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Looking back over the last year, we realized a lot has happened, and we’ve done A LOT.  Remembering is a good mental and emotional exercise.  We are so grateful to have such wonderful family, friends, and colleagues, who make our lives so rich and fun.  The paragraphs below include many highlights from 2009 – we know we didn’t get everything, but this gives a pretty good overview of our year.

On the Home Front, we made lots of improvements inside and out.  Outside work included painting of trim, fascia, and doors (goodbye country blue!); backyard landscaping to address erosion and improve drought tolerance including a retaining wall and fill dirt to level out the walkway to the side gate, crushed granite to line the walkways and reduce the amount of water-needy grass, experimental swaths of native prairie grasses, and a rainbarrel installation.  Inside, we had roller shades installed on livingroom and kitchen windows, put up new stylish curtains on pantries, got a new microwave (glue wouldn’t keep the old one together – believe me, I tried), and a new credenza in the living room.

Between the two of us, we’ve enjoyed many professional accomplishments:  Amo was elected to the ISEA board, received a hefty University Continuing Fellowship Award, and attended four professional conferences: ASTE in Connecticut, AERA in San Diego, CAST in Galveston, and an NSF P.I. conference in D.C..  Mel attended the OR09 conference at GA Tech in Atlanta (conveniently also visiting with family & friends).  At the Library, Mel initiated a web committee and introduced the use of several Web 2.0 tools (a library news blog, internal Sharepoint wikis, LibGuides); coordinated completion of a Library website refresh (including a major facelift on the homepage); agreed to chair a professional committee; and hired/managed her first full-time supervisee (this list helps me assuage the nagging feeling of getting nothing done at work).

Even though much of 2009 was hotter than hell (literally), we still played outside alot:

  • Palmetto State Park camping with friends, twice, for birding, hiking, lounging, eating, drinking, laughing, eating, drinking, napping, storytelling, acoustical music playing, burning things, sharing.  Best campfire food experiment:  toasted marshmallows stuffed with homemade lemon curd.  yum!
  • Neighborhood park volunteer cleanup
  • Birding hike in Balcones Canyonland with neighbor friends
  • Water play – Barton Springing & pontoon boat play day out on Lake Travis with the posse
  • ~5 months of group training with friends, culminating in Mel biking on a relay team in the Danskin Triathlon
  • sweating it out at the Blanco Lavender Festival volunteering at our Juniper Hills Farms friends’ product tent, cured by blissful evening dips in their infinity pool
  • wandering streets and beaches of Galveston
  • hiking and picnicking with the posse at Reimer’s Ranch
  • riding our bikes as much as we could, to see free show at SxSW, explore the East Austin Studio Tour, and take weekend morning rides with our friends followed by diner breakfast grub-outs.

We have had much fun on the musical front:  we saw Amy Ray @ Stubbs, and Flight of the Conchords at Bass Hall (Amo won free tickets on KUT radio!); our West Lake Bitches garage band practiced for the first time in January and gave our first live performance for an audience (including strangers) on New Year’s Eve;  Amo’s bluegrass duo project the Honeytones (where she gets to vamp on her treasured Collings mandolin, newly acquired this year) has been gearing up for their first public performance;  Amo taught upcoming tweenage rockers at Girls Rock Camp; DNN news: the never-say-die band found a new best drummer Karl, celebrated the release of their second full-length self-produced album ROCKET, and played raucous fun show in San Antonio (among many other local shows at new venues like Club DeVille, Lambert’s, the Moose Lodge, etc.).

We celebrated well on the holidays: Valentine’s Day traditional dinner date at Little Thailand in Garfield (last time we would see the gregarious host/proprietor Mr. Dick Simcoe, RIP); Easter Brunch at Juniper Hills Farm; 4th of July swimmin’ & eating at Phe’s house in Arlington (mini-flag decorations included); Halloween candy give-out followed by backyard firepit fun with friends; Thanksgiving and Christmas in Arlington with family; New Year’s Eve WLB performance followed by dance party with unexpected drunk neighbors in attendance.

The family news bag was mixed this year:  In chronological order – Amo’s dad passed away unexpectedly (our friends planted a memorial tree in our backyard);  Phe turned 65 (we dined well and got cultured at the Dallas Museum of Art to mark the occasion); my brother-in-law enlisted in the Army, and shortly thereafter, he and my sister announced they were expecting their first child; my grandfather passed away.

