Archive | K-12 education

Teaching students about scientists’ role in helping fellow citizens: Science4society week in UK

S4S logo copy

 

Announcing Science4society week 2015

Science4society week is a new collection of science education activities, designed to inspire young people. The project was set up to provide an alternative to activities funded by the arms and fossil fuel industries, such as ‘The Big Bang Fair’. Science4society week 2015 runs from 16th to 23rd March.

Media release, 6 March 2015

It is organised by Scientists for Global Responsibility, a UK membership organisation which promotes science, design and technology for peace, social justice and environmental sustainability.

This year’s activities include:

  • Trips/tours. School children and university students will visit inspiring schemes, such as:
    • community-run renewable energy projects, including hydro, solar and biomass systems;
    • super-insulated eco-homes; and
    • innovative technology sharing schemes, such as cohousing and car clubs.
  • Interactive lessons on science, technology and ethics. Children will take part in an exciting range of classroom activities, including:
    • planning renewable energy schemes for an island community;
    • building model wind turbines; and
    • debating technology justice and science ethics.

Activities are designed to integrate with the national curriculum. They will take place in North England, as this is where SGR is based. In future years, more activities will take place further afield.

Co-ordinator of Science4society week, Dr Jan Maskell said, “There are many inspiring examples of science and technology being used to support environmental sustainability, social justice and peace, but mainstream education events often fail to include them. We aim to fill this gap, and also provide a space for debating what the ethical role of science and technology should be in our society.”

 http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/announcing-science4society-week-2015

Notes

1. More information about Science4society week can be found at: http://www.sgr.org.uk/projects/science4society-week

2. Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) is an independent membership organisation of about 900 natural and social scientists, engineers, IT professionals and architects. It was formed in 1992. SGR’s work is focused on several issues, including security and disarmament, climate change, sustainable energy, and who controls science and technology? For more information, see http://www.sgr.org.uk/

2. A summary of pilot activities in 2014 can be found at: http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/children-learn-about-green-technologies-and-eco-living

 

Update

Students get inspired by ethical science and technology

Dr Jan Maskell, SGR, summarises the activities of our first Science4Society Week, including school visits to community renewable energy projects and classroom debates.

ResponsibleSci blog, 27 March 2015

During Science4Society Week 2015, over 1000 students took part in a range of inspiring science education activities focusing on the positive contribution that science, design and technology can make to peace, social justice and environmental sustainability.

The Week was organised by SGR and, unlike many high-profile science education activities, it was not funded by any arms or fossil fuel corporations, just a group of charitable trusts.

Students from schools and university visited locations where they could see in action examples of community-run renewable energy projects, super-insulated eco-homes; and innovative sharing schemes, such as cohousing and car clubs. The activities took place in northern England.

‘It was wonderful that they could see practical applications for solar, biomass and hydro power’ said one teacher after a tour of sustainable energy projects in the area.

Young people also took part in interactive lessons and classroom activities about science, technology and ethics including: planning renewable energy schemes for an island community; building model wind turbines; and debating technology justice and science ethics. One teacher commented about the debate ‘I didn’t know what to expect – but they came up with some really good ideas!’ By gradually sharing different views, students changed their opinions about issues, showing the positive effects of discussion. Another teacher reflected ‘The activity worked really well – I wouldn’t change it’ about a practical, group problem solving activity which engaged students in considering options and making justifiable decisions.

A variety of resources are available on our website for teachers to download and use and all of the activities are designed to integrate with the national curriculum.

With continued support we will expand Science4Society week events and activities. We will run sessions for educators later in 2015 and develop more resources to share with them for 2016.

Dr Jan Maskell is Vice Chair of SGR and co-ordinator of Science4Society Week. She is a professional psychologist, with a PhD in education studies.

Issues: Climate change and energy, Who controls science and technology?
Types: ResponsibleSci blog

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Science is not just about competition

Wordsalad

 

      All over the USA, there is a steady drumbeat that says:

Math and science scores are low for K-12 students in the USA.

USA universities are not keeping up with the rest of the world.

