kottke.org posts about education

Don't help your kids with their homeworkMar 21 2014

Don't do your kid's homework. Try not to even help them that much. It's better for their development. And it's better for you not to have to relive your school years. That seems like sensible advice. Until all the other parents in the school start helping their kids on their homework. That's when you'll be tempted. But still, really, don't.

What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire-regardless of a parent's race, class, or level of education.

Do you review your daughter's homework every night? Robinson and Harris's data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children's Education, show that this won't help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.

The changes to the SATMar 11 2014

They're changing the SAT and the New Yorker's Cora Frazier has a rundown of some of the modifications made to better reflect "skills they need to succeed in college and afterward".

11. Improving sentences. You receive the following text message: "You're an animal." This is an autocorrection of:

(a) "You're almost at Ludlow."

(b) "Young Leo DiCaprio."

(c) "Do we need eggs?"

(d) No autocorrection.

A young Neil deGrasse Tyson's letter to Carl SaganJan 30 2014

In 1976, legendary cosmologist and astronomer Carl Sagan tried to recruit a 17-year-old Neil deGrasse Tyson to Cornell University. In April of that year, Tyson wrote Sagan a letter informing him of his intention to enroll at Harvard instead:

Letter Sagan Tyson

The Viking Missions referred to in the letter were the two probes sent to Mars in the mid-1970s.

Tyson occupies a role in today's society similar to Sagan's in the 1980s as an unofficial public spokesman of the wonderous world of science. Tyson is even hosting an updated version of Sagan's seminal Cosmos series for Fox, which debuts on March 9th. Here's a trailer:

Letter courtesy of The Seth Macfarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive at the Library of Congress, which is chock full of great Sagan stuff. And yeah, that's Seth Macfarlane, creator of Family Guy and much-maligned host of the Oscars. Macfarlane was a big fan of the original Cosmos series and was instrumental in getting the new series made. (via @john_overholt)

Yeah, I'm free-thinkingNov 11 2013

In 1999, Sugata Mitra left a computer in a New Delhi slum and watched what the neighborhood kids would do with it. With no prior computer experience, they quickly figured out how to work it. In subsequent experiments, Mitra used computers and very little adult oversight (what we refer to as "education") to teach children all sorts of different things.

Over the years, Mitra got more ambitious. For a study published in 2010, he loaded a computer with molecular biology materials and set it up in Kalikuppam, a village in southern India. He selected a small group of 10- to 14-year-olds and told them there was some interesting stuff on the computer, and might they take a look? Then he applied his new pedagogical method: He said no more and left.

Over the next 75 days, the children worked out how to use the computer and began to learn. When Mitra returned, he administered a written test on molecular biology. The kids answered about one in four questions correctly. After another 75 days, with the encouragement of a friendly local, they were getting every other question right. "If you put a computer in front of children and remove all other adult restrictions, they will self-organize around it," Mitra says, "like bees around a flower."

It's tempting to conclude that the computer is the magical ingredient here: just add computers and children can learn anything. But if the story of Sergio Juárez Correa's fifth-grade class is any indication, the secret is the kids organizing themselves to learn.

For Juárez Correa it was simultaneously thrilling and a bit scary. In Finland, teachers underwent years of training to learn how to orchestrate this new style of learning; he was winging it. He began experimenting with different ways of posing open-ended questions on subjects ranging from the volume of cubes to multiplying fractions. "The volume of a square-based prism is the area of the base times the height. The volume of a square-based pyramid is that formula divided by three," he said one morning. "Why do you think that is?"

He walked around the room, saying little. It was fascinating to watch the kids approach the answer. They were working in teams and had models of various shapes to look at and play with. The team led by Usiel Lemus Aquino, a short boy with an ever-present hopeful expression, hit on the idea of drawing the different shapes-prisms and pyramids. By layering the drawings on top of each other, they began to divine the answer. Juárez Correa let the kids talk freely. It was a noisy, slightly chaotic environment-exactly the opposite of the sort of factory-friendly discipline that teachers were expected to impose. But within 20 minutes, they had come up with the answer.

"Three pyramids fit in one prism," Usiel observed, speaking for the group. "So the volume of a pyramid must be the volume of a prism divided by three."

Hogwarts' Board of Education report largely unsatisfactoryNov 06 2013

Earlier this year, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was subjected to a review by the Board of Education and was found wanting in several areas.

Pupils at Hogwarts have access to a reasonably wide range of esoteric qualifications, suited to its key demographic. As an independent school, it does not have to follow the National Curriculum closely; however, it is disappointing to note that basic requirements such as English, Mathematics and Religious Education are all lacking or entirely missing from the school's syllabus. This has had adverse effects on all students, many of whom have never even been taught basic KS1 or 2 literacy. A few students have attended state or independent primary schools, and these students typically perform very well in contrast to their peers.

