"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 27, 2014

G.P.A.'s and Test Scores Are Worthless....


It is common nowadays to stumble upon something that is patently false. Still, these wrong ideas capture headlines. It only shows how critical the public really is. Take, for example, the statement made by Google's senior vice president of people operations, Laszlo Bock: "G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything." This is one of the many grossly misleading statements out there and this particular one has been recently resurrected by Thomas Friedman in his New York Times column.

Bock's conclusion can not be possibly justified by the data (Google's employees' G.P.A.'s, test scores, and performance) for one simple reason: It comes from only one company, Google. I could likewise claim that scores in the SAT or G.P.A. do not correlate with a student's performance at Georgetown University. Both, unfortunately, are misleading. Georgetown university is highly selective in its admissions that entering students often have above-average SAT scores and excellent grades in high school. Chances are high that if a student comes with not so good grades or G.P.A., the admission committee has found other ways of seeing a potential in an applicant. I would imagine that the same goes with Google. The data the Google has is already limited and if there are employees who have been hired in the past in spite of low test scores or grades, these individuals have shown in other ways that they are qualified. These are the exceptions, not the general rule. Thus, it is totally incorrect to extrapolate a general statement from a set that is too specific. Employers and colleges generally take only from a narrow swath of SAT scores. That is the main problem behind not finding a correlation.

Daniel Willingham enumerated reasons why Google's Bock is wrong:
Everything Bock says is probably not true, and if it were true, it would not work well in organizations other than Google.
  • Decades of research shows that job performance in many careers is pretty well predicted by standard IQ tests.
  • "Learning to learn" is nebulous because it's domain-specific, and it's domain-specific because the ability to learn new things depends on what you already know.
  • "Emergent leadership" and "humility and ownership" are qualities many organizations prize and would dearly love to reliably predict at hiring time. Maybe Bock has something to teach them about this. I kinda doubt it, but you never know.
  • The idea that smart people can pretty well figure anything out without expertise? Even though IQ predicts job performance (not "learning to learn") experience still matters to performance.
Unfortunately, Willingham and this blog would not be able to stop such misinformation. It will just be a matter of time before someone sees an internet meme on social networks with a message similar to the one below:






Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Learning Science in Everyday Life"

There seems to be a disconnect between science and what is popular. Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times"Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates." It is ironic when a great number of issues and challenges the world currently faces require a science perspective, scientists are deemed irrelevant. The perceived chasm between what is discussed inside the classroom and what happens in the "real world" perhaps originates from the fact that it is usually not straightforward to abstract. This definitely brings back memories on how a lot of people during my childhood thought that all I knew was from "books", implying that I virtually had no practical value.

Along this line, it is not surprising to see a great need to engage students in science. The popular notion seems to be working against science education. Popular media as well as social networking have had greater impact on how the public should think. In the Philippines, a major television news outlet broadcasts a case of "flesh-eating" curse in the province of Pangasinan:

Philippines' ABS-CBN reports that there is a mysterious flesh-eating illness that is slowly spreading across the province of Pangasinan in the Philippines
The above spread very quickly especially on Facebook and a past prophecy made by Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj claiming that such an illness will originate and spread from Pangasinan became an "instant hit". What is popular in the real world is usually not vetted properly. A science education is supposed to help the public develop not just critical thinking skills, but also the ability to recognize which sources of information are reliable. "Says who?" apparently was the most common comment made by SciJourner managing editor Alan Newman to articles submitted by students, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (Polman, J. L. and Hope, J. M.G. (2014), Science news stories as boundary objects affecting engagement with science. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 51: 315–341. doi: 10.1002/tea.21144).

