Tag Archives: Science Education

Back to School Science and Culture Stuff

I usually write my annual back to school post earlier than this, but I was distracted by various events. There are three themes here.

1) You are a science teacher and I have some stuff for you.

2) You have a student in a school and you want to support the school’s science teacher.

3) You have a student-offspring or elsewise and are looking for a cool back to school gift.

First, for themes 1 and 2, a mixture of traditional back to school blog posts and some items that may be useful and happen to be on sale at the moment so now’s your chance.

My For Teachers Page has posts providing some science content in evolutionary biology (about Natural Selection and some other topics)

On the same page are essays on teaching philosophy, supporting life science teachers, and evolution and creationism in the classroom, including this famous video.

Books that teachers might find helpful. Consider sending your kids in to school with one of them, focusing on evoluton-creationism and climate change-denial:

Classic text on fighting creationism: Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction by Genie Scott

This book should be on the shelf or in the classroom for every teacher in science, or even social science. It is essentially the highly digestable (and illustration rich) version of the IPCC report on the scientific basis for climate change, written by one of that report’s famous authors: Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change

Teachers and parents of kids in school are in the trenches in the war on science. So you need to know what the war on science is and how to fight it. So, read Shawn Otto’s book The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

The Manga books on science and math. See this review of Regression Analysis, where you’ll find a list of others. Most recent and hot off the presses is The Manga Guide to Microprocessors

A handful of recent science for various ages (Links are to my reviews):

The Outdoor Science Lab for Kids
Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book

The Grand Canyon: Monument To An Ancient Earth. Great new book.

And finally, how to not get caught plagiarizing, and what does that pillow that says “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” really mean? Not what you think!

And now for the fun part, the toys. Amazon is having a huge sale on refurbished devices that you may want to have. I assume they are getting ready for the holidays or something. Go to this link to see what they are

I myself got a Kindle Paperwhite E-reader a while back, and I love it. Then, for her birthday, I got one for Julia. I recommend starting out with the one with “special offers” which are basically ads that are not there when you are reading. The device is cheaper this way, and if the ads really annoy you, you can pay them off to upgrade to the no ad version.

I’m seriously thinking about getting Amanda one of these refurb-Kindle paperwhites. She likes the Kindle just enough for a refurbished one, maybe not enough for a new one…

At the very least, when you meet your teacher at the beginning of the school year, say to them what I say or something like it. “If you ever get hassled by anyone — parent, administration, other teachers — about teaching real science, let me know, I’ll be your best ally. Of course, if you are a science denier or a creationist so the situation is turned around, let me know, I’ll be your worst nightmare …” Then kind of pat them on the shoulder, flip your cape to one side, get on your motorcycle, and drive off.

Minnesota March For Science

Just a little video and some pictures from today’s March for Science, Minnesota.

This one from the march route on the way to the capitol. Skip ahead to about 1:12 go get the best chant:

PHOTO_20170422_111658

Another video, this one from The Hedge:

You don’t see this sign at many protests:
PHOTO_20170422_114843

Mammals were welcome at the march:PHOTO_20170422_115032

And, now, Here is my extraordinarily well timed Facebook Live post

Teachers: Be on the alert for this anti-science mailing!

A well known anti-science “think” tank has sent around, to teachers, a mailing including an antiscience book, a movie, and nice letter and, oddly, a pamphlet exposing the fact that the mailing is entirely politically motivated.

Most science teachers will ignore this. A few science teachers are science deniers, and they already had the material in the mailings. So, I think this was a huge waste of money and effort. But it happened and you should know about it, and you should warn anyone you know that is a teacher.

The real concern, in my opinion, is not this falling into the hands of science teachers. The science teachers will recognize this for what it is. The concern is this mailing in the hands of non-science teachers who are not inoculated against it, who may then wonder why their colleagues down the hall are not “teaching the controversy,” as it were.

The Heartland Institute, famous for supporting research to prove that smoking is not bad for people, and more recently for promoting research that climate change is not real, has sent this mailing to many thousands of teachers. I’ve heard the number 300,000, but that number is probably from Heartland, and they lie all the time, so I don’t believe it.

