Category Archives: Curriculum – Science

Lawmaker wants to bill K-12 for college remediation

Alisha Kirby:

(Tenn.) As the cost and challenge of preparing college-ready students escalates and puts new burdens on higher education – one lawmaker is proposing that districts should pay for remedial courses high school graduates must take in college.

Community colleges in Tennessee spent an estimated $18.5 million last year on remedial courses such as reading, writing and math so students could catch up before taking college-level courses.

SB 526, authored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, would require districts to reimburse colleges for the catch-up courses for students who graduated within 16 months of taking a remedial course. It excludes those who returned to college after taking time off.

Some experts say it sounds reasonable but in the end it’s more a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“At face value it’s a logical argument: The high schools are not doing their jobs, so let’s hold them accountable to make sure they do a better job,” said Bruce Vandal, vice president of advocacy group Complete College America. “But it creates a dysfunctional dynamic between K-12 and higher education that I think we’re beginning to realize is really not helpful.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose,” he continued. “Colleges aren’t really that excited about taking money if it means that they are disinvesting in K-12.”

Higher Academic Achievement May Require Higher Standards

Joe Yeado:

While at the gym last week, I overheard two fathers discussing the homework their elementary and middle school children were bringing home. The general feeling was that the homework was too hard and that students were being asked to do complex tasks in earlier grades than when the dads were kids. They lamented about how things are so different today – even teaching math differently!

But with parents, educators and employers saying that students are not academically prepared, there seems to be a disconnect between what people say they want in terms of educational attainment for our schoolchildren in general and what parents want in terms of educational demands on their kids.

Of the 65 developed countries that participate in the PISA international assessment of 15 year-olds, the United States ranked 36th in math, 28th in science and 24th in reading. Making things worse, the scores for U.S. students have actually fallen in each category since the last assessment in 2009. Without changes to our current education system, our students – and our country – will likely find it more challenging to compete.

The hidden story behind the code that runs our lives

Paul Voosen:

Magic has entered our world. In the pockets of many Americans today are thin black slabs that, somehow, understand and anticipate our desires. Linked to the digital cloud and satellites beyond, churning through personal data, these machines listen and assist, decoding our language, viewing and labeling reality with their cameras. This summer, as I walked to an appointment at the University of Toronto, stepping out of my downtown hotel into brisk hints of fall, my phone already had directions at hand. I asked where to find coffee on the way. It told me. What did the machine know? How did it learn? A gap broader than any we’ve known has opened between our use of technology and our understanding of it. How did the machine work? As I would discover, no one could say for certain. But as I walked with my coffee, I was on the way to meet the man most qualified to bridge the gap between what the machine knows and what you know.

Degrees don’t matter anymore, skills do

Miles Kimball:

Too much of our educational system, both at the K-12 level and in higher education, is built around the idea that some students are smart and others are dumb. One shining exception are the “Knowledge is Power Program” or KIPP schools. In my blog post “Magic Ingredient 1: More K-12 School” I gave this simple description of the main strategy behind KIPP schools, which do a brilliant job, even for kids from very poor backgrounds:

They motivate students by convincing them they can succeed and have a better life through working hard in school.

They keep order, so the students are not distracted from learning.

They have the students study hard for many long hours, with a long school day, a long school week (some school on Saturdays), and a long school year (school during the summer).

Meanwhile, one size fits all largely reigns in Madison.

Statistics Style Guide

Style.ONS:

This style guide covers the elements of writing about statistics. It aims to make statistical content more open and understandable, based on editorial research and best practice. The standards also replace any previous standards on the intranet or in print. Originally created for the Office for National Statistics, we have worked with Government Digital Service (GDS) to produce these for all members of the Government Statistical Service (GSS). These will be reviewed regularly, and updated when new research and user feedback indicates changes need to be made.

Style.ONS contains:

Was Larry Summers Right about Women in Science and Math?

Richard Bradley:

As NPR reports, a childhood friend of his, Eileen Pollack, a former scientist and now a teacher of creative writing at the University of Michigan, has written a book exploring why there are so few women in STEM fields relative to men.

After Summers’ infamous 2005 speech on the subject—a watershed in his disastrous Harvard presidency—Pollack, who knew Summers in high school, sat down to write him a long email explaining why he was wrong to suggest that women had less genetic aptitude for math and science than men do. Pollack, who says that she always considered Summers an admirer of smart women, thought he had gone very wrong on this one. The email grew into the book, The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys Club. (The book is blurbed, by the way, by MIT prof Nancy Hopkins, who stood up and walked out of that Summers speech, one of the main reasons why it got as much attention as did.)

Pollack argues that the primary reason for the lack of women in STEM is still a lack of support from more senior figures in those fields, and from their own peers—an explanation that certainly sounds much more credible than the idea that male and female brains are hardwired differently. (As I recall, Summers also suggested that those fields are so competitive, many women would have trouble succeeding at their highest levels because of greater family obligations, whether due to choice or social mores.)

There are two models of online education

Sam Gerstanzang:

1. Preparatory knowledge, in the form of course-based video-delivered teachings: Coursera, Udacity, Thinkful, etc.

2. On demand knowledge: Wikipedia, StackOverflow, Genius, etc.

Of the two, the latter has been much more widely spread and far more influential.

What works about on demand knowledge is that it is pull based (the knowledge you need, when you need it) and comes in digestible chunks. Unlike MOOCs, which are consumed far in advance of the knowledge being applied, Wikipedia and StackOverflow are the knowledge you need, now. Humans are lazy and working ahead requires discipline and foresight, which makes on demand knowledge far more appealing to most.

Thoughts on the Technical Track

Dan McKinley:

My views on the merits of having a technical track align with those of many people in our industry. Management is a different job, with different skills. They’re not necessarily more difficult skills, they’re just different. By and large they’re unrelated to the day-to-day labor of the people who build technology products.

It doesn’t make any sense to divert your technical talent into a discipline where they will need to stop doing technical work. (That’s in the event that they intend to be effective managers, which I concede might be an unrealistic expectation.)

Other people have made this case, so I’ll just proceed as if we agree that there must be a way forward for people that are great programmers other than to simply graduate into not programming at all.

How Elementary School Teachers’ Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math and Science

Claire Cain Miller:

We know that women are underrepresented in math and science jobs. What we don’t know is why it happens.

There are various theories, and many of them focus on childhood. Parents and toy-makers discourage girls from studying math and science. So do their teachers. Girls lack role models in those fields, and grow up believing they wouldn’t do well in them.

All these factors surely play some role. A new study points to the influence of teachers’ unconscious biases, but it also highlights how powerful a little encouragement can be. Early educational experiences have a quantifiable effect on the math and science courses the students choose later, and eventually the jobs they get and the wages they earn.

Testing Costs a Drop in the Bucket

Matthew M. Chingos:

The cost of standardized tests, long assailed by testing critics as too high, has resurfaced in the debate over reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act currently underway in Congress. The National Education Association (NEA) has argued that funds spent on testing could be “better spent on high-quality early childhood education, health care, after-school programs, and support services.” Recently, the New Jersey Education Association released poll results indicating that a majority of voters and parents think that “too much money is spent on testing.”

Testing critics usually point to estimates of total spending on assessments; a commonly cited figure—$1.7 billion spent by states each year—comes from a report I wrote in 2012. [1] But what these claims always miss is that, however calculated, spending on testing is barely a drop in the bucket of a public education system that spends over $600 billion per year.

If testing were eliminated entirely, what could schools do with the $1.7 billion saved? Very little, it turns out. Teacher salaries could be increased by one percent or pupil-teacher ratios could be reduced by 0.1 students. The $34 per student spent by states on federally and state-mandated tests simply isn’t very much in a system that spends about $10,000 per student. Put in the context of the NEA position, $34 per student would not buy very much early childhood education—only eight hours of preschool per student in Florida to be exact. [2]

U.S. students improving – slowly – in math and science, but still lagging internationally

Drew Desilver:

Scientists and the general public have markedly different views on any number of topics, from evolution to climate change to genetically modified foods. But one thing both groups agree on is that science and math education in the U.S. leaves much to be desired.

In a new Pew Research Center report, only 29% of Americans rated their country’s K-12 education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as STEM) as above average or the best in the world. Scientists were even more critical: A companion survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found that just 16% called U.S. K-12 STEM education the best or above average; 46%, in contrast, said K-12 STEM in the U.S. was below average.

Standardized test results appear to largely bear out those perceptions. While U.S. students are scoring higher on national math assessments than they did two decades ago (data from science tests are sketchier), they still rank around the middle of the pack in international comparisons, and behind many other advanced industrial nations.

In-depth introduction to machine learning in 15 hours of expert videos

data school:

In January 2014, Stanford University professors Trevor Hastie and Rob Tibshirani (authors of the legendary Elements of Statistical Learning textbook) taught an online course based on their newest textbook, An Introduction to Statistical Learning with Applications in R (ISLR). I found it to be an excellent course in statistical learning (also known as “machine learning”), largely due to the high quality of both the textbook and the video lectures. And as an R user, it was extremely helpful that they included R code to demonstrate most of the techniques described in the book. (Update: The course will be offered again in January 2015!)

If you are new to machine learning (and even if you are not an R user), I highly recommend reading ISLR from cover-to-cover to gain both a theoretical and practical understanding of many important methods for regression and classification. It is available as a free PDF download from the authors’ website.

If you decide to attempt the exercises at the end of each chapter, there is a GitHub repository of solutions provided by students you can use to check your work.

High Teacher Scores Bring New Scrutiny

Leslie Brody:

The vast majority of teachers and principals across New York got high grades for their work last year, state data showed Tuesday, prompting top education officials to call for tougher evaluations.

The release marked the first time New York City teachers received ratings under a new state-imposed system that aims to be more rigorous and objective than in the past.

State data showed 9.2% of city teachers were deemed highly effective, 82.5% were effective, 7% developing and 1.2% ineffective.

Outside the city, teachers got even better reviews, partly because each district had some leeway in setting goals for performance. Beyond city borders, about 58% were deemed highly effective. Last year was those districts’ second under new evaluation systems.

Related: When A Stands for Average.

Via Laura Waters.