SciJourner is a science literacy project from the University of Missouri at St. Louis. SciJourner basically provides an opportunity for teenagers (middle and high school students) to write and publish news articles. In order for an article to be accepted for publication, the following must be met:
Above copied from Polman, J. L. and Hope, J. M.G. (2014), Science news stories as boundary objects affecting engagement with science. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 51: 315–341. doi: 10.1002/tea.21144
The following is among the recent articles:

When I was younger, I had my ears pierced. I remember being so excited because I’d get to wear earrings like my grandmother did. A few weeks after, my ears still had not healed. In fact, they were worse than when I had first gotten them pierced. My earlobes were turning purple and hurting badly. I did everything I was told to do to keep them clean and healthy, but they were not getting better. My mother took me to the doctor, who found out that I’m allergic to nickel. This means that I cannot wear jewelry with any kind of nickel alloy.
Jewelry, especially earrings, can affect those with nickel allergies. Photo Credit: Sarah Gebken.
My allergy is fairly mild compared to other people. MeredithWestrich, a student at a St. Louis County high school that has an allergy to nickel, says, “When I was younger I tried to play the flute, but I had an allergic reaction.”
According to WebMD, people with even more extreme allergies cannot eat certain foods with high nickel content, such as chocolate and fish, because they cause health problems.
The skin rash that goes with metal allergies is known as contact dermatitis, according to MayoClinic.org. This is when the skin comes into contact with nickel and breaks out into a rash, is raised, or turns a red in color where contact with the metal took place. With contact dermatitis your skin may feel itchy. It can also cause a painful burning sensation.
Sarah Stein, a faculty member at a St. Louis area high school, has experienced this with a necklace and says, “One of my eyes swelled shut and I had a rash on my face and neck for about 6 weeks.”
Also, according to MayoClinic.org, nickel allergies are the most common cause of contact dermatitis and affects about 8% of the population. The effect of nickel allergies is more common in women than in men.
Nickel allergies are on the rise. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), somewhere between 10–15% of Americans having an allergy to nickel, and most of that 10-15% are women. Experts are not completely sure, but they think the rise has to do with cheap jewelry having higher nickel content.
Nickel is used in many pieces of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry is cheap and easily produced with nickel. According to NIH, 31.8% of allergic reactions due to nickel happen due to the use of costume jewelry. Many costume jewelry companies use nickel so their profits will go up instead of using more expensive metals such as gold. Unfortunately, for those of us with nickel allergies, that means buying more expensive jewelry and being unsure of what contains nickel and what does not.  
There are technologies out there to help those of us with nickel allergies. A sophisticated technology that is in the process of becoming an option is a nanotechnology created by scientists at Harvard in 2011. JeffreyKaup, a nanotechnology expert at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and his colleagues have been working to develop a cream that could act as a barrier to nickel products. This product only uses ingredients recognized as “safe agents” unlike other nickel allergy treatments on the market today. They have tested this cream on pig skin and live mice but have not yet on human subjects. So far, the experiment results look promising.
With my nickel allergy I tend to just avoid jewelry all together. Occasionally I’ll wear a necklace or bracelet, but only for a couple hours. Recently I have had to start thinking of my class ring and worrying about what metal to get. I got the metal lustrium but I had to do a little research before I made the decision. 

When asked if she would use medicines in the future to help nickel allergies, Westrich says, “I had to take medicine when I was younger, I think it was steroids, but I haven’t tried anything recently. I might try treatments again if I have another really bad reaction.” Sarah Gebken

Programs such as SciJourner can help improve scientific literacy. Unfortunately, major news outlets and social networks can easily work against these efforts.



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Philippines DepEd Failed to GRASP - K to 12 Grading System

One of the most viewed pages in this blog is "DepEd's K to 12 New Grading System". My guess on why this page is quite popular is because most are confused with regard to DepEd's "new grades". The confusion is quite understandable. A colleague of mine got a headache just trying to read the memorandum (DepEd Order No. 73 s. 2012) that tells teachers how to assess learning outcomes. First, it defines learning outcomes in terms of levels. Right at the very beginning, DepEd seems to be confused as well, not knowing the difference between assessments and outcomes. Assessments are simply our attempt to measure learning outcomes. Before I show you excerpts from the DepEd memo, I will use several slides from the Georgia Department of Education in the US that do a much better job explaining what "performance assessment" really is.



