Thursday, July 28, 2005

My Secret Pleasures

Today was a great day. Finally, Rhapsody (my music service) got around to buying all the Weird Al CD's.

What's that you say? You're not a geeky, 10 year old boy like me? Oh.

I guess I do realize that you've just lost a ton of respect for me, but did you really think that I was a member of the cultural elite before? I am an astrophysicst, after all.

In any event, I can now listen to my personal favoite, Albuquerque.

I'll return to my box of flesh eating weasels now.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Back from a Break

I've been away for a couple weeks taking care of major life milestones, but I'm pretty much back at the office again. My normal posting will resume soon.

I added a couple new links to the side. Two of them are feminist sites that I really like, and the third is from a friend. Hope you enjoy.

Oh, and while I'm at it, thanks to the couple sites that have linked to us already. I really enjoy your work and ideas.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Finally, some action from Bush!

Finally, Bush is doing something to help all Americans save energy!

U.S. Moves to Extend Daylight Time

I'm so happy he's working so hard on this problem.

Friday, July 15, 2005

A Couple Papers

While I'm counting down the hours to being free this weekend, I thought I would collect my thoughts about a couple ed papers I'd read recently.

#1 -- "The instructional Behaviour of Teachers in Secondary Vocational Education as Perceived by the Teachers Themselves and by Their Students" Biemans, H.J. et al. 1999

Well, this paper has an extrodinarily long title, but is interesting none the less, and plays into ideas that I've been having about physics classes lately. Getting down to it, I'm interested in the idea of student push back to a new-model, project based, interactive style physics class (lot of adjectives, I know). If we think, as I do, that straight up lecture courses aren't the best way to get physics across to as many students as possible, then we must try different methods of teaching. But if our different methods of teaching don't fit in with student paradigms of learning (particularly with college kids, who've had alot of time to build up a paradigm), then what happens to student achievement?

The study in this paper looked at a couple thousand kids and their teachers in Voc. Ed classes in the Netherlands. I throw up some ignorance here and admit that I don't know what V/tech looks like in the Netherlands, but I imagine it's a bit different than here. The study used this thing called the "Questionnaire Instructional Behaviour" (QIB), which I'd like to get my hands on, to measure how both the teachers and the students percieved the instruction in their classes.

What they found was that the more the teachers activated (used active learning techniques), the more they were viewed as being "clear" by the students. Also, paradoxically, using active methods caused the teachers to be perceived with being more in control of a class. But the teachers ended up feeling the opposite. They felt unclear and out of control when they used active methods.

The other interesting result was that the teachers consistently estimated themselves higher on all aspects of the questionaire than did the students. The authors thought that this was because the teachers have a hard time viewing themselves. I would probably agree. When it's just you up there, you have to belive that you're doing good, otherwise, what's the point? And with the isolation of teachers, there's never another adult to really tell you what they think.

#2 -- "Learning Styles: Student Preferences vs. Faculty Perceptions" August, L. et al. 2002.

This paper is along the same one as the last one and looks at similar questions, but their sample is of American university instructors and students, but did focus a bit more on how students perceived active/collaborative tasks. They found that both students and instructors liked active learning, and found it useful. Suprisingly, they found that students found lecture only classes boring, and would rather be doing something else. I couldn't imagine that.

In a similar way to the previous study, though, faculty belive that they are much more active and interactive than the students say they are. Very few students classified their classes as being interactive, even though a majority of the faculty said that. Similarly faculty believe they give much more feedback and group work than the students see.

The lack of common perception is very interesting in both of these studies. Ultimately the discussion has to lead back to student achievement, if all the students are learning, then we shouldn't worry too much about satisfaction. But, my guess is that because many students do not percieve the opportunity for feedback and other interactions, that many of them are not learning to their potential. The authors of the second paper point this out the importance of the feedback opportunities, and I would have to concur. There is a misunderstanding when it comes to the meaning of feedback, and I would suspect that a good instructor would start looking for ways to expand their definition.

#3 -- "Drawing a Scientist: What we do and Do not Know After Fifty Years of Drawings" Finson, K. D. 2003.