A Rural High School with a 21st Century Outlook

Deborah Fallows:

As a supplement its standard academic instruction, the school has started a modified version of the “career academies, ” the career technical education programs, which Jim wrote about here in Camden County, Georgia. In the 2400-student Georgia school, core academic content is infused into the career and technical courses. In smaller Winters, with fewer resources and teachers to go around, the core courses and specialty track courses co-exist, with teachers doing as much as they can to meld them together.

Agriculture is ubiquitous in the lives of everyone in Winters, so it was an easy call to focus on a track for agriculture, along with two others, culinary science (relevant in this farm-to-table locale; students already cater events in town) and engineering, which has proven extremely popular.

What’s So Troubling About Competency-Based Education?

Marni Baker Stein:

In the last week since it was announced that the University of Texas System is diving in to competency-based education (CBE), it has become clear to me that a lot of the controversy around this programming model is grounded in fairly extreme misconceptions around what CBE is …and perhaps more troubling, around just how powerful today’s technology enhanced education has the potential to be.

What are the most concerning of these myths?

1. All CBE is “Direct Assessment” CBE
I haven’t been able to find too many great explanations about what “Direct Assessment” actually means in practice — but here is a set of definitions from a recent white paper, “All Hands on Deck”, written by Patricia Book, that describes in brief the two major types of competency based education:

Can a simple algebra test predict programming aptitude?

Jenni White:

Every year since the establishment of Computer Science in the 1960s, 30-60% of CS college majors have failed their Introduction to Computer Science course because they simply could not learn to program. Despite hours of studying and tutoring, most of these underperforming students struggle with, and many ultimately give up on, programming as a career

What Students Do (And Don’t Do) In Khan Academy

Dan Meyer:

tl;dr — Khan Academy claims alignment with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) but an analysis of their eighth-grade year indicates that alignment is loose. 40% of Khan Academy exercises assessed the acts of calculating and solving whereas the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s assessment of the CCSS emphasized those acts in only 25% of their released items. 74% of Khan Academy’s exercises resulted in the production of either a number or a multiple-choice response, whereas those outputs accounted for only 25% of the SBAC assessment.

Introduction

My dissertation will examine the opportunities students have to learn math online. In order to say something about the current state of the art, I decided to complete Khan Academy’s eighth grade year and ask myself two specific questions about every exercise:

Thoughts on diversity

Mike Zamansky:

It gives a reasonable overview of the gender issues in computer science education. The article talks about the drop in popularity of the old Advanced Placement AB course and its eventually being dropped as well as thoughts on how the current A course is pretty dry.

It made me think about the old vs new exams. The current APCS A exam is roughly analogous to a typical college 101 course: programming in one language and one paradigm. The old AB class represented a 101 and a 102 with the 102 being data structures and algorithms. Much more interesting for both guys and girls. Over the years, the AP A exam has become more and more vocational, at least in my opinion, and that makes matters worse. Its more and more about using the language and built in collections and less about thinking and problem solving. What’s fun about that?

Of course, we teach our version, a super-set, of the AB curriculum over the course of a school year.

Interesting that even though we teach that old school hardcore CS, we far exceed the national numbers in terms of gender balance, but more on that later.

Seeking coders, tech titans turn to schools

Stephanie Simon:

President Barack Obama sat down Monday to write a few lines of computer code with middle school students from Newark, N.J., for a PR campaign that has earned bipartisan endorsements from around the Capitol.

The $30 million campaign to promote computer science education has been financed by the tech industry, led by Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, with corporate contributions from Microsoft, Google, Amazon and other giants. It’s been a smash success: So many students opened up a free coding tutorial on Monday that the host website crashed.

The Einstein Paper Project Launches

Carl Straumshein:

The Einstein Papers Project, the decades-long effort to compile and preserve the scientist’s professional work and personal writings, is today opening to the public as a free searchable database containing thousands of documents.

The launch of the Digital Einstein Papers includes more than 5,000 documents that span the first 44 years of Albert Einstein’s life. As the organizations collaborating on the project — the California Institute of Technology (the project’s home), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (which houses the Albert Einstein Archives) and Princeton University Press — work to sort through tens of thousands of articles and letters, the website will grow to one day feature what the publisher said may be the first free digital collection of a prominent scientist’s complete works.

“The best Einstein source is now available to everyone, everywhere through the web,” said John D. Norton, a University of Pittsburgh professor of history and philosophy of science who wrote his dissertation on the history of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. “This is a great moment for Einstein scholarship.”

More districts are searching internationally to find candidates for difficult-to-fill math and science positions

Alison Denisco:

When a national search attracted only a few new candidates, Casa Grande administrators hired a consulting agency to search for teachers overseas.

Avenida International Consultants gave administrators videos of candidates from the Philippines teaching in classrooms. Administrators then conducted interviews with the candidates via Skype to assess their skills and English-language abilities. Goodsell hired 11 math and science teachers, who relocated and started work this fall.

“We’re very pleased in regard to who we’ve been able to attract to our small district,” Goodsell says. “The teachers have done a great service for our kids and community.” All of the Filipino teachers have bachelor’s degrees, and many have master’s degrees and are working on doctorates in the subject they are teaching, he adds.

Math and science
U.S. schools have hired teachers from abroad for decades. But as baby boomers retire and school enrollment steadily increases, more districts are searching internationally to find candidates for difficult-to-fill math and science positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that districts will need to hire nearly half a million teachers by the end of the decade.

Teacher education: easy 80s.

2009 AFT Report.

Jeb Bush speaks up for Common Core

Chloe Sorvino:

“In my view, the rigour of the Common Core state standards must be the new minimum in classrooms,” Mr Bush said. “For those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: Aim even higher. Be bolder. Raise standards and ask more of our students and the system, because I know they have the potential to deliver it.”

Mr Bush said the US government must make education reform a priority and, if that happens, it could make Common Core a 2016 election cycle issue. Last month, Rand Paul, Kentucky’s Republican senator, said that a supporter “doesn’t have much chance of winning in a Republican primary.”

Mr Bush pointed to Black and Hispanic American fourth graders reading two and a half grade levels below their white peers on average. He also cited the global rankings that place American students 21st in reading and 31st in mathematics.

“But if we buy the excuses, if we let kids struggle, if we herd them into failing schools, how can we expect young people to grasp those first rungs of opportunity?” Mr Bush asked. “That is why the challenge of fixing our schools must be among the most urgent of national priorities.”

On B-School Test, Americans Fail to Measure Up; “Improve K-12 Math”

Lindsay Gellman:

New waves of Indians and Chinese are taking America’s business-school entrance exam, and that’s causing a big problem for America’s prospective M.B.A.s.

Why? The foreign students are much better at the test.

Asia-Pacific students have shown a mastery of the quantitative portion of the four-part Graduate Management Admission Test. That has skewed mean test scores upward, and vexed U.S. students, whose results are looking increasingly poor in comparison. In response, admissions officers at U.S. schools are seeking new ways of measurement, to make U.S. students look better.

Domestic candidates are “banging their heads against the wall,” said Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, a New York-based M.B.A. admissions-consulting company. While U.S. scores have remained consistent over the past several years, the falling percentiles are “causing a ton of student anxiety,” he said.

we continue to play in the “C” (D?) leagues.

Madison’s disastrous reading scores.

Math forum audio and video. Math task force.

Madison School Board Accountabilty Commentary.

Too Many Kids Quit Science Because They Don’t Think They’re Smart

Alexandra Osola:

For most students, science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) subjects are not intuitive or easy. Learning in general—and STEM in particular—requires repeated trial and error, and a student’s lack of confidence can sometimes stand in her own way. And although teachers and parents may think they are doing otherwise, these adults inadvertently help kids make up their minds early on that they’re not natural scientists or “math people,” which leads them to pursue other subjects instead.

So what’s the best way to help kids feel confident enough to stay the STEM course? To answer this question, I spoke with Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University in California. Over the past 20 years, Dweck has conducted dozens of studies about praise’s impact on students’ self-esteem and academic achievement. Here is a transcript of our conversation, which has been condensed and lightly edited.

Alexandra Ossola: What sparked your interest in this field?

Despite angst over standardized testing, Wisconsin may be on right path

Alan Borsuk:

This may be the most politically incorrect thing I’ve ever said in this space: There are positive things to say about what’s going on in standardized testing in Wisconsin.

Everybody hates testing. Kids, teachers, politicians of all stripes. Even the biggest testing advocates in the country say there is too much testing. Testing is useless. It interferes with real education. There is a lot of reason to take the criticism seriously.

But I say: Maybe there’s hope, and maybe Wisconsin is on a new and good path.

First, an anecdote: About 15 years ago, I attended the annual gathering of testing chiefs from states across the country. I remember a panel discussion in which four experts described what was wrong with the way testing was being done.

The fifth person on the panel was the education adviser to the then-governor of Indiana. His message: That’s nice, but my boss and legislature want test scores.

Guess whose viewpoint prevailed. And things got only bigger, more pervasive and more controversial. In 2002, the No Child Left Behind federal education law went on the books, with its requirement that pretty much every public schoolchild in America be tested in reading and math every year from third through eighth grade and at one grade in high school.

Wisconsin’s WKCE has long been criticized for its lack of rigor and poor timing. Yet, it continued for years…

“Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

Big data is coming to education; the next step is figuring out how to use it

OETC:

Big data is coming to education; the next step is figuring out how to use it.

Horace Dediu is an expert at using big data to understand technology’s accelerating development. He has been interviewed by Forbes, Fortune, and various other news sources as an Apple expert, and his independent blog, Asymco, is filled with facts and data regarding mobile communication products and the companies that create and sell them. Dediu’s model is the opposite of that of most analysts: he charges for his opinions but offers all of his data for free. On November 7 at Impact Hub, Dediu will share both data and opinions with educational leaders at SPARK Seattle 2014.

With the upcoming educational leadership event in mind, we conducted a brief personal interview with Dediu. Read the full interview below!

Getting the IT education you need without the debt: Could studying abroad be the answer?

Andrada Fiscutean:

Students who want to dodge the tens of thousands of euros in fees and living expenses that come with getting a degree in IT might want to consider Romania.