The Heartland Institute

…is a Chicago-based free market think tank … that has been at the forefront of denying the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. The Heartland Institute has received at least $676,500 from ExxonMobil since 1998 but no longer discloses its funding sources. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that “Nearly 40% of the total funds that the Heartland Institute has received from ExxonMobil since 1998 were specifically designated for climate change projects.”

David Padden founded The Heartland Institute in 1984 and served as its Chairman between 1984 and 1995, co-chairing with Joseph Bast. Padden was also one of the original members of the Board of Directors of the Cato Institute…

In the 1990s, the Heartland Institute worked with the tobacco company Philip Morris to question the science linking second-hand smoke to health risks, and lobbied against government public health reforms. Heartland continues to maintain a “Smoker’s Lounge” section of their website which brings together their policy studies, Op-Eds, essays, and other documents that purport to “[cut] through the propaganda and exaggeration of anti-smoking groups.”

In a 1998 op-ed, Heartland President Joe Bast claimed that “moderate” smoking doesn’t raise lung cancer risks, and that there were “few, if any, adverse health effects” associated with smoking.

The mailer includes the book “Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming, with three authors including Craig Idso, Robert Carter, and Fred Singer, with a forward by conservative columnist Marita Noon.

Idso is the head of an organization who’s stated purpose is to “separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change,” which means, in this case, to deny the basics of atmospheric physics. He has numerous ties with the oil industry. Carter died in 2016. He advised several climate change denying organizations and filled the print media with many anti-science op eds and editorials. He has openly admitted that he is a paid shill of the petroleum industry. Singer is an actual former scientist but recognized by his colleagues as an anti-climate science spokesperson. Singer has been on the Heartland Institute payroll for quite some time.

The book is full of lies and misdirections. It is mainly an attack on the “scientific consensus” on climate change.

You have probably heard a lot about the “climate consensus.” Since the attacking the consensus is the main objective of this mailing, I’d like to spend a moment on that topic. Feel free to skip down to the bottom of the post for suggestions on what books would be good for your favorite science teacher to have in his or her room, in case you want to participate in a sort of grass-roots counter mailing!

In most scientific endeavors, where new discovery is being made, a period of uncertainty, perhaps confusion, perhaps vigorous competition among ideas, is usually followed by a period of growing consensus around a particular scientific idea (a model, a theory, a set of methods and interpretations of findings, etc., depending on the science).

The growth and establishment of consensus is one of the key objectives of science. Scientists know that consensus is powerful and even limiting; an incorrect consensus can mislead researchers and be very counter productive. For this reason, scientists take consensus pretty seriously. Like a jury deciding on innocence or guilt of a person accused of a very serious crime, scientists don’t want to make a mistake. However, scientists are more like a civil case jury than a criminal case jury. We are not required to reject an otherwise well developed case because someone has raised doubt about one tiny aspect of it. Rather, we arrive at consensus using the preponderance of evidence, like in American civil law.

And, once consensus is established, it does not become dogma. Rather, it becomes a dart board, always hanging there in sight, always subject to attack and interrogation. (OK, I know that nobody interrogates their dart board. Maybe it is more like an Elf on the Shelf. But I digress.)

Consider “continental drift” (aka plate tectonics). When Alfred Wegener proposed his theory that continents move around in the early 1900s, he noted that many others had suggested similar ideas. Wegener proposed a comprehensive model of what may have happened in the earth’s past, but he lacked a good mechanism for it. So, the middle of the 20th century involved a period of criticism of his theory, with the idea eventually being more or less thrown out. One of the key features of plate tectonics is how the two kinds of Earth’s crust interact, but geologists did not yet know that the Earth has these two kinds of crust. “Deep sea” exploration had found submerged continental crust, and that looked like regular crust, so it was assumed that the land under the sea was the same as the land on the land.

I note that even though oceanic crust was not understood in the 19th century, Darwin had observed, during the voyage of the Beagle, that a set of islands in the Atlantic, which are actually a bit of ocean crust thrust above the sea surface, was very odd, and that with more study, may cause us to think novel thoughts about rocks.

Even though the theory was eclipsed, some people still thought it was a good idea.

So, we went from nobody getting continental drift, but with a few people mentioning it now and then, to a surge in thinking about it, to a widespread rejection but with a few people thinking it might be valid. I oversimplify, but it is safe to say that by the middle of the 20th century, even though “continental drift” had been a conversation in science since even before science could be said to exist, there was no consensus.

