12.12.2008

Google Reader

It's official - among my students at any rate - the new Reader design is not eyeball friendly.

12.07.2008

Blogging in Class

If you had asked me a while back if blogging in class was going to be an issue, I would have said no.

Now, maybe.

If it's reflective in nature because of interest in class discussion, it's great. I guess it's a gauge of interest like twittering.

11.05.2008

The I-4 Corridor

The map of Florida counties gives lie to the I-4 corridor fantasy.

Note that at one end lie Hillsboro and Pinellas and at the other Orange and Osceola, counties that voted Democrat for Obama.

In the middle, the vast Southern Baptist stretch of pasture voted Republican for McCain. Polk, Lake, Pasco, and Sumter counties lie to each side of I-4 between Tampa and Orlando.

If you want to see I-4 as a lever for change for the Republican party in the past, the current configuration is a better description.

It resembles a dumbbell.

The I-4 dumbbell... Yes, it has a ring of truth.

10.19.2008

Douglas Adams' _Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ can and should replace the Holy Bible

I cast about in vain last night for an appropriate metaphor for life. Or as my kids would say, "in vein." Which made me think about my relationship with them as a teacher.

It occurred to me (BIONG!) that my relationship with them is a defining thing but for that to work for me, the concept has to include the rest of you, Gentle Readers.

I have concluded that the only world-view I can embrace is that of Douglas Adams' _Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ but not as a central character.

I am a porpoise.

I believe it was Wednesday after my first class of the day when I mentally addressed my departing students with, "Goodbye, and thanks for the fish."

Look into the story my friends, you will find your situation mirrored somewhere. I wonder if at some point in my life, I can suggest to every one that Douglas Adams' _Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ can and should replace the Holy Bible.

Why, you ask?

Because it more closely resembles reality.

Plot synopsis here:
Wikipedia entry for Adams' wonderful book.

Thanks for listening. If I had arms, I would hug all of you. Now give me a fish!

10.04.2008

Is Sarah Palen Holding a Viper to Her Breast?

@ BoingBoing.net, this appears, itself a quote but at the original not elaborated.
Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin quoted an unidentified “writer” who extolled the virtues of small-town America: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.” (9/3/08) The unidentified writer was Westbrook Pegler (1894-1969), the ultraconservative newspaper columnist whose widely syndicated columns (at its peak, 200 newspapers and 12 million readers) targeted the New Deal establishment, labor leaders, intellectuals, homosexuals, Jews, and poets.
But it's not about Palen's lack of discrimination. All politicians are barbarians when it comes to pillaging the intellect. It's their birthright.

The quote informs us about the speech writers, not Palen. What politician would reject such a high sounding quote about the nobility of the common man? Perhaps Obama would have spoken it had the same quote been placed in his hands.

My point is that it is a speech writer making an indirect and ultimately sly reference to an obscure source, maybe as a joke but most certainly in a thoroughly cynical way. It is the face of an up and coming young Ben Stein in the ranks of Republican speechwriters.

It says to me that the people who control the day to day operation of the campaign are buffoons when it comes to something that should be important to their integrity as citizens.

Is the lady holding a viper to her breast? I suppose that would indicate a desire to follow Dubbya into obscurity...

10.03.2008

Sarah Palen and Joe Biden debate on 10-02-2008 or "Exxon Stooge Shows up for Humiliation Show"

Palen appeared to have been briefed by someone who wanted her to display the fearful and reactionary low spots of the Bush administration's two terms.

You can pick your own favorite. This is my blog and I am only interested in two things. Global warming and Iraq.

I expect that after her son returns from Iraq as mine did, Palen will have her opinion changed for her unless her son is isolated from the people of Iraq.

On the other hand, her opinion on global warming displays a total lack of contact with reality. She has adopted the fallback position of ExxonMobil which is no real surprise. Exxon has had a very strong influence on the Bush administration's science policy and Sarah Palen appears to have been hand picked to continue the tradition of pandering to those who, in Fox News parlance, "Can Make Up Their Own Minds" which means exactly the opposite of what it says.

9.20.2008

The Wisdom of Crowds Questioned

Slashdot (as an entity) has been whining about the nasty email it gets accusing it of bias.

Of course there is the perception that as in any human filtered media organization, bias happens naturally.

I have been thinking about crowd bias. If you have a crowd of "evangelical christians" for example, what kind of crowd stupidity would come out of it on account of commonly held misconceptions?

Let's take the misunderstanding of the historic origin of "when human life begins" in common usage in the U.S.

In the 1960s, as a part of its general rethinking of liturgy and philosophy, the Catholic Church considered the question of when human life begins. The context was this: Humanity has rights as a group that are different from individual rights. The rights and responsibilities of the group need to be considerate of its members who have no way of making themselves heard. These may be oppressed populations in different locations or they may be the unborn members of the community of humans.

