Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark.

A quote from Carl Sagan's 1995 book.

Education on the value of free speech and the other freedoms reserved by the Bill of Rights, about what happens when you don’t have them, and about how to exercise and protect them, should be an essential prerequisite for being an American citizen — or indeed a citizen of any nation, the more so to the degree that such rights remain unprotected. If we can't think for ourselves, if we're unwilling to question authority, then we're just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Redos and Retakes Done Wrong

Rick Wormeli (Redos and Retakes Done Right. Effective Grading Practices, November 2011, Volume 69, number 3argues that setting deadlines is arbitrary and creates a system that punishes students for failing to achieve a certain level of competency within a certain amount of time. He further argues, that this system is counterproductive and not modeled in the working world. He claims that professionals thrive in an environment where and when redos are allowed and encouraged. His examples include an Olympic runner, surgeons, musicians, and pilots (among others). The argument is that all of these professionals achieved their level of competency only after years of redos, and further, are not judged by the aggregated compilation of all their past redos, just on their present level of achievement. He chides teachers that adhere to deadlines and a work-place readiness philosophy.

Here is why he is wrong.

Unless there is an assumption of universal improvement; a notion that all students can achieve competency if only given the chance (and time) to do so; allowing a redo simply creates another arbitrary deadline. Redos cannot be given indefinitely. At some point, someone is going to say enough is enough. In such a case, the deadline will be imposed from outside; the end of the marking period, the end of the school year, or graduation day, for example. To suggest that deadlines don't reflect the real world has never missed a credit card payment, or a mortgage payment, or a doctor’s appointment without consequences.

Let us consider the professionals Wormeli offers as evidence of the value of redos. He claims the Olympic runner is past the redo phase and is in the proficient-runner stage. But this misapplies the notion of redos. It wasn't the redo phase that got the runner to a level of proficiency. It was practice. The only reason why the runner has achieved an Olympic level of proficiency is because they survived the CUT phase. The proper analogy would be to suggest that the runner was allowed to re-run a losing race. The problem is, races have deadlines.

And many professions, with high levels of achievement and proficiency, DO aggregate their past redos in forming the final assessment. The first place team is in first because of their season's performance, the good and the bad. Not because of the result of their last game. The most improved team in baseball can still finish in last place, especially if that improvement came too close to the deadline.

Wormeli suggests that musicians get better by playing a lot. He's right. But his point is that "applying expectations for a high level of proficiency to students who are in the process of coming to know content is counterproductive, even harmful". But no one was suggesting that the intermediate expectation is the same as the final one. A first-week guitarist should know how to tune the instrument. If they can't master that, all future learning is affected. It is not counterproductive to "drop" a guitar student that can't learn how to tune. Not everyone can be a musician. The real harm comes from suggesting that they can. (Just watch American Idol).

Redos have their place, but to suggest that the LACK of redos is a problem is false.

Copyright 2012 theBIOguy

Education Articles

Critical Thinking is Neither Thinking Nor Critical
By Bruce Deitrick Price

Critical Thinking is a glorious thing. That’s what our public schools are telling kids and parents.
Critical Thinking is said to be synonymous with fairness, impartiality, science, logic, maturity, rationality, and enlightenment. If you read some of the literature on Critical Thinking, you will have the sense that you are being welcomed into a new religion. 

In truth, that is a fairly accurate description of this highly popular and much promoted pedagogy.

Now, let’s start looking at Critical Thinking as if we, in fact, are critical thinkers.

The first thing that would need to be stated is that Critical Thinking, after all is said and done, in merely endorsing the age-old values of being open-minded and willing to consider all the evidence.  
But nobody disputes those virtues. So what are all the high-level educators going on about? When supposedly smart, enlightened people carry on as if they are tipsy on something, you should be on guard.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Science Literacy in the 21st Century

Recent polls on American competitiveness foretell of a future America losing its position as a global leader in scientific research and development, and in its production of science and engineering graduates. This should be no surprise.  Nearly 20% of people polled feel that science classes were irrelevant to students not pursuing science as a career, and more than 50% avoiding science as a career because they felt it would be too difficult or uninteresting. Is there a relationship between the failure of science education to capture our collective imagination and sense of wonder, and our loss of global competitiveness? If so, does it mean that imbibing students with a dose of scientific literacy will positively impact our social science-collective and affect our global competitiveness? Are the two even related?

I am skeptical of aspirations of science literacy. I don’t believe our decision makers, media and businesses want a scientifically literate populous. The benefits from a science-illiterate populous are too great. When opposing political talking heads present conflicting sides of a scientific argument—global warming for example—a scientifically-literate populous would never tolerate the charade of “equal weight”. Consider the recent eye-health vitamins offered by Bausch & Lomb. They have decided that independent, scientific support for the purported claims of their product is no longer necessary. They have weighed short-term corporate profit against the potential long-term damaged from a loss of scientific credibility and decided it’s worth the gamble.