The later part of the middle of the 20th century, however, saw more and more evidence mounting. Rocks were found to be absolutely identical in the evidence of how they formed (that is the main way geologists divide up rocks) across large areas. For example, there are rock formations in South America, South Africa, India, Antartica, and Australia that clearly were once part of a single geological formation all on the same continent. This required that the continents had moved, and in this case, that these particular continents were all attached to each other at one (or more) time.

Also during this period, deep water oceanography was advanced and the actual sea floor was observed and sampled. Mid ocean ridges were discovered and documented. This is where the continents were spreading.

Meanwhile, the dynamic of continental crust subducting under other crust were being figured out, and the significant movement of continents right now (like around the Pacific) became the only way to explain, for example, Japan. The fossil record, which demonstrates a complex biogeography of evolution and movement of species, either restricted by being on different continents, or able to move around large areas that are now on different continents, started to makes sense only in the light of the emerging and increasingly detailed theory of continental movement. Research on how the Earth itself works as a planet, below the surface, eventually allowed for, if not definitively providing, a means for the continents to move.

Plate tectonics (the process) and continental drift (the historical events) eventually became consensus science.

Climate change, the processes by which climate patterns form and change over time, including the role of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and the potential contribution of human release of fossil Carbon as CO2 or Methane in causing significant change in climate, was consensus science at least a few decades ago. But agents of the petroleum and coal industries preferred citizens (voters and consumers) and governments (regulators) to not act on this already happening climate change. They funded libertarian and conservative front groups and others to manufacture doubt about climate change. For this reason, five years ago, to pick a date, the casual observer could not tell, depending on who they listened to and what they read, whether or not climate scientists were all on the same page.

A group of rather brave and smart scientists decided to do something that had not been done very much before, and that had never been addressed with a fully committed research program: Measure the consensus.

I have a few comments on that, but the best way to learn all about this effort is to check out “The Consensus Project.”

Normally the consensus over a scientific issue forms and all the scientists know about it. That is part of what being a scholar of science is about. You learn to learn about the developing arguments, the fights, the building consensus, the overturning of ideas, all of it, over historical time, recent decades, the present, as you study to become a scientists and you continue to keep track of this information as a working scientists.

Scientists know what consensus means, and they know its limitations and what questions remain. Today in geology nobody is working to disprove the idea that Cambridge Argillite and its sister rock in Norway match up and were once part of the same sea basin prior to the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, because that fact can only be wrong if everything we know about rocks is wrong. But others are working on, and arguing about, important details of the deep layers of the Earth and how they act in moving continents around.

But the scientists studying climate consensus were forced into the position of addressing consensus, as a concept or as a measure of the maturity or stability of a particular scientific construct, because the bought and paid for deniers forced them to do so with their politically motivated anti-science (and anti environmental) yammering.

There were actually two groups, and their work is often confused. The less widespread but excellent analysis that happened first showed that almost 100% of scientists agree on the basics of global warming related science. The more intensive analysis showed that nearly 100% of the literature agreed on the basics of global warming. In both cases, they were a couple percent short of full consensus, but I note the following:

1) The research was conservative, biased a little towards including items or people on the non-consensus side, in order to be unassailable.

2) The research was done with scientists and peer reviewed papers over a period of time, and the work ended (most of it) a couple of years ago. So, a figure like “97%” reflects, perhaps, the state of the field in 2010 better than 2017. The last few years have seen the total wiping out of certain non-consensus generating observations (like the so called “pause” in global warming). In other words, if this work showed a 3% non-consensus, I expect at least half of that to have gone away by now.

3) The deniers and their works, if they are scientists and if the work is peer reviewed, are of course considered in such studies, so that accounts for a half percent of so.

4) In normal society, something like 8% of people believe they were abducted by aliens. About 1% or a bit less probably believe they are aliens. (That works out nicely.) Among scientists, there are always going to be a few oddballs. There is a tenured professor at Harvard who is a UFO-ologist. There was until recently a tenured professor in Washington who thought Bigfoot was real. There are probably one or two geologists who think plate tectonics is fake. Science is lucky that the oddball number is low compared to society in general. But it is not zero.

The Heartland mailing asks teachers, “How do you teach global warming?”

