"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Teachers Should Be Seen and Heard

I was chatting with a scientist from the California Institute of Technology a few days ago and I mentioned Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). I mentioned it not in a positive light. The scientist remarked that I must be a good teacher. I thought that was quite amusing. Seriously, when it comes to education, everyone seems to have an opinion. Some would even go as far as claiming to represent teachers and accuse those who do not agree as being so distant from the trenches.

Teachers should be seen and heard. This is not exactly the title of a popular article written by the 2009 United States National Teacher of the Year, Anthony J. Mullen.
Anthony J. Mullen
Photo downloaded from the website of the Connecticut State DepEd 
Mullen's article is "Teachers Should be Seen and Not Heard". Mullen describes in the article a discussion over lunch during an education conference. Sharing the table with Mullen are three governors, a state senator, a professor from Harvard, and another person who volunteered to act as moderator. The conversation basically portrays Mullen's impression of education reform in the United States. The following are excerpts, showing what each person on the table had to say when asked the question, "Where do we take education from here?" (Mullen, of course, provides more vivid details regarding facial expressions and manners of the characters involved)

State Senator:
"I think we need to consider the role of teachers in the classroom. We are headed toward a teacherless classroom and must be guided by this fact."
"I agree. Technology is making the traditional classroom teacher less relevant-possibly obsolete. Soon students will be learning at home from online classes on their laptops."
Harvard Professor:
"In the future, students will be learning at home using their computers. School buildings and classrooms will not be the primary learning environment."
The governors have been bragging about their respective states' accomplishments on education, all behaving as if they were members of a mutual fans' club. When Mullen's turn came, he had the following thoughts:
Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending non educators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value.
Finally, the following is what Mullen said:

"I'm thinking about the current health care debate, and I am wondering if I will be asked to sit on a national committee charged with the task of creating a core curriculum of medical procedures to be used in hospital emergency rooms. I realize that most people would think I am unqualified to sit on such a committee because I am not a doctor, I have never worked in an emergency room, and I have never treated a single patient. So what? Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach."

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Test Anxieties: A Barrier to Learning Assessment

Back in Chicago, when I was a teaching assistant in General Chemistry, the professor used the word "party" whenever referring to an exam inside the classroom. With every exam, the professor also added humorous cartoons on the first page. The purpose is to somehow relieve test anxiety which significantly impairs a student's academic performance. Taking an exam seriously and preparing for it is good. However, worrying about an exam needlessly with particular emphasis on scores as measures of success or failure is harmful. This is test anxiety. With education reforms, tests serve as measures of learning outcomes. Test scores are sought to gauge whether a given educational reform is working or not. With higher stakes, greater attention is given to scores in these tests. When tests are used not just to assess a student's learning, but also the future of an educational program, the pressure becomes higher. Grades, which are partly, if not dominantly determined by scores in these exams, can affect a student's future. Admissions to special programs in high schools, admission to an elite university, offer of employment from a good firm can depend on grades. Thus, society places a lot of premium on these tests. Being concerned with exams is healthy. These are necessary tools for assessment. However, when a student becomes more afraid of failure instead of seeing the exam as a challenge, a possibility to shine, then a debilitating test anxiety comes into play.

A classic paper of Ray Hembree shows that test anxiety can result in average scores in exams that are 12 percentile lower than those of students who do not suffer from excessive worrying. This is equivalent to half a standard deviation.
Correlates, Causes, Effects, and Treatment of Test Anxiety
Ray HembreeAdrian College
Results of 562 studies were integrated by meta-analysis to show the nature, effects, and treatment of academic test anxiety. Effect sizes were computed through the method invented by Glass (Glass, McGaw, & Smith, 1981). Correlations and effect-size groups were tested for consistency and significance with inferential statistics byHedges and Olkin (1985). Test anxiety (TA) causes poor performance. It relates inversely to students’ self-esteem and directly to their fears of negative evaluation, defensiveness, and other forms of anxiety. Conditions (causes) giving rise to differential TA levels include ability, gender, and school grade level. A variety of treatments are effective in reducing test anxiety. Contrary to prior perceptions, improved test performance and grade point average (GPA) consistently accompany TA reduction.
Students usually develop test anxiety over the years although elementary students may exhibit these very early when excessive pressure is placed on them to perform well. The Unites States Department of Education provided recommendations to help children improve in test-taking. These are their recommendations for overcoming test anxiety:

It does not help to tell the child to relax, to think about something else, or stop worrying. But there are ways to reduce test anxiety. Encourage your child to do these things:
  • Space studying over days or weeks. (Real learning occurs through studying that takes place over a period of time.) Understand the information and relate it to what is already known. Review it more than once. (By doing this, the student should feel prepared at exam time.)
  • Don't "cram" the night before--cramming increases anxiety which interferes with clear thinking. Get a good night's sleep. Rest, exercise, and eating well are as important to test-taking as they are to other schoolwork.
  • Read the directions carefully when the teacher hands out the test. If you don't understand them, ask the teacher to explain.
  • Look quickly at the entire examination to see what types of questions are included (multiple choice, matching, true/ false, essay) and, if possible, the number of points for each. This will help you pace yourself.
  • If you don't know the answer to a question, skip it and go on. Don't waste time worrying about it. Mark it so you can identify it as unanswered. If you have time at the end of the exam, return to the unanswered question(s).
Of course, prevention is better than intervention so these are the recommendations for parents/teachers to avoid the development of test anxiety in students:

