Archive for January, 2011

The Art of Science Learning

Do you buy this claim, that reasoning is the same cognitive activity as imagining?  I don’t.  There’s clearly an intersection (e.g., as in manipulating visual imagery, as described in the quote), but it seems to me that reasoning involves a critical component, a requirement to apply discipline, that imagining does not.  In fact, exercising imagination (as in brainstorming) might be hindered by too much criticism.  But I want my students to be critical reasoners when they are working through their code — I want them to say, “That doesn’t make sense” and “Why should that happen?”

For many years we’ve advocated the notion of teaching as an art (The Art of Teaching Science), and this new NSF initiative offers teachers and researchers an opportunity to look at science teaching through the lens of the arts. In our book, we connected with the views of Jacob Bronowski, in his writings, and his video program (The Ascent of Man), suggesting that artistry in teaching is related to human imagination and creativity, and one’s willingness to expriment and play. Throughout his professional life, Bronowski drew similarities between art and science, and used examples from the history of science to help us understand this. Here, Bronowski offers this pedagogical suggestion:

Many people believe that reasoning, and therefore science, is a different activity from imagining. But this is a fallacy, and you must root it out of your mind. The child that discovers, sometime before the age of ten, that he can make images and move them around in his head has entered a gateway to imagination and to reason. Reasoning is constructed with movable images just as certainly as poetry is. You may have been told, you may still have the feeling that E = mc2 is not an imaginative statement. If so, you are mistaken.

via The Art of Science Learning | The Art of Teaching Science Blog – Humanistic & Experiential Science Education.

January 31, 2011 at 6:54 am 5 comments

Closing down computer science at the Minnesota State University

Max Hailperin passed on this story to the SIGCSE-Members list.  He added that: “About 40 students will graduate from the program in May. But that will leave about 40 who haven’t. They hope to get those students through within two years. But even if they do, the students may be forced to take upper-level computer science classes from faculty who may not have taught them before.” Interesting that Aviation was going to be cancelled, too, but the local business community worked to save that program. But not CS.

It’s been a bit blue in Minnesota State University’s computer science department.

But it’s not hard to understand why.

“Everyone in the department has either been fired, retired or has resigned,” said Dean Kelley, one of those faculty members. “Two took retirement — one effective last year, one this year — one who was on a leave of absence and has resigned. As for the remaining three, the word they used was ‘retrenched.’”

Computer science as a functioning program at MSU will cease to exist at the end of this semester. So will astronomy (although they’ll still have a minor and will still offer low-level astronomy courses). And the word “journalism” will disappear entirely from the mass communications program as it transforms itself into a program of mass media.

Other programs have been retired as well. All of it, of course, was done in hopes of mitigating the damage that will be dealt to higher education across the state when the $6 billion budget shortfall is dealt with. For MSU, that means trimming roughly $10 million.

via Changes at MSU tough for some, while others are able to adjust » Latest news » The Free Press, Mankato, MN.

January 30, 2011 at 9:17 pm 8 comments

The decline effect and the scientific method : The New Yorker

Education has never been much for replication studies, but given what this article says about psychology, I’d bet that we would have trouble replicating some of our earlier education findings.  I don’t see that this article condemning the scientific method as much as condemning our ability to find, define, and control all independent variables.  The world changes, people change.  Anything which relies on a steady-state world or human being is going to be hard to replicate over time.

Before the effectiveness of a drug can be confirmed, it must be tested and tested again. Different scientists in different labs need to repeat the protocols and publish their results. The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise of replicability is that the scientific community can correct for these flaws.

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

via The decline effect and the scientific method : The New Yorker.

January 30, 2011 at 1:08 pm 4 comments

Taking a test helps with learning

Really interesting result!  Flies in the face of the original Worked Examples research by Sweller et al., but not the later work that emphasized skills testing as well as examples. It supports the claims of Peer Instruction, the idea of lots of mini-quiz-like questions mixed into the lecture.

Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.

via Test-Taking Cements Knowledge Better Than Studying, Researchers Say –

January 29, 2011 at 10:07 am 9 comments

Computers are Systems, not Languages – Ian Bogost

I find this whole idea bizarre — that degree-granting programs would really believe that learning a programming language as being at all comparable to learning a natural language.  Ian does a good job addressing the issues.  I wonder if we in CS made a mistake when we called our notations “languages.”  They’re notations.  They are not used for the same purposes as natural languages.  They describe different things.  Maybe we led people astray by calling them languages.

Last year I learned about a rumor swirling around the comparative literature department at UCLA, where I did my PhD. Supposedly I had managed to get C++ to count as one of the three languages required for the degree. It’s not true, for the record, but it is a topic that comes up from time to time—substituting programming languages for natural languages. Many of us who work in computing and the humanities claim that knowledge of computation is essential background for all discussions that hope to bridge the two, not just for those who intend to make things for computers.

via Ian Bogost – Computers are Systems, not Languages.

January 28, 2011 at 8:44 am 2 comments

New Myro Languages

Doug Blank just sent out this report on where the IPRE robot education technology Myro was going — the movement into new languages and platforms is pretty exciting!

This is a note to let you know the status of three new versions of Myro,
the API to interact with the Fluke and Scribbler. For more information on
any of these projects, please feel free to use this mailing list.

1) Myro in C++. This project has been developed at the University of
Tennessee at Knoxville, by Bruce MacLennan, John Hoare, and others. Mayro
in C++ is ready to use. For more information, please see:

2) Myro in Java. This project is underway at DePauw University by Doug
Harms. Myro in Java is under development and ready for testers. For more
information, please see:

3) Myro in the Pyjama Project. Pyjama is a new scripting environment for
Python, Ruby, Scheme, and more. This is the latest version of Myro from
the IPRE. Pyjama is designed to run very easily on multiple platforms, and
with multiple languages. Pyjama is under development and ready for
testers. Form more information, please see:

The pages at will begin to change to
reflect these exciting developments and alternatives.

I invite users and developer of all of these systems to further describe
the projects, and provide additional details.


January 28, 2011 at 8:43 am 13 comments

Less than half of students at science competency

I don’t know which is scariest:

  • (A) That only 27% of Georgia’s 4th graders are at competency for science learning.
  • (B) That the national average is only 32%.
  • or (C) That the definition of science competency is pretty amazingly low.

For a 4th grader, an example of skills demonstrated at “Proficiency” is “Recognize that gravitational force constantly affects an object.”  Really?  Most 4th graders don’t know that?

In a conference call on today’s release of national 2009 science scores of grades 4 and 8 and 12, members of the governing board of the the National Assessment of Educational Progress decried the one percent of students scoring at the top level. There was also concern over the growing number of students scoring below the most basic levels.

At the two grade levels where Georgia students’ test results were released, less than one-third are demonstrating solid academic performance and competency in science.

In Georgia, 27 percent of fourth graders performed at or above the proficient level on science, compared to the national average of 32 percent. In eighth grade,  27 percent performed at or above proficient, compared to 29 percent nationally. Twelfth grade scores were not released by state.

via NAEP science: Less than half of students at competency | Get Schooled.

January 27, 2011 at 9:46 am 6 comments

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