Sunday, November 30, 2008

Repeat Post: What are the Goals of K-12 Education?

I wanted to bring this old post back, with a hope of getting a larger discussion going, and to just , get us thinking about what we want from K-12 education in this country. With a new President coming in, I think we will see No Child Left Behind improved upon. This will likely fall into how progress of students is measured. Barack Obama has been talking in terms of longitudinal progress of individual students, with long-term learning being the goal, rather than snapshots of different groups of kids year to year. I would like to suggest that individual student growth be measured in a way as is done with the Measure of Academic Progress, or MAP, testing. This national exam series allows for more accurate student placement in math and English, as well as the establishment of growth targets for students and a measure of student academic growth.

Below is a link to an old post from last April. I hope it helps get us thinking about what we want as we are making a national and global transition from manufacturing and industrial economy to an information and energy economy, with global competition for jobs running wild.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Science of Thanksgiving

This is for my senior students, who shared with me some Thanksgiving science anecdotes before the holiday. Scientific American has a few articles related to the science of Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Learning Enhanced Through Stories

Learning and memory can be enhanced and improved 2- to 7-fold when done through stories, rather than through listening or just straight factual reading. The Drs. Eide have a post up with some additional references. It appears that this is true because story comprehension requires both hemispheres of the brain, whereas other types of learning stay within one or the other hemisphere. Research like this is what educators need to pay attention to.

E = mc^2 Verified using QCD

The most famous equation ever written down (besides 1 + 1 = 2, perhaps) is E = mc^2. People who never had physics can quote it, although I suspect most have no clue what it truly means. Now, using a very mathematically sophisticated theory called quantum chromodynamics, or QCD, it has been shown that Einstein's equation accounts for the strange situation where a proton's mass is made up mostly of the energy of complicated particle interactions within the proton. Quarks and massless gluons make up the guts of a proton, and lattice calculations from supercomputers in Europe have now verified that the energy-mass equivalence works out to produce the observed mass of a proton, which is 1.6 x 10^-27 kg. Very cool! From a press release:

" According to the conventional model of particle physics, protons and neutrons comprise smaller particles known as quarks, which in turn are bound by gluons.

The odd thing is this: the mass of gluons is zero and the mass of quarks is only five percent. Where, therefore, is the missing 95 percent?

The answer, according to the study published in the US journal Science on Thursday, comes from the energy from the movements and interactions of quarks and gluons.

In other words, energy and mass are equivalent, as Einstein proposed in his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905.

The e=mc2 formula shows that mass can be converted into energy, and energy can be converted into mass.

By showing how much energy would be released if a certain amount of mass were to be converted into energy, the equation has been used many times, most famously as the inspirational basis for building atomic weapons.

But resolving e=mc2 at the scale of sub-atomic particles -- in equations called quantum chromodynamics -- has been fiendishly difficult.

"Until now, this has been a hypothesis," France's National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said proudly in a press release.

"It has now been corroborated for the first time."

For those keen to know more: the computations involve "envisioning space and time as part of a four-dimensional crystal lattice, with discrete points spaced along columns and rows."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Al Gore's 5-step Proposal for Energy Independence

Former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore wrote a recent op-ed in the NY Times. He outlined how the U.S. can begin to make real change regarding its energy usage, ultimately reaching a point of energy independence. Below is an excerpt where he outlines 5 points to address to reach such a goal:

"What follows is a five-part plan to repower America with a commitment to producing 100 percent of our electricity from carbon-free sources within 10 years. It is a plan that would simultaneously move us toward solutions to the climate crisis and the economic crisis -- and create millions of new jobs that cannot be outsourced.

First, the new president and the new Congress should offer large-scale investment in incentives for the construction of concentrated solar thermal plants in the Southwestern deserts, wind farms in the corridor stretching from Texas to the Dakotas and advanced plants in geothermal hot spots that could produce large amounts of electricity.

