Shameful comments about Science Fairs
Oct 29th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

NPR’s Science Fridayhosted by Ira Flatow recently featured Dean Kamen, the founder of the FIRST Robotics Competition (no hyperlink provided, because it wasn’t earned).  He had some negative comments about the Science Fair experience.  Shame on him – he should be promoting and inspiring all students to pursue interests in science and engineering.  Organizations that support and provide opportunities for innovative students should all be rewarded, not classified as “boring.”  Have you ever been on the floor of a science fair?  It is abuzz with excitement – students that are inspired – adults that are mesmerized and impressed.  It is life-changing for some students.  Shame of Kamen for unilaterally stereotyping one of the most positive, far-reaching experiences for student innovators.

 I have offered to the Society for Science (the organization that publishes Science News, and sponsors the Intel International Science Fair and the Intel Science Talent Search) to write a position paper or publically speak as a teacher, educational researcher of the science fair process, and representative of a science fair organization (VP – CT Science Fair).

 Here’s the excerpt including the despicable comments:

Mr. KAMEN: Well, it’s funny that you mentioned that point, because as I said, we had we’ll have 50 regionals this coming year. We were all the way up to 46 regionals last year. And one of them, we put literally in the convention center in downtown Washington, specifically. Because we hoped now that we have teams competing from every state, we figured, certainly, all the senators and Congress people would want to show up and root on their teams, and see what’s going on, especially in something as important as this.

[A]lthough we invited 100 senators and, well over the 400 congressmen, nobody else [besides Jeanne Shaheen and Harry Reid] showed up. . . .

FLATOW: Well, do you not suspect that in this political environment, there’s an anti-intellectual bent, where the people don’t want to think that science is a good thing to know about?

Mr. KAMEN: You know, I hope I’m not that cynical. I think it’s not that. I think they many of them think it’s just too difficult and abstruse a subject to really understand. They don’t want to be embarrassed maybe by what they don’t know. I think it’s even simpler than that in some cases. They believe that that we invited them to see some kind of a boring, dull science fair where they’d have to read little charts and posters with, you know, words either from Latin roots in medicine or…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KAMEN: …mathematical figures and terms that they didn’t really understand. And when we tell them, no, no. It’s nothing like that. It’s a sporting event. It’s so exciting. You bring the cheerleaders and the school bands and the fans, and you have a great time. Except instead of learning how to bounce the ball, these kids are learning how to think and solve difficult problems, and work on complex issues with big teams.

But until you go to the event, I think they dismiss it as, it must be a science fair. I won’t get much out of it. I won’t be able to comprehend it.

 Why does a science competition have to be made to be like a sporting event to be exciting?  I’m not so convinced of that.

Theories and Laws in Science
Oct 25th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Definition for theory:

From: wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; “theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses”;

From: Merriam-Webster.com Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Theory in Science

a scientific theory comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules (called scientific laws) that express relationships between observations of such concepts. A scientific theory is constructed to conform to available empirical data about such observations, and is put forth as a principle or body of principles for explaining a class of phenomena

Some important theories in science:

  • kinetic molecular theory
  • evoluion theory
  • theory of relativity
  • plate techtonics theory

I often hear those who talk about proving a theory.  An inevitable contradiction because:

Prove is an absolute

I prefer:

  • make plausible
  • draw conclusions
  • make inferences
  • verify
  • determine validity
  • interpret
  • confirm
  • demonstrate
  • provide evidence
  • authenticate

Therefore, I really do not like reading about the word ‘prove,’ especially in student work.  How do we effectively inform students about theories, most importantly that they are NOT conjecture, but are unifying concepts supported by FACT?

Balancing instructional strategies
Oct 12th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

from: uic.edu

One of the challenges in teaching is to keep students engaged throughout a class period. In science during a lab period, this is fairly straight-forward, as hands-on inquiry experiences tend to take more extended time.  However, when there is an extended period for which there is no lab activity planned, it is important to keep students engaged by varying the activities so students maintain high levels of active engagement.

from: gallerynucleus.com

In my biology class today, we were working on solving pedigrees – a clear problem solving, lateral thinking inquiry activity. 

However, solving pedigrees for an hour and a half is probably too much.  To keep students engaged, I read the third paragraph from Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, [full text] which specifically discusses an inbreeding situation – gets kids attention, you can make a pedigree, and connects literature to science:

 Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch ; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other – it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher” – an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

We then continued with some additional problems, and later I showed a 4-minute video about Huntington’s Disease.  We paused and mapped the pedigree based on the speaker’s comments.  

I was attempting to access different learning style preferences to help students understand the concepts.  The period was over before the students and I realized.  We’ll see how well the skills have developed!

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