Saturday, April 29, 2006

Science and the classroom

From the lab to the classroom:

From Brainethics comes an interesting article (pdf) about a meeting between neuroscientists and teachers. Apparently, a lot of brain science used in pedagogy these days is bogus, yet new stuff either does not exist or is not well known or is not implemented.

Turning a classroom into a computer:

From David Warlcick: The World is Shrinking — and more
The Computer Just Got Bigger

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

EduBlogging of the week

Carnival of Education #64 is up on Education Wonks and Carnival of Homeschooling #17 is up on Common Room.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Not more scientists, but more science-literate citizens

James Oblinger, the new President of North Carolina State University (promoted from within after many years as the Dean of the School Of Agriculture And Life Sciences), has a good editorial in today's News and Observer:

Nurturing success in the sciences:
We've all heard the line from President Bush: We need more students to join the "nerd patrol." It's an overly simple solution for a complex problem that imperils the traditions of invention and innovation that America prides itself on.
To prepare our students to be successful, high-quality education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is critical. These so-called STEM disciplines are increasingly driving innovation, discovery and economic growth. Some estimates indicate that about one-third of all jobs in the United States require a science or technology competency. The U.S. Department of Commerce projects that science and engineering will be responsible for more than 70 percent of job growth between 2002 and 2012.

Undoubtedly, the focus on problem-solving and critical thinking found in the STEM disciplines serves us well in a variety of fields and in daily life. Basic scientific literacy is necessary to understand many of the complex issues of our day. A solid background in science and math is fundamental to informed participation in modern society and, further, to wise decisions based on sound public policy.
Among other things, we discussed roadblocks to reasserting U.S. competitiveness, including a poll indicating that 70 percent of American parents believe their school-age children are getting the right amounts of science and math. These parents also, the poll suggests, don't believe the jobs of the future will require more proficiency in science and math.

Perception and reality are on a collision course.
I cannot find which poll he is refering to, but I can imagine that there were three answers: a) my child is getting about the right amount of math and science in school; b) too little math and science, or c) too much math and science. I bet that the percentage of respondents answering c) was not zero. Those would be some fundies, I assume, though their children may not be in public schools anyway. But 70% stating that what they get in US public schools is enough?
Perhaps the most basic and most important strategy is to attract more students to these disciplines. To adequately address the issue on a long-term basis, we must improve our outreach to students and support education in STEM disciplines from kindergarten through graduate school. We must help our children become more aware of career choices in these fields and make careers in them more accessible. And we have to seek ways that will ensure success for students when they come to these subjects and college majors.
It is equally important that as we educate tomorrow's science and math teachers, we're prepared to support them throughout their careers by providing continuing education, mentoring opportunities and classroom support.
I bolded that last sentence.

I think what Oblinger is hinting at throughout the article, but an unprepared mind may not understand, is that arguing for stronger science education does not mean more science majors, or more science Masters, or more science PhDs, or more science professors, but instead more science-literate citizens, people who can understand science reporting, people who can find and evaluate scientific information in libraries and online, people who have been trained in the art of critical thinking, people who are well-educated and well-informed participants in the democracy.

(Cross-posted on Science And Politics)
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Wednesday, April 19, 2006


New editions of the Carnival of Education and Carnival of Homeschooling are up now.

On the other hand, what do you think about science blogging?

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Education against politicized science