This one is an interesting look at something that I do every time I visit a class. What are kids stereotypes of a scientist?

The paper points out everything we pretty much thought of already. Scientists are white, male, old, have weird hair, wear glasses, are smarter than you, have secrets, all wear lab coats, often are working with dangerous chemicals, sometimes work with weapons, and the like.

It's suprising that the conception of the scientist has been remarkably similar over the past 50 years, and in fact, the author says, is similar in other countries/cultures as well. And the stereotypes don't go away with time either, studies of pre-service teachers show similar results to children.

Luckily, it has been shown in some programs that bring scientists of all backgrounds to elementary classes, that the stereotypes can be broken, and students will draw different images. Also, students with "strong and positive self-efficacy tend to be those having more positive attidudes and tend to draw images with fewer science stereotypes in them."

I take hope in the last bit, but I also know how small and slow growing most scientist-in-the-classroom programs are. The author suggests more research into whether holding these stereotypes disinclines students from taking science classes, and what can we do about it if it does. I would say "mixed bag" and "depends on the kid", but in any case, it would be nice to start seeing scientists as real people.

I'm a real person.

Hope you enjoyed.

Good Edweek.

(newly updated)

Well, now that Makigirl's bruhed that dirt off her shoulda. . . sorry, I couldn't resist. . . You know, Makigirl be a pimp too.

Edweek had some really nice articles in it this week. There's this one about the difficulties of teaching math to students whose first language is not English. I can imagine that this is often a tough task. As much as those of us in the science world like to give props to the glories of math, and bask in it's untouchable light, it can't be taught without using words. (Although, I think that would be a very interesting class -- Math for mimes.)

For quite some time, I've been having a debate/discussion with some coleagues (who are predominantly English/Language Arts teachers) about the need to include writing in math classes, and how important it is to be able to communicate in English while you're doing math. I came down on the side of math being something separate, and although it's good to be able to communicate in English what you're doing mathematically, it shouldn't be an absolute requirement of every problem. If you're able to sketch out the basics of a problem using numbers and variables, then there is no need, and you shouldn't be downgraded for not including all the "therefores", "we have now", and small bits of explanation. Those things make your answer more readable, and would be good for partial credit, but are not necessary for me to see that you understand the math. Assignments to learn the communication of mathematics should be in some sense separate from assignments to learn math, in my view, although it would be nice to practice them both all the time, and certainly no one should ever lose points for explaining too much.

Other's hold the opposite view from me. I see their point, but I see no need to hold every third grader up to the standard of Carl Sagan. One can survive, as evidenced by a walk around any physics or astronomy department, in this world only knowing math, but without knowing how to communicate it to a general audience. Developing both skills is important, and should be stressed, but a student shouldn't fail a standardized math class in elementary school simply because they didn't explain a problem they got right.

Story problems are to me a bigger problem, though. I'm a big believer that math and science should be taught as real-world applications, and not as a collection of traditional book problems. Unfortunately, that becomes harder with kids who are not familiar with the language that the problems are being asked in. I remember my own experience in Spain, where it was hard enough to manage in day to day life, let alone in graduate level physics classes. I'm very thankful that I was only doing my research there.

Kids who don't speak English well, are going to need extra help learning math, and I think the article does a good job framing the discussion.

There's also this interesting commentary about the benefits of dual enrolment for high school students in college. I think this is an important issue, and it is presented well by the author. The main problem is that right now dual enrolment is only reserved for either the best of the best students, or those very dissatisfied with their schools. It would seem to me to be good if we used the experience of these students, and start re-evaluating what high school really is. (Yeah, I think I promised a while back to write on that. I'll wait until the research paper I worked on gets released in a few weeks.) Why is there a transition between highschool and college? What would happen if they more smoothly ran into each other. Yeah, we would might have to alter our views on some traditions (like senior prom, or moving in day at college), but there might be alot of benefits to a more integrated system.