The majority of students appear to be under-performing, with most pupils struggling in all their lessons, most of which appear to be set at too challenging a level. One particular class, which seemed to be based on A-Level chemistry, proved too difficult for even the most proficient students. Only one pupil managed to complete the lesson objectives, mainly thanks to his use of an annotated text book.

(via slate)

Redshirting bad for academicsSep 23 2013

Older kids generally succeed better in sports, but holding kids back in school seems to have the opposite effect when it comes to academic achievement.

The researchers discovered that relatively more mature students didn't have an academic edge; instead, when they looked at their progress at the end of kindergarten, and, later, when they reached middle school, they were worse off in multiple respects. Not only did they score significantly lower on achievement tests -- both in kindergarten and middle school -- they were also more likely to have been kept back a year by the time they reached middle school, and were less likely to take college-entrance exams. The less mature students, on the other hand, experienced positive effects from being in a relatively more mature environment: in striving to catch up with their peers, they ended up surpassing them.

I was the second youngest kid in my class growing up; only our valedictorian was younger. Meg was young too. And both our kids are among the youngest in the class...we didn't redshirt them because they seemed ready for the grades they're in. As the article states, the differences are starker now than they were...some kids in their groups are more than a year older than they are and most are several months older. NYC preschools have trouble finding a wide range of ages for each class because so many people are holding their kids back to gain a supposed competitive edge against their peers...fall kindergarten classes are full of 6-year-olds but few just-turned-fives. It's crazy...but so much of New York is competitive like this, why wouldn't kids' preschool education be the same?

Children should be allowed to get boredMar 25 2013

So says education researcher Teresa Belton:

The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children's writing, said: "When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.

"But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them."

It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen "tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity".

Hitting the wowMar 25 2013

A long piece in this week's New Yorker by Marc Fisher about more alleged sexual abuse at The Horace Mann School, a prep school in the Bronx. Fisher's piece focuses on Robert Berman, an English teacher at the school for many years.

One group of boys stood apart; they insisted on wearing jackets and ties and shades, and they stuck to themselves, reciting poetry and often sneering at the rest of us. A few of them shaved their heads. We called them Bermanites, after their intellectual and sartorial model, an English teacher named Robert Berman: a small, thin, unsmiling man who papered over the windows of his classroom door so that no one could peek through.

Assigned to Berman for tenth-grade English, I took a seat one September morning alongside sixteen or seventeen other boys. We waited in silence as he sat at his desk, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges cigarettes and watching us from behind dark glasses. Finally, Mr. Berman stood up, took a fresh stick of chalk, climbed onto his chair, and reached above the blackboard to draw a horizontal line on the paint. "This," he said, after a theatrical pause, "is Milton." He let his hand fall a few inches, drew another line, and said, "This is Shakespeare." Another line, lower, on the blackboard: "This is Mahler." And, just below, "Here is Browning." Then he took a long drag on his cigarette, dropped the chalk onto the floor, and, using the heel of his black leather loafer, ground it into the wooden floorboards. "And this, gentlemen," he said, "is you."

The next day, I asked to be transferred. I was not alone. By the end of the week, Berman's class had shrunk by about half. The same thing happened every year; his classes often ended up as intimate gatherings of six to eight. Many students found Berman forbidding, but some of the teachers referred to him as a genius. Boys competed to learn tidbits about him. It was said, with little or no evidence, that he was an artist and a sculptor, that he knew Sanskrit, Russian, and Urdu, and that his wife and child had been killed in a horrific car crash. Though he was only in his mid-thirties, a graduate of the University of Michigan, it was rumored that he had been a paleontologist and had taught at Yale. Administrators told students and their parents that Horace Mann was incredibly lucky to have him, however odd he might be. The boys who remained in his classes were often caught up in his love of art, music, and literature, and in his belief that every moment of life should be spent reaching for the transcendence of the Elgin Marbles, of a fresco by Fra Angelico, even of an ordinary sunset. The boys absorbed the lists he made. "Take this down," he'd say. "The ten greatest racehorses of all time." Or, "This is the list of the ten greatest movies ever made-but you won't find 'Lawrence of Arabia' on it, because it's off the charts!" One day, he mounted a rearview mirror on the far wall of the classroom so that he could stare at the portrait of Milton behind his back.

Chris Ware on his Newtown-themed New Yorker coverJan 07 2013

Chris Ware designed the Newtown-themed cover for the New Yorker last week and describes the process that went into it.

