August 24, 2010

School is starting soon

Yesterday, a bunch of colleges and schools started up for the year.  Our campus is on the quarter system, so I still have a few weeks left to prepare.  My browser has become cluttered up with education-related articles that I've been saving up to comment on, but I think I'll just dump them out here.

A conversation with Sean Carroll - in this NY Times interview from April, I was a little disappointed to read this response from Sean:
Whenever you say you’re a physicist, there’s a certain fraction of people who immediately go, “Oh, I hated physics in high school.” That’s because of the terrible influence of high school physics. Because of it, most people think physics is all about inclined planes and force-vector diagrams. One of the tragedies of our educational system is that we’ve taken this incredibly interesting subject — how the universe works — and made it boring.
I get what he's saying.  But I'm disappointed that he would paint all high school physics teachers with such a broad brush.  I believe that at some level, ALL physics teachers got into teaching physics because they found the subject to be terribly interesting.  What about giving them the tools and motivation to make their classes interesting?  What about structuring schools so that biology teachers are not teaching physics?  These are complex questions that the interview does not get into.

His response to the follow-up question which was about what he would do to improve physics education was a little better in spirit, but I think it's a little unrealistic to think that starting with the Big Bang and particle physics is something that will lead to better scientific literacy.

No grading, more learning - This was an article from "Inside Higher Ed" that I found via Metafilter. A professor at Duke dispensed completely with the traditional method of grading (where the professor assigns grades for work turned in) and chose to "crowdsource" the grading.   The class as a whole (I guess) assessed whether or not student work met the standards for the course.  The discussion on Metafilter rightly pointed out that many classes have cliques of students which professors may or may not be aware of.  I am impressed with how this professor was able to turn the focus of the class away from the grades and onto the learning.  I am, however, not deaf to the concerns raised by many of the commenters talking about this method.  I don't think this would work for my courses where almost everything we do is a "right-or-wrong" type of assignment.  Still, it was interesting and inspiring to see faculty get their students to focus on learning.

Does Professor Quality Matter? -  You should read this article (from the Journal of Political Economy) to get the whole story, but I'm just going to skip to the end and quote from the conclusion:
Our findings show that introductory calculus professors significantly affect student achievement in both the contemporaneous course being taught and the follow‐on related curriculum. However, these methodologies yield very different conclusions regarding which professors are measured as high quality, depending on the outcome of interest used. We find that less experienced and less qualified professors produce students who perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course being taught, whereas more experienced and highly qualified professors produce students who perform better in the follow‐on related curriculum.
I'm not sure how much to read into this as it relates to teaching physics, but it was a somewhat interesting article.

Cory Doctorow: What I do - Not education related, but if you're a nerd who follows Cory Doctorow, now you can do what he does.

You say up, I say yesterday - This is a great profile of a cognitive psychologist who has studied a fascinating topic of how language relates to thinking.  I was really blown away by these ideas. (Cog psy is ALMOST as cool as physics...)

Plan B: skip college - This NY Times piece doesn't say anything that hasn't already been said about whether or not college is the best economic choice for all people.  But, it is a good reminder that we (as a society) should constantly be questioning how ALL people can best be served by education at all levels.

What if College Tenure Dies? - A series of essays in the NY Times opinion section.  Really good, thought-provoking stuff here.

Tenure, RIP -  Closer to my heart (and life), though, was this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. about how the percent of tenure-track positions available across the country has shrunk dramatically in the past few decades.  I don't have the time to go fully into what I really think about this situation, but from a personal level, I would just be THRILLED if I could get offered some version of a permanent job.

This press release talking about a research project connecting a poem by Walt Whitman with a meteor shower caught my eye.  The research was cool, but I LOVED the interview with the student research assistant:
...get involved and be as active and connected with whatever department and professors they have. That's been the most beneficial thing to me. Once you start talking to your professors and meeting with your professors and they realize that you're a real human with a brain and you're interested and excited they'll do anything for you, and you'll do anything for them. With that, find someone -- it doesn't matter who it is or what department they're in -- find a professor and make a connection...Also, fear can get you down. That's why I didn't want to be a physics major [initially], because I was afraid I couldn't do it. Don't be afraid of boys, don't be afraid of professors -- once you get over that you can do anything.
The part about "Don't be afraid of boys" was because the question was about advice to give to other female physics majors.  But, I just found her overall attitude throughout the whole interview to be great. She has everything that every faculty member is looking for.

Hanny and the Mystery of the Voorweep - New graphic novel about the discovery of a weird astronomical object.

The Hot Young Teacher they Hired Instead - Along with the Tenure, RIP article, this sort of struck a personal nerve, simply by being about the hiring process in education and the pain that a teacher goes through.

Hot for the Wrong Teachers - This article from Slate is about 2 years old, but it was new to me.  This gets into some of the reforms that have been implemented at one school in NYC.  There is also a discussion of proposed ideas and what is and is not working currently.

Whew!  I had more stocked up than I had realized.

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