30/9/2008

Get Off The Pendulum

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:54 am

Can’t say a huge amount because it’s politically sensitive, but our new 4 year Middle Years of Schooling1 teacher education degree has been changed to meet the requirements of the teacher certifying body in Queensland, the Queensland College of Teachers. We were planning to have minor teaching fields that would allow teachers to concentrate on a particular area like science, maths or the arts, but they required a much stronger focus on numeracy and literacy, in addition to the already very strong program in those areas that we had, so the minors have had to be scrapped for more subjects in those fields.

To me this is a symptom of a current pendulum swing – the media have created the perception that there is a crisis of literacy and numeracy among Australian students. All the evidence shows that this is not the case, and that in fact more students are literate and numerate at a higher level than ever before. But politicians have to be seen to be responding to community concerns, real or not, so there is this massive emphasis on literacy and numeracy to the exclusion of everything else. Science, for example, has always struggled for time in the primary curriculum, but it is being displaced even further at the moment.

Of course, eventually the imbalance will be recognised, and we’ll swing back toward a more balanced perspective – but most teachers only go to university for their first degree, so those prepared in these next few years will have somewhat unbalanced preparation to teach.

It’s the same with teaching science ‘in context’ – connecting it to real world examples and situations – versus teaching it purely in terms of science concepts and the structure of the discipline. The latter used to be the only approach used, and it didn’t work for everyone. The smart approach would have been to add some contextual teaching to complement the conceptual teaching, and get the best of both worlds. Instead, the pendulum has swung all the way in the opposite direction, so all the teaching is in context. That suits some people, but disadvantages others, including Cassie.

The idea of the ‘golden mean’ – finding balance between opposites, rather than embracing either – is as old as the Greeks, but I think we grasp it less now than for a long time. We live in a(n over)reactive world.

  1. Oh, incidentally, as of a couple of days ago, meet the new Director of Middle Years Teacher Education at the University of Queensland. A small but satisfying promotion for me.

29/9/2008

Stephen Fry – How To Be Gorgeous

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:06 pm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utpdzQj2S6o

Affirmation

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:54 am

The pastor at church this week was talking about our value in God’s eyes, and said something about God’s regard for us telling is we’re awesome every day. Then he said something like “How long is it since someone told you you’re awesome?” (my paraphrase).

My response (to myself) was “Not that long, actually!” I couldn’t remember the precise instance, but I’m absolutely sure that in the past day or so Sue or one of the girls would have told me something very close to that.

That’s because it’s just the pattern in our family – we give one another affirmation, encouragement and praise constantly. We’re always telling one another that we’re smart, beautiful, talented and fun to be with. And if someone doesn’t come through with the praise when we feel we deserve it, we’re not shy about asking for it!

It seems to work for us. I don’t think we’re particularly arrogant, although we’re confident. I think people sometimes avoid praising their children because they worry that the kids will get a ‘swollen head’ and be impossible to be around. But my observations lead me to think that arrogance is much more often a result of insecurity than of security.

I think that particularly as young women, our daughters are better protected against jerks and manipulators. They’re not subject to flattery because they’ve heard about their good qualities before (and more sincerely), and they have a healthy concept of their own value, so they don’t put up with any crap.

How about it – how often do you praise the ones you love, and focus on their good qualities? It’s really not that hard… and it’s actually really nice to be able to say “Not that long” when someone wants to know how long it is since you’ve been affirmed.

28/9/2008

The Indiscretion of Speed Cameras

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:52 pm

If a human cop detects someone speeding, using a hand-held or car-mounted radar, he or she has some discretion about what to do. A judgement is made about whether the speeding is dangerous enough to pursue, about whether to issue a fine or a caution, about any mitigating circumstances, and so on.

A speed camera has none of that discretion: if it detects you exceeding the speed limit, you get the fine.

Some people would suggest that that’s fairer – it’s pure and objective, and doesn’t rely on whether the police officer had a fight with his partner over breakfast, or had a great night last night.