Let me ask you that now, if you are a teacher? I’d love to know how and if, and using what materials and methods, you address climate change and global warming. Let us know in the comments!

Meanwhile, please let any teachers you know about this mailing. Feel free to share this blog post with them. And, if you are not a teacher but know one, or if you are a parent with a kid in school, consider sending the teacher a note, and if you feel up to it, a book! (But not the one Heartland sent!)

I do have some suggestions for you. There are many books on climate change and global warming, and they have tended to differentiate themselves so that there is remarkably little redundancy. Here, I’ll note a handful of recent (all are very current) books that serve a variety of different purposes. I’ve reviewed most of these on this blog (see links below) if you want more info on them.

Dire_Predictions_Mann_KumpDire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change by Michael Mann and Lee Kump.

The UN’s IPCC periodically summarizes the state of scientific thinking on climate change. It is a huge report written for an expert audience. This book turns that report into something accessible by the average person, and does so with excellent graphics and other material. This book should be on the shelf in every science classroom.

Explore global warming with graphics, illustrations, and charts that separate climate change fact from fiction, presenting the truth about global warming in a way that’s both accurate and easy to understand. Respected climate scientists Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump address important questions about global warming and climate change, diving into the information documented by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and breaking it down into clear graphics that explain complex climate questions in simple illustrations that present the truth of the global warming problem clearly.

My review

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 11.10.24 AMA Global Warming Primer: Answering Your Questions About The Science, The Consequences, and The Solutions by Jeffrey Bennett.

This is the book sent around to teachers by the National Center for Science Education. It is an excellent overview of climate change and human impacts, using a unique approach that will work especially well in both high school science and social studies classrooms.

Is human-induced global warming a real threat to our future? Most people will express an opinion on this question, but relatively few can back their opinions with solid evidence. Many times we’ve even heard pundits say “I am not a scientist” to avoid the issue altogether. But the truth is, the basic science is not that difficult. Using a question and answer format, this book will help readers achieve three major goals: To see that anyone can understand the basic science of global warming; To understand the arguments about this issue made by skeptics, so that readers will be able to decide for themselves what to believe; To understand why, despite the “gloom and doom” that often surrounds this topic, the solutions are ones that will not only protect the world for our children and grandchildren, but that will actually lead us to a stronger economy with energy that is cheaper, cleaner, and more abundant than the energy we use today.

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® by Joe Romm.

This is more for the parents and teachers than the students, but it could be an excellent choice for an environmental science class. Romm discusses many of the pragmatic aspects of global warming, for the average individual, which is not seen as intensively developed in other books.

This book offers the most up-to-date examination of climate change’s foundational science, its implications for our future, and the core clean energy solutions. Alongside detailed but highly accessible descriptions of what is causing climate change, this entry in the What Everyone Needs to Know series answers questions about the practical implications of this growing force on our world:

· How will climate change impact you and your family in the coming decades?
· What are the future implications for owners of coastal property?
· Should you plan on retiring in South Florida or the U.S. Southwest or Southern Europe?
· What occupations and fields of study will be most in demand in a globally warmed world?
· What impact will climate change have on investments and the global economy?

My review.


Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics by Dana Nuccitelli.

Dana examines climate change by comparing what people, both real scientists and the fake ones, predicted, with what happened. He does other stuff too, but that is my favorite part of this book.

28 Climate Change Elevator Pitches: Short Explanations on the Scientific Basis of Man-made Climate Change by Rob Honeycutt.

This is hot off the presses. Again, this is more for the teacher and parent than the school setting, but since it is new I wanted you to know about it. My review is here.

Learn Scratch Programming (For Kids And Adults)

Scratch Programming Playground: Learn to Program by Making Cool Games is a brand new offering from No Starch Press.

Never mind all the other programming books for kids, this is the best so far.

It helps that the Scratch Programming environment is so easy to use and allows such creative development, and it also helps that Scratch is likely to be a programming environment for basic robotics in the future. But the book itself is excellent, and works at several levels. A young kid working with an adult, a medium level kid working on their own, or an adult playing on the computer after the kids have gone to bed.

Scratch is in the Logo family of object oriented programming. Indeed, Scratch itself, as a language, is a very short distance from the original object oriented programming, much closer to the source than many professional object oriented language.