The presentation starts with a clear description of what assessment entails. It shows, for example, various assessment strategies. These are not called "levels". Using the word "level" suggests a hierarchy. 

Contrast the above with the DepEd memo:


Right at the beginning, one can sense that whoever wrote the DepEd's memo does not really understand what "knowledge" means. All types of assessment measure knowledge (except those that specifically measure skills, but even those require information and can be affected by knowledge - for example, reading comprehension is a skill but it requires vocabulary, which is knowledge). The list above therefore clearly shows that DepEd misunderstands assessments. If DepEd itself does not comprehend what assessment is, how much more difficult would it be for a classroom teacher in the Philippines to understand what he or she is being asked by DepEd to do. The DepEd memo then describes what it believes as the "highest level" of assessment:


And DepEd specifically cites "GRASPS" (introduced by McTighe and Wiggins) as a good model for this "level" (should be "type") of assessment. Slides from the Georgia Department of Education have the following on GRASPS:

And an example is provided for second grade math. The lesson covered by this task is counting, constructing a table, and drawing a graph to present the counting results.

And here is the product one might expect from the students:



Of course, the DepEd memo comes with its own example. This one is for a higher grade, Grade 7, and it is on science. Unfortunately, it is on chemistry, so this one really gave me and my colleague a big headache.


And here is the example of a "performance task".


The above is clearly inappropriate for assessing how much students have learned in chemistry regarding solutions and concentrations. The project described touches so many topics outside of Grade 7 solution chemistry. The criteria are really tangential to concepts such as molarity, molality, percent composition, and solubility. This is not an assessment in chemistry. This is supposed to be the "highest level" yet it fails miserably in measuring how much a student learns in a chemistry class.

There are good assessments and there are bad assessments. And most of the time, it really depends on who wrote the assessment. Some are brilliant while some are simply stupid. Standardized exams are assessment tools as well and these are not necessarily stupid. PISA is one example of a good standardized exam (this is discussed in a previous post on this blog). It is in a "multiple-choice" format and below is a sample question:




The quality of assessments largely depends on how these are constructed. There are excellent "multiple choice" exams and of course, there are poor "performance tasks" (DepEd's sample above is one). Coming from DepEd means a lot of teachers are getting misinformed, which of course leads to poor learning outcomes in schools in the Philippines.








Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Quality Education Research

Research productivity in education and psychology in the Philippines is dismal. A previous post in this blog highlights the fact that in the past forty years, the Philippines has managed to produce only 214 papers (75 in education and 139 in psychology). On the other hand, the National University of Singapore produced 430 papers during the same time period. Of course, writing and publishing papers is only the first step. An equally important issue is quality. There is indeed a long way to go. What is surprising is the number of "so-called experts" in education in the Philippines. One must therefore wonder.

The journal Educational Researcher has devoted an issue to a discussion of quality in education research:


The issue contains commentaries from five scholars. Surprisingly, the focus of these opinions is on science and how the education field can learn from the sciences. In a way, it answers why a chemist like me seems to be preoccupied with issues and challenges plaguing basic education. Physics Nobel laureate Carl E. Wieman is among those who provided an article in this special issue. In his article, The Similarities between Research in Education an Research in the Hard Sciences, Wieman writes:
"...The way research goes bad is also quite similar between the hard sciences and education. Here, by “bad research,” I mean that which provides incorrect or useless predictions. The serious errors in hard science research occur when important variables are overlooked, and this is also true in education research. Usually these variables are overlooked for the same reasons in all fields; the researcher is just sloppy, or more often, the researcher is failing to adequately address his or her inherent biases. Every researcher in every field has a result he or she wants to see and a belief as to what does and does not matter. In all types of research, it is essential to recognize these inherent biases and to have tests and procedures to prevent those biases from unduly influencing the results and conclusions..."
Carl E. Wieman (Photo taken from Nobelprize.org)
An important part of publishing in science is peer review. It is through this mechanism that such tests and procedures that prevent biases really work. Peer review requires submission of one's work to the scrutiny and closer examination of experts or even competitors. Wieman also notes that presently, education research may lie closer to research in biology:
...Although there is descriptive, hypothesis-generating research/observations carried out in all fields, in fields like physics or chemistry, such work is seldom considered publishable until it is followed up by quantitative controlled experiments, typically with proposed mechanisms and explanations. Many areas of both biology and education research are similar to where many areas of chemistry and physics were 100 to 150 years ago, in that descriptive observations that generate new hypotheses for basic models of phenomena are recognized as valuable and necessary and hence publishable as a stand-alone results."
It is useful to keep the above in mind when one reads a research article on education. A hundred years ago, there were not that many journals in either chemistry or physics. Right now, there are just so many, even in the fields of education and psychology. It is therefore difficult to spot diamonds in the rough.

In my own reading of papers on education, it seems that the field is still at a stage of collecting good data. Education is still trying to figure out what is basically going on. Identifying the problems is of course the first step in solving the problem. Unfortunately, this may seem less interesting. Seemingly new ideas or approaches tend to attract more attention. Who wants to listen to a laundry list anyway? But we must stay grounded. It is important to know what we are confronting before we can even suggest solutions.

In this special issue of Educational Research, there is a research article that perhaps, for some people, is telling the same old story. Poverty affects education. Maternal educational attainment influences education. The article "An Investigation of the Relations Between School Concentrations of Student Risk Factors and Student Educational Well-Being" takes this discussion to a higher level. This paper not only looks at how students with such risk factors perform in school, but also how the classmates of such students perform. Children who are neither experiencing poverty nor poor parental influence also perform poorly if they are placed in a classroom where the majority of students are challenged. This maybe old news, but it still is very important. It highlights how factors outside school have so much of an effect on learning. In this case, such factors do not even exist in a child's home - It is simply the environment that is created when disadvantaged children are placed together in one school.







Sunday, February 16, 2014

Single-Sex versus Coeducational Schooling

There are certainly a lot of ideas out there that sound plausible. Take for example tailoring education according to the learner's preferences or styles. It does sound logical. One specific instance is single-sex education. Gender confers enough differences that one may be able to design approaches or strategies that work better with one gender. Some say girls are "better listeners", thus, teachers spiking up the volume will be more appropriate for an "all-boys" classroom. Some say girls are more cooperative while boys are more competitive. Lessons ideally can be made more effective if a teacher is able to choose a strategy that works best with a particular classroom.

Back in the Philippines, along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, one will find Ateneo de Manila University, which offers basic education only to boys,

Screen capture of a Thanksgiving Mass at the Ateneo de Manila Grade School
and Miriam College, which provides elementary and high school education to girls.

Miriam College (formerly called Maryknoll) offers basic education to Filipino girls.
Seeing that elite schools in the Philippines subscribe to a single-sex schooling, it maybe tempting to suggest that public schools follow. That, however, is a monumental task. It is therefore within reason to demand evidence backing up such a suggestion. In fact, with so many schools worldwide providing single-sex education, it is possible to collect data. What is necessary is to perform a valid meta-analysis to extract specifically what can be attributed directly to single-sex education. In this manner, the question of whether keeping boys separate from girls in schools helps in learning can be answered correctly. There is now one such study:

Psychological Bulletin, Advance online publication, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0035740
Abstract 

