Teachers need to know wrong answers

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble,” said Mark Twain. “It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Teachers need to know the wrong answers to teach the right answers, says Philip Sadler, a professor of astronomy who runs Harvard’s Science Education department. It’s hard for teachers to explain concepts unless they  “understand the flaws in students’ reasoning,” writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

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It takes a lot of “mental effort to change the ideas that you come up with yourself,” says Sadler. “It’s a big investment to say, ‘I’m going to abandon this thing that I came up with that makes sense to me and believe what the book or the teacher says instead.’ ”

Sadler gave a multiple-choice science test to middle-school students, including a “distractor” — a common misconception — for each question, he writes in American Educator.

For example:

2. Eric is watching a burning candle very carefully. After all of the candle has burned, he wonders what happened to the wax. He has a number of ideas; which one do you agree with most?

a. The candle wax has turned into invisible gases.

d. All of the wax has melted and dripped to the bottom of the candle holder.

Fifty-nine percent of students chose “d.” Only 17 percent chose the right answer, “a.”

When Sadler tested the students’ teachers, they knew 85 percent of the right answers, but only 41 percent of the “right” wrong answers, writes Kamenetz. Students whose teachers were more aware of common errors “learned significantly more science, based on a retest at the end of the year.”

How ‘Friends’ led to the fall of civilization

Friends and its “tragic hero, Ross Geller,” triggered the downfall of Western Civilization, writes David Hopkins on Medium.

Ross Geller was a professor of paleontology on Friends.

Ross Geller was a nerdy paleontology professor on Friends.

“Ross was the intellectual and the romantic,” he writes. His so-called “friends” groaned with boredom whenever he talked “his interests, his studies, his ideas.” Eventually, Ross went crazy.

The show ended in 2004, the year that “reality television became a dominant force in pop culture,” writes Hopkins. Paris Hilton released an autobiography.  Joey Tribbiani, Friends‘ dimwit actor, got a spin-off TV show.

Hopkins was a teacher that year. As coach of the chess club, he saw his students picked on and bullied, he writes. “My students were smart, huge nerds, and they were in hostile, unfriendly territory.”

Astronaut Mark Watney was smart and studly in The Martian.

Martian astronaut Mark Watney was a smart, studly scientist.

I just saw The Martian on DVD. Matt Damon plays the hero astronaut, who uses his knowledge, strength and courage to survive. “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this,” he pledges.

The Martian glorifies a specifically male nerdery, one whose values sync up with those of traditional masculinity: physical endurance, survival in a hostile landscape, honor, adulation,” writes Katy Waldman in Slate. She complains because the brave and brainy female astronauts are also beautiful.

Is that so bad?

In defense of knowledge

The Knowledge Matters campaign is lobbying for schools to teach a broad curriculum including history, science, geography, art and music — especially to “those least likely to gain such knowledge outside school.”
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You’d think there’d be no need to ask schools to teach knowledge,  but it’s being pushed aside by drill in reading skills and by the belief that kids don’t need to know anything because they can just look everything up.

“Fifty years of solid research demonstrates that broad knowledge is vital to language comprehension and deep knowledge is vital to critical analysis,” argues the Knowledge Matters campaign. “Through broad and deep knowledge, students become the informed, thoughtful citizens our nation—and world—needs.”

Teen wins $250K for film on relativity

A movie explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity won a $250,000 college scholarship for Ryan Chester, a Ohio 12th grader, reports the Washington Post.

Chester also won $100,000 for a new science lab at his school in the Cleveland suburbs, North Royalton High, and $50,000 for his physics teacher, Richard Nestoff.

“This is awesome,” Chester, 18, said in an interview. “Before, I was worried about graduating with debt, and I don’t have to worry about that now.”

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge asked young people between ages 13 and 18 to create short videos that communicated a big idea in science.

Google’s Sergey Brin, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs created Breakthrough Prizes to reward achievement in physics, life sciences and mathematics.

How to make fake blood

Via Steve Spangler Science. He also does green slime for Halloween.

Science, math teachers love ‘The Martian’

The Martian could turn kids on to science and math, teachers hope. The astronaut hero, played by Matt Damon in the movie, is stranded on Mars, left for dead by his crew mates. He figures out how to survive and communicate with NASA, so he can be rescued.

“Teachers love it,” author Andy Weir, a programmer and space buff, told Ed Week. “It’s full of math word problems.”

Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson has called the plot a “celebration” of scientific literacy. The Mars mission and Watney’s survival tactics—he creates water by burning hydrazine and he turns about a dozen Thanksgiving potatoes into a crop of potato plants using Martian soil and his own waste, to name two—are scientifically vetted and largely possible.

Teachers are turning the book into a study aid, says Weir. Some teachers “download illegal copies of the book and print it up as worksheets and stuff for their kids.”

A good simple algebra problem in the book is Mark has enough food to last this long and can grow potatoes at this rate. Every potato has this many calories. How long now until he runs out of food? It works out to be like a bucket with a hole in it [problem, in which the bucket is leaking and being refilled]. It’s exactly that same format just with calories and time. That’s a good one for 9th grade algebra.

Damon hopes the movie will inspire students.

I enjoyed the book without trying to follow the science, math or engineering. It was about ingenuity, grit and courage.

Is The Martian “competence porn?”

Learning to teach from a teacher


Medical school graduates work as residents to learn how to be competent doctors. The Boston Teacher Residency is training Renee Alves, 22, in an experienced teacher’s classroom, reports Christopher Booker for PBS NewsHour. She “will spend 10 months watching, emulating, and learning as much as she can” from Kayla Morse, who teaches third grade at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury.

Jesse Solomon, who taught math in Boston public schools for 10 years, co-founded the program in 2003.

One thing I saw a lot when I was teaching was– a number of brand new teachers coming into the profession. Smart, committed, hard-working, kind of willing to do whatever it takes– but not really knowing how to teach that first year.

My concern was always that they were learning on the backs on the kids that had them that year, right? So if you’re a first-year teacher in Algebra 1 class, you get another shot next year. For those kids taking Algebra 1, that was their shot at algebra 1. So had in my head that there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

Three of four residency graduates in the past 12 years are teaching in Boston — including Morse, who completed her residency four years ago.

The program “has shown success not only retaining more teachers but hiring more science and math specialists, and placing more Black, Latino, and Asian-Americans in the classroom,” reports Booker.

The program was redesigned when a 2011 Harvard study found that first-year residents’ students earned lower math scores than students of first-year teachers  from traditional programs.

Now, residents are concentrated in fewer schools, says Solomon.

So if you have, you know, seven math residents and seven math mentors and a math clinic teacher educator, you have 15 people all in the same school talking together on a daily basis about what, like, does good math teaching look like– for– for the kids in this school.

Residents assist a mentor teacher four days a week and spend the fifth day taking graduate classes to earn a master’s in education.

First Man on the Moon

NOVA will air First Man on the Moon tonight.

All About That Base (No Acid)

Here’s All About That Base (No Acid):

Fun with ‘gross science’

NOVA’s “Gross Science” features Sea Cucumber Evisceration.  The YouTube series “will examine everything from bizarre parasite life cycles to cutting-edge toilet technology.”