Later On

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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

A really nice story: “High-school girls build kick-ass robots.”

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And not only nice, it underscores, boldfaces, and blasts out that WE ARE EDUCATING POORLY. That the Carl Hayden Community High School robotics program is so notable is that it is SO RARE. School are not doing this sort of thing, even though clearly it works. Why not?

Sorry. Here’s the article in The Verge, by Joshua Davis:

Girls don’t like robots.

Fredi Lajvardi heard that a lot. As a high school science teacher in urban Phoenix, he ran into roadblocks whenever he tried to recruit girls to the school’s robotics club. Male students and even some teachers offered a variety of excuses: they’re not good at building things; they don’t care about engineering; they don’t know how to use power tools.

Lajvardi didn’t believe it, even when female students said they weren’t interested in the robot team. To Lajvardi, it was a puzzle that needed a solution. He was born in Iran but his family moved to the US when he was one year old. As a high school student in Phoenix during the Iran hostage crisis in the early 1980s, he got beat up for being Iranian. It didn’t matter that he’d left Iran as an infant; the bullies just saw his otherness and hurt him for it. In college, Lajvardi decided to become a teacher, in part to help kids like himself — immigrants, nerds, anybody who was told they didn’t belong.

In 1988, he got a job in a downtrodden high school in West Phoenix. Roughly 70 percent of the student population at Carl Hayden Community High School was below the poverty line. The vast majority were undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Less than 40 percent graduated; only a handful went to college. Most people wouldn’t expect the school to have any kind of robotics program.

But Lajvardi and Allan Cameron, a jovial computer science teacher, decided that the kids at Carl Hayden weren’t doing well academically because nobody expected them to. They weren’t excelling because they weren’t being given the opportunity to excel. The two teachers decided to do something about that by forming the Falcon Robotics Team in 2001.

At first, they didn’t worry too much about the fact that girls weren’t interested in building robots. It was hard enough convincing anyone to join the team.

The team started meeting after school. Its attendees were a rag-tag group: loners, misfits, kids who would rather be there than go back home. In 2003, the team roster included a former gang member, an ROTC cadet, a brainiac who lived in a shed, and a hulking giant of a kid who said next to nothing. The unlikely foursome started gathering spare parts from local hardware stores and businesses. Before long, they’d cobbled together an impressively robust underwater robot. They entered a major national underwater robotics competition in California and ended up beating MIT to win the national championship. Their victory put Carl Hayden on the map. (That story is chronicled in my book Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream.)

The win energized Lajvardi and Cameron, but they were worried that the team was dominated by boys. Cameron had three daughters; he’d taught them how to use power tools at a young age and encouraged them to build things in the garage. At Carl Hayden, girls began to join the team in the early 2000s but usually ended up writing the papers and doing the verbal presentations. They weren’t actually building robots. . .

Continue reading.

You know, that is exactly what John Dewey was talking about. Along with many others. But we still don’t do it. Why?

UPDATE: Here’s what we get instead in too many school districts.

UPDATE 2: Here’s a Wired article on the original team of four and the movie made about their accomplishment.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2014 at 1:34 pm

The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering

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I like books that step back from details and try to help on grok the generality. This one seems to belong to that category. Check out the description and see what you think:

In this book, Sanjoy Mahajan shows us that the way to master complexity is through insight rather than precision. Precision can overwhelm us with information, whereas insight connects seemingly disparate pieces of information into a simple picture. Unlike computers, humans depend on insight. Based on the author’s fifteen years of teaching at MIT, Cambridge University, and Olin College, The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering shows us how to build insight and find understanding, giving readers tools to help them solve any problem in science and engineering.

To master complexity, we can organize it or discard it. The Art of Insight in Science and Engineeringfirst teaches the tools for organizing complexity, then distinguishes the two paths for discarding complexity: with and without loss of information. Questions and problems throughout the text help readers master and apply these groups of tools. Armed with this three-part toolchest, and without complicated mathematics, readers can estimate the flight range of birds and planes and the strength of chemical bonds, understand the physics of pianos and xylophones, and explain why skies are blue and sunsets are red.