The USA will not be competitive any more.

THERE IS A GATHERING STORM!

We need to run science like a business to be competitive!

 

Here is a local (Seattle) take on this theme:

Guest: How Seattle is falling behind other 21st century cities
The region must take aggressive actions to close the existing skills gap, according to guest columnists Randy Hodgins and Maud Daudon.
By Randy Hodgins and Maud Daudon
Special to The Times
IN preparation for the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run, quarterback Russell Wilson famously, and successfully, challenged his teammates with three words: “Why not us?”
Seattle business and civic leaders should be asking the same question, given what competing regions are doing to secure their positions in the rapidly changing, technologically driven global marketplace.
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce recently took local leaders to New York City to study an ambitious initiative to strengthen the city’s offerings in applied sciences. Considering it a smart investment, city government offered publicly owned land and up to $100 million in capital to help attract a new $2 billion applied science and engineering campus to Roosevelt Island.
A unique partnership between Cornell University and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, this new campus has already spurred complementary efforts by Columbia University, New York University and Carnegie Mellon University.
This initiative drives home two critical points. First, in the 21st century, enhancing a region’s economic health and creating great job opportunities depends on having highly skilled workers to offer to employers. Second, other regions are working hard to enhance their ability to provide this talent. The New York example was eye-opening, but hardly unique. At the chamber’s annual Regional Leadership Conference last fall, attendees heard about economic development initiatives in leading cities across the country and around the globe.
Few cities are positioned as strongly as Seattle to succeed in a fast-paced, interconnected and technological world. Our local innovation sector is the envy of other cities. In addition to established and valuable industry clusters such as aerospace and software, our region enjoys a thriving biotechnology and global health sector and we are seeing an emerging clean-energy sector.
The success of these and other industries is directly tied to our highly skilled workforce — nearly half of all local workers over 25 have a postsecondary degree.
Unfortunately, many of these talented individuals are currently being imported from other regions because local companies can’t find the talent they need here. According to a 2013 Boston Consulting Group and Washington Roundtable study, there are 34,000 unfilled local jobs because employers can’t find qualified candidates — and that number is projected to increase to 50,000 over the next three years.
This skills gap means that too many of our own young people can’t take advantage of some of the most exciting career opportunities being created by local employers.
The bottom line: Our region is in a great position now, but we can’t take our current economic health for granted. The infamous billboard asking the last person leaving Seattle to turn out the lights reminds us that continued success isn’t guaranteed.
For Seattle to secure its place among leading centers of global commerce and innovation in the coming years, aggressive actions must be taken to close the existing skills gap, create great new job opportunities for local residents, and attract international investment, research and collaboration.
In a knowledge-based economy, higher-education institutions play a key role in creating and sustaining economic opportunities, particularly in the critical fields of applied sciences and engineering that serve as the foundation of so many new economic and job opportunities.
In addition to their traditional research and degree production roles, higher-education institutions also must work with employers and the broader community to find new and innovative ways to offer students and faculty the ability to tackle real-world problems in a creative, global setting.
Remaining globally competitive will require all of us to work together. We can begin by asking ourselves some challenging questions:
Why can’t we transform our education system to prepare all kids for the global economy?
Why can’t our region lead the country in math, science and engineering degrees?
Why can’t the Puget Sound find new ways to stimulate research and innovation?
Other regions are answering these questions with smart investments and innovative programs.
Why not us?
Randy Hodgins is vice president for external affairs at the University of Washington. Maud Daudon is president and chief executive of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

 

Here is my venting reply in a letter to the editor:

What makes Seattle attractive to many of us is that we don’t live by the beliefs that the authors of this article do.

We do not see that their are 34,000 unfilled positions: we see that tech and science jobs get hundreds of applicants per position, and we don’t believe that all of these applicants are unqualified. Those of us with feet on the ground- how many unfilled positions have you run into, lately?