An interesting article just appeared on PLoS - Biology:
Scientific Illiteracy and the Partisan Takeover of Biology (PDF). Here are a couple of short excerpts - you have to go and read the rest:
Though some see the growing influence of ideology over scientific issues as a threat to America's standing as global science leader, a leading analyst of public attitudes toward science sees it as an opportunity for increasing scientific literacy. “Even though the scientific community can feel besieged by this anti-science sentiment,” says Jon D. Miller, who directs the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University Medical School, “most people really haven't made up their mind about this issue and, in fact, really haven't even thought about it.” Rather than fretting about the cultural divide—or worse, doing nothing—Miller urges scientists to do their part to bridge the gap.
Most people don't have a cognitive framework for understanding stem cells, Miller explains. “Science happens so fast now that most adults couldn't possibly have learned about stem cells when they were in school.” And without this underlying schema, most people aren't going to pay attention to stem cells or any other unfamiliar scientific term. “People tune out things that they think are scientific or complicated,” he says. “If you are science averse and think you couldn't possibly know any science, the minute you hear ‘cell,’ ‘stem cell,’ ‘nanotechnology,’ ‘atomic,’ ‘nuclear,’ you turn the off switch.”
Since 1979, he says, the proportion of scientifically literate adults has doubled—to a paltry 17%. The rest are not savvy enough to understand the science section of The New York Times or other science media pitched at a similar level. As disgracefully low as the rate of adult scientific literacy in the United States may be, Miller found even lower rates in Canada, Europe, and Japan—a result he attributes primarily to lower university enrollments.
To measure public acceptance of the concept of evolution, Miller has been asking adults if “human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals” since 1985. He and his colleagues purposefully avoid using the now politically charged word “evolution” in order to determine whether people accept the basics of evolutionary theory. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of Americans who reject this concept has declined (from 48% to 39%), as has the proportion who accept it (45% to 40%). Confusion, on the other hand, has increased considerably, with those expressing uncertainty increasing from 7% in 1985 to 21% in 2005.
It's not that Americans are rejecting science per se, Miller maintains, but longstanding conflicts between personal religious beliefs and selected life-science issues has been exploited to an unprecedented degree by the right-wing fundamentalist faction of the Republican Party. In the 1990s, the state Republican platforms in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Missouri, and Texas all included demands for teaching creation science. Such platforms wouldn't pass muster in the election, Miller says, but in the activist-dominated primaries, they drive out moderate Republicans, making evolution a political litmus test. Come November, the Republican candidate represents a fundamentalist agenda without making it an explicit part of the campaign. Last year, Miller points out, former Senator John Danforth, a moderate Missouri Republican, wrote in a New York Times opinion piece that for the first time in American history a political party has become an arm of a religious organization. The United States is the only country in the world where a political party has taken a position on evolution.
The era of nonpartisan science is gone, says Miller, who urges scientists and science educators to learn the rules of this new game and get behind moderate Republicans as well as Democrats to protect the practice and teaching of sound science. Given the partisan attack on evolution and stem-cell research, he thinks scientists need to learn more about how the political process works. They need to be willing to run for the school board, write $500 or even $5,000 checks to support moderate candidates, and defeat Christian right-wing candidates. “Scientists need to become involved in partisan politics and to oppose candidates who reject evolution or attack scientific research,” he says. “It takes time, money, and paying attention to the issues.”
Clearly, increasing scientific literacy is a long-term challenge. The US pre-collegiate science and math education system is broken. US high-school student performance ranks behind every European and Asian country, according to the 2003 Trends in International Math and Science Study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Given that over half of high-school graduates don't go on to get college degrees, that's something to be concerned about. But Miller takes heart from the fact that, unlike any other country in the world, the United States requires the 47% of kids who do go to college to take a year of science—a distinction that may help the United States recover its flagging scientific standing. College professors would do well to remember that today's undergraduates are apt to be functioning 40 to 50 years from now, he says. “It's the last chance to teach people who are going to become important leaders in the community, and we should take this opportunity seriously.”
The limiting step in enhancing scientific literacy is not people's capacity for learning, Miller says, as much as it is interest. When Americans are diagnosed with cancer or some other life-threatening disease, “the vast number of these people go online and learn more science in the next 12 months than a typical undergraduate will ever learn. It is impressive how much people can learn with the proper motivation. We need to get people to be savvy about how to find the information and make sense of it.

Miller urges scientists to take comfort in the fact that the majority of Americans are not anti-science, but simply don't know how exciting scientific discovery can be. “We must be cautious and not presume that our society feels strongly about what scientists do one way or another. There's a lot of work to be done for us to tell people what we do, why we do it, and why it's important,” he advises. Given the pace of biomedical discoveries in the 21st century, he adds, it's likely that more and more scientific issues will reach the public agenda. “We're going to be revisiting various versions of these questions again and again. But there's a large segment of Americans who still haven't made up their mind on these issues. We in the scientific community have to treat them seriously, talk to them, and make our arguments. This is a great opportunity for us.”
Bolded text is what I thought was interesting to me. As I said, go read the whole thing. The PDF version also has some graphs and images.

(Cross-posted on Science And Politics)

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Another win for academic freedom

I don't know who the current president of Meredith College is (the old guy was just leaving at the time my wife was there), but kudos to the faculty for standing up to her and to her sneaky D-Ho-type friends:

Meredith College faculty reject BB&T money:
The faculty at Meredith College in Raleigh struck a blow for academic freedom Friday, and in so doing, might've cost the college $420,000 from the BB&T Charitable Foundation. At issue: A grant from BB&T--$60,000 a year for seven years--for an honors program featuring, apparently at the bank's insistence, such right-wing texts as Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Frederick Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.
Read the whole thing for background and details.

A few years back, they decided to get rid of the Southern Baptist sponsorship. Their worries about loosing all that money were apparently unwarranted. Happy with that decision, many others pitched in. Last time I was on campus I saw the brand new science building.