Landing a good job in technology often means spending several years at university, and racking up a huge bill. However, there are ways to cut the cost of education, including studying abroad. Romania, Europe’s software development powerhouse, could prove a cheaper option worth considering: fees are only a fraction of those found in the UK or US, and a student with a part-time job can break even at the end of the year. Student essentials, too, are wallet-friendly: students at Bucharest’s campus Regie can land themselves a large pizza for a mere €3, for example.

Compare and contrast to monolithic K-12 models.

American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist

Davud Edwards:

Are Americans getting dumber?

Our math skills are falling. Our reading skills are weakening. Our children have become less literate than children in many developed countries. But the crisis in American education may be more than a matter of sliding rankings on world educational performance scales.

Our kids learn within a system of education devised for a world that increasingly does not exist.

To become a chef, a lawyer, a philosopher or an engineer, has always been a matter of learning what these professionals do, how and why they do it, and some set of general facts that more or less describe our societies and our selves. We pass from kindergarten through twelfth grade, from high school to college, from college to graduate and professional schools, ending our education at some predetermined stage to become the chef, or the engineer, equipped with a fair understanding of what being a chef, or an engineer, actually is and will be for a long time.

We “learn,” and after this we “do.” We go to school and then we go to work.

Why Germany Is So Much Better at Training Its Workers

Tamar Jacoby:

At last, unemployment is easing. But the latest low rate—hovering below 6 percent–obscures a deeper, longer-term problem: “skills mismatches” in the labor force, which will only worsen in years to come. According to the most recent figures, 9.3 million Americans are unemployed, but 4.8 million jobs stand empty because employers can’t find people to fill them. With new technology transforming work across a range of sectors, more and more businesses are struggling to find workers with the skills to man new machines and manage new processes.

One solution has enchanted employers, educators, and policymakers on both sides of the aisle: European-style apprenticeship. The Obama administration is about to announce $100 million worth of apprenticeship grants—and wants to spend another $6 billion over the next four years. Meanwhile, lawmakers as different as Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Republican Senator Marco Rubio have expressed interest in the idea.

Americans should proceed with caution.

A New Kind of College Rating System

Paul LeBlanc:

Many of my fellow college presidents remain worried about the Obama Administration’s proposed (and still being developed) rating system for higher education. While Education Department officials have been responsive and thoughtful about our concerns, many among us fundamentally do not trust government to get this right.

Or anyone, for that matter. After all, we already have lots of rating systems and they mostly seem flawed — some, like U.S. News and World Report, extremely so. Institutions game the system in various ways. Rarely do rating systems capture the complexity of the industry with its rich mix of institutions, missions, and student markets served. Almost always, they are deeply reductionist.

Apply for a Teacher Scholarship to Raft the Canyon with NCSE

NCSE:

Apply for an all-expenses-paid eight-day raft trip down the Grand Canyon with the National Center for Science Education! Winners will receive free airfare, lodging before and after the trip, and the trip of a lifetime, exploring the wonders of Grand Canyon with a team of scientists, educators, and science fans. The application form is at the bottom of the page, but please review this information on eligibility, requirements, and what to expect from the trip before submitting an application. Contact grandcanyon@ncse.com with any questions. The deadline for applications is January 5, 2015.

If you are interested in helping teachers participate in this adventure of a lifetime, you can donate to the Scholarship Fund.

As Apprentices in Classroom, Teachers Learn What Works

Motoko Rich:

Monica DeSantiago wondered how in the world she would get the students to respect her.

It was the beginning of her yearlong apprenticeship as a math teacher at Berkley Maynard Academy, a charter school in this diverse city east of San Francisco. The petite, soft-spoken Ms. DeSantiago, 23, had heard the incoming sixth graders were a rowdy bunch.

She watched closely as Pamela Saberton, a teacher with seven years’ experience in city public schools and Ms. DeSantiago’s mentor for the year, strolled the room. Ms. Saberton rarely raised her voice, but kept up a constant patter as she recited what the students were doing, as in, “Keion is sitting quietly,” or “Reevan is working on her math problems.”

To Ms. DeSantiago, the practice seemed unnatural, if not bizarre. But the students quieted and focused on a getting-to-know-you activity, writing down their hobbies and favorite foods.

How English beat German as language of science

Nina Porzucki:

Two Norwegian scientists have won the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine – for work published in the English language. Historian of science Michael Gordin explains why they wrote in the language of Dickens and Twain rather than Ibsen and Hamsun.

Permafrost, oxygen, hydrogen – it all looks like science to me.
But these terms actually have origins in Russian, Greek and French.

Today, though, if a scientist is going to coin a new term, it’s most likely in English. And if they are going to publish a new discovery, it is most definitely in English.

Look no further than the Nobel Prize awarded for physiology and medicine to Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser. Their research was written and published in English.
This was not always so.

Ford celebrates 30th anniversary of high school science & technology program

Ford Motor Company:

The new Ford Blue Oval STEM Scholarship Program will provide $500,000 in scholarships over four years to 50 students to pursue qualifying STEM degrees

To be considered for the scholarship program, students must have been associated with one of three Ford-supported STEM programs – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, Ford Next Generation Learning or Ford High School Science and Technology Program

More than 10,000 participants have completed the Ford High School Science and Technology Program to date, some of whom continued on in Ford’s internship program and are now Ford employees

Ford today announced a new Ford Blue Oval STEM Scholarship Program during the kickoff of its 30th annual High School Science and Technology Program (HSSTP). The new scholarship program will provide $500,000 in scholarships over four years to 50 students interested in pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematic (STEM) fields.

Felicia Fields, group vice president, Human Resources and Corporate Services, made the announcement as she spoke to HSSTP participants and employee volunteers at the Ford Research and Innovation Center during the first session of the 2014-15 program.

Lessons From “The Smartest Kids in the World”

Laura Isensee

The data is clear: Finland, South Korea and Poland are outpacing the United States in grade-school education.

Many kids there can make complex arguments and solve challenging problems.

Journalist Amanda Ripley tells what it’s like to be a student in one of these education superpowers in her book: “The Smartest Kids in the World —and How They Got That Way”.

Use grades to improve remedial placement

Judith Scott-Clayton, Peter M. Crosta & Clive Belfield:

At an annual cost of roughly $7 billion nationally, remedial coursework is one of the single largest interventions intended to improve outcomes for underprepared college students. But like a costly medical treatment with non-trivial side effects, the value of remediation overall depends upon whether those most likely to benefit can be identified in advance. This NBER working paper uses administrative data and a rich predictive model to examine the accuracy of remedial screening tests, either instead of or in addition to using high school transcript data to determine remedial assignment.

The authors find that roughly one in four test-takers in math and one in three test-takers in English are severely mis-assigned under current test-based policies, with mis-assignments to remediation much more common than mis-assignments to college-level coursework. Using high school transcript information—either instead of or in addition to test scores—could significantly reduce the prevalence of assignment errors. Further, the choice of screening device has significant implications for the racial and gender composition of both remedial and college-level courses. Finally, if institutions took account of students’ high school performance, they could remediate substantially fewer students without lowering success rates in college-level courses.

Via Noel Radomski.

Inspire students in manufacturing

Vince Bertram, Via Erich Zellmer:

American manufacturing has faced many challenges over the past few decades. Today, it is facing a new one: Employers cannot find enough qualified workers with the knowledge and skills needed to meet the industry’s job demands.

The National Association of Manufacturers reports more than 600,000 unfilled jobs this year. There simply aren’t enough workers with the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) knowledge and skills needed for these and other high-tech, high-skill jobs. Schools must prepare our students now, and that preparation must start at an early age.

As the country continues to rebound from the Great Recession, manufacturing is among the fastest-growing economic sectors. The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index climbed to 59% in August, representing the 15th consecutive month of growth and the highest reading since March 2011.

Online education company edX offering free high school courses

Matt Rocheleau:

The online-learning collaborative edX, a partnership between Harvard University and MIT, is expanding its reach beyond higher education and will begin offering courses geared toward high school students.

Edx plans to unveil its first free classes for younger students Wednesday, when most of the new courses will open for enrollment. The 26 high school courses were created by 14 institutions — including MIT, Georgetown and Rice universities, the University of California Berkeley, Boston University, Wellesley College, and Weston Public High School.

The online classes, available to anyone in the world, will cover such subjects as computer science, calculus, geometry, algebra, English, physics, biology, chemistry, Spanish, French, history, statistics, and psychology.

To date, edX has offered only college-level courses. And, while a smattering of high school-level massive open online courses exist, company officials said edX is the first provider of so-called MOOCs to offer an organized set of free high school curriculums.

Related:

Credit for non-Madison School District Courses.

English 10.

Intro to Computer Science overtakes Econ as Harvard’s most popular class

Tom Huddleston:

The tech course enrolled almost 820 students for the current fall semester to become the school’s largest class in at least a decade.

The college campus that once (briefly) hosted future tech luminaries Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as students is now overrun with tech-curious scholars.

The most popular fall-semester course at Harvard is “Introduction to Computer Science I,” according to data put out by the school’s registrar’s office, with almost 820 undergraduates enrolled in the class this semester. That total is the highest in the three decades the course has been offered and it’s the biggest class offered at Harvard in at least a decade, according to The Harvard Crimson.

The Cost of Waterloo Software Engineering

Peter Sobot:

This past June, I graduated from the University of Waterloo’s Software Engineering program. After 5 long and difficult years, I’m extremely proud to say that I’m a Waterloo grad, and very proud of my accomplishments and experiences at the school. Somewhat surprisingly, myself and most of my classmates were able to graduate from a top-tier engineering school with zero debt. (I know this might sound like a sales pitch – stick with me here.)

Waterloo is home to the world’s largest cooperative education programs — meaning that every engineering student is required to take at least 5 internships over the course of their degree. Most take six. This lengthens the duration of the course to five years, and forces us into odd schedules where we alternate between four months of work and four months of school. We get no summer breaks.

One of the most important parts of Waterloo’s co-op program is that the school requires each placement be paid. Without meeting certain minimum requirements for compensation, a student can’t claim academic credit for their internship, and without five internships, they can’t graduate. This results in Waterloo co-op students being able to pay their tuition in full (hopefully) each semester. In disciplines like Software Engineering, where demand is at an all-time high and many students are skilled enough to hold their own at Silicon Valley tech giants, many students end up negotiating for higher salaries at their internships.

