children · education · learning

Un-geekifying scientists

Español: Investigadores en un laboratorio de l...
What makes a career seem achievable, especially in STEM fields? Image via Wikipedia

Interesting article about making science appealing to youngsters, particularly girls:

Addressing the country’s shortfall of students in the STEM disciplines (science, engineering, technology and mathematics) begins with persuading students that scientists are people, too.

A series produced by the science program NOVA, available online, is a good place to start. The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers (tag line: “Where the lab coats come off”) features footage of scientists working in their labs and sitting down for interviews. The researchers come off as curious, playful, even goofy — people you might want to befriend, or become. The same process of humanization can work with written materials. Susan Nolen, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, gave two different statistics texts to groups of female students. One selection was written in the remote, impersonal style of most textbooks. The other struck a more accessible tone, sharing the writer’s views and opinions on the information. The text with a “visible author,” as Nolen describes it, prompted the students to engage in mental interactions with the author as they read, a process that promoted their understanding and retention of the material.

Read more: America Needs More Geeks: How to Make Science Cool

Do you agree or disagree with Paul’s assessment? Are scientists scary, unapproachable beings that nobody wants to be when they grow up?

From my personal experience I know that making that kind of job and expertise seem attainable was important to me as a high school and college student. I had a journalism professor in college that I greatly admired, Conn Hallinan. He was so GOOD at what he did; he seemed to know the history of every issue. In his provost house (not even his “real” house) he had an entire room full of file cabinets filled with clippings of stories, and somehow kept track of all of it. It was somewhat intimidating as a budding journalist. I remember thinking a couple of times “I will NEVER be this organized/dedicated/whatever. How will I ever become a journalist?” Thankfully he was very supportive of my budding talents, and I ended up writing for a scientific magazine for several years.

That being said, I think it helps to have the mask removed and being able to see the real people behind some of these professions. At the same time, probably the most helpful course I took in college was a two-credit seminar on writing professions. Each week they brought in guest speakers who talked about how they made money writing, and what they did as side-jobs if/when the writing didn’t pay enough. One journalist who’s name I can’t remember told us that she was a terrible introvert, but loved being a journalist because it gave her an excuse and a reason to talk to people. As a fellow introvert, that helped me a lot.

So, I do think it’s important to humanize jobs if we want kids to pursue them. I was going to say this is especially true for girls, but I think it’s true for both genders.

What are your thoughts? Was there a person that inspired you to get into your current career? What were they like; were they very approachable, or more legendary/iconic? Leave your story in the comments.

anthropology · creativity · culture · learning

Slow school movement

lutin waldorfThe holidays are a time to reflect on our lives, our jobs, and what we want for the new year. It might also be a good time to think about ways to cut back on our obligations and “must dos”. Especially for our children at school.

I appreciated this op-ed piece questioning the value of play versus academic work in kindergarten, pre-k, and the lower grades. The piece is US-oriented but it does refer to data from elsewhere, and to the ‘ethnographic record’ :0)

While the U.S. pushes their kids to excel earlier and earlier, science is finding it might not be the most efficient way to learn:

Students from countries where reading is not taught until age six actually do better on standardized reading tests than those from countries that begin at five or earlier, as in the USA. Children who start even later catch up quickly: Suggate collected extensive data from about 400 students in New Zealand – some in public schools and some in private “Waldorf” schools, where reading teaching doesn’t even begin until age seven. Difference in reading achievement between the two groups disappeared by age 10.

Research comparing Waldorf school students’ academic skills to those of public school students shows even more encouraging results. In a report exploring the value of the Waldorf approach for public school reform, Ida Oberman found that second-graders from four Waldorf-style schools underperformed in comparison to 10 “peer-alike sites.” Yet by eighth grade, these students could match and even outperform comparison sites on state school achievement tests.

If nothing is lost from academic achievement when training starts later, and some competencies even may be gained, why then the rush to begin it? Why buy toddler flash-cards, fund pre-K academies, and start kindergartners on reading and math when children could be otherwise engaged, developing other kinds of skills and dispositions, such as empathy and creativity?

more at: What can slow schools teach us?

There is also great research coming out of Denmark vs. the U.S. that find kids that aren’t taught to read until 6 or 7 (Denmark) vs. 4 or 5 (U.S.) do better overall, similar to the study in New Zealand.

Interesting to see how taking it easy can sometimes be better for learning.

education · learning

The Poor Quality of an Undergraduate Education – NYTimes.com

Academic procession at the University of Cante...
Is your college degree really worth it? Image via Wikipedia

This is a great Op-Ed piece from the New York Times. More and more people are getting brave enough to come out and say that a college education, as it currently exists, is often NOT worth it for students.

In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.

Why is the overall quality of undergraduate learning so poor?

While some colleges are starved for resources, for many others it’s not for lack of money. Even at those colleges where for the past several decades tuition has far outpaced the rate of inflation, students are taught by fewer full-time tenured faculty members while being looked after by a greatly expanded number of counselors who serve an array of social and personal needs. At the same time, many schools are investing in deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers and expensive gyms. Simply put: academic investments are a lower priority.

more via The Poor Quality of an Undergraduate Education – NYTimes.com.

I LOVE learning and have seriously considered continuing my graduate studies beyond my MA. But after looking at the hard facts of cost vs. time investment vs. returns, even at the undergraduate level, I have unfortunately determined that it’s just not a good investment, especially for a non-engineering or similar degree.

Some students swear it’s worth it, and while I’m glad I have my BA and (almost) MA, I know enough people who are doing fine without theirs that I wonder if those of us with a BA aren’t slightly brainwashed, or simply trying to convince ourselves it’s worth it because we put so much time and money (and for some of us sincere effort) into getting it.

What has your experience been? For those who want or have a career outside of a University, what has your experience been and what kind of education did you WISH you had received? I, for example, had wished they had required more Science and Math as an undergrad (or high school), even for a social science major like me. It was all stuff I ended up needing for my MA and wishing I’d studied it earlier in my academic career.