Researchers: kids use the Internet; adults should get with program

JISHOU, HUNAN — Social scientists seem to have a knack for spending huge amounts of time and effort to state the obvious. The most recent example is from a study funded by the MacArthur Foundation: teens spend a lot of time online and on their cell phones communicating with others, and it’s good for them! Dudes, like I didn’t already know. Seriously, I respect the John D. and Catherine T. MacArtur Foundation. It funds a whole slew of wonderful pursuits, like National Public Radio, a really nice oceanside nature reserve in Florida, and many others. Spending three years to conclude what seems to be patently obvious may seem to be time and effort misplaced, but the conclusions of the report should give us educators something to think about. Led by Mizuko Ito of the University of California-Irvine, a team of researchers interviewed 800 teens and young adults and spent more than 5,000 hours online to investigate youth media use. They refute the oft-cited scourge of Internet predators out to abscond with our children’s virtue. In fact, the overwhelming majority of young people use electronic media to talk with one another, or with people they know. Despite adult fears that all ...

Florida school boards begin doomed anti-evolution battle

Down in the Sunshine State, state education authorities are attempting to hold local school systems to consistent standards of science education, that is, to teach evolution and not creation science or Intelligent Design. Not surprisingly, some local school boards are none too happy about the new standards. So far, 12 local boards (including Polk, Taylor and Holmes Counties) have passed resolutions that state education authorities revise the standards to include evolution as only one explanation of how life began and developed on Earth. Taylor County’s board actually resolved, “the district is opposed to teaching evolution as a fact.” All of these challenges are doomed to fail, given the clear results from the Kitzmiller v. Dover court case, which basically sank the Intelligent Design ship in the Dover, Penn., schools. After weeks of expert testimony, the judge hearing the case definitively found that ID was a religion and not science, and thus it had no place in the Dover schools’ science classes. Clearly, none of the Florida school board members voting for these anti-evolution standards have any clue about the significance of Kitzmiller v. Dover, much less what the words “scientific theory” mean. Science standards by definition cannot include creationism or ...

Updates to school-related posts 2: Brittany McComb

Nevada senior Brittany McComb made a name for herself in June 2006 when she delivered a valedictory that testified to her love for Jesus, and encouraged other students to find Him. She had earlier agreed to leave such remarks out of the speech. School officials disconnected her mike in the middle of her delivery in response. Juvenile behavior all around. McComb, who is now a freshman at a Christian school, Biola University in California, became the darling of conservative Christians looking for more examples of the “war on Christianity” and the pernicious influence of the American Civil Liberties Union. The conservative legal group, the Rutherford Institute, agreed to take her case to the U.S. District Court in Nevada, alleging her free speech rights were violated. The text of the suit is here — Adobe Reader required. The case has been stalled in the courts since. The defendants in McComb’s suit filed two motions to dismiss, which the district court judge denied. They have since appealed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals in California, and filed opening briefs earlier this month. Rutherford Institute attorney Doug McKusick says McComb’s lawyers will file their replies in January. The case raises several issues. ...

Updates on school-related posts 1: Tericka Dye 11

Ex-porn performer Tericka Dye is still teaching, somewhere. Last spring the media were aflurry with the shocking revelation that a well-liked science teacher in western Kentucky had, for a brief time in her younger days, performed in porno movies. Tericka Dye, a teacher at Reidland High School in McCracken County, Ky., was dismissed, despite parental support and an excellent reputation as teacher and volleyball coach. She appealed the decision administratively, but was not reinstated. She then filed a lawsuit against the McCracken County schools, which a local judge dismissed, then appealed that decision to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. In February Dye withdrew the appeal, ending the legal battle, preferring to set the whole episode behind her. She has found work as a teacher elsewhere, according to the Paducah Sun. Her lawyer advised the “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy when dealing with new employers; don’t volunteer her past life if they don’t ask. She may also be working under a different name, since googling “Tericka Dye” would spill the beans. Dye admitted to performing as Rikki Andersin in a handful of porno movies 13 years ago when she was young and foolish. As she told it, she was psychologically a ...

My students’ finalist essay in the Cassini Scientist-for-Day contest

Last month, my Physics First students entered the Cassini Scientist-for-a-Day essay contest, in which they had to argue why the Cassini team at the Jet Propulsion Lab should pick one of four possible targets for the NASA probe to study. Nationally, about 400 students participated, submitting 188 essays for judging. Five of our 13 submissions made it to the semifinals, and one proceeded to the final round of judging. On that basis, we were invited to join an hour-long video conference with the Cassini scientists on Dec. 5. In the end, none of our submissions were winners, that honor going to two high school students in Palo Alto, California, and Wilmington, Delaware, but the success we did have is a measure of the hard work and talent of the students involved. The Cassini-Huygens probe has been exploring Saturn and its moons since 2004. Huygens successfully landed on the moon Titan, while Cassini careens through the Saturnian system. The Cassini team has to decide which targets to image well in advance of the probe’s arrival, since there is a limited window of opportunity to take the pictures. There is no turning around to take a second look! For the contest, the ...

Meet a scientist, virtually

The video conference came off well, despite some minor technical glitches and the seeming inability of some teenagers to avoid talking altogether. We were using iChat on an eMac, with a webcam I brought from home. The video quality was pretty bad, largely because of the equipment on our end. I suspect NASA/JPL has somewhat more sophisticated video equipment. Still, you could tell there were people on the screen, despite the pixellation and slow response time. Audio was a different issue. The audio through the network was garbled, like those early webcasts using RealPlayer. I gave up on the iChat video finally, and just connected my desk phone to their teleconference line and put it on speakerphone. Then at least we could understand what they were saying. So, we had blocky video from iChat and somewhat clear audio from the telephone. Not ideal, but it worked. The format was straightforward. We introduced ourselves (not individually, by schools) and the four Cassini scientists introduced themselves. Then they opened the floor to questions from the students. Each school took a turn, until the hour was up. From what I could gather, at least two of the conferees entered the contest individually. The ...

