Dear Mr. Nye,
I read with excitement that you would be debating Ken Ham on evolution and Biblical Creationism. I think the first word I used to describe it was “epic”.
Feb. 4, 2014 in Petersburg, KY
“Is creation a viable model of origins?” Creation Museum Founder and AiG President/CEOKen Ham will debate Bill Nye at the Creation Museum on Tuesday, February 4, at 7 PM. Bill Nye is the former host of the popular Bill Nye the Science Guy TV program for children, current Executive Director of the Planetary Society, and frequent pro-evolution guest on TV interview programs.
You had a significant impact on me as a student and as a teacher. I was in Jr High and High School when you were “the Science Guy”, and remember sitting in the audience at the International Science and Engineering Fair in the stands of Churchill Downs for opening ceremonies my senior year of high school. In college I held titles like “Chem Club Demo Guru” and worked at a kids museum, where I performed demo shows and live animal talks and tried to bring enthusiasm to my audiences and students, like you.
When I tried to find out how to watch your upcoming debate, I learned that it will take place in northern Kentucky (a little more than an hour from me), but my heart sank as I read on… at the Creation Museum, for a $25 ticket, on a Tuesday night. I have long avoided going to the Creation Museum. As a paleontologist, I don’t want to spend the $20 in admission to support an organization that I strongly disagree with. To see this debate, I would certainly consider the $25, but I am concerned that this money will go towards funding the Creation Museum. But a Tuesday night – that’s difficult too. As a high school science teacher, to drive to the Creation Museum after work, watch the debate, and come back home is doable, but a stretch. Too bad it couldn’t be on a Friday or Saturday.
As the Science Guy, you are a leader in science education, and those of us who teach students daily (a quarter of my biology course focuses on evolution) want to see how exactly you handle this debate. I’m delighted to see that there will be DVD and Streaming options to watch the debate. Please, please, please give us the opportunity to watch this event for free. Now that the event has sold out, it will be my only option.
A link was posted to my Facebook page yesterday that included options to buy the live-stream of this debate. The least expensive is $4.99. From the site:
Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?
Leading creation apologist and bestselling Christian author Ken Ham is joined at the Creation Museum by popular TV personality and evolution apologist Bill Nye.
Ham, a former science instructor who emigrated to the USA from Australia over 25 years ago, is joined by the popular children’s program personality Bill Nye “the Science Guy” for this first and only scheduled debate. Each man delivers what he believes is the best information currently available for his case. Each then has an opportunity for rebuttal and afterward answers questions submitted by the audience.
The upcoming February 4 debate has already generated significant attention from national media, and tickets to attend live were completely sold out within two minutes of release.
Don’t miss this “debate of the decade”! Watch at home, or organize to show the live stream to your small group, your youth group, or even your entire church.
The debate is to be held in the 900-seat Legacy Hall lecture arena at the Creation Museum (sponsored by Answers in Genesis). The live event is not expected to be televised but is being streamed live on the web and recorded for DVD and digital download distribution to help offset significant costs in organizing and sponsoring the debate.
Wait. Because of “significant costs in organizing and sponsoring the debate”, you are charging for access to it forever? As far as I can tell, its being held in an auditorium owned by Answers in Genesis (of which Ken Ham is CEO). According to your website, you sold 800 tickets at $25 each (that’s $20,000) in 2 minutes. (Edit: I forgot about the 200 seat simulcast room. That’s another $5,000. $25,000 total from ticket sales.)
I’ve watched dozens of TED talks, for free, and I’m certain those cost money to produce. They require venues, and fancy stage decor, and a few staff, and generating tickets. AIG owns the venue. I doubt it is costing more than $20,000. I will probably watch this somehow, but I will not be doing it alone. If you will not make this FREELY available to those who aren’t there, I will make it free for some. (And readers, I challenge you to do the same.)
I went looking about what Mr. Nye has said about education, and found this:
So there are people that would, that believe when you need to make budget cuts the first thing you do is cut education. Just increase class sizes, have fewer teachers. But you can argue—I mean I’ll just point out, the heck with argue—that’s wrong. No, instead you should invest more in schools and teachers, especially science and math education. Teaching math is not expensive, it’s a value.