You can be a great help to your children if you will observe these do's and don't's about tests and testing:
  • Don't be too anxious about a child's test scores. If you put too much emphasis on test scores, this can upset a child.
  • Do encourage children. Praise them for the things they do well. If they feel good about themselves, they will do their best. Children who are afraid of failing are more likely to become anxious when taking tests and more likely to make mistakes.
  • Don't judge a child on the basis of a single test score. Test scores are not perfect measures of what a child can do. There are many other things that might influence a test score. For example, a child can be affected by the way he or she is feeling, the setting in the classroom, and the attitude of the teacher. Remember, also, that one test is simply one test.
  • Meet with your child's teacher as often as possible to discuss his/her progress. Ask the teacher to suggest activities for you and your child to do at home to help prepare for tests and improve your child's understanding of schoolwork. Parents and teachers should work together to benefit students.
  • Make sure your child attends school regularly. Remember, tests do reflect children's overall achievement. The more effort and energy a child puts into learning, the more likely he/she will do well on tests.
  • Provide a quiet, comfortable place for studying at home.
  • Make sure that your child is well rested on school days and especially the day of a test. Children who are tired are less able to pay attention in class or to handle the demands of a test.
  • Give your child a well rounded diet. A healthy body leads to a healthy, active mind. Most schools provide free breakfast and lunch for economically disadvantaged students. If you believe your child qualifies, talk to the school principal.
  • Provide books and magazines for your youngster to read at home. By reading new materials, a child will learn new words that might appear on a test. Ask your child's school about a suggested outside reading list or get suggestions from the public library.
Annie Murphy Paul recently wrote for Time magazine, "Relax, It's Only a Test", and on her blog, "From the Brilliant Report: How to Eliminate Test Anxiety". Almost a year ago, Paul also wrote an article in the New York Times, "How to Be a Better Test-Taker" and quoted psychologist Sein Beillock:
“When students are anxious about how they’ll do on an exam,” says Sian Beilock, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, “their worries use up some of their working memory capacity, leaving less of this cognitive horsepower to apply to the task at hand.”
Paul also provides some recommendations to deal with test anxiety:
  • Unload on paper - This is having students spend ten minutes writing about their thoughts and feelings immediately before taking a test.
  • Affirm your values - This is a conscious effort to make students remember what matters most.
  • Engage in relaxation exercises - This involves both breathing as well as stretching exercises. 
The above may seem contradictory to the recommendations made by the US Department of Education almost twenty years ago but recent studies do show that the above steps can lead to a reduction in anxiety and better performance in exams. Paul is citing various peer-reviewed publications on this topic. And with elementary students, a study likewise shows that interventions are helpful in boosting the academic performance of students who are suffering from test anxiety (Miller, M., J. Morton, R. Driscoll & K. A. Davis (2006). Accelerated Desensitization with Adaptive Attitudes and Test Gains with 5th Graders.  Education Resources Information Center, 14pp)

These interventions probably do work, but preventing test anxiety in the first place is a far better objective. Exams are very useful tools for assessment. Parents, teachers and the students simply must not take the scores as measures of one's worth. In 2011, Phyllis L.M. Haynes also provided advice to avoid test anxiety in "Test anxiety: Lions, tigers, and bears…oh, my!" and these are in line with the recommendations of the US Department of Education. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Make Us Think or Make Us Sink

I recently read an article by Anna Gabriell Balan, a psychology sophomore at the University of the Philippines, Visayas. This article, "Education in the Clouds" was published as an opinion piece in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Here are some excerpts:
For sheer adventure, I was led to a place where science is taught but is often contradicted by practice. I had heard news of a series of deaths that struck a grade school. The incidents were ascribed to the supernatural because three students died without a logical medical reason, and more of them manifested the same symptoms...
...The school has nothing to boast of by way of innovation except for a newly purchased but outdated desktop computer. The roof posed grave danger, and one time a huge snake just dropped from it into the middle of the class. Anyway, the students have adapted to that, so no one let out an elitist scream. The library seemed to be a repository of ancient texts, with decaying books that still recognized Pluto as a planet. If you’re a visiting student from an urban area, you’d think you have the best education in the world. 
The students are trained, not to be scholars and leaders, but to be future modern slaves. In the morning after the flag ceremony, they go to the garden to pluck grass, fetch water from the well (three kilometers away), cook, etc. It’s like what they usually do at home or in a caregiver school. In my educational experience in an urban area, I never knew such a technique of enhancing students’ knowledge exists...
...This is basically the practice because there is not enough equipment and materials to use in teaching. Like, you want the kids to learn about microorganisms but there is no microscope, or badminton, but there are no rackets. The teachers know very well that this is wrong, but they can only teach mathematics and language because these subjects do not require a laboratory. At first I blamed the teachers, the principal, and other stakeholders, but apparently, their reasons are valid enough. It’s difficult to make conclusions from an experiment conducted in the imagination....
I went through elementary school without having access to any fancy laboratory. In fact, at the the Quiapo Parochial School, we stayed inside the classroom all of the time. There was no library and no playground. All we had was a classroom, with a blackboard and rows of desks. But perhaps, we still had imagination. Those classrooms were certainly not the ones Jean Piaget had in mind when he wrote:
The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.
- Jean Piaget, 
Education for Democracy, 
Proceedings from the Cambridge School 
Conference on Progressive Education (1988)

Piaget learned a lot from his own three children. The problem is that his sample is simply too small and probably highly influenced by the environment. Piaget's work on children was certainly revolutionary. It paved the way for psychologists to probe further into how a child develops intellectually. Since most of Piaget's work is on children, his ideas regarding education apply to early childhood learning. If I may, I would like to compare the above quotation of Piaget with something Einstein said:
"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein
Taking into extremes, the two quotes actually do not agree with each other. In Piaget's statement, the learner is simply a discoverer. Before we embrace Piaget's idea, we must keep in mind that his are loftier goals for education. We cannot teach our children to become discoverers and inventors without teaching them to listen first, to read other people's work, and to learn from others' experiences. Discovery-based learning cannot replace our traditional way of instruction. In Einstein's words, the learner inherits knowledge. Starting from scratch is daunting and time-consuming. And perhaps, it is highly ineffective. The following is an abstract from a recent paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology:

Piaget's ideas do sound lofty and ideal. The reality, however, is that education is indeed a lot more about standing on the shoulders of past generations. Discovery-based learning is good. In the sciences, we call this laboratory work. For higher education, laboratory courses are indeed expensive to provide. These require special facilities and equipment. The same holds true for any high school that desires to provide hands-on experience in biology, chemistry and physics. In elementary school, what is really required are teachers who can bring the joy of inquiry and discovery to children, in addition to teaching students how to listen carefully, follow instructions, and make observations.