The theologians consulted with biologists to clarify what was then understood as constituting life and came to the conclusion that they couldn't tell when life began. To be on the safe side, they (Roman Catholic policymakers) decided that life begins when the possibility of life exists.

American theologians, taking this as excellent advice, incorporated the new policy into their thoughts.

What we are left with is a conflict between the rights of the family of humans versus the rights of the individual based on a decision so conservative it verges on fantasy.

Gradually, groups who incorporated this into their core belief systems have come to make it a matter of faith.

Catholics, in their admirable love-hate relationship with Rome are somehow able to distance themselves from a good deal of this but evangelicals who are as a matter of belief are in daily direct tow-way communication with God have forgot that it wasn't the result of a divine utterance.

9.05.2008

Mandatory Sarah Palin remarks

Sarah Palin Totally Looks Like Tina Fey

On the other hand, she wanted to fire the town librarian for refusing to ban some books she didn't like and built a sports center that cost so much the town COULD have gotten a sewer system. If they wanted it. I guess they didn't want a sewage treatment system. Maybe you don't need one for a town the size of two high schools. Maybe they just freeze it and FedEx it somewhere.

If the Republican ticket wins, Tina Fey will have the best job in town for four years. She can literally spout gibberish and it will be funny since Palin is a Pentacostal.

8.02.2008

Accountability in Educaion and the Public Sphere

If you are interested in accountability and bottom-up transformation, here is something we in education should think about.

Most accountability programs are top-down (big stick.) Power is vested way upstream in a licensing authority of sorts such as a state's department of education rules that essentially decertify a professional under a specified set of circumstances that are documented under a routine review and filtering process.

There is a huge volume of writing and public assertion about giving the public "choice" but that is usually defined in an on/off paradigm of either using a public institution or leaving and going to a private institution. Choice means giving the public the choice pundits want to give them. I could rant about religious fundamentalism here and the damage it has done to the corporate mentality of the American public. But I won't do that.

Instead, how about empowering the public with tools for change?

This is a post at Howard Rheingold's site Smart Mobs titled:
Citizens use YouTube to keep gov’t in check

You have seen it working with the Los Angeles Police. But as people realize the benefits of social network software giving a low threshold for attention, it is possible to extend to other public spheres. Public nuisance is certainly a good example, but opening the classroom like a fruit is another interesting example.

We already have open curriculum to the extent we use Moodle where authentication can be given to anyone as opposed to a centrally managed system like WebCT. We have toyed with putting webcams in classrooms.

To tell the truth, I believe that student posting of school events whether in class or not is inevitable. All I am really talking about is giving it a forum.

Let's say Rate My Professor decided to allocate a hunk of bandwidth to video and students could capture, edit and post within minutes in a discussion format.

Whoever gives shape to the first marketplace entry will frame the discussion.

7.12.2008

Why I didn't buy a new iPhone how Android gets my vote

I'll admit it. I didn't buy a new one. The old one was nice but when it spent a half hour in the washing machine and I went back to my first generation iPod (waiting for 7-11-08) I found I could still listen to the podcasts to which I am addicted. I wasn't *unhappy* enough to go back.

THEN I found out the data charge would be thirty dollars a month! Frankly I am not willing to pay that much to look at a four inch screen. A dollar a day isn't much but I only use the data service once a week unless I'm out of town. So that's seven dollars per use.

I will probably reevaluate in 2009 and see how things are going. In the meantime Android will launch on new phones for multiple service providers.

I was going to use my iPhone in my Interactive Design class as a guinea pig/sacrificial phone. But after consideration I realized Android is more practical for my students since they will be able to afford their own Android capable phones next year. This will vastly improve the social aspect of the class.

The social interaction that surrounds handheld devices is worth of spending time studying.

7.10.2008

Global Search and Stress

This post:"Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Craig Newmark proposes some interesting observations about the interaction of wealth and personal well-being. I would like to make some observations on search technology and the way we interact with it. Newmark is quite right in the way he points out the deleterious effects of our interaction with technology. The original article with the same title ran in the Atlantic.

There are quite a few subjects in the post that deserve treatment. But one theme that runs through is choice.

If you are conscious of your habits, it is not difficult to immerse yourself in a deep and lengthy work. However, people and students in particular choose not to read information in full context. How much of it is the way they have been taught to read and how much is the style of writing is debatable.

To tell you the truth, the last sentence of the post is probably my favorite:
"(I note a third hypothesis, also related to economics. Since information has become more important and more valuable, some authors have gotten much better at producing it. High quality information lowers patience with the lower quality forms. Once you've read a really well-written microeconomics textbook, say, it's much harder to wade through a poorly-written one, or a poorly written text on any subject.)"

Television is a good parallel that I can use as an example of why I think this is true. OMG, I didn't mean that. I am giving an example of production volume, not quality. Don't worry, I will get to finding quality a bit further on.

