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Showing posts from April, 2017

The Icy Sea

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My seven-year old daughter was watching me last night as I was preparing for this morning's lecture. This lecture is the first part of a series on carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. I always end my General Chemistry course with this topic and this year, it is timely to highlight the most recent report from the Arctic Council. The changes in snow, sea ice, and permafrost are undeniable. But my daughter had a different idea. She wanted to be a part of the lecture and decided to write a short story that I could then share with my students. So last night, she wrote a short story called "The Icy Sea":
The Icy Sea by Amelia de Dios
Long, long ago in the sea, there lived a mermaid. Her name was Tara. She was a kind girl. Not so far away, there lived a wizard named Addison and she can make things cold. One day, Addison was so bored. She has not made anything cold yet so she decided one of the worst plans ever. She was going to freeze the sea! When Tara heard about what was going t…

Screen Time and Toddlers

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In a previous post on this blog, Do Computers Affect the Social Development of Our Children, a working paper by Fairlie and Kalil has been highlighted. Their findings show that computers do not negatively impact a child's social development. Children who use computers are equally likely (sometimes even more) to interact with others face to face. For younger children, there remains a concern on whether screen time is bad or good. There are obviously benefits to introduce young children to the use of technology. The question is whether there is a price to pay. Screen time right before bedtime is already known to affect sleep. The blue light from the screen interferes with the normal clock that our body uses to induce sleep. Now, there is a study that screen time in general during the day is correlated with less sleep time at night.

The study, published in Nature, comes from a survey of more than 700 families in the United Kingdom. Their findings is summarized as follows: "Every…

The Current State of Philippines Basic Education

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Back in June of 2016, the staff of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/ The World Bank produced a report on Basic Education in the Philippines. The report mainly examines how funds flow from the Department of Education and how these are spent in the schools. The report notes lack of transparency as well as efficiency, which greatly reduces the benefits of greater funding. However, even with an efficiently run bureaucracy, factors that negatively affect learning outcomes are very much present.
These factors are:

(1) Teacher quality

The report notes:
"With the exception of English at the elementary level, the average elementary or high school teacher could answer fewer than half of the questions on the subject content tests correctly. Since these tests are closely aligned with the curriculum, the results suggest that teachers face significant challenges in teaching a considerable portion of the current curriculum." The following figure from the report tel…

Seeking Means Paying Attention

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Seeking means engagement. When we are looking for something, chances are very high that we will notice what we seek when it comes. It is a technique that I have used when taking reading comprehension exams. I read the questions first before the reading passage. I probably miss details that are not asked but the point is I am able to focus on what is being asked. This happens in reading as I have full control on both pace and effort in reading. Attending a lecture, however, maybe different as a student does not really determine how fast the lecture goes. In addition, unlike reading, a student cannot really rewind a lecture. That is why I often tell my students to look at problems beforehand on topics I am about to discuss during lecture. Without questions, it is more likely that what I share with them in class will go through one ear and exit the other. On the other hand, with questions seeking is more likely to happen. Seeking is a matter of paying attention with engagement and awaren…

Those Three Stripes on an Academic Gown

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A person who receives a doctorate degree gets to wear an academic dress with three stripes. During the commencement exercise, the new PhD degree holder likewise gets a hood. The gown is the culmination of painstaking years of academic and research work. It is a symbol that someone has contributed to the advancement of human knowledge. Not everyone who wears such a special robe and hood, however, has gone through the same years of graduate school education. Zachary Crockett writes in Priceonomics:
But for others present on commencement day, the struggle is not so real. Joining the students on stage, celebrities and business moguls — Mike Tyson, Kylie Minogue, Oprah, Ben Affleck, and Bill Gates among them — flock to college campuses to receive “honorary” doctorate degrees. Unlike the students, these luminaries are given a free pass: universities allow them to bypass all of the usual requirements. Though these degrees are more ornamental than functional, the practice of handing them out …

Do Computers Affect the Social Development of Our Children?

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Our children maybe spending less time playing outside because of computers. We are concerned that due to screen time, our children are perhaps spending less time with their peers. The lack of face-to-face interactions due to time spent alone on a computer may lead to children not developing socially. We even see the warning signs in social media. These, however, are only our own fears. It is important to look at the evidence. And the latest research actually shows that these concerns are unfounded.

In a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic ResearchRobert W. Fairlie and Ariel Kalil find that children who have access to a computer "are more likely to report having a social networking site, but also report spending more time communicating with their friends and interacting with their friends in person." In addition, "There is no evidence that computer ownership displaces participation in after-school activities such as sports teams or clubs or reduces schoo…

Explicitly Teaching Reading Comprehension

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Reading is taught in the early elementary years. Reading difficulties during the early years can arise from lack of fluency, limited vocabulary, or poor word recognition. Interventions are often designed to address these various components of reading. Going further, however, students also need to understand what they are reading. Students should be able to derive meaning from text. This is how reading becomes a vehicle for further learning. One might therefore ask whether students with reading difficulties can benefit from interventions that focus on reading comprehension. The answer, according to research, is "yes".