And the thing to do when a lot of people will pay to see a debate about Creationism and Evolution? Charge for it. I hope the money does something good. Since I live near the Creation Museum, I wonder if this is a stunt to raise money for the Ark as attendance to the museum declines, but I really hope the Science Guy wouldn’t allow himself to be used that way.
Update (Jan 16, 2014):
It has been announced that the debate will be streamed FOR FREE! I’m curious about the circumstances.
There. I said it. I accept late work for full credit literally until the day I submit grades.
I know there are detractors to this policy, even in my building. They say, “It teaches bad habits. Students must learn deadlines! The real world doesn’t work that way!” I don’t actually disagree. I would like my students to only have good habits, and the real world does have deadlines.
This is school. My job is to teach a year of material to my students. Period. Technically, its hard to find due dates in my class. I will say things like, “I will collect this at the end of the period” or “bring this completed tomorrow” and I expect the students to submit the work. Every week we have a quiz, and the feedback on the regular classwork helps them on the quiz. That’s their payoff for timeliness. So, I do accept work late, but if you turn it in late, you probably will fall behind.
Here are the things that are the biggest factors in my “late” work policy:
- If it is worth doing, its worth doing late.I only assign things that are worth doing. I assign them because I want you to know and understand the material. None of it is filler.
- If they do the work, then I want to give them credit for doing it.
- Turning things in when asked for means they get valuable feedback. I want students to learn the value of managing their learning, and that an assignment is an opportunity to learn, and not just an opportunity to earn points.
Is accepting work late more work? I don’t actually think so. I try to set up my assessment of work so it take less than a minute for most items (because hey, when you have to grade a hundred of the same thing…) The students who turn in work “late” usually do for only a couple reasons:
- Forgot it/left in locker/left at home
- Was sick/absent
- Didn’t want to (or in a few cases, just completely checked out for a month)
So, in the first case I’m looking at deducting points not for the quality of their work, but for their organizational skills. In the second, I do have to give students who were absent (even if it was unexcused) the number of days plus one to turn in their late work. That would take me so much more time to figure out than it takes to just grade their work. And the last case, well, a student who thinks they’re going to fail will NEVER try in your class. What’s the point?
Our amazing administrators (actually, our junior high and high school vice principals) have started Saturday School. Based on the data I saw yesterday, Saturday School is a powerful deterrent for behavior violations in our building. I have sent students straight to Saturday School for using cell phones in my class. (I am so grateful to my admin backs me up on that!) While at Saturday School, students “have the opportunity” to make up late or missing work. Many teachers say, “No! I don’t take late work!” (citing bad habits and a lesson in personal responsibility), but not me. I had a student who had not turned anything in all quarter, and his name came up on the Saturday School list. During class on Friday, I confirmed with him that he would be at Saturday school, and told him I would leave work for him and I expected to see it Monday, and Monday, I would give him full credit for all his work. I stayed late after school Friday, putting together a copy of every assignment he missed, printed copies of my science notebook, a textbook, and a box of school supplies just like we have in class. I was delighted that he came into school Saturday, participated, and by Monday had completed almost all the work he hadn’t turned in the rest of the month. (This happened again with another student a few weeks later.) He passed the quarter, based on his work, despite not being good at keeping up the beginning of the year.
I know some districts are moving toward policies where students “can’t get a zero”. Many people – teachers, parents, the public – are often outraged about this. Here’s why these policies happen: when students realize they can’t pass, mathematically, they become a behavior problem. They quit working entirely, lose interest, and distract other students during class time. Allowing students to turn in work late means that when they realize they are about to be held accountable for their time (usually the last week before parents get a report – for me, twice a quarter) the ones who have not been paying attention start to work. If I said, “nope, no credit for late work”, then not only would these students not bother to learn the material, they would just count the quarter as lost and try again next time – or worse, they figure if they failed first semester they’ll fail the whole course and the last semester is a bear.
