Thomas R. O'Donnell

Iowa approves NGSS as opposition fizzles

In STEM on August 10, 2015 at 7:38 am
An April 2015 photo at California's Lake Isabella. Once a tourist destination, the lake is going dry in an inexorable drought. Climate scientists say such severe weather episodes are more likely as global warming persists.

An April 2015 photo at California’s Lake Isabella. Once a tourist destination, the lake is going dry in an inexorable drought. Climate scientists say such severe weather episodes are more likely as global warming rises. Photo credit: Chris Wronski via photopin (license).

Thursday’s meeting of the Iowa Board of Education was almost as notable for what didn’t happen as for what did.

The board voted to adopt a modified version the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as the science criteria for Iowa students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It was unanimous.

In adopting the standards, the board followed the recommendation of two Iowa Department of Education panels. The most recent one worked since last fall to weigh numerous sets of science education standards – including those Iowa currently uses – and chose the NGSS. The board of science educators and industry representatives said the NGSS are best suited to help Iowa children grasp not only science’s fundamentals, but also how science works and how to weigh evidence, making them better prepared to learn on their own and judge competing scientific claims.

The outcome was not completely unexpected, but the way it happened surprised me. It could foreshadow a change in the debate over science and climate change.

Roundup: Ebola shots, big computer plans and a sunny outcome for ISU

In Industry Research, University research on August 2, 2015 at 7:12 pm
A colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) image of an  Ebola virus virion, created by CDC microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith. Credit: CDC global Flickr stream.

A colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) image of an Ebola virus virion, created by U.S. Centers for Disease Control microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith. Credit: CDC global Flickr stream.

Iowans and Iowa institutions have played roles in nationally and internationally significant science and technology developments in the last week, but sometimes you have to know the background to understand their involvement.

For instance, there was big news on Friday when the British medical journal The Lancet published results from an Ebola vaccine trial. The medicine appears highly effective – 100 percent, statistically – against the deadly disease. An Iowa company had a hand in it.

Just the day before, President Barack Obama signed an executive order putting the United States on course to build the most powerful computer ever. What few have noticed is the work a top University of Iowa official put in to helped set the stage for the program.

Meanwhile, Iowa State University students in Texas were celebrating after winning a race of sun-powered cars. And they not only won – they dominated, taking home the trophy for the first time since the team began racing 25 years ago.

Going dark: ISU abandoning the Fick Observatory

In University research on July 8, 2015 at 2:41 pm
The deteriorating sign marking the entrance to ISU's Fick Observatory southwest of Boone.

The deteriorating sign marking the entrance to ISU’s Fick Observatory southwest of Boone.

For nearly 40 years, Iowa State University students and researchers made nightly drives west to a humble steel building in a wooded clearing southwest of Boone.

When skies were clear, they would roll back the roof and fire up a 24-inch reflector telescope and other, smaller instruments to focus on distant stars and galaxies.

But a visit to the Erwin W. Fick Observatory today finds no students or professors and little more than weeds. ISU has closed it and moved most of the telescopes and equipment to campus.

For the first time in decades, Iowa State has no major astronomical facility – and it’s unlikely to ever have one again.

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