Proponents of single-sex (SS) education believe that separating boys and girls, by classrooms or schools, increases students’ achievement and academic interest. In this article, we use meta-analysis to analyze studies that have tested the effects on students of SS compared with coeducational (CE) schooling. We meta-analyzed data from 184 studies, representing the testing of 1.6 million students in Grades K–12 from 21 nations, for multiple outcomes (e.g., mathematics performance, mathematics attitudes, science performance, educational aspirations, self-concept, gender stereotyping). To address concerns about the quality of research designs, we categorized studies as uncontrolled (no controls for selection effects, no random assignment) or controlled (random assignment or controls for selection effects). Based on mixed-effects analyses, uncontrolled studies showed some modest advantages for single-sex schooling, for both girls and boys, for outcomes such as mathematics performance but not for science performance. Controlled studies, however, showed only trivial differences between students in SS versus CE, for mathematics performance (g = 0.10 for girls, 0.06 for boys) and science performance (g = 0.06 for girls, 0.04 for boys), and in some cases showed small differences favoring CE schooling (e.g., for girls’ educational aspirations, g = -0.26). Separate analyses of U.S. studies yielded similar findings (e.g., for mathematics performance g = 0.14 for girls and 0.14 for boys). Results from the highest quality studies, then, do not support the view that SS schooling provides benefits compared with CE schooling. Claims that SS schooling is particularly effective for U.S. ethnic minority boys could not be tested due to the lack of controlled studies on this question.
The effects are too small, if there are any. And it is amazing how we sometimes think of something as an important factor when in reality, it is not. Learning styles, learning preferences simply sound fashionable. And at the same time, we ignore factors like poverty and the way we treat teachers. These sound very old-fashioned and do not come with any excitement. Sadly, the things we ignore are the things that truly matter.







Friday, February 14, 2014

Acids and Bases on a Snowy Valentine's Day

Schools can make up for snow days. Children in kindergarten and elementary schools, for instance, may be celebrating Valentine's Day in their classrooms on Monday (President's Day has been designated as a snow makeup day). Making up, however, does not address the need for distributed practice in learning. Students need to spread their effort over time as opposed to cramming. School closings are disruptive. We may easily cover topics at a later date, but making up can not address the loss in pace. This is certainly one avenue through which technology can help. Of course, unlike being inside the classroom, students are not required to be on their seats at a given time. The instructor likewise would not know if you have silenced your cellphone, closed Facebook, and turned off email notifications. But since you are here, hopefully, I have your attention.

Practice problems as well as an online homework are still up. In addition, we do have a textbook that you could open and read. What we may be missing from not spending time together for 50 minutes inside a classroom is my perspective (and perhaps, my boring jokes). This post is then my attempt to provide a direction, a starting point for you to have before reading the text and solving problems. This requires additional initiative or motivation on your part. It may or may not help, but in the past, I have heard that it somehow helps. Below is an email I received a year ago:

Hello Professor de Dios, You don't know me and I am not a student of yours, but in a way I am becoming one.... I have been struggling through my own Chem2 class this semester and found your lessons online.  I wanted to thank you so much for posting exactly what I have been looking for: common sense explanations to what I am supposed to be learning.  I am a 40-something mother who is going back to school for Physical Therapy after many years in the corporate world.  I am taking classes at a local community college working on my re-req's and here, I am dealing with an ineffective, unprofessional, and frequently scatter brained teacher.  As students we are often exchanging glances wondering what is going on or what exactly he means.  The dean has apologized explaining he's all they have.... You however, have changed all that!!  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to post your lessons and letting an interloper experience how a real chemistry class should sound. Best regards,XXXXXX

It has worked at least once, so perhaps it could help us well. At least, it could put chemistry into our minds during this seven day break from a face-to-face lecture inside Reiss 112.

We are currently covering in class acid-base equilibria. As I have mentioned several times, this chapter and the next one are extensions of the chapter on chemical equilibrium. The concepts are the same, we are simply delving deeper into the specific case of reactions that involve proton transfer (acid-base reactions). The math behind the quantitative treatment of equilibrium should be familiar.

Hopefully, at this time, we already know by heart the Bronsted-Lowry definition of acids and bases: An acid is a proton-donor and a base is a proton acceptor. In aqueous solutions of either an acid or a base, the following equilibria are therefore relevant.

