Archive for February 10, 2011

Top Secret Rosies: Rediscovering WWII’s female ‘computers’

Thanks to Fred Martin for forwarding this link.  What a great story!  Have to get the DVD.

Jean Jennings Bartik was one of the women computers. In 1945, she was a recent graduate of Northwest Missouri State Teachers College, the school’s one math major. She lived on her parents’ farm, refusing the teaching jobs her father suggested, avoiding talk of marrying a farmer and having babies. Bartik was waiting on a job with the military…

She learned the hand calculations, and saw the clunky old analyzer used to speed up the process. Its accuracy depended on the work of her colleagues, and a mechanic who serviced its belts and gears.

The war ended in 1945, but within a couple months of arriving in Philadelphia, Bartik was hired to work on a related project — an electronic computer that could do calculations faster than any man or woman. The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, created by Penn scientists John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert Jr., weighed more than 30 tons and contained about 18,000 vacuum tubes. It recognized numbers, added, subtracted, multiplied, divided and a few other basic functions.

Men had built the machine, but Bartik and her colleagues debugged every vacuum tube and learned how to make it work, she said. Early on, they demonstrated to the military brass how the computer worked, with the programmers setting the process into motion and showing how it produced an answer. They handed out its punch cards as souvenirs. They’d taught the massive machine do math that would’ve taken hours by hand.

But none of the women programmers was invited to the celebratory dinner that followed. Later, the heard they were thought of as models, placed there to show off the machine.

via Rediscovering WWII’s female ‘computers’ – CNN.com.

February 10, 2011 at 11:44 am 3 comments

How do you change your teaching practice?

When Sally Fincher started her Share project, I mentioned that I got a chance to see her related project, on gathering stories about teacher change using an interesting tool for doing quantitative analysis of qualitative data called SenseMaker.  Her Change Stories site is now live, and she’d love to get as many stories as possible.  Please do visit and tell her about how you change your teaching practice.

We are seeking stories of academics changing their teaching practice. If you’re interested in sharing your experience, please tell us what happened to you.

Most people report that it takes them about 15 minutes to complete the process. And some people find that putting in one story reminds them of another incident: that’s fine, you can enter as many stories as you like.

via Change Stories.

February 10, 2011 at 10:24 am 1 comment

We need thinking, even more than STEM

Alan Kay kindly forwarded to me this link.  It’s a column by Stanley Fish that builds on the new book showing how little students learn in the first two years of college.  Fish’s point is that what’s needed is students learning to think, and whether they’re doing science, mathematics, and technology is not the most significant bit.  Liberal education may be better for achieving that goal.

Now it’s clear what is going on here. Obama is developing his major theme: we need innovation to catch up with China and other advanced societies. And it is perfectly reasonable to tie innovation in certain fields to the production of citizens who are technically, mathematically and scientifically skilled. But is that what’s wrong with American education, too few students who acquire the market-oriented skills we need to compete (a favorite Obama word) in the global economy and too few teachers capable of imparting them? Is winning the science fair the goal that defines education? A dozen more M.I.T.s and Caltechs and fewer great-book colleges and we’d be all right?

Quite another account of what is wrong is offered in a new book by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. The book’s title is “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” and its thesis is that what is limited — in short supply — is learning that is academic rather than consumerist or market-driven. After two years of college, they report, students are “just slightly more proficient in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing than when they entered.”

via Race to the Top of What? Obama on Education – NYTimes.com.

February 10, 2011 at 10:09 am 6 comments


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