Thomas R. O'Donnell

Roundup: Smartphone phobia, Alzheimer’s proteins and fracking water

In University research on May 24, 2015 at 8:20 am
Blackberry telling its owner "You cannot quit."

Photo Credit: me_chris via Compfight cc

For your Memorial Day weekend reading, here’s a review of some lesser-seen science news from Iowa universities over the last few weeks, including “addictive” cellphones, a hint at how to avoid Alzheimer’s disease and mineral water that could give you an unhealthy glow.

If you’re reading this on a mobile phone, you might want to pay special attention to the first item. Iowa State University researchers say their quiz can help determine whether you have an unhealthy attachment to your pocket brain. It could be an addiction. Or not.

Another ISU researcher’s study, meanwhile, has implications for the brain between your ears – the real one with hands-free access (unless, like me, you hold your head while thinking). The bottom line from his Alzheimer’s disease research may give you another reason to stop using your exercise bike as a clothesline.

And finally, a University of Iowa report suggests brackish underground water produced as a consequence of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for gas and oil may be more dangerous than previously thought.

The Des Moines Register catches up on the Next Generation Science Standards: a critique

In STEM on May 6, 2015 at 7:05 am
Cover of Science Comics, April 1939, via the Digital Comics Museum.

Science Comics, April 1939, via the Digital Comics Museum.

It’s taken months, but the Des Moines Register finally caught up with deliberations over Iowa’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

On Sunday, reporter Mackenzie Ryan did a big takeout on the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) study of the standards, which would replace the current Iowa Core standards in science. It ran across the top of the front page – and as a former Register reporter, I will say you can’t do better than lead the Sunday paper, which has the biggest circulation of any day of the week.

There’s even a video on line of Ryan discussing the story and visiting a West Des Moines engineering class. (The class has more to do with Project Lead the Way, an initiative to coax more students into engineering, than with the NGSS, but never mind.)

So the Register focused a lot of attention on the issue – one that your faithful correspondent and others have reported on for months. That fact, and the fact that it was a rather weak story (as I’ll detail below), has me scratching my head about why editors thought it deserved such prominent play. Perhaps there wasn’t anything better to run.

NGSS moves forward in Iowa; skeptical review team member discusses why he voted no

In STEM on April 20, 2015 at 7:42 am

How to Read the Next Generation Science Standards from Achieve on Vimeo.

After months of work, an Iowa Department of Education (IDE) review team last week signed off on a recommendation that the state’s schools teach the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as an update to the current Iowa Core standards.

It’s a victory for science advocates over conservative opponents, who don’t like the NGSS’ focus on inquiry over rote learning and inclusion of lessons on evolution and human-caused climate change.

The team of science educators and business leaders will meet again next month to draft a report to the Iowa Board of Education, which has the final say. Opponents are likely to put up resistance again there. One press report indicates some board members may be leery of diving into the evolution and climate science controversies (which really are non-controversies among scientists). Conservatives may try to exploit that hesitation.

The team formally endorsed only a portion of the NGSS document and its decision wasn’t unanimous. Two members voted no.

In fact, one of those two consistently voted against the standards at the team’s March 24 meeting.

His objections and the review team’s choice to adopt only part of the standards, leaving the rest as “supporting material,” provide insights into how the NGSS are structured and what they’re designed to do.

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