Category Archives: Education

The Bill Nye vs Ken Ham Debate

If you are in Kentucky and have an extra 30 bucks lying around (mainly because you wouldn’t want to donate that money to scientific cancer research or anything like that) then you can go visit the Creation Museum!

Quit frankly it seems like a really fun place, especially for kids. If it wasn’t pushed as the ultimate truth, and it were left as a fun children’s playground, I might not be so opposed. The issue is that the founders of the Creation Museum seem to think that scientific theories are just something that you sit around and make up based on what you believe. There seems to be a huge disconnect between understanding the scientific process and how it leads to scientific theory. The museum doesn’t end at creationism. You can also catch shows at the planetarium such as “The Christmas Star,” where you can learn about “possible” explanations for the “star” that led the wise men to Christ.

This brings us to the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, the head of the creation museum. Bill Nye has been a fierce advocate for science, and Ken Ham has been a strong preacher of creationism. Before the debate, there was a fair amount of criticism regarding Bill Nye actually debating a creationist. I am personally am all for it. You absolutely need to talk with people who have opposing views to share your ideas, and not turn your nose up at them.

For an overview of the debate, you can click here. I’m posting  the full debate below:

“So it sounds to me, just listening to you over the last two minutes, that there are certain parts of this document, the bible, that you embrace literally, and other parts that you consider poetry. So it sounds to me in those last two minutes like you’re going to take what you like, interpret literally, and other passages you’re going to interpret as poetic descriptions of human events.”

-Bill Nye

Check out the new I F#!&ing Love Science YouTube show

In case you are not cool (or geeky) enough to be one of the over 6 million followers of IFLS on facebook, you may want to check out the new show to catch up on fun and interesting tidbits about science.

Biases cause errors in decision making

In light of my sharing an absurd (and biased) investigation about sexual harassment at CU, I am sharing this talk on biases.

Click Below to view the talk:

Creating a Level Playing Field

It’s an excellent talk and really made me think about my own judgments and biases. It shed light on how our judgements of people and their abilities may not necessarily be based in fact. I am not going to say much more because I think Dr. Correll says it best in her talk.

Below I have included a few links similar to studies she references, and then a few other resources on bias studies.

Links and Resources:

Constructed criteria: redefining merit to justify discriminationThis study looks at job discrimination in stereotypical male or female jobs

Gender and Race Bias in the Judgement of Western Art Music Performance

Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind Auditions on Female Musicians

Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students

Here is a collection of papers on biases complied by Columbia University:Gender, Unconscious Bias and Stereotype Threat

Here is an interesting testimony along the same topic:                                          How I Discovered Gender Discrimination

Disciplinary Problems In Our Education System

I recently wrote about my thoughts on how a schools response to a young girl’s science experiment reflected racism and the expectation that women should not cause trouble, but this is not the sole issue behind the overreaction of the school. There is certainly a farther-reaching problem with our school disciplinary systems that affects everyone. Students are being punished for the wrong things all too often. I emphasize the wrong things because I don’t always see students getting disciplined when it needs to happen.

The overreaction

I want to think my fellow bloggers and commenters for alerting me to many recent ridiculous disciplinary actions at schools. I will post a few of these instances below:

Forming the Thread wrote an excellent blog post called “The Idiotic Message We Send Our Kids About Violence,” which includes several recent incidents of disciplinary actions and lack thereof.

Fifty Four and A Half wrote a post about guns in schools versus current gun legislation called “The Danish Connection.”

The Infrequent Atheist alerted me to a Kindergartender who was interrogated until he peed his pants, and was then suspended for 10 days.

The under reaction

Time and time again we hear of stories where bullies and rapists are not getting the proper punishments through schools. When we ask why we don’t see punishments for these crimes, a common response is “why aren’t these crimes handed over to the police?”

What an excellent question. Why should schools be faced with the heavy burden of suspending and expelling rapists and bullies? After all, it’s not like they are punishing students for petty crimes or fake guns.

Oh, hold on a second. Something seems off here…

Declining Female Interest in STEM Fields

In the most recent years, the gender gap in STEM interest has been increasing.

The other day, I was sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by papers with equations scribbled all over them. Believe me, I wasn’t pretending to be a savant for the world’s attention. I went to a public place so that I would stop saying aloud “Ugh, you moron, you don’t know any of this.”

To my surprise, a woman stopped me on her way out and asked if I was majoring in math. I looked up and responded with a hint of defeat that I was trying to study engineering. Then I asked if she had previously studied math.

She responded that she had, and then proceeded to tell me about all of the different options it gave her, and about the different jobs she had which finally led her to the marketing of accessories (she pointed to a purse she had with her). We had a short discussion about all of the opportunities that having a background in math and science offers you. It doesn’t force you into one single career; it opens a road to opportunity.

Yet, in the United States, it seems we are still stuck in the belief that math is hard, or that it is reserved for only the smartest students. Believe me, you don’t have to be a genius to learn processes that go with math and science.

Pursuing an education in STEM doesn’t shovel you into a basement corner where you have to sit and endlessly pump out math equations, or drink coffee and write computer code all day. STEM fields teach you a way of thinking. Of course, there are engineers who will go into “hard-core” engineering, just as there are English majors who will devote their lives to researching a single form of literature from a very specific time period and geographic location. Certainly, there are people who have specific passions and talents in life, and pursue education based on this. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, many people want an education leading to a career of sorts that contributes to the world in a positive way and provides a stable income. My concern is that young women are being discouraged from educational paths that provide this because they are mislead about what studying the sciences or engineering entails.

