Science Teachers come to North Carolina

National Science Teachers Association

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) will be holding a conference this week in Charlotte, The Queen City of North Carolina.  It is both ironic and opportune for science teachers, from around the country, to converge on my state to celebrate science education and to learn more about their chosen passion and techniques conveying it to their students.

I had planned to explain this event’s importance as part of my address to the audience.  But, alas, I’ll have only 45 minutes, so will be getting right to business.  Instead, I’ll explain it all here, sitting in a Raleigh coffee shop, and proud to be a citizen of this state that owes so much of its recent success to science and education – and a state that desperately needs to be snapped out of its stupor.

Dazed by $80,000,000 worth of campaigning in 2012 (“Follow the money,” 2012), we have witnessed an arrogant government, in effect, vilify science and education.  Helping to spur this backward thinking is John Droz, a retired real-estate investor and  fellow with the American Tradition Institute (which is tied to fossil fuel interests). In a recent presentation [a Droz slidedeck] to the General Assembly, he called smart meters “fascism in a box” and environmentalism a “new world religion backed by the United Nations.” Among his cited sources were,

Whistleblower, the monthly magazine companion of WorldNetDaily  a website that promotes conspiracy theories about topics such as President Obama’s citizenship; Quadrant, a conservative Australian magazine that was involved in a scandal over publishing fraudulent science  and the Institute for Creation Research  a Texas outfit that rejects evolution and promotes Biblical creationism and the notion that “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the Creation Week.” (Surgis, 2013)

Also carrying some influence is John Skvarla, the newly appointed Secretary for the state’s Department of the Environment and Natural Resources.  He apparently believes that oil is a renewable resource, saying “The Russians for instance have always drilled oil as if it’s a renewable resource, and so far they haven’t been proven wrong.

And then there are the legislators of 20 coastal counties, where developers have been stifled by the notion of sea level rise. So to make things better for developers, They introduced a bill that outlaws the rise of the sea, or at least how it’s measured. From House Bill 819, Section 2.

10 (e) The Division of Coastal Management shall be the only State agency authorized to
11 develop rates of sea-level rise and shall do so only at the request of the Commission.
12 These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be
13 limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of sea-level rise may be
14 extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios
15 of accelerated rates of sea-level rise. Rates of sea-level rise shall not be one rate
16 for the entire coast but, rather, the Division shall consider separately oceanfront and
17 estuarine shorelines. (“Coastal management policies,” 2011)

This whole business prompted comedian, Stephen Colbert to say on the air, “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.

The dramatic decline in Tobacco farming in North Carolina, illustrated in this graphic (North Carolina Department of Agriculture), has meant an enormous hardship for rural NC. As part of Raleigh’s efforts to find a new cash crop, the Biofuels Center of North Carolina was established five years ago, researching, developing and testing a variety of crops biomass crops.

The now defunct Biofuels Center of North Carolina web site

The center closed its doors last week.  The General Assembly cut the center’s entire $4.3 million budget. In the words of Steven Burke, the centers CEO, 

“The center, a growing biofuels community statewide, and companies considering new facilities here share dismay that North Carolina has visibly pulled back from the nation’s lead state biofuels agency and from long-term commitment to comprehensive biofuels development.” “No longer pursuing advanced biofuels with a focused, comprehensive strategy will lessen opportunity to create rural jobs, strengthen agriculture, and create an enormous biofuels and biomaterials sector.”

There’s not much that a few thousand science teachers can do, except to be mindful that science is neither fact nor theology.  It’s a way of looking at the world, observing, hypothesizing, predicting, testing, evaluating and adapting.  It is both personal and social, and following someone else’s standards for what’s to know (to be taught) is as repudiating to what science is as outlawing the results.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the NSTA conference this week in Charlotte.  I’ll be in Convention Center, Ballrooms C&D at 2:00 on Friday afternoon.


Follow the money. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?s=NC&y=2012

Surgis, S. (2013, February 7). Climate conspiracy theorist returns to NC legislature, warns of threat from science ‘elite’. [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.southernstudies.org/2013/02/climate-conspiracy-theorist-returns-to-nc-legislature-warns-of-threat-from-science-elite.htm

(2011). Coastal management policies (House Bill 819). Retrieved from North Carolina General Assembly website: http://www.nccoast.org/uploads/documents/CRO/2012-5/SLR-bill.pdf

North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, North Carolina Agricultural Statistics. (n.d.). Crops: Highs & lows, stocks & storage, biotech, varieties, floriculture, county estimates, fruits & vegetables. Retrieved from website: http://www.ncagr.gov/stats/2012AgStat/Page061_098.pdf

A Perspective on Time

There are a few things that are really difficult to convey to students. I remember how hard it was to help my social studies students understand what caused the seasons. Yes, I taught a lot of science while teaching social studies. Distance and time, on the outset, seem simple. But comprehending the vastness of time, […]

There are a few things that are really difficult to convey to students. I remember how hard it was to help my social studies students understand what caused the seasons. Yes, I taught a lot of science while teaching social studies. Distance and time, on the outset, seem simple. But comprehending the vastness of time, when looking at history, and distance, when looking at science (or visa-versa), are hard for us to comprehend. In the words of the source blog for this infographic,

Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault – the span of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it.