MOOC on Government Surveillance

Stanford:

It’s easy to be cynical about government surveillance. In recent years, a parade of Orwellian disclosures have been making headlines. The FBI, for example, is hacking into computers that run anonymizing software. The NSA is vacuuming up domestic phone records. Even local police departments are getting in on the act, tracking cellphone location history and intercepting signals in realtime.

Perhaps 2014 is not quite 1984, though. This course explores how American law facilitates electronic surveillance—but also substantially constrains it. You will learn the legal procedures that police and intelligence agencies have at their disposal, as well as the security and privacy safeguards built into those procedures. The material also provides brief, not-too-geeky technical explanations of some common surveillance methods.

Coding at school: a parent’s guide to England’s new computing curriculum

Stuart Dredge:

Getting more kids to code has been a cause célèbre for the technology industry for some time. Teaching programming skills to children is seen as a long-term solution to the “skills gap” between the number of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them.

From this month, the UK is the guinea pig for the most ambitious attempt yet to get kids coding, with changes to the national curriculum. ICT – Information and Communications Technology – is out, replaced by a new “computing” curriculum including coding lessons for children as young as five.

Medicine’s Uncomfortable Relationship With Math Calculating Positive Predictive Value

Arjun K. Manrai, AB; Gaurav Bhatia, MS; Judith Strymish, MD; Isaac S. Kohane, MD, PhD, Sachin H. Jain, MD:

In 1978, Casscells et al1 published a small but important study showing that the majority of physicians, house officers, and students overestimated the positive predictive value (PPV) of a laboratory test result using prevalence and false positive rate. Today, interpretation of diagnostic tests is even more critical with the increasing use of medical technology in health care. Accordingly, we replicated the study by Casscells et al1 by asking a convenience sample of physicians, house officers, and students the same question: “If a test to detect a disease whose prevalence is 1/1000 has a false positive rate of 5%, what is the chance that a person found to have a positive result actually has the disease, assuming you know nothing about the person’s symptoms or signs?”

Statistics: Losing Ground to CS, Losing Image Among Students

Norman Matloff:

The American Statistical Association (ASA) leadership, and many in Statistics academia. have been undergoing a period of angst the last few years, They worry that the field of Statistics is headed for a future of reduced national influence and importance, with the feeling that:

The field is to a large extent being usurped by other disciplines, notably Computer Science (CS).

Efforts to make the field attractive to students have largely been unsuccessful.

I had been aware of these issues for quite a while, and thus was pleasantly surprised last year to see then-ASA president Marie Davidson write a plaintive editorial titled, “Aren’t We Data Science?”

Good, the ASA is taking action, I thought. But even then I was startled to learn during JSM 2014 (a conference tellingly titled “Statistics: Global Impact, Past, Present and Future”) that the ASA leadership is so concerned about these problems that it has now retained a PR firm.

This is probably a wise move–most large institutions engage in extensive PR in one way or another–but it is a sad statement about how complacent the profession has become. Indeed, it can be argued that the action is long overdue; as a friend of mine put it, “They [the statistical profession] lost the PR war because they never fought it.”

In this post, I’ll tell you the rest of the story, as I see it, viewing events as statistician, computer scientist and R activist.

MIT Offers STEM Institute for Middle School Students

Joshua Bolkan:

Students entering grades 6-9 in the Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, MA area recently had an opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts thanks to a STEM Summer Institute offered by MIT’s Office of Engineering Outreach Programs.

The institute was taught by 15 instructors, mostly graduate and undergraduate students, who “worked closely with expert mentors to prepare their curricula, and academic advisors provided additional student and instructional support,” according to an MIT news release.

Kardashian Index

Judith Curry:

I am concerned that phenomena similar to that of Kim Kardashian may also exist in the scientific community. I think it is possible that there are individuals who are famous for being famous. – Neil Hall

If you are scratching your head wondering who Kim Kardashian is, she is a reality TV star with millions of fans and online followers. When I first spotted tweets about the Kardashian factor, I rolled my eyes and ignored them. I inadvertently landed on an article about the Kardashian factor by following a tweet from Kirk Englehardt. Its interesting, sort of entertaining and irritating at the same time, but the article and the responses to it are raising some important issues.

The Kardashian Index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists

How to Read a Research Paper

Michael (PDF):

Later in the semester, we will talk about how to write a research paper. To begin the course, however, we consider how to read a research paper. This discussion presupposes that you have a good reason to carefully read a research paper – for example, the fact that I assign a paper is (probably) a good reason for you to read it. You may also need to carefully read a paper if you are asked to review it, or if it is relevant to your own research. We might also later discuss how to skim a paper, so that you can decide whether a paper is worth a careful reading.

See Inside The U.S. Neglects Its Best Science Students

Rena F. Subotnik, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius and Frank C. Worrell:

The U.S. education policy world—the entire country, for that matter—is on a quest to increase the ranks of future innovators in science and technology. Yet the programs that get funded in K–12 education do not support students who are already good at and in love with science. These students have potential for outstanding contributions, but without public investment they will not be prepared for the rigors of a scientific career. This is especially true for those without highly educated and resource-rich parents.

This lack of investment is not a matter of chance. It is the result of two related myths about who these students are and what they need from our education system. The first myth is that all talented students come from privileged backgrounds. A second is that students who are successful at a particular time in their school career can somehow thrive on their own, unassisted and unsupervised. We argue that all children deserve to be challenged cognitively, including the most able. Many students with low socioeconomic backgrounds never get the opportunity to develop their talents beyond the rudimentary school curriculum. Jonathan Plucker of the University of Connecticut has shown that high-achieving, low-income students fall further behind their higher-socioeconomic-status peers the closer they get to graduation. Moreover, international comparison studies show science scores improving for all students except those in the top 10 percent.

We know how to identify students who are talented in science and motivated to achieve. We find them thriving in enriched environments (think math and rocketry clubs) inside and outside of school. Standardized tests identify exceptional reasoning abilities in mathematics and spatial skills. Expressing and showing interest in science in elementary or middle school are good predictors of future pursuit of career interests in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Get Thee to Physics Class

:

There’s a great anecdote one often hears from professional dancers: As a kid, I could never sit still, they’ll say. My teacher wanted to put me on Ritalin, but my parents put me in dance class.
 
 
 I think we ought to tell a similar story for a different kind of troubled adolescent, the kind more burdened by angst than by ADD. You know the type: sullen, apathetic, bored. Perhaps she’s dressed all in black. Perhaps he’s failing geometry. This child’s teacher wants to put the rebel in detention. I say, Put the kid in physics class.
 
 Despite the stereotype of the lovable nerd being embraced by popular culture in TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and on T-shirts like “Talk nerdy to me,” the truth is that physics is the rebel’s subject. It’s for those who reject all authority, even that of our most basic assumptions, those who know in their bones that the world is not what it seems and who refuse to take the common, easy route of living unquestioningly on the surface.

American Teens Achieve Mediocrity In Financial Literacy, Local math & reading background

Michelle Hackman:

When it comes to financial literacy around the world, American teens are middling.

The United States may fuel the world’s largest economy and operate its most robust financial system. But compared to the financial prowess of teenagers in 17 other countries, U.S. teens come off downright mediocre.

That’s according to a new study published Wednesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development as part of its Program for International Student Assessment, conducted once every three years.

The OECD, a 34-nation organization based in Paris, surveyed 15-year-old students in 13 member nations and five other nations throughout 2012 to ascertain their level of familiarity with the financial system as they neared adulthood.

“Finance is part of everyday life for many 15-year-olds, who are already consumers of financial services, such as bank accounts,” the report said. “As they near the end of compulsory education, students will face complex and challenging financial choices, including whether to join the labor market or continue with formal education and, if so, how to finance such study.”

Unfortunately, this is unsurprising. Read two useful articles on local math difficulties and long term disastrous reading results.

The OECD report.

Building a Community for High Schoolers Who Code

Avi Romanoff:

Last September, the day before PennApps 2013f, a 48-hour, 1,000+ student hackathon at the University of Pennsylvania, I created a Facebook Group called “PennApps HS Hackers” for the dozen or so high school students who were also attending the event.

If the words “hacker” and “hackathon” evoke mental images of scary-looking criminals breaking into computers, I can assure you we’re nothing like that. Hackers, in the original spirit of the term, are programmers and designers who use technology to build things — not destroy things. Hackathons are events where hackers of all kinds come together to collaborate on new projects and compete for prizes, often on college campuses.

Turns out I picked an incredible time to start a community — the hackathon scene exploded in rhythm with my Facebook Group. In the course of a school year, the group would grow to include high schoolers from all 50 states and more than a dozen countries, organizers from nearly every major U.S. college hackathon, founders of high school hackathons and hacker meetups, and even the president of the well-known startup incubator, Y Combinator.

At Sea in a Deluge of Data

Alison J. Head and John Wihbey:

This spring, more college students than ever received baccalaureate degrees, and their career prospects are brighter than they were for last year’s graduates.

Employers responding to this year’s National Association of Colleges and Employers’ “Job Outlook 2014 Survey” said they planned to increase entry-level hiring by almost 8 percent. But what they may not realize is that these seemingly techno-savvy new hires could be missing some basic yet vital research skills.

It’s a problem that we found after interviewing 23 people in charge of hiring at leading employers like Microsoft, KPMG, Nationwide Insurance, the Smithsonian, and the FBI. This research was part of a federally funded study for Project Information Literacy, a national study about how today’s college students find and use information.

Nearly all of the employers said they expected candidates, whatever their field, to be able to search online, a given for a generation born into the Internet world. But they also expected job candidates to be patient and persistent researchers and to be able to retrieve information in a variety of formats, identify patterns within an array of sources, and dive deeply into source material.

Remedial Education: Know a Problem to Fix It; Revisiting Madison’s Math Task Force

Inside Higher Education

Remedial education is getting plenty of attention from state lawmakers. Yet there is little consistency in how states track students’ college preparedness and subsequent progress through remedial coursework.