Notable milestones: Inauguration of Barack Obama (hallelujah);  Amo’s birthday (swimming at Barton Springs, Paramount Marilyn Monroe movie, Tex-Mex at Polvo’s); new (ish) car – we love our Toyota Rav4; our 6 year anniversary (we got rings!); my birthday (Galveston b & b, beach-walking, seafood-eating).

Other travels and random fun: Amo went on family vacation to the Disney-parks in Orlando; Mel visited good friends in L.A.  We saw David Sedaris read; we put on costumes for our friend’s 40th birthday-Yacht Rock party and a pre-Christmas Wig party.  We dance a lot – it is good for the soul.

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Let’s imagine the mass of scientific evidence that points to climate change due to anthropogenic causes is a big warm fuzzy sweater. It fits, you can wear it anywhere.  You’ve had it for years. It’s tried and true. But over time there have been a few threads that have come loose or have entirely been pulled out of the sweater. Do you throw it away? Of course not, as you can still wear this sweater, and it continues to function as one. Logic would say, it would be silly to throw away the entire sweater over a few loose threads.

However, big oil, big industry, big business, big finance, big glenn beck gullibles, would all say, ‘throw it away! it’s useless! here, buy another one from Walmart.’ Manufacturing big doubt is all they got.

Healthy dispute is good for the advancement of science, denial is not….After all, the principal climate change deniers are in the US, the UK and Australia — the big polluters. – chandra bhushan, new delhi

As soon as the scientific community began to come together on the science of climate change, the pushback began. – Naomi Oreskes, U.C. San Diego

-amy

p.s. for added fun, read this whole post again but replace “climate change” with “evolution.”

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Bed & Breakfast

Rather than stay w/ the thousands of conferencing Texas science teachers in the chain hotels beachside, we’ve been staying in the Lost Bayou Guest House – a lovely, cozy, colonial 3-story historic house, complete with toile wallpaper and clocks that gently chime on the hour. Porches with rockers, a private sitting garden with fountain out back, and a third-floor deck for moon-gazing and evening breeze-catching. Lucky for me, Amo always finds the perfect places to be.

lost bayou - elyssa room

lost bayou bedroom

Buddha

On our birthday morning stroll towards the beach, we had a lucky encounter.  Looks like this guy has seen a lot of belly-rubbins!

birthday buddha

lucky birthday buddha belly

Beach

I keep asking myself, what could be better than a birthday morning walk on the beach?? Not much. Although I’m sure Amo will come up with something next year, just as good. We strolled together for an hour or so, breathing the crisp salt air (not too salty or fishy, but just clean and fresh as you please). Those ginormous tanker things on the horizon seemed like ghosts, fading in and out of visibility, like optical illusions in the glittering sun. We observed the sea gulls and terns, wondering why several gulls were missing one foot. Does this happen often? What exactly is happening to them? beach mystery… We collected funny little pink barnacle shells from among the beachy bits as souvenirs.

Galveston beach

beach-y bits

Galveston beach

beach walk

Later, after an amazing birthday dinner of oysters, scallops, shrimp, and snapper @ Gaido’s, we took a quick jaunt on the beach – I even busted out with a giddy circle dance in the sand, my own ad-hoc version of the Caucus-Race from Alice’s Adventures. The chilly night breeze kept us from staying out there too long, but I couldn’t resist the urge to walk in the sand again this morning after dropping Amo off at the hotel/conference for the day.

I didn’t realize until I got close to the water that this particular section of the seawall is painted with huge renditions of sea creatures. Lots of other folks out enjoying the sun & surf, too (I saw telltale blue conference bags on many a shoulder). A lady with earphones on a cruiser bike looked like she was having the time of her life. I ventured out on a couple of jetties, letting the crash & suck of the waves block out all the other noise & goings-on of the Seawall Blvd. and construction (still recovering from Ike) around me. Blissful.

Bishop’s Palace

We didn’t make it to the tour of this National Historic Landmark, but we climbed the front stairs and peeked in the windows.  It is definitely on the to-do-next-time list.

