27/2/2013

Generations, Generalisations and Stereotypes

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:58 pm

I posted this on Facebook the other day:

I’m sure it was well-intended, but this presentation from… another middle years course that consists of slide after slide of ‘Generation X used vinyl records, Generation Y used cassettes, Generation Z uses mp3s… Generation X used typewriters, Generation Y used Apple IIs, Generation Z uses iMacs…’ and so on is both not very interesting and quite essentialist. Internal differences within generations dwarf generational differences, IMO. The approach to the course will be different this time…

I’ve been thinking about it since, and wanted to say a few more words about it.

Stereotyping, while to some extent unavoidable, and a side effect of the pattern-finding abilities that make us intelligent, is generally considered a Bad Thing in relation to any other groups. It’s not OK to say ‘women are {like this}’ or ‘white people’ or ‘gay people’ or ‘police officers’ or whatever.

Why would it be OK, then, to stereotype whole generations? But that’s what these generalisations do: ‘All people born in a particular bracket of years are like this…’. Clearly that’s not true – no more than ‘all people born in a particular 12th of the year have the same characteristics’ is true.

It’s not just that we’re all unique snowflakes, either – there are real and important differences within ‘generations’, that (as I already said in the short Facebook post above) are much larger than the differences between generations.

Given that, I’ve resolved to talk and think a bit about how society has changed (in some ways dramatically and in others not at all), but not to make sweeping statements about ‘how kids today are’ or ‘how kids today are not like kids in our day’.

I have readers here (and I’m going to post this discussion on the Open Forum too) who are, like me, on the cusp of the ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Generation X’, and a number who would be called ‘Generation Y’ (but who I think would mostly reject that label).

What do you think? Are these labels – if not true – ever useful? Or do they mask differences that it would be better if we saw?

24/2/2013

Up Here’s For Thinkin’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:02 pm

Here’s a graph I made and posted here a while ago:

The post in question is here: http://www.bravus.com/blog/?p=1911

Sorry about the lack of labels – x-axis is years, y-axis is million square km of Antarctic sea ice.

These data are for Antarctica, but the Arctic picture is similar. Why do I bring it out?

Because the claim ‘Arctic ice is growing at record rates’ is being bandied about to ‘debunk’ climate change.

Yes, the extent (area) of the ice is growing fast for part of the year. The onset of winter runs for a finite time in the year. And if you look at the graph above, you will note that the minima are getting smaller quicker than the maxima – there is a lot less ice in summer, and a little less in winter.

That means that, to get from the new lower minimum to the new also-lower-but-not-as-dramatically maximum, in the same amount of time, of course the ice extent has to grow faster – maybe even at record rates.

It also means, of course, that to get from the maximum to the new ever-lower minimum at the beginning of summer the ice is also shrinking at record rates… but that stat doesn’t get bandied about at all by the (and I use the term quite wrongly) ‘skeptics’.

Doesn’t mean the ice is actually expanding over time – quite the reverse. The total ice is shrinking, and markedly so. This is not evidence against climate change, but for it.

23/2/2013

Slowing My Roll

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:31 pm

At the dog park today, throwing the ball for Buffy and another dog while Suzie chatted to the dog’s owner. Beautiful day and I was enjoying life… but I could feel myself feeling “OK, done this, onward to the next thing!”

It’s an odd thing – I think of myself as a very mellow, laid back guy, almost lazy. And yet… I manage to achieve a lot (heh, and do lots of things that mightn’t necessarily be counted as achievements). And there’s this urge to keep moving.

So I consciously pushed that feeling down, and tried to relax into the moment.

This afternoon at Wet n Wild, too, lying by the pool, I just stopped, chilled, breathed – didn’t read, talk, anything, just… lived.

Because when you do that, subjective time slows down… and while living on fast-forward might help get stuff done, it can also make subjective time speed up. Maybe so much that I fast-forward right through the best bits of my life.

22/2/2013

Anthrax

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:05 pm

It’s kind of a nice problem to have – too much good music playing here to afford! I’d love to have seen Opeth next month – and the fact that they’ve now added Katatonia in support is even more tempting – and ZZ Top, and there are a number of other shows to attend, as well as Bluesfest with Cam and Jen and Suzie.

I’m glad I decided to go and see Anthrax last night, though. Very small venue for a big band (OK, bigger in the 80s, but riding high on the back of their new album and in top form. Ears are still ringing, face is still grinning… just an awesome heavy metal show.

Actually, before I go on, here’s my review of their performance at the Gigantour festival in Edmonton 8 years ago!