My goal is for my students to learn the material. My goal is for them to learn the value of keeping up with a course. Some students even ask if they can redo an assignment and turn it in for more points. There is great educational value to reviewing your own work, and I usually allow this (particularly for daily work and notebook checks, but not for quizzes.)
So what have I gained? I have students who sometimes take an extra day on an assignment because they want to do a better job. Students who are busting their butts at the middle and end of each quarter before grades are due. Students who know I’m there for the material and to teach them to learn, rather than deduct points for technicalities. I have students who might fall behind but still try to catch up. My students will learn a lot, and they won’t fail for making mistakes that children make.
This one’s for Adam, who commented,
This is fantastically helpful. I am doing a notebook for the first time this year, but only for labs, demonstrations, and some reflection. While it is helpful and the students like it, I’m recognizing that only using it sometimes is a problem. Could you elaborate on what you are doing with notes? That’s an area I have yet to touch with the notebook and would be curious to hear your method.
Sure, no problem. And I have to admit, this was one of those things that seemed difficult to find a solution for but in the end was pretty intuitive. The answer is: some pages are for notes. Students just take notes on them.
I used to do this in my research notebooks. I would go sit in a library somewhere (my office was at Ohio State in Orton Hall, so usually I’d just go upstairs to the Orton Hall Geology Library and either sit in a comfy chair with a journal article and my notebook or sit at one of the old worn tables to take my notes and make tables from my reading.
At first, I drew notes on my whiteboard and wanted my students to copy what I was writing as I wrote. They had a good deal of difficulty doing this. Many of my students write at different rates and I was writing things across the board or over diagrams and while they were writing they were looking down, and didn’t immediately know where I was working on my whiteboard. They got very frustrated.
When I asked for feedback, many students asked for “more notes”, which I thought I’d been giving them. A few (brave) students came to me and said that what they specifically wanted was powerpoint slides with notes. This now makes sense to me – they are very predictable for students. They can look down to write and predict where the next thing they need to write will be on the slide. As an added bonus, they are easy for me to print off (frequently using the “print as an outline” feature) for students who need more time for this process – this way I don’t have to completely stop for the one or two who are below grade-level readers and/or slow writers, and those students can choose to just listen during lecture and write later. (Our sped support teachers know I’m doing this, and I’ve started sending them copies of scans of my notebooks and the ppt slides so these students can access them in their rooms as well.)
Its important to never forget that our students are learning the skills of being a student – including note writing. They get writing fatigue if you give them a ton of notes. I try for less than 10 slides, and each slide usually has one or two nice figures (right now we’re doing “the Cell” so its SEM pictures of organelles or bacteria, or nice diagrams without a lot of words on them). These slides note’s fit less than two pages of a composition notebook, and I also give them an “overlay” page with diagrams that complement the notes.
And since I mentioned overlays… an “overlay” is a handout page that gets taped as a flip page over the notes – so a student can flip it up or to the side and see what’s written on the page underneath. I like distributing these figures as handouts because students don’t need to draw pictures in their notes (which is time consuming) and it gives them a reason to trick them into spending more time in their notebook and in the material (coloring the picture). If you go this route, you can hand them out at the beginning of the lecture or the end. I have been using pages from The Biology Coloring Book and other similar texts (reduced to 92%), and students color them in during downtime during lecture. Some students may find this really distracting, and for those students you may want to hold the overlay insert until after the lecture.
So, here’s what my more recent pages have been looking like:
This is a two page spread of notes, with a handout for an overlay. It takes about 10 minutes to cover these notes (which feels like forever to me), but this day we also did special organelles in plant cells (with a plant cell handout), and structures in prokaryotes. This allows just enough leftover time for questions (we’ve had a lot on cells) and then time for distributing the handout, taping, some coloring, and time for me to walk around and see who didn’t take notes.
Also, students can borrow my notebook as a “master” if they miss a day. They don’t get to leave the room with it, though. Its not uncommon for it to be floating around the room during class, and everybody always knows where it is (its nice that it has a funky distinctive cover, which helps when it takes more than 5 seconds to figure out where it is).