On December 14th, I helped chaperone my daughter's second-grade-class field trip to a local production of "The Nutcracker," where I spent most of my time not watching the ballet but marvelling at the calm efforts of the teacher to keep the yelling, excited class quieted down. Teaching was not, I concluded at one point, a profession in which I could survive for even one day. Our buses came back to the school at midafternoon, and I and the other volunteer parents left our children for another hour of wind-down time (for us, not them) before returning for the regular 3-P.M. pickup. I came home, however, not to any wind-down but to the unfolding coverage of the Newtown shooting. Shaken to the core, I returned to the school, where a grim quiet bound myself and the other parents together, the literally unspeakable news sealing our smiles while, at a lower strata, our happy, screaming children ran out of the building into our arms still frothed up by sparkling visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

?uestlove to teach class about classic albumsOct 18 2012

The Roots drummer, ?uestlove, will be schooling kids left and right this spring as he teaches a class on classic albums at NYU. It's too bad this isn't a high school class so my Young MC 'Principal's Office' reference would fit better.

The course will include lectures on albums such as Sly & The Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, Aretha Franklin's Lady Soul, Led Zeppelin's IV, Prince's Dirty Mind, Michael Jackson's Off the Wall, and the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique.

They'll also cover what constitutes a "classic" or "seminal" album, looking at the music, lyrics, production, and business behind great albums.

Billboard reports that the course was inspired by an NPR blog post over the summer where an intern reviewed Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, an album he'd never heard before. ?uestlove responded to the dismissive review in the comments, prompting NYU's Jason King to invite ?uestlove and Weinger to teach the course.

The Kalamazoo PromiseSep 14 2012

Excellent NYT Magazine piece on the impact of The Kalamazoo Promise, an initiative by anonymous donors to pay the college tuition of every graduating senior in Kalamazoo. The Promise, which is intended by the donors to be an experiment in urban investment has had several amazing results in only a few years. High school test scores have improved continuously, and the promise of help with tuition has lead to families moving to and staying in Kalamazoo. The 2,450 new students has allowed the school district to hire 92 additional teachers. It's not all rosy, and the Promise hasn't solved every problem yet, but Kalamazoo seems to be headed in the right direction.

Under the terms of the program, students who start in the Kalamazoo school district as kindergartners receive enough money to cover their entire tuition to public in-state schools. Students who enter the district in later grades get less, based on a sliding scale; entering high-school freshmen, for example, get 65 percent of their tuition covered. (Those who move to Kalamazoo after that or who enroll in colleges that are private or located outside the state are not covered by the Promise.) To date, the Kalamazoo Promise has paid out $35 million for postsecondary study for 2,500 students. On average, about $4,200 is spent on each student per semester. Students are responsible for their own room and board.

(via @graysky)

Introducing Marginal Revolution UniversitySep 06 2012

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution are starting an online education platform.

We think education should be better, cheaper, and easier to access. So we decided to take matters into our own hands and create a new online education platform toward those ends. We have decided to do more to communicate our personal vision of economics to you and to the broader world.

The first course is Development Economics.

Development Economics will cover the sources of economic growth including geography, education, finance, and institutions. We will cover theories like the Solow and O-ring models and we will cover the empirical data on development and trade, foreign aid, industrial policy, and corruption. Development Economics will include not just theory but a wealth of historical and factual information on specific countries and topics, everything from watermelon scale economies and the clove monopoly to water privatization in Buenos Aires and cholera in Haiti.

A piece of unsolicited advice: change the name to Revolution University.

A most unusual testAug 21 2012

Tyler Cowen once gave the following final test to one of his classes:

Tyler [Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and he said. "Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points." Then he walked out.

Love it.

Lessons from the deadJun 06 2012

A wonderful comment over at Ask Metafilter by rumposinc about how valuable her nursing school cadaver was.

You have to take really exceptional care of your cadaver, so that it stays workable, free of pathogens, and easy to learn from. Towards the end, this care became very ritualistic for my lab team, and nearly reverent. She had been a very small lady, and so we had to be so careful. In the end, there is a very simple ceremony students can attend honoring the life, contribution, and cremation of our subjects. It was overwhelmingly emotional and I remember my lab partner reached over and held my hand, and though I almost hesitate to say so, there is a way that we felt like her family. She had shared so much of herself. It wasn't something we talked about, but it was a palpable feeling.

(via ★choire)

Short term mobile phone storage for NYC studentsFeb 16 2012

Cell phone check truck

Mobile phones are banned in NYC public schools so a company called Pure Loyalty parks trucks outside of several schools so that students can check their phones, iPods, and other devices for the duration of the school day.

