Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘IASTEM’

In the Iowa Caucuses campaign, science voters have the power to prod candidates

In Government, STEM on June 17, 2019 at 7:10 am
Science on the Stump journalists Sarah Beckman, Douglas Burns, Brianne Pfannenstiel and Pat Rynard

Sarah Beckman of WOI-TV speaks to the audience at the March for Science Iowa Science on the Stump forum. From left, Douglas Burns, Brianne Pfannenstiel and Pat Rynard listen in. Photo by Joe Sheehan.

For Iowans who care about science – government support for research, using evidence to define policy, and things like addressing climate change and backing vaccine safety – now is the time to speak up.

The caucus campaign gives us a quadrennial opportunity to push for these goals. Candidates – and the reporters who cover them – are listening.

That was one message from Iowa journalists last month at Drake University in Des Moines. They were on the second of two panels gathered for Science on the Stump, hosted by the March for Science Iowa, a nonpartisan group that advocates for evidence-based policy and research in the public interest. I helped organize the event and previously wrote about the first forum, of scientists and science observers.

You can listen to the entire discussion on the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

The journalists who spoke noted that Iowans often dictate the subjects candidates address when they appear in cafes, barns, auditoriums and living rooms across the state. For example, activists and interested voters have made climate change a key science-related issue.

Reporters, editors and producers also respond to voter feedback, but a lack of science expertise sometimes makes it difficult for them to sift competing claims. Read the rest of this entry »

Forget the big boar. Pin down some candidates on science at the Iowa State Fair

In Government, STEM on August 8, 2018 at 2:25 pm
Jeb! Bush speaks at The Des Moines Register's political soapbox at the 2016 Iowa State Fair. Credit: Zach Boyden-Holmes,The Des Moines Register

Jeb! Bush speaks at The Des Moines Register’s political soapbox at the 2016 Iowa State Fair. Credit: Zach Boyden-Holmes, The Des Moines Register

When it comes to science, Iowa politicians are largely blank slates. Most have only made vague statements about supporting science, protecting natural resources or balancing agriculture and the environment. Few have laid out actual policies on science and issues in which knowledge and evidence play major roles.

The March for Science Iowa group, with which I volunteer, is changing that. We’ve emailed questionnaires to candidates for Congress, governor and secretaries of agriculture and state.

Yes, there are still nearly three months left before the election, but the response has been … nonexistent. A few have acknowledged receiving the email, but no one has provided answers. I’m hoping that within a few weeks we’ll get replies.

In the meantime, we each have opportunities to get answers on our own – while also enjoying a corndog or other food-on-a-stick.

Read the rest of this entry »

Famed climate change warrior and former Iowan headlines Darwin Day in Iowa City

In STEM on February 21, 2018 at 7:35 am
One of the better signs at last year's March for Science Iowa: A portrait of Darwin with the slogan, "Very gradual CHANGE we can believe in.". Credit: Paula Mohr.

One of the better signs at last year’s March for Science Iowa featured dear old Darwin. Credit: Paula Mohr.

Iowans have an opportunity to hear from a hero in the battle to halt or reverse climate change.

The event is the annual Iowa City Darwin Day, actually a two-day symposium to honor Charles Darwin, the naturalist whose book, “On the Origin of Species,” posited evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. The celebration is held every year on or around the great scientist’s February 12 birthday. This year it’s Friday and Saturday, February 23-24, on the University of Iowa campus.

Darwin Day celebrates science – particularly science that often is denigrated or attacked, such as evolution and human-caused climate change. Many of the sessions revolve around these two subjects and how to communicate about them with skeptics.

This year’s program includes a rare chance to see in person a former Iowan who has become a champion and a lightning rod on climate change.

Read the rest of this entry »

Parents pack Waukee forum to comment on Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on February 17, 2015 at 7:32 am

If you were in Waukee at a forum about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) last Wednesday night and knew nothing about them, you may have come away thinking they’re a government plot to dumb down science for our kids and brainwash them.

Or you might have left thinking they’re evidence-based, objective guidelines that will help children understand how science works and how to apply those principles throughout their lives.

An Iowa Department of Education team is considering using the NGSS as a base to set new standards for what Iowa youths should learn about science.

To gather public input the team of educators is holding a series of forums around the state. I attended the first one, at the Waukee Community School District offices, on Feb. 11.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I fear conservative forces will attempt to scuttle the standards, at least in part because they teach evolution as the best explanation for Earth’s biological diversity and human influence as the best explanation for climate change.

What I heard on Wednesday did little to ease my fears and much to exacerbate them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Next Generation Science Standards: an update

In STEM on April 30, 2014 at 6:49 am

Next Generation Science Standards logoIt’s been six months since an Iowa Department of Education task force recommended the state adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The group of educators, legislators, parents and others rejected conservative objections over local control and the inclusion of evolution and human-caused climate change and sent the standards on to the Iowa Board of Education.

The standards, formulated with input from 24 states – including Iowa – will set the agenda for science literacy and, more importantly, for teaching citizens to understand and interpret scientific data.

Since then, there’s been no news – which made me nervous. Was the board letting the NGSS die of neglect, hoping people would forget about them? Was the department getting objections from conservative officials in Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration?

It seems the former hasn’t happened and it’s doubtful the latter has, either. What is clear is that the drive to adopt the standards has stalled.

Read the rest of this entry »

Beware: Conservatives are targeting the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on October 8, 2013 at 8:08 am
A boy in school, standing in front of a blackboard.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

I’ve written about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and my fears that an Iowa Department of Education task force may be a smokescreen for Gov. Terry Branstad to kill them.

I also wrote about an important survey the task force is taking to get Iowans’ views on the standards. The survey ends Friday, October 11, and you must take it if you believe faux science like intelligent design (i.e., creationism) should be kept out of Iowa classrooms while fact-based science education, including evidence for anthropomorphic anthropogenic climate change, is kept in.

Because there are signs religious fundamentalists and conservative education activists will hijack the survey – as I feared. And there are signs I may be right about the smokescreen.

Read the rest of this entry »

Riding a robot to a world title

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2013 at 9:30 pm
beta team_picture

Team Beta, from left: Tanvi Yenna, Sidd Somayajula, Jordan Burklund, Chase Schweitzer, Saketh Undurty, Daniel Miller, Annie Howard

In the tradition of Gabrielle Douglas and Shawn Johnson, West Des Moines has produced another world champion.

This team, however, isn’t receiving nearly the attention or accolades, although the competition was equally demanding and the culmination of years of work. It’s unlikely you’ll see these competitors on a Wheaties box, on “Dancing With The Stars” or making product endorsements.

But you may soon see them designing computers, teaching English or running a corporation. They crossed oceans – remotely ­– to reach the pinnacle.

Read the rest of this entry »

STEM goes for the state title

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2013 at 2:59 pm
Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council

Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council

There was a lot going on in downtown Des Moines on March 5. At the Wells Fargo Arena, the state boys basketball tournament was attracting droves of fans, screaming at the top of their lungs.

Next door, at the Veterans Memorial Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center (whew!), a couple hundred educators, industry representatives and state officials gathered for the second Iowa STEM Summit, organized by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.

There wasn’t screaming, but just as much cheering.

Read the rest of this entry »

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