Thursday, February 20, 2014

Behind the Scenes with Presenting Inquiry 2.0

I just presented on Inquiry 2.0 for the first time, and I wanted to share that presentation with you. I thought this might be especially useful to those of you looking to develop a presentation on the NGSS. Here's the Prezi I used, and it's set so you can copy and recycle it as you on. And here's a behind-the-scenes walkthrough of that Prezi in which I explain how I used it to help teachers understand how the Next Generation Science Standards require us to teach by inquiry and also ramp inquiry up to the next level.

Please, steal this Prezi!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Understanding, not Belief, in the NGSS Evolution Standards for High School

Image from here
Finally got some time, thanks to Snowmageddon '14 here in Birmingham, to dedicate some time to examining how the Next Generation Science Standards approach the teaching of evolution. I had looked briefly several times before, but I needed some think time before putting an analysis for your review and reaction. (I definitely got that think time when my whole city shut down for 2 days.) I look forward to your feedback, especially if you see the NGSS differently than I do.

Bottom line: The NGSS do not require belief in evolution. And that's really good news for teaching evolution in the South and other areas of the country where students resist learning about evolution. It's also really good news for public school parents, science teachers, and anyone developing curriculum documents. The NGSS keep public school classrooms safe for students who see a conflict between evolution and their faith.

Let's look first at the high school evolution standards from the NGSS. I'll analyze them standard-by-standard below, but I suggest that you first take a couple of minutes to review the standards as they are presented together. As you probably know, the NGSS are purposely written to fit many, many features together in each standard set.  At the bare minimum, they intertwine content and process so that science teaching in America can no longer divorce the two. If you haven't seen it already, also make sure to see how the clarification statements and assessment boundaries help science teachers see the level of rigor NGSS is targeting for teaching evolution.

Now, looking standard-by-standard for belief versus understanding:

HS-LS4-1 Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on a conceptual understanding of the role each line of evidence has relating to common ancestry and biological evolution. Examples of evidence could include similarities in DNA sequences, anatomical structures, and order of appearance of structures in embryological development.]

Clearly, this standard makes no requirement students believe in evolution. As I have advocated for years, this standard grounds students' work strongly in evidence by having them look at multiple lines. Then, they are to be able from that to "communicate scientific information" about evolution, and I hear in that portion of the standard a clear focus on students' understanding and communicating key science ideas without requiring any kind of belief from them.

HS-LS4-2 Construct an explanation based on evidence that the process of evolution primarily results from four factors: (1) the potential for a species to increase in number, (2) the heritable genetic variation of individuals in a species due to mutation and sexual reproduction, (3) competition for limited resources, and (4) the proliferation of those organisms that are better able to survive and reproduce in the environment. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using evidence to explain the influence each of the four factors has on number of organisms, behaviors, morphology, or physiology in terms of ability to compete for limited resources and subsequent survival of individuals and adaptation of species. Examples of evidence could include mathematical models such as simple distribution graphs and proportional reasoning.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include other mechanisms of evolution, such as genetic drift, gene flow through migration, and co-evolution.]
I've summarized inquiry for many groups of science teachers as a cycle of evidence and explanation. This standard solidly directs students toward understanding evolutionary processes in an inquiry approach. They build explanations out of evidence, and teachers can guide these explanations away from belief controversies by keeping them focused on scientific explanations and how those are limited to natural processes. The standard clearly supports this with its four factors, all of which are natural processes.

HS-LS4-3 Apply concepts of statistics and probability to support explanations that organisms with an advantageous heritable trait tend to increase in proportion to organisms lacking this trait. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on analyzing shifts in numerical distribution of traits and using these shifts as evidence to support explanations.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to basic statistical and graphical analysis. Assessment does not include allele frequency calculations.]
A focus on natural selection, as in this standard, typically doesn't cause resistant students nearly the problems they face when they are asked to look at evolution across millions of years. So belief shouldn't be an issue with this standard.