Blue Bags and the Bone Lady

As a registered conference guest, I scored a handy blue tote (this tote far exceeds the tote-ness of other standard conference schwag), name badge (even the badge holder is awesome, with zipper-pockets and pen holder!), and the opportunity attend conference sessions, field trips, and get into the Moody Gardens Aquarium for free.  On my birthday proper, Amo & I enjoyed the presentation of forensic anthropologist Mary Manhein (aka The Bone Lady), who explained the science of her gruesome job in layman’s terms with an upbeat, comical spirit.  Then we toured the aquarium, gawking at seals, penguins, seahorses, sharks, and more.  “Smells like dinner,” I kept thinking to myself.

Incredible starfish

Incredible starfish at the aquarium

The following day we loaded up on the bus to take a tour of the Haak winery in Santa Fe, Texas.  They gave us 4 drink tickets each – more than plenty, I’ll tell ya.  Their Madeira was our favorite, and we had some ruddy fun with other science teachers at our table, including our Kerrvert friend Claire.

BBQ

Wrapped up the weekend B-party with a lip-smacking lunch at Meyer’s BBQ in Elgin before landing back home in Austin.  Shooowee.  I love BBQ, especially the pork sausage!   We buy their sausage from the grocery store, but I swear it tastes better in their restaurant on that styrofoam plate, with all the stuffed game looking down from the walls.

-Mel

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The 2009 conference of the American of Educational Research Association took place in San Diego. Since I am notorious for forgetting the real camera and snapping phone pics, here’s the week’s solo adventure I had during breaks at the conference. From boutique hotel roof vistas to downtown and Hillcrest walks to the fav Trader Joe’s to sushi! The weather really is perfect there, except that I developed an allergy to the place a couple of days in, leaving me pretty stuffy headed most of the week.

View from Ivy Hotel rooftop

Chocolate!

Southern Cali Sushi

amo

Trader Joe's

yard zoo art

hillcrest entrance

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Yesterday, I was wearing my green and hanging with the TX Freedom Network in Austin at the State Board of Education meeting, day 1, re: the “weaknesses” in evolution curricular addendum.

During our press conference, some anti-evolutionist (they were in red!) yelled, on camera mind you, “My Grandfather was NOT a monkey!”

*eye roll* *sigh*

A few of us pro-science siders replied, “Um, neither was mine.”

The ignorance. The 17th century witch hunting. It’s like they don’t even try to use their “thinking noggin’.” I’m embarrassed to be a Texan most days

-amo

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Last Fall, I was inspired by a campus visit from Dr. Maya Angelou, who said, “Don’t complain. Don’t whine. Protest.” I would like to do just that.

In Texas, the new Earth and Space Science course standards (ESS) will be up for approval before the State Board of Education (SBOE) from January 21 through Jan 23, 2009 (“standards” translate to curriculum and textbook adoption and implementation).

Chris Comer, the former science director, was fired from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in 2008 primarily for her public pro-science (gasp!) views on evolution, among other things. Recently, she sent out a call for action from those of us who support teaching good science in science class (I mean, it’s only the 21st century for goodness sake. Remember, creationism (aka Intelligent Design (ID), aka the Flying Spaghetti Monster) has 19th century origins). Come on!

“A group of ten individual Earth scientists (ES), that included high school teachers, ES teacher trainers, college professors, and industry geoscientists, worked together for a year during several intense meetings to create these standards. Their very careful effort and hard work should not be injured by the actions of nonscientists who have ideological and political agendas.

We need you and all your friends and family members to write letters to the individual SBOE members and ask them to adopt the new ESS standards without change! That’s the simple message of your email/letter: to accept the proposed ESS standards without editing or modification. We strongly suspect an effort will be made to modify, edit, and weaken the standards by members of the SBOE.”

Given this call for action, I thought I would also chime in with some thoughts of my own….and maybe a lesson or two for you young ‘uns.

SBOE 101:
First of all, how about some demographics (demy-G’s, as I like to call them) on the Texas SBOE: These are politically elected officials, representing 15 districts across Texas. Some basic stats: 15 members, roughly 60% Republican, 11 Anglos, 2 Hispanics, 2 African Americans, 8 males, and 7 females. Are you still with me? Did I mention that SEVEN of these 15 kindly folks are self-proclaimed “Young Earth Creationists“!? (sounds like something from a medieval renaissance festival, don’t it? Pass the Meade, ya limey wench!).

