Kansas Science Standards Under Scrutiny

The Kansas Board of Education is publishing its new Science Standards, but two leading science organizations, The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have denied the Board use of any of its copyrighted materials in its Standards. Using the same arguments as are being used in the Dover, PA court case, a conservative Kansas Board of Education has singled out evolution as a theory that needs to be carefully and critically studied. This is a recent strategy–questioning and focusing on one theory—evolution, while ignoring other theories for the same type of “critical look.” That does this mean that other theories like the theory of gravitation or plate tectonics are on firmer ground (pun intended). No. It is because a few ultra-conservative board members are using bullying tactics to force the entire board to accept its notion that evolution runs counter to their religious views about life on Earth. Interestingly the board says “we also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include the theory of Intelligent Design. What in the world does this mean. It means they got the terminology into the standards through the back door. The theory of evolution is not flawed, as some of these board members claim and would like citizens to believe. What is the current status of evolution, and “are there significant debates about the evidence for key aspects of chemical and biological evolutionary theory” (statement from the preamble of the Kansas Science Standards). Whether there are debates, why single out evolution? (I think we know the answer!) For an excellent presentation of evolution and the teaching of evolution, go to the “Understanding Evolution” site shown in the image below.

The Natural Selector and The Intelligent Designer: A Continuing Debate

A great dialog is going on right now in the midst of the Dover, PA school district’s defense of insisting that teachers read a statement in biology classes that upgrades Intelligent Design to the level of Darwin’s and Wallace’s concept of natural selection and the theory of evolution. The trial also demonstrated the legal power available to both sides in the case. The plaintiffs’ side, is being represented by the ACLU and the the school district is being represented by the Thomas More Law Center, a faith-based legal center. The trial centers on an examination of controversial idea of Intelligent Design. Of course the real issue is played out in the classrooms of high school biology where evolution is a central concept and organizing idea for understanding the development, origin and study of living things on the Earth.

Here students are making observations and measurements of fossil brachiopods collected from two different strata of sedimentary rocks (see below) from the Paleozoic Era. They are trying to find out if there are any significant differences in the brachiopods (length and width) in the two different layers of rock.

The trial is in its sixth week. I’ve been reading the court transcripts on line, and you can keep up with the proceedings too by checking out the trial transcipts.

Weekend Reading on the Evolution/Creationism/Intelligent Design Issue!

This blog has devoted considerable space to the cultural war that is raging primarily in school districts across the country. The issue is whether creation science, presently disquised as “intelligent design” should be taught along side evolution. Intelligent design folks think that some parts of the world (like the human eye) are too complicated for evolution to have “created” them, and therefore must be the result of some intelligent design “theorist?” The intelligent design people even have their own think tank called The Discovery Institute, located in Seattle. One of the major goals of this group is to “wedge” out evolution, and naturalistic scientific methodology, and replace it with intelligent design theory and methodology—a theistic approach.

The Dover, PA school district is on trail in a district court over a statement that is required to be read in all biology courses concerning evolution and intelligent design. If interested, here are the day-by-day trial transcripts.

One of the problems that surfaces here is basing what should be taught in the schools to “voter” appeal, and thereby establishing the notion that the idea that has more votes should be taught in the schools, not the ideas that are the result of scientific scruitiny. In fact, the Discovery Institute uses publicity and opinion-making as one of their key strategies. No idea in science has gone through the scruitiny that evolution has, and still is supported with advances in biology and natural science. Even the President of Cornell University has spoken on the issue, and has condemed the teaching of ID in the public schools. I thought readers might enjoy reading a collection of articles that have been reported in the New York Times. Two of them that I think you will especially enjoy are Show Me the Science, and Seeing Creation and Evolution in the Grand Canyon. Happy Reading.

Evolution is a Theory, Not a Fact?…Dover, PA

Even People Magazine is reporting on the controversy taking place in the Dover, PA school district where 11 Dover parents have sued the district to have the reading of this statement stopped: “Darwin’s theory of evolution is a theory….not a fact…keep an open mind.” I came across Alonzo Fyfe’s blog entry on science vs religion, and found it interesting inlight of the Dover, PA case. Intelligent design vs evolution is on trial; after reading Fyfe’s piece, one sees that there is not a clear distinction about the effect of science on religion or religion on science. In an earlier piece on this blog, I wrote about “The Law of Evolution, which is James Watson’s take on the issue of evolution. In the small town of Dover, PA, the controversy is splitting the town apart, and people who were once cordial with each other, turn is name calling and out-right avoidance. If you want to read more on evolution and the controversy cited here, go to The Panda’s Thumb. And the case and the issue is even being debated in Australia!

