Category Archives: Education

Infinity Aerospace

Announcing tools to utilize ISS. Ardulab, is an Arduino modified with features to work on the station. Developed with NASA and Nanoracks. Enabled an 8th-grade class to do a plant-growth experiment for different light conditions in space, ready to fly. Takes up only ten percent of allowed volume, leaving remainder for experiments. Completely open source, hardware and software. Will be opening web site right after talk today.


Why Americans suck at it:

American institutions charged with training teachers in new approaches to math have proved largely unable to do it. At most education schools, the professors with the research budgets and deanships have little interest in the science of teaching. Indeed, when Lampert attended Harvard’s Graduate School of Education in the 1970s, she could find only one listing in the entire course catalog that used the word “teaching” in its title. (Today only 19 out of 231 courses include it.) Methods courses, meanwhile, are usually taught by the lowest ranks of professors — chronically underpaid, overworked and, ultimately, ineffective.

Without the right training, most teachers do not understand math well enough to teach it the way Lampert does. “Remember,” Lampert says, “American teachers are only a subset of Americans.” As graduates of American schools, they are no more likely to display numeracy than the rest of us. “I’m just not a math person,” Lampert says her education students would say with an apologetic shrug.

Consequently, the most powerful influence on teachers is the one most beyond our control. The sociologist Dan Lortie calls the phenomenon the apprenticeship of observation. Teachers learn to teach primarily by recalling their memories of having been taught, an average of 13,000 hours of instruction over a typical childhood. The apprenticeship of observation exacerbates what the education scholar Suzanne Wilson calls education reform’s double bind. The very people who embody the problem — teachers — are also the ones charged with solving it.

…Left to their own devices, teachers are once again trying to incorporate new ideas into old scripts, often botching them in the process. One especially nonsensical result stems from the Common Core’s suggestion that students not just find answers but also “illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models.” The idea of utilizing arrays of dots makes sense in the hands of a skilled teacher, who can use them to help a student understand how multiplication actually works. For example, a teacher trying to explain multiplication might ask a student to first draw three rows of dots with two dots in each row and then imagine what the picture would look like with three or four or five dots in each row. Guiding the student through the exercise, the teacher could help her see that each march up the times table (3×2, 3×3, 3×4) just means adding another dot per row. But if a teacher doesn’t use the dots to illustrate bigger ideas, they become just another meaningless exercise. Instead of memorizing familiar steps, students now practice even stranger rituals, like drawing dots only to count them or breaking simple addition problems into complicated forms (62+26, for example, must become 60+2+20+6) without understanding why. This can make for even poorer math students. “In the hands of unprepared teachers,” Lampert says, “alternative algorithms are worse than just teaching them standard algorithms.”

No wonder parents and some mathematicians denigrate the reforms as “fuzzy math.” In the warped way untrained teachers interpret them, they are fuzzy.

It’s a long, but interesting, and depressing article.

I should note that I was one of the kids who suffered from the “New Math” in the sixties, but I had a great algebra teacher in junior high (I forget her name, but she was a black woman), and good ones in high school as well. We actually learned calculus and analytic geometry from Mr. Troyer.

[Update a while later]

The more I think about this, the more furious I get that we have these worthless schools of “education” that don’t even teach teachers to teach.


Frustration with the leftist fools who don’t understand the knowledge problem:

Mr. Bouie insists that he is not simply trying to make an excuse for the president’s revealed incompetence in sundry matters, but of course that is precisely what he and other apologists for the administration are doing. If they were really interested in complexity as such, then they would bring it up on the front end of the policy debate, rather than on the back end.