Oh, and because I continually point out how the Ed policy world is small, here is another study by my friends and here's one by a rather distant relative. (Who, by the way, you'll meet in a week, Makigirl.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A little chip on the shoulder

I was just reading this viewpoint on the CBC news website about what catches the public eye when it comes to science. The author, Stephen Strauss, has apparently written for the Globe and Mail for 20 years about science. Anyways, his point is that people get all jazzed up about images of science, like the recent Deep Impact mission, but that they don't get excited by things that they can't see nice pictures of. His counter (non-picture) example was a new discovery that the ecology of your intestinal tract determines how certain drugs affect you.

I see his point, but I don't like his attitude. First, he makes it sound like most people are too stupid or lazy to even crack open a science magazine or journal. So that, from the kindness of his heart, he must tell us the latest news. And then, he thinks he knows what will have a great impact on us when we look back on all of this in a hundred years or whatever. Yes, he chooses the intestine thing over the comet thing.

I don't think there's anything wrong with people getting all excited about the comet. And if they're not all excited about the intestine thing, then maybe it hasn't been communicated very well to the public, or maybe they really just aren't interested. But I'm sure he would just say I'm a biased astronomer.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Because We Can't Do It Ourselves

Here's an article about math tutoring companies being set up in India. I guess I'm all for the free flow of information across borders, and you know, it would be interesting if more American kids were exposed to people from other cultures, but I think it's a real shame that there's a market for this, and that American's can't fill that market need. There just simply aren't enough Americans who know math to be able to do this job, or better put, there aren't enough Americans who realize that they know enough about math to do this job. And though I guess if you have a test coming up that you need to pass, you have to do something, but I can't buy that $30/hour for online help is really worth it. The instruction must be horribly formulaic and rigid, not what is needed for most people who need tutoring in the first place.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Hilarious Post

Ok, so this post about tacos is seriously funny, particularly the cat and pirate. It's only 9:30 and I'm ready to make a run for the border.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

My New Mission

I've been chosen: my new mission.

The Instant World

I am sitting in Logan airport in Boston waiting for the next flight in today's cross-country journey. This whole airport is wireless which is really amazing. I still can't believe I remember when the internet was this text-based thing that most people didn't have access to. Now I can be one of those annoying people in the waiting area typing away on my computer. (Don't worry; I hope I'm actually not that annoying as no one is sitting near me.)

While I'm sitting here though, I am amazed at what I'm hearing on CNN. They have those fancy flat TV screens all around the airport with CNN playing all the time. (How much does CNN pay Logan?) So about an hour ago, this girl Shasta was found. She had been missing for quite a while after her mother and other family members were found dead. (More info here if you missed this whole grisly story) I am, of course, very happy that she's been found alive. But I am very disturbed at what passes for news. CNN has been live with this story since it broke, and since no one really knows anything yet (Who was she with? Is he the murderer? Where is her brother?) there is not that much to say, so CNN has been interviewing everyone who might know anything. There was just a woman on there talking about what Shasta was eating in Denny's and did she say yes when she was asked if she wanted crayons? They just keep repeating the same things over and over again, and basically they're saying they don't know anything.

In the same vein, last night on NPR they had a segment about the Friday night news dump that D.C. tends to use. That's when different government offices dump documents on Friday nights hoping that they won't make it into the news since they're dumped right before the weekend. One person made the point that in a way it doesn't matter when information is released anymore because we don't have to wait for the 6 o'clock news or the paper to land on our doorstep, we can have the news 24/7.

I'm just worried that it's not really news and not researched news and some woman telling me what a poor little girl was eating in Denny's. (If you're really curious, that mixed appetizer plate.)

Friday, July 01, 2005


There's a segment on NPR right now about how Americans aren't really making any sacrifices to aid in the "war" effort and about how most Americans don't even really realize that we are at "war."

I have been thinking lately about how society really seems to be turning inward and becoming very self-centered. And, most importantly, people seem to have lost any sense of duty. No one seems to want to do anything anymore out of duty, but only if they want to do it. I'm not specifically talking about the "duty" of enlisting but duty in a more general sense.

Is this what this great country has come to?