Week of 1 December 2008
Update: Saturday, 6 December 2008 08:36 -0500
- Here's a sad commentary on the state of science education in Britain.
There, as here, the focus is on students' test scores. If those scores
start to decline, the obvious solution is to make the test questions
easier. The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) presents a detailed study
(PDF) of what happens when current students are tested using questions
from old tests. As expected, their scores are abominable.
PDF includes the actual test given to these students, as well as their
actual scores. The results are not just disappointing but, as the study
says, catastrophic. The questions are easy ones, including the
questions from the tests given in the 1960's. Any good student,
having completed a first-year high school chemistry course, should
score very well on this test. If I were a high school chemistry teacher
with a class of, say, 30 students, all of whom were destined to go on
to university, I'd expect at least two or three of them to score
at or near 100% on this test. Another two or three should have scores
in the 90's, with perhaps 10 students in the 80's and the remainder in
the 70's. Perhaps one or two might score less than 70, which would mean
either that I hadn't done my job or, more likely, that these students
didn't belong in an academic track.
The actual results are truly
catastrophic. Not one of the 1,301 students from the
333 schools involved got 100%. The top 5% of students tested
averaged about 60% on questions from the 60's, 70's, and 80's. The top
scorer, Nathan Brown, received only 93.8% on the test. A 77.0% score
was sufficient to make it into the top ten students of the 1,301
Pretty clearly, chemistry is no longer taught
in Britain. This is what happens when test scores are the top priority.
Teachers teach to the test. Test scores improve, or at least remain static. The students learn
nothing. And, lest we become too smug, this is exactly what is
happening here in the US with No Child Left Behind.
Today is the first of the month, and I'm going to be working heads-down
all month to finish the forensics book. Don't expect much here other
than infrequent short posts until the book is complete.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Thursday, 4 December 2008
I've been reading about the catastrophic problems in Zimbabwe, and it
occurs to me that most people think of this as an anomaly. It's not.
It's the normal human condition.
That we think of it now as an
anomaly rather than as the norm is thanks to those two greatest of
human inventions, science and capitalism. And both of those
inventions are and have for many years been under unremitting attack by
the know-nothings who are the enemies of humanity. If they win, which
is not beyond possibility, our children's children's children will find
themselves living in a world that makes the hellhole that is now
Zimbabwe look like a paradise.
It's time and past time to begin
fighting back. Teach your children well. Teach them to recognize
ignorance and superstition for what they are, and to fight back with
reason and with science. Educate them. Teach them how to think
rationally. Give them the tools they need to prevent the coming of a
new dark age. Everything depends on it.
Barbara just left for work, and we won't see her again until Sunday
evening. She's going straight from work to her parents' house to pick
up her dad for their golf club dinner. She'll sleep over there tonight,
because she, her parents, and her sister are all leaving at 6:00 a.m.
tomorrow on a bus tour to a Christmas pageant in South Carolina. It's
just the dogs and me until Sunday evening. As usual, there'll be wild
women and parties.
If we can find any wild women, that is. I
haven't had much luck with that on Barbara's past trips. Oh, well.
Perhaps we'll have a Firefly marathon instead. Or I may just work.
finished the equipment chapter for the forensics book and posted it for
review. I should finish the chapter on chemicals, consumables, and
specimens today. Over the weekend, I'll try to get a good start on the
laboratory practices chapter, and perhaps even finish it except for
images. Then I'll dive into the lab chapters, which mostly involves
rewrite and shooting images. I hope to have the book complete in the
next five weeks or so.
Saturday, 6 December
- I think I've found another good source for laboratory equipment and particularly for chemicals.
HMS Beagle: The Ultimate Science Store
came across this company a couple of years ago. Originally, they
produced gorgeous old-fashioned chemistry sets, with furniture-grade
wooden cases. I don't think they do that any more, but about six weeks
ago they brought up an on-line store that offers a wide variety of home
science equipment and chemicals.
I haven't ordered anything from
them yet, but I plan to place a small test order soon. I'm particularly
excited about some of the chemicals they stock, which aren't readily
available elsewhere in small quantities at reasonable prices. Most are
reagent grade, but some are lab grade, USP, or even technical grade.
They stock some really hazardous stuff, including arsenic(III) oxide
(15 g/$12.00), potassium cyanide (30 g/$5.25), and 48% hydrofluoric
acid (100 mL/$7.50). They even stock 48% hydrobromic acid (25
mL/$6.15). They also carry a reasonable range of basic organics,
although there are quite a few missing that you'd expect to be there.
they're still having some teething pains with their shopping cart
system. For example, "chemicals" is one item with 500+ entries,
although they do allow you to search by first letter. Even so, you'll
have to do a lot of scrolling to get to the chemical you want, and the
site is pretty slow. Also, they badly need cross-referencing by
alternate names. They use IUPAC naming, so for example you won't find
"acetic acid" in their list. Instead, you have to know to look for
"ethanoic acid", which is the IUPAC proper name. Same thing for such
common chemicals as acetone and isopropanol.
Despite those minor
criticisms, this looks like a great source for stuff that's difficult
or impossible to find elsewhere. I'm in the closing stages of the home
forensics book, so I'm busier than the proverbial one-armed paper
hanger. That means it'll probabably be February before I get around to
placing my small test order, because I have to figure out what I need,
which means planning some lab sessions that I couldn't do before
because there was no readily available source for the chemicals.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 by Robert