But in other ways it’s a scam: you have the option of just paying the fine or of going to court. Going to court is going to cost you work time and hassle, and have the risk of getting costs recorded against you in addition to the original fine. So most people just have to cop it sweet and pay the fine – and by doing so, automatically agree that they were speeding and to that going on their record. It’s just too hard to contest it. So even if there were factors in mitigation, you end up just paying the fine because it’s too much hassle to do otherwise.

(Incidentally, this is how a lot of ‘or your money back’ scams work: you buy the thing, find out it’s crap, but it’s just too much hassle to fight about it so you just take the loss and the scumbags get to keep your money.)

Of course, everyone should obey the speed limit everywhere, all the time. But… 😉

The speed limit is there to increase safety, right? That’s its purpose. It’s not put there for revenue raising, or arbitrarily. Its job is to reduce the number and severity of crashes.

So when overtaking, is it safer to whip around fairly quickly and get back onto the safe side of the road, even if in doing so your speed briefly spikes above the limit? Or is it safer to sit for ages in the on-coming traffic lane when overtaking, in order to avoid going over the limit?

See, a human officer can understand that logic. S/he may or may not agree with it, and may still issue the fine, but the thought process is there. That’s what we lose when we give up our road safety to speed cameras.

Well, that plus the ability to detect all sorts of other offences. A speed camera can only catch speeders. But it’s not speeding that causes the vast majority of accidents, it’s other things like failing to look, failing to indicate, driving while distracted by the phone or something else, drink driving and a heap of other things. A patrol officer can attend to all of those things. A speed camera can’t.

26/9/2008

Evidence-based Practice and Education

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:23 am

It’s a notion that’s been popular in medicine for perhaps a decade, maybe a bit longer: doing what the best available research evidence suggests is the best possible treatment for a particular condition. Sackett and colleagues (1996) wrote that evidence-based practice consists of “integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.”

This is actually a fairly sophisticated definition, in that it incorporates the clinical expertise of the individual practitioner with the external evidence: less-sophisticated approaches tend to make it seem as though the clinical evidence will provide a single best answer in each situation.

The notion is a compelling one, and helps to bridge the ‘research-practice gap’ by bringing the best fruits of research into the work of practitioners. I think it has largely been successful in medicine.

It’s now tending to come up in conversations about educational research and practice, and in that context it does worry me a bit. Part of the reason is that I’ve argued before in some detail that educational activities don’t come under the necessary conditions for conducting the kind of tightly controlled research that is used in medicine and science, because people’s attitudes and actions are too complex and there are too many variables to control.

The other part is the concern about the quality of the evidence. It does occur in medicine sometimes too, where for example a pharmaceutical company will suppress evidence of adverse reactions in clinical trials. But in general, if the research is published, the quality of the evidence is pretty reliable in medical science. In the social and human sciences that form the basis of education, it’s much easier for the evidence to be controversial, because often what you go looking for is what you will find.

So using the notion of ‘evidence-based practice’ in education begs questions about ‘whose evidence?’ Who created the particular evidence that is being used, and what were their purposes? How do we decide whether one piece of evidence is more valid or important than another, if their findings are different. And so on…

This could be seen as simply a short-coming in the quality of educational research – if it’s not good enough to allow us to make good prescriptions for practice, why not, and how can we improve it? I think there’s space there for some interesting self-reflection on our part.

But I do also think that the difficulties may be inherent ones in a set of social practices as complex as education.

Sackett, D. L., Rosenberg, W. M. C., Gray, J. A. M., Haynes, R. B., & Richardson, W. S. (1996). Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn’t. British Medical Journal, 312(7023), 71-72.

25/9/2008

Alberto Rivera and Unassailable Claims

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:34 am

Alberto Rivera is a guy who came out in the 70s – initially in the (in)famous Jack Chick Christian comics – and claimed that he had been a Jesuit priest (sometimes upgraded to bishop) specifically tasked with infiltrating and destroying Protestant churches. His ‘testimony’ sparked quite the panic among evangelicals, some of whom started finding a Jesuit behind every bush.