We believe in public schools- not in the “I -believe -in-public-schools-except- for-my-child”- way, but that public schools are the basis of democracy and the foundation of citizenship. We do not believe schools exist to produce workers for business. We work in and for the schools, and see how successful they can be. We are pretty tired of business people saying that the schools don’t work and something must be done. They usually have a solution to sell.

We are disappointed in the University of Washington state system, whose tuition is unreachable for so many students.

We are shocked that UW in Seattle has chosen to privatize many of the most desired and useful (for the world, as well as for students) degrees. UW Professional & Continuing Education programs (PCE) in Biotechnology & Biomedical, etc must be self-supporting, not even getting indirect costs from UW (unlike the Athletics Department), and PCE tuition can cost $50,000 for a Masters degree!

We see that a minimum wage of 15.00 would allow people to better support themselves.

We see that the way to lead in research and innovation is not to emulate what NYC or other places are doing. We have unique strengths.

We see many researchers who have lost their grant money to other federal priorities (war takes over 50% of the discretionary budget), and who must depend on the whims of the 1% for help. We know that many researchers (and teachers, etc) do those jobs because they want to help the world, not to be part of the race for global competitiveness.

While we believe in the power of science and technology, we don’t believe that science and technology alone will help the world or the city of Seattle. We certainly don’t think business has the answer. We need thoughtful, engaged global citizens who make decisions that will benefit everyone, not just themselves. We need everyone.

This is a beautiful city, rich in natural beauty and intentional citizens. The fear-based push for “competitiveness” is a race few are running, and is no basis for a viable city.

Kathy Barker
Seattle

————-

The editor at the Seattle Times asked if I could revise the letter to 200 words, which I did (and it sounds much better, with the venting removed!) and resubmitted the following:

Many of us don’t see 34,000 unfilled positions: we see that tech and science jobs get hundreds of applicants per position, and we don’t believe that all of these applicants are unqualified.

We believe public schools are the basis of democracy and the foundation of citizenship. We do not believe schools exist to produce workers for business.

We are disappointed in the University of Washington state system, whose tuition is unreachable for so many students.

We are shocked that UW Professional & Continuing Education programs (PCE) can cost $50,000 for a Masters degree.

We see that the way to lead in research and innovation is not to emulate what NYC or other places are doing. We have unique strengths.

We see many scientists who have lost their grant money to other federal priorities (war takes over 50% of the discretionary budget).

We know that many researchers (and teachers, etc) do their jobs because they want to help the world, not to be part of the race for global competitiveness.

This is a beautiful city, rich in natural beauty and intentional citizens. The fear-based push for “competitiveness” is a race few are running, and is no basis for a viable city.

Several lessons here for me:

-Check the word count before you send.

-Don’t vent.

– Don’t bring in issues or details not in the article you are responding to, unless your letter is solely about those details.

 

 

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Margaret Palmer: Actionable Science

Palmer1

Stream bed restoration and watershed preservation, testimony in a federal court on the harm done by mountain top removal of coal, an appearance on the Colbert Report in January, 2010: in a fantastic article by Erik Stokstad in Science (Science 343: 592-595, February 7, 2014), you can read about the career and life of Margaret Palmer. Save the article to read again for inspiration. 

That article brought me to interview Margaret, with a focus on her activism and advice for other scientists. But Erik’s Stokstad’s article, with its coverage of the reasons for and complexities of Margaret’s activism, reads as a primer for the ups and downs of a scientific life entwined with politics and policy.

Margaret Palmer received her Ph.D. in coastal oceanography, but soon shifted her work to streams and now runs a laboratory on stream bed restoration at the University of Maryland. This work led her to documenting the effect of the mountain top removal of coal upon streams, and into the political mire of competing interests in the environment. She is now also the director of the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis.

In an institute named the “National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center,” (SESYNC) you might assume that activism is an important component of work and research. You would be right. But the balancing act between maintaining scientific credibility in stream bed research while being involved with political and legal protection of the environment is a constant personal challenge, even with institutional credibility.

SESYNC and Margaret’s science are run separately, funded separately, and have different purposes that must be transparent in order for all participants to retain integrity.