HS-LS4-4 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using data to provide evidence for how specific biotic and abiotic differences in ecosystems (such as ranges of seasonal temperature, long-term climate change, acidity, light, geographic barriers, or evolution of other organisms) contribute to a change in gene frequency over time, leading to adaptation of populations.]
Same as the Standard 3 above--natural selection typically doesn't raise belief issues.

HS-LS4-5 Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in: (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on determining cause and effect relationships for how changes to the environment such as deforestation, fishing, application of fertilizers, drought, flood, and the rate of change of the environment affect distribution or disappearance of traits in species.]
With a focus on "emergence of new species," this standard will probably be the most difficult of the six for resistant students. Typically, they resist evolution because they simply do not believe new species can emerge on their own without supernatural influence. (I actually agree with them, and many practicing scientists agree as well.) But, clearly, this standard does not focus on changing students' beliefs. They are not to "accept the evidence supporting claims..." Instead, they are to "evaluate the evidence." Interestingly, I actually think this standard left a door wide open for a Teach the Controversy approach, which I am quite sure the NGSS authors did not attend.
Create or revise a simulation to test a solution to mitigate adverse impacts of human activity on biodiversity.* [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on designing solutions for a proposed problem related to threatened or endangered species, or to genetic variation of organisms for multiple species.]
Again, clearly a focus on natural selection, since it's limited within the short time frame of human activity, and not one raising the specter of belief change.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Vote No to SB 403!

The video here gives a quick overview of the benefits of the common core standard. See my previous blog post for the lies the opponents of common core are using to try to make their case. Please take five minutes to find out who your senator is, and to call him or her and ask for a No vote on SB 403. (The bill is to repeal the common core; so, a No vote is asking to stop the repeal and keep the Common Core.)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

They lied!

I don't normally make a habit of posting political comments, but something is going on in the Alabama legislature that I think many of you would want to know about. A bill has been introduced in both houses that would ban Alabama from participating in the Common Core movement. That is a nationwide coalition of states who have come together to decide and implement a set of common standards. As a life-long educator, I think the common core is a great thing for Alabama kids. It puts them on a level playing field with students in 45 other states, and it will open the doors for them to get better jobs in today's global economy.

The bill is being pushed by the Tea Party side of the political spectrum. I have no beef with the Tea Party. I believe in conservative fiscal policies and limited government. I do have a beef, though, with a bill that is based on lies. Please take a look at the document here, which clearly rebuts every point of the current Alabama bill.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Online learning: Knowing their work, but not them.

Online learning is all the rage right now, but I don't think it's a panacea or silver bullet. I'm learning from teaching online that it has strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages, and definitely trade-off's when compared to face-to-face instruction. In this 3-minute video, I describe what I've learned this semester in teaching online. My key reflection is that I get to know my students' work, but I don't get to know them as people. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

6000 Skulls

I just spent the day trying to really get my head around human evolution at the Hall of Human Origins in the National Museum of Natural History. I think I'm getting it. Australopithecus died out. Homo heidelbergensis is probably the common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals. Homo erectus lived a long time and was pretty dang tall.

The biggest thing I'm pondering as I walk away is how all that we know about early humans is based on 6,000 skulls. That seems like a low number. On the one hand, the number doesn't bother me. 6,000 is a pretty hefty count for any collection of specimens. Even just 1 piece of evidence is something that science must deal with, as long as it is authentic. And 6,000 is a lot more than 60 or even 600.

On the other hand, that seems like such a small number to answer the question, "Where did we come from?" In my day-to-day world, people don't believe in human evolution. I don't see them being convinced by this amount of evidence. Sure, I could try to argue with the reliability of the skulls we do have or the promise of future finds or the difficulty of fossilization. Those science-y arguments don't work well for the non-science-y people I'm thinking of. Human evolution asks them to overturn much of their worldview, and I don't think 6,000 data points are enough for them to do that.

(And I just realized that the number of currently known skulls is equal to what most of my people believe to be the age of the Earth. How crazy is that?)