This article looks at Rivera’s life and claims: http://web.archive.org/web/20051202084221/http://www.cornerstonemag.com/pages/show_page.asp?228

The part of it that I find most interesting is that Rivera simply claims that (a) anything illegal or immoral he did was done at the order of the Jesuits and (b) any apparent negative information about him is false evidence planted by the Jesuits.

It’s a perfectly closed system, in the sense that from his perspective there is no possible evidence that can disprove his claims, since his claims subsume such evidence and explain it away within the terms of the system.

This is a feature it shares with most conspiracy theories, from the more extreme forms of climate change ‘skepticism’ to World Trade Towers Building 7. Any evidence that apparently invalidates the conspiracy is explained as having been planted by the conspirators. For a believer, such a system is unassailable.

22/9/2008

Fundamentally Flawed Numbers

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:04 am

Some of us in the School of Education did an activity last week where we had to look at some statistics about our programs and compose a response to be sent to the Faculty and the University. There were all sorts of stats, on enrolments and attrition (students who start but don’t finish courses), grades, student satisfaction and so on.

If there were any places where our stats were unusually low we were required to explain the reasons for it. So for one semester – the first semester of this year – the student satisfaction surveys were unusually low. For the immediate preceding semester last year they had been unusually high.

As we tried to figure out the reasons for these odd results, we realised that we tend to administer those surveys to only some courses each semester, not to every course. It’s almost random which courses and lecturers and students are included in the average scores for each semester.

As anyone who understands anything about statistics will tell you, that makes the results almost useless, and certainly not able to be meaningfully compared with one another semester by semester. We understand this. The people we are going to report to also understand it. And yet, here we are, in the position of having to explain ourselves.

Look, I have no problem with issues of accountability. I don’t even have a real problem with a numbers-based approach to accountability, although I think a mixed-method approach that mixes numbers with some narrative or other description is probably richer.

But what I really object to – and it happens at all levels, including use of student results to rate schools and teachers – is when everyone concerned *knows* very well that the numbers are fatally flawed, but yet because the numbers are there just treats them as though they are facts and need to be accounted for – in some way other than through actually recognising that they are meaningless.

(I like to think I would have written this rant even if the numbers showed us up in a good light…)

19/9/2008

New Boots

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:55 pm

Awesomeness!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:48 pm

Picked up my bike this morning (the financial stuff did end up all falling into place), and it’s AWESOME!!! So smooth, so powerful, so enjoyable.

Only problem is, I also got the letter yesterday that tells me I’ve had a few too many fines and need to be careful lest I lose my license…

So it’s a bit of a dilemma, that way – lovely, healthy big fast bike begging to do what it does best, vs Mr Plod behind every tree with his little radar gun and notepad.

16/9/2008

Arrghh!!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:23 pm

Well, the bike may not get well (yet) after all. Due to a variety of different financial issues, including the continued non-arrival of my tax refund, I may end up not having the cash to get it done. Still running around crazily trying to make it happen, but it’s looking grim.

13/9/2008

A Message from the Rest of the World

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:09 pm

TwiliteMinotaur on the WGB asked the question “What are you doing to help Obama?” Since I think those of us in the rest of the world have a stake in the outcome of this election, I thought I might try to put up a video on YouTube about that, including messages from as many people outside America as possible. Below is a first draft of the text of that – which I’m up writing in the late evening because it’s going around in my head and I can’t sleep. Any suggestions in relation to it are very welcome. What I’d imagined at first was me giving the main message and then a bunch of people from around the world sending me video snippets of themselves saying “I’m {your name} from {your city}, {your country} and I approve this message”. I think it would be more impactful, though, if different people clearly said each sentence or so of the main text and I cut the text together, with all the ‘approve’ messages at the end.

