IEE: What’s in a Number? (6-12)

We present a new edition of Ideological Education Essentials! (Otherwise known as 'Science' Education Essentials)

Considering that I fit within the ‘6-12’ grade range I would be insulted by this post if it didn’t give such a wide range. Unless the American education system is truly terrible, this activity cannot possibly be considered applicable for the 12 end of that range. But I digress.

The particular post is What’s in a Number? Secondary Activities (6-12), and it continues on from the K-5 grade range in attempting to instil a contempt for large periods of time in the children that are to do the tasks.

The first task is as follows:

1. Download a free copy of the article “Understanding Evidence for the Biblical Timescale” by ICR scientists Frank Sherwin and Brian Thomas. Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 and complete the following:

A. Using the chart “A General Correlation of Characteristic Earth Layers with Biblical History” from the article, place dates and Bible verses next to each time period listed on the chart.
B.  Where would dinosaur-containing rock layers fall in the chart?
C. Divide the groups of 4 students into pairs. Each pair should develop a 60-second argument as to why the earth is either: a) 6,000 years old, or b) 4 billion years old. The argument should be succinct, yet convincing.

“Alan (UK)” has commented on my previous post, which covers this particular task:

The thing to concentrate on is a fuzzy JPEG (How standards are slipping) showing a sort of geological column with a Biblical timescale set beside it.

How are the poor pupils are supposed to know Mesozoic from Paleozoic? How are they supposed to be able to argue that the Earth is 4 billion years old? She is not supposed to give the game away by letting them know how we measure it. At best we are going to have some very confused pupils. The great danger to ICR is that they go away and look things up for themselves.

The Biblical history side seems to have little to do with the Bible. The true Biblical time span is very tight:

ICR have given themselves 354 years to get most of the fossil record laid down, this includes an ice-age and a stone-age squeezed in at the end. What are the “Pre-flood Processes (Adam)” supposed to be and how did they lay down such a large chunk of the geological column? What are the “Post-flood Residual Catastrophes (pre-Babel)” and how did they lay down another chunk complete with fossils? Dr Forlow, your students are asking, they are going to look it up on the Internet.

In addition, I note three things: Mr Thomas evidently does not believe in the ‘biomes’ idea we saw in The Descent of Odonata, and instead concedes that the geologic record is indeed a chronicle of time;  that it has been demonstrated, using creationists’ own research, that there is no room for the Flood anywhere in the column; and that Thomas and co.’s diagram seems to disagree with the chronologies even of other members of the ICR.

2. Have students choose a natural process that can be used as a time indicator to research. Although most of the available research may be evolutionary in thought, their research report should be from a creation science viewpoint. Examples include: original soft tissues found in fossil animals, sedimentary rock layers made by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the accumulation of salt in the sea, or the decay rates of magnetic fields, comets, or genomes.

Talk about starting from your conclusion – Dr Forlow is really teaching good science. I went over the ICR’s collection of fossilised soft tissue studies in my post “I Have a List”, which I am still yet to write the summary for. It appears that Mr Thomas, the author of the list, is incapable of telling whether a study is talking about soft tissues that have been mineralised (which would mean that they are irrelevant to the topic at hand) or not – when he got it right it was probably by chance. Magnetic fields last came up on this blog only a few days ago, the whole comets thing is pretty silly, and the “decay rate” of genomes is something that I have never covered here to my satisfaction, though I can assure you that it is no less silly. The Mt St Helens “sedimentary rock” is ash, and the “salt in the sea” thing is something that was argued over in the 1800‘s, and I’m not even sure which way the creationists argue on that these days anyway.

Number 3 is an actual science experiment, but not a very good one. It’s about the soft-tissues thing again, apparently trying to show that fossils are identical to fresh bones, or something – it’s not very clear either:

3. Working in teams, perform a bone analysis to answer the question “How old is this bone?” Follow the steps below. You will need the following materials: microscope, gloves, goggles, a large bone obtained from a butcher or a pet supply store, small glass jar or dish, 2 molar acetic acid (100 mL per student pair), dropper, saw, chipping tool.
A. Cut a slice of bone carefully using the saw. The teacher may choose to have the bone pieces cut prior to class and simply give each group a piece of the bone. These messy steps might best be performed outside.
B. Using the chipping tool, remove a slice of inner bone marrow material as big around as the dish, but very thin (kind of like a potato chip).
C. Wearing goggles, add enough acid to completely cover the bone marrow.
D. Cover the glass with a lid, and leave for a week.
E. After one week, prepare the treated bone marrow by placing the fragile marrow on a microscope slide, and add a cover slip.
F. Place under the microscope lens. Bring the tissue into focus.
G. Answer the following questions:
i. Describe what the bone marrow looks like through the microscope. Is there a difference between the mineralized bone and any soft tissues inside the bone?
ii. How could the word of an expert who “knows” that your bone has been untouched for 10 million years influence your answer to the question “When was this bone deposited?”
iii. If you excavated a bone from a large mudstone rock formation (chalk or shale) and the bone had bloody marrow inside it, which worldview do you think would account for the soft tissue with the lowest number of assumptions, and how?
iv. Choose one: Soft tissues like blood vessels in the bone help answer the question of when the bone was deposited by showing that: a) soft tissues can last for millions of years, b) the bone must have been deposited within thousands of years, or c) bacteria are able to make soft tissues like blood.

So they’re taking a slice of bone marrow, dissolving (presumably only the inorganic material or something) the marrow in ethanoic acid for a week and then inspecting the result under the microscope. But what’s the point?

In i they must “Describe what the bone marrow looks like through the microscope,” and compare it with some “mineralized bone” – but where’s “fossilised Mosasaur bone” in the materials list? What are they supposed to be comparing against?

In ii Forlow implies that fossils are claimed to be old without evidence. I don’t know, exactly, what the ‘correct answer’ to this one is in the mind of the Creationists. What I do know is that, if you have the chance, you should always as a scientist “how do you know?” You will learn a lot, far more than this will teach you.

Interestingly, iii jumps to the idea that, if fossils are old, there can’t be soft tissues in them without first attempting to establish that the soft tissues can’t survive the time – thus, it certainly not creationism that requires the lowest number of assumptions. Soft tissues survive, just not very well. Far worse than if they were only thousands of years old, certainly.

In iv, both a and c are true (to a degree), although this, nonfossilised bone does not tell us that. This question, if not the whole task, is clearly in reference to Dr Mary H. Schweitzer et al‘s 1997 paper, which has since been reinterpreted as ‘biofilms’ of bacterial origin. Again, soft tissue can last millions of years, but they are rare, hard to find, and hard to confirm the existence of.

The poor science aside, these activities don’t seem to be very educational either so it is appropriate that a redesign of the Science Education Essentials website has de-emphasised the word ‘education.’ The directions aren’t really sufficient for the tasks to be carried out, and there is little explanation as to what the outcome of the lesson is supposed to be, or what the reasoning behind a given step is. Again, it is fitting that, should a child as “why do we put acetic acid on the marrow? Why not hydrochloric – that’s more powerful. And what are we waiting a whole week for?” the adult’s only answer is “I don’t know – I just read it somewhere that we had to.”

One thought on “IEE: What’s in a Number? (6-12)

  1. Well, the United Stateses’s edjumikation system ain’t gr8, but these are idiotic. By 9th grade, our bio labs at least followed the basic (1) State the problem, (2) make a hypothesis, (3) design an experiment to test that hypothesis, (4) do the experiment, (5) make conclusions. In that bone one, she does (3) design an experiment to not test anything, and (5) I’ve given you the answer that you should get from this thing that doesn’t answer anything.


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