# Re: [asa] The fight in Texas over evolution training in schools

From: <mrb22667@kansas.net>
Date: Wed Mar 25 2009 - 13:57:29 EDT

Ted, whenever you are back, or at your convenience, I would be interested in any
emailable materials you mentioned regarding simplified versions of classic
experiments. It may be a bit much for high school level, but I'm always looking
for new ideas to adapt --and to educate myself as well.

George,
I didn't press my student to this level of critique -- in fact, perhaps I
deflated the potential fun & discovery they could have had by showing them up
front how the restoring force function of a pendulum approximates a linear
restoring force at small amplitudes by showing an overlay of a sinusoidal curve
with a tangent line. Very properly I *should have* made them do the math to
calculate how much error this assumption contributed to their results. But we
reasoned that our other error contribution (human use of stop watch --even over
many swings) would still have been the substantial source of error. Shame on
me. But we moved on which is the curse (or balance) of education: either cover
something well, and even let students discover and explore which is then at the
expense of being able to discover & explore other important topics during that
same year as well.

Were you speaking of a college level lab? Or one you did with high school
students? I'm always curious about new lab ideas to make them think about these
kinds of assumptions. I may be looking into some of Ted's offerings as well.

--Merv

Quoting George Murphy <GMURPHY10@neo.rr.com>:

> Here's a variation on your 1st example. (I've mentioned this here before.)
> The last couple of years I taught general physics the 1st experiemnt we had
> them do was to find out how the period of a simple pendulum depended on its
> amplitude (= maximum angle of swing). The book we used (Greenberg's
> _Discoveries in Physics_) sketched a bit of the history & Galileo's
> conclusion that period was independent of amplitude, & then told them a
> simple procedure to follow. The experiment itself is pretty easy. The data
>
> show quite obviously that the amplitude increases with period, although for
> amplitudes of only a few degrees it's hard to see any variation. Students
> were not told to _verify_ Galileo's "incorrect" conclusion but almost all of
>
> them would manage to convince themselves that their data showed - or at
> least was consistent with - no dependence of period on amplitude! Some
> students thought they'd been set up but they weren't - we never told them
> what their results were supposed to be. One can hope that this is a lesson
> that stuck with at least some of them.
>
> Shalom
> George
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: <mrb22667@kansas.net>
> To: "Ted Davis" <TDavis@messiah.edu>
> Cc: "asa" <asa@calvin.edu>
> Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:58 AM
> Subject: RE: [asa] The fight in Texas over evolution training in schools
>
>
> > Responding to Rich & Ted's posts below...
> >
> > I am acutely aware of another level of discussion that needs to happen
> > that
> > doesn't even have to come from ID/creation/evolution controversy. And
> > that is
> > this: high school students need to be aware of the difference between the
> > actual practice of cutting edge science and the practice of being educated
>
> > in
> > past or established science.
> >
> > I.e. When I recently had my physics students use a pendulum to try to
> > determine
> > with more precision a value for our local gravity (which we had assumed as
>
> > 9.8
> > in previous physics work), they had the luxury of comparing their measured
>
> > value
> > with an "expected" value that we got from a geological survey on the
> > internet
> > for our locale & altitude. But I made them aware that in "real" science
> > (e.g.
> > determining the universal gravitational constant in Cavendish's time),
> > they have
> > no "expected" values for G, but instead had, perhaps, multiple
> > measurements &
> > methods that they must discern between to finally arrive at the universal
> > gravitational constant that we now see published. We can try to design
> > labs so
> > that students are "thinking" historical scientists' thoughts after them.
> > But in
> > the end, we pull out a published value to see how we did --which is not a
> > scientific thing to do. And nor can high school students be expected to
> > be
> > doing "real" science. Such cutting edge work is beyond most of us. But
> > we can
> > at least discuss these things and help our students be aware of them.
> >
> >
> > One other item regarding how science is taught in elementary & high
> > schools: I
> > recently heard an excellent interview on NPR with astrophysicist Neil
> > Tyson
> > regarding the flak he took on the "demotion" of Pluto. He made the point
> > that
> > educators need to move away from having students memorize lists of "facts"
>
> > such
> > as "how many planets are in our solar system --and name them, etc." and
> > instead move towards having students think categorically about objects and
>
> > what
> > makes certain objects similar? Then students will be thinking more like
> > scientists who aren't so interested in a rigid "fact" that our solar
> > system has
> > x number of planets. They will instead observe that gas giants are a
> > class of
> > objects unto themselves, and other things also share similar other
> > properties,
> > etc. which is a more productive way to think of science. We educators do
>
> > our
> > students a disservice when we merely stock their minds with "facts" --be
> > they
> > evolutionary or astronomical. Even at the elementary levels we could
> > probably
> > be doing this differently and better. Any side that wants to insert
> > automatic
> > "weaknesses" or automatic "acceptances" of evolution is probably guilty of
> > promoting our "facthood" attitude as if these things were set in stone.
> >
> > --Merv
> >
> >
> > Rich wrote:
> > Thus, I believe it is vitally important that the ASA as an organization
> > support
> > and defend peer review and seek to have the *process* of science taught in
>
> > our
> > schools. That way the next generation will be less susceptable to the
> > cynical
> > manipulation I illustrated above. By the time they get to be our age the
> > facts
> > of science will be different but the ability to understand the process
> > will help
> > them navigate whatever the unpredictable issues will be decades from now.
> >
> > Rich Blinne
> > Member ASA
> >
> > Quoting Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>:
> >>
> >>
> >> I am a former high school science teacher myself (physics and chemistry),
>
> >> and
> >> IMO we would do a better job of educating students in both high school
> >> and
> >> college, if we would cut some traditional scientific topics to make room
> >> for
> >> teaching a little more history & philosophy of science. (Given that I am
>
> >> in
> >> that field, no one should be surprised that I would say this.) IMO, in
> >> such
> >> a context it could be entirely appropriate to bring in some of the many
> >> objections to evolution that have been raised since the mid-19th century:
> >> they might at least be presented as serious objections that have been
> >> raised,
> >> often by scientists themselves--and, in some cases at least, have been
> >> fully
> >> answered by subsequent science (such as the problem of inheritance,
> >> acknowledged by Darwin in his book and not dealt with satisfactorily for
> >> another 70 years). It would also be appropriate in that context, IMO, to
> >> discuss contemporary objections to evolution, including aspects of
> >> "intelligent design." !
> >>
> >> Students are not being educated as well, IMO, when such things are
> >> ruled
> >> out of bounds for public school science classes simply b/c they may be
> >> religiously motivated. We wouldn't rule out teaching students about the
> >> controversy among scientists themselves, about the use of the atomic bomb
> >> against Japan in 1945, even though some of those objections were
> >> religiously
> >> motivated; we wouldn't rule out teaching students about the controversy
> >> among
> >> scientists themselves, about how to interpret QM (Copenhagen vs other
> >> possibilities), simply b/c some might hold a given view partly for
> >> religious
> >> reasons or express a view in theological terms ("God does not play
> >> dice").
> >> Likewise, we should not bar discussion of the fact that some scientists
> >> do
> >> not find Darwinian evolution fully convincing, and why.
> >>
> >> Ted
> >>
> >
> >
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Received on Wed Mar 25 13:57:51 2009

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