The figures used in this post are either taken from the text (Chemistry, The Central Science, 12th edition, Brown, Lemay, Bursten, Murphy, Pearson Education, Inc., Saddle River, NJ, 2009) or from the lecture slides for this chapter.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Quality Education

Male and female, old and young, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, more than a million people in the world have been asked what our priorities should be. And the voices around the world seem to sound as one: A good education is priority number one.

Above copied from
My World: The United Nations Global Survey for a Better World
Although it is not surprising to see so many aspire for good education, the road to a good educational system is still quite elusive. One may think that a good education is easy to define and that factors that lead to quality schooling are likewise straightforward to identify. But in a world of limited opportunities and resources, it is much more difficult. It does not take a lot of effort to make a "wish list". Everyone can do that. Everyone can aspire. The more challenging task is to figure out how we could reach such an objective.

The route to a high quality education is not that obvious. Evidence from peer reviewed research is important. Take, for example, preschool education. There is almost no argument against teaching children while they are young. Preschool education is considered good by everyone, yet not all preschool programs are good or even effective. Equally important, not every goal can be realistically assigned to a preschool. There is a limit to what preschools can do.

There is a recent research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education that examines what works in preschool education and in what areas such programs really have a significant effect. The paper published in the journal Child Development has the following abstract:


The study shows that a combination of evidence-based curriculum and trained (BA or masters' level) teachers can lead to significant improvements in academic skills (language, literacy, numeracy and mathematics). The curriculum covered by the study includes "Opening the World" for literacy and "Building Blocks" for mathematics. A successful program apparently also requires coaching through which experts provide model instruction, observe teachers, and offer constructive feedback. A successful program almost breathes like a living system, responding to the specific needs of a school or community. The study, of course, still has limitations, but one thing should be clear, preschool education is not like anything goes. Quality education in preschool does not happen with just volunteer teachers and any curriculum. In preschool, there are good and there are bad programs. That is why it is important to keep in mind that a million people across the globe did not just say "education", but "good education".





Thursday, February 6, 2014

Approximate Number Sense

Animals seem to be able to know the difference between large and small. In battles, being outnumbered is an important piece of information. It strongly suggests that one should retreat and not fight. It likewise pays for herbivores to know where there is more food. Knowing which is more without doing exact counting is an instinct that humans share with animals. On the other hand, taking the square root of a number is perhaps exclusively human.

The instinctive ability to make estimates is called by psychologists as the "Approximate Number Sense" (ANS). It is distinct from the "Exact Number System" (ENS) which humans learn by going through school. Arithmetic, in which children learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide, involves exact counting. Arithmetic is the first step in ENS, followed by algebra, trigonometry, and later on by calculus. The relationship between ANS and ENS has been of great interest. It is even part of the "nature versus nurture" debate. Since ANS is instinctive and present even in infants, a causal relationship between these two number systems indicates that proficiency in math maybe a gift or a talent, something someone is simply endowed with at birth. There is indeed a correlation between ANS and ENS. A study published in Nature about five years ago showed that fourteen-year olds who demonstrated very good ANS were also the same students performing very well in math standardized exams from kindergarten through early high school. An individual's ANS can be gauged by visual tests such as the following (You can do this test yourself by either visiting the New York Times or Panamath):


The above is shown to an individual for about 200 milliseconds (That is one fifth of a second and no one can really count that fast). It is then followed by a question: Which ones are greater, blue or yellow dots? Individuals who have very good ANS can even provide the correct answer in cases where the difference between the two is very small like nine yellow versus ten blue circles. And these same individuals have been performing very well in the past in mathematics. These findings therefore suggest a correlation between the two number systems, suggesting that some individuals are simply gifted in math.