That’s the central finding of a new report from the Education Commission of the States. The education policy think tank also released a companion report today that takes a first crack at creating a national “framework” for how to measure and report on remediation.

Via Noel Radomski.

Madison’s controversial use of reform Matt th curricula lead to the creation of a task force six years ago. I wonder if anything has changed?

“And the dream at Berkeley is to do social work and then go work for Google or Facebook”

Conor Freidersdorf:

The Chancellor of UC Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, formerly spent years as a professor at Columbia University. In an Aspen Ideas Festival* panel on the state of the humanities, he summed up the difference between Ivy Leaguers in New York City and graduates of the institution he now runs. “You know, the tradition at Columbia is that you read Aristotle and then you go to Goldman Sachs,” he said. “And the dream at Berkeley is to do social work and then go work for Google or Facebook.”

He added, “All the stereotypes have a lot of truth to them. What I do find interesting is that at Berkeley, about 70 percent of students are taking some computer science across the curriculum. And this, I think, is a national phenomenon. At Stanford I think it’s 90 percent, but that’s Stanford. But we’re actually trying to introduce data science and data analytics into the core arts and sciences curriculum.”

He also noted the decline in English majors at his rival institution:

Maths and science ‘should be studied up to age 18’: UK Royal Society Report by committee of education experts recommends baccalaureate-style qualification, and better-equipped laboratories

Richard Adams:

All pupils should study maths and science until the age of 18 as part of a broad-based, baccalaureate-style qualification, the Royal Society has recommended in a report on the future of education.

The report, written by a committee of scientists, education experts, teachers and former education secretary Charles Clarke, calls for increased investment in practical and problem-solving work in science and mathematics education from reception until sixth form, including access to adequately equipped laboratories and well-trained teachers.

James Dyson in drive to fill engineering vacuum in UK schools

Richard Adams:

Emma Yates surveys students manipulating 3D printers and wrestling with fibreglass moulds in the bustling design and technology studio of the school where she is headteacher. “I was amazed when I first came here and looked around,” she says.

Yates took over at Hayesfield girls’ school in Bath in January. It was already one of the best state secondaries in the country at teaching design and technology, thanks in part to a £75,000 grant from the James Dyson Foundation.

Getting started in data science: My thoughts

Trey Causey:

There’s no denying that ‘data scientist’ is a hot job title to have right now, and for good reason. It’s a tremendously fun and challenging field to be in, and despite all of the often undeserved hoopla that surrounds it, data scientists are doing some pretty amazing things. So it’s no surprise that many people are clamoring to find out how to become data scientists. As I run a blog that attempts to teach some basic data science using sports analytics, I often get email asking how one gets started in data science and/or how quickly one can learn the prerequisites for being a data scientist. Instead of replying to these all the time, I thought I’d write my thoughts up here.

In short, there are lots of great, free resources out there for the motivated autodidact. I’ll list some of them here. The more nuanced take, though, is that I’m highly skeptical that many or even most people can ‘become’ a data scientist through MOOCs and tutorials. And certainly not quickly enough to be qualified to get a job as a data scientist before the data scientist salary market comes crashing back down to earth.

Brightest UK girls’ among physics A-level dropouts

Judith Burns:

A teacher-run study is canvassing this year’s students’ attitudes to the subject and will track how many return for A2 physics in September.

Physics has a higher student dropout rate after AS-level than most subjects.

“It always upsets me when we lose them but the biggest upset is when we lose high performing girls,” said study co-ordinator, Ronan McDonald.

Mr McDonald, who teaches physics at a London state school, said the study emerged from a discussion on an online physics teachers’ forum.

Steep rise
Teachers want to know why girls are more likely than boys to drop physics, often despite getting better grades.

Computer Science and Math

Dean Chen:

I came across an interesting discussion regarding the role math in computer science education on SIGCSE’s (ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education consisting of CS professors) mailing list. Brad Zanden, a professor in the department of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Tennessee, started the conversation with:

I understand that discussing the role of math in CS is one of those religious war type issues… After 30 years in the field, I still fail to see how calculus and continuous math correlate with one’s ability to succeed in many areas of computer science… I have seen many outstanding programmers who struggled with calculus and never really got it. I also constantly see how what I consider to be excessive continuous math requirements in our program (calculus 1, 2, and 3, plus linear algebra) stops students from entering computer science…

OLPC Memo 5: Education and Psychology

Marvin Minsky:

What goals do we want our schools to achieve? Most parents agree that their children should learn about History, Language, Science and Math, and get some instruction in Health, Sports, and Art. Most parents also want their children taught to behave in what they regard to be civilized ways. And surely, most parents would also agree that schools should help children learn good ways to think. However, while schools have good ways to teach facts about subjects, many pupils still fail to build adequate skills for applying that knowledge. [[1]]

But if “good thinking” is one of our principal goals, then why don’t schools try to explicitly teach about how human Learning and Reasoning work? Instead we tacitly assume that if we simply provide enough knowledge, then each child’s brain will ‘self-organize’ appropriate ways to apply those facts. Then would it make sense for us to include a subject called “Human Psychology” as part of the grade-school curriculum? I don’t think that we can do this yet, because, few present-day teachers would agree about which “Theories of Thinking” to teach.

So instead, we’ll propose a different approach: to provide our children with ideas they could use to invent their own theories about themselves! The rest of this essay will suggest some benefits that could come from this, and some practical ways to accomplish it—by engaging children in various kinds of constructive, computer-related projects.

Statistics Examinations reading list

Royal Statistical Society:

We provide reading lists for each of the papers of our professional examinations, to assist candidates preparing for them. In some cases, there is one reading list that covers two papers.

The reading lists provide a choice of books and it is not suggested that you should buy all (or even most) of them. You might for example find that you can easily locate one or two books on a list in an academic library, or even a public library, and perhaps those books would suffice – or at least would give you an indication of other areas that you need to try to cover. Some of the lists are annotated with specific advice about particular books.

Finns beat U.S. with low-tech take on school

Caitlin Emma:

At the start of morning assembly in the state-of-the-art Viikki School here, students’ smartphones disappear. In math class, the teacher shuts off the Smartboard and begins drafting perfect circles on a chalkboard. The students — some of the highest-achieving in the world — cut up graphing paper while solving equations using their clunky plastic calculators.

Finnish students and teachers didn’t need laptops and iPads to get to the top of international education rankings, said Krista Kiuru, minister of education and science at the Finnish Parliament. And officials say they aren’t interested in using them to stay there.

Teacher content knowledge surely trumps tech gizmos and endless grant driven schemes.

From The Ivy League To State Schools, Demand For Computer Science Is Booming

Colleen Taylor:

For years, people in the tech industry have worked to persuade more young people in the United States to become interested in studying computer science. It now looks like they’ve finally gotten the message.

Demand for computer science classes and programs is booming at universities across the U.S., according to data presented this past week at the NCWIT summit for Women in IT by Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, and Stanford Computer Science professor Eric Roberts.

At Lazowska’s own school, the number of incoming freshman who plan to major in computer science is soaring — the graph below, published earlier this week by Geekwire, speaks for itself:

A Mississippi School Striving for Excellence

Deborah Fallows:

One warm and misty May morning in Columbus, Mississippi, the lobby of the classroom building at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS) (more) was full of teen-agers milling about, waiting for morning classes to begin.

In one corner of the glassy space was a grandfather clock, probably about 8 feet tall, constructed by one of the students out of brightly colored plastic pieces. (Right.) On the hour, a little white ball would roll down a chute, tripping levers to ring a small chime. Upstairs in one of the science rooms was a 3-D printer, a rough-and-ready contraption that, with a little more luck, is approaching the final stages of actually printing something. Another of the students, a senior, had made it himself. I recognized several other students whom I had seen performing in an after-school stage production, one dressed as Eco-Man in blue and green tights, cape, and mask.

MSMS is a public boarding school in Columbus, occupying a few of the more modest buildings on the grounds of the elegant Mississippi University for Women, is called “The W”. The men who have enrolled at The W since it became co-ed, say they always have a time explaining themselves to those not in the know.

U.S. Students from Educated Families Lag in International Tests

Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann:

“The big picture of U.S. performance on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation…. Fifteen-year olds in the U.S. today are average in science and reading literacy, and below average in mathematics, compared to their counterparts in [other industrialized] countries.”

U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan spoke these grim words on the bleak December day in late 2013 when the international tests in math, science, and literacy were released. No less disconcerting was the secretary’s warning that the nation’s educational problems are not limited to certain groups or specific places. The “educational challenge in America is not just about poor kids in poor neighborhoods,” he said. “It’s about many kids in many neighborhoods. The [test] results underscore that educational shortcomings in the United States are not just the problems of other people’s children.”

In making his comments, Secretary Duncan challenged those who cling to an old belief that the nation’s educational challenges are confined to its inner cities. Most affluent Americans remain optimistic about the schools in their local community. In 2011, Education Next asked a representative sample to evaluate both the nation’s schools and those in their own community. The affluent were especially dubious about the nation’s schools—only 15 percent conceded them an A or a B. Yet 54 percent gave their local schools one of the two top ratings.

Public opinion is split on how well the nation’s schools educate students of different abilities. In 2013 Education Next asked the public whether local schools did a good job of teaching talented students. Seventy-three percent said the local schools did “somewhat” or “extremely” well at the task, as compared to only 45 percent who thought that was true of their capacity to teach the less-talented.

Related: www.wisconsin2.org.

Lessons From the World’s Best Public School

Grant Birmingham:

Jinjing Liu, a 15-year-old ninth-grader at Meilong Intermediate in central Shanghai—and part of the best education system in the world’s most populous country—is ticking off her normal class schedule: “Physics, chemistry, math, Chinese, English, Chinese literature, geography…the usual stuff,” she says in impeccable English.

That’s not Jinjing’s school day schedule; that’s her workload each and every Sunday. The Lord may have rested on the seventh day, but Jinjing studies, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. She relates this over lunch on a Saturday afternoon, “the only day,” she acknowledges, that she has “any free time to relax.” And lest you think she is some whiz-bang academic geek on the fast track to Tsinghua, China’s M.I.T., think again. Ask who else in her high school has that Sunday routine and she says, “Pretty much everyone.”