It works like this. See the graphic to the right. This is code that controls a “sprite” which in this case is a picture of a ball.

The light brown C-shaped things are control constructs. An outer one called “forever” contains code that will be run from the time the program is started until it is stopped externally. Inside that is an “if” loop that checks to see if the object “paddle” (specified in the blue object) touches the sprite (ball). If that event happens, then the code inside the “if” thingie is executed. In this case, the variable “score” goes up by one, a funny little blerp sound is made, and the ball turns in the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, the paddle has a wadge of code that goes with it as well, which responds to key presses or mouse movements, so that the paddle can be used as part of the bouncing the ball game. And so on.

In the code block on the left, contact between a pirate (a sprite) and a leaf causes the leaf to disappear and the pirate to get a score for making the leaf disappear.

You can imagine the possibilities.

So, imagine the following game. A complex maze is on the screen. The player uses arrow keys, etc., to move a tiny cat around in the maze, working the cat from the beginning to the end. At the end, there is a hole that the cat goes through, and now the cat is in another maze. And so on for several mazes.

Are there objects in the maze the cat must avoid? Or obtain? Will you time how long it takes to get through each level? Will you keep a high score? Will you have two cats, with two people controlling them, each moving in opposite directions through the maze?

The code examples I give above are not from Scratch Programming Playground, but the maze example is. It is one of several projects that the book works you though, as you learn all the various programming concepts in Scratch 2.0. The programs you learn to code produce complicated results and are really spiffy, but the programming itself is easy and the code is not extensive, because Scratch 2.0 is so powerful yet easy to use.

Each example, such as the maze, is fully developed, and then, new versions (like having the second player ability, etc.) added, and by the time you are done with that example, if not sooner, you are already adding things of your own design, from your own imagination.

Scratch 2.0 can be run as a stand along program in windows and on a Mac, but works better on the web, in a browser, on all platforms. Working in that environment, on the browser, has the important advantage of immediate access to a large amount of work done by others, that you can freely borrow from. And, of course, you can show off your own work.

Scratch Programming Playground tells you how to obtain or set up an account on Scratch at MIT, holding your hand effectively but respectfuly through the entire process. The book is also associated with, as per usual for a No Starch book, a web site with the code and other items used in the book. However, I recommend actually hand building most of this code on your own, so you actually learn what you are doing.

It is possible to figure out how to make a hand held game controller work with Scratch programs, but that will depend on the controller you have and the platform. A USB controller and a bit of software from the web that lets you set up the buttons should work.

I would not be surprised if future Internet of Things programming, robotic programming, and other coding you might want to get involved in either uses Scratch or follows this model. The mBot robots can be controlled with a version of Scratch, which produces Arduino code for that robot, and there is now a compiler that allows the general use of scratch for Arduino. Arduino is a basic prototyping machine that can run things, as in “Internet of Things” and that is similar to controllers in general, like the ones in your computer, VCR, thermostat, DVD, car, Mars Rover, etc. (Wait, did I just say “VCR” … whatever.)

A bit of the book giving instruction on a code block to control a tennis ball sprite.[/caption]Anyway, Scratch 2.0 on the web, as per Scratch Programming Playground, gives you, er, your kids, great training in all the programming concepts, and with it you basically controls sprites (objects) on a screen. But the same language is already adapted to control a common form of robot (mBot) and has been adapted to program a widely used controller. So, with Scratch Programming Playground, a little practice and nine dollars worth of hardware, you can take over the world! Or, at least, a good portion of the Tri State Area.

When I do my “Science oriented holiday gift guide” (SOHGG) in a few weeks, this book is going to be on it. Al Sweigart, author, has really nailed a kids oriented programming book better than I’ve seen done before, and I’ve seen them all.

Electronics for Kids: Great new book for kids and their adults

The simplest project in the new book Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! by Øyvind Nydal Dahl is the one where you lean a small light bulb against the two terminals of a nine volt battery in order to make the light bulb turn on.

The first several projects in the book involve making electricity, or using it to make light bulbs shine or to run an electromagnet. [/caption]The most complicated projects are the ones where you make interactive games using LED lights and buzzers.

Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! does almost no electricity theory. Thankfully. It simply delves in to messing around with electricity (and in so doing, provides basic theory, of course).