Anthrax – what can you say when the classic mid-80s line-up of Anthrax is back together and taking the stage by storm? They were Suzie’s favourite – Joey Belladona does it all from Bruce Dickinson-style long screams to melodic singing to yelling, and the band were tight and intense but just looked like they were having a huge amount of fun playing together. A problem I had intermittently all night reared its head here, and it must have been much worse for Suzie all night (she’s a saint for accompanying me and hanging in there!): we didn’t know all the songs all that well. I knew most of the old Anthrax stuff because I used to listen to it in the 80s, but I’ve listened to the John Bush (replacement singer) era stuff much more in the past few years – I don’t even have a CD of the old stuff. And – I guess it makes sense since it was the old band – all they played was the old stuff. No complaints, they played all the hits – Caught In A Mosh, I’m The Man, I Am The Law, Indians, Metal Thrashing Mad, and lots more – it was just that this was the less familiar stuff for me. Probably shoulda bought up a couple of the old albums when we bought the tickets a few months ago.

Most of that still applies, and in some ways even more so. These guys are my age (within a couple of months), and they’ve been doing this for over 30 years, but they still look as if this was what they were born to do, is their dream and that they’re absolutely stoked to be on stage and are having a great time: so the audience has a great time to.

The band is tight as a duck’s proverbial: it’s really a 3-piece rhythm section with Charlie Benante’s thunderous (but *interesting* – no tedious double-kick pummel, lots of variety) and Frank Bello’s bass underlying Scott Ian’s riff mastery on rhythm guitar. Lead guitarist Rob Caggiano left the band before this tour and his temporary replacement Jon Donais of band ‘Shadows Fall’ played very well but, perhaps fittingly given his band, pretty much stayed in the shadows at the side of the stage. Singer Joey Belladona really *sings*, and his voice has matured beautifully. He can still do the long, loud screams and melodies but also had a more rhythmic, percussive approach on some songs and more bottom end.

Donais’ low-key performance is probably wise, given that everyone else on stage is busy entertaining! Benante sits high above his kit so he can see and be seen, and is working the crowd, Bello and Ian jump and race around the stage and exhort the crowd and Belladona does a lot of mimes to encourage the crowd to jump, shout and raise their fists or horns.

Joey’s banter is fairly traditional ‘Really great to be here in Brisbane (which he pronounced like an American), thank you very much, rawwkkk!!!’ stuff, but Scott Ian also steps up to the mic now and then. He got Brisbane right, and made remarks about ‘taking this seriously, so I know not everyone wants to get in the pit, but if you’re not in the pit you will raise your fist, you will bang your head, and jump up and down’. Maybe it shouldn’t work, but it did.

He also introduced one song saying ‘this one goes back to 1982 – it’s older than most of you’. Paused, then pointed out one dude in the crowd: ‘We’ve have to be Judas Priest for it to be older than you’. Got a laugh. The band’s new album ‘Worship Music’ includes a song called ‘Judas Priest’ paying tribute to that band.

It also has a (great) song called ‘In The End’ paying tribute to the recently deceased (at least, it seems that way) Ronnie James Dio. The band take this seriously, with Scott Ian raising the horns (which Dio popularised) to heaven and bowing his head as in prayer, and Bello making the sign of the cross toward heaven (interesting that they seem in no doubt which direction he went!) The tribute might seem cheesy, but it really felt sincere, and the fact that they left the stage to Rainbow’s ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’ played at full volume after Joey sang the title (doing a pretty credible Dio) brought the message home.

As in the Edmonton show, nothing from the Bush era. He co-wrote most of those songs, so maybe there are legal issues. Or maybe, between playing the hits and the stuff from the new album – which stands up to the hits well – there just wasn’t time. It’s a pity, because there are some amazing songs on those albums, but I guess we’ll always have the albums.

I tried to remember the set list without taking notes (too busy moshing!), but won’t get them in the right order from memory. We definitely heard ‘Caught In A Mosh’ (first up), ‘I’m Alive’, ‘Indians’, ‘Antisocial’ (the sing-a-long both on the intro and chorus is, ironically, perhaps the most social part of the whole event), ‘Devil You Know’, ‘Madhouse’, ‘Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t’, ‘I Am The Law’, ‘Deathrider’, ‘Medusa’, ‘Among The Living’, ‘Efilnikufesin (NFL)’, ‘In My World’ (song from the ‘Married… With Children’ episode) and… possibly, memory is mixing, ‘Belly Of The Beast’.

If you have been trying to decide whether to go see them: do! There’s not even a decision to make.