Pure Loyalty LLC is the originator in electronic device storage. We put student safety first and work together with school safety to make sure that phones are checked in and out in a timely fashion for students to go straight to class and then home after school.

Each student is given a security card to ensure that their device is only returned to them!!!! If a student with a security card loses their ticket, not to worry. We have a system in place that secures their phone. Each student is given a FREE security card. Replacement cards are $1.

(photo by Jesse Chan-Norris)

Penn State is the #1 party schoolNov 11 2011

In late 2009, after Penn State was named the #1 party school in America by The Princeton Review, This American Life devoted an entire show to the school and its festive status.

Most of the This American Life production staff spent the weekend at Penn State, and found that drinking is the great unifier at the school. Ira Glass, Sarah Koenig, Lisa Pollak and Jane Feltes report on tailgating parties, frat parties, an article of clothing known as a "fracket," and a surprising and common drunken crime.

(via ricky van veen)

Report card storiesSep 21 2011

Paul Lukas came into possession of hundreds of report cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls from the 1920s but never knew what to do with them.

1920 Report Card

Recently, he started trying to track down the families of the women they belonged to in a series for Slate.

I discovered the cards in 1996 (more on that in a minute). I found them fascinating, but I didn't have a good sense of what to do with them, so for a long time I just kept them as curios and occasionally showed them to friends. Eventually, though, I decided to track down some of the students' families (including Marie's). Even after doing it numerous times, I still find it a bit surreal to call a stranger on the phone and hear myself saying, "Hi, you don't know me, but I have your mother's report card from 1929. Would you like to see it?"

Extreme schoolingSep 16 2011

A NY Times foreign correspondent formerly stationed in Russia tells the story of placing his three kids into an unusual school in Moscow where all the instruction is done in Russian.

My three children once were among the coddled offspring of Park Slope, Brooklyn. But when I became a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, my wife and I decided that we wanted to immerse them in life abroad. No international schools where the instruction is in English. Ours would go to a local one, with real Russians. When we told friends in Brooklyn of our plans, they tended to say things like, Wow, you're so brave. But we knew what they were really thinking: What are you, crazy? It was bad enough that we were abandoning beloved Park Slope, with its brownstones and organic coffee bars, for a country still often seen in the American imagination as callous and forbidding. To throw our kids into a Russian school -- that seemed like child abuse.

Be sure to watch the video.

Back to school with Mister RogersSep 09 2011

After reading the fantastic Tom Junod piece on Fred Rogers earlier in the week, I poked around on YouTube for some Mister Rogers clips and shows. There are only a few full episodes on there but two of them are particularly relevant as kids across the nation go back to school for the fall:

I watched the first episode with Ollie yesterday (he was a big fan of the trolley, which was always my favorite part of the show too) and then we watched how crayons are made and how people make trumpets.

After our YouTube supply is exhausted, we'll move on to DVDs (here's a music compilation and episodes from the first week of the show), Netflix, or Amazon Instant Video, which has a bunch of episodes available for free (!!) for Prime subscribers.

Harvard dropouts, 40 years laterJun 06 2011

Harvard tracked down three people who dropped out of the school in the late 60s to see what had happened to them in the meantime.

"I knew I didn't want to do city planning, to play in that bureaucratic world," he continues. "I also knew that if I stayed another semester they would hand me a diploma, and that diploma is going to open a whole lot of doors that I don't want to go through. And I know that I am not real strong, and if I have that key, at some point I'm going to be seduced and want to go through one of those doors. So by not having the diploma, I will remove the temptation. That actually worked out very well, because I was tempted, more than once."

That's from a man who became a world-renowned knife expert.

A Disneyland of child laborApr 13 2011

The Morning News has a piece today on KidZania, a theme park for kids where they work and buy stuff just like grown-ups.

But at the heart of the concept and the business of KidZania is corporate consumerism, re-staged for children whose parents pay for them to act the role of the mature consumer and employee. The rights to brand and help create activities at each franchise are sold off to real corporations, while KidZania's own marketing emphasizes the arguable educational benefits of the park.

Kidzania

Each child receives a bank account, an ATM card, a wallet, and a check for 50 KidZos (the park's currency). At the park's bank, which is staffed by adult tellers, kids can withdraw or deposit money they've earned through completing activities -- and the account remains even when they go home at the end of the day. A lot of effort goes into making the children repeat visitors of this Lilliputian city-state.

A US outpost of KidZania is coming sometime in 2013.