As for the course, I hope that, whoever is teaching the course will use the Rand and Hayek's writing to teach the studnets the critical thinking skills. Those works are alluring and deceptive in their erzatz "sophistication", and can be used fruitfully to teach skills like: fact-checking, detecting logical fallacies, and exploring how dangerous putting such ideas to practice is.

(Cross-posted on Science And Politics)

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Teaching Carnival

The April edition of the Teaching Carnival (higher ed) is up on A Delicate Boy.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Carnival of Education

Welcome to the 62nd edition of the Carnival of Education. For most of you, this blog may be new, but some of you may be familiar with my other two blogs, the science blog Circadiana and the general-purpose blog Science And Politics. The Magic School Bus is the latest addition to my blogging empire - the third leg of the Triple Crown!

I was wondering what theme to use this time and how to classify the entries. Then, as the posts kept coming in I realized how many of them were practically unclassifable. So I was going to invent some kind of Borges' Chinese Classification of Animals to break down the entries.

Then, yesterday morning, cleaning the house for Passover and pulling out the Haggadahs for tonight, I knew this would just had to be a Passover Edition, and the Ten Plagues are ideal page-breakers placing together vaguely related posts into small groups (click the thumbnails to enlarge images, even the one that at first sight looks just black). How is this carnival different from all the other carnivals?

So, here we go, drop of wine by drop of wine....

* Passover Plague #1: Blood - G-d transformed the water in the Nile River into a river of blood for 7 days, causing the death of fish and leaving the Egyptians with undrinkable water. (Exodus 7:14-25)

Chris Clarke is a science and nature writer who blogs on Creek Running North. His wife is a school teacher and Chris had some thoughts about teaching just Last night.

Sandra Porter keeps Discovering biology in a digital world every day. Euthanasia? Dead issue. Ethical issues in biotechnology: contrasting companies and classrooms.

Janet D. Stemwedel aka Dr. Free-Ride of Adventures in Ethics and Science has been on a roll recently, and produced a four-parter post:
Study suggests U.S. science teaching falls short on content
How to fix science education in the U.S
Not-entirely-random bullets on science teaching as I rush to class
How important is effective teaching to science professors anyway?

* Passover Plague #2: Frogs - G-d created a swarm of frogs that came up out of the Nile river and covered the land of Egypt, infesting Egyptian houses. (Exodus 8:1-25)

Ruchira Paul is an Accidental Blogger and she explores the schoolchildren stereotyping of the image of a "scientist" in What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Editor's Choice #1: Ms. Frizzle (of course the Carnival on The Magic School Bus has to have Ms. Frizzle on board!) has some cool recent anecdotes from the classroom: Kids.

Cameron of My Corner of the Universe asks the perennial question: Physics First?. How about separate courses in physics and chemistry and earth science and biology every year from 5th through 12th grade (the way I had it as a kid)?

* Passover Plague #3: Lice - G-d created a plague of lice from handfuls of dust which swarmed in the air and irritated the skin of the Egyptians and their animals. (Exodus 8:16-19)

Dean Dad confesses something every day and compiles his confessions on a blog. This post really hit a nerve with me, as I am a gen-X-er myself: Generation X Faculty (and Deans): A Response to which Palazzo of The Daily Transcript had his own response: Yet another note on academic life.

Editor's Choice #2: My neighbor David Warlick of 2 Cents Worth explores a new concept in a two-part post: Flat Classrooms and Flat Classrooms - Curious Students.

Brett from The DeHavilland Blog has assembled an impressive list - and added thoughful comments - on How can business make an impact.

* Passover Plague #4: Dog Flies - G-d created the plague of dog flies that bit the Egyptians and attached themselves to their eyelids, but the Hebrews were unaffected by them. (Exodus 8:20-32)

Scott Elliott of Get On the Bus (Which bus? The Magic School Bus?) muses on a recent report: It actually IS harder to get into college today!

Portable classrooms may cause health problems. NYC Educator has the scoop: Trailer Trash.

Marcia Adair wrote a heart-breaking story about growing up too young: Just Another Maniac Monday

* Passover Plague #5: Murrain - murrain means a cattle plague. This is a virus that affects cattle and eventually kills them. Most Egyptian cattle were affected by this plague but the Hebrew cattle were not. (Exodus 9:1-7)

Mr. Lawrence of Get Lost, Mr. Chips is taunted by a particularly "good hearted" student: Haze Me.

Blaming the Student? Don't do it, says D-Ed Reckoning.

Mamacita of Scheiss Weekly has great anecdotes about some colorful characters in her middle school: Both are moist, brown, and strong-smelling. . . . . and The Lazy Boy.