21/2/2013

[Open] Some Words About Expectations

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:50 pm

These words, or something like them, are in the first lecture of most of my courses. I’d be very happy to have some feedback on whether people find them useful, condescending or a little of both:

Pulling It All Together

  • I’ll try to weave the bits and pieces together, but we have a lot to do in a short time, so you’ll need to do some integrating of your own

Expectations 1 – You Of Me

  • You can expect that I will be prepared to teach, and that I will bring my ‘A game’
  • You can expect courtesy and consideration and professionalism
  • You can expect timely, useful feedback – in a variety of ways
  • You can expect that I know what I’m talking about, but am always still learning

Expectations 2 – Me of You

  • You will be practicing professionals very soon, and are already beginning professionals: I will treat you that way
  • You should take notes in class – and not just of what I say
  • You (collectively) know a lot: I teach by eliciting that and then supplementing it

The Real Goal

  • My real goal in this course – which is encoded in the ones in the Course Profile – is to work with you to help you develop as the best teacher you can be
  • Ultimately, the responsibility for your learning rests with you: I can lead but I can’t force
  • That means I don’t mark a roll in tutes or labs or lectures, and I expect you to know when things are due
  • At the same time, I’ll be monitoring how you’re doing, and try to help if it looks like you’re struggling, before it’s too late

[Open] First lot of PowerPoints for 7032 (Middle Years Science) uploaded

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:55 am

http://www.slideshare.net/bravus/what-is-science-16659135

http://www.slideshare.net/bravus/inquiry-16659143

http://www.slideshare.net/bravus/forces-and-motion-16659755

The Inquiry one in particular is way too brief, and I’ll be talking a lot more than what is shown there – but I’ll post on the lecture once it’s happened.

[Open] It begins

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:42 am

(I’ll use the [Open] tag, as well as creating a new category, to set off the Open Education stuff from everything else)

So, about 10 students and one interested bystander (waves @ Crank) have signed up for the open discussion forum. No posts yet – except the spam I’m still smiting each morning – but once classes start next week it should be all go.

First 4 or so PowerPoints should go up today as well. I’ll announce here what I’ll announce in the courses: the PowerPoints exist for a number of purposes, including sharing and availability for those who can’t make it to the lecture, but I don’t think lecturing from PowerPoint is a particularly compelling pedagogical strategy, so I may well teach the content in the lecture differently.

19/2/2013

Open Education – It’s Here, Now!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:34 am

Here’s an announcement I just posted (with slight tweaks) on the web sites for both of my courses:

I’m trying an experiment this semester. It’s 100% your decision whether you participate or not. There’s no cost, and it’s irrelevant to your grade in the course*, and I won’t be using it to write any research papers or anything. I just think it’s kind of a cool idea.
The experiment is to conduct this course in a more ‘open’ way. That includes a few things.

  1. I will post all the PowerPoint slides I use in my account on Slideshare, so that they’re available to the world. I’ll also post them – and the lecture recordings – here on the course site so that you have direct access.
  2. I will post about what I’m teaching on my blog at http://www.bravus.com/blog/ I’ve been blogging for about 8 years and there are something like 1800 posts there, including quite a few about educational issues, and I’ll just post about what I’m teaching during this semester.
  3. I have created a discussion forum at http://www.bravus.com/tribes/ which I have just called ‘Open Forum’. It will be available for people in this course, 7032 – Middle Years Science Curriculum (which is a pretty terrible title, btw) – and in the other course I am teaching this semester, 7801EDN – Teaching and Learning in the Middle Years. One of the cool things about it is that, unlike Discussion Boards within course sites, it won’t go away at the end of the semester, it will always be available. I’ll use it in the courses I teach next semester, too (7033 and 7035EDN, Senior Science 1 and 2). I’ve been on one online forum for 10 years, and it has enriched my life enormously. I’ll also be inviting some of my colleagues and former students and other interested educators to join the community and comment on the discussion, so it should be a great way to join the profession.
  4. I will post Announcements here when I post interesting readings and new discussions in the Open Forum: these are not compulsory in any way, just things I think are interesting. You are also very welcome to share anything you find interesting, and if a good discussion gets going I’ll announce it here too.

If you choose to participate, just register on the Open Forum and go for it! If you prefer not to, don’t! It shouldn’t impact you at all – just study the course in the regular way. You’ll see some Announcements, but I’ll tag them with [Open] and you can feel free to ignore them

* Except, perhaps, in the sense that if you discuss the ideas in the course you will develop a better understanding of them.