Does that answer your question? I’m happy to follow up if I need to.
This year, I have been doing everything with modified “interactive” science notebooks for my biology and physics classes. Everything. I even keep one myself that helps me plan, sketch things out, and use as an example. Its also handy when students complain about tedious tasks, like numbering all the pages.
“You can do it! I’ve done it twice!”
As I posted earlier, I’ve been using Teaching Science with Interactive Notebooks by Kelli Marcarelli. This is a great book and I recommend it highly, even at full price. Kelli gives all the information you need to put together a comprehensive course using interactive notebooks (rather than say, binders or a file cabinet full of folders).
Anyway, I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned.
1. Do your notebooks in a way that makes sense to you.
It makes just about zero sense to me to have the input page on the right and the output page on the left. None. When we do the “input/output” pairs in my class, my input (usually notes) goes on the left, student work reflecting on that information goes on the right. I get that this works for some people and for some students, but no scientist that I’ve ever met does anything except keep notes and data in chronological order. We always move chronologically and no skipping around on pages.
2. Keep a notebook yourself.
Keep a notebook yourself. Not only is it a fun scrapbook of what you’ve learned, but you can use it as an example of what students should be doing. The only thing that’s a bummer is that if you put answers in it, students will just copy your notebook. Mine is a good example for layout and the contents for each page, but I’d get a pretty low score on a notebook check because its incomplete and doesn’t have any of the answers or extended response writing that I require of my students.
3. My students really like notes.
Who knew? I had been giving notes on a white board, because I thought that modeling note writing would be good for them. They hated it. I gave my students a short feedback sheet and asked how the class could be better – and they asked for more notes not on the whiteboard. The other teachers are now stopping by and mentioning that my students are happy to have notes for their notebooks. (I feel that students doing this seems a little weird, but whatever.) One commented the students were happy because they have seen the changes I made to the class after their feedback and they feel like I’m listening to them. (Little happy dance!)
4. You really do have to show students what to do with an output page.
This is the odd thing about these interactive notebooks – just like learning inquiry, students have to be taught how to produce “output” that is “reflective” on whatever you focused on in class. For now, I have been giving them figures to put in, or tiny pictures they can use to make a concept map, or I use my document projector and model how I reflect on the material. This is the one you have to set them up to be successful on, or they freak out and hate the notebooks.
5. Interactive notebooks might be an “all or nothing” thing.
I’m not sure on this idea yet, but students love that they have JUST ONE NOTEBOOK in my class. In fact, I provide them with tape and scissors so that everything is physically attached (we have a shake test – stuff falls out, and your notebook doesn’t pass the shake test!) Many have commented that they don’t like having an interactive notebook that they use “just sometimes” in their other classes. Then they have to keep track of their regular binder, their textbook (I requested a classroom set of texts so students don’t need to bring them), and their interactive notebook.
6. It would have been a good idea to specify how many pages should be in their composition book.
My students purchased their own composition books. Some students have books with 100 sheets (like me!), giving us 200 pages to work with (Friday, the end of the second week of the second quarter, we were on page 93). Some students have books with 70 sheets, they are getting close to that 140th page. The simplest solution is to get another book and just continue page numbering. I haven’t decided if we’re going to tape the books together or not at that point.
So, how do I plan with this thing?
Firstly, I do everything my students do, and on the same pages that they will. (Now, my physics students do practice problems and we’re off, but it doesn’t bother me with them. They are ok with the instruction “go to the next page in your notebook”, I think because they just have more experience. Part of what I’m doing in Biology is teaching them how to mature as students and stay organized, and chaos ensues when they start straying from the order. And there’s NO REASON they need more space than I use. Period.)
I’m very fond of my page that I made when we did systematics and classification. Every student got a page with pictures of insects, and had to sort them. I sorted mine by morphology (one pair or wings, two pairs of wings, “bugs”, “arachnids”, “many legs”) – I tried to do it like they might. I also might have looked up all their classification details and made a table, but hey, that’s what interactive notebooks are all about! Going a little further. (They are on post it notes so I can take them off the page and move them around.) Make sure you do it yourself either before or with your first class (my first biology section is only just more than a dozen students, so sometimes I work on my notebook alongside them) so that you know what it will look like, and students who are more visual can understand what you want them to do.
