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Comment Efficacy? (Score 1) 102

While MOOCs do allow a lot of people to take courses that they might not otherwise have access to, the bigger question is can you actually learn enough from them to say that you have training in that subject? Previous posts have commented on the droning lectures, which really don't help, even in person.

So a different question is: can a highly-motivated person, who really wants to know about x, take an online course (MOOC or Kahn Academy or whatever) and actually get something out of it. Sure! But a highly-motivated person is probably already determined to learn about x and will find the information somewhere.

Comment fold.it? (Score 1) 51

This is awfully cool!
According to the article, they used Rosetta@home for some predictions. I wonder if they've also tried fold.it, especially since that project is also out of U of Washington.

Comment Re:As someone who was better than average... (Score 1) 427

There's two primary reasons that math curriculum is dumbed down in the US: 1. the students who didn't get it the previous year but were "socially-promoted" anyway, and the teacher has to compensate; 2. the parents who see their kids not getting it and/or are afraid of their kids' homework and demand that all of the hard math be taken away.

Comment Definitions of "good"? (Score 1) 446

Part of this "improving teachers" problem is that there's no good definition of what a "good" teacher does. Do they know their material? Are they effective communicators? Are they empathetic? Do they help their students pass the state tests (and each state has their own state tests)?

As a teacher, I try to emulate my favorite teachers: the 8th grade geography teacher who, through his personal stories of growing up in our small town, taught us how to be good human beings, as well as the most amazing acrostics to memorize nations and capitols; the 12th grade English teacher who taught us everything from Sir Gwain and the Green Knight to "Death of a Salesman" and the occasional university class, and had a collection of stuffed plushie sheep, the 12th grade physics teacher who showed Penn and Teller movies to debunk magic, measured the speed of light from the exit sign, and created the legends of lab-destroying pixies. Two of these teachers are gone, one frustrated by the administration, one frustrated by fellow teachers (who didn't have her teaching abilities and sued the district to make her share her classes).

As amazing as these teachers are/were, I don't know if I would have passed a state test (which hadn't yet been created) with that material. Would the teachers have been thrown out for my poor performance?

Additionally, having students be responsible for whether a teacher remains/gets higher pay is insane. The student has no incentive to pass most state tests (most states still don't require passing scores to graduate), so effort isn't rewarded. Evaluations of teachers should be done by teachers who have no direct influence on each other (the NYTimes opinions mention a system in Indiana that sounds good).


Canadian Blood Services Promotes Pseudoscience 219

trianglecat writes "The not-for-profit agency Canadian Blood Services has a section of their website based on the Japanese cultural belief of ketsueki-gata, which claims that a person's blood group determines or predicts their personality type. Disappointing for a self-proclaimed 'science-based' organization. The Ottawa Skeptics, based in the nation's capital, appear to be taking some action."

Comment cool vs. testing vs. perception (Score 1) 801

There's a conflict of interests, for lack of a better term. It's nice that the President is advocating more science education and science literacy for the general population (with which I personally agree). But there's also the state-mandated testing systems, some of which require science tests (thanks to NCLB, all states require math and language arts tests, but some states went above and beyond).

If a state requires science testing, chances are that many of its teachers will teach to that test in an attempt to keep the school afloat. Yes, there are some teachers who do amazing projects and truly inspire students, but many will not. Many teachers will feel (and are feeling) pressure to just get good scores. This atmosphere is not at all condusive to making science (or any other subject taught this way) cool.

As far as getting the public interested in science, the media has to start taking an active interest in science and making it accessible to the general public. Let's face it: a lot of new discoveries are not very simple (LHC, anyone?). Explaining why it's an amazing project and worth funding should be part of a science reporter's job. When I worked at a large public science museum, our job was to take material and bring it down to a 5th-8th grade level, which would help compensate for kids, non-native-English speakers, and non-science-literate parents. Even TV shows like CSI do not make science accessible: the fancy-schmancy machines and lab-coat-clad workers are the ones to determine identities of mysterious materials or vials of evidence.

Which is another reason that kids don't want to go into science... "dude, you'll be a NERD!"

Comment Re:and on the other end... (Score 1) 716

I didn't mean to say that we should throw money at the schools; you're right, that won't solve any problems.

However, if that kind of cash (let's say $250 per kid in a 300-kid school (which is kinda small for a middle school)... that's $75K) is given to a school with the stipulation of... early childhood ed, or extra reading help, or more free/reduced meals, or rebuilding the library, getting up-to-date textbooks, or new gym equipment, or installing a computer lab (etc.), I'm pretty sure it would do some good.