Richard Felder wrote in "There's Nothing Wrong With the Raw Material." Chem. Engr. Education, 26(2), 76-77 (Spring 1992):
... I visited a fourth-grade class in a rural community outside of Raleigh. I spoke a little about what scientists and engineers do, ran some chemistry demonstrations, had the students do some experiments on detection of acids, and talked about acid rain.

It was a remarkable experience---I couldn't hold those kids back. Early in the class I divided them into groups of four and gave each group two small closed vials containing colorless liquids, one labeled "H" (which contained water) and one labeled "V" (for vinegar). Before I gave them the vials I told them we would do some experiments to figure out which one was acid and which was just water. As soon as they got the vials, they took off. They shook them, sniffed them, held them up to the light. One child saw that one of the liquids was somewhat thick and bubbly when she shook it and the other behaved more like water, and she guessed that the first one was the acid. Another student in the same group saw the H on the second vial and said "Yeah, that probably stands for H2O. Someone in another group detected a faint aroma coming from one of the vials, saw the V on it, and said "This one's vinegar---hey, is vinegar an acid?" I hadn't opened my mouth yet!

The whole class went like that. The children flailed their hands in the air after every question I asked, hoping I would call on them. They debated vigorously about the experiments they were performing and came up with possible interpretations that hadn't occurred to me. They asked questions about acids (including "If I poured some of that on his head, would it go all the way through to his feet?"), and acid rain, and what scientists do.
Of course, at that point, Felder already had the attention and interest of the children. Seeing Felder's experience above, I could relate to the following comment submitted by Jao Romero in response to the article written by Balan:
You don't need laboratories to teach effectively. All the equipment you need as a teacher, you already have - your brains. If equipment was needed, how do you imagine teachers taught in ancient times? and they were the ones who originated our earliest scientific theorems and laws... 
...Teachers complain of lack of books, lack of papers, lack of pencils, lack of tables, chairs, etc. These are the superficial problems, quite easy to resolve if the teacher is resourceful. Problems that are much more harder to resolve are student absenteeism because of poverty (they need to work), malnutrition, difficulties in getting to school because they live far away - these are systemic problems that needs greater coordination with the national government in order to be resolved....
Making children think is lofty. But they do need something at the beginning. Teachers may be challenged with limited resources, but a good teacher must not forget that he or she can still impart something of value to children. Past generations have indeed given all of us so much. But when teachers have nothing to offer, there will be no assistance. Learning will be most difficult.

Poverty and Basic Education

Statistics helps to inform. Proficiency exams are diagnostic. Their utility lies not so much in seeing who is better. An exam's greater use is helping us see where the problem lies. The National Center of Education Statistics in the United States has performed an excellent analysis of the student performance in the five most populous states (National Center for Education Statistics (2013).The Nation s Report Card: Mega States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated States in the Nation (NCES 2013 450). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.)

Image captured from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2011/2013450.pdf
These states do represent a significant fraction of the student population in the country. Trends seen in these states are likely to be present in the other states. Students in these five states can be categorized as shown in the table below:

Image captured from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2011/2013450.pdf
The student:teacher ratios are more or less the same throughout the five states. California may be a bit high with 24 pupils per teacher. New York also spends the most per student. All five states, however, share one thing in common: All have about a half of the students qualifying for either free or reduced-price school lunch.
Under the guidelines of National School Lunch Program (NLSP), children from fami­lies with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those from families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals. (For the period July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011, for a family of four, 130 percent of the poverty level was $28,665, and 185 percent was $40,793 in most states.) (http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/)
Grouping the students according to the above eligibility is equivalent to grouping the students according to family income. With this segregation, a trend becomes crystal clear. The following are the results of proficiency exams (The following images were captured from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main2011/2013450.pdf )

Reading (Grade 4):


 Reading (Grade 8)

Math (Grade 4)

Math (Grade 8)

Science (Grade 4)

Science (Grade 8)

I hope I did not mix up the figures. It is very easy to mix these up because these figures look very much alike.  In Reading, Math and Science, both grades 4 and 8, students who are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch perform poorly compared to students who do not qualify for the lunch program. Only someone who chooses to ignore reality will have difficulty seeing the correlation between poverty and poor student performance.

One should be careful, however, in equating poverty with poor learning. Children from poor families can learn. This is really a question of equity versus equality. Public schools in the United States are mostly funded at the local level. Better resources are found in schools inside wealthy communities. Schools inside poor neighborhoods are much more challenging requiring a bit more courage or stronger character and dedication from teachers. Schools in poor communities therefore face poverty inside the classroom. Better resources should be placed where the needs are greater (equity) so that all children have the opportunity to learn (equality).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

State of the Heart

There is "state of the art". There is "state of the heart". Technology can deliver but only in the mind does imagination flourish. Without engagement, both text and images remain simply on the medium. The internet is no different from books in print. Everything remains there unless a seeking spirit captures it and takes ownership. Peter Guber writes in "The Inside Story" (posted in Psychology Today):
PowerPoint presentations may be powered by state-of-the-art technology. But reams of data rarely engage people to move them to action. Stories, on the other hand, are state-of-the-heart technology—they connect us to others. They provide emotional transportation, moving people to take action on your cause because they can very quickly come to psychologically identify with the characters in a narrative or share an experience—courtesy of the images evoked in the telling...