There are lots of great infographics and visualizations that help to compare all manner of vastness, and here’s one.

Five Ways to Clean Up Space Junk

As you and your students may be able to imagine, our planet is filled with trash. Most of what we consume today is considered not to be used more than a few times, and so we throw it in a trash can and then put it on the street for the trash men to take […]

5 Ways to Clean Up Space Junk | Visual.lyAs you and your students may be able to imagine, our planet is filled with trash. Most of what we consume today is considered not to be used more than a few times, and so we throw it in a trash can and then put it on the street for the trash men to take it far away from us. Unfortunately, this is not the whole truth, it ends up in our quickly filling land fills.

But we do not only occupy this planet. For the past fifty or so years we, or things we have made, have also occupied outer space. Some of these items have been brought back, others have been destroyed reentering our atmosphere. But many are still floating in outer space. And even the tiniest object can cause major damage. Have you students imagine sand being thrown at them. Then imagine it being thrown at you at around 17,000 mph, the average speed of a space craft in low orbit. It can cause a lot of damage to you, or to a space craft.

This infographic goes through various methods being explored and tested to help clean up this debris. From giant fish nets to lasers, there are a variety of ways being explored to make space safe for continued exploration. Have you students discuss the merits of each method, and be able to defend what they think is the best method.

Blog: http://visual.ly/5-ways-clean-space-junk

Amazing Facts about the Human Body

Anyone who has studied anatomy and physiology at all would agree that the human body is amazing. It is a machine that keeps us moving and creating, and recreates itself to keep itself healthy. It has defense mechanisms and the ability to reproduce, all while nourishing itself by using our environment. We could survive equally […]

18-amazing-facts-about-the-human-body_5239be637e7aaAnyone who has studied anatomy and physiology at all would agree that the human body is amazing. It is a machine that keeps us moving and creating, and recreates itself to keep itself healthy. It has defense mechanisms and the ability to reproduce, all while nourishing itself by using our environment. We could survive equally by breathing the air in the mountains and in the city (although many feel better in one or the other), and nutrition can be gained and processed by eating nearly anything. But there are some things beyond basic anatomy and physiology that will also blow your mind.

This infographic goes into everything from rejuvenation to strength. For instance, a femur is about four times stronger than concrete! If you know anyone who broke their femur, ask how, and you will learn how to break up concrete.

But how are each of these facts useful? Why do our bones have to be so strong? Why do our stomach contents have to be so acidic? Knowing these things is very fun, but knowing why is more fascinating.

Blog: http://visual.ly/18-amazing-facts-about-human-body

The Ten Best Inventions of All Time

The ten best of anything can be a matter of opinion. Before sharing this infographic, have your students brainstorm the five or so best inventions. Then backtrack, and figure out what had to be invented in order for these items to be invented. For instance, in order to use Twitter or Facebook, the internet and […]

10-best-worlds-inventions_523ad32731c66The ten best of anything can be a matter of opinion. Before sharing this infographic, have your students brainstorm the five or so best inventions. Then backtrack, and figure out what had to be invented in order for these items to be invented. For instance, in order to use Twitter or Facebook, the internet and the computer had to be invented. This was preceded by the typewriter and the printing press, which were preceded by paper and ink. We have come a long way since carving the ten commandments in stone.

Discuss who invented these and what kind of recognition they received. Had this person not lived, would have have been invented? For instance, the Wright brothers weren’t the only men working on flight, if they hadn’t flown, someone else would have developed the technology. What did others think of the men who created these? Can you imagine living your life by candle light, and hearing about a man trying to create light without fire? Witchcraft!

Blog: http://visual.ly/worlds-ten-best-inventions-all-times

Know Your Toilet

Your student’s may giggle at this infographic, but “no invention has saved more lives than a toilet. Billions still lack one. Lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection. All of this, entirely preventable.” This quote is entirely true and taken from visual.ly. Toilets are private today, but are extremely important. How have […]

Your student’s may giggle at this infographic, but “no invention has saved more lives than a toilet. Billions still lack one. Lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection. All of this, entirely preventable.” This quote is entirely true and taken from visual.ly. Toilets are private today, but are extremely important.

How have ancient civilizations used the toilet? Is this a modern invention, or did ancient Rome have them? Rome actually did. Forgive me if I am wrong about the specifics (the location), but I seem to remember hearing about a series of seats outside of an ancient coliseum with holes in them, assumed to be toilets. This shows that an ancient civilization recognized the importance of sanitation (although not our more modern concept of toilet modesty).

What are other aspects of bathrooms that may be useful when traveling? When I was in Germany just before the Euro was introduced, I remember there being restrooms in train stations, but having to pay a small amount (I believe it was 5 Pfennig, about 3 cents) to use it. Because it cost a small amount, these public restrooms were very clean. I have also seen pictures of toilets in Japan, and will have to explore how to use them in more detail before I travel there.