A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology specifically looks at an intervention called Passport to Literacy and finds significant improvements in reading comprehension for fourth grade students that have reading difficulties. The intervention is done daily for 30 minutes over 25 weeks. How this intervention differs from others li…

Should We Believe Educational Research?

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One of the questions I asked in a survey of learning myths is this:  
You have a test coming up. What’s the best way to review the material?

Circle key points in the textbook.Review relevant points of the lecture in audio format.Take an informal quiz based on the material. The responses I have received so far draw the following picture:

It appears to be a tie between highlighting parts of a textbook and taking a practice exam. Educational research is quite clear with regard to this question. Taking practice tests appears to be one of the most effective ways to learn as seen in the following figure:


The difference is clear, students who took practice tests perform better than those who simply restudied. The positive effect of testing on learning has also been proclaimed in an article by Annie Murphy Paul in Scientific American:

Dunlosky and coworkers, the authors of the article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, however, still expressed some caution regarding these findin…

Table of Hope

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Today is Holy Thursday. This is a repost of Table of Hope: A Reflection.


This song was written in New York City Of rich man, preacher, and slave If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee, They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.
                                                                           - Woody Guthrie

Poverty and School Dropouts

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The disparity is clear. The Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) shows that about half of school dropouts in the Philippines belong to the lowest 25 percentile in income. These families comprise only a fourth of the Philippine society yet their children make up half of school leavers. Poor children comprising the majority of out-of-school children, however, more than highlights the dramatic impact of poverty on basic education. The sad plight of poor children also marks the great inequity in Philippine schools. Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg just visited Thailand and pointed out that the biggest problems in Thailand's basic education are inequity and lack of competent teachers. These problems obviously apply likewise to the Philippines. Sadly, instead of addressing these problems, the Philippine government simply made the system much more inequitable with its new K to 12 curriculum.

PIDS provides the following to summarize their most recent findings:


Most dr…

Love for Math

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My seven-year old daughter loves mathematics. It shows. After she uses the shower, I often notice scribbles on the glass door of geometric figures as well as numerical equations. She has a high math self-concept. After all, her father has a doctorate in chemistry, her mother has a doctorate in pharmacy, and her grandmother has a degree in physics. There is really no reason to have anxiety in math in our home. In school, my daughter is also fortunate to have a supportive teacher. Recently, her teacher sent me an email saying, "Second graders have been working on making 4 digit numbers in different ways. Your daughter did a great job of making this number by drawing base ten blocks! I am so proud of how hard she is working in math." Her email came with the following photo:

The elementary years are indeed crucial for a girl's attitude towards mathematics. A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the Unites States of America (PNAS-USA) high…

Math Anxiety and Math Performance

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Being anxious about math correlates with lower performance in math. This is apparently true across different countries as reported in a paper published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science. The negative relationship between anxiety and performance is, of course, not exclusive to math. In martial arts, for instance, both somatic and cognitive anxiety can produce about 80 percent discrimination between winners and losers. A good karate master like the one my children have recognizes the importance of instilling confidence in martial arts students. After all, either freezing or closing one's eyes during a match can easily spell defeat. A positive and growth mindset is clearly necessary and a master does this best by example. Interestingly, research strongly suggests a connection "between adult role models and children’s math anxiety and math achievement". Children whose parents are anxious about math are likely to exhibit anxiety in math and children t…

A Cane Or A Belt, What Do These Really Teach Our Children

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Singapore is prosperous. Students in Singapore do very well in international standardized exams. Canes are used for discipline in Singapore. It then follows that corporal punishment is good for our children. Research however says otherwise. The most effective parenting style is responsive and warm, not punitive. This effective style is authoritative, distinct from authoritarian which also demonstrates a high level of control but in a negative way. Punishment is key to enforcing rules in authoritarian parenting.

Latest research supports what has been known for quite sometime now. Authoritative parenting leads to better academic outcomes. In "The Role of Authoritative and Authoritarian Parenting inthe Early Academic Achievement of Latino Students" authoritative parenting in Mexican and Dominican Republic children is correlated with academic and social-emotional school readiness, both of which predicted higher achievement at the end of first grade. This makes sense since all t…

How Should We Teach Making Inferences

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Making inferences is an important part of reading comprehension. An author does not necessarily put everything in print for everyone to read. Yes, you may infer at this moment and extrapolate that doing so requires too many words and simply leads to a wordy or long-winded article. Readers prefer concise sentences. Consequently, as early as the elementary years, students need to be taught to make inferences. Inferences should not be equated to guessing or reading too much between the lines. Extending too much from what is either directly stated or implied in text can be misleading when it comes to reading non fiction especially science literature. Inferences must be based on what one actually has read.
Testing for reading comprehension often falls under three categories (Factual Recall, Bridging Inference, Pragmatic Inference) as decsribed in a previous post on this blog, Stress, Working Memory, and Reading Comprehension. As an example, given the following passage:
"The waiter dr…