The Art of Getting By may shock you with A Shock To The System - on dealing with children with special needs.

* Passover Plague #6: Boils - G-d sent the plague of boils so that the Egyptians would have great difficulty standing or walking, plus it was very painful to endure. (Exodus 9:8-12)

A Teacher's Perspective thinks positive. And asks us all to think positive. At least for a week. Check the Reality check....

Polski3 is positive. Do you know what a "dam cup" is? Read High BP or a pencil to learn.

Why are male teachers under suspicion when they want to work with younger kids? EdWonk reports in Irrational Suspicion

What would a Carnival of Education be without a post on Testing…testing… . Try also the podcast from The reflective teacher.

* Passover Plague #7: Hail - G-d kept on upping the ante by creating the worst hailstorm ever seen in Egypt until that time. People and animals perished as a result, and the agricultural economy of Egypt was severely damaged. (Exodus 9:13-35)

Harvey and Laurie of Trivium Pursuit provide some good answers to the question: Why Homeschool?

Headmistress, zookeeper of the homeschooling Common Room finds some Hidden Costs of Public Schools.

SpunkyHomeSchool wrote some More on the cost of homeschooling

* Passover Plague #8: Locusts - G-d created a swarm of locusts that covered Egypt, infested Egyptian homes, and ate all the plants left over from the hailstorm. There were clouds of locusts that were so dense, they darkened the sky. (Exodus 10:13-14, 19)

Bill and Melinda Gates concluded that their grants are not working. Scholar's Notebook reports in The failed promise of small learning communities.

National School Boards Association Dislikes Mayoral Control and the Mayor strikes back. Dave of Friends of Dave has the report.

DL of TMH’s Bacon Bits thinks that obedience is a positive trait that needs to be instilled in our children. Or is it just good old discipline: Obedience: In Danger of Extinction?

* Passover Plague #9: Darkness - G-d created darkness over the land of Egypt; it was so dark, one could feel it. The Egyptians could not see anyone in this thick darkness nor leave their houses for 3 days. However, the houses of the Hebrews were filled with light. (Exodus 10:21-29)

Here's a whole series on education politics in Illinois (and other places). Lennie of EducationMatters.US! has some words about the Illinois Big Ed tactics: No Tax Pledge: Bad Public Policy. And from Extreme Wisdom, in a similar vein, The Mob That Whacked Jersey (Or is it Illinois?), from - Univeral Preschool Still In Budget, and from Citizens for Reasonable And Fair Taxes comes The Cost of Remedial Education..

From The Rain of I Thought a Think, looks at the new collective bargaining report from Rick Hess and Martin West: Nitpicking Hess and West: The Hourly Pay Issue

Andrew of EduWonk has his own take on the same report in Casey Turns The Guns On His Own Lines Just Like At [Insert Very Obscure Battle Here]

* Passover Plague #10: Death of the Firstborn Son - The final plague that befell the Egyptians was the slaying of the firstborn son of every Egyptian family, including the firstborn son in the Pharaoh's family. This plague caused the greatest emotional outcry from the Egyptian people, and finally convinced the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave Egypt. (Exodus 12:29-36)

Rightwingprof of the Right Wing Nation wrote about The NCC On NCLB. If you know me, you know I disagree, but it is a thought-provoking piece so go and read it for yourself and make your own opinion.

John and Michele of AFT NCLB Blog discuss the first NCLB report. First, John: Where's the Research?. Michele responds: Michele's Response to "Where's the Research?".

Let's finish with Scott Elliott again...or he'll bust your kneecaps.

Also, do not miss the latest edition of Carnival of Homeschooling on Tami's Blog and check out the next edition of the Teaching Carnival, coming up on April 15th on A Delicate Boy...

Next week, the Carnival is going back home to The Education Wonks. The deadline for entries is April 18th, 9:00 PM (Pacific). The address is: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Carnival of Education

Carnival of Education #61 is up on The Education Wonks.

Next Week's Carnival will be hosted by me right here at The Magic School Bus. Please send contributions to: Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com. Send your entries by 5:00PM EST on Tuesday, April 11th. Include the title of your post, and its URL. Of course, I am hoping for a nice showing by science educators next week (hint, hint).

Technorati Tag: teaching-carnival

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Teaching Biology Lab - Week 4

So, yesterday was the last, fourth meeting of the lab. We started out by going over their homework questions about the evolution of Vertebrates. I was quite happy that only one person in only one question confused development with evolution - something that I see, unfortunately, very often. The legs of the frog do not "evolve" out of the body once the tadpole starts losing its tail: the frog legs evolved out of meaty fins of its Crossopterygian ancestors. Also, knowing that one of the questions concerned Amphioxus, I made sure the previous week to say something about it. For most questions, the students were really 'on the ball' - it is nice to have a class without a single (at least openly) Creationist student.