...Navigating a Narrative World, without stories not only would we not likely have survived as a species, we couldn't understand ourselves. They provoke our memory and give us the framework for much of our understanding. They also reflect the way the brain works. While we think of stories as fluff, accessories to information, something extraneous to real work, they turn out to be the cornerstone of consciousness....
Pamela Brown Rutledge also provides ample reasons for storytelling in "The Psychological Power of Storytelling" (also posted in Psychology Today):
In spite of all the excitement, however, the human brain has been on a slower evolutionary trajectory than the technology. Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience. No matter what the technology, the meaning starts in the brain. The transmedia producer may get the credit line, but the success of the transmedia effort rests on the resonance, authenticity, and richness created by the storyteller. 
Stories are authentic human experiences. Stories leap frog the technology and bring us to the core of experience, as any good storyteller (transmedia or otherwise) knows. There are several psychological reasons why stories are so powerful.
  • Stories have always been a primal form of communication. 
  • Stories are about collaboration and connection. 
  • Stories are how we think. 
  • Stories provide order. 
  • Stories are how we are wired. 
  • Stories are the pathway to engaging our right brain and triggering our imagination. 
It is good that both Philippine president and his DepEd secretary seem to recognize the importance of storytelling in classrooms as displayed in the photograph below.

The President and the Secretary of Education take questions from the class. (Photo by the Malacañang Photo Bureau)
Image downloaded from 
There is apparently a nationwide synchronized reading program every first Monday of November from nine till ten o'clock in the morning.

Stories are indeed powerful. My son who is fascinated with animals can watch a documentary on cheetahs and lions over and over because there is a story narrated in the film. The documentary film is by National Geographic:

Seeing my son watch this show only demonstrates all of the reasons cited above by Rutledge that explain why storytelling is such a powerful tool.

Although science is founded on data and proper analysis, scientists often use anecdotes or stories to engage the audience.

The stories are not necessarily true or scientific. I sometimes even start with a joke. Acids and bases present one of the most formidable chapters in General Chemistry. It does take both algebra and stoichiometry into play. And I start with the story of a hydrogen atom who went into a bar. The bartender noticed how depressed the hydrogen atom was and asked why. The hydrogen atom replied that it just lost an electron. In an attempt to comfort the hydrogen atom, the bartender asked the hydrogen atom, "Are you sure you lost an electron?" To this, the hydrogen atom replied, "Yes, I am positive." I also add that students should really sympathize with a hydrogen atom that has lost an electron. It is the only electron that a hydrogen atom has. Without that electron, can it still be considered an atom? Losing an electron makes it one measly proton. Although it sounds "corny", I do get some of the students to appreciate it and begin to see why such an entity will be highly reactive and be central in so many areas of chemistry.

Of course, my joke does not even come close to the classic story of Kekulé: (From Wikipedia)
The new understanding of benzene, and hence of all aromatic compounds, proved to be so important for both pure and applied chemistry after 1865 that in 1890 the German Chemical Society organized an elaborate appreciation in Kekulé's honor, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his first benzene paper. Here Kekulé spoke of the creation of the theory. He said that he had discovered the ring shape of the benzene molecule after having a reverie or day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail (this is a common symbol in many ancient cultures known as the Ouroboros). This vision, he said, came to him after years of studying the nature of carbon-carbon bonds. It is curious that a similar humorous depiction of benzene had appeared in 1886 in the Berichte der Durstigen Chemischen Gesellschaft (Journal of the Thirsty Chemical Society), a parody of the Berichte der Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft, only the parody had monkeys seizing each other in a circle, rather than snakes as in Kekulé's anecdote.[7] Some historians have suggested that the parody was a lampoon of the snake anecdote, possibly already well-known through oral transmission even if it had not yet appeared in print.[8] Others have speculated that Kekulé's story in 1890 was a re-parody of the monkey spoof, and was a mere invention rather than a recollection of an event in his life. Kekulé's 1890 speech[9] in which these anecdotes appeared has been translated into English.[10] If one takes the anecdote as the memory of a real event, circumstances mentioned in the story suggest that it must have happened early in 1862.[11] The other anecdote he told in 1890, of a vision of dancing atoms and molecules that led to his theory of structure, happened (he said) while he was riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus in London. If true, this probably occurred in the late summer of 1855.[12]
Image downloaded from Kekulé's Dream

Kekulé's most famous work was on the structure of benzene. In 1865 Kekulé published a paper in French (for he was then still in Francophone Belgium) suggesting that the structure contained a six-membered ring of carbon atoms with alternating single and double bonds.[4] The next year he published a much longer paper in German on the same subject.[5] The empirical formula for benzene had been long known, but its highly unsaturated structure was a challenge to determine. Archibald Scott Couper in 1858 and Joseph Loschmidt in 1861 suggested possible structures that contained multiple double bonds or multiple rings, but the study of aromatic compounds was in its earliest years, and too little evidence was then available to help chemists decide on any particular structure.

More evidence was available by 1865, especially regarding the relationships of aromatic isomers. Kekulé argued for his proposed structure by considering the number of isomers observed for derivatives of benzene. For every monoderivative of benzene (C6H5X, where X = Cl, OH, CH3, NH2, etc.) only one isomer was ever found, implying that all six carbons are equivalent, so that substitution on any carbon gives only a single possible product. For diderivatives such as the toluidines, C6H4(NH2)(CH3), three isomers were observed, for which Kekulé proposed structures with the two substituted carbon atoms separated by one, two and three carbon-carbon bonds, later named ortho, meta and para isomers respectively.
Although the structure of benzene is indeed a hexagonal ring of carbon atoms, the authenticity of Kekulé's dream had been questioned. In a New York Times article, "The Benzene Ring: Dream Analysis", there are simply too many different versions of this dream:
...various versions of the dream have found their way into scholarly analyses. In one version, cited by Carl Jung in ''The Psychology of Transference,'' Kekule discovered the benzene ring after dreaming of ''the Royal Marriage,'' the image of a dancing king and queen used by medieval alchemists as a symbol of conjunction. In another version, Kekule dreamed of a self-devouring snake alchemists of the 3d century A.D. devised to symbolize the underlying unity of nature. In others, the dream involved six snakes, or six monkeys linking hands and tails. 
Dr. Wotiz has discovered that the monkey version was apparently first published in 1886, in a tongue-in-cheek ''professional'' journal. This parody, written in straight-faced scientific style, actually fooled some nonscientists, who later quoted passages from it in serious papers of their own, Dr. Wotiz said. Kekule himself may have been involved in the joke. Among other spoofs, the ''journal'' reports a fictitious scientific meeting at which a ''Mr. Aujust Kuleke'' presided and described a dream in which monkeys use their hands and feet ''to grasp and hang on to other objects.'' 
The real Kekule, Dr. Wotiz says, clearly never had a monkey dream. 
The first historical mention of the snake dream appears to have been by Kekule himself, in an extemporaneous speech at a benzene symposium in 1890. In this speech, Dr. Wotiz said, Kekule recounted a dream he had had in the winter of 1861-62 while dozing in front of a fire in Ghent, Belgium, where he was a professor of chemistry. The dream was that of the self-devouring snake, which, Kekule said, led him to the benzene ring.
Whether Kekulé did dream about a snake biting its tail or not, is not really that important. It makes a nice story and we always like to listen to one.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Digital is Cheaper?