I also did a cool food web page, and I only knew I needed two pages for this because I tried doing it first. Students were first given notes on foodwebs then a handout with all the pictures of animals on them. Each picture has a description beneath it that says what the animal eats and what eats it. Students were directed to arrange them on the two pages with arrows going from the food to the predator, and some struggled with that. However, we kept talking about them and I’m confident almost every kid understood food webs and trophic levels by the time we were done, because they’d struggled with sorting out a food web rather than just looking at a figure.
Lastly, here is an example of my lecture plans alongside the page students produced. When talking about the idea of an ecosystem being made of parts that work together to complete a bigger picture, we read the Lorax aloud and then made a concept map showing how the characters (and sometimes things) in the story interacted with one another. I put the main ideas I wanted to cover and how I wanted to cover them on post-it notes, which allowed me to best arrange my presentation of these ideas without stressing about how my notebook looked (also, I was still lecturing “chalk talk” style here – which many students didn’t like and I’ve abandoned in favor of powerpoint for now).
Students were given the pictures in the concept map and asked to arrange them then write what the interactions between the characters was in the story (they were read the story and also given the text as a handout – yay for Common Core wanting more text in science). It was difficult to get them to complete this, even though I really liked doing it myself. I suspect students didn’t want to read the story, or they froze up about where to put the pictures on the page and ran out of time – this one will definitely need revision next year.
Wanna see my notebook?
Here’s my biology notebook for the first quarter, “Ecology”. I am not showing some of the front matter because it comes almost verbatim from Ms. Marcarelli’s fine book. (Head’s up: this looks fine on a PC but doesn’t come through correctly on my iPad.)
The Sacred Profession goes into great detail about using the interactive notebook in her high school history class. (HERE) (If you get stuck on her blog, I won’t be offended. Go. Have fun.)
Have you all seen the studies illustrating what kids think a scientist is?
Last month my building hosted a “Career Day” where every teacher in the building was asked to have a speaker from any career they wanted during their class time, so students would have the opportunity to meet with people doing jobs they might be interested in. It was a day for students to look forward a few years, and to identify what they needed to do now and in college to get them on track to the sort of career they’d like to have. So, I took advantage of the opportunity to introduce my students to some of my favorite local scientists. I teach physics and biology, so I invited professional scientists who worked near those fields. One speaker is a materials scientist who specializes in solid state chemistry and microscopy, one a paleontologist who specializes in vertebrates (mammals of Ohio and dinos out West) and museum curator, and another is an astrophysicist who studies black holes.
It was clear that the students didn’t understand a lot about how scientists are trained or what they do. None of my scientists spent most of their time in a lab. The materials scientist does a lot of microscopy, but much of his day is at a desk working on data analysis. The paleontologist works with specimens and education. The astrophysicist remotely collects data and analyzes it, looking for trends that lead to identifying and learning about black holes.
All of them emphasized the importance of taking science and math courses. They all talked about the importance of creativity and curiosity. Anyone can be a scientist.
The surprises my students learned:
- Graduate school in the sciences is often paid for – tuition free plus a stipend.
- Getting a PhD does not make you fabulously wealthy. (My students think that because I have a PhD I am the highest paid teacher in the building. Definitely not true!)
- Scientists travel a lot, usually to interesting places, and your job will pay for it. (Materials scientist spent two months in Belgium, two summers in LA, has been to Korea and Morocco; Paleontologist has done field work in Colorado, Montana, and the Badlands of the Dakotas; the Astrophysicist lived in Denmark and has traveled the world using telescopes – Arizona, Chile, Scotland)
The feedback I got the next day of class was that “scientists really like what they do!” and “your speaker made all of career day worth it!”. I don’t know how many future scientists are in my classes, but I do know that two of my speakers will be seeing them again.
All in all, a win-win, I think. Maybe it demystifies science when kids see grownups having fun at science.