Comic Sans will make you smarterJan 06 2011

Researchers at Princeton have found evidence that making something more difficult to learn improves long-term learning and information retention. More specifically, changing the typeface from something legible (like Helvetica) to something more difficult to read (like Monotype Corsiva or Comic Sans) increased retention in actual classroom settings.

This study demonstrated that student retention of material across a wide range of subjects (science and humanities classes) and difficulty levels (regular, Honors and Advanced Placement) can be significantly improved in naturalistic settings by presenting reading material in a format that is slightly harder to read.... The potential for improving educational practices through cognitive interventions is immense. If a simple change of font can significantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneficial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered. Fluency demonstrates how we have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole.

I agree with Lehrer...get David Carson on the horn. (thx, lara)

Childhood isn't a raceDec 02 2010

Parents these days go crazy worrying about their kids' progress: Should she be reading? Should he be writing? She can't catch a ball! The kid down the street can say her numbers up to 100 but mine only knows 1 through 14. Magical Parenthood posted an article about what a four-year-old should know and it doesn't have anything to do with how well your kid can spell.

1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.

2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn't feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.

3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.

This advice for parents is gold:

That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children "advantages" that we're giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.

How not to cheat your way through collegeNov 22 2010

Using statistical analysis, University of Central Florida professor Richard Quinn determined that dozens of students had cheated on a test, told them in a lecture (video below), and over 200 students confessed after the lecture.

I don't want to have to explain to your parents why you didn't graduate, so I went to the Dean and I made a deal. The deal is you can either wait it out and hope that we don't identify you, or you can identify yourself to your lab instructor and you can complete the rest of the course and the grade you get in the course is the grade you earned in the course.

How to cheat your way through collegeNov 16 2010

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, a fascinating piece by a person who makes his living writing essays for college and graduate students.

In the past year, I've written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won't find my name on a single paper.

I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

You've never heard of me, but there's a good chance that you've read some of my work. I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists.

His kind of service attracts three types of student:

From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.

For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground-they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let's be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he wants until he doesn't get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top.

The value of a Hogwarts educationNov 10 2010

Here's an interesting theory from Sam Arbesman: the wizards from the Harry Potter books aren't that bright because their education neglects the basics.

As near as I can tell, if you grow up in the magical world (as opposed to be Muggle-born, for example), you do not go to school at all until the age of eleven. In fact, it's entirely unclear to me how the children of the wizarding world learn to read and write. There is a reason Hermione seems much more intelligent than Ron Weasley. It's because Ron is very likely completely uneducated.

My take is that wizards are jocks, not nerds; Hogwarts is not so much a secondary school as a sports academy. What's odd about that is that quidditch is an extracurricular...

Essential skills you didn't learn in collegeOct 13 2010

Wired has a go at defining liberal arts 2.0.

It's the 21st century. Knowing how to read a novel, craft an essay, and derive the slope of a tangent isn't enough anymore. You need to know how to swing through the data deluge, optimize your prose for Twitter, and expose statistics that lie.

Creative creative writing promptAug 07 2010

I guess this went around last year, but somehow, I completely missed it. I'm visiting with two English professors this weekend, and apparently this video caused something of a stir in the department. "If you knocked your brother down, would you urinate in his mouth?" is an age-old question, used for generations as a writing exercise. Or something.
2 questions:
When trying to prompt creative writing, why would you ask a yes/no question?
What were the other 12-13 questions on this exercise?
Watch out for the mustachioed Superintendent, as it is his honor to take you through this night.

(Thanks, Maura/Jonathan)

Goodbye, Rubber RoomsJun 29 2010

Last year, the New Yorker ran a story on NYC's Rubber Rooms, the common name for the rooms which house NYC schoolteachers accused of classroom misconduct.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day -- which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school -- typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city's contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved -- the process is often endless -- they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

Yesterday, the Rubber Rooms were finally closed down. It seems like a purely cosmetic move; the real problems outlined in the NYer article remain unaddressed. Shouldn't the Times article at least mention that?

Your reality is out of dateMar 18 2010

There's a category of information that slowly changes throughout the course of a lifetime. Sam Arbesman calls them mesofacts.

These are facts which we tend to view as fixed, but which shift over the course of a lifetime. For example: What is Earth's population? I remember learning 6 billion, and some of you might even have learned 5 billion. Well, it turns out it's about 6.8 billion. [...] If, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school!

The blog over at mesofacts.org is a good place to update yourself on this slowly changing information.

Community colleges save livesFeb 10 2010

Grant McCracken quotes Kay Ryan, reigning US Poet Laureate and sharer of my birthday, on community colleges.