I often wonder what educators thought when televisions became readily available. It probably implied a revolution in education. Informational programs could be broadcast and children could view lessons in homes. Video tape recorders and players also came. With these new tools, students no longer needed to wait for an educational program. They could view programs any time as long as the tape was available. Audio tapes likewise had significant impact. With recording capability, one could store their favorite songs once it was played on the radio and had the convenience of playing it back, whenever, wherever. A "seek" button was a great innovation for it allowed to either fast forward or rewind back to a specific segment one wanted to hear. Digital video and compact discs were even better since there was much less "wear and tear" on the medium with repeated playbacks, rewinds and fast forwards. Indeed, these were all new technology that found some impact on our lives.

With online courses, TED lectures, encyclopedia, newspapers available on the internet, has technology really made education cheaper and accessible? Caroline Vanderlip wrote an essay in Inside HigherEd, "Digital Content is not equal to Lower Textbook Prices".  Her main argument was:

Consider the dual paths we are taking. First, there’s the all-encompassing push to “go digital,” as if somehow the output format of a book, whether it is electronic or print, is the sole determinant of cost. 
That is the wrong way of thinking. Input – the price of content – is much more important to the total cost of course materials than output – the format in which those materials are ultimately consumed by the student.
The above is in fact no different from music compact discs or downloads. Of course, the new medium allows for greater convenience and better quality, but the cost is, of course, more or less the same, or even higher. After all, it is still the content that we are mostly paying for. No one should really expect something different with textbooks. The real labor and worth come from producing the content. This does not change by simply altering the medium. Nowadays, I can even build my own home theater, complete with surround sound and a big screen. I need not go into a movie house. Still, on top of the price I pay for the huge television, a disc player, and a surround speaker system, I still have to pay for the content, for the movies I want to watch. Whether I save money in the process is obviously untrue after I add all the expenses in building my own home theater. Still, there may be advantages.

Andrew Campbell, a grade school teacher wrote the following ways or measures by which digital technology can enhance the classroom:

The Future of Digital Textbooks
in Looking Up by Andrew Campbell
  1. Reliable Interconnected Devices: Textbooks are reliable and sturdy so digital textbooks must be the same. 
  2. Customizable Content: The true convenience and capability of a digital medium lies in its ease of assembly and revision. 
  3. Personalized Interface: Digital content is delivered to a personal device so this device must have software or applications that custom suits the user.
  4. Interactive: Unlike traditional textbooks, software can be added to digital material that allows for problem solving and exercises.
  5. Facilitate Personal Connections: The internet is a communication tool so digital textbooks must provide channels of communication among students and between students and the instructor.
  6. Integrated Assessment: Intelligent software that measures the current standing of a student can adjust reading content and level. 

Aside from the additional software or applications, most of what is needed to exploit fully digital textbooks lies on the teacher. Michelle R. Davis captures this fact in the first three paragraphs of her article, "'Big Three' Publishers Rethink K-12 Strategies": 
Arizona's Vail school district is the kind of customer that gives big textbook publishers pause. 
The 12,000-student school district swapped out printed textbooks for digital material in 2006, but students aren't using e-textbooks. Instead, the district collects instructional materials the way a teenager creates a song playlist, taking digital content from various places, often for free. Meanwhile, for a fee, the Vail district shares its electronic library of resources with 68 partner districts across the state. 
"We are not beholden at all to the big textbook publishers," says Superintendent Calvin Baker. "We used to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in the textbook cycle, but we don't do that anymore."
Similar to the way we collect and choose songs in creating a personal music compact disc, a teacher is needed to create a digital textbook. Otherwise, the new technology is really no different.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), Seriously?

Maria Bustillos of The Awl recently wrote quite a lengthy essay, "Venture Capital's Massive, Terrible Idea For The Future Of College". The article was placed under "Bad Education". In the essay, Bustillos covered the reflective and polite debate between Aaron Bady and Clay Shirky. Clay Shirky suggests that the internet's effect on education will be similar to what happened in the music industry. In his blog, Shirky wrote:
"The recording industry concluded this new audio format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD at the record store? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won, and it collapsed even more suddenly than it had arisen. 
If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That’s not what happened. Instead, Pandora happened. Last.fm happened. Spotify happened. ITunes happened. Amazon began selling songs in the hated MP3 format. 
How did the recording industry win the battle but lose the war? How did they achieve such a decisive victory over Napster, then fail to regain control of even legal distribution channels? They crushed Napster’s organization. They poisoned Napster’s brand. They outlawed Napster’s tools. The one thing they couldn’t kill was the story Napster told."
 Bady's point of view is nicely summarized in a response given to Bustillos:
"Academic culture is a huge and diverse ecosystem. People who come along with grand plans about how everything is going to be transformed so often don't have even a very shallow understanding of how that ecosystem works: You have all these Silicon Valley venture capitalists who are going to blow everything up and transform it; what you're really talking about doing is killing all the green plants in the ecosystem and then expecting the deer to have something to eat; no; the deer are going to die. There's this basic economic argument for the cheapness of online education that is always about requiring less labor; paying people less, replacing people with technology. And at the end of the day, what you're going to have is a very stagnant intellectual culture. 
"Who writes the textbooks? Who writes the lectures? You tape the [MOOC] lecture once, but then what happens next year? You just keep recycling the same materials over and over again? It's like a really bad ecological management system; you think you can remove something that is really crucial to the ecosystem, and nothing else will change?"
The effects of online learning for fulfilling degree requirements can be quite damaging especially when most of these usually shy away from the demanding disciplines of chemistry, physics and biology. Diploma mills do not offer bachelor degrees in the hard sciences. The physical sciences add significantly to the academic atmosphere inside a real university or college. Students enrolled in these courses usually spend more time inside laboratories. These students do plenty of reading and homework as well. These disciplines cannot be easily winged by a diploma mill. The quality of a university is intimately linked to the quality of its education in the basic sciences since these are the fields that require a lot of resources and talent from a school. Research in these fields are likewise straightforward to gauge. Unlike other fields, workers in biology, chemistry and physics maintain a strong network. Most cited researchers are in these fields because people do read and review each other's work. Unfortunately, this is not the case in other fields.