Although a correlation is clear, a causal relationship remains unknown. Brain imaging even suggests that these two are independent. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times article stating a word of caution on this discovered correlation:
"The researchers caution that they have no idea yet how the two number systems interact. Brain imaging studies have traced the approximate number sense to a specific neural structure called the intraparietal sulcus, which also helps assess features like an object’s magnitude and distance. Symbolic math, by contrast, operates along a more widely distributed circuitry, activating many of the prefrontal regions of the brain that we associate with being human. Somewhere, local and global must be hooked up to a party line."
More recent research have revealed the following. The first, published in PLOS One, comes from researchers in UK:


Another article, forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, also provides further information regarding the relationship between ANS and ENS:


Both papers debunk the suggestion that proficiency in math is a gift at birth. These findings are more in line with what brain imaging suggests. The paper in PLOS One, however, adds a very important piece to the puzzle. The title bears this piece: Impact of High Mathematics Education on the Number Sense. Our education allows us to establish stronger links between our instincts, skills and knowledge. Being aware of this is especially important when we are trying to teach. Some teaching strategies can appear very attractive to individuals who have developed strong links between intuition and knowledge. A learner, on the other hand, does not necessarily have the circuitry yet that provides these connections. A lot of times, some teaching strategies appear very appealing to the eyes of someone who has finished high mathematics education, but in practice, fails miserably with a novice. This is true even in chemistry. There are learning materials that seem powerful when viewed by a chemist, but when viewed by students in a classroom, these materials do not have the same effect.

It is useful to trace and travel back to the past although this does not seem to be creative, innovative or forward-looking. It is not 21st century learning, but still, there are probably ways through which we teach math and these are ways that can withstand the test of time. There is no way to learn 3 + 2 = 5, other than learning that 3 + 2 = 5....




Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Critical Thinking: When Facts Elude Us

Who can trust politicians? I guess the proper question is "should we?". Politicians make promises during campaigns. Some fulfill while some break. What allows people to gauge a politician's performance is the record. Unfortunately, data provided to the public can be deceiving. In the United States, there is PolitiFact, a Pulitzer Prize winner for national reporting. It started first as a fact-checking report for the presidential campaign in 2007. Now, it reviews statements made in public by candidates, elected officials, political parties, interest groups, pundits, talk show hosts. Here are some of the latest from PolitiFact:


Philippine basic education would benefit greatly if a similar effort is made by the media to help inform the public. Instead, what Filipinos receive are headlines like the one shown below from The Philippine Star:


With multiple shifts still present in a lot of schools, with schools destroyed in the Eastern Visayas region, the misinformation in the above news item is truly appalling. Another news source, Rappler even adds more:
Aquino said his administration closed the backlog of 62 million textbooks as early as 2012 by purchasing the books for a better price – and resulted in 40% savings.
The President also said he was met with a 2.5-million backlog in chairs, which his administration has since addressed by making chairs out of timbers seized from illegal loggers.
Joy Rizal posted recently:


Although it is often desired to be upbeat, one must not sacrifice facts for an illusion. The truth must be laid out. Otherwise, we would not be responding properly. Here is one piece of truth from the New York Times:


The article above provides information that is truthful and more importantly, useful. It not only describes the situation but also provides insights on what could and must be done. Katrina Stuart Santiago, a Manila Times columnist writes on her Facebook page:

"Can someone please ask government if they've been hiring locals to build those infamous bunkhouses and temporary shelters in the Eastern Visayas. because while I was there, I had asked one of the Kuyas of Kusog Tacloban about it. and he said: "puro dayo 'yan.", because the question of jobs can be answered by government's rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts. Government just needs to be more creative than this." 

Correct information is crucial. Critical thinking cannot happen with misinformation. Without accurate information, people can arrive at ridiculous ideas. Take, for example, one of the recent suggestions made by the Philippines' secretary of the Department of Education:



At least, it is comforting that based on the online comments made by readers to this article, not everyone is being fooled. Here is one of the comments:


When facts elude us, we are not able to think critically. With a major newspaper publishing garbage like the one above, somebody, please, somebody, help us....