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Showing posts from July, 2017

What Makes You Stupid

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Jonah Lehrer posed this math question on the New Yorker: A baseball and a bat cost one dollar and ten cents. The price of the bat is one dollar more than that of the ball. How much is the ball? If your answer is ten cents, then you are carelessly making shortcuts in your head. The ball is five cents and the bat costs a dollar more, one dollar and five cents. We often associate quickness with intelligence especially in math. It is true that it helps if we can answer questions like what is three times seven in a flash. But when evaluation is necessary, we must pause and think.

There are four beliefs that make us stupid according to Stephen Chew of Samford University.


The above captured image may look just like a meme that we often see on social media. What it says, however, comes from evidence-based research. Chew summarizes some of the misconceptions we have regarding how we learn in a chapter in Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curricu…

Science of Learning for Nonexperts

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For a classroom teacher who is not actively engaged in education research, it is not easy to digest information from primary literature. Scientists often write articles not with the intention of reaching non experts. A book that attempts to bring recent advances in the science of learning into much more readable nuggets can therefore be very useful. One example is Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014)from the American Psychological Association, and this book is FREE. I have only browsed through the content, it has about 300 pages and 24 chapters, but each chapter is a stand-alone. And, of course, the first chapter I chose to read is on General Chemistry. Surprisingly, what is described in this chapter can easily apply to other subjects.

The authors begin this chapter with the story of a first-year undergraduate student. The student starts seeing the instructor during office hours recognizing that her high school preparatio…

Why Basic Education Is So Important

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In the previous post, No More Algebra, the strongest argument for retaining algebra as a requirement for all is that some people can easily take advantage of your gullibility. And they will. Misinformation abounds not just in social media or the internet. This is especially tragic when the medium is a traditional news source. A recent article in Philippine Star even uses "Oxford" to propagate unsubstantiated news. And it is not just about a catchy headline as the article starts with this groundless statement: "A University of Oxford study found that $200,000, around P10 million, was spent to hire trolls who would spread propaganda for President Rodrigo Duterte and target his opposition." 

The Oxford study mentioned in this news article is a working paper by Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard. The Philippines Star fails to mention one major limitation of the study:
This working paper lays the groundwork for understanding the global trends in the organized and c…

No More Algebra?

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Math is beautiful. Algebra will help you with developing critical thinking skills. You will use it in the future. These are some reasons often provided to justfy making algebra as a required course. One can say the same thing about art. Art is likewise beautiful. You may likewise use what you learn in an art course in your job. Besides, our planet "earth" is simply "eh" without "art". However, there may be a slight difference between art and algebra. Students find algebra as a major hindrance to obtaining higher education. In community colleges, passing algebra has become a barrier to graduation.

Removing algebra as a required course in community colleges has recently gained momentum in Calufornia. Jude Thaddeus Socrates, a professor of mathematics at Pasadein posted the following on Facebook:


But before arriving quickly at such a conclusion, we may need to pause.

First, the challenges of algebra in both high school and community colleges of course lie on…

The Accuracy of Students' Surveys

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Some colleges still provide questionnaires to students to evaluate their instructors. In educational research, students' self-reports are often used. It is therefore necessary to gauge how accurate these reports are. After all, a teacher knows quite well that even in basic recall tests, not all students get a perfect score. And these tests taken by students are of course high stakes than a simple survey which neither rewards nor punishes a student for accuracy. Since surveys still require some bit of cognitive skills, it is also possible that errors in students' surveys will not be random but systematic. The chance that a student who does not well academically will likewise not be so accurate in answering questions in a survey is high. In an instructor evaluation, it is probably not surprising to see results correlate with the students' academic performance. Yet, these surveys are sometimes used for merit decisions for the instructor. How reliable then are students' vo…

What Makes a School Excellent

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We hear this very often: "Children must be taught how to think and not what to think". Margaret Mead wrote this statement in "Coming of Age in Samoa". What we do not hear often is what follows: "And because old errors die slowly, they must be taught tolerance, just as to-day they are taught intolerance". As a result, we frequently fall into this false dichotomy of content versus skills. Mead was warning us of indoctrination, not knowledge transfer. On the other hand, it is true that basic education nowadays is usually measured using standardized tests. Schools deemed excellent are those whose students score well in these exams. Nehring and coworkers, however, find in a recent study, "What real high performance looks like",  that in these schools "task demand for a student in the interpersonal and intrapersonal domains was either rare or wholly absent". Seeing that this is the case obviously only fuels further the division between teach…

Teaching Our Children About Climate Change and Petroleum

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Representatives of countries around the world when they met in Paris seemed to be united in acknowledging the perils of a continuing rise in carbon dioxide emissions. Although we are beginning to feel the consequences of higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, next generations are much more likely to face the new challenges climate change brings. How we teach young children regarding this issue is therefore an important task to address. Victoria Hermann in US Newsoffers some advice: "Doomsday narratives about climate change don't work."