This is a book about how to play with electricity, not how to get a Masters Degree in electricity. In other words, any kid, the ones who seem destine for a career in electronic engineering and the ones who don’t, can get along in this book because it does not assume itself to be a building brick to a greater career. Yet the projects are interesting and informative and educational, and any kid who does a dozen of these projects is going to learn.

This kind of activity, which should involve parents for most kids, is the cure for the sense of depression you feel when you go to the toy store and look at the “science” section and everything you see is crap. Just get this book, order 50 bucks worth of parts, and get to work-fun. Then order some more parts, probably.

No kids’ book on electronics would be complete without a batter made from something you get in the produce section.[/caption]This book for kids is very kid oriented, as it should be. One of the first practical projects you build is an alarm system to keep your parents the heck out of your room. You can make a noisy musical instrument. You can make a device that makes sounds some humans can hear (the kids, likely) and some can’t (parents).

Although soldering is done, it is minimal and, frankly, can probably be avoided by using alternative techniques. But really, it is not that hard and one should not be too afraid of it.

A lot of the projects use and develop logic circuits. Kids actually love logic circuits, I think because they end up rethinking a bit about how tho think about simple relationships. And, it is good to know this stuff.

Unlike many electronic kits you can buy (which can be quite fun and educational in their own right) this approach does not rely on ICs (integrated circuits) that produce magical results with poorly described inputs and hookups. There are some basic ICs, including gates, an inverter, flip flops, and a timer. These are very straight forward circuits that are mostly (except the timer) really just very fancy switches.

The web site that goes with Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! gives you a list of all the parts used in the book, with enough information to find them easily on line or at a hardware or electronics store. The book suggests a multimeter, which is probably the most expensive thing on the list. (this one is perfectly good and is about 35 bucks.) Other tools include a soldering iron and related bits, a wire cutter, some scissors, tape, etc.

Many of the parts, including a breadboard, LEDs, hook up wires of various kinds, and pretty much all the resistors, capacitors, etc. etc. can also be used with the more sophisticated Arduino projects, should you end up going in that direction.

This is a really fun book. If you have a kid of the right age (maybe from six to 12, with 100% adult involvement under 10 years) get it now, secretly, get some parts, and work your way through several of the projects. Then, make it (and the parts) a holiday present. Then look really smart.

This chapter-end section give you an idea of the level of the projects. There is a lot of stuff in here. All doable, but it will take a while to get through it all. [/caption]Here is the overview table of contents (the book is much more detailed than suggested by this top level TOC):

PART 1: Playing with Electricity
Chapter 1: What Is Electricity?
Chapter 2: Making Things Move with Electricity and Magnets
Chapter 3: How to Generate Electricity

PART 2: Building Circuits
Chapter 4: Creating Light with LEDs
Chapter 5: Blinking a Light for the First Time
Chapter 6: Let’s Solder!
Chapter 7: Controlling Things with Circuits
Chapter 8: Building a Musical Instrument

PART 3: Digital Electronics
Chapter 9: How Circuits Understand Ones and Zeros
Chapter 10: Circuits That Make Choices
Chapter 11: Circuits That Remember Information
Chapter 12: Let’s Make a Game!

Appendix: Handy Resources

Climate Science As A Second Front for Biology Teachers

The American Biology Teacher has hosted a guest editorial by Glenn Branch and Minda Berbeco of the NCSE. The editorial points out that climate science is under a similar sort of anti-science attack as evolution has been for years, though generally with different (less religious) motivations. Also noted is the problem of fitting climate change into the curriculum, especially in biology classes. Indeed, biology teachers are already having a hard time getting the standard fare on the plate. In recent years, for example, the AP biology curriculum has jettisoned almost everything about plants, which were previously used as examples of physiology owing to both their relevance and the relative ease of using plants in biology labs. Branch and Berbeco note that climate change has not made its way that far into the biology classrooms, but there are already anti-science efforts to keep it out.

… a backlash against the inclusion of climate science – and anthropogenic climate change in particular – in the science classroom is under way. For example, when West Virginia became the thirteenth state to adopt the NGSS in December 2014, it was discovered that beforehand a member of the state board of education successfully called for changes that downplayed climate change… Nationally, according to a survey of 555 K–12 teachers who teach climate change, 36% were pressured to teach “both sides” of a supposed scientific controversy, and 5% were required to do so.

