Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘STEM’

Stepping up in Iowa to support science, facts and evidence

In Government, STEM on March 15, 2017 at 7:13 am
A postcard to President Trump from Deborah Bunka, via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

A postcard to President Trump from Deborah Bunka, via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page.

I authored this post, which first appeared on the Iowa Starting Line blog. – TRO

Even before he was elected, commentators and experts noted a strong anti-science streak in Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Now that he’s been inaugurated, they’re calling him the most anti-science president ever. Trump is enacting an agenda that, at best, selectively supports scientific evidence and research.

With the appointment of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s clear that climate change will be downplayed or dismissed in the Trump administration. Pruitt took a moderate stance in his nomination hearings, but now is proudly revealing his anti-science views. Earlier this month he said he disagrees with the overwhelming evidence that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global climate change.

Trump and Pruitt are putting their words into actions. The administration has offered a plan to cut the budget for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development by 40 percent. The EPA as a whole would get a 24 percent cut. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a major climate research agency, also would get a severe reduction. Other proposals under consideration would roll back Department of Energy financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy and for research on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Trump’s disdain for sound science goes beyond climate, however, and spans political parties. He’s given credence to the disproven notion that vaccinations cause autism and met with noted anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (of the famed Democratic family).

It’s easy to pick on Trump, but in truth his election and views are just the culmination of years of attacks on science, evidence and research – attacks that aren’t solely from conservatives. Now, scientists and those who value research and evidence as a foundation for sound public policy are fighting back.

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March for Science: Iowans organizing rally for research

In STEM on January 30, 2017 at 7:08 am
A March for Science Iowa comic by designer Miles Greb (@goldrushcomic) via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page. I think the model looks like a dark-haired Scarlett Johanssen.

A March for Science Iowa comic by designer Miles Greb (@goldrushcomic) via the March for Science Iowa Facebook page. I think the model looks like a dark-haired Scarlett Johanssen.

Jordan Shaw was a lab technician working in food safety a few years ago when one of his supervisors, a researcher working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, published a study comparing eggs from organic and free-range chickens to standard eggs.

Time published her results: there was little difference in terms of safety or quality between the different eggs.

When the magazine posted the story on line, Shaw was stunned. “The comments on that were just unreal, like ‘you can’t trust the USDA because they’re the idiots who made the food pyramid,’” said Shaw, now a food safety consultant living in West Des Moines.

That made Shaw consider how to help the general public better understand science. “What we’re seeing now, really badly, is that science is elite, it’s liberal, all this stuff, and the problem is our populace just doesn’t understand, honest and truly, what is peer-reviewed science.”

His alarm increased when he read reports that the Donald Trump administration was suspending research grants and communications from key government science offices, especially those associated with the environment.

So Shaw – and others across the state – are taking action. They’re planning an Iowa version of a national march in Washington, D.C., to support science and research.

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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.

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Make your voice heard (again) on the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on February 9, 2015 at 7:52 am

After dropping off the screen for more than a year, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are back in the spotlight.

A team of educators is reviewing Iowa’s science standards – what concepts they should know or what skills they should demonstrate. After considering several different criteria, ones either proposed or used elsewhere, it settled on the NGSS as the foundation for what kids will learn in science classes across Iowa.

Maybe more importantly, the NGSS outlines how students will learn, hoping to set them up to learn and work with facts and technology we can’t forecast.

Now the team is gathering feedback on the standards from educators, parents and students, through an on-line survey and four forums – the first of which is this Wednesday afternoon.

Like the last time a state panel considered the NGSS, the survey and the forums could be an opportunity for conservative opponents to come out and torpedo the effort.

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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.

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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.

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Take this important survey to support fact-based science in Iowa schools

In STEM on September 25, 2013 at 2:27 am

Next Generation Science Standards LogoIf want to help ensure Iowa kids aren’t fed creationism alongside evolution and aren’t told to forget the idea that humans are changing the world’s climate, I have a job for you.

I’ve written before about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which 26 states, including Iowa, formulated. They’re designed to mesh with the Common Core State Standards, educational guidelines established through a similar process.

The science standards were published in April and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad immediately shunted them off to a task force to consider whether to adopt them.

The task force has been busy. This is where your job comes in.

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Could Branstad’s task force be a smokescreen to kill new science education standards?

In STEM, Uncategorized on August 20, 2013 at 4:06 am
Kids looking into microscopes and doing science

Photo credit: Atli Harðarson via photopin cc

Terry Branstad and his lieutenant, Kim Reynolds, have been pushing Iowa educators to do more to engage kids in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The idea is to have a well-trained workforce for all those high-tech jobs they want to bring to the state.

So far, they’ve accompanied the drive with action, starting the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, handing out grants to scale-up activities, like FIRST LEGO League, that are designed to engage and attract students to technical fields, and holding annual summits of educators, administrators and business people.

Now, however, Branstad may face the biggest test of his resolve to make Iowans STEM leaders. His administration will have to decide if and how to adopt new science education standards – guidelines and goals that have prompted controversy elsewhere and could upset the conservative base of Branstad’s Republican Party.

For Iowans who support the standards, there have been reasons for despair – and perhaps for hope.

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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.

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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.

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