No Wookies in the classroom

This article via Wired about whether geeky decorations turn women away from computer science has me conflicted. The article is definitely provocatively titled, “Star Trek Stops Women From Becoming Computer Scientists”, but the underlying study being reported shows that sitting in a room with Star Trek decor correlates with women responding more negatively to a survey of attitudes about computer science, with men not showing the same effect. As always with this type of study, there are things to poke at – would other strongly themed decors have the same result? What about a non-neutral room with lots of academic … Continue reading No Wookies in the classroom

Math as Art

A Mathematician’s Lament was Slashdotted weeks ago, but I finally sat down and read my way through the whole thing. Lockhart, a math professor who returned to elementary and high school math education, writes about the fundamental flaws he sees in how we approach teaching math, particularly at the youngest levels. He opens with two stories that describe in his view what music and art education would be like if they were taught in the same way math is taught: I was surprised to find myself in a regular school classroom— no easels, no tubes of paint. “Oh we don’t … Continue reading Math as Art

T-minus 12 days

Thoughts on the approaching semester: Syllabi – There are two philosophies here, it seems. Go bare bones – who are you, what book is being used, and when are the exams. Or go all out – detailed policies on late homeworks, attendance, academic honesty, etc. and day-by-day breakdowns of every class meeting for the entire semester. I’ve been veering more and more towards the later, but that is really not my style. I’m thinking about how I can start to streamline. For now, I think it is going to vary by courses – low-level courses predominantly taken by freshman or … Continue reading T-minus 12 days

Science in the university

In response to Harvard releasing its internal report on their educational objectives, Steven Pinker discusses some reservations, more with the high-level phrasing than the specific steps to be taken, it seems [via Arts & Letters Daily]. Of particular interest – even at Harvard the debates about requiring science, how much science, and of what types for what reason take place. Pinker laments that the current argument for science education seems to have a greater requirement that the applicability to social issues be made the focus than other fields find required of themselves. While it isn’t a full argument, I thought … Continue reading Science in the university

Next up, Survivor: Grad School…..

I was chatting with a friend about life, and the topic rolled around to issues of grading and busting cheaters. Which led me to speculate about how awesome it would be if that awful reality show “Cheaters” was about academic dishonesty. Which led me to write the following: CHEATERS: ACADEMIA Scene: at bucolic college campus, a professor calls up a PI. Prof: “I think I have a case of cheating, but I need evidence.” PI: “Give me the details – I’ll build up a dossier.” Night vision camera shots of the professor at the computer using Turn-it-in PI: “These cases … Continue reading Next up, Survivor: Grad School…..

But from whence the five minute rule?

If I could afford to add any more books to my to-read list, I would pick up a copy of Clark’s Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University, reviewed here by The New Yorker [via Arts & Letters Daily] Tracing the history of modern academia and its traditions forward from their roots in 18th century Germany (including the ancient roots of faculty balking at oversight and bureaucratic instrusion, such as early requirements that faculty publically list what courses they are taking in a course catalog), Clark uses the idea of charisma to talk about the sources of authority … Continue reading But from whence the five minute rule?

Not BASIC Enough

David Brin laments the lack of simple built-in programming environments on personal comptuters [via Slashdot]. I too remember learning to program on my Apple IIe – if you turned on the computer without a programmed disk in the drive, you fell into BASIC, and I copied many listigs out of magaziines or books and played around with their functionality. Brin is entirely right – this type of built-in, no-fuss programming environment got a lot of us started. Now, there are still command-line options. My programming students download Java off the Sun website and compile and run from the DOS prompt, … Continue reading Not BASIC Enough

Lesson Marketplace

There are so many interesting things about the lesson plan marketplace site described in this article. Absolutely, teachers getting tips from other teachers instead of textbook publishers and other major corporations is a smart idea. At the college level, the mailing lists I am on for computing education often field requests for class activities of a certain style or around a certain topic, and they have some associated web repositories. But there are some things that strike me as odd about the auction model. First, I’m just surprised that there isn’t already a free website doing this – whether ad … Continue reading Lesson Marketplace

Convolutions in Informal Math

A mathematics instructor makes an attempt to explain why 0.999… = 1 in their blog, and tackles some of the classic explanations as well as many arguments in the comments [via Clicked]. What interested me most was that the writer was frustrated that people can’t accept the arguments, buit buries the real proof of this fact at the end. Instead of laying out from the start the question of what does it mean to say that a repeating decimal is equal to an integer, point out that it has to do with computing a limit, and going from there, the … Continue reading Convolutions in Informal Math

Text Creation

If you aren’t familiar with the process by which a textbook is created, I highly recommend this “Confessions of a Textbook Editor” article from a couple of years ago. It’s a short snapshot of the considerations that come into play, and the degree to which content is selected in order to avoid controversy from anyone. If you are interested in the topic, I recommend What Johnny Shouldn’t Read: Textbook Censorship in America by Joan Delfattore which I reviewed back in 2002, the book itself being even older than that. It seems the textbook industry has been pretty consistent over the … Continue reading Text Creation