Minda_BerbecoI interviewed Minda Berbeco, who is the Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education, about climate change in the classroom.

Question: Should Earth System Science (which would include climate change) become one of the core areas of science teaching in high schools? If so, are there efforts underway to move this along?

Answer: Absolutely, Earth systems are a core concept in the Next Generation Science Standards, which are being adopted across the country right now. Understanding Earth systems is central to understanding the world around us, and intersects every other type of science from biology to chemistry to physics. Climate change is, of course, an important piece of understanding Earth systems, as it too intersects these other topics and is a compelling topic that relates directly to how humans can impact the planet.

Question: My background is more in biology but as a palaeoanthropologist I’ve studied several areas of what would might be classified as “Earth Science” or even “Physical Science” so I’m more comfortable with a cross disciplinary approach. Since climate change is normally considered a physical science (in college or advanced studies) and high schools tend to stick with the silos (clearly defined disciplines), shouldn’t we expect climate change be taught in physical sciences or geology rather than biology?

Answer: As a biologist, I’m always really surprised by this question, as there are many people who think that climate change only intersects the Earth sciences. This is a very one-dimensional view and completely ignores not only how climate affects organisms and ecosystems, but also how organisms and ecosystems in turn affect climate. It turns out that many biology teachers across the country agree with me, since we are finding that a significant number of them are teaching about climate change, even when it is not in their state’s science standards.

Question: I think it might be true that among high school science teachers, we see denialism of evolution to a higher degree among physical science teachers than biology teachers. This may not matter too much since evolution is rarely taught in physical science classes, though it certainly can be disparaged or denied there. Since climate change might fall under the preview of physical sciences in some curricula (as would geology and earth systems), will we see a larger amount of, or a new kind of, conflict among the teachers themselves as climate science is more widely addressed? (and by extention among administrators whom we need to support teachers under fire)

Answer: I’m not sure who challenges evolution more, physical science teachers or biology teachers – obviously because evolution is more often covered in biology classes, that is where we tend to hear about it. As for climate change, the challenges that we see actually have less to do with outright denial, and more with teachers genuinely not realizing what the evidence shows or trying to bring in “both sides” as a critical thinking exercise, knowing that the evidence clearly demonstrates that humans are largely responsible for recent climate change. We don’t have students debate “both sides” of whether mermaids exist or that viruses cause disease, so why would we do it with climate change? Plus there are far better questions to ask about climate change, like how it will impact animal migration or the spread of disease, that scientists are actually asking. Why not have students study that?

Question: You note that the motivations for denying evolution vs. for denying climate change are different. But given that there is a link between certain political affiliations and things like secularism (or anti-secularism) there is some overlap in who is involved and to some extent why they deny science. (Denying science is convenient for a lot of reasons.) Are you concerned about future alliances forming in the anti-science world that may strengthen attacks on climate science in public schools?

Answer: Certainly there is cross-over between different groups who disagree with what the scientific consensus shows on climate change and evolution, and alliances can form as a result of that. This can backfire as well though, as many people who deny climate change would bristle at the thought of working with a creationist. They have somehow convinced themselves that with regard to climate change they know better than the overwhelming majority of the scientific community, but when it comes to evolution, of course the scientists are right. It’s a little mind-boggling to imagine, but it is something that we’ve seen quite a bit.

Question: Both evolution and climate science are brought into social sciences (or other non-hard science areas) in schools in the form of debate topics. (see below) Typically these approaches involve the presumption of there really being a debate. Which there isn’t. Is NCSE monitoring this, or addressing this problem in any way?

Answer: We definitely pay attention to these sorts of things, and we are not fans of students debating “both sides” of the science, as it elevates non-science to the same level as science. Although having students debate the science of climate change is clearly counterproductive, having students debate issues in climate change policy is fine. There are a lot of options, from energy efficiency to carbon taxes, making it an ideal topic for a social studies or government class. Climate change is an issue that students will have to deal with as adults, so it makes sense to try to give them practice in a government class on how they will navigate the policy decisions that will need to be made. We’ve seen science teachers connect with social studies teachers to address this issue, where the students learn the actual scientific evidence in their science class and then debate the policy options in their social studies class. This is a totally appropriate approach and is an interesting way of showing students how science can inform policy.