As with the Internet, cable and satellite bandwidth far outstrips the content a given individual wishes to consume.

Viewing habits are a good indicator. I survey my freshmen every semester on how many network channels they watch in any given week.

In a class of 25, the median is from 7 to 9 with very small variation. There will be one student with no television, one near 15 and one over 20.

This seems at odds with the availability of several hundred alternatives. Because I am a technology and society guy, I only survey news content viewing as a measure of choice variation. Again, there is very little spread. 80% of the average class watches one of only three channels out of approximately 25.

How much of the choice is due to poor interface? A Finnish researcher claimed in 2005 that our interactive (haptic) interface hasn't changed in over 100 years. This was based on his comparing current technology with mechanical arcade games that use pressure sensors to deliver feedback from the turn of the previous century.

In the case of television, development capital is scarce because of the low chance of economic success. Consequently both content and quality are scarce in comparison to bandwidth. (Think repeat of last season yet again.) In the case of Internet content, the development capital threshold is so low my students can afford it. Content creation has been democratized to an amazing extent. This makes the process of making a reading or viewing choice so difficult, we need the help of a search engine. Quality has to be treated differently as you will see.

The famous failure of full text search to live up to expectations is also to blame for a good portion of the reading statistics. Searches turn up hundreds of thousands of hits, a good number of which must be called up in order to eliminate them from consideration. This is the so-called "bounce rate" but it is not indicative when a reader finds exactly the page he is looking for. Bounce rate is really a measure of depth of site penetration, not content quality or relevance.

So Google does have something to do with it (!) because Google is unable to search for a concept that can be described in many ways. Take for instance a full text search for an emergent concept that people label or describe differently. But what the heck, it isn't magic, it's just a computer. The user had better be able to bring something to the table.

To some extent, that's why Google bought GapMinder. You can see the nations of the world compared by average income, infant mortality, longevity, and GDP over time. It is easy to see that if a population is healthy, average income will increase more rapidly than it does in a country where health care remains poor while economic development is happening.

GapMinder is an example of the semantic web and how it may well cause an accelerated discovery revolution comparable to that of the rapid discovery revolution of the 1600's.

Filtering noise in an effective way will be the next challenge that allows stress to subside. But the challenge is huge. How do you decide whether to exclude news from Fox or the Competitive Enterprise Institute in a meaningful way?

I feel that there are two things that will reduce stress when it comes to overload. First, open access to professional communities. Second, semantic utilities with tiered relationships. (Tiered in terms of technical knowledge and links outward to either collections of data or critical evaluations of relationships.

Is this just another whiz-bang computer nerd technology solution? That's what I heard in my SIG meeting when I proposed we sponsor a DOE symposium on one of their collaboration pieces. But Raymond Orbach (DOE) and Abe Leiderman (Deep Web Technologies) have produced good work with federated data previously and I see no reason to think that extending it a bit is unreasonable.

Hyperlinks and search results are seductive in the way wandering in the library is. Debating the percentage of the population susceptible to wandering off topic in a given circumstance is probably not productive. Again, it's choice.

Does Google make us stupid? To the extent that using a tool without knowing how full text search and popularity ranking works can produce ineffective and flawed work. (Student papers. rofl rofl) Using other search techniques such as reading full context and gauging professional reputation can help stabilize the work. In other words, making good choices is central to success in search.

7.08.2008

NCLB (FCAT) Broward County Schools

NCLB testing (aka FCAT) results in Google spreadsheet form. Broward County schools ordered by percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

The "poverty percentage" column is ordered from lowest to highest to highlight the test results in low poverty communities. All schools have been included regardless of student age. Without working any further, it appears to me that minority percentage may be a stronger indicator but if you're high in both columns, an A or B looks really hard to do.

I might order it differently from time to time so don't be surprised. It should not be hard to tell.

6.02.2008

Negative Tagging for research

One could propose a tag or set of tags for publication in a dB (say PubMed) for "negative results" that might be a nice way to search so you could find them more easily.

One might also encourage publication of negative results since the barrier to publication is so low on the Internet. (Peer review not omitted of course.)

5.14.2008

Take THAT Ben Stein!

News from the BBC:
...the Vatican is organising a conference next year to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author of the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin.
Father Gabriel Funes, Vatican Astronomer made the announcement and included speculation on the spiritual state of possible alien races.

This is a good example of how theology should advance. It opens speculation on the nature of spiritual subject matter and does not glorify text written by persons who lived hundreds of years before the nature of space, time, and matter were explored in a meaningful way.

4.25.2008

Laptops and Students - To Be OR Not To Be -

... That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...

Gentle Reader, kindly peruse the previous two postings before tackling this one. They will give you some background knowledge that should put you in a frame of mind to accept this particular bit of opinion. It *is* opinion of course since it is not backed up by research.