Around 1995, NSF first put out an RFP for restoration studies: rather than observation, which had been the core of ecology, NSF would now fund experimentation on ecological solutions. This itself was controversial, as how ecology even defined natural systems was not seen as a social construct open to interpretation. Timing was crucial, though, and as the changing environment was noted more and more by scientists an citizens, the wall between science and public action was lowered.

 Collaborators Margaret, John Cramer, and Jim Boyd recognized the role of social dynamics in environmental outcomes, and convinced NSF to fund an experimental program that would integrate public input with scientific results. SESYNC is a unique core program, funded by NSF (National Science Foundation)  to help the external community do actionable science. They would fund actionable science.

Note the use of the word “actionable.” “Activism” and “advocacy” are still seen as subjective and therefore, unscientific. “Applied” is palatable, but while it includes the public in outcome, it does not consider the public to be part of application.  Every proposal at SESYNC must include and describe consideration of the end user. Yet the federal government, and government organizations such as NSF, do not fund activism, so language must be considered. And boundaries made.

The center does not prohibit advocacy. But Margaret feels she must be careful about activism beyond the actionable science. Though her heart might be there, she does not go to rallies or fundraisers that promote causes she believes in. Participation in overt advocacy or activism could be used against what she sees as her place of highest effectiveness- testifying for science. And with her eyes on the outcomes she wants, she must be effective.

One of the ways Margaret tries to maintain actionability versus advocacy to is deliver the results of analysis without suggesting a particular action- that is, to say “if x is done, y is likely to occur, ” rather than “you need to do/not do x.” But In spite of the care to keep the activism out of actionable science, there are risks, especially to funding from NGO and non-profit organizations, who may see implied criticism of their policies in data. Because of her actionable science, and the perception that she must then be biased, Margaret has been disqualified from being on professional teams such as EPA panels, exclusions that can hurt a scientist’s career.

Staying professional publicly can mean masking personal views. Only once, on a panel at Brigham Young University, did Margaret give her truest answer to the question, “Why do you do what you do?” She answered simply, “I really care about the earth and about our future.” Being in nature, Margaret feels, is deep need not only for herself, but for many humans, and she does not want to see that destroyed.

Advice for activists:

You may not be able to be an activist early in your career. It takes a great deal of time, and will take time away from your science. Academics and academia are conservative, and there is generally no reward system for scientists doing activism or even actionable science. So, in order to be an effective science-activist, be sure you are an effective scientist.

Keep up your science. This is what gives you credibility in the activist world as well as in the scientific arena.

 Consider where you can be most effective! This is outstandingly important advice. What is the outcome you want? Choose the path and tools you need for that outcome.

Make the most of your opportunities. The 6 or so minutes on the Colbert show  brought notice (negative and positive) and funders. Many scientists are worried about saying something wrong, but any activism will involve communication, and you can find, for any medium, advice and suggestion for effectiveness. Even negative notoriety can be leveraged into positive interpretations.

Have a thick skin and look for resources to protect yourself. Any involvement with politics can bring very personal attacks, as opponents try to discredit you to reduce your effectiveness. Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOYA), lawyers for the mining industry requested not only Margaret’s emails, but documents such as reviews written  by in response to Margaret’s journal submissions. You do need advice and protection.

(All of your emails, even your personal accounts, can be requested. So telling the truth in all communications is good both morally and strategically!)

The University of Maryland seemed proud of Margaret’s activism, but they did not protect her against the attacks by the coal mining industries during court testimony days- they protected themselves. This is what universities do, so don’t take that personally, either. Margaret found support through PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) (http://www.peer.org), an alliance of state and federal legal and communication experts who protect employees who work on environmental issues.

Look for non-profits to work with also in non-crisis mode as collaborators. Non-profits want scientists to work with them, but don’t know how to find them. Don’t wait for an invitation, but contact organizations who share a mindset or mission with you.