I’ve seen this happen so many times that every other policy debate looks to me like an ancient rerun of Three’s Company: Do you think there’ll be a comic misunderstanding in this episode, too? It unfolds like this: Politicians on the Barack Obama model promise that they will muster their native intelligence and empirical evidence to bring order to, e.g., the health-care industry, through the judicious application of regulation. People like me tell them that the effects of such regulation are almost certainly going to be other than what was intended, because such markets are too complex to be understandable, predictable, or steerable, even in principle. Even if every bureaucrat who touches health care or the labor market has the brain of an Einstein and the soul of a St. Thomas Becket, it will not turn out the way it is intended. And then, when it doesn’t turn out as intended, Jamelle Bouie et al. protest that the toldya-so chorus “betrays an ignorance of the size and complexity of the federal bureaucracy.”

And they never even consider the question: If the federal bureaucracy is so vast and complex that its behavior cannot be adequately managed, how is it that the phenomena that the bureaucracies are tasked with managing—orders of magnitude more complex than the bureaucracies themselves—are supposed to be manageable? To consider the question with any intellectual rigor is to accept real, meaningful, epistemic limits on what government can do.

Can’t have that. It doesn’t allow them to run other peoples’ lives.

Scientists And Philosophers

Why they need to talk to each other:

Most of climate science is in ‘shut up and calculate’ mode. This is a very dangerous place to be given the substantial uncertainties, ignorance and areas of disagreement, not to mention the problems/failures of climate models. Climate science needs reflection on the fundamental assumptions, re-interpretations, and deeper thinking. How to reason about the complex climate system, and its uncertainties, is not at all straightforward. And then of course there are the ethical issues, including understanding how the climate debate has gone so badly wrong.


The Millennials

Why they’re doing so poorly:

Last month, another report came out extending the low scores of Millennials to precisely the anti-civic, pro-social syndrome predicted in The Dumbest Generation. It reports the findings of a survey of young adults on a variety of dispositions and beliefs, conducted by Pew Research and bearing the title “Millennials in Adulthood”. The conclusion is neatly summed up in the subtitle: “Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends.” Overall, it found, 18-33-year-olds in America are less connected to political parties, churches, local associations, and their own country than are older Americans. They are solidly liberal, but their values seem more derived from social attitudes than from political policies, supporting same-sex marriage and “lead[ing] all generations in the share of out-of-wedlock births.” They favor an “activist government,” understood as maintaining entitlements and benefits, not as a political or economic outlook.

In other words, they judge politics by how it affects them, and we see that personal-only perspective in their social focus. They are much more connected to friends and peers than their elders are, with fully 81 percent of Millennials having Facebook accounts, and the “median friend count is 250″! They “are also distinctive in how they place themselves at the center of self-created digital networks,” for example, posting “selfies” at higher rates.

There you have the equation. More peer stuff means less civic sense. While 75 percent of Baby Boomers and 81 percent of the Silent Generation believe the phrase “A patriotic person” fits them “very well,” only 49 percent of Millennials do. Half of them, that is, have little appreciation of their country and fidelity to its traditions. They don’t much care about civics and politics and history, and they don’t know much about it, either. On the 2010 civics exam of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Nation’s Report Card), scores for 12th-graders fell three points from 2006 and one-third of test-takers stated that they hadn’t studied the U.S. Constitution at all during the year.

It’s not their fault. It’s ours.

Dietary Animal Fat

It’s long past time to end the war on it:

The public MUST NOT let TBFS slip slowly into oblivion. Nina’s first story should create an outraged public that demands the following:

  1. Government-sponsored nutrition must be totally terminated.

  2. Freedom of information in valid nutritional sciences must be made widely available.
  3. All citizens must have the right to design their own nutrition plans.
  4. A primary prevention program based on eliminating the causes of diseases must be implemented.

It won’t happen unless we make it happen. It has to become a political issue. Attacking Michelle’s school-lunch tyranny would be a good start.

[Update a few minutes later]

And yet the USDA is still spending millions to propagandize us about low fat:

The USDA also proposed a study on changing how food is described on menus, labeling low-sodium and low-fat versions as “regular,” and “framing regular versions of certain snack products as high-fat or high-sodium.”

I’d like to see someone on the Hill make an issue of this.