Probably the most important thing to recognize when comparing the XO or One Lapotop Per Child (OLPC) and the U S district based projects is the nature of the combination of network and resources.

Not just the hardware. The rest is a lot more important.

The whole thing is a huge tool and people, especially kids, will figure out how to use it. Yes, they will hack it.

If you ask Nicholas Negroponte if he thinks the kids in Peru will hack any of his systems, he will say "I sure hope so!" It will be disappointing if they don't.

1. This huge tool must be transparent to use. This means that the tool becomes irrelevant, like a pencil or a pen. The fact is that it is largely transparent to students, but not to everyone else.

2. The tool exists as a cloud of resources to be used at will. It is not time or location dependent. So when it doesn't fit into a particular frame of reference, just forget about trying to make it fit. The tool, by its nature, works.

If changing the location of an activity is important, consider that everyone involved in using the tool can and will leave the location at will.

If changing the tool itself is important, consider that everyone involved can and will repurpose the tool literally in a few seconds. (If you can supervise children with scissors, you can supervise a class of technology users. That may sound challenging, but art teachers do it every day with very few fatalities.)

Finally, think of the scope of the community involved and the connections available.

In the U S, proxy filters are common. In Finland, Sweden, and Denmark I hear the children are expected to behave themselves without nanny software. Granted, Finland has very high test scores in Math and Science.

In order to control and guide students who have this kind of power, the environment has to be carefully curtailed in certain ways without stifling creativity and access in an unreasonable way.

Consider the typical situation envisioned by the OLPC program. It is a compact community having few members with no preexisting Internet access. The school provides a satellite uplink and lesson resources. The student's laptops create a mesh network that presents the same face to the users no matter whether they are inside the school building or outside.

This means that instead of being cut off from the school environment when the day is done, the school follows the child home and provides a community with teacher support and peer support.

Let me mention one of the criticisms that OLPC communities have. Spouses of teachers complain that their time at home is absorbed by students. After letting that sink in, consider that one of the hallmarks of a high quality education is long periods spent with professors.

Let me close this by quoting from Seymour Papert's article about Bode Miller
Consider a simple incident: a 3-year-old goes to a shelf, pulls off a cassette and loads it into the VCR. People are wrong to be amazed at the technological capacity of the child. Getting dressed and playing with many traditional toys are actually more complicated than working a VCR or even clicking a computer program into life. What is remarkable is that the child is able to make a decision to spend the next half hour immersed in a topic of choice...

That children are learning to find independent ways into knowledge is wonderful and necessary. But it poses a challenge for parents and indeed for the way we think about school. In the past school had to provide knowledge. In the future schooling -- and parenting -- will have to be about developing the ability and the judgment necessary to use knowledge wisely and critically.
I hope the link with what I said earlier is obvious. Students will figure out how to use technology better than their elders.

The OLCP project is designed to support precisely the parts of networked community that are useful to discovery and education. This means the XO laptop is designed precisely to be a particular subtype of tool for a reason that the majority of technology projects in the US are evidently blind to it.

4.24.2008

Una Laptop por Niño - One Laptop Per Child


The philanthropic effort dubbed the $100 Laptop has not met its grand initial goals. But its first deployment, in Peru, may turn skeptics into believers.


Here are a few quotes pulled for the article.



The laptops are headed to 9,000 tiny schools in remote regions such as Huancavelica, in the Andes, an arduous 12-hour bus ride over rocky roads southeast of Lima, and villages such as Tutumberos, in the Amazon region, days away.

The computers come loaded with 115 books--literature such as Mi Vaquita, about a rare porpoise, but also classics, like some of Aesop's fables, novels (at least one by the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa), and poetry (including verse by the early-20th- century Peruvian poet César Vallejo). The laptops' flash drives also store introductions for teachers, reading-comprehension programs and other educational software, a word processor, art and music programs, and games, including chess, Sudoku, and Tetris. The rugged, low-power hardware includes a camera that can capture video or still images. The computers are Internet ready and can wirelessly relay data to one another.

Schools Get Rid of Laptops, it's history now

Tests measure certain things and I don't think the benefits of stepping into the modern culture of cooperative science is one of them.



This article is here as a placeholder for historic purposes as the XO or One Laptop Per Child project is up and running in Peru. I will attempt to draw parallels to what appear to be similar programs (but may not be) in the U S that have had various levels of success.

I'm responsible for the snide but insightful comments. *wink*



By WINNIE HU - http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/04/education/04laptop.html?
Published: May 4, 2007

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. — The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).

Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.

Is it possible they need more help than the teachers can offer? Or perhaps they have just gotten to work and they are checking their email and doing work like the rest of the world. In what world is the Internet not used for homework?


So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse...

“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”

Note: In technology we aim for transparency. The term is important because transparent technology doesn't let this (sic) happen. Transparency however does not come from within technology, rather it is characterized by smooth social interaction.