Computer Backlash? How about a classroom revolution!

Four nearly 20 years, my colleagues and I were involved in using technology to enhance teaching and learning not only at the university level, but at the K-12 level as well. We wanted to use computers to enhance active learning in the classroom, and to find ways to help students engage in collaborative scientific research projects. We used computers and modems to connect schools on several continents starting in 1990. This was a difficult task in that schools were not set up with phone lines in each classroom, and in some cases the nearest phone line was hundreds of feet from the classroom. In this global project, teachers and students studied environmental science at the local level, and used computer networks to share data, make interpretations and draw conclusions on significant environmental issues such as the quality of air, water pollution, solid waste disposal, acid rain, and other topics. Most of the classrooms of the participating schools had access to only one computer that was connected to Internet, and when we started, our principal means of collaboration was by means of email. But this transformed the classroom. Instead of being isolated, these classrooms were connected to other schools by means of the Internet, and opened up a new way of thinking for teachers and students. When the World Wide Web emerged, we expanded the way students and teachers could collaborate with each other by the use of web-based data forms, a project website which contained the ongoing work of students, real-time chats monitored by us and collaborating teachers, video conferences, and bulletin boards for students to post their findings and their questions. As technology advanced, we saw the participating classrooms change as well. The “wiring” of schools began in the mid-to late nineties, and now classrooms could be equipped to have multiple computer-work stations connected to the Internet that enhanced group and project research work. As schools moved toward wireless networking, students and teachers were able participate and advance the ongoing revolution in learning that had been going on for years.

On October 19, I read Don McKee’s column entitled “Laptop backlash affecting colleges.” His real motivation in writing this column was to take another swipe at the Cobb County School District’s laptop program, and put another nail into the former superintendent Dr. Joe Redden. I realized that McKee was unaware or unable to find out that there is a revolution in learning going on right before his eyes, but for some reason, he chooses to look the other way.

McKee based his piece on an article written in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Laptop Backlash” by Gary McWilliams, a staff reporter on the Journal. Unfortunately, Mr. McKey did not delve deeply into the controversy about how and whether wireless networks and laptops should be used in colleges, and that some professors report disappointing results when using them. The problem is not with the laptops or a wireless network, but the pedagogy (yes, it’s a term used by professors to describe teaching methods) used in the classroom. In each of the cases reported in the McWilliams article, the professors were lecturing, and then became bent-out-of-shape because students were not listening or taking notes with their $2000 computer; instead they were surfing the web, or chatting each other. What is the need of a computer in these classrooms when all the professor is doing is lecturing. A $2 notebook would work very well.

If McKee had used Google and typed in the phrase “laptop backlash” he would have found more than two-hundred thousand results. And one of the links would have led him to an article by two professors at the University of Cincinnati Law School entitled “TAKING BACK THE LAW SCHOOL CLASSROOM: USING TECHNOLOGY TO FOSTER ACTIVE STUDENT LEARNING. They acknowledge the laptop backlash, but they take issue with it, and lay out a framework for using technology to establish an active learning environment, a learning environment that did not exist in the classrooms of professors who were simply lecturing. They describe it this way: “We offer a competing vision of how technology can be harnessed to increase active student learning and, in the process, empower students to resist their laptop’s siren song. In particular, we describe how we combine both old (substituting word processing text for PowerPoint slides) and new (using handheld wireless transmitters) technologies to infuse our classrooms with active learning vigor.”

McKee and others at the MDJ are stuck in a time-warp of the 19th Century, when teachers all around them in Cobb County and the Marietta Schools are working to implement one of the most radical changes in American education in over a century. In McKee’s case, he uses a very brief article to try and convince us that maybe wireless computers in schools is a bad idea. It might be, but there is another side of the issue. Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News & World Report, sees it another way. In an editorial called “Classroom Revolution” Zuckerman makes the claim that “computers are changing the way our kids learn, but we must do more to ensure that this fascinating new tool is fully integrated into all our schools.” It was impressive that Cobb County sent 54 of its educators (to the dismay of the MDJ editors) to a technology conference in Boston to learn how to build learning communities, and to see and participate first-hand in ways of using computer technologies, wireless networks, and how laptops and other technologies can be used to enhance student learning. The laptop backlash is the result of professors and instructors assuming that they can continue to use the same methods and strategies of teaching in an environment that begs for more innovative teaching. MDJ, look to the wisdom of the teachers in the Cobb and other schools, as well as professors at colleges and universities who are forging new ways of using this technology in support of learning.