Education

Interviews: Ask Author and Programmer Andy Nicholls About R 141

Andy Nicholls has been an R programmer and consultant for Mango Solutions since 2011 (where he currently manages the R consultancy team), after a long stint as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry. He has a serious background in mathematics, too, with a Masters in math and another in Statistics with Applications in Medicine. Andy has taught more than 50 on-site R training courses and has been involved in the development of more than 30 R packages; he's also a regular contributor to events at LondonR, the largest R user group in the UK. But since not everyone can get to London for a user group meeting, you can get some of the insights he's gained as an R expert in Sams Teach Yourself R In 24 Hours (available in print or at Safari), of which he is the lead author. Today, though, you can ask Andy about the much-lauded statistics-oriented free software (GPL) language directly -- Why to use it, how to get started, how to get things done, and where those intriguing release names come from. (The about page is helpful, too.) As usual, please ask as many questions as you'd like, but one question at a time, please.
Books

Uborne Children's Books Release For Free Computer Books From the '80s (usborne.com) 119

martiniturbide writes: To promote some new computer coding books for kids, Uborne Children's Books has put online 15 of its children books from the '80s to learn how to code games. The books are available for free in PDF format and has samples to create your game for Commodore 64, VIC 20, Apple, TRS 80, Spectrum and other. Maybe you read some of them like "Machine Code for Beginners" or "Write your own Adventure Program for MicroComputers." Should other publishers also start to make their '80s and '90s computer books available for free?
Education

An Advanced Math Education Revolution Is Underway In the U.S. (theatlantic.com) 218

AthanasiusKircher writes: The Atlantic has an >extended article on the recent surge in advanced math education at the primary and secondary levels in the U.S., arguing that last year's victory for the U.S. in the Math Olympiad was not a random anomaly. Participation in math camps, after-school or weekend math "academies," and math competitions has surged in recent years, with many programs having long wait lists. Inessa Rifkin, co-founder of one of these math academies, argues that the problems with math education begin in the 2nd and 3rd grades: ""The youngest ones, very naturally, their minds see math differently.... It is common that they can ask simple questions and then, in the next minute, a very complicated one. But if the teacher doesn't know enough mathematics, she will answer the simple question and shut down the other, more difficult one." These alternative math programs put a greater focus on problem-solving: "Unlike most math classes, where teachers struggle to impart knowledge to students—who must passively absorb it and then regurgitate it on a test—problem-solving classes demand that the pupils execute the cognitive bench press: investigating, conjecturing, predicting, analyzing, and finally verifying their own mathematical strategy. The point is not to accurately execute algorithms, although there is, of course, a right answer... Truly thinking the problem through—creatively applying what you know about math and puzzling out possible solutions—is more important."

The article concludes by noting that programs like No Child Left Behind have focused on minimal standards, rather than enrichment activities for advanced students. The result is a disparity in economic backgrounds for students in pricey math activities; many middle-class Americans investigate summer camps or sports programs for younger kids, but they don't realize how important a math program could be for a curious child. As Daniel Zaharopol, founder of a related non-profit initiative, noted in his searches to recruit low-income students: "Actually doing math should bring them joy."

Education

Massive Layoffs Hit University of Copenhagen 173

jones_supa writes: University of Copenhagen is cutting deep into its staff to cut operation costs. Even though a great deal of the savings are aimed at administration and service, they are expected to affect the quality of education and research many years ahead. More than 500 teachers, researchers and employees in service and administrative jobs will be leaving. This corresponds to 7% of all staff. 209 employees can anticipate being laid off, while 323 jobs are either discontinued or terminated via voluntary redundancy. In addition to this, the university will have to reduce its PhD intake by 10% in the coming years. This is the outcome of the government's 2016 budget which imposes huge savings on research and education. As you might remember, we just heard about a similar situation in University of Helsinki in Finland.
Programming

