Archive for science

Online labs and activities for environmental science

Posted in environmental science with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2010 by airtightnoodle

If you teach environmental science or APES (Advanced Placement Environmental Science) you may want to check out the following link:

NROC Environmental Science

The site is designed to be an online APES class and claims to cover all of the material the College Board dictates must be covered for APES.  I haven’t looked through the entire site myself, so I can’t speak for that assertion.  However, there are some neat online labs where students have to change inputs and then assess what happens, and so on.  Check it out.

I failed as a teacher

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by airtightnoodle

Yesterday I visited my local evil government house of mail (a.k.a., the post office).  While waiting in line, I overheard a young boy behind me asking his mom, “But I don’t understand how DNA works.  I don’t get it.”  I glanced back and smiled at him and his mom, impressed that a boy that looked so young would know anything about DNA.  His mother explained patiently that she didn’t know and advised him to ask a science teacher. 

Cue the superhero music!  Science teacher to the rescuuuuue! 

I boldly turned around again with my brightest smile, proclaiming, “I’m a science teacher!” 

The boy, not impressed, asked, “Are you a scientist or a science teacher?”  (At this point I’m sure someone with acute vision could see my ego deflate just a bit.)

“I’m a science teacher.  Is that ok?”

“Well, I guess.  My science teacher really loves science.  She has all sorts of weird stuff in her room.  Like, she loves science.”

“Oh, that’s cool.  How old are you?”

“Nine.”

“Go ahead,” said Mom.  “Ask her your question.”

At this point I was prepared to explain that our bodies are made of lots of teeny tiny cells, and inside each one is a chemical called DNA that tells the cell what to do.  Instead, the question I got was much more specific. “Ok, how does the DNA say if you’re a boy or a girl?  I don’t get it!”

Instantly, since I teach high schoolers, images of sperm cells, egg cells, chromosomes, and so on go tumbling through my mind, and all I can think of is sexual reproduction.  My jaw drops a little bit. 

“Um,” I stutter to Mom, “I’m not sure how to explain that to a 9 year old.”

Human evolution ON FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRE!

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by airtightnoodle

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!

Ok, maybe not the roof, but the Turkana Basin in Kenya is certainly pretty toasty, and has evidently been that way for quite some time. 

Turkana Basin, you say?  Huh?  Where is that?  Why, northeastern Kenya, of course!  These maps help illustrate its location:

Kenya Basins

Map of Kenya

Map of Kenya

 So now you know where it is.  Why is this important, is probably your next question.

Earth scientist Benjamin Passey, as part of a team from the California Institute of Technology, developed a way to measure ancient temperatures and climates by examining isotopes found in carbonates in the soil.  Upon examination of the Turkana Basin soil isotopes, scientists concluded that it was very hot in northeastern Kenya “back in the day”. 

This provides some interesting chex mix to munch on for evolutionists.  The Turkana Basin is home to some of the fossils that have been discovered which document human evolution.  The hot temperatures of the area may help explain why human ancestors lost the fur that mammals are known for. 

More reading:

Some Like It Hot

East African Human Ancestors Lived in Hot Environments

Archaeopteryx–icon of evolution

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by airtightnoodle
Archaeopteryx

Archaeopteryx

If you are in the Houston area, come on down to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to check out the archaeopteryx exhibit.  Running until September 6, 2010, this exhibit will “present some of the finest known fossils from the late Jurassic period showing life at the time of these first birds. Fossils from the world renowned quarries of Solenhofen, Germany, will be featured.”

Click here for more info including ticket prices.

BioLogos.org–seeking harmony between science and faith

Posted in Evolution, religion, science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2009 by airtightnoodle

Those that have read “The Language of God” by Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, will be familiar with the term “biologos”.  This is a word Collins coined to describe his perspective on evolution/science and religion as he is uncomfortable with the term “theistic evolution”. 

While I do own the aforementioned book and believe it is valuable (though more so for those of a religious persuasion that have difficulty accepting modern scientific truth), I don’t necessarily believe it was well-written.  I do applaud Collins for creating this new BioLogos Foundation, however, and hope the writing on this site will be an improvement.  The mission of the foundation, as stated on their website, is:

We believe that faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation.

The BioLogos Foundation promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms seeking harmony between these different perspectives.

This is certainly a mission I can agree with and support, thus far.

One part of the website addresses commonly asked questions regarding faith, science, and their compatability.  For example, one of the questions addressed on the site is, “How was the Genesis creation story interpreted before Darwin?” 

I have not browsed the site in its entirety, but it is one I have bookmarked with the intent of investigating further in the near future.  I encourage others to go check it out as well.

Visit BioLogos.org.

Don McLeroy–no longer head of the SBOE

Posted in Education, Evolution, politics, religion, science, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2009 by airtightnoodle

It’s a sad day in Texas.

No, wait…I’m sure it’s a sad day somewhere, but not in Texas.

On Thursday, the reappointment of Don McLeroy as head of the state board of education was blocked by Democrats of the state senate.  You may recall that McLeroy is one of the creationists on the board and has given science education a difficult time by supporting “strengths and weaknesses” and “academic freedom” movements. 

Now, don’t go crazy rejoicing just yet.  He is still a member of the board. 