Over the past several years, the Shanghai public school system has drawn global envy—and stirred controversy—by acing an international test given every few years by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that seeks to measure the quality of school systems globally. In 2009 (the first time the city participated in the test) and again in 2012, Shanghai finished first out of 66 locations surveyed in the so-called PISA exams (Program for International Student Assessment) in the three key disciplines: reading, science and mathematics. At the same time, the test showed the United States dropping lower in the global standings in all three disciplines, most precipitously in math.

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding

Matt Richtel:

The event was part of a national educational movement in computer coding instruction that is growing at Internet speeds. Since December, 20,000 teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade have introduced coding lessons, according to Code.org, a group backed by the tech industry that offers free curriculums. In addition, some 30 school districts, including New York City and Chicago, have agreed to add coding classes in the fall, mainly in high schools but in lower grades, too. And policy makers in nine states have begun awarding the same credits for computer science classes that they do for basic math and science courses, rather than treating them as electives.

There are after-school events, too, like the one in Mill Valley, where 70 parents and 90 children, from kindergartners to fifth graders, huddled over computers solving animated puzzles to learn the basics of computer logic.

How to Fill the Skills Gap: Bring Back Apprenticeships

Robert Maxim:

Manufacturing is growing in the United States, but many companies claim that they face a “skills gap.” These companies have unfilled vacancies, but say that unemployed workers and recent high school graduates do not have the technical knowledge needed to fill them. Apprenticeships have historically taught students the necessary skills for a career in manufacturing. However, there has been a sharp decline in apprenticeships across the United States, some 40 percent over the past decade, and cash-strapped state budgets have forced schools to cut technical education in favor of four-year college preparatory curricula.

Online Learning: A Bachelor’s Level Computer Science Program Curriculum

agupieware:

A few months back we took an in-depth look at MIT’s free online Introduction to Computer Science course, and laid out a self-study time table to complete the class within four months, along with a companion post providing learning benchmarks to chart your progress. In the present article, I’ll step back and take a much more broad look at com-sci course offerings available for free on the internet, in order to answer a deceptively straightforward question: is it possible to complete the equivalent of a college bachelor’s degree in computer science through college and university courses that are freely available online? And if so, how does one do so?

The former question is more difficult to answer than it may at first appear. There are, of course, tons of resources relating to computer science and engineering, computer programming, software engineering, etc. that can easily be found online with a few simple searches. However, despite this fact, it is very unlikely that you would find a free, basic computer science curriculum offered in one complete package from any given academic source. The reason for this is fairly obvious. Why pay $50,000 a year to go to Harvard, for example, if you could take all the exact same courses online for free?

More Financial Aid + Less Need to Work = More STEM Graduates?

Goldie Blumenstyck:

Students who major in the sciences often spend more time in out-of-class work—in labs or field research—than other students do. That means less time to earn money while in college, and sometimes it’s the reason financially needy students switch out of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, the STEM fields.

Would an extra $1,000 a year in financial aid help some of those STEM-inclined students stick with it?

That’s the essence of a new study getting under way next fall at 11 Wisconsin colleges. With $4-million from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, which will make possible the extra $1,000 a year, and a $1.5-million grant from the National Science Foundation, Sara Goldrick-Rab will study the effects of the extra aid by comparing the academic paths of 1,000 students who will get the money with 1,000 others who won’t.

The grants won’t displace other financial aid that the students are otherwise due to receive, and when students are told they are getting the money, “it’s not going to say, ‘You’ve got to do STEM,’” says Ms. Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of educational-policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The idea behind the project is simply to see if giving students fewer reasons to work, and no other requirements, makes a difference in helping more lower-income students pursue STEM majors.

Why Computer Science Should Be a High School Graduation Requirement

Jeff:

The facts about computer and smartphone ownership make it extremely apparent that smart technology and the internet has become a human necessity. This technology has become almost as essential as access to transportation or grocery stores. People simply cannot survive in this modern era without access to computers and the World Wide Web.

Clearly, students should begin to grow up with a deeper understanding of the technology that defines their lives. They are required to have a fundamental understanding of natural sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology, as well as mathematics, like geometry, trigonometry, and algebra. Presumably, these requirements were put into place so that students would graduate from high school with at least a basic understanding of how the world around them works, but if these students don’t understand computers, they won’t even come close to understanding the world around them.

Help me put 3D printers in UK schools

Luke Johnson:

If I had my life again I know what I would do: I’d be an inventor. I can think of nothing more creatively and intellectually rewarding than devising and making wonderful new products. As Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest inventors, said: “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of his brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love everything.”

Now it could be argued that one is never too old to switch careers: after all, I’ve dabbled in a few fields over the decades – restaurants, stockbroking, television, healthcare – and even writing for newspapers. But I have always held the view that inventing is a younger person’s game; or at least, a pursuit one should embark upon at a young age.

College Notebook

Newton Papers:

This small notebook was probably used by Newton from about 1664 to 1665. It contains notes from his reading on mathematics and geometry, showing particularly the influence of John Wallis and René Descartes. It also provides evidence of the development of Newton’s own mathematical thinking, including his study of infinite series and development of binomial theorem, the evolution of the differential calculus, and its application to the problem of quadratures and integration. … show more

Florida Teen Charged with Felony for trying Science

The Urban Scientist, Scientific American
News of Kiera Wilmot’s arrest has seriously unnerved me. She is the Florida high school student who was experimenting with common household chemicals in science class that resulted in a minor explosion. There were no injuries and no damage to school property; however, she was taken away in handcuffs, formally arrested and expulled from school.
I acknowledge that too little information has been provided on the case. We have NO idea what was happening in the class. Where was the teacher? Were students involved in a laboratory activity at the time? I have spent time in the high school classroom. I know the shenanigans (and havoc) these pre-adults can cause. It is no laughing matter. Even if this were a prank, say something akin to my generation’s idea of setting off smoke bombs in the hall during the passing of classes, my gut reaction stands.
I don’t like what our public education (and justice) systems do to urban youth (e.g. the discipline gap with Black kids). I worry about urban kids who don’t (tend) to have access to social capital that advocates for them and gives them a chance after stupid mistakes. I worry what this will mean to her family financially. What will it mean for her future? Will graduating from an alternative school prevent her from attending college? Will she be marked as a trouble maker? Will she have a criminal record that prevents her from gainful employment and a meaningful life? More immediately, will she get locked away for 20 years? Shit like that happens to kids who look like her.

STEM to STEAM

STEM to Steam
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is encouraging Art/Design to be included with the K-20 STEM curriculum.
What is STEAM
In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.
We need to add Art + Design to the equation — to transform STEM into STEAM.
STEM + Art = STEAM
STEAM is a movement championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and widely adopted by institutions, corporations and individuals.
The objectives of the STEAM movement are to:

  • transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
  • encourage integration of Art + Design in K-20 education
  • influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation

Nature: Confronting the Universe

Nature Video presents five debates from the 2012 Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau

At the 2012 meeting, physics was on the agenda again. The hottest topic was particle physics because mid-way through the meeting, scientists at CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs particle. The following morning, we filmed George Smoot and Martinus Veltman as they digested the news with three young researchers. Veltman, who helped to shape the standard model of particle physics, was surprising cynical about the discovery. See his reaction in film 3: Is dark matter real? The other films deal with the relationship between theory and experiment, the state of science education, the looming energy crisis and in film 1 we ask: is this the golden age of astronomy? As you’ll see, the Nobel laureates and young physicists in our films have quite different views on these matters.

Madison Schools Superintendent Nerad unveils $12.4 million plan to close school achievement gap

Matthew DeFour:

Altogether, Nerad makes about 40 recommendations in six categories — instruction, college and career readiness, culturally relevant practices, school environment, family engagement and staff diversity.
“The plan is based on the view that there isn’t one thing alone the school district can do to eliminate achievement gaps,” Nerad said. “We’re attempting to be comprehensive with the proposal.”
The plan’s projected cost for next year is $12.4 million, which Nerad is recommending come from the district’s untapped property taxing authority under state-imposed limits. The amount includes adding about 67.5 positions, including behavioral support staff, reading specialists and parent liaisons.
Some recommendations wouldn’t take effect until future years. The district estimates they will cost $20.9 million in 2013-14 and $26.6 million by 2016-17. The district doesn’t have the authority to raise property taxes by that amount, though Nerad said part of the discussion in coming months will involve whether the private and nonprofit sectors can help fund the strategies.
“We’re going to have to struggle through the conversation of how to get it done,” Nerad said.

Related:

Listen to most of the speech via this 25mb .mp3 file.

The Perils of ‘Bite Size’ Science

Marco Bertamini & Marcus Munafo:

IN recent years, a trend has emerged in the behavioral sciences toward shorter and more rapidly published journal articles. These articles are often only a third the length of a standard paper, often describe only a single study and tend to include smaller data sets. Shorter formats are promoted by many journals, and limits on article length are stringent — in many cases as low as 2,000 words.
This shift is partly a result of the pressure that academics now feel to generate measurable output. According to the cold calculus of “publish or perish,” in which success is often gauged by counting citations, three short articles can be preferable to a single longer one.
But some researchers contend that the trend toward short articles is also better for science. Such “bite size” science, they argue, encourages results to be communicated faster, written more concisely and read by editors and researchers more easily, leading to a more lively exchange of ideas.

Wisconsin’s “F” on Science Curriculum Standards; “Worthless”; Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad Comments

Fordham Institute: The State of State Science Standards 2012:

Wisconsin’s science standards–unchanged since 1998, in spite of much earlier criticism, ours included–are simply worthless. No real content exists to evaluate.
In lieu of content, the “authors” have passed the buck by merely citing unelaborated references to the now outdated National Science Education Standards (NSES). Rather than using the NSES as building blocks for a comprehensive set of science standards, however, Wisconsin has used them as an escape hatch to avoid hard work and careful thought

WKOW:

Madison Schools Superintendent Dan Nerad says the state already has plans to review its standards in all areas.
“I think we have to be cautious not to look at the current state because it is very much in flux right now,” Nerad says. “Things are going to change. it doesn’t makes sense to look backwards as it does to look forward.”