Question: I think nearly all biology teachers know that the official line is that evolution is for real, so even if a biology teacher is a creationist they know that they are going off script to deny (or avoid) evolution. Is this true for climate change? Are teachers who have classes that might include climate science all aware of the fact that climate change is not a scientific issue (it is mainly well established science)? Or are many of these teachers under the impression that there is a debate?

Answer: Unfortunately, there have been many groups who have spent a lot of time and money attempting to undermine the science in the public’s eye, and teachers are just as susceptible to these efforts as anyone else. We’ve rarely run into a teacher who has malicious intent when teaching incorrect information about climate change. What we find more often is that they are not familiar with the evidence or take it on as a critical thinking exercise, having students debate “both sides”. Like I said earlier, we are not big fans of this approach.

For those interested in resources that might be useful to science teachers, or the parents of kids in public schools, see THIS PAGE. For those who wish to know more about the activities of the NCSE, or who are concerned about anything going on in your local school or your child’s classroom, visit the NCSE web site. Also, please not that the NCSE Climate Change Bumper Sticker contest is still seeking submissions!

Evolution

The Wrong Way to Approach the Evolution-Creationism Debate

Amy Binder and John H. Evans, associate professors of Sociology at the University of California at San Diego, have written a piece on efforts to force religion in the guise of Intelligent Design and Creationism down the throats of children in Texas.
Continue reading The Wrong Way to Approach the Evolution-Creationism Debate

Home Schooling Creationist Science Fair 2007

Well, Amanda, Julia and I stopped by the 2007 Home Schooling Creationist Science Fair over at the unique Har Mar Mall in Roseville, Minnesota. Very few of the shoppers passing through the mall seemed to take much of an interest. There were a couple of moms showing each exhibit to their children, reading off the relevant parts … “Evolutionists think fossils take millions of years to form, but creationists have shown that this is not true…” and so on.

Science Lesson Plans

Science is probably one of the hardest subjects to teach. Many students just don’t see the connection between abstract science in textbooks and how it works and affects them in real life. That’s where a variety of science lesson plans can help teach science to your students more effectively.

The Social Studies Help Center

Help for 11th graders. There are class notes, numerous Supreme Court case summaries and information on how to write a research paper.

The 15 or so exhibits demonstrated a wide range of levels, from what must have been pre-school to at least one clearly done by the parents (that one, present yesterday during an earlier trip to the mall, but missing today) compared the affective behavior of childcare-kids vs. home school kids.) Most of the exhibits had a quote from “the scriptures” related in some way to the exhibit. For instance, my favorite: a very young child’s exhibit (I’m guessing) on bunnies. The Scripture: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (I Corinthians 2:1912:18). Of course, I Corinthians 12 is about the unity of the spirit and the body, and that bit about the arrangements of the body parts is part of a sort of mini parable in which each part of the body stupidly asks “If I am not an eye, I am not part of the body?” and so on. So note, fellow rationalists. As annoying as it is when creationists “Quote Mine” from the scientific literature, take heart. They don’t get in much trouble for doing that, but when the quote mine from The Bible, well, I assume they are going to Hell for that. What goes around comes around.

Anyway, the “Bunny” science fair entry was my favorite not because of the misquotation of scripture, but because of the hypothesis being tests:

Question: What do bunnies do?

Hypothesis: God made bunnies with many parts that work together so they can do lots of things.

We all had to laugh when, on the way home, Amanda slammed on the breaks to avoid flattening a bunny tearing across the street. “Well, praise the lord, all the parts seem to be working…”

Many, really the majority, of the exhibits were just regular (mostly half baked) science fair exhibits that had some scripture slapped onto them. In other words, despite the occasional exhibit clearly motived by pure creationist philosophy, most of the kids ended up doing some kind of science or another. Funny, I don’t remember ANY of the 200 exhibits or so at the Brimhall Fair (see this on Julia’s entry) held earlier in the year just down the street at a Real School addressing creationist ideas. But when the kids enter into a creationist fair, they can’t seem to help themselves from doing some actual science.

Nonetheless, the overall quality was unimpressive, as one would expect from the home school environment.

After my first visit to the fair, I swooped into Barnes and Noble and bought myself a copy of Dawkins “The God Delusion.” … I just needed to do something. After this trip, I think I’ll just take a shower.