Drag-and-Drop "CS" Tutorials: the Emperor's New Code? 158

theodp writes: Teaching kids computer science is a great movement," writes HS senior David Yue, "however, to overly dilute the magnitude of the difficulty in regards to the subject area of coding and to create the illusion of mastering a 'superpower' (Code.org) is a huge mistake. There are many videos and articles on the Internet these days that have demonstrated positive support towards computer science education. Below these articles, one can find many comments, left mostly by parents and supporters. These people usually express how proud they are that their children have an opportunity to learn computer science or how proud they are that computer science is being integrated at a more substantial level into the education system." But Drag and Drop Doesn't = Coding, argues Yue. "Parents and teachers today who aren't technical need to be aware that the drag and drop code or the candy-coated learning process does not effectively teach children programming but eventually causes a huge amount of shock once they are immersed in real code." Yue's Emperor's-New-Code warning comes days before President Obama — a graduate of Code.org's drag-and-drop Disney Princess coding tutorial — asks Congress for $4-billion-and-change in the upcoming budget to fund his "Computer Science for All" K-12 initiative.
Education

K-12 CS Framework Draft: Kids Taught To 'Protect Original Ideas' In Early Grades 132

theodp writes: Remember that Code.org and ACM-bankrolled K-12 Computer Science Education Framework that Microsoft, Google, Apple, and others were working on? Well, a draft of the framework was made available for review on Feb. 3rd, coincidentally just 3 business days after U.S. President Barack Obama and Microsoft President Brad Smith teamed up to announce the $4+ billion Computer Science for All initiative for the nation's K-12 students. "Computationally literate citizens have the responsibility to learn about, recognize, and address the personal, ethical, social, economic, and cultural contexts in which they operate," explains the section on Fostering an Inclusive Computing Culture, one of seven listed 'Core K-12 CS Practices'. "Participating in an inclusive computing culture encompasses the following: building and collaborating with diverse computational teams, involving diverse users in the design process, considering the implication of design choices on the widest set of end users, accounting for the safety and security of diverse end users, and fostering inclusive identities of computer scientists." Hey, do as they say, not as they do! Also included in the 10-page draft (pdf) is a section on Law and Ethics, which begins: "In early grades, students differentiate between responsible and irresponsible computing behaviors. Students learn that responsible behaviors can help individuals while irresponsible behaviors can hurt individuals. They examine legal and ethical considerations for obtaining and sharing information and apply those behaviors to protect original ideas."
It's funny.  Laugh.

John Cleese Warns Campus Political Correctness Leading Towards 1984 (washingtonexaminer.com) 668

An anonymous reader writes: Ashe Schow writes at the Washington Examiner that, "The Monty Python co-founder, in a video for Internet forum Big Think, railed against the current wave of hypersensitivity on college campuses, saying he has been warned against performing on campuses. "[Psychiatrist Robin Skynner] said: 'If people can't control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people's behavior,'" Cleese said. "And when you're around super-sensitive people, you cannot relax and be spontaneous because you have no idea what's going to upset them next." Cleese said that it's one thing to be "mean" to "people who are not able to look after themselves very well," but it was another to take it to "the point where any kind of criticism of any individual or group could be labeled cruel." Cleese added that "comedy is critical," and if society starts telling people "we mustn't criticize or offend them," then humor goes out the window. "With humor goes a sense of proportion," Cleese said. "And then, as far as I'm concerned, you're living in 1984." Cleese is just the latest comedian to lecture college students about being so sensitive.
Education

Obama Calls For $4B 'Computer Science For All' Program For K-12 Schools (washingtonpost.com) 246

Etherwalk writes: President Obama plans to announce a four billion dollar computer science initiative for K-12 schools, where fewer than 15 percent of American high schools offer Advanced Placement (i.e. college 101) Computer Science courses. This is still very much open to negotiation with Congress, because it is part of a budget request from the President. So write your Congressman if you support it. The $4 billion would be doled out over a period of three years to any state that applies for the funds and has a well-designed plan to expand access to computer science courses, especially for girls and minorities.
Education

Ask Slashdot: Learning Robotics Without Hardware? 78

An anonymous reader writes: I live in a Third World country with a more or less open Internet access. I'm thinking of learning robotics. I can access Github and other free software repositories, and I can read or watch online tutorials in English. My only problem is that we don't really have the money to buy robotics hardware. We can afford an Arduino or Raspberry Pi board but not the mechanical attachments. So is there any chance for me to learn robotics even if I don't have the hardware? Is it possible to program a robot using pure software simulation?