Remarkable. Much more at www.wisconsin2.org.

PROGRAMMING, EDUCATION, AND RATIONALITY

Ethan Fast:

Do you hold a consistent mental model of the world? For many of us (though less likely for the readers of this blog), the answer is “no.” That’s troubling. It’s hard to be correct, if your world-view doesn’t even type check. [1] People are entitled to opinions. But hold them in a state of contradiction, and they’re wrong.
Though it’s easy enough to apply consistency checks, inconsistent world-views abound. I suspect it’s because people never learn to be consistent. Education under-represents logic and reason in the classroom. High school math class is the closest many people come to an education in rationality, and math is “just too abstract.”

Björk’s Latest Experiment: Teaching Science

Nick Neyland:

Björk turned her last album into an app. Now she’s turning her music into a science exhibit for city students, with an unusual three-week run at a Queens museum better known for its molecule models and retired spacecraft.
The singer arrives at the New York Hall of Science next month to hold a series of classes for middle school students, as well as six open-to-the-public concerts in the museum’s Great Hall. Björk will also stage four shows at a more conventional concert venue: Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom.
“The whole idea is to take music education out of a bookish, academic thing and into a more physical, tactile experience,” said Björk, 46 years old, in an interview as she was preparing for the event.

Learning to Write Teaches Westerly Students Science
“Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.”

Posted by Julia Steiny Columnist EducationNews.org on January 25, 2012

Back in December 2009, excited 4th graders at Westerly’s State Street School (http://sss.westerly.k12.ri.us/) sat down to take a practice science test. Like little sports jocks, the kids approached the task as if it were training for the big game coming in the spring, the statewide science NECAP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NECAP).
In 2008, the whole Westerly district had performed so poorly on that test that teachers actually volunteered their time to form a K-12 Science Task Force focused on redeeming their sullied academic reputation. (See last week’s column about this Task Force (link to my column from last week) .)
Then, insult to injury, in 2009 State Street’s scores tanked again.
The heat was on. State Street had already started implementing the Task Force’s recommendations, including its strong emphasis on teaching writing.
Wait. Writing? That’s English, not science.
But more on this in a moment.
Westerly’s students had struggled particularly with the “inquiry” part of the NECAP, where kids to do a hands-on task and draw conclusions from what they see in front of them.
State Street’s Principal Audrey Faubert says, “Science (NECAP) is only given at the 4th grade (and later at 8th and 11th), so K-3 weren’t exposed to the rigors of testing. We decided to give all the kids an inquiry task to complete. And the faculty also took some of the released test items from the RIDE website. (http://www.ride.ri.gov/assessment/necap_releaseditems.aspx) Even though they’d been teaching inquiry with the science kits (http://www.uri.edu/hss/education/GEMSNET-URI/index.html) , it was interesting for the teachers to be on the other side of a test.”
But the spotlight’s glare was on those 4th graders.
Faubert smiled sadly, “The room was buzzing. The kids thought they did fantastic.”
Working in pairs, the school’s entire teaching staff scored the kids’ work. The results were enough to induce clinical depression.
But as it turns out, the school’s good efforts hadn’t quite paid off yet. The Task Force was onto a good thing when they decided writing was key to learning science. State Street’s instruction had only just started to take root.
Here’s the problem: Old science was about answers. When a test asks a question like: “How does wind change sand dunes?” somewhere in the science textbook was an answer that the kid was supposed to have memorized.
New science is about thinking and reasoning. The way Faubert puts it is: “The (NECAP) science test is a thinking test, not a knowledge test. Science isn’t about recall any more, but about synthesizing information.” New science poses essential questions, such as the sand dunes example, but now the kids need to derive the answer themselves, by sorting through data. Teachers provide techniques, tools, research methods, and experiences. But like scientists themselves, students must do their own research and figure out what their discoveries mean.
Writing is always the product of thinking. Writing forces a kid to organize her thoughts to be expressive and communicate clearly.
Middle-school principal Paula Fusco says “Prior to the work of the Task Force, we’d left writing up to the English teacher. But whatever the kids did or didn’t know, they weren’t able to communicate their understanding of science.
To work on that understanding, Fusco says, “we’ve been taking the vocabulary out of NECAP–infer, predict, explain. So the kids aren’t afraid of the words they’re encountering.”
The ability to define “predict” doesn’t help at all if the ability to MAKE a prediction isn’t also a familiar habit. Kids need to demonstrate, by their writing, that they understand what they need to DO when the test asks them to predict, infer or explain.
Similarly, Fusco’s teachers began to work with the kids on “sentence starters” to guide their thinking–However, In conclusion, Whereas, Therefore.
Fortunately, Westerly’s students were in the habit of writing in science journals. But they had used them mainly to record observations. Faubert says, “Every teacher brought in examples of their students’ science journals. Oh, here are the strengths and weaknesses right in our own notebooks. We’d never had the kids prove their thinking in their journals. Think like a scientist, based on what’s in front of you. Prove your thinking. Prove your thinking. We said that so many times.”
At the end of the day, teaching the kids to EXPLAIN their predictions and reasoning was the clearest way to teach them habits of scientific thinking. And those explanations also helped the teachers assess kids’ understanding and misunderstanding.
By February, State Street dared to try another practice test with the 4th graders. Again, the staff scored it together. Ahhh, much better. So much so, Faubert felt more confident about improving on the 49 percent proficiency they’d managed in the prior year’s test.
In fact, when the results were released last Fall, State Street kids hit 80 percent proficiency, 8th highest in the state, out of over 150 schools that take that test. (And Westerly is the 8th lowest-income community in the state.)
Superintendent Roy Seitsinger’s take on the situation is this: “Nobody (meaning veteran educators) signed up for what we’re doing now. Most of the people weren’t trained to bring students through a thinking process. Now the educators’ job is to teach kids how to sift through all that information and to be critical, reflective and make decisions. We have too much information and not nearly enough sorting skills.”
Therefore, in conclusion, learning to write promotes scientific thinking. Other districts would do well to take notice.

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationViews.org and GoLocalProv.com. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building a demonstration project in Central Falls, Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at juliasteiny@gmail.com or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

Teaching programming to a nine-year-old

Dr. Prabhakar Ragde:

My younger daughter is nine. After watching me sit with a laptop all term preparing material using Scheme, she wanted to know something about it. She is self-taught on the application side of computing (browsers, paint programs, word processing) but knows nothing of computation itself. So I opened up a DrScheme Interactions window. “You add like this,” I said, typing in (+ 3 4). No problem. “Try some other operations, some bigger numbers.” It looks like a calculator without a ten-digit limit.
I wrote out some arithmetic expressions for her to convert to Scheme. She had difficulty with them, but not with Scheme: I had forgotten how much algebraic notation is taught later. She didn’t understand concatenation for multiplication, / for division, or putting two expressions one above the other with a horizontal line in between. Once I explained those, she converted them into Scheme expressions very quickly.

Apple, America and A Squeezed Middle Class

Keith Bradsher & Charles Duhigg:

Companies like Apple “say the challenge in setting up U.S. plants is finding a technical work force,” said Martin Schmidt, associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.
Some aspects of the iPhone are uniquely American. The device’s software, for instance, and its innovative marketing campaigns were largely created in the United States. Apple recently built a $500 million data center in North Carolina. Crucial semiconductors inside the iPhone 4 and 4S are manufactured in an Austin, Tex., factory by Samsung, of South Korea.
But even those facilities are not enormous sources of jobs. Apple’s North Carolina center, for instance, has only 100 full-time employees. The Samsung plant has an estimated 2,400 workers.
….
“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

Well worth considering from a curricular, finance and social perspective.

Wolfram Education Portal

Wolfram Education:

Wolfram has long been a trusted name in education–as the makers of Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha, and the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, we’ve created some of the most dynamic teaching and learning tools available. We are pleased to offer the best of all of our technologies to you here in the Wolfram Education Portal, organized by course. In the portal you’ll find a dynamic textbook, lesson plans, widgets, interactive Demonstrations, and more built by Wolfram education experts. You can take a look at the types of materials we offer below, but to get full access to all materials, you need to sign up for a free account.

Learn to code at any age

Emma Mulqueeny:

This is a cross-post of something I wrote for The Guardian, but just thought would be handy to have on the blog over here. It is also a small update from an old post: How to teach kids, or anyone, how to code – that’s the history bit done! Now the science…
The beauty of programming is that it does not matter how old you are (within reason – under 7 is possibly a bit optimistic) you can learn using exactly the same, mostly free resources to be found on the Internet. You can learn basic programming easily within a year and then you can choose to hone and refine whichever aspects of coding most excite you. Done! It’s not hard.
For the purposes of this post I have referred to resources aimed primarily at younger people – but they are all useful for the beginner.