Liverpool’s turnabout comes as more and more school districts nationwide continue to bring laptops into the classroom. Federal education officials do not keep track of how many schools have such programs, but two educational consultants, Hayes Connection and the Greaves Group, conducted a study of the nation’s 2,500 largest school districts last year and found that a quarter of the 1,000 respondents already had one-to-one computing, and fully half expected to by 2011.

Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

".. did not fit into lesson plans.."

".. dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers.."

How does a computer not fit in a lesson plan? It is a tool that can do just about anything. You could just as easily say that pencils won't fit into lesson plans.



Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums. Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not.

This sounds like the research that says recall is affected by repeated testing. Why? Because they both use practice. So is there an advantage to computers?

Not if you don't count having access to vast libraries, incredible diversity of opinion, and a huge variety of approaches to explaining things to students. I guess the U S Department of Education decided it isn't important.



Those giving up on laptops include large and small school districts, urban and rural communities, affluent schools and those serving mostly low-income, minority students, who as a group have tended to underperform academically.

So it isn't a class thing or a digital divide thing.



Matoaca High School just outside Richmond, Va., began eliminating its five-year-old laptop program last fall after concluding that students had failed to show any academic gains compared with those in schools without laptops. Continuing the program would have cost an additional $1.5 million for the first year alone, and a survey of district teachers and parents found that one-fifth of Matoaca students rarely or never used their laptops for learning. “You have to put your money where you think it’s going to give you the best achievement results,” said Tim Bullis, a district spokesman.

So it is the kids who are not using them for learning? By all means, blame the students for not figuring out how to use computers.



Everett A. Rea Elementary School in Costa Mesa, Calif., where more than 95 percent of students are Hispanic and come from low-income families, gave away 30 new laptops to another school in 2005 after a class that was trying them out switched to new teachers who simply did not do as much with the technology. Northfield Mount Hermon School, a private boarding school in western Massachusetts, eliminated its five-year-old laptop program in 2002 after it found that more effort was being expended on repairing the laptops than on training teachers to teach with them.


These are not reasons to quit using computers. Am I wrong?

Next for the Best Reason Ever to get rid of technology!



Two years ago, school officials in Broward County, Fla., the sixth-largest district in the country, shelved a $275 million proposal to issue laptops to each of their more than 260,000 students after re-evaluating the costs of a pilot project. The district, which paid $7.2 million to lease 6,000 laptops for the pilot at four schools, was spending more than $100,000 a year for repairs to screens and keyboards that are not covered by warranties. “It’s cost prohibitive, so we have actually moved away from it,” said Vijay Sonty, chief information officer for the district, whose enrollment is 37 percent black, 31 percent white and 25 percent Hispanic.

Here we are. This is us. How much does it cost to maintain the media centers in those four schools? What about teacher's time being used more productively as a result of using testing and things like automated essay grading to accelerate student achievement?



(Back to Liverpool NY)...
Students like Eddie McCarthy, 18, a Liverpool senior, said his laptop made him “a lot better at typing,” as he used it to take notes in class, but not a better student. “I think it’s better to wait and buy one for college,” he said.

Here we have an example of a student who does not use his computer appropriately. What a surprise. Can we do anything about this?



More than a decade ago, schools began investing heavily in laptops at the urging of school boards and parent groups who saw them as the key to the 21st century classroom. Following Maine’s lead in 2002, states including Michigan, Pennsylvania and South Dakota helped buy laptops for thousands of students through statewide initiatives like “Classrooms for the Future” and “Freedom to Learn.” In New York City, about 6,000 students in 22 middle schools received laptops in 2005 as part of a $45-million, three-year program financed with city, state and federal money.

I heard that Maine's use of laptops was stimulated by a friendship between the governor and Seymour Pappert. That would make Maine the first experiment in the OLPC direction. Other districts failed to understand that it was an education experiment, not a technology experiment.



Many school administrators and teachers say laptops in the classroom have motivated even reluctant students to learn, resulting in higher attendance and lower detention and dropout rates.

But it is less clear whether one-to-one computing has improved academic performance — as measured through standardized test scores and grades — because the programs are still new, and most schools have lacked the money and resources to evaluate them rigorously.

In one of the largest ongoing studies, the Texas Center for Educational Research, a nonprofit group, has so far found no overall difference on state test scores between 21 middle schools where students received laptops in 2004, and 21 schools where they did not, though some data suggest that high-achieving students with laptops may perform better in math than their counterparts without. When six of the schools in the study that do not have laptops were given the option of getting them this year, they opted against.

Mark Warschauer, an education professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of “Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom” (Teachers College Press, 2006), also found no evidence that laptops increased state test scores in a study of 10 schools in California and Maine from 2003 to 2005. Two of the schools, including Rea Elementary, have since eliminated the laptops.