Hermann is responding to a New York Magazinearticle by David Wallace-Wells:
Hermann cites a study by Haeffel and coworkers that links hopelessness to a decrease in goal-directed behavior. In this work, depression is shown to correlate with a decrease in our desire to find solutions and make decisions. This is basically what hopelessness entails. Hermann therefore suggests that we focus on positive stories as related b…

"Errant Science Scholars in the Philippines"

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The Commission on Audit (COA) in the Philippines is once again calling for a refund of allowances and other benefits from former students of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) system who did not enroll in a prescribed science course in college. This time, COA says 115 PSHS graduates owe 18 million pesos. Three years ago, COA wanted 32 million pesos from 121 PSHS students. The math behind these figures somehow does not seem to make sense. However, the fact that the Philippine government expects adolescents to make a life-defining choice at a very young age with serious consequences is much more troubling.
In 2014, COA claimed that 23.5 million pesos were wasted on 48 students who did not finish high school and 73 graduates who did not enroll in the prescribed courses in college. To this number, COA added 8.7 million pesos, an amount the agency suggested could have been generated if PSHS did manage to collect. This partly explains the difference between the two amounts.

The PSHS…

Teaching Politics in a Classroom

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Children attending school do not come from a vacuum. Children's values are shaped at home and this equally applies to politics. Children enter their classrooms already with beliefs. We normally equate our beliefs with our identity that in the face of threats against what we hold is true, our normal reaction is to double down and become even more deeply entrenched in our stand. In psychology, such reaction is explained by our intrinsic desire to avoid cognitive dissonance as well as the backfire effect, our tendency to hold onto our beliefs even more strongly when given contradicting evidence. It is therefore not easy to teach politics in a classroom. Polarization of society can be permanent.

Both United States and the Philippines are highly polarized in politics. Going through various Facebook posts makes it really easy to appreciate the theories of cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect. It is then a huge challenge for both basic and higher education to confront extremism w…

Towards a More Intelligent Discourse

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When arguing in social media, one intention has become prominent, that is, to prevail. We no longer engage in a discussion to learn, but only to be triumphant such that the other side is vanquished. The current opposition in the Philippines, with its bygone years of power, continues to tread the path of divisiveness and its belief of exclusively owning the truth. The past administration has managed to put in place a new curriculum for basic education, complete with the following lofty goal: "To create a functional basic education system that will produce productive and responsible citizens equipped with the essential competencies and skills for both life-long learning and employment.” The same law, Republic Act 10533, however, fails to mention how this desired outcome will be measured. Instead, the law mandates only a review of classroom shortages and other metrics that do not really measure nor gauge whether graduates of the basic education are indeed "productive and respon…

Teachers Can Speak?

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The former secretary of Education Armin Luistro, who is now president of de la Salle University, spoke recently in a forum at Ateneo de Manila University. In his speech, he says teachers should not be satisfied in their comfort zone. Teachers must speak on issues of importance to society. Luistro says that teachers can choose between being a "safe and happy teacher" or being a "Filipino teacher". Of course, Luistro has the following suggestion: "from the imposition of martial law in Mindanao to the growing number of suspected drug users and peddlers killed in the Duterte administration’s crackdown on the illegal drug trade". 

Since opposition to Luistro's K to 12 curriculum was silenced when he was in power, it is not surprising to see on Facebook the following posts:

From Rey Vargas of Parent's Advocacy for Children's Education:




From Rita Cucio:


Since one professor of de la Salle University has been targeted in a petition due to an opinion he e…

Bullying in Politics and Bullying in Schools

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Racism and xenophobia are on the rise worldwide, according to a group of experts reports to the General Assembly of the United Nations. One of the experts, Ricardo Singa III, recommends that freedom of speech ends with hate speech and stereotyping. Ron Anderson notes in Politics Paves Path to Bullying World the extraordinary amount of coverage mainstream media in the United States has given to individuals who are making abusive and hurtful remarks. Such celebrity-like coverage may have made these political bullies serve as role models for both young and adults leading to an increase in bullying and hate crimes in the country. Not every disagreement in politics, however, is bullying. There is abuse that should not be tolerated, but there is also a valid discourse. We cannot label each and every statement as bullying simply because it is not to our liking. Doing so simply "undermines the horror of genuine attacks", writes Martin Williams of the Independent

Bullying is of ser…

Pacquiao Versus Horn: A Lesson in Math

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In boxing, if one does not win by a knockout, the victor is decided through a round by round scoring. A close round usually gives the winner of that round 10 points while the loser receives 9 points. A 10-8 score is often given when one boxer overwhelmingly wins a round. Thus, one simply has to win 7 out of the 12 rounds in a professional boxing match to be declared the winner. Winning 7 rounds means 70 points and losing 5 nets 45 points, leading to a total of 115. The loser scores 50 points from the 5 rounds won and 63 points from the 7 rounds lost, summing up to 113. The final score is therefore 115-113 favoring the boxer who has won two more rounds. In a recent boxing match, Pacquiao lost a hard fought fight via a unanimous decision when the three judges scored the match 117-111, 115-113, 115-113 in favor of Horn. Except for one judge, the call is indeed very close. Social media especially from the Philippines where Pacquiao currently serves as a senator are greatly displeased with…

Depth Needs Breadth

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Breadth and depth complement each other. Favoring one over the other is simply a false dilemma. Learning needs to follow the normal course of building knowledge first. Otherwise, there is really nothing to think deeply about if there is nothing to think about. Take, for instance, an introductory course in biochemistry. It is very difficult to unmask the various interactions and structures found in proteins if students do not even know the amino acids. Both recall of information like remembering which amino acids have hydrophobic side chains, and basic reasoning such as "like dissolves like" are important to understand how proteins fold and function. Some educators seem so focused on "critical thinking" that third grade material emphasizing basic recall and reasoning is now apparently considered "shallow":
Too shallow?
Here are examples (not grade-specific) of what could be required in an English Language Arts course at each of the four levels of the Depth…