Blog: http://visual.ly/know-your-toilets

The Solar System: Our Home in Space

Narrated by a gentleman who sounds much like Robin Leach, former host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, this short video is the subject of our IGaD today. In fact, our solar system is home of many rich and famous individuals, just as it is home to those of us who are less rich […]

Narrated by a gentleman who sounds much like Robin Leach, former host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, this short video is the subject of our IGaD today. In fact, our solar system is home of many rich and famous individuals, just as it is home to those of us who are less rich and famous. What a great commonality between us and those we look up to.

Aside from this interesting fact that I shared, this infographic does cover more important facts about other planets, moons, and other masses that orbit the Sun with us. It compares various planets in such a way that puts things into perspective. It compares other planets to Earth, including mass and asteroids. And it finally ends on a pleasant note, sharing the demise of Earth in many, many years.

Begin, or end, your study of the Solar System with this short video, to give students a short overview of what can be expected. And don’t forget to read this post in the voice of the narrator, the way in which I wrote it.

Blog: http://visual.ly/solar-system-our-home-space

Moon Phases Explained (with Oreo cookies)

This infographic includes a great activity for students of any age. Hand out Oreos to each student, and have them create each moon phase as depicted at the top of the infographic, assigning one phase per student. Then create a sun (a lamp), facing the Earth, and have students place themselves at each phase, as […]

This infographic includes a great activity for students of any age. Hand out Oreos to each student, and have them create each moon phase as depicted at the top of the infographic, assigning one phase per student. Then create a sun (a lamp), facing the Earth, and have students place themselves at each phase, as they believe theirs lays between the Earth and sun (as explained at the bottom of the diagram). Have students think about why they believe they belong where they belong, and ask a few to explain.

Then have students return to their seats and show them this infographic, and ask how many students were correct. For some people, the relationship between the sun, Earth, and moon are very advanced, it involves a higher level of think. It involves thinking about where the shadow would be on the moon, where the light would be on the moon, and how this affects how we, on Earth, see the moon.

After your students sit down, have the students study this infographic and try to understand exactly what happens. The moon phase names don’t matter (except for the test if you wish), but rather what happens to the moon as far as what we see, as it orbits Earth. Also, one important point, is that we don’t orbit the sun on the same plane the moon orbits us, which is why we see a full moon when the moon is on the opposite side of the sun as Earth.

Blog: http://visual.ly/moon-phases-explained-oreos

Curiosity: Seven Minutes of Terror

Now I don’t know if this title is alluding to the fact that the men and women on the ground were terrified the Curiosity would not land properly, or the feelings of the Curiosity itself or those aboard, had there been people aboard, but regardless, the descent of the Curiosity was quite terrifying, as this […]

Now I don’t know if this title is alluding to the fact that the men and women on the ground were terrified the Curiosity would not land properly, or the feelings of the Curiosity itself or those aboard, had there been people aboard, but regardless, the descent of the Curiosity was quite terrifying, as this infographic shows.

From approaching at 13,000 mph to the final soft landing, there is a lot of gear required. There are cameras and antenna everywhere to monitor the descent, and signals it will use to know when to expel various equipment. It has a heat shield for entry into the atmosphere which will separate at 370 mph. It has a 100 pound parachute that will be deployed at 900 mph. It even has equipment that will attach to the surface of mars and lower it slowly the rest of the way, and then blown off to detach. There cannot be any chance of damage.

What do we use here on Earth that has this many precautions? What happens when a hair dryer is used for a long time? What happens when we cook something and it burns, filling the air with smoke? How could we use some of this technology to make other things, such as cars safer? Do you believe this is cost effective technology to keep a loved one safe?

Blog: http://visual.ly/curiosity-7-minutes-terror

Distances Driven on other Worlds

Twenty Three miles may not seem very far, but in 1973, this was a great distance to travel on the moon. This infographic shares distances traveled by various crafts on the moon and on mars, from farthest to shortest. Currently, curiosity is traveling on the surface of Mars at the breakneck speed of nearly half […]

Twenty Three miles may not seem very far, but in 1973, this was a great distance to travel on the moon. This infographic shares distances traveled by various crafts on the moon and on mars, from farthest to shortest. Currently, curiosity is traveling on the surface of Mars at the breakneck speed of nearly half a mile thus far. It is collecting data and specimen as it travels slowly over this uncharted territory. But there are more factors involved than simply speed and distance.

Gather information on each mission and find out what the reason for the mission was. When Europeans first landed on the coast of America, they did not travel to the other side of the coast, they wanted to gather information and explore little by little, they did not know what could be on the other side of a forest. Were the missions only to gather information on terrain, to try to land on the surface in the first place, or to map out the planet further? In addition, how many expeditions had occurred previous to each mission. An initial mission will have more basic goals than later missions.

Compile a list of missions, and their goals and duration, as well as potential and actual problems during the mission. Compare the missions beyond the distance traveled on the planet, and try to figure out which mission was the most successful.

Blog: http://visual.ly/distances-driven-other-worlds