But Mr. Warschauer, who supports laptop programs, said schools like Liverpool might be giving up too soon because it takes time to train teachers to use the new technology and integrate it into their classes. For instance, he pointed to students at a middle school in Yarmouth, Me., who used their laptops to create a Spanish book for poor children in Guatemala and debate Supreme Court cases found online.

Those pesky folks from Maine again. What is it that they do that makes them use the technology appropriately?



“Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”...

In the school library, an 11th-grade history class was working on research papers. Many carried laptops in their hands or in backpacks even as their teacher, Tom McCarthy, encouraged them not to overlook books, newspapers and academic journals.

Why doesn't the media center have electronic access to those resources?



“The art of thinking is being lost,” he said. “Because people can type in a word and find a source and think that’s the be all end all.”

Without a doubt, aphorisms will never help us understand why teachers are not using the technology in a transparent fashion.


One thing I am interested in is the assumption that the principal benefit of having a computer is higher test scores.


Tests measure certain things and I don't think the benefits of stepping into the modern culture of cooperative science is one of them.

4.15.2008

Academic Freedom - lol who needs it?

Teachers in Texas aren't supposed to teach students about evolution.
Texas biology teacher fired for teaching evolution.

Legislators in Florida have been told that (undisclosed) teachers in their state are afraid they will be threatened if they *offer* alternative theories to their students. (Alternative to evolution that is.) Note, this is opposite to what happened in Texas.

Even though the NATIONAL STANDARDS offer no mention of the existence of such alternatives.
Even though no national organization of scientists offers any alternatives.
Even though all of the world-wide organizations of scientists say that evolution is the only theory that makes sense.

Does it make sense? Texas teachers get fired for teaching evolution. This doesn't happen in any other state. But in Florida, someone in the legislature has heard a rumor that the evil forces of Science will come down hard if they offer students a choice in what are apparently imaginary alternatives.

Who are the bad guys here? Just who is being nasty and horrible?

If I may skip back to Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed, where it is stated that the evil forces of Science routinely expel the forces of God from their ranks, there is offered one example. An "employee" of the Smithsonian Institution supposedly was fired. Unfortunately for Ben Stein, the man is a researcher who is NOT a Smithsonian employee. AND he is still trundling along doing his research.

4.13.2008

Disasters beget regulation - Forseeing the Future of Continuing Education

After the Savings and Loan meltdown of the 1980s, Real Estate Appraisers were blamed for banks making loans in anticipation of future market value - or what was termed exceeding fair market value. A special class of appraisers was created, they were given gold stars, and continuing education was prescribed as the solution to the awful state of ethics that allowed the innocent banking industry to be taken advantage of.

I have two questions.

First, given the current mortgage failure rate, who will end up doing continuing education?

Second, when will a professional organization have to balls to end stupid and pointlessly shallow professional education?

Now comes the fun part. Having read my rant, here is a lovely bit about continuing education mania gone wild in the U.K. The quackometer: Medical Astrology - Forseeing the Future of Regulated Alternative Medicine. Thanks to Andy Lewis, Le Canard Noir.

4.02.2008

Where does the Darwin Hitler connection come from?

Richard Weikart. From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. xi + 312 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4039-6502-8.

http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=37981105462766

Weikart goes so far as to assert that "in philosophical terms, Darwinism was a necessary, but not a sufficient, cause for Nazi ideology" (p. 9). As the book portrays it, Darwinism's causal role lay in undermining Christian ethics, which would otherwise have held as the last bastion against Nazism, no matter how many other causes were working in Hitler's favor. I suppose this is also the rationalization for leaving all those other causes out of the book. There is of course no way to investigate what would have happened without Darwinism, or even to imagine the modern world without any challenges to pre-modern Christian doctrines. Perhaps Nazism could have been avoided, as Weikart asserts. Perhaps it would only have had to appropriate less biological rhetoric and more of some other sort.

Do I need to say anything about this? There are underlying assumptions that are unsupportable as well as a flawed understanding of Natural Selection that is just plain wrong.

4-15-2008 Addition to post.
War in Heaven/Heaven on Earth: Theories of the Apocalyptic (Millennialism & Society)

War in Heaven/Heaven on Earth: Theories of the Apocalyptic (Millennialism & Society) by Stephen D. O'Leary and Glen S. McGhee

A chapter by David Redles that is meticulously researched outlines the motivations of Adolph Hitler.

Instead of theorizing about influences, Redles offers Hitler in his own words. A moving portrait of a man who believed in God first and foremost. A believer in God's plan for his people. A believer in the essential Jewishness of the bolshevics. A believer in destiny and in sterilizing his environment for the eventual entry of his people into God's embrace.

One of the problems I see with the Weikart book that the religious right and Ben Stein use is where he goes light on the essential fallacy of "Jewish bolshevism" which is Hitler's acceptance of the false origins of the bolshevics from what were evidently very poor sources.