So, among other things, this constitutes part of that invitation to my friends to join the Open Forum. Click, register, post!

Tyre

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:58 am

I’ve said before that ‘debunking’ isn’t that interesting to me as an activity. At the same time, I care passionately about truth and truth-telling. So when someone crowed that the Bible’s divine origin was demonstrated by the fact that it had prophesied that certain cities would be destroyed and never rebuilt, I immediately thought of Tyre. Formerly the capital of the Phoenicians, it is now in Lebanon, and called ‘Sour’. Here is what Ezekiel had to say about Tyre (in Chapter 26):

7 For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring against Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. 8 He will kill with the sword your daughters on the mainland. He will set up a siege wall against you and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you. 9 He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10 His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you. Your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters your gates as men enter a city that has been breached. 11 With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets. He will kill your people with the sword, and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground. 12 They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters. 13 And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. 14 I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the LORD; I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD.

It was actually Alexander who tore down the old city and threw it into the sea, building a causeway from the mainland out of the island that, with added silt, means Tyre is now a promontory rather than an island, but Nebuchadnezzar also attacked it, and in fact it has been destroyed or damaged a number of times, including in the wars in Lebanon in the past few decades.

But here’s a satellite photo of modern Tyre/Sour (click for bigness).

Tyre

Clearly there’s a substantial small city there. The population is estimated at about 117,000, though the wartorn nature of the region means that accurate censuses are hard to come by.

There’s been a lot of tapdancing by people trying to save the prophecy: here are a few examples:

It does depend on ones perspective! Was the original city rebuilt into the thriving city it was once on a time??

Not sure about ancienct populations, but I’d be pretty surprised if the ancient city had 117,000 inhabitants.

The statement that Tyre will never be rebuilt means more than the restructuring of stones, wood and mortar. Tyre will never regain international prominence as a world trader and colonizer. She will never be a rich, prosperous, flourishing, world power as she was in Ezekiel’s day. The denial of rebuilding goes far beyond a mere architectural project. It must include making Tyre into the person she was in the early sixth century BC. It must be kept in mind that the meaning is “you will never be rebuilt,” not “the city will never be rebuilt.”

The statement in 26:14 does not deny there would be buildings on the island. It means that Tyre would never be rebuilt into the commercial superpower she was in Ezekiel’s day. It means that the palaces and temples of Ezekiel’s day would forever lie deep underneath the ground (and the water!), never to be revived. It would in no way be rebuilt into the prosperous, powerful living entity she was at the time the oracle was given.

Chapter 26 verse 14 says (in part): “I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets.” Have another look at the satellite photo: bare rock?

Someone else (actually, I think it was the SDA Bible Commentary) then said ‘Oh well, the island has been rebuilt but the prophecy meant the city on the mainland”. But if the ‘Romanium Stadium’ shown in the satellite image marks the location of the old city (which makes sense) it is clear that the modern city extends considerably inland and around that. Some of that area has been preserved for archaeological reasons, not built over, but that would be rather clutching at straws in prophecy terms.

I could keep going, there are lots more examples. But they’re all ways of explaining away or dancing around the contradiction.

You can’t have it both ways, if you care about truth. If the warrant for the Bible’s prophecies being reliable is the real-world evidence, you don’t then get to explain away the evidence when it’s inconvenient.

Science and Morality

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:50 am

P Z Myers is almost always worth reading. I disagree with him on many things, and agree on many more, but a blog is not worth reading only based on agreement – no doubt many who read my blog also disagree with me on some things. A blog is worth reading, in my opinion, for the ways in which it (a) points us to things that we find interesting but might not have discovered on our own and/or (b) works through ideas in a thoughtful, interesting way.

I’ve talked before about why I think Sam Harris’ claim that morality can be founded in science is a mistake, and could talk more about that, but this post by P Z does a great job, using an illustration from history:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/02/18/scientific-morality-an-example/

The short-sighted lesson would be ‘oh, those silly 19th century folk who thought eugenics was a Good Thing’. The longer-sighted one is, I think, ‘Hmm, I wonder what things we silly 21st century folk remain blind to?’

The moral (heh) is that we must seek our morality somewhere other than in science. Where that is has been an on-going theme for me, some of it represented here and some in other places. To be continued…

18/2/2013

Teach For {Your Corporate Masters}

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:35 pm

Good, if long, article about Teach For America.

http://www.salon.com/2013/02/17/the_hidden_curriculum_of_teach_for_america_partner

It might be worth noting that the author seems to use ‘liberal’ to mean something close to ‘libertarian’, rather than its more usual modern US usage.