The first excercise of the day was supposed to be electrophoresis - we were supposed to run a gel. However, Ward's (second time this term) did not deliver the supplies on Friday (they will come on Monday and I can use them next time), so, without the chemicals, we could not do the excercise. Instead, we did a DNA fingerprinting excercise on paper, using paternity testing as an example. They were given two DNA sequences each from Mother, Child, Potential Father #1 and Potential Father #2. They were to use the restriction enzyme (scissors) to cut the sequences after T of each CAT sequence. Then, they figured out the sizes of the fragments and we drew the gel on the whiteboard representing what they would see if they actually had those sequences in real life.

It was easy then to figure out who the father was. We also mentioned some other reasons to use DNA fingerprinting, e.g., in forensic analysis (and yes, O.J.Simpson trial was mentioned). The technique has also shown that, contrary to millenia of misconception, the birds are not that loyal to their partners as we thought. Even in bluebirds, the poetic paragons of loyalty, some of the eggs are fertilized by the nest mate, and other eggs are fertilized by a fleshy neighbor. As a bonus, I gave them this to read and they loved it.

Next, I split the students into groups of four. We took some water-fleas (Daphnia) and placed them on microscope slides. In each group, one student did the 'handling' of the animals and chemicals, the second student called out the heart-beats seen under the microscope, the third student jotted down a dash for each heart beat and calculated the beats-per-minute value, while the fourth student kept time. For each treatment the students swapped roles. Each animal was first measured in fresh pond water, serving as its own control. Then, a drop of a treatment was added and the heart-rate counted again. The four treatments were caffeine, epinephrine (adrenaline), glucose and alcohol. Before the excercise started, the students stated their hypotheses and their expectations.

I was really happy to see how consistent the numbers were between groups, suggesting that they did the job correctly. Surprisingly, all four chemicals (in all replicates) induced slowing of the heart rate. We used the discussion time to talk about the biochemistry and physiology of the four chemicals, the effects of dose (the U-shaped curves), the compensation (e.g., the "crash" following a caffeine "high"), etc. It was taken as given that Daphnia and humans share much of their physiology: from utilization of glucose for energy (and formation of ATP), to existence of receptors for epinephrine and caffeine. No need to push evolution too hard - the common ancestry was an unspoken given.

After they finished their student evaluations, it was time for the last excercise of the course, the one they were all excited about - the dissection of the fetal pig. We worked all together, finding organs one at the time. For each organ, I asked questions about its function and often added some more interesting information (including the positive feedback loop I forgot to mention two weeks before, concerning the urinary bladder - thank you readers for the heads-up on that!). I think they had a blast!

And that was it for this session. I have a month free. Then, in May and June I will be teaching both the lecture and the lab. It is always good when the two courses are taught simultaneously by the same instructor. That way, I can make the too reinforce each other and work together well.

Previously in this series:
Teaching Biology To Adults
Teaching Biology Lab - Week 1
Teaching Biology Lab - Week 2
Teaching Biology Lab - Week 3

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When Should Schools Start in the morning?

This being the National Sleep Awareness Week and on the heels of the recent study on sleep of adolescents, it is not surprising that this issue is all over the media, including blogs, these days.

I have written about it recently several times. I present some science and some opinion here and add a little more science and much more opinion here.

You can look at media coverage here and listen to an excellent podcast linked here. Some basic underlying science is covered here.

All of this targets highschoolers. However, there is barely any mention of college students who are, chronobiologically, in the same age-group as high-school students, i.e., their sleep cycles are phase-delayed compared to both little kids and to adults.

In a way, this may be because there is not much adults can do about college students. They are supposeduly adults themselves and capable of taking care of themselves. Nobody forces (at least in theory) them to take 8am classes. Nobody forces them to spend nights parying either.

They are on their own, away from their parents' direct supervision, so nobody can tell them to remove TVs and electronic games out of their bedrooms. The college administrators cannot deal with this because it is an invasion of students' privacy (unless it is one of those nutty unaccredited pseudo-colleges).

Yet, college students are, from what I heard, in much worse shape than high schoolers. Both groups should sleep around 9 hours per day (adults over thirty are good with about 8 hours). High schoolers get on average 6.9 hours. College students are down to about five! The continuous insomnia of college students even has its own name in chronobiology: Student Lag (like jet-lag without travelling to cool places). Is there anything we, as a society, can do to alleviate student lag? Should we?

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