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Comment netlogo (Score 1) 648

I just finished my teaching my first semester of a computer programming class. I used NetLogo, a descendant of Logo. I hadn't used it much before, but a group at the Santa Fe Institute here in New Mexico was working to have more CS taught in high schools. They were going with netlogo, and the programming curriculum had an emphasis on scientific modelling rather than traditional CS topics like search/sort algorithms.
I was skeptical of Netlogo at first, as my real world experience was mostly with Python/Django, but the kids really took to it. There was some classic Logo programs (Spirographs), but CS topics like recursion (drawing a fractal tree) and sorting (a bale of turtles sorted on different criteria, with different algorithm efficiencies) were covered too. There was some great modelling though, for ecosystems or a disease spread model.
For my second semester of the class I'm switching to Python, to give the kids a different perspective on programming.

Comment khan academy programming (Score 1) 317

I introduced computer programming in my geometry class this semester with Khan Academy. It's a great interface, with clear tutorials, minimal setup (an account helps, but it ties into our school's Google Education domain automatically) and instant feedback for both results and errors. Khan's programming interface is in javascript using processing.
At the start of the unit I polled my students, and of the 63 I have in geometry, only 3 had prior exposure to programming. Those 3 had parents in tech and had done some science/engineering summer camp activities, and were looking into it on their own. I was a little surprised, because when I was a kid, my elementary school all got some programming exposure on Logo on C64s back in the 80s.

Comment Re:Doing exactly this right now (Score 1) 265

1) Be prepared for the fact that many will not have taken a math class in many years, some 5 or more. They will recall little from their previous math classes other than intuition. Their arithmetic skills are poor. Be sure you are evaluating them on their understanding of the stats material, and be forgiving of arithmetic errors

Big agreement here. Check out A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper for an accessible book that explores some of the common misconceptions about stats. Learning what stats say (or don't) is far more useful than learning to crunch the numbers.

Comment Re:As someone who worked IT in one of these school (Score 1) 511

I'm working IT at a 1-to-1 laptop school. When implemented right great stuff happens. Google Docs makes working on group projects actually feasible (though kids still have to be taught how to collaborate effectively.) Google search necessitates focusing on deeper issues when the answers to most typical school questions are 5 seconds away. With Wolframalpha, why spend a couple months in math class on the mechanics of factoring quadratics when it's now trivial and there's far more interesting math subjects to explore? Tech isn't the magic bullet for test scores. That's probably a good thing.

Comment Re:NASA needs more budget. (Score 1) 324

From the article: "Obama's 2011 budget request calls for $19 billion for NASA, a $276 million hike from the previous budget."
What's being cut is Constellation. NASA's budget is being increased and refocused, to as "former astronaut Sally Ride, an Augustine panel member, described the strategic shift as a "significant vote of confidence in NASA" that brings it "back to its roots as an engine of innovation.""

Offline Book "Lending" Costs US Publishers Nearly $1 Trillion 494

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from a tongue-in-cheek blog post which puts publisher worries about ebook piracy into perspective: "Hot on the heels of the story in Publisher's Weekly that 'publishers could be losing out on as much $3 billion to online book piracy' comes a sudden realization of a much larger threat to the viability of the book industry. Apparently, over 2 billion books were 'loaned' last year by a cabal of organizations found in nearly every American city and town. Using the same advanced projective mathematics used in the study cited by Publishers Weekly, Go To Hellman has computed that publishers could be losing sales opportunities totaling over $100 billion per year, losses which extend back to at least the year 2000. ... From what we've been able to piece together, the book 'lending' takes place in 'libraries.' On entering one of these dens, patrons may view a dazzling array of books, periodicals, even CDs and DVDs, all available to anyone willing to disclose valuable personal information in exchange for a 'card.' But there is an ominous silence pervading these ersatz sanctuaries, enforced by the stern demeanor of staff and the glares of other patrons. Although there's no admission charge and it doesn't cost anything to borrow a book, there's always the threat of an onerous overdue bill for the hapless borrower who forgets to continue the cycle of not paying for copyrighted material."

Comment thoughts from a math teacher (Score 1) 677

IAAMT, last year 8th grade at a high minority pop, low income school. This next year I'll be teaching Algebra 1 at a high school. I agree with many of the points in Lockhart's article, with the primary exception being that this problem isn't already being addressed by some in education.

Math has been gutted of meaning, but this is changing. There are solid curricula out there that are being used, such as IMP ( the Interactive Math Program) or PBL (Project/Problem Based Learning) style lessons. An example of PBL that I used last year with my 8th graders was in modeling a bride. They were given a plausible scenario (school buildings are getting a 2nd story added on to reduce the number of portable classrooms, they had to design and model a bridge between these 2nd stories.) So, we went out and measured distances, built newpaper bridges and tested how much weight they could hold to find relationships for thickness v. load and length v. load, calculated needed load support based on population, class flow, 8th grader mass, etc., graphed some data in Excel, and used their formula and data to built a cost-optimized bridge. They had fun exploring some rich problems (and some frustration, as it did require some thought) and gained a better grasp of linear relationships, a key concept in 8th grade.

This type of teaching isn't widespread, but it was being advocated by my college advisers. One of the problems with doing this kind of math is the lack of public support. In the school district I'm in, about half the high schools were giving an option to use IMP to students, but parents complained and such, and now only a few charter schools use it. Still, support is starting to spread some, so the more interesting approaches are being slowly revived.

For those interested in this topic, check out What's math got to do with it?" by Jo Boaler (new edition out later this month.)

Comment Re:Don't they send kids to the Vice Principal? (Score 1) 1246

I've had students who have refused to stop texting. If they refuse that, they'll likely refuse to go to the Vice Principal's office. After that, the typical options are call security or give up and do nothing.
I've recently started calling home and putting the call on speaker phone, which has had good results when there's a viable phone number.

Comment Re:thinking about it (Score 3, Interesting) 251

I played the beta for a while, and will be picking up the retail when it's not so detrimental to work/school schedule.
Things I liked:
  • Hugely detailed world (Warhammer has lots of back story)
  • Diverse classes (each of the 6 races has 3 or 4 classes, each class is somewhat unique)
  • Public Quests (fun quests you can join casually with others on, very well done.)
  • Quirky humor (some races more than others, Greenskins especially amusing)

The biggest reason for me quitting WoW was the time commitment in the end game raids. Warhammer doesn't seem to require the same solid block of time that WoW did, which for me, as someone with a family, is huge.

The Internet

Submission + - Poverty meets Social Networking in India

entropiccanuck writes: The NY Times has an article titled "In India, Poverty Inspires Technology Workers to Altruism", which is about new sites that bring the "social-networking revolution popularized by Facebook and MySpace to people who do not even have computers — the world's poor." Sean Blagsvedt, the founder of one such site,, says "In India, you can't escape the feeling that you're really lucky. So you ask, What are you going to do about all the stuff around you? How are you going to use all these skills?"
Blagsvedt's site works as a "village LinkedIn" by replicating "online the process by which Indians hire in real life: through chains of personal connections." One of the more significant hurdles in building such a site is in making it accessible to those who have limited computer access.
The Internet

Submission + - Pirate Bay earns 20,000 Euros a day ( 2

An anonymous reader writes: controverisal pro-piracy website the piratebay likes to portray itself as an innocent hobby site that provides a free index without censorship, but recent facts show that the site is earning up to 20,000 Euros per day from its advertising. Taking in money on this scale puts a different slant on the motives behind the Swedish filesharing site, and could open up the runners of the site to prosecution for profiting from copyright infringement.

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