The above infographic downloaded from
Education is one field that can be affected negatively by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Online universities are now offering both master's and doctorate degrees in education. Graduate education in the physical and biological sciences is a full-time endeavor. Those with children usually find it quite challenging, if not impossible, to get a doctorate of philosophy degree in chemistry. Research and learning require a lot of time and attention. Earning advanced degrees in education should require no less. We need to be reminded of Bruce D. Baker's article, "Ed Schools - The Sequel: Rise of the Intellectually Dead", where he presented the following figure:

Something is going on in higher education and it may have serious effects on basic education.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Do We Assure Quality?

National achievement exams for basic education are quite common in countries that desire to assess the quality of learning in primary and secondary schools. The top country in education, Finland, however, does not subscribe to testings, school rankings, and inspections. This actually makes sense since if these exams reveal inadequacies, it is too late in the process. Quality in Finland's education system comes from the starting point of basic education: Teachers. The requirements to become a teacher in Finland are very stringent, accepting only the cream of the crop. Quality assurance in basic education is best achieved by keeping an eye on higher education. Future teachers come from institutions of higher learning, the colleges and universities. Heads of schools do their postgraduate work in these institutions as well. An ailing basic education is a symptom of problems in higher education.

The Philippines is one country that that has the following specific statement in its constitution, "Academic Freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning." Of course, this statement is not really self-explanatory. The provision does not define what "Academic Freedom" really means. Encyclopedia Brittanica defines "Academic Freedom" in the following manner:
academic freedom, the freedom of teachers and students to teach, study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, or public pressure. Its basic elements include the freedom of teachers to inquire into any subject that evokes their intellectual concern; to present their findings to their students, colleagues, and others; to publish their data and conclusions without control or censorship; and to teach in the manner they consider professionally appropriate. For students, the basic elements include the freedom to study subjects that concern them and to form conclusions for themselves and express their opinions. 
According to its proponents, the justification for academic freedom thus defined lies not in the comfort or convenience of teachers and students but in the benefits to society; i.e., the long-term interests of a society are best served when the educational process leads to the advancement of knowledge, and knowledge is best advanced when inquiry is free from restraints by the state, by the church or other institutions, or by special-interest groups. 
The foundation for academic freedom was laid by the medieval European universities, even though their faculties met periodically to condemn on religious grounds colleagues’ writings. Protected by papal bulls and royal charters, the universities became legally self-governing corporations with the freedom to organize their own faculties, control admissions, and establish standards for graduation.
Freedom, as always, comes with responsibility. It should be clear that this freedom enables educators in institutions of higher learning to better serve their students and society. This freedom is enabling, it does not mean simply "being free". Self-governance does not mean anarchy. It assumes ownership and self-discipline. Institutions of higher learning still need to answer to society. Institutions of higher learning establish their standards. Standards are necessary so that those who participate in these institutions know exactly what they are getting themselves into. Those who enter these institutions also need to know what they expect to attain through higher education. Standards are likewise not made in a vacuum. Universities are indeed free to draw their own goals, but these goals are still measured in terms of benefits to society. A college of engineering cannot draw a curriculum from scratch that does not meet what a society expects from an engineer.

When I was in graduate school at Illinois, I pursued a topic of my own choosing. That was freedom. However, it was also upon making that choice that the "free stuff" ended. There were standards. To receive a doctorate degree of philosophy in chemistry, I must make an original contribution that advances the field. Who was deciding if I actually did that? It was not me. Yes, when doing the experiments and analysis, I could tell that I was learning something new, but that judgment of mine was not sufficient. Research must be submitted to peer review. I did present my work at conferences. In fact, I remember one presentation I made in Ontario. The morning after my presentation I overhead an esteemed German scientist in the field of my work scolding another renowned scientist from Berkeley for failing to attend the talk I gave. That favorable impression was likewise not enough for me to think that I now deserve the doctorate degree. Chapters of my dissertation were submitted as separate papers to peer-reviewed journals. The papers are reviewed anonymously by experts in the area of my research. In some of the papers, I received a favorable response of "published as is", but in the others, I received substantial comments and criticisms which required me to revise the papers and resubmit for a second review. These were experts and it was likely that some were not even from the United States. After being able to publish my research, I then proceeded to defend my dissertation. In Illinois, the graduate school required one external member in the examination committee. Thus, for my defense, I invited a professor from Madison, Wisconsin to be part of the "grilling" team. Grilled for hours, I survived and received my PhD.