University of Helsinki To Lay Off a Thousand People (yle.fi) 308

jones_supa writes: University of Helsinki, the place where Linus Torvalds got his degree as well, will reduce staff by 980 people, with 570 being laid off by the end of 2017. In addition, the university will reorganize and incorporate certain divisions including continuing education. Professors, teachers and researchers are criticizing the cuts, which coincide with the university's administrative and educational overhaul. The staff cuts reflect the government's drastic funding cuts to education, which plays one part in the effort of trying to help the difficult economic situation of today's Finland. The university estimates that of the 980 positions, terminations during this coming spring will account for 570 positions. Of the employees to be made redundant, 75 are teaching and research staff and 495 other staff. The rest of the cuts will be spread over the coming years.
Education

Interview: Ask CEO Anant Agarwal About edX and the Future of Online Education 55

Anant Agarwal is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and the CEO of edX. A massive open online course platform founded by MIT and Harvard, edX offers numerous courses on a wide variety of subjects. As of 2014 edX had more than 4 million students taking more than 500 courses online. The organization has developed open-source software called Open edX that powers edX courses and is freely available online. Mr. Agarwal has agreed to take some time out of his schedule and answer your questions about edX and the future of learning. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
Math

Ask Slashdot: Math-Related Present For a Bright 10-Year-Old? 238

peetm writes: I have an above averagely bright nephew, aged 10, who's into maths and whose birthday is coming up soon. I'd like to get him a suitable present – most likely one that's mathematically centred. At Christmas we sat together while I helped him build a few very simple Python programs that 'animated' some simple but interesting maths, e.g., we built a factorial function, investigated the Collatz conjecture (3n + 1 problem) and talked about, but didn't implement Eratosthenes' Sieve – one step too far for him at the moment perhaps. I've looked about for books that might blend computing + maths, but haven't really found anything appropriate for a 10-year-old. I should be indebted to anyone who might suggest either a suitable maths book, or one that brings in some facet of computing. Or, if not a book, then some other present that might pique his interest.
Education

2016's First Batch of Anti-Science Education Bills Arrive In Oklahoma (arstechnica.com) 510

An anonymous reader writes: It's only January and we're already seeing the first anti-science education bills of 2016 going through the Oklahoma legislature. The state's lawmakers fight over this every year, and it looks like this year won't be any different. "The Senate version of the bill (PDF) is by State Senator Josh Brecheen, a Republican. It is the fifth year in a row he's introduced a science education bill after announcing he wanted 'every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution.' This year's version omits any mention of specific areas of science that could be controversial. Instead, it simply prohibits any educational official from blocking a teacher who wanted to discuss the 'strengths and weaknesses' of scientific theories.

The one introduced in the Oklahoma House (PDF) is more traditional. Billed as a 'Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act' (because freedom!), it spells out a whole host of areas of science its author doesn't like: 'The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics, and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.'"

Education

How Have Large Donations Affected Education Policy In New York City? 37

theodp writes: According to Chalkbeat, the expansion of charter schools, the movement to break New York City's large schools into smaller ones, and the push to teach computer science have something in common: the influence of philanthropy. Though contributions from big donors amount to only a fraction of New York City's education spending, they still have a real impact on public school policy, said Jeffrey Henig, the co-author of The New Education Philanthropy: Politics, Policy and Reform, which details how powerful individuals and organizations increasingly use donations to advance policies they support. Increasingly, Henig adds, some of those donors are paying more attention to advocacy, creating at least the appearance, if not the reality, of grassroots support.
AI

Google Launches Free Course On Deep Learning (blogspot.com) 16

An anonymous reader writes: In November, Google open sourced TensorFlow, its machine learning platform. Now, the company is following up by teaching people how to use it. They've launched a free course at Udacity that "provides you with all the basic tools and vocabulary to get started with deep learning, and walks you through how to use it to address some of the most common machine learning problems." A series of lectures explains how to set up your data, build training models, and extend those models. It also touches on image recognition and how to use recurrent neural networks. The signup page notes that this is considered an intermediate-to-advanced level course, so you'll probably need some basic machine learning knowledge to get the most out of it.
Programming