It’s not often that I agree with Democrats (I realize that may shock some of you, being that at least on this one issue I do agree with them more often than the more conservative of the political arena), but I think Kirk Watson, a Democrat of Austin, summed it up nicely here:

“People have a right to be confident that the State Board of Education is putting the interests of our children above ideology, politics and everything else, including the so-called good fight.  Whether they agree with McLeroy or not, Texans simply cannot have faith in this board when it is led by a man who has so enthusiastically embraced his role in these endless culture wars.”

As a Christian, there are many things that I have a firm personal opinion on.  However, I don’t always think that those things are of the utmost importance in the political sphere, and I don’t always agree with people forcing such issues simply because they are Christian.

But I digress.  Governor Rick Perry now has the responsibility of naming someone else as chairman of the board.  Since he fully supported McLeroy, it won’t surprise me if he simply nominates another creationist on the board.  Only time will tell.

To read more about this, visit the Houston Chronicle’s article here.

Don McLeroy attempts to spin the issue

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by airtightnoodle

Today in the Austin American Statesman we have an editorial from none other than the state’s chair of the board of education–Don McLeroy!  Recall that McLeroy is himself anti-evolution, though he has continued to claim for years that he has no intention of promoting the teaching of creationism and/or intelligent design in science classes (though his actions have always said otherwise).

According to McLeroy’s editorial today, the blame for this controversy lies at the feet of the proponents of evolution:

The controversy exists because evolutionists, led by academia’s far-left, along with the secular elite opinion-makers, have decreed that questioning of evolution is not allowed, that it is only an attempt to inject religion or creationism into the classroom. Even Texas’ 20-year-old requirement to teach the scientific strengths and weaknesses of hypotheses and theories has come under attack. Words that were uncontroversial and perfectly acceptable for nearly two decades are now considered “code words” for intelligent design and are deemed unscientific. The elite fear that “unscientific” weaknesses of evolution will be inserted into the textbooks, leaving students without a good science education and unprepared for the future, compelling businesses to shun “illiterate” Texas.

McLeroy makes several misleading statements here.  First, acceptance of the validity of evolution is not restricted to academia’s “far-left”.  Even if that were true, proponents of evolution are not against questioning of the theory, or any theory.  Questioning the world around us is part of the scientific method.  Furthermore, there are plenty of real controversies about the theory of evolution that are currently being questioned and examined by scientists around the globe. 

What educators and scientists ARE concerned about is the attempt to confuse students about the theory.  Anti-evolutionists are trying, as they have been for years, to make it appear as if evolution is a theory in crisis, when it certainly is not.  By making it appear thus, this opens the door for creationists and intelligent design proponents to say, “Look, students.  Here is the alternative.”  Such teachings may be acceptable at home, at church, or in a religion or philosophy class, but these ideas of origins are unscientific.  Being unscientific, they do not belong in a science class. 

Now, others might point out that having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards does not mean that teachers will be tossing ideas about creationism around willy-nilly.  True.  However, having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the science TEKS is dangerous regardless.  This phrase itself is unscientific and gives students false ideas about the very nature of science.  McLeroy points out that this phrase has been part of the standards for several years and was uncontroversial until recently.  That’s not really the case.  There have been many people who have wanted that phrase removed for YEARS.  (Recall that several months ago state board of education member Barbara Cargill wrote an editorial in which she stated that the phrase had served Texas students well for years.  When I emailed and asked her to explain this statement, she never replied.)

McLeroy points out that the new standards focus on contructing “testable explanations”–a phrase he says should be satisfactory to both sides of the issue.  He states that, “The debate can now shift from “Is it science?” to “Is it testable?””  Fair enough.  The issue of something being testable is, of course, very important to the scientific method.  McLeroy claims that one of the new controversial science standards is simply following through with this idea of “testability”:

A new curriculum standard asks Texas students to look into this question. It states: “The student is expected to analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.” It should not raise any objections from those who say evolution has no weaknesses; they claim it is unquestionably true.

The question I have for McLeroy and others on the board who support these changes is…why are you singling out evolution?  If you truly feel that the “strengths and weaknesses” of theories need to be addressed, why are you particularly singling out this one theory?  Why aren’t there any standards being drafted to address the strengths and weaknesses of the germ theory of disease, for example?

In his concluding paragraph, McLeroy states:

If we are to train our students, engage their minds and, frankly, be honest with them, why oppose these standards?

McLeroy himself is clearly being dishonest.  By singling out evolutionary theory for “strengths and weaknesses” and attempting to use a Stephen Jay Gould quote to discredit the theory (yes, you’ll have to read the editorial for that tid-bit) he shows that his actions are, in fact, religiously motivated. 

So, to answer McLeroy’s question…why should we oppose such standards?  Here are just a few reasons.

1. These standards give students a false idea that there is a scientific controversy over evolution.  There is not.
2. The phrase “strengths and weaknesses” gives a false idea about the very nature of science. 
3. This approach could potentially lead to costly lawsuits when teachers use the standards to promote alternative theories in class like creationism (or, vice versa, teachers could potentially be accused of not adequately covering the “weaknesses” part of the clause).
4. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our great state. 
5. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our COUNTRY (recall that Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, so what Texas decides largely impacts the rest of the nation).

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