Engineering professor Barbara Oakley explains how she rewired her brain for math at the age of 26:
When learning math and engineering as an adult, I began by using the same strategy I’d used to learn language. I’d look at an equation, to take a very simple example, Newton’s second law of f = ma. I practiced feeling what each of the letters meant—f for force was a push, m for mass was a kind of weighty resistance to my push, and a was the exhilarating feeling of acceleration. (The equivalent in Russian was learning to physically sound out the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet.) I memorized the equation so I could carry it around with me in my head and play with it. If m and a were big numbers, what did that do to f when I pushed it through the equation? If f was big and a was small, what did that do to m? How did the units match on each side? Playing with the equation was like conjugating a verb. I was beginning to intuit that the sparse outlines of the equation were like a metaphorical poem, with all sorts of beautiful symbolic representations embedded within it. Although I wouldn’t have put it that way at the time, the truth was that to learn math and science well, I had to slowly, day by day, build solid neural “chunked” subroutines—such as surrounding the simple equation f = ma—that I could easily call to mind from long term memory, much as I’d done with Russian.
Time after time, professors in mathematics and the sciences have told me that building well-ingrained chunks of expertise through practice and repetition was absolutely vital to their success. Understanding doesn’t build fluency; instead, fluency builds understanding. In fact, I believe that true understanding of a complex subject comes only from fluency.
Malcom Harris on Dana Goldstein’s book The Teacher Wars
The tag line to Dana Goldstein’s new book The Teacher Wars is “A history of America’s most embattled profession.” That Goldstein, an education journalist now at the fledgling Marshall Project, can make that claim without ruining her credibility before the first page speaks to the unique role educators play in American society. They’re (mostly) unionized government employees, but they spend their time working alone. We ask that they produce standardized results and demonstrate individualized care at the same time. We say their work is invaluable and pay them as if they were semiskilled. They come under frequent attack from all corners of the political map. Whether that necessarily makes teachers more embattled than psychologists or babysitters or coal miners or housewives I’m not sure, but they are certainly curious.
Full Story: The New Inquiry: Not for Teacher
So you know how Technoccult has been slow for the past couple months? That’s in large part because I spent most of my time outside of work writing this cover story for Oregon Business:
Treehouse tutorials have already been used by Umatilla high schools and several private “learn to code” programs, such as Portland’s Epicodus. But Carson’s ambitions go far beyond meeting sales and marketing targets. He aims to do nothing less than revolutionize higher education by providing everything students need to land a job in the tech industry — without ever setting foot in a classroom.
“We’re trying to remove the need to go to college,” he says.
It’s an audacious project. In fact, some might say Carson is not so much naive as full of hubris, a trait that has become synonymous with startup tech executives, in Portland and Silicon Valley. And yet all signs suggest higher education is ripe for transformation.
Nationwide, 53% of recent college graduates were either unemployed or had jobs that didn’t require a college degree, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data published in 2012. That’s partially due to the 38% increase in the number of people under 25 who had at least a bachelor’s degree between 2000 and 2012, The Atlantic reports. But even as the competitive benefit of a degree has declined, tuition has skyrocketed. Tuition at Oregon’s seven public universities more than doubled from $3,507 to $8,305 between 2000 and the 2014, rising far faster than the rate of inflation.
Full Story: Oregon Business: College Hacker
New from me at Wired:
Minecraft is incredibly open-ended. It’s entirely up you whether you as a player whether spend your time building elaborate castles, fighting monsters, or exploring the the game world. What’s more, using mods, you can quickly create things that would otherwise take a long time to build in the game, such as mountains or massive dungeons, or create custom types of blocks. You can also create special rules that enable you to do things like build your own games within Minecraft, such as capture the flag or Tetris.
Once the kids have crafted their code in LearnToMod, the application connects to their Minecraft account to make the mods available to the kids in the game. By teaching kids to build their own Minecraft mods, the ThoughSTEM team is hoping to keep students motivated to learn some of the trickier parts of coding.
TeacherGaming founder Joel Levin is fond of the idea. “Kids are passionate about the game and they quickly understand that they can extend and enhance their Minecraft experience by learning some basic programming,” he says. “And that’s really what we want, isn’t it? To have kids realize that with code, they can improve their life in a way that’s relevant to them.”
In fact, Levin says TeacherGaming is working on its own mod building education program called ComputerCraftEdu, which will eventually be offered both online and in-person. And there are already a few other classes that teach students to create mods, such as MakersFactory’s class in Santa Cruz and YouthDigital’s online class.
On for adults looking to learn to program, there’s Switch, which is looking to become like “OK Cupid” for code bootcamps.
Luba Vangelova reports on a group that believes it may be better to introduce certain elements of, say, calculus to young kids before more route ideas like multiplication tables:
Finding an appropriate path hinges on appreciating an often-overlooked fact—that “the complexity of the idea and the difficulty of doing it are separate, independent dimensions,” she says. “Unfortunately a lot of what little children are offered is simple but hard—primitive ideas that are hard for humans to implement,” because they readily tax the limits of working memory, attention, precision and other cognitive functions. Examples of activities that fall into the “simple but hard” quadrant: Building a trench with a spoon (a military punishment that involves many small, repetitive tasks, akin to doing 100 two-digit addition problems on a typical worksheet, as Droujkova points out), or memorizing multiplication tables as individual facts rather than patterns.
