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Not Worth The Trip

One of the benefits of the bike is that the fuel tank is small. Only about 15 L or so.

That means it’s pretty much never worth my while to go looking for cheaper fuel: easier just to go to whichever servo I’m riding past.

Why? Because if the price difference is 5 cents a litre (which is typical), it only costs me an extra 65 cents for a tankful.

65 cents buys about… 40 seconds of my time at my current pay rates. So if it takes more than 40 seconds to find cheaper fuel, it’s not worth it.

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Two Issues I’d Like To Have Heard…

…more about in The Conversation’s symposium on science and maths education.

One arose, not from me, in the Twitter conversation: the fact that many primary teachers are not confident or keen to teach science.

The other is the issue of ‘science education for all’. (Disclaimer: I pitched this issue to The Conversation for their series by wasn’t selected.)

On the first point, I’m a teacher educator who teaches primary teachers in their science education course. I think we do a good job, and move them a long way from where they start, but they are still typically not all that excited about the prospect of teaching science – and not all that knowledgable about science (with some exceptions).

Part of the problem is a vicious cycle – their own science education has been weak and they don’t feel confident for that reason. There are also other factors in play, such as an over-emphasis on numeracy and literacy education – and, even more perniciously, on test preparation – engendered by NAPLAN that pushes science out of the classroom.

I think perhaps it’s time to revisit the