New York City gets a Software Engineering High School

Joel Spolsky:

This fall New York City will open The Academy for Software Engineering, the city’s first public high school that will actually train kids to develop software. The project has been a long time dream of Mike Zamansky, the highly-regarded CS teacher at New York’s elite Stuyvesant public high school. It was jump started when Fred Wilson, a VC at Union Square Ventures, promised to get the tech community to help with knowledge, advice, and money.
I’m on the board of advisors of the new school, which plans to accept ninth graders for fall of 2012. Here’s why I’m excited about this new school:

Science Envy

Historian David McCullough was asked by a reporter recently if he started writing any of his books with a theme. He said that when he became interested in a subject he started reading to see what he could find out about it, but he had no advance idea of what would result.
Even those of our teachers who do work with students on research papers too frequently indulge in the science envy of requiring them to have a thesis. Students are asked to have some prior notion of the history they will read which they will test to see whether it is falsifiable or not.
Science is rich, famous and powerful, so it is not surprising that it is envied in our culture, but it should be remembered that its practice is to reduce, as much as possible, reality to numbers.
History does not lend itself well to a reduction to numbers, as it is about human beings, who also cannot very well be competently encompassed by numerical descriptions.
Words are the numbers of history, and words connote as much as they denote, they contain and evoke possibility and ambiguity in ways that the number users of science sometimes find annoyingly imprecise and quite uncomfortable.
The study of history should begin with curiosity about people and events: What was that person really like? How did that event come to happen and what resulted from it? These are the sort of non-thesis questions that our students of history should be asking, instead of fitting themselves out for their journey of learning about the past hampered with the straitjacket of a thesis.
Serious history students are often curious over something they have read about. They want to know more, and, when they have learned quite a bit, they frequently want to tell others what they have discovered. Like scientists, they are curious, but unlike them, they are willing to live with the uncertainties that are the essential ingredients of human experience.
Science has earned our admiration, but its methods are not suitable to all inquiries and we should not let envy of the success of science mislead us into trying to shrink-wrap history to fit some thesis with which students would have to begin their study of history.
David McCullough has reported that when he speaks to groups very often he is asked how much time he spends doing research and how much time he spends writing. He said he is never asked how much time he spends thinking.
The secondary students of history published in The Concord Review do not generally begin their work with a thesis to prove or disprove, but rather with wonder about something in history. The quality of their papers reveals that not only have they done a good deal of reading and research–if there is any difference there–but that they also have spent some serious time thinking about what they have learned, as well as how to tell someone else about it.
They have inevitably encountered the complex causes of historical events (no control groups there) and the variety of forces and inclinations both within and without the historical figures they have studied.
Some of these students are very good in calculus, science, and so forth, but they realize that history is a different form of inquiry and provides a non-reductionist view of the truth of human life, but one that may be instructive or inspiring in several ways.
So I urge teachers of students of history, who are asking them to write serious research papers, to let them choose their own topics, based on their own wonder and curiosity about the past, and to relieve them of the science envy of a thesis requirement. Let them embark on their own study of some part of the immense and mysterious ocean of history, and help them return with a story and an understanding they can call their own and can share, through serious research papers, with other students of history.
————————
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®
www.tcr.org/blog

160 Minn. students to compete in regional Science Bowl

Associated Press:

Some 160 high school math and science students from across the state will be competing this month in a regional Science Bowl in St. Paul.
They’ll be vying for the chance to represent Minnesota in the national competition in Washington, D.C. The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Students compete in teams of five to solve technical problems and to answer questions in all branches of math and science, including astronomy, biology, computer science and physics. The tournament is conducted in a fast-paced question-and-answer format.

Data and GIS Winter Newsletter 2012

John Herndon:

Data driven teaching and research at Duke keeps growing and Perkins Data and GIS continues to increase support for researchers and classes employing data, GIS, and data visualization tools. Whether your discipline is in the Humanities, Sciences, or Social Sciences, Perkins Data and GIS seeks to support researchers and students using numeric and geospatial data across the disciplines.

STEM charter high school planned at DSU

Wade Malcolm:

Earlier this year, two top Delaware State University officials visited two colleges in Ohio.
President Harry L. Williams and Provost Alton Thompson took the trips not to meet with fellow leaders in higher education. They wanted to see two high schools — operated by and located on the campuses of Akron University and Lorain County Community College.
The model they saw in action on their visits is known as “Early College High School.” And if the state approves its charter school application, DSU will open the first school of that type in Delaware on its Dover campus by the fall of 2013.

ROOTLESSNESS

Two of our overriding efforts in Lower Education in recent years have been: 1) raising the low math and reading scores of black and Hispanic students, and 2) increasing the number of our high school and college graduates capable of employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM}.
Very recently evidence has been allowed to surface pointing out that while students in the bottom 10% of academic performance have indeed improved, students in the top ten percent of academic performance have stagnated, where they have not dropped out from boredom. Related evidence now suggests that complacency with secondary public education in our more affluent suburbs may have been quite misplaced as well.
As Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their recent book, That Used To Be Us, “average is over.” That is to say, students in other cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) and countries (Finland, South Korea, Japan) take their educations so much more seriously than our students (and teachers) do that their economies are achieving gains on our own that are truly startling, if we take the time to notice.
If we are to retain good jobs, restart our manufacturing, and otherwise decide to compete seriously with others who seem to take both education and work more seriously than we have come to do, it might be wise to increase the interest of our students in STEM fields. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our students aged 8-18 are spending, on average, more than seven hours a day with electronic entertainment media.
Now of course we want our young people to buy our electronic entertainment hardware and software and we definitely want them to have a good time and be happy, but probably we would like them to be employable some day as well. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out that not only blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, but increasingly sophisticated professional work can be done to a high standard at a much lower cost in other countries than it can be done here.
Having our students spend 53 hours a week on their electronic entertainment media, while their high school homework tops out, in many cases, according to ACT, at three to four hours a week, is not a plan that will enable us to resume our competitive position in the world’s economies.
So perhaps we should assign students in high school 15 hours a week of homework (which would reduce their media time to a mere 38 hours a week) and pass on to them the information that if they don’t start working to a much much higher academic standard they will probably face a more depressing future in a greatly diminished nation than they currently imagine they will have.
But, is STEM enough? I remember the story told about a visit Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, made to the gleaming new Salk Laboratory in La Jolla. A young biologist, thrilled to be a guide to the Nobel Prize-winner, was very proud to be able to show off all the bright new spotless expensive state-of-the-art research equipment. When they finished the tour, the young man could not stop himself from saying, “Just think, Sir Alexander, with all this equipment, what you could have discovered!” And Sir Alexander said, “not penicillin.”
Because the discovery of penicillin relied on serendipity and curiosity. Fleming found some petri dishes contaminated by something that had come in, probably, through one of the dirty old badly-closed windows in his lab in England. Instead of washing the dishes so he could start over with them, as most scientists would have done, he asked himself what could have killed off those bacteria in the dishes. And a major breakthrough was made possible.
Just in passing, amid the rush for more STEM, I would like to put in a word for serendipity, which often fuels creativity of many kinds, by making possible the association of previously unrelated ideas and memories when in contact with a new fact or situation not deliberately sought out.
I argue that serendipity is more likely to occur and to be fruitful if our students also have a lot of experience with the ROOTS of civilization, that is, the history, literature, art, music, architecture and other fields which have provided the background and inspiration for so much that we find worthwhile in human life. Steve Jobs found his course in calligraphy useful when he came to think about Macintosh software, but there are countless examples of important discoveries and contributions that have been, at least in part, grounded in the ROOTS of civilized life. So let us push for more STEM, by all means, but if, in the process we neglect those ROOTS, our achievements will be fewer, and our lives will be the poorer as a result, IMHO.
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

For Cornell Tech School, a $350 Million Gift From a Single Donor

Richard Perez-Pena:

The donor whose $350 million gift will be critical in building Cornell University’s new high-tech graduate school on Roosevelt Island is Atlantic Philanthropies, whose founder, Charles F. Feeney, is a Cornell alumnus who made billions of dollars through the Duty Free Shoppers Group.
Mr. Feeney, 80, has spent much of the last three decades giving away his fortune, with large gifts to universities all over the world and an unusual degree of anonymity. Cornell officials revealed in 2007 that he had given some $600 million to the university over the years, yet nothing on its Ithaca campus, where he graduated from the School of Hotel Management in 1956.
The $350 million gift, the largest in the university’s history, was announced on Friday, but the donor was not named. Officials at Atlantic Philanthropies confirmed on Monday evening that it was Mr. Feeney, a native of Elizabeth, N.J., who is known for his frugality — he flies coach, owns neither a home nor a car, and wears a $15 watch — as well as his philanthropic generosity, particularly to medical research.

China Is Poised for an I.T. Golden Age

Kai-Fu Lee:

Chinese universities graduate more than 600,000 engineering students a year. China has consistently placed at or near the top of programming competitions. And while we have not seen China become a leader in information technology and computing, I expect that this will change in the coming decade.
Since the Internet revolution of the late 1990s, many successful companies have been built by taking American ideas and localizing them for China. These companies may have “copied” from the United States at first, but they acted swiftly, focused on their customers and developed their products, adding more and more local innovations.
For example, Tencent, one of China’s three Internet juggernauts, started with an instant-messaging product named QQ, which was a replica of the same system on which Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger were based. But today, QQ has evolved to become a very different product — a combination of instant messaging, social networking, universal ID and gaming center. QQ has built the world’s largest online community (about 700 million active accounts), while its American counterparts continue to build instant messaging as loss leaders.

Help Math & Science Education

Jim Young, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:


Dear Colleague: I am writing this letter because I sincerely fear that the future of our children and grandchildren could be in jeopardy. While there are numerous important issues facing America today, one continues to be high on my priority list, K-12 Math and Science. What scares me the most is that no one seems to care – not parents, teachers, administrators, politicians or business people – that we have FALLEN TO 25th GLOBALLY IN MATH.
It has been our strength in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and the resultant innovation that fueled the great businesses of the 20th century. Automobiles, airplanes, radio, television, space travel, telecommunications and the Internet are just a few industries that are reliant on strong Math and Science skills and have produced a significant number of good jobs. There is a very good chance that our personal good fortunes can in some way be tied to the early innovation of our grandparents.
This comparative table needs no detailed explanation. Based on 2009 statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it clearly shows how far we have fallen and how competitive the rest of the world has become

Related: www.wisconsin2.org Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”.

The New Physiocrats, or, Is There Value in the Humanities?

Kenneth Anderson:

In general, I agree entirely with the many commentators who have argued that the United States needs to produce more STEM graduates. But I also take note of the many people who have written to me to argue that the only truly employable STEM fields at the moment are engineering and computer science, and only certain disciplines within those. (I.e., I take the point made by many commenters that STEM graduates are not doing all that well in this economy either — when we say STEM = employment, so commenters point out, we don’t mean scientists or mathematicians as such, we mean particular fields of engineering and computer science. I can’t vouch for that but do accept it.)
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the United States could easily produce an excess of engineers — yes, even engineers. The labor market of a complicated, division-of-labor society means many, many specializations, and most of them are not STEM. We need lawyers, human resources staff, janitors, communications specialists, and many things that too-reductionist a view might lead one to believe are purely frivolous intermediary occupations. Maybe they are parasitical, and maybe they will get squeezed out of existence over time. But there is a sometimes incorrect tendency these days to believe that since innovation is the heart of all increases in productivity and hence in long run growth and wealth, STEM must be responsible for it and that because STEM is the root of innovation, only STEM jobs are truly value added. I exaggerate for effect, but you see the point.