Have you brought scientists into your classroom? What did they do?
I asked a simple question on my Facebook page: “Are there any science education topics you would like to see more blog posts about?” A IRL (in real life) friend of mine responded, “The scientific method… Is it used? What are contemporary thoughts on this? Relevancy to teaching?”
We probably all know the scientific method in some form. When I was in school (specifically, 8th grade – my teacher that year was also a veterinarian on the side and I believe his focus was farm animals, particularly large ones like horses and cows) I learned the scientific method as “PPRC” Purpose, Procedure, Results, Conclusion. I still use this, actually, when writing scientific articles and abstracts. (One sentence for each makes a great abstract!) Another common topic was the more expanded “Scientific Method”, which usually includes:
5. Some kind of analysis (may or may not involve “rejection” of hypothesis)
I suspect many teachers still teach this way, and frequently I see things like “discussion” and “data collection” and other relevant but complicating detail thrown in. If it works for them, that’s fine. It also lines up nicely with what is expected for students participating in science fair activities (you’ll hear more about science fair from me later), and that repetition is good for students.
Back to the Facebook question, is this a contemporary approach to the methods that scientists actually use? No, I don’t exactly think so.
Firstly, scientific questions. Scientists DO science differently than K-12 students. Their questions arise out of personal experiences in their field or come from the resolution of a similar study. K-12 students generally have a question presented to them from a teacher (this saves a lot of time and does help to keep a class focused). In the language of education, if you are looking to learn more about posing a good question to lead into a unit of student-based investigation, use the search term “essential question”. (One great book on the topic of essential questions is Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.)
Secondly, the idea of having a student, at this point, write a hypothesis. A hypothesis should be informed. Scientists are informed enough to make a hypothesis (in many cases I suspect even before framing a “question”, which a scientist might not formally do until after they’ve completed their study and are writing it up). To save time, teachers will provide a worksheet or refer to a textbook reading, but generally, students struggle with writing a hypothesis without any experience.
Honestly, in my classes I don’t see students struggling with ideas about “procedure” and “results” and “conclusions”. They complain about conclusions because that’s the work after the fun of the experiment, but too bad on that one.
So what do I do with my students?
Every experiment we do is hung on this frame.
Why are we doing this? (purpose)
What will we do and how will we measure it? (procedure)
We organize the measurements. (results)
We describe what we learned in terms of our purpose. (conclusion)
Now that my students have been trained to do this by 9 weeks of experiments that are organized this way, my students are learning a new step: the hypothesis. I give them the purpose of the experiment, and the procedure. Now at the end of the experiment, while they are working through the questions I provide that help them draw conclusions, I am starting to hear more questions coming from my students.
“Dr. O, I think that if we did X instead of Y, then Z would happen. Can I try that?”
YES! Make sure you take notes about what happens as you test your hypothesis!
After a few weeks of allowing students to hypothesize, in this way, it can be made part of their formal framework.
Next quarter we will start to talk about making good charts, informational diagrams, and figures.
The last quarter of the year, (handily after their graduation tests) they will be able to create their own experiments, hopefully.
Want to do interactive science notebooks? Not sure where to start? No problem!
When you want to use scientific notebooks with your students, for notetaking, assessment, recordkeeping, whatever… all your problems have been solved by someone else. That’s right, as we teachers know, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Teaching Science with Interactive Notebooks by Kellie Marcarelli is a terrific resource for designing (or redesigning) a course that has interactive notebooks as its heart and soul. So, step 1: go buy/order this book.
Great. What do you do while you are twiddling your thumbs waiting for your book?
Time to plan. I learned from a local biology teacher that the best way to keep kids using their interactive notebooks was to have all the tools handy. So STEP 2 is to get all your supplies. What are the supplies?
1. Composition notebooks (though some teachers prefer spiral notebooks) for each student. (Ask your school, put them on your class supply list, or whatever way works for you.
2. Shared desktop office supplies. For every 2 or 3 students, get a pencil box and inside keep the following supplies: colored pencils, tape, scissors, post it notes.