Currently, I am on the other side of the fence. As a professor in a university, I am finally granted "Academic Freedom". And it is responsibility. As a member of a department, we do design our own curriculum, but the design is not without standards. The two majors our department currently offers match the current standards set by the American Chemical Society (ACS). The two majors we offer are accredited by the association of chemists in the United States. Being accredited means the program we offer comply with the course requirements, both in number and depth. Accreditation policies can be quite specific. These not only describe courses students must take but also the faculty in the department. For example, there is a required minimum number of PhDs in the faculty for a BS Chemistry program to be accredited by the ACS. These, however, are actually much smaller than the goals and standards the department sets for itself. Regularly, the department goes through a self-study. In fact, we had one a year ago. This self-study occurs for months in which the department reviews its current goals and examines what it has accomplished for the past years since the last self-study. Our department measures its output in terms of publications in peer-reviewed journals and their citations, number of doctorate degrees granted, number of bachelor degrees given, external funding, placement of alumni, and quality of entering students. Self-study is really self-examination but at the end, the department selects and invites several experts in chemistry - these are renowned professors of chemistry from other universities, to review the department. The department receives a frank evaluation from these external reviewers. We are then informed where we currently stand and what we must do to improve. Serving students who aspire to go to medical school likewise imposes restraints on our undergraduate curriculum. Our department does pay attention to what medical schools expect from their students and the curriculum must align with these expectations. The graduate program is no different from what I experienced in Illinois. Our research must continuously be subjected to peer evaluation. Indeed, both undergraduate and graduate programs are subjected to standards, both internal and external. This is how quality assurance works. Academic freedom simply means that it is our responsibility that our program is of quality.

Standards or accreditation can be imposed by agencies external to the university. The fact that the government is the employer of public school teachers means that it is only expected that the government plays a significant role in defining teacher education programs especially when no independent agency is stepping up to the plate. Without such standards, without self-studies, without peer review, there is simply no quality assurance. When education programs are not subjected to standards, quality in basic education is an impossibility.

To address the problems basic education in the United States faces, new standards for teacher education have been recently drafted by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP):

The commissioners who drafted the standards are professors of education, deans, school board members, state education officers, leaders of teachers' associations, and university administrators. The draft is now open for public comments until March 29. The standards are divided into five parts:

  1. Content and Pedagogical Knowledge : Within this standard, both training in the subject matter as well as in teaching strategies are important. Paying attention to equity is also emphasized. A specific example for evidence for meeting the "content" part of this standard is "There should be a recommended specific and common cut-score across states, and a pass-rate of 80% within two administrations.
  2. Clinical Practice and Partnerhip : The educator school must provide "real life" experiences to future teachers. In simple terms, the educator school must partner with the schools and communities in which these future teachers will serve.
  3. Candidate Quality, Recruitment and Selectivity : The draft is suggesting to raise the bar by requiring entering teaching students to have had more rigorous high school courses in advanced math and languages.
  4. Program Impact : The outcome of basic education is applied as a measure for the accreditation of a teaching school. The teaching school therefore takes ownership and responsibility of what happens in primary and secondary schools. 
  5. Provider Quality, Continuous Improvement, and Capacity : This standard boils down to requiring a teaching school to do regular self-studies and assessment. 
Once these standards have been accepted, teaching schools can now be graded in the following manner:

The Commission proposes four levels of accreditation decisions: 
denial of accreditation—for providers that fall below threshold in two or more standards 
probationary accreditation—awarded to providers that meet or surpass the threshold in four standards, but fall below in one of the standards 
full accreditation—awarded to providers that meet all five standards at the CAEP-established thresholds 
exemplary or “gold” accreditation—awarded to a small number of providers that meet the threshold level set for all five standards and surpass the threshold in a combination of standards
The accreditation carries weight since both prospective students and employers take this seriously. This is how standards can be imposed on institutions of higher learning. These are necessary especially for colleges and universities that produce the public school teachers of tomorrow. Not doing so simply pushes the problems downstream where it becomes much more intractable.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Games for Learning

Technology in the classroom can truly make a difference if it enables something unique inside the classroom. One unique learning strategy with technology is the technology itself. A lot of children play computer or internet games. Games seem to be engaging, if not addictive. How can games help in learning is a key question in designing effective technology inside a classroom. Designing games, of course, takes technology into a real educational level. Writing one obviously requires introduction to a structure and a language that allows translation of ideas into a computer, tablet or phone screen. Constructing a computer game introduces a child into how systems work while probing concepts in the sciences and the arts. A game, after all, should make sense, and, at the same time, should be appealing to the senses. Imagining a game paves the way to anticipating and participating in social online interactions. Games can indeed serve as a gateway for most children to digital literacy. Designing a game truly takes technology into a classroom far beyond merely gluing a kid's eyes and fingers to a screen. There is an online community that tries to do this. It is called Gamestar Mechanic:

My son and I tried out one of the games (We are not the ready to write our own) to see what kind of games children have designed. The game we looked at is called "Dinosaur Sustanability". Except for the absence of walls, the game looks like the "pac-man". In this case, the player moves a dinosaur through a grid of vegetation. Sustainability (which is absent in "pac-man") requires the dinosaur to space out the feeding so that one survives throughout the period without starvation. There are additional levels. In the next level, the game is repeated but this time, in the presence of another dinosaur. There is now competition, but the allotted time and a limited amount of food remain as constraints. The next two levels introduce some sort of a chomper so the dinosaur not only has to space wisely its consumption and be aware of competition, but also worry about getting killed. My son and I made it to the highest level:

When I was in grade school, some of these concepts are introduced in stories. We learned, for example, from the story of an ant and a grasshopper the values of working hard and saving for a rainy day, instead of just wasting every sunny day away. Designing games certainly take learning to quite a different level. I do not know exactly how much time is needed for a child to imagine, design and write a game like "Dinosaur Sustanability". My guess is that it is a substantial amount, but it is probably better time spent on just playing the games themselves or watching television.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Technology in the Classroom - The Real Deal

The question of how technology inside the classroom really helps in learning is an important question. This question can be addressed at various levels. One is in terms of enabling. Technology can make new schemes possible. Take, for example, clickers. It is a new way of collecting responses from students. It can be made anonymous so that even the shiest student in the class can participate. A teacher can easily get feedback via quick quiz questions and feel the pulse of the entire class. Talks from other speakers as well as demonstrations can be presented inside a classroom. Conference calls can be made. There are other examples. Enabling, however, is only one factor that needs to be considered in evaluating the use of technology inside a classroom. A second important factor is efficiency, measured in terms of the results placed against the resources used. With this factor, money is crucial. The costs need to be compared. The following is a nice table and graphic that nicely illustrate a comparison between an old fashioned textbook and an IPad (These are downloaded from Lee Wilson's blog):

A comparison between costs dramatically shows that the old fashioned textbook is so much more affordable. Even with a cheaper device as seen from the above figure, the costs for new technology are still higher than a textbook. One may claim that errors in a textbook are a lot easier to correct or update. There are good textbooks and there are low quality textbooks. Proofreading and reviewing learning materials do not really depend on the medium. Updating a textbook does go through expensive printing, but new editions come with revised content and the costs of developing and updating the content are likewise independent of the medium of delivery. One common mistake that leads to the notion that technology is cheaper involves not placing a price on content. Everything is really just a medium. The content is not free and probably the most important factor unless a school system is satisfied with poor or erroneous content.