The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering will appear in print and online under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Share Alike license.

About the Author

Sanjoy Mahajan is Associate Professor of Applied Science and Engineering at Olin College of Engineering and Visiting Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. He was a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University and a Fellow of Corpus Christi College in the University of Cambridge, where he was a member of the physics faculty. He is the author of Street-Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving (MIT Press).

At the link are comments from readers.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 December 2014 at 7:55 am

Knowledge is dangerous to some worldviews

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But still—one sort of expects it from the Taliban, but in Arizona?

Written by LeisureGuy

29 November 2014 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Education, Religion, Science

Very cogent letter regarding on-campus sexual assault from student-newspaper editors to president of Eckherd

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Extremely well argued. Well worth reading—especially in light of the ubiquity of colleges covering up (and misunderstanding) sexual assault.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2014 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Law

Hasidic schools fight educational standards

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I’m surprised at the level of animosity against subjects that seem religiously neutral to me: mathematics, for example, and basic scientist like chemistry. Read Jennifer Miller’s description in the NY Times of what strikes me as a crippling education:

Naftuli Moster was a senior at the College of Staten Island when he first heard the word “molecule.” Perplexed, he looked around the classroom. Nobody else seemed confused. Yet again, because of gaps in his early education, Mr. Moster was ignorant of a basic concept that everybody else knew.

“I felt embarrassed and ashamed,” he said. “Every single time I didn’t know something, I thought, ‘I’m too crippled to make it through.’ ”

Mr. Moster had grown up one of 17 children in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where most Hasidic men marry young and, right after finishing yeshiva, or high school, either immediately enter the work force or dedicate themselves to Talmudic studies. But if Mr. Moster’s educational ambitions were unusual among his peers, his limited grasp of English was not.

There are 250 Jewish private schools in New York City, and though some schools, like Ramaz on the Upper East Side, have intensive secular curriculums, many do not. Nearly one-third of all students in Jewish schools are “English language learners,” according to the city’s Department of Education. Yiddish is the Hasidic community’s first language, and both parents and educators report that many boys’ schools do not teach the A B C’s until children are 7 or 8 years old. Boys in elementary and middle school study religious subjects from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. followed by approximately 90 minutes of English and math. At 13, when boys formally enter yeshiva, most stop receiving any English instruction. . .

Continue reading.

A senior in college, educated in the US—indeed, in New York City—and never heard the word “molecule.”

I do not like to cast aspersions, but it seems very much as if the emphasis is only keeping the young as ignorant as possible—cf. Christian fundamentalists home-schooling their children, the Taliban, and others of the ilk.

The problem, as I see it, is that education—particularly in the liberal arts—really does make free men and free women from children: it liberates them (thus: liberal arts) because it exercises and trains important analytical skills that are anathema to any authoritarian organization: liberal education emphasizes thinking for yourself, seeking real-world evidence before making judgment, respecting all equally (rather than respect upwards, contempt downwards, which seems typical of hierarchical and authoritarian structures—probably because one must please those above (who are more powerful) but doesn’t have to worry about those below (powerless compared to oneself). In effect, the liberal arts teach one not only that s/he should question authority, but provides the skills to present the best questions possible. Authority hates that, as do authoritarians. In fact, it is frightening: people no longer know their place, the social order is upset, and probably a certain wave of … not exactly regret or apology, but of realization how one’s actions might have appeared to others who were not oneself.

So when you find wholesale rejection of the liberal arts—as is happening in the US—then that is happening for a reason, and it’s useful to consider what those reasons might be. Exactly who doesn’t want the public having and exercising critical thinking skills?

UPDATE: Well, Texas for one.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2014 at 10:17 am

Posted in Education

Recent history: The MIT Tech Model Railroad Club

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That railroad club was the origin of the acronym “mung,” as in “this train car is now munged.” “Mung” = “mashed until no good.”