Talking with real scientists today 3

My students will participate in a video conference with real space scientists at 2 this afternoon. It’s a first for me, for them and as far as I know, for the school. The Cassini imaging team at the Jet Propulsion Lab sponsors a contest each year, which challenges students to write short essays relevant to the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan. This year, the challenge was to argue why the team should choose one of four possible targets for a 91-minute imaging sequence. The essays could be no longer than 500 words, and students could work in teams of not more than four members. Among the 188 essays accepted for judging were our 13 submissions. On Friday, I received two identical emails telling me that one of our essays had made to the final judging round, and inviting our students to an hour-long teleconference/video conference with the Cassini scientists this week. I was excited enough to photocopy the message and hand it to my 34 students as they took a scheduled chapter test. Some admitted to being excited; others were outwardly more blasé, but apparently intrigued at least. Having never organized a video conference before, I had to take ...

Former Kentucky science teacher slams Creation Museum

James Willmot, a former science teacher at our sister school, lays down the law in an opinion piece that appeared in the Sunday Courier-Journal. It begins: There is a great educational injustice being inflicted upon thousands of children in this country, a large percentage of whom come from the Kentucky, Ohio and, Indiana areas. The source of this injustice is a sophisticated Christian ministry that uses the hook of dinosaurs, the guarantee of an afterlife, and the horrors of hell to convince children and their families to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. It gets better after that. Willmot basically slams down creationism and pins it to the floor. It’s worth reading. Willmot taught science at St. Francis School in Goshen, Kentucky, a K-8 school that sends a lot of kids to St. Francis High School. He now lives and writes in England. Needless to say, the fundies among the C-J’s readers were none too pleased. Comments ranged from suggesting Willmot was intolerant to predicting he would burn in Hell for questioning a literal interpretation of Genesis. We have a long way to go. Religious intolerance and closemindedness is alive and well in mid-America.

Cocoa Beach student dies on the practice field 2

Cocoa Beach (Florida) High School made the news recently when a group of students started wearing peace-oriented T-shirts to school, to which some students objected. Now a tragedy has put the school in the public eye again. A sophomore soccer player, Rafe Maccarone of Merritt Island, collapsed during practice Friday evening, and later died in Cape Canaveral   Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women in Orlando Hospital. He was 15. CBHS sophomore Skylar Stains, one of the organizers of the Peace T-shirt Coalition, told me over the weekend that the entire school is in shock. The complete story about Rafe’s death is here. My thoughts are with Rafe’s family and the entire CBHS community.

Florida high school peaceniks stand firm against reactionary backlash 6

Working in a fairly liberal independent high school shelters me from the kind of close-mindedness endemic to some large public schools, like Cocoa Beach Jr/Sr High in Florida. At that school, a group of students are being heckled, threatened and insulted for wearing peace T-shirts every Thursday. It’s a reactionary backlash reminiscent of the ’60s anti-war protests. Sophomore Skylar Stains (front row, right) and a friend decided to wear peace shirts every Thursday to school. Within a short time, they had 30 other students in their ad hoc Peace Shirt Coalition. Then things got ugly. Group member Lauren Lorraine told Florida Today that students started approaching the group members, yelling obscene things at them. “People just turned on us like that,” she said. “At least 10 boys stood up and yelled things at me at once, and we couldn’t even walk through the halls without a harsh comment being made.” Signs they put up on their lockers promoting peace were defaced with swastikas and white-power slogans, covered up with pro-Bush or pro-war signs, or just torn down. One group of students has taken to wearing the Confederate flag shirts to show their support for the troops in Iraq. From Florida ...

Religious busybodies challenge Maine school board decision

A surprisingly progressive school board in Portland, Maine, voted last month to allow students at one middle school to receive contraceptives confidentially from the school’s health clinic. Parents of students at King Middle School have to give their children written permission to visit the clinic, but anything that happens in the clinic, including prescribing birth control pills, would be private, even from the parents. True to our democratic process, the policy was suitably debated in public meetings, and the school board by majority vote approved the new policy. Since we have a decentralized educational system in the States, the birth-control policy only affects this one school in this one district. But sex is an emotional subject in the US of A, and handing out contraceptives to pre-teens and teens is even touchier. O the horror! Those guardians of all that is pure and holy, the religious right, had to stick their nose in Portland’s business, of course. A Maine legislator is posturing about the whole affair, proposing new laws making it illegal for schools to hand out contraceptives without specific parental consent. I suppose they hope to save the nation, and the state of Maine, from eternal hellfire and damnation. ...

Is space boring? 3

My latest assignment for my students has been to participate in the Cassini Scientist-for-a-day Essay Content. In the process of working with them, one of my kids told me something I found very disturbing. She doesn’t care about space and space exploration. Woof. It’s hard to come back with a short and snappy answer to that comment, other than the standard teacher admonishment, “Well, do the essay anyway.” It was honest, and I suppose a somewhat legitimate reason for not being keen on doing the assignment, but it is simultaneously a sad comment on her intellectual curiosity. It’s a feeling that is shared by many others, I suppose. It explains why the US public is now so bored by space exploration, almost 40 years after two guys walked on the Moon. The gee-whiz has gone out of space. [Since writing this post, I discovered Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, blogged on “Why Explore Space?” He answers the question better than I can.] Cassini is part of a long-term mission to explore Saturn, its moons and its ring system. Its companion probe, Huygens, landed on Titan, the only moon in our solar system with a substantial atmosphere. Together the two probes ...
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