The last factor, the most important of all, is asking whether technology enables better learning. To this question, there have been several posts in this blog that already tackled this issue. You could find this by clicking on the "Technology in Classroom" label on the right sidebar of this blog or by visiting the following link, Techonology in the Classroom posts.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Peer Influence: A Cheaper Education Reform

At the Ateneo, I actually took a class where the students were assigned seats. It was a class in Economics and the students were seated alphabetically. Having a last name that started with "D", I was seated near the front row. Seating arrangements were also employed in the small parochial school that I attended in Quiapo, Manila. In grade school, however, we were not seated alphabetically. Instead, our place inside the classroom was determined by our test scores. There was the "star" column and the top quartile was assigned to this column of school desks. The setup was quite similar to the photo shown below:

An elementary school classroom in Paete, Laguna
Facing the blackboard, the "star" column was the rightmost. In this arrangement, we were made quite aware of where we stood in the class. The seating assignment was adjusted or updated every quarter but throughout the years, there was really no movement. For years, the makeup of the "star" column was unchanged. In high school, some classes were held with boys on one side of the classroom and girls on the other side, each group was also arranged alphabetically. This allowed for quick attendance checks but I did not understand why the two genders were usually separated. Unlike in grade school, there were various sections for each year, thus, the segregation according to test scores was done at this level. In the last two years of high school, I was lucky enough to be placed in the "star" sections. As in elementary, the composition of these "star" sections did not really vary much throughout the years. "Einstein" was the name of the star section in fourth year and "Bohr" was used for the third year class. During my time, most of my classmates in III-Bohr were also my classmates in IV-Einstein. If learning was contagious, I was really in a good position. And indeed, I was. I knew how good my classmates were. At one time, we were asked to read John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath". One of my high school classmates wrote in his analysis of this book a section about one of the characters in the book, Jim Casy. My classmate noted that the initials of this character were "J.C.", that this character died while saving another, and in that last moment of breath said, "You don' know what you're a-doin". I thought to myself, "This classmate of mine was pretty deep". Hanging around him would probably help me become smart as well.

The open access journal PLOS ONE recently published a research article, "Spread of Academic Success in a High School Social Network":

To read this paper, visit PLOS ONE
This study followed more than a hundred high school students in Maine-Endwell High School, Endwell, NY, USA and found that a student's grade point average (GPA) correlates with his or her friends' GPA's. The social network analysis likewise suggested that the future performances of the students were strongly influenced by peers: A student whose friends have higher GPA's tend to improve his or her own GPA over time. So academic success appears to be truly a contagion. A more detailed regression analysis revealed what type of relationships predominantly influences academic performance. "Best friends" are not as strongly correlated, presumably because these relationships are deeper. In these stronger relationships, acceptance was already a given and these friendships were based on common interests and times spent together. Best friends had already shared a lot of experiences together. Mere acquaintances were also weakly correlated with performance in class. The study showed that "intermediate relationships" were the ones correlating strongly with a student's GPA. This finding is summarized in the following table:

Peer influence may be explained by its effect on a student's motivation and engagement. Various education reforms have been proposed to eliminate achievement gap between students. Most of these carry significant costs. Tapping into peer influence paves a cheap route to reducing achievement gap. Seating arrangements and assignments of students to sections do not cost millions of dollars or pesos. Of course, there is the possibility that a weak student may pull down the performance (a negative effect) of a good student. This is where effective teaching or mentoring comes into play, ensuring that the influence is always positive, that is, a good student always influences a weaker one to improve.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Another Science Project in First Grade

This Saturday was cold so it was not really a good time to visit the National Zoo. Most animals would be indoors so my son would probably see only a few on exhibit. So my son decided to do a project for his class. My son did a project last time on cheetahs. For his second science project, of course, he likewise chose to do something about wild animals. This new project, inspired by Animal Atlas (please see videos at the end of this post), required him to place animals on the continent where they were normally found in the wild. The first thing he did then was to make a list of animals for each continent:

The following was a tentative list. What he wanted to do was to find pictures of these animals and place them on a world map.

So he needed a world map and fortunately, there was one in the house that was quite durable as it was laminated:

After finishing the list, he then surfed the internet to look for pictures, and, at the same time, to check if he did assign the animals to their correct continent.

Initially, he was planning to copy pictures from the web, print these out, cut out the pictures, and then tape these on the world map.

This was indeed quite a task. First, making the list provided him with reading and spelling exercises. Cutting the pictures out put his fine motor skills into test.

This was indeed a daunting task since he did pick several scores of animals. My son also had to worry regarding how these pictures could be attached to a laminated map. Ordinary glue probably would not work. Fortunately, his mom came to the rescue and reminded him that he had an old sticker book of animals. These stickers were colored and can be easily placed on the map.

My son was indeed happy. He was hoping that the sticker book did have the animals he needed.

Here was Europe:




South America:

North America:

His map was finished.

Antarctica had the penguins.

To complement the map, my son made a set of notes which listed the animals shown on the map for each continent:

The list made sure that he did know how to write the name of each animal that he placed on the map. He enjoyed working on this project. After the project, he was then free to play.

Of course, on a warmer day, my son and I would go out to see the real thing.

The following are the Animal Atlas videos that inspired my son's project:

Animal Passport: Africa

Animal Passport: Australia

Animal Passport: Asia