Stephen Wolfram: No Need To Teach With 'Toy Programming Languages' Like Scratch (wolfram.com) 214

theodp writes: From Stephen Wolfram's blog post announcing the Wolfram Programming Lab: "It's a very important — and in fact transformative — moment for programming education. In the past one could use a 'toy programming language' like Scratch, or one could use a professional low-level programming language like C++ or Java. Scratch is easy to use, but is very limited. C++ or Java can ultimately do much more (though they don't have built-in knowledge), but you need to put in significant time—and get deep into the engineering details—to make programs that get beyond a toy level of functionality. With the Wolfram Language, though, it's a completely different story. Because now even beginners can write programs that do really interesting things. And the programs don't have to just be 'computer science exercises': they can be programs that immediately connect to the real world, and to what students study across the whole curriculum. Wolfram Programming Lab gives people a broad way to learn modern programming — and to acquire an incredibly valuable career-building practical skill. But it also helps develop the kind of computational thinking that's increasingly central to today's world." So, when it comes to programming education, are schools hitchIng their cart to the wrong horse?
Education

MIT To Offer Internet of Things Training For Professionals (computerworld.com) 63

dcblogs writes: MIT is offering an online course about the Internet of Things, and this is what you need to know up front: It's going to require, perhaps, six to eight hours of study time a week, which includes watching videos of lectures, engaging with faculty and fellow students in forums and taking tests. It begins April 12 and continues through May 24. It costs $495, and unlike some online courses, there is no free option. Students who complete the program and pass the tests earn a certificate of completion and 1.2 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in MIT's professional education program. In exchange for their time and money, students will get an introduction, a roadmap, into the IoT and hear from some of the university's top professors, including Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web. This professional program is a relatively new effort for the university.
United Kingdom

Big Brother Is Coming To UK Universities (theguardian.com) 75

An anonymous reader writes: An upcoming report by the Higher Education Commission, a UK group of MPs, business and academic professionals, will paint a picture of a higher education system that, thanks to the increasing use of data, may undergo radical change, sometimes with painful ethical considerations. Among their visions: an Amazon-style recommendation service on courses and work experience based on individuals' backgrounds, and similar profiles. Or a system in which students at risk of failure can be identified from their first day so that they receive instant feedback and performance measuring. It is envisioned that the system will include knowing whether they are in lectures, at the gym or in the bar, and in an effort to boost their results, students may also want to share data on their fitness, sleeping patterns, and their academic and semi-academic interactions online.
United Kingdom

10-Year-Old Muslim Boy Probed For 'Terrorist House' Spelling Error (bbc.com) 315

AmiMoJo writes: A 10-year-old Muslim boy who mistakenly wrote that he lived in a "terrorist house" during an English lesson at school has been investigated by police. The pupil, who attends a primary school in Lancashire, meant to say he lived in a "terraced house." The boy was interviewed by Lancashire Police at his home the next day, and the family laptop was examined. The 2015 Counter Terrorism and Security Act means that teachers have been legally obliged to report any suspected extremist behavior to police since July. Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK's largest umbrella group for Islamic associations, said he was aware of dozens of cases similar to that of the schoolboy.
Programming

Ask Slashdot: Good Introductory SW Engineering Projects? (HS Level) 140

New submitter mtapman writes: I'm looking for suggestions on introductory software engineering projects for a high school level student. Assume the student can do basic math (up through Algebra I or Statistics I) but is new to logic and computer science. Each project should take no more than four hours to complete including research, coding, and testing. The intent is to introduce the student to software engineering (and computer science) through practical and fun examples. Classic CS problems are welcome. One of the key criteria is available research/reference material to allow the student to make progress with 30-60 minutes of online research.

Some ideas that came to my mind (not necessarily good ones) are: (1) pick a sorting algorithm and sort a list of ten words alphabetically, (2) write a program to convert characters from lower to upper case, (3) write a program to divide two numbers in two different programming languages and compare the results to determine the differences between the languages.

Slashdot Top Deals