Besides, what is "the problem" that you're trying to solve? Not many people can articulate this in specific terms with good student-centered reasoning (i.e., "raising math scores" isn't specific enough nor does it have a good reason for doing so).

Comment and on the other end... (Score 5, Insightful) 716

This will put even more pressure on teachers to teach to the tests. Especially in low-income areas (where these trials are being done), teachers want their students to get what they're worth.

Kids aren't "getting smarter" (by the way, what does "smart" entail?) They're learning to play the game that is the educational system.

Also, if the sponsoring organizations can afford to pay each kid $250-500, where the heck are they getting those funds, and why aren't they giving it to inner-city schools in the first place?

Comment stereotypical b.s. (Score 1) 314

I am female and explosives are what got me into chemistry. Just because girls often shriek or shy from explosives doesn't mean they're actually scared or unimpressed. Most of my female students are more into fire than my male students.

Don't you dare dumb-down (girl-down?) chemistry for girls. We'll give you camo-colored knitting needles if that helps you get over it.

Comment Re:Safe science is sometimes modified (Score 1) 314

Be careful about explosives in today's society. While explosives are what got me into chemistry, they are now very regulated by local, state, and federal governments. Check your local laws (and your administration) regarding definitions of "bombs" and "explosives" before doing them in classroom settings.

Comment Get them involved first (Score 1) 314

Running computer programs is nice, and might help out someone else (if they're watching). Chances are that the kids won't get much from it.

Instead, have them do something they want to do. When I was in high school, there was a program for chemistry and physics (over two years), and the fourth quarter of Year #2 you did independent work on whatever you wanted in the chem/phys realm.

Of course there were rules and regulations. At the beginning of Year #2, we had to submit a list of possible topics, then submit somewhat fleshed-out versions of 5, then finally pick one (with instructor approval, of course). During Year #2, each quarter we had to submit a reading list of possible sources for our projects (10-20 per quarter, I think). If you changed subjects, you had to re-do the reading list. During class, you could do whatever you needed to (read stuff, work on tests, pick the instructor's brain). At the end of the year, you had to submit your write up (with appropriate citations), along with some sort of physical object (model airplanes and the wings you shaped, rusted and cleaned metal plates, videotape of the giant jello pool you were studying for wave actions, etc.) to go with your project.

Comment Re:There is yet another problem with science teach (Score 1) 1038

Teachers are not "promoted" to Principal-status; In every state that I know of, the is a separate (and often very complicated) licensing process to become an administrator.

Math and science people can be paid a heckuva lot more in industry/research than in teaching. This is probably the biggest draw away from teaching. With my higher degrees, I know I'd be earning at least twice my current teaching salary if I just switched into industry. I've actually been turned down for teaching jobs because the extra degrees make me an expensive hire (i.e., they're required to pay me more because of extra education).

By the way, just because someone is brilliant in biochemistry, doesn't mean that they can teach it to someone else. You really don't want the "those who can't, teach" kinds of people in the classroom anyway.

Comment Several incongruous problems (Score 1) 1038

The OP is really a conglomeration of several problems that should be addressed separately:

  1. 80% of Americans think science knowledge is 'very important' to our future. Why do they/we think so? Is it because scientists are held up as very smart people, and can therefore pull the collective out of trouble? In the movies, the wacky shunned scientists are always the ones to come up with the nukes for collision-course asteroids.
  2. ...most people think it's up to someone else to get knowledgeable. Well, sure. If you poll random adults, they're probably already set on their job-path, which probably doesn't involve science directly. To them, it's probably obvious that a science job is not in their future.
  3. 15%...47%... Already discussed in other posts as an English-summary problem.
  4. 40% think dinosaurs and humans cavorted together... 50% of Americans won't know how long it takes for the earth to go around the sun. Obviously wrong. Does that make it a problem for today's society? I'm pretty sure you could find an equal number of people who don't know when the War of 1812 was fought, who the Allies were in WWII, and mixing chlorine and bleach is a bad idea.
  5. Teacher merit pay Sure, this will influence teachers to get their students to score higher on tests (teaching to the test, anyone?), but how will paying more to an authority figure make a student "smarter" in science, or any other subject?

Here's what the concerns seem to come to: Finding the value of science in society (point #1); Determining whether certain science facts are absolutely essential for every person to know (i.e., points #3 and 4); Making it a societal value for people to spread science in school systems (#2 and 5).

Why are we trying to promote science to the general public, when the general public doesn't know how it's useful in everyday life?

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