Redles understands that understanding Charles Darwin's theory sheds no light on the Third Reich at all. Weikart says that there are several kinds of darwinism which is his way out as although he identifies an influence from the eugenics movement in Hitler's racial improvement theory, he also says it has darwinist influences.

Does it? Does it really? Darwinism doesn't describe what Hitler wanted to do to other people. Darwinism isn't even what he tried to do to the volk. But I can see why people who don't understand Natural Selection think so.

Conclusion? If Hitler was a "darwinist" then so were Jim Jones, Marshall Herff Applewhite (Heaven's Gate), and David Koresh. Hitler took the added precaution of eliminating others prior to ascending. Sterilizing the soil before planting new seed. Is that significant? Not unless you want to twist it yet again and turn it against innocent people.

Weikart himself says this about his book:
These scholars apparently are unaware that I wrote a previous book, Socialist Darwinism: Evolution in German Socialist Thought from Marx to Bernstein, in which I explained the reception of Darwinism by German socialists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. No, all Darwinism didn't lead to Nazism, and I of all people know this quite well. If my critics skipped the introduction of my book, they could also have learned my views in the conclusion, where I stated: "It would be foolish to blame Darwinism for the Holocaust, as though Darwinism leads logically to the Holocaust. No, Darwinism by itself did not produce Hitler's worldview, and many Darwinists drew quite different conclusions from Darwinism for ethics and social thought than did Hitler." (p. 232)
This quote comes from his academic website.

4.01.2008

Expelled No Intelligence Allowed

Resource here Expelled Exposed.

Is it surprising that the premise of the Academic Freedom bill in the Florida Legislature is so far off base that it isn't even playing the same game?

The above link goes to the site set up by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) to keep track of resources that nail the movie's creators for dishonesty. At this point the count goes up every day as they lie about why people interviewed for the movie are kept out of screenings.

There is a possibility that this will end up being as funny as the Dover trial.

Using the movie to support the Academic Freedom bill was great for those of us who want to point out weaknesses because it reveals the underlying prevarication in their arguments.

An independent scholar housed at the Smithsonian is claimed to have lost his position in the movie but when you check him out, he is in the same position as every other resident scholar in the building. Yes he is disliked but it is because he doesn't return books or specimens he takes out of the collections.

3.26.2008

There is apparently research on Christian Fundamentalist’s inability to manage their own finances.

This article contributes to the understanding of this relationship by exploring how religious affiliation affects wealth ownership for conservative Protestants (CPs). The results demonstrate that religion affects wealth indirectly through educational attainment, fertility, and female labor force participation. The results also provide evidence of a direct effect of religion on wealth. Low rates of asset accumulation and unique economic values combine to reduce CP wealth beyond the effects of demographics.


Full journal article.

So what is going on? Education is worse than average. Ability to manage finances is worse than average. Is it surprising that they have some fundamental issues with average theology? Of course not! It follows as day follows night.

Perhaps the need for research lies with finding the root cause for the deficits that have been discovered. A chicken and egg issue so to speak.

3.18.2008

Searching for related topics

Technology for search is soooooo primitive. Natural Language Processing can be used profitably for a lot of things, but sometimes you just fall off your chair.

PhysOrg reprinted an article on a spammer who got nailed for mail fraud, wire fraud, and failure to file a tax return. Other terms in the article included "e-mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and numerous other counts of mail and wire fraud."

Here is the text from the bottom of the page:
Related Products:

* Zatoichi: Zatoichi and the Doomed Man

That is a genuine ROTFL (even though I am the only person I know who puts the "T" in anymore.)

3.09.2008

Health Care and Quacks, a possible connection

There probably isn't a causal link but it must be at least partly true that a high number of quack practitioners in other countries must have some effects here.

The February 21 issue of The Economist had two interesting articles that ran on the same page. One said that India has more fake doctors than real ones. Up to 40,000 in Delhi which has a population of 14 million. The other article explained that most of China's population can't afford health insurance and those who have it are reimbursed at a rate of 30 to 40 percent.
India's Fake Doctors
Health Care in China

Both of these sad situations explain the use of so-called traditional cures in places where people are desperate. But look at what happens here when people distrust medical institutions. This distrust allows quackery to take root and flourish.

One of the things that is important to notice is that in India, quacks are included in public health initiatives. This is important because it points up the political decisions that are made here every day that validate quackery in the minds of citizens. Food supplements, acupuncture, reiki, chiropractic, and of course the overuse of zombies at work.

Addition posted 3-20-2008:
Here is a link to an article about how the abominable conditions in Iraq are being exploited by quack-think.

3.06.2008

Airborne Effervescent Health - Evil Quack

The makers of Airborne products have admitted that their claims of efficacy are bogus but the only thing that will happen is that they will make some refunds. Too bad.