I simply want to celebrate the fact that right near your home, year in and year out, a community college is quietly -- and with very little financial encouragement -- saving lives and minds. I can't think of a more efficient, hopeful or egalitarian machine, with the possible exception of the bicycle.

Go to film school with Werner HerzogOct 15 2009

Werner Herzog is doing something called The Rogue Film School.

The Rogue Film School is about a way of life. It is about a climate, the excitement that makes film possible. It will be about poetry, films, music, images, literature. The focus of the seminars will be a dialogue with Werner Herzog, in which the participants will have their voice with their projects, their questions, their aspirations.

Fiddling while our kids don't learnAug 26 2009

A truly maddening article about the NYC school system and its interactions with government and the teacher's union.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city's five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day -- which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school -- typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city's contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved -- the process is often endless -- they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

Nobody comes out of this looking good.

Update: This American Life did a segment on Rubber Rooms earlier this year in cooperation with a group of filmmakers making a movie about them. (thx, @hautenegro & heather)

Autism an advantage, not mental retardationJul 16 2009

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tyler Cowen argues that society in general and academia in particular is prejudiced with respect to people with autism and that autism in the academy can be an advantage.

Autism is often described as a disease or a plague, but when it comes to the American college or university, autism is often a competitive advantage rather than a problem to be solved. One reason American academe is so strong is because it mobilizes the strengths and talents of people on the autistic spectrum so effectively. In spite of some of the harmful rhetoric, the on-the-ground reality is that autistics have been very good for colleges, and colleges have been very good for autistics.

Education in 140 characters or lessMar 26 2009

In response to a push for more tech literacy, British primary schools have proposed a new set of academic standards, including plans to study Twitter.

It seems to be going over fairly well with those at the head of the class. According to John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers:

"Computer skills and keyboard skills seem to be as important as handwriting in this. Traditional books and written texts are downplayed in response to web-based learning."

Let's hope that history lectures don't devolve into presentations on now-defunct MySpace pages and AOL screen-names.

via CNET

The 15 Strangest College Courses In AmericaMar 11 2009

The Online Colleges blog has collected a list of the oddest college courses in the US, including Arguing with Judge Judy: : Popular 'Logic' on TV Judge Shows, The Science of Superheroes, and The Strategy of StarCraft.

I'm sure that in South Korea one could major in StarCraft, but it's a bit strange seeing a college course about the game here in the US. The class uses StarCraft to teach the art of war, discussing strategy and tactics in the famous game.

Another class on The WireFeb 06 2009

Regarding Berkeley's class on McNulty & Co., Jason Mittell is teaching a class on The Wire at Middlebury College this spring. More information is available on the class blog, including the course schedule. This class *will* include the underrated season two.

A class on The WireFeb 05 2009

UC Berkeley is offering a class called What's so great about The Wire?

Discerning critics and avid fans have agreed that the five-season run of Ed Burns and David Simon's The Wire was "the best TV show ever broadcast in America"--not the most popular but the best. The 60 hours that comprise this episodic series have been aptly been compared to Dickens, Balzac, Dreiser and Greek Tragedy. These comparisons attempt to get at the richly textured complexity of the work, its depth, its bleak tapestry of an American city and its diverse social stratifications. Yet none of these comparisons quite nails what it is that made this the most compelling "show" on TV and better than many of the best movies. This class will explore these comparisons, analyze episodes from the first, third, fourth and fifth seasons and try to discover what was and is so great about The Wire. We will screen as much of the series as we can during our mandatory screening sessions and approach it through the following lenses: the other writing of David Simon, including his journalism, an exemplary Greek Tragedy, Dickens' Bleak House and/or parts of Balzac's Human Comedy. We will also consider the formal tradition of episodic television.

They're skipping season two? Shameful. (via unlikely words)

How do we find good teachers and QBs?Dec 18 2008

This is more than a week old but I just finished reading it, so stick it. Malcolm Gladwell says that the problem of finding good teachers is the same sort of problem encountered by scouts attempting to find good NFL quarterbacks.

The problem with picking quarterbacks is that [college QB] Chase Daniel's performance can't be predicted. The job he's being groomed for is so particular and specialized that there is no way to know who will succeed at it and who won't. In fact, Berri and Simmons found no connection between where a quarterback was taken in the draft -- that is, how highly he was rated on the basis of his college performance -- and how well he played in the pros.

A group of researchers -- Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard's school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress--have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master's degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees, and certifications -- as much as they appear related to teaching prowess -- turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.