Here’s the history, and it’s a fun read.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2014 at 10:27 am

Philosophy through conversation

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Interesting essay in Aeon by Nigel Warburton:

In 1913 the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein fled the interruptions and distractions of Cambridge to live as a hermit in Norway. No one knew him there, and he could focus on his work on logic in isolation. It worked. He lodged for a while with the postmaster in Skjolden, a remote village 200 miles north of the city of Bergen, and later had a hut built overlooking the fjord. Alone, he wrestled with the ideas that would metamorphose into his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921). Anyone who tried to pass the time of day with him got short shrift. ‘Go away! It’ll take me two weeks to get back to the point where I was before you interrupted me,’ he is supposed to have shouted at one local who made the mistake of greeting him as he stood pondering what could not be said. From Wittgenstein’s perspective, the year he spent in Norway was the source of much of his philosophical creativity, some of the most intense thinking this markedly intense philosopher achieved in his lifetime. While there, he did little more than think, walk, whistle, and suffer from depression.

Wittgenstein ensconced in his Norwegian ‘hut’ (really, a two-storey wooden house with a balcony) is for many the model of a philosopher at work. Here the solitary genius sought out isolation that mirrored the rigours of his own austere philosophy. No distractions. No human company. Just a laser-like mind thinking about first principles, as he stood surveying the fjord or strode through the snow. Wittgenstein had precedents. The sixth-century Boethius wrote his Consolation of Philosophy in a Roman prison cell, his mind focused by his imminent execution; Niccolò Machiavelli produced The Prince (1532) in exile on a quiet farm outside Florence; René Descartes wrote his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) curled up next to a fire. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was happiest living in the middle of a forest, away from civilisation, and so on. Philosophy in its highest forms seems intently solitary and often damaged by the presence of others.

Yet this stereotype of the genius at work in complete isolation is misleading, even for Wittgenstein, Boethius, Machiavelli, Descartes, and Rousseau. Philosophy is an inherently social activity that thrives on the collision of viewpoints and rarely emerges from unchallenged interior monologue. A closer examination of Wittgenstein’s year in a Norwegian wood reveals his correspondence with the Cambridge philosophers Bertrand Russell and G E Moore. He even persuaded Moore to travel to Norway — an arduous train and boat trip in those days — and stay for a fortnight. The point of Moore’s visit was to discuss Wittgenstein’s new ideas about logic. In fact, ‘discussion’ turned out to mean that Wittgenstein (who was still technically an undergraduate) spoke, and Moore (who was far more eminent at the time) listened and took notes.

Yet Moore’s presence was somehow necessary for the birth of these ideas: Wittgenstein needed an audience, and an intelligent listener who could criticise and help him focus his thought, even if those criticisms weren’t uttered. And he wasn’t the only one who needed an audience. Boethius in his cell imagined his visitor: Philosophy personified as a tall woman wearing a dress with the letters Pi to Theta on it. She berates him for deserting her and the stoicism she preached. Boethius’s own book was a response to her challenge.

Machiavelli, meanwhile, was indeed exiled, cut off from the intrigues of court life, a city dweller forced into a bucolic existence against his will. But in a letter to his friend Francesco Vettori of 10 December 1513, he described how he spent his evenings: he would retire to his study and conjure up the great ancient thinkers and hold imaginary conversations with them about how best to govern. These imaginary conversations were the raw material for The Prince. Descartes might have locked himself away to write, and avoided distractions by doing most of his work lying in bed, but when he came to publish hisMeditations it was with a number of critical comments from other philosophers, including Thomas Hobbes, together with his responses to their criticisms. Likewise, Rousseau loved solitude, but he included dialogues within his writing, and even wrote the bizarre book Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques (1776) in which he presented two versions of himself debating with each other.

Western philosophy has its origins in conversation, in face-to-face discussions about reality, our place in the cosmos, and how we should live. It began with a sense of mystery, wonder, and confusion, and the powerful desire to get beyond mere appearances to find truth or, if not that, at least some kind of wisdom or balance.

Socrates started the conversation about philosophical conversation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2014 at 11:50 am

Posted in Education


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