The Interest in STEM Fields

Below is a plot of male versus female interest in STEM fields. You can see the whole report here.

The gap in STEM interest between high school freshmen males and females has been increasing.

Seeing that the overall interest in STEM has been increasing makes me incredibly happy. It is wonderful that students are becoming more interested in STEM fields. Many new and upcoming jobs have some component of science or engineering. Just look at how often we use computers and modern technology outside of what is considered “the engineering world.”

What is disappointing is that female interest in STEM fields has been declining since the class of 2010. In fact, the gender gap in STEM interest is steadily increasing. In addition to the declining female interest, the study also states “since the graduating class of 2000, African American interest in STEM majors/careers has dropped by nearly 30%.”

Engineering and science are fields that should include everyone. The skills learned allow for numerous career paths from medicine to business. While I think it is excellent that we see an increasing interest with male students (specifically Caucasian men), I must ask, what is it about our culture or the way that we are currently portraying engineering and science to high school students that is causing women and African American students to have a declining interest in more recent years?

When Stress Gets the Best of You

Are you a worrier or a warrior?

A recent article in the New York Times investigates two types of students. There are the warriors, who thrive off of high stakes and sudden stress situations. They have fast acting enzymes that can quickly clear dopamine that builds up in high stress situations.

Then there are the worriers. These are the students that need to plan ahead and get stomach knots when faced with a high stakes test. They have slower acting enzymes that clear dopamine from the brain in stressful situations. These students can usually concentrate well, and have an advantage in problem solving and planning.

Of course there are students that have a mix of the two as well. Apparently you get one gene from each parent, so you can have a mix, or be purely worrier or warrior.

I will be the first to admit I am a worrier. The past two weeks of high stress have demonstrated this, as I am now sick and stuck in bed. I do not handle high pressure and last minute stress. In fact, I get to the point where I become physically ill from the stress, which is where I am at now. I became so sick, that I had to cancel an important research trip. Thus, I find this article a fitting one to write about.

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The debate about the best academic environment is an interesting one. I am huge proponent of education. I also think students should be rewarded for hard work. We need a way to measure the ability of a student, but I have never been convinced that grades and tests are necessarily the best way.

In high school, I was the valedictorian on my class. I stressed constantly about getting perfect grades and completing each homework assignment to perfection. I would start each assignment ahead of time though, as it was impossible for me to do any assignment the night before it was due, as it would turn my stomach in knots. In hindsight, I should have probably given slightly less of a crap because there is more to life than getting good grades, but the past is in the past.

So, I got excellent grades. I don’t know that this necessarily means I was smart. In fact, there was a whole other aspect of the academic world that I was not, and am still not good at. This is the dreaded standardized test. While I didn’t necessarily “fail” at these sorts of tests, I have always received a far lower score than one that reflects my problem solving ability and knowledge. I even scored so low on the ACT, that it disqualified me for several scholarships.

On the other hand, I have several friends that are the complete opposite. They love to procrastinate. They do amazing on standardized tests, and have no problem going into tests with little to no studying. However, when it comes to these students succeeding at a long-term course projects, the procrastination thing doesn’t work out so well in their favor.

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I love comparing the experiences of different types of students. It is interesting to discuss what makes a class something that all types of learners and students can benefit from. I’ve found that my favorite classes were the ones with projects and labs. Spending time preparing and creating something was always fun for me. The classes that were purely test based were the ones I dreaded. If there were pop quizzes added in through the semester, it turned into a recipe for disaster for me.

An ideal class might combine all sorts of learning techniques, which include tests, interactive lectures, group work, long-term projects and shorter-term homework assignments. There are different types of learning subgroups even beyond the warrior versus worrier to think about as well. I would love to see more variability in academic courses. Then, of course this takes a lot of work and planning on behalf of the instructor, and that is something that just isn’t recognized or rewarded enough in the busy academic world for many instructors to embrace it.

What kind of person are you? A worrier or a warrior?

Marriage Helps Male Professors Get Ahead

It does not help women. At least according to a study done with history professors in academia.

I realize this study did not focus on STEM fields, but I do notice something similar occurring in my area of study. I’ve had this discussion with many of my female friends as well. What happens when you are a female academic and you want to have a family?

It seems that much of the expectation and responsibility falls on the women. I’ve heard some people say it seems un-masculine for men to take paternity leave. Many of my mentors and role models are men who have wives that not only take care of the kids, they take care of day to day living tasks like paying bills, buying groceries, car and house maintenance, and anything else non-work related. My own mother was one of these amazing women, and there is no doubt it helped my father succeed.

Yet, when it comes to the complete reverse, I don’t see it happening. In fact, looking at all of the women I know as mentors in academia, none of them have a thrifty stay at home husband. That’s not to say it never happens. I’ve certainly encountered a few stay at home dads outside the academic world. However, it comes as no surprise that marriage is still statistically a detriment to women.

Something that I am seeing more often with the younger and newer generation of employees is dual parenting. Men and women are splitting the duties of child rearing more often. Technology has allowed for more flexible work schedules, or just working from home. So, now it is easier for couples to split up time at home with a child.

Maybe it is not longer maternity leave that we need to keep women in the work force. Maybe it is offering more flexible schedules to women AND men. Not only does it offer children time with both parents, it would eventually phase out discrimination women may face about being the ones to take time off from work for family issues.