The upshot is that NFL quarterbacking and teaching are both jobs that need to be performed in order to find out if a certain person is good at them or not. For more, check out a follow-up post on Gladwell's blog.

iTunes U, tons of free educational materialsNov 17 2008

iTunes U is a section of the iTunes store that houses educational audio and video files for free use by anyone.

iTunes U is a part of the iTunes Store featuring free lectures, language lessons, audiobooks, and more, that you can enjoy on your iPod, iPhone, Mac or PC. Explore over 75,000 educational audio and video files from top universities, museums and public media organizations from around the world. With iTunes U, there's no end to what or where you can learn.

Check it out in the iTunes Store. iTunes U includes the formidable series of podcasts from the University of Oxford. (via vsl)

Feynman on school textbooksOct 22 2008

Richard Feynman on the "perpetual absurdity" of school textbooks.

The same thing happened: something would look good at first and then turn out to be horrifying. For example, there was a book that started out with four pictures: first there was a windup toy; then there was an automobile; then there was a boy riding a bicycle; then there was something else. And underneath each picture it said, "What makes it go?"

I thought, "I know what it is: They're going to talk about mechanics, how the springs work inside the toy; about chemistry, how the engine of the automobile works; and biology, about how the muscles work."

It was the kind of thing my father would have talked about: "What makes it go? Everything goes because the sun is shining." And then we would have fun discussing it:

"No, the toy goes because the spring is wound up," I would say. "How did the spring get wound up?" he would ask.

"I wound it up."

"And how did you get moving?"

"From eating."

"And food grows only because the sun is shining. So it's because the sun is shining that all these things are moving." That would get the concept across that motion is simply the transformation of the sun's power.

(via rw)

UnschoolingOct 17 2008

A small number of kids in NYC are going to what their parents call "unschool" (i.e. home schooling with an unstructured urban twist).

With Benny, Mr. Lewis went on to say, "we embraced a hybrid between home-schooling and unschooling. It's not structured, it's Benny-centric, we follow his interests and desires, and yet we are helping him to learn to read and do math." They read to him hours every day. "It's about trying to find things we both enjoy doing," Ms. Rendell said, "rather than making myself a martyr mom. The terror of home-schooling is you have to be super on all the time, finding crafty things to do."

Here's the Babble article on unschooling mentioned in the article.

The Blogging ScholarshipOct 17 2008

The College Scholarships Foundation is offering a $10,000 blogging scholarship.

Do you maintain a weblog and attend college? Would you like $10,000 to help pay for books, tuition, or other living costs? If so, read on. We're giving away $10,000 this year to a college student who blogs.

Here's the 2007 winner's blog (and the two runners up). The application deadline is October 30. Get blogging!

kottke.org's honest readershipOct 16 2008

Yesterday I ran a poll asking if any kottke.org readers had ever purchased a term paper for use in school. More than 1600 of you responded, and almost 99% of you have never purchased a paper.

Writing term papers for moneyOct 15 2008

This guy used to write term papers for money...and it partially financed his first house.

The term paper biz is managed by brokers who take financial risks by accepting credit card payments and psychological risks by actually talking to the clients. Most of the customers just aren't very bright. One of my brokers would even mark assignments with the code words DUMB CLIENT. That meant to use simple English; nothing's worse than a client calling back to ask a broker -- most of whom had no particular academic training -- what certain words in the paper meant. One time a client actually asked to talk to me personally and lamented that he just didn't "know a lot about Plah-toe." Distance learning meant that he'd never heard anyone say the name.

I'm curious...have you used term paper writing services in the past? I've whipped up a little poll: Have you ever bought a term paper? It's anonymous so please be honest. (via clusterflock)

The class of 2012 is super wiredSep 26 2008

Out of 438 incoming freshman students at Amherst College, 432 of them are on Facebook and only 5 have landlines.

6. Number of students in the class of 2012 who brought desktop computers to campus: 14.
7. Number that brought iPhones/iTouches: 93.
8. Likelihood that a student with an iPhone/iTouch is in the class of 2012: approximately 1 in 2.

Another interesting stat: 94% of all incoming email is spam. (via cd)

Grading on a curveJul 23 2008

The second in an unplanned series of posts about the pitfalls of an elite education: John Summers on teaching the banal and privileged at Harvard.

In the first meeting of my first seminar of my first year, Kushner's son Jared entered my classroom and promptly took the seat across from mine, sharing the room, so to speak. I was drawing an annual salary of $15,500 (£7,700) and borrowing the remainder for survival in Cambridge, in order that he might be given the best possible education. Jared later purchased The New York Observer for $10 million, part of which he made buying and selling real estate while also attending my seminar. As publisher, one of his first moves was to reduce pay for the Observer's stable of book reviewers. I had been writing reviews for the Observer in an effort to pay my debts.

