May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Evolution Everywhere

Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

by Josh Rosenau

“We’re leveraging evolution,” Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson told reporter Mike Grunwald, author of The New New Deal (2012). “We take what the planet is good at making, plant sugars, and turn it into what the planet needs, oils.” The San Francisco-based company’s $200 million market capitalization, its fuel contracts with the US Navy and major airlines, and its growing business producing oils for use in foods and cosmetics all testify to the economic value of leveraging evolution.

Further down the Bay, at NASA Ames, the Advanced Control and Evolvable Systems are using evolution to make better spacecraft. In a NASA webpage about the project, researcher Jason Lohn explains, “We’re taking our cue and inspiration from nature,” allowing antennas and computer chips to evolve in software, creating remarkable new designs. “No human would build an antenna as crazy as this,” he explains. But then again, no human could build an antenna that worked as efficiently.

NASA’s engineers are not the only ones who rely on evolution. The space agency’s Exobiology Discipline Working Group, struggling to devise a way to define life (whatever world we might find it on), settled on a working definition: “life is a self-sustaining system capable of Darwinian evolution.” The definition is often attributed to Gerald Joyce, a researcher at Scripps Research Institute whose work in San Diego is leading us ever closer to understanding how Earth’s first life came to be.

Indeed, evolution has been key to the California economy for over a century. Finding and selecting crop breeds that could thrive in California turned the state into the breadbasket of the world. “What a joy life is when you have made a close working partnership with Nature,” explained Luther Burbank, the Santa Rosa-based “Wizard of Horticulture.” Burbank, who developed over 1000 plant varieties at his Santa Rosa research center celebrated his work “helping [Nature] to produce for the benefit of mankind new forms, colors, and perfumes in flowers which were never known before; fruits in form, size, and flavor never before seen on this globe; and grains of enormously increased productiveness, whose fat kernels are filled with more and better nourishment, a veritable storehouse of perfect food—new food for all the world’s untold millions for all time to come.”

Inspired by reading Charles Darwin, Luther Burbank was an ardent advocate for evolution and evolution education. In the era of the Scopes trial (and decrees by the California state superintendent of instruction that evolution might be taught only as a theory, not as fact), he joined with Stanford Chancellor David Starr Jordan and a host of other luminaries to support a new advocacy group known as the Science League of America. A speech on behalf of the League and its defense of evolution education was among the last delivered by the man whose birthday was chosen for California’s Arbor Day.

Operated from writer Maynard Shipley’s home in Sausalito, the League battled efforts to force creationism into classrooms, or to ban the teaching of evolution. Burbank, Jordan, and the congressmen, clergy, doctors, scientists, and teachers who joined the effort all feared the harm that might follow from these attacks on science education.

Ninety years later, that battle continues. From an elementary teacher in Berkeley who told children that evolution, like Santa Claus, is a myth, to school boards attempting to introduce creationist lessons, California remains an active battleground when it comes to evolution. And while the Science League of America no longer exists, we at the National Center for Science Education do remarkably similar work.

We achieved our greatest fame in 2005, for our help with the legal battle in Dover, PA. That case resulted in a ruling that “intelligent design,” like all other forms of creationism, cannot be taught as science. The lawyers who won the case relied on NCSE’s archives and our deep knowledge of the scientific, pedagogical, theological, and legal issues surrounding creationism.

But most of what we deal with doesn’t involve lawyers or press conferences. Most conflicts over the teaching of evolution can be resolved collaborative. A teacher calls asking for help with antiscience administrators or parents, or a parent writes wondering what to do about an assignment which seems to call settled science into doubt. We help them navigate the bureaucracy, give them resources explaining what is and isn’t allowed, and share our experience with successful paths to defusing the conflict.

NCSE is in our 4th decade, and the organized creationist attack on evolution is nearing its century mark. These battles aren’t likely to end soon, even as evolution-related topics from synthetic biology to personal genomics become more central to society. And so long as science teachers and science education are at risk, we at NCSE will be ready to help.

Josh Rosenau is a programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education. He was invited to write for CCS by CSTA member Minda Berbeco.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or zi@cascience.org.)

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.