I would add that working with or within an organization such as SESYNC can greatly give a mantle of actionable science (an thus, trust for some agencies) that advocacy/activism does not. Scientists working in traditional environments have no way to fund and publicize actionable science, and so all efforts will be activism to the world. It is very difficult to be a lone and effective activist, and it might be impossible.

April 2, 2014 interview.

 

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Notoriety pays: Cliff Mass

Cliff mass 1 Influenced by mentors Carl Sagan and Steve Sneider, University of Washington atmospheric meteorologist Cliff Mass has always happily considered himself to be an activist. As a university professor, he already saw himself as more than a scientist in being an educator. His list of outreach activities- and especially, his very public firing by radio station KUOW – has made him quite well known in Seattle.

The reasons Cliff was fired are political and comical.

For 15 years, Cliff had a segment on public radio station KUOW, where he gave the weather forecast and discussed Pacific Northwest weather, climate, and education-related topics. His show had a large following, and audience response to his descriptions of the need for coastal radar played a large role in the establishment of that system. But then Cliff made a big mistake- he spoke about math.

Through the years, he had notice a diminution of math skills in the K-12 schools and in entering freshman at the university, which he blamed partially on the discovery math curricula that was recommended by many Schools of Education, including the University of Washington School of Education. The problem here was that the University of Washington School of Education was a big donor to KUOW. So KUOW issued a no-math warning.

Cliff complied reluctantly, having other avenues (such as a popular blog) where he could discuss math. But on another show, a Seattle Times article about the rejection of in-state A student applicants (the University of Washington is a state university) in favor of higher-paying out-of-state students came up. As a faculty member who was an undergraduate advisor with colleagues on the admissions committee, Cliff knew this urban legend to be untrue, and said so. And the next day, he was fired, primed by speaking out about math. You can read Cliff’s account of this here. http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/05/no-more-weather-on-kuow-weekday.html

Another radio station, KPLU, picked up Cliff’s segment, and there he enjoys free rein of expression and a larger audience. Another windfall is that many people cancelled donations to KUOW, sending them instead to Cliff, for his lab, or to KPLU. He is yet better known, and this notoriety can be very, very useful.

True citizen, Cliff is constantly involved in one civic issue after another, often controversial. As part of his crusade for better math education, Cliff has worked on the elections of 3 pro-math Seattle Public Schools board member elections, and has seen all 3 candidates win despite money poured into opponents’ elections by business interests in town.

He is also activist in his field, speaking out publicly on science issues. Early in his career he began advocating for better weather prediction in the USA, which was seen as criticism of NOAA. On April 1, H.R. 2413, The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act passed a vote in the House of Representatives and has gone to the Senate, a gratifying and long-coming result.

While a believer in anthropogenic climate change, Cliff is outraged that many people, including scientists, overhype and overstate data, and has publicly dissected scientific literature that exaggerate the data. He is particularly annoyed at scientists and media who attribute specific weather events to long term climate change. (See http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/07/15/texas-tall-tales-and-global-warming/ on the Texas heatwave and  http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2011/06/scary-snowpack-stories.html on snowpack association with climate change.)

“Careers are made and lots of research money comes to the ‘right’ position,” he says. “And the media loves global warming. But if you don’t know the facts, you can’t fight it. It isn’t worth it to do the right thing with the wrong information.”

An unfortunate side of Cliff’s responses to exaggeration is that climate change deniers quote him to demonstrate lack of scientific consensus on climate change, or even as a disbeliever. But being as honest and accurate trumps the occasional misuse of words.

(This is a very important point, and I like Cliff’s take on it. Many scientists refuse to speak with media representatives, as they fear being misquoted. This is a shortsighted fear of little actual significance. Your credibility can ultimately be more hurt by staying silent.)

Still, Cliff says, you have to protect yourself, and you can’t let activism get in the way of developing your career. He advises academics to get tenure before taking on too much controversy. Universities can, as Cliff’s did, put pressure on a faculty member because of their own vested interests, and won’t always protect their faculty in public conflicts.

Update: On June 3rd, Cliff’s choice for elementary school curriculum was voted in by the School Board, throwing over the District choice.

 

 

 

 

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