Under the Texas Constitution, the SBOE members are politically-elected officials who actually have the power to write whatever science standards they wish, and several have expressed their intention to modify certain standards to align with their religious and ideological agendas. What standards may be up for a Biblical mash-up, you ask? Well, only those silly little “theories” like: age of the Earth and universe, the Big Bang model of cosmology, radiometric dating, evolution of fossil life, fossil lineages and transitional fossils, origin of life by abiotic chemical processes, ancient mass extinction events, global warming and climate change.

How many Texans (and thusly our state’s brainpower, future marketability, competitive edge in industry, etc.) are affected by the SBOE? To the Texas Education Agency (TEA), I go a’ citin: The Board, with a Gov’nor-appointed Commissioner of Education, and the TEA all “…facilitate the operation of a vast public school system consisting of 1,227 school districts…more than 7,900 campuses, more than 590,000 educators…and more than 4.5 million schoolchildren.” They also designate instruction for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and approve and determine passing scores on the state mandated TAKS exam. TEKS for TAKS. Follow me?

Let’s repeat: 4.5 million schoolchildren. That’s 4.5 MILLION.

Back on to my rant, er, story. In the fall 2008, our SBOE thankfully recognized they were not up-to-snuff with basic scientific knowledge (most don’t come anywhere near having a strong scientific background; you can check out their biographies at: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/members.html). Therefore, they chose some external consultants to help select and validate the next public school science standards.

Note: I mentally begged them a simple request: please don’t bring any of those smarmy textbook reps over here to heavy-hand and muddy up the process. OK? ….. OK?! uh-oh.

Textbook adoptions and Texas 101:
Ahem. Texas is the state that the other 49 keep their eyes on for major textbook adoptions. Because of us, for example, Pearson is so powerful that they not only write THE state test, they write the textbooks, the test review materials and all the other bells and whistly accouterments that go with it (all for purchase of course). Who wouldn’t want Texas as a customer?! And who’s sitting on the SBOE external textbook review board to support any science standards? I’ll tell you.

There are 6: three accredited and highly respected university science professors, and three out-of-state dudes FROM THE DISCOVERY INSTITUTE THAT REPRESENT A FRIGGIN’ INTELLIGENT DESIGN TEXTBOOK.

Here’s some pro-ID wisdom (all cited from print or interview media where he spewed his anti-science rhetoric over the years) from the Darwin-hatin’, young-earth lovin’ CHAIR of the SBOE, Don McLeroy. Sixty-year-old D.M. is a dentist and sunday school teacher from Bryan-College Station who’s been the SBOE chair for the last 10 years. Did I mention that Governor Hairy Perry appointed him?! I’m sure there is no agenda what-so-ever. Um, yeah….and Bonobos just flew out of my butt:

“Texas standards are not grade-level specific, most of them are noise. They can’t be measured and are just a bunch of fuzzy words.”
“Keep chipping away at the objective empirical evidence.“
“Keep pointing out that their deductive reasoning depends on the premise nature is all there is to be true. Remind them that they may be wrong.”
“Science must limit itself to testable explanations not natural explanations. Then the supernaturalist will be just as free as the naturalist to make testable explanations of natural phenomena. The view with the best explanation of the empirical evidence should prevail.”
“I believe a lot of incredible things…the most incredible thing I believe is the Christmas story. That little baby born in the manger was the god that created the universe”

Just for laughs (you know, the kind of ha-ha’s you do when you don’t want to cry), I’ve included some more educational nuggets from the humble gent (remember, he’s the Perry-appointed CHAIR of the SBOE! Large and in Charge!) Worried yet?!:

“Abstinence-only is the only realistic message. It’s the only thing that works. Now, the subject of contraception could be mentioned but only in the context of marriage. The abstinent message needs to be given a chance.”
“I was stunned at what I didn’t know. In the whole panoramic sweep it’s not that much. You’re competing with other history. Black History Month helps fill in the gap.”

Silver Lining?!
Thank the Monkey God that there are some politicos fighting back:
“State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has just filed legislation that would strip the Texas State Board of Education of all authority assigned to it by statute. Among the board’s powers that would go away: setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks. That authority would be transferred to the Texas Education Agency.”

I’ll just end with this: get your emails ready; bombard the Board and keep our science standards rigorous and research-based!!
sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us

The Texas Freedom Network said it best when they said, “We can do best for our kids and honor the faith of all Texans by teaching sound science in science classrooms and leaving personal religious views about creation to our families and churches.”

-amo

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