New York Times

Web MD story

A spokesperson for Airborne, who declined to be quoted by name, says, "Airborne is an immune booster. We are pleased to have reached this settlement." LOL this is not true. Immune boosters are things that challenge the body and stimulate it to fight. It is known as an inflammatory response. You know, the kind of thing that gives you a heart attack later in life.

Unless Airborne puts bacteria into their vitamin pills, it won't challenge the immune system. Hmmm maybe we ought to look into this since a company representative has actually said it. Have you ever noticed that con artists often tell you exactly what they are intending to do to you? Look at AmWay for instance: "You are going to give us $150.00 a month forever." They are totally clear. What is unclear is that you expect something in return and it isn't there. ROTFL

The New York Times had this morsel:
Airborne said that a double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted with “care and professionalism” by a company specializing in clinical trial management, GNG Pharmaceutical Services.

GNG is actually a two-man operation started up just to do the Airborne study. There was no clinic, no scientists and no doctors. The man who ran things said he had lots of clinical trial experience. He added that he had a degree from Indiana University, but the school says he never graduated.

2.23.2008

Come Here and let me bite off your leg!

Although I attended two talks on religion and evolution at the AAAS annual meeting last week, the one I learned the most from was on public health and communication.

In particular, from a gentleman (sorry notes at work) who works as a lobbyist for scientific enterprise. His remonstration toward scientists who do not empathize with lawmakers was pointed. The fact is that they have many competing interests that simply must be served. Simply doing what we think is the best thing for science and the public is often not possible for them.

His other point was that when you put truth forward in a persuasive way, the people who hold the swing votes are in fact most often listening with an open mind.

Folks like the two creationists, one of whom actually contacted the Discovery Institute for guidance, are not going to listen. Whatever the reason, their minds are closed.

Jeb Bush, like his brother, moved to destroy institutions in order to advance his agenda for education by placing stooges in positions of influence. Who knows whether successive federal powers will restore balance in Washington. Obviously the Florida Board of Regents was abolished by Jeb Bush (along with student representation) at the University level. He wanted to bust the professor's union but failed.

Getting back to the folks whose minds are closed . . .

They are like the Black Knight at the bridge. You can knock out one weapon after another till they have nothing of reason remaining. You can cut away their footing, till they have nothing on which to launch a logical attack. Nevertheless, they will insist on fighting on to preserve their ill-founded affection for lousy theology. Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention because of their oddball behavior. He puts it in a more diplomatic way. But if you schlep down to the entry about Reverend Kennedy, a Presbyterian Church of America leader, you will see that fundamental beliefs based on thoughts about humanity two thousand years ago that are not mediated by reason can lead to some bizarre results.

reference:
Students ‘biggest losers’ in evolution debate
Point of View
By DONNA CALLAWAY
Special to Florida Baptist Witness
Published February 22, 2008

2.19.2008

Evolution in Florida Science Standards

Today, February 19th, 2008 the State of Florida's Board of Education voted on new Science standards for their schools. (Not that they are really wonderful 'cause there are warts aplenty.)

The very public issue was the use of "evolution." The word is now included in the official education framework as a "big idea" we should teach all children.

You should read the entry on the Florida Citizens for Science Blog to see what kind of oddball things are going on. But hey, it's Florida.

Speaking of brains, "I warned you not to use those things!"

2.13.2008

Measure, Measure, Measure, Barf

I was shamelessly looking over a shoulder this morning at test scores and remarked to the guy they were intended for that they looked remarkably uniform. Was the maximum score on the test 30? No, he said it was 100.

Uh oh.

He told me his 9th grade Algebra class was full of children who had never been to school. I don't mean kids who skip school. I mean kids who have attended only a year or two of school in their lives because their parents couldn't afford to pay tuition where they used to live.

There are two things to think about here.
First, there are countries with no free education.
Second, these kids are like Tarzan when it comes to school. You remember him? Tarzan was not even marginally ready to go to high school. But we have a staff to care for and teach him and the other kids who are not ready to do any number of the things that your kids are ready to do.

Our school has ten reading teachers. Not English teachers. These are just for teaching reading to kids who are not up to reading above a fourth grade level. That means they may be at a first grade level for those of you who don't know that the NCLB ruler begins at four, not zero.

I have no idea how many remedial Math teachers we have (there are eighteen Math teachers for a population of 1,700 students) but fifteen reading teachers require about three quarters of a million dollars in payroll and benefits, not to mention the fact that they displace other classes since the school has a fixed budget based on a population of kids who have NO SPECIAL NEEDS AT ALL. Or put another way, ten percent of our staff doesn't teach high school skills. The official count for Reading is ten but there are twenty English teachers on staff.

18 Math, 20 English, 10 Reading = 48 out of 134 people teaching classes and providing resources.