In just a few short weeks, you will have an opportunity to influence the future of your country and the world for the next four years. This is a message from some of us in the rest of the world, who don’t get to vote in the US presidential election, but who are very interested in the outcome. That’s because America effects us in all sorts of ways, big and small.

We like America, and we like Americans. The internet has allowed us to make close friends in America, and many of us have travelled to America. We care about what happens to America and Americans, and we care about America’s role in the world.

America has been a beacon of freedom and tolerance. Individual Americans give more to charity than people in almost any other country. Americans work all around the world to alleviate sickness and poverty and to build healthy communities.

We hope that in a few weeks, when you vote, that you’ll vote for an America that can hold its head high in the world as a nation that upholds freedom and justice and the rule of law. We hope you will vote for engagement and negotiation with the rest of the world, and for an America that works for peace everywhere.

Most of all, we hope that you’ll vote for an America that fulfils the potential, both inside its borders and around the world, of those stirring words “with liberty and justice for all”.

12/9/2008

A Clever Experiment

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:01 pm

…and one I doubt I would have thought of.

An early electricity researcher wanted to know how fast electricity travelled in a wire. So without telling them why, he lined up 200 monks, 25 feet apart, all holding one long piece of wire.

He wanted to know whether, when he turned on the electricity, they would all jump and swear at once, or with a kind of ripple effect.

As it happened it was all at once, showing that electricity moves very fast through a wire.

11/9/2008

Wootness – Bike Will Get Well

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:32 am

I’ve been waiting a couple of months to put my bike in for a service. It’s going to be $600-800 for a major service, plus it’s in desperate need of new sprockets and a chain, so I’m looking at $1200 or so in total.

I’d hoped to use my tax refund, but that’s taken months and months to organise, and still hasn’t arrived. It should be here in the next couple of weeks, but it was meant to be a 50,000 km service and it’s now pushing 53,000 km.

The worst problem is with the chain – the guy who owned it before me put a cheap one on, and the torque of the mighty Bandit stretched it terribly. So some parts of it are very loose and others very tight. You can’t make it too tight or it will cause damage, so it ends up being loose and very loose – which can also cause damage.

I’ve had to keep riding it because I need the transport, but it’s been vibrating through the footpegs and making funny noises, and so acceleration is accompanied by a wince rather than exhilaration. It’s taken a lot of the pleasure out of riding. It got to the point yesterday when I decided it was just too nasty to ride any more, so I came to work by bus today, and will until the bike is fixed.

Anyway, we ended up getting a personal loan to consolidate some various credit card debts – keeping our total indebtedness level constant but making it closed-ended with a personal loan rather than open-ended with credit cards, and reducing the monthly payments to free up some cash. As part of that we borrowed an extra $1200 or so to pay off the orthodontist for Alex’s braces.

So the plan is to misappropriate that money and fix the bike, then pay off the orthodontist when my tax return arrives. High finance! But the bike is booked in for some TLC next Wednesday, and riding it will be a new experience after that.

10/9/2008

Large Hadron Collider Panic

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:47 pm

Reading the comments on the web and in the media about people freaking out that the starting up of the Large Hadron Collider today will end the world, I have two opposing reactions:

  1. Wow, my colleagues and I need to work much harder at science education
  2. May as well give up on science education, the battle is already lost

Breeding Contempt

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:03 pm

It happens in lots of places and on lots of issues, but the place I notice it most is in the response letters in the local newspaper, the Courier-Mail. The web-based version of the paper allows people to comment on stories, kind of like blog comments, and a lot of those comments just show that certain Australians hold other Australians in contempt.

The most recent example was a story about teachers complaining that kids come to school with no manners, having not been taught manners by their parents. One respondent put this down to ‘single mothers and other bumwipes breeding’.

Leave aside the irony of someone commenting about manners by calling others ‘bumwipes’ – what is left is the strong taste of contempt.

