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.”

Dissecting a frog: When virtual isn’t enough

Dissecting a frog is a middle-school rite of passage, reports Will Huntsberry on NPR.

Students get their first look inside a frog in Rob Glotfelty's life sciences lab at Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore. Will Huntsberry/NPR

Baltimore seventh graders get their first look inside a frog.
Will Huntsberry/NPR

At Baltimore’s Patterson Park Public Charter School, Rob Glotfelty’s life sciences lab contains a stack of “dead frogs, vacuum-sealed and piled five high,” writes Huntsberry. “Once those seals are broken, these leopard frogs emit a pungent odor.” And they’re slimy.

In 1987, a 15-year-old California refused to dissect a frog in her biology class and took her case to court. California and nine other states require that students be given an alternative to dissecting a real animal.

Glotfelty uses computers to help his seventh-grade students understand anatomical theory. But they look forward to dissection, he says. It’s the real deal.

“There’s something visceral and important about the real thing,” says David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. “What does this particular organ feel like? How stiff is it? Is it compressible?”

Glotfelty’s students have cut open an earthworm, and later a chicken wing. Frogs are a step up. The teacher reminds the class what they’re studying. Not frogs. Humans.

Frog dissection diagram

Frog dissection diagram

Taylor Smith says she doesn’t like science. She thought cutting into an animal would make her throw up.

Instead, she uses tiny scissors to cut through the frog’s collarbone. Taylor and her lab partners lay the organs on a sheet of paper. “I’m not a chicken anymore,” she says. “I like this.”

“The smell was awful, but it was worth it,” says Melissa Torres-Gutierrez.

Teens must save the world from ‘DUST’

NASA has launched an alternate reality game called DUST to get teens excited about analyzing data, testing theories and communicating ideas. It’s also supposed to attract girls and minority teens to STEM problem-solving. (I wonder why the kids in the promo trailer are white.)
NASA's 'DUST' Gets Students, Young Women Excited About STEM

In the game, dust from a meteor shower puts every adult in a coma. “It is up to the players, whose target ages are 13-17, to save the world [and their parents’ lives] by the end of seven weeks of play.”

Players receive new parts of the story and science clues every few days through social media, email and game apps. They interact with other players and with fictional characters.

NASA, Brigham Young and the University of Maryland developers collaborated on the game with help from college students.  Middle schoolers tested mobile apps and the player community website.