Far better, she says, to start by creating rich and social mathematical experiences that are complex (allowing them to be taken in many different directions) yet easy (making them conducive to immediate play). Activities that fall into this quadrant: building a house with LEGO blocks, doing origami or snowflake cut-outs, or using a pretend “function box” that transforms objects (and can also be used in combination with a second machine to compose functions, or backwards to invert a function, and so on).
“You can take any branch of mathematics and find things that are both complex and easy in it,” Droujkova says. “My quest, with several colleagues around the world, is to take the treasure of mathematics and find the accessible ways into all of it.”
Full Story: The Atlantic: 5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus
The book Moebius Noodles attempts to put these ideas into practice.
Susan Farrell wrote a report based on a survey of nearly 1,000 user experience designers, including what they actually do, and their backgrounds and educations. It’s worth a look if you’ve ever thought about a career in usability.
From the summary:
When asked what characterizes good user experience professionals, one of our respondents said, “If you are a ‘lifelong learner’, in other words, if you are paying attention, you will be able to take previous experiences and apply lessons learned from them to your new situation. That is more important to me than specific skills you might learn in school.”
While most knowledge workers probably benefit from being lifelong learners, the point that this is more importantthan a specific education is rare and one of the defining characteristics of the user experience field.
Even though continual on-the-job learning is the most important, 90% of respondents had obtained a university degree. There’s no single degree to define the field: design, psychology, and communication were the most common major areas, sharply pursued by English and computer science. All of these fields make some sense as a partial educational background for UX professionals, but together those five disciplines accounted for only 45% of bachelor’s degrees. The majority of UX professionals hold degrees from an immense range of other disciplines, from history to chemistry, most of which don’t have a direct bearing on UX work.
The most common educational level was a master’s degree: 52% had at least one master’s degree (some had two, which seems like overkill). Only 6% of respondents were PhDs. Most of the remaining respondents with university diplomas held bachelor’s degrees and 1% had associate’s degrees.
My latest piece for TechCrunch:
This week President Barack Obama rekindled a couple of the Internet’s favorite debates: whether it’s appropriate to take selfies at funerals, and whether everyone should learn to code.
As part of Computer Science Education Week, Obama delivered a YouTube address titled “President Obama calls on every American to learn code.” […]
But I think we can all agree that learning programming shouldn’t detract from other educational objectives, like reading, writing and math. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. In fact, it can be combined with other skills.
Interesting. Here are the trends, the full article has more details:
1) Old Trend: Expensive solar, surviving only on subsidies.
New Trend: Cheap solar, disrupting old industries.
2. Old Trend: The Latinization of America.
New Trend: The Asiafication of America.
3. Old Trend: The Chinese population bomb.
New Trend: The Chinese population bust.
4. Old Trend: Soaring U.S. CO2 emissions.
New Trend: Plummeting U.S. CO2 emissions.
5. Old Trend: College is becoming more and more important.
New Trend: College is no more important than before.
6. Old Trend: Americans drive more and more.
New Trend: Americans drive less and less.
7. Old Trend: Skyrocketing health care costs, skyrocketing deficits.
New Trend: Creeping health care costs, creeping deficits.
8. Old Trend: The BRICs are conquering the world.
New Trend: China is the only BRIC in the wall.
9. Old Trend: Active management rules the finance universe.
New Trend: Passive investment rules the finance universe.
10) Old Trend: China is buying up all our debt.
New Trend: China is selling off our debt.
ds106 is an online learning project from the University of Mary Washington that goes beyond the usual “online course” format:
Looking for something different from the current hysteria of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)? A digital storytelling course started by Jim Groom at the University of Mary Washington (UMW), ds106 was set loose as an open course in January 2011. Yet the UMW catalog does not include such a course. Its actual course designation is CPSC 106 (Computer Science)—a small but telling example of how ds106 plays with and questions the norm.
Most classes in digital storytelling revolve around the personal video narrative form as popularized by the Center for Digital Storytelling. But ds106 storytelling explores the web as a culture, as a media source, and as a place to publish in the open. Not claiming to authoritatively define digital storytelling, ds106 is a constant process of questioning digital storytelling. Is an animated GIF a story? What does it mean to put “fast food” in the hands of Internet pioneers? Why would we mess with the MacGuffin? Is everything a remix? Though this is perhaps simply semantic wordplay, ds106 is not just “on” the web—it is “of” the web.
Characteristic of ds106 is its distributed structure, mimicking the Internet itself, and its open-source non-LMS platform. Students are charged with registering their own domain, managing their own personal cyberinfrastructure, and publishing to their own website. Via the WordPress plugin FeedWordPress, all content from students is automatically aggregated to the main ds106 site—but all links go back directly to the students’ sites.
I wrote about the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a boarding high school in Aurora, IL, for Wired:
The IMSA Wednesdays are like Google’s “20 percent time” — only better. “At Google, 20 percent time is actually tacked on to the rest of your job. ” says Daniel Kador, another former IMSA student. “At IMSA, it really is built into your schedule.” And though Kador and other students admit that they spent more than a few Wednesdays just goofing off — as high school students so often do — they say the environment at IMSA ends up pushing many of them towards truly creative work. And it pays off.
After teaching himself to program at IMSA, Chu went on to the University of Illinois, where he worked on NCSA Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, following in the footsteps of fellow IMSA alums Robert and Michael McCool. And, eventually, he joined several other IMSA graduates as an early employee at PayPal, where he still works today.
Chu is just one of many tech success stories that have sprung from IMSA over the years (see sidebar, page two). Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well. You can think of IMSA as a Hogwarts for Hackers.