Second, we should begin the planning and construction of a unified national smart grid for the transport of renewable electricity from the rural places where it is mostly generated to the cities where it is mostly used. New high-voltage, low-loss underground lines can be designed with "smart" features that provide consumers with sophisticated information and easy-to-use tools for conserving electricity, eliminating inefficiency and reducing their energy bills. The cost of this modern grid -- $400 billion over 10 years -- pales in comparison with the annual loss to American business of $120 billion due to the cascading failures that are endemic to our current balkanized and antiquated electricity lines.

Third, we should help America's automobile industry (not only the Big Three but the innovative new startup companies as well) to convert quickly to plug-in hybrids that can run on the renewable electricity that will be available as the rest of this plan matures. In combination with the unified grid, a nationwide fleet of plug-in hybrids would also help to solve the problem of electricity storage. Think about it: with this sort of grid, cars could be charged during off-peak energy-use hours; during peak hours, when fewer cars are on the road, they could contribute their electricity back into the national grid.

Fourth, we should embark on a nationwide effort to retrofit buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting. Approximately 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States come from buildings -- and stopping that pollution saves money for homeowners and businesses. This initiative should be coupled with the proposal in Congress to help Americans who are burdened by mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world's efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

Of course, the best way -- indeed the only way -- to secure a global agreement to safeguard our future is by re-establishing the United States as the country with the moral and political authority to lead the world toward a solution. "

Will we have the political will to transform the nation and its thirst for energy? The technology for most of what is proposed already exists. It will take a massive effort from out science and technology base, but I do not doubt this will work if we put our collective minds to it. No nation in the history of the world can accomplish great things like the U.S. has, when it has the right leadership and the collective will of the American people behind it. Now is one of those times.

Read the entire op-ed here.

Interesting Discussion between Zakaria and Friedman

Two journalists whose main focus is globalization and how energy demands affect the present and project how those demands will affect the future, Fareed Zakaria and Thomas Friedman, had an interesting discussion with each other. Read the transcript here. I am presently reading Friedman's latest book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded," and it is very interesting. I hope the Obama administration will consider his ideas as far as what our economy will likely look like within a decade, and how what we do fits in with the rest of the world. I suspect how we transition from an information economy to an energy economy, and how we do or do not lead the world with such an effort, will define this entire generation. And it will also set the path the world will take and the conditions of the world in this century, which our children will inherit. Complex, massive problems, with enormous challenges to overcome, but we have no choice but to take it on head-on. I want to be optimistic and say we will figure it out (we already have a good start on the necessary science and technology to begin an overhaul of our energy infrastructure and production, but we have lacked political leadership...this is why I am excited about possibilities for changing this situation with the election of Barack Obama, who has bought into the notion that energy will dominate the new global economy, and he wants to see massive change in the U.S. within 10 years), but time will tell.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Turnout is now everything...get the word out!

In a little over 48 hours, polls begin to open on election day. In many states early voting continues through Monday. The name of the game is TURNOUT!! If the trend continues and record numbers of voters come out, that should be good news for Sen. Obama. This is because of the newly registered voters, which began to drastically increase during the later stages of the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Obama, favor the Democrats by something like 4:1. It is now a matter of getting these new voters to the polls. Many of these are also younger voters, especially an explosion of college students. Bug those students and make sure they have voted or will vote. Polling data is meaningless on any election day, and all that matters is the actual turnout. Time to act!

Mental Math Ability

The Drs. Eide have a short post about mental math ability. Young children memorize numbers and the simplest arithmetic facts in the prefrontal region of the brain. But more complex math is done as the brain matures and grows in the parietal cortex.

The ability to have 'number sense' is related to the amount of white matter in the left corona radiata, which can be affected by premature birth, birth stress, dyslexia, and some other conditions at birth; these kids tend to have difficulty with math, and this new research helps explain why.

How does solar power work?

When the elections are finally over, we can move on to the real business of solving problems. I am especially anxious to see serious R&D, certainly more than what has happened the last few years, into new energy sources. Solar power is (hopefully) going to become a star player in the next national energy plan. To begin to learn about how it works, check out the short article from Scientific American.