From earlier in the week: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. Also relevant here is the growing discussion of gigantic college endowments and how best to use them.

The Disadvantages of an Elite EducationJul 21 2008

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, nutshelled: you have no idea how most of the rest of the world works.

The first disadvantage of an elite education, as I learned in my kitchen that day, is that it makes you incapable of talking to people who aren't like you. Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely-indeed increasingly-homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it.

(via lone gunman)

Girls Excel in ScienceDec 07 2007

For the first time since the 1998 creation of the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, the top honors have gone to girls. One of the two projects to take the $100,000 prize was the creation of a molecule to help block drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria from reproducing. The other studied the bone growth in zebra fish.

Interesting tidbits: Three-quarters of the finalists have at least one parent who is a scientist. Girls outnumbered boys in the final round for the first time. Most of the finalists were from public schools. The most popular project was from three home-schooled girls who have conceived of a Burgercam, a system for monitoring the elimination of E. coli bacteria in burgers. (via nytimes)

Squash the innate talent like a bugDec 05 2007

Regarding the theory that kids are set up for disappointment and failure later in life when they value their innate gifts too highly over their ability to grow, this Scientific American article claims that the key to developing a child's potential is teaching the child that the greatest reward comes from effort, not intelligence or ability.

The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were concerned about looking smart with little regard for learning. They had negative views of effort, believing that having to work hard at something was a sign of low ability. They thought that a person with talent or intelligence did not need to work hard to do well. Attributing a bad grade to their own lack of ability, those with a fixed mind-set said that they would study less in the future, try never to take that subject again and consider cheating on future tests.

via Marginal Revolution

A primary school in the UK hasNov 15 2007

A primary school in the UK has moved from the bottom 25% of schools to near the top 5% using a curriculum based on Harry Potter.

During the most recent visit from Ofsted, the inspector witnessed a maths lesson where the children were motivated to learn about subtraction by pretending that it is a magic formula created by Harry Potter. Pupils were not allowed to answer questions without first saying a spell -- "numerus subtracticus", which they devised themselves.

(thx, david)

Summary of a talk by Malcolm GladwellOct 12 2006

Summary of a talk by Malcolm Gladwell on precociousness. "What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement."

The Rotenberg Center is a school forOct 12 2006

The Rotenberg Center is a school for special education students that is essentially a giant Skinner box. Students are hooked to electrical devices and shocked when they misbehave. At once fascinating and disturbing. (via mr)

Chad and Dave over at ScienceBlogs concoctedOct 02 2006

Chad and Dave over at ScienceBlogs concocted an experiment to compare the SAT results of high school students with those of bloggers. The result? Short answer: the bloggers lost. More results here.

Scott McCloud, who wrote Understanding Comics, isSep 20 2006

Scott McCloud, who wrote Understanding Comics, is taking an unusual approach to the education of his two daughters. Over the next year, the family will be traveling the US doing talks and presentations, with the daughters taking an active role in speaking, doing research, and recording the talks in various formats. Here's their travel blog on LJ. (via snarkmarket)

Cooking school at BaipaiNov 15 2005

Meg and I took a Thai cooking class today at Baipai Cooking School on the recommendation of my friend Darby (thx, Darb!). Since cooking is her thing, Meg's got the full write-up with photos. They pick you up at your hotel, you spend 4 hours cooking (part instruction, part hands-on) in a small outdoor kitchen (there were about 8-10 other people in the class) tasting as you go, you eat the meal you cook, and then they drop you back at your hotel. All for around US$35 per person. We made pad thai, tom kha gai (chicken & galangal in coconut milk soup), fish cakes, and tab tim grobb (water chestnut in coconut milk). Very fun and highly recommended.

40 business books to read to get theJul 22 2005

40 business books to read to get the equivalent of an MBA.

A project to offer free textbooks (asJun 17 2005

A project to offer free textbooks (as opposed to the $120 ones you get at the college bookstore) is looking for some web design help. "In response to the textbook industry's constant drive to maximize profits instead of educational value, I have started this collection of the existing free textbooks and educational tools available online."

I am a Japanese School TeacherJun 13 2005

I am a Japanese School Teacher. Experiences teaching junior high school in Japan.

ChoirboyJun 01 2005

Choirboy. "As head boy at a legendary choir school, Lawrence Lessig was repeatedly molested by the charismatic choir director, part of a horrific pattern of child abuse there. Now, as one of America's most famous lawyers, he's put his own past on trial to make sure such a thing never happens again."

Mad Physics is a neat science educationMay 10 2005

Mad Physics is a neat science education site run by a couple of high school students.

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