Why are we spending millions replicating this failed experiment in Australia?

And if the money won’t, maybe the ice (or lack thereof) will

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:49 pm

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/climatesnapshot/arctic-death-spiral-leaves-climate-scientists-shocked-and-worried

If the science won’t convince ’em, maybe the economics will

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:24 pm

Small-minded, isolationist policies just won’t work. If Australia doesn’t move (or moves backward, as T. Abbott plans but likely can’t deliver), there is sufficient political will internationally to introduce tariff mechanisms to force the issue. Better to be masters of our own destiny.

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/sceptics-lose-focus-on-climate-change-big-picture/story-e6frerc6-1226579070344

17/2/2013

Spam

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:12 am

So, I built a forum on the 6th of this month, as described in this post. Now, 11 days later, there are 1107 spam posts in one forum and 696 in another.

Off to spend a few minutes fixing the filters.

15/2/2013

Science!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:10 pm

So, I got my lab book – the crucial and closely-guarded document in which working scientists record their experiments each day to establish who got there first – this afternoon, and spent the whole afternoon working in the lab.

Nothing particularly security-conscious today, but in these social media days, in which I know I share a lot more than many people, I need to get in the habit where it’s OK to say that I’m doing research but not to share what I’m working on lest some other team elsewhere scoop us.

Anyway, definitely a buzz to be working as a real scientist in a biophysics lab.

I guess the first publication of a paper in that field will be the really big milestone – perhaps even more so than getting the degree itself. That’s some distance off, of course, but not that far… stay tuned!

Only then will I feel I can call myself ‘a physicist’ and/or ‘a scientist’.

13/2/2013

Evolutionary Psychology (again) – and why it matters

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:03 pm

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/02/11/kate-clancy-tackles-evolutionary-psychology/

11/2/2013

Literature Reviews

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:14 pm

I’m working on the literature review for my Masters of Philosophy (Physics) (henceforth to be known by the more familiar title ‘M Phil’ – sounds French!). I’m writing something that will end up being (much tweaked near the end) a chapter of the thesis, but I also have to present a lit review seminar in a couple of months.

(one of the interesting things is that I’m one of 2-3 physicists, labelled as biophysicists, in the Institute for Glycomics, which is full of biologists and chemists and biochemists. If anyone at all turns up for my talk, it will be a heap of smart non-specialists… and perhaps a couple of serious physicists from the other campus, charged with putting my feet to the fire)

In education, a literature review really needs to have three parts: some on the theoretical framework, some on the methodology and some on the empirical stuff – what we have learned from the research done so far.

The difference in (bio)physics – or at least my particular branch – is that the theoretical framework has pretty much been in place since Maxwell. If we get down to the ionic level we might have to get a little bit quantum on it – but even that’s a century old. So, guess I don’t really need to write too much about the theoretical framework in general: a bit about the specifics of the relevant theory and its implications for our work, but not a lot more.

In Kuhn’s terms, education can be thought of as ‘pre-scientific’. It doesn’t have a single dominant paradigm, it has dozens of competing paradigms. While they can be roughly sorted into qualitative and quantitative methods, the underlying paradigms are much more disparate. It’s necessary to say quite specifically where one’s research is located on this map – or possibly on a couple of different maps.

Physics, of course, is kind of the paradigm case (a slightly different use of the term – never mind, Kuhn apparently uses it 23 different ways) of a discipline that is ‘scientific’ in Kuhn’s sense. That means the methodology can largely be ‘taken as read’, since it’s shared by everyone in the field. It’s so foundational as to be pretty much invisible, and it’s certainly not necessary to waste words saying what everyone knows.

So this lit review I’m working on, while it’s complicated and technical in terms of the physics involved, and the maths used to tell that story, is actually more straightforward in some ways than the ones I routinely help students prepare in education.

A Call To Arms

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:16 pm

An excellent letter from a retiring US teacher to college professors:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/02/09/a-warning-to-college-profs-from-a-high-school-teacher/

The context is different but the issues are very similar here: excessive testing is breaking education.

Year 3 kids can learn quantum mechanics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:17 pm

Very cool story from the Queensland Science Teacher journal:

http://www.staq.qld.edu.au/blog/2013/2/11/year-3-kids-can-learn-quantum-mechanics.html

10/2/2013

Chemophobia

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:25 pm

Great little article on the ways words and language can confuse us in relation to health – if we let them.

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/02/curing_chemophobia_don_t_buy_the_alternative_medicine_in_the_boy_with_a.single.html#pagebreak_anchor_2