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.
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…