etc.  And how many times have you been interrogated by a particularly precocious young child, only to be bombarded by more questions once you’ve provided what you thought were adequate answers?  I have had this happen to me more times than I can count, both as an educator and an uncle.

Sadly, this wonderful behavior of kids doesn’t often last into their adult years.  Somewhere between those wonder-filled years of curiosity and college age, a lot of kids are too often encouraged by the adults around them to specifically not ask questions, especially on certain topics (often on the most important topics).  Why this is I’m not sure, but I have a few guesses…

I think part of the problem is that some adults are made quite uncomfortable by the questions that little children can ask, precisely because they tend to break those social taboos which have been conditioned into the adults.  Another thing that happens is that some adults tend to discourage children from asking questions because the adults don’t have the answer to the question, or they’re just tired of the kid asking questions, so rather than admit ignorance (or frustration) they tell the child to stop asking questions.  And while kids are innately curious, if they get exposed often enough to the adults in their life telling them not to ask such questions, then they’ll eventually start to believe that they shouldn’t be asking such questions.  And that’s a sad thing to see.

For example, I witness something along these lines a couple of years ago as I was traveling to Utah with some of my family.  One of my nieces, a little girl of six years of age, and I were looking out over the gorgeous scenery of Bryce Canyon, admiring all of the columns, stratigraphy, and erosion patterns within the canyon walls.  And, in accordance with that curiosity of young children, my niece asked me where the canyon came from.  I proceeded to explain to her about the idea of erosion due to rainfall and the flow of water, pointing out to her some very small rivulets in the dirt off to the side of the trail due to a recent rainstorm.  I further explained that given enough time, these erosive processes can eventually produce wondrous geologic structures such as the canyon which stretched out before us.

I eagerly awaited her next question, when something very interesting happened.  My little niece’s older sister (a teenager) came along and told her that “God did it, just like we learned in Sunday school and the Bible says in Genesis”.  I wasn’t surprised by this reaction from my older niece, seeing as how the members of her immediate family tend to be young-earth creationists who believe the Earth was created in six literal days about 6000-10,000 years ago.  But what did surprise me (and delight me greatly) was my younger niece’s response to her older sister’s “explanation”; she looked up at her older sister and, without skipping a beat, simply asked: “Yeah, but how did God do it?” …

Click here to read the rest of the post at Randi.org

Posted in education, free inquiry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Halloween: The Perfect Opportunity to Promote Skepticism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 27, 2011

My favorite time of the year is almost upon us: Halloween! 😀

I love Halloween not just because of the candy, the costumes, and the decorations (when else can you be a complete freak and it be socially acceptable?) but also because of the wonderful potential for promoting skepticism and critical thinking about various paranormal claims.  Let’s face it: at this time of the year, ghosts, witchcraft, psychics, and various other kinds of woo are on everyone’s minds, so why not take advantage of that fact and use it to inject the skeptical viewpoint on things?  I have found this to be a very effective teaching technique over the years, so that’s why I pass it along to you.

So in the spirit of the season (pardon the pun), allow me to share with you some links to various Halloween-ish skeptical resources that you can use, including a few of my earlier blog posts on the subject…

A Skeptic’s Halloween

Snopes: Halloween Legends

South Park Spoofs “Ghost Hunters”

Halloween Lesson, Part 1: Randi’s “Secrets of the Psychics”

A Historical Halloween & Skepticism Lesson: The 1938 “War of the Worlds” Broadcast by Orson Welles

Halloween Lesson, Part 2: The Haunted Physics Lab

Happy Halloween!!!

Posted in aliens & UFOs, education, ghosts & paranormal, humor, magic tricks, physics denial/woo, psychics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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