It’s not limited to one side of politics by any means: those on the right typically have contempt for the poor, people of other races and anyone they perceive as needing anything from society. Those on the left tend to reserve it for the rich.

But my aim is to at least have respect for everyone. There are plenty of people with whose attitudes and actions I disagree, and some whose actions deserve jail. No problem with that – but they’re all still human, they all still have their own histories and backgrounds to deal with, and they all deserve at least the respect accorded to a human being.

Sadly, Christians, rather than being immune to holding their fellow humans in contempt, are often some of the worst offenders.

But as Jesus said “Whatever you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me”.

Or as someone else said more recently “You love God only as much as the person you love least”.

9/9/2008

Dang, I used to be so polysyllabic

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:51 am

Looked up ‘synchronicity’ in my blog to see whether I’d talked about it before (I had), and found this gem from the very beginning, just a month or so into blogging:

http://www.bravus.com/blog/?p=34

Well done for sticking with me through that stuff!

Spooky Synchronicity – Part… many

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:46 am

So I got an invitation to a party in Edmonton in my email this morning. But it was odd – I didn’t know the sender, or any of the other recipients. It was a private party and seemed to be a celebration of winning a silver medal in … some form of athletic endeavour with teams of 25 people.

Looking back through the email history a bit I noted that there was a ‘David Gee’ in an earlier email, and that most of the people worked at the University of Alberta. I also noticed that the email had been sent to my University of Alberta email address and automatically forwarded to me.

So my best guess is that someone was looking for David Gee’s email address on the U of A database and slipped and hit mine instead. OK, that makes sense.

But here’s the spooky part: I’ll have been out of Edmonton, back in Australia, for well over 2 years by the time I return there for a conference next month. The conference is on the 16th to the 19th of October, and I’m there for a day each side.

And the party is on the evening of the 18th of October…

8/9/2008

Global Thermonuclear War or The Second Coming – what’s the difference?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:45 pm

In terms of outcomes:

Global Thermonuclear War – bad guys fry, good guys go to heaven, earth cleared of life
Second Coming – bad guys fry, good guys go to heaven, earth cleared of life

Have a nice day

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:08 am

We kind of know that any day on earth could be our last: sickness, accident, or even a lightning or meteor strike, and it’s all over for us. It makes life precarious and precious if we remember it.

But in reading and thinking recently, I’ve come up with my Top 10 candidates to end or dramatically change human life as we know it (in no particular order):

  1. large meteor strike – large enough it’s all over, slightly smaller it’s nuclear winter and lots of starvation
  2. random gamma ray burst from space – it happens, and could basically destroy all life on earth (not just human life) instantly with no warning
  3. pandemics – pick your fave: even just imagining a single Ebola carrier making it into any city of millions is plenty to give you the jibblies – 90% kill rate in a period of days, no cure
  4. global thermonuclear war – we act is if it’s off the table and it ain’t
  5. unforeseen dramatic positive climate forcings – if the ice sheet on Greenland melts underneath enough to get lubed and slide off the island, rapid 60-70 foot sea height increases would devastate basically all coastal cities. If there are massive methane pockets in the tundra and they start to outgas, dramatic heating would be very rapid. And so on.
  6. changes to ocean current and heat circulation lead to a rapid new ice age
  7. a mega computer virus that uses the distributed nature of the net and is able to physically damage every processor it hits – total web shutdown in a day, with all the things that are now web-controlled going with it
  8. the ‘gray goo’ problem of runaway nanomachines
  9. some unanticipated rupture in reality – or, less dramatically, massive explosion, massive gamma ray burst or the creation of a small but rapidly-growing black hole – due to the Large Hadron Collider or whatever other tinkering we’re doing
  10. ceased rotation of the earth’s core, collapsing the magnetic field and allowing in a lethal storm of solar radiation

But the one that gets us will most likely be one we haven’t even imagined.

Have a nice day. 😉

7/9/2008

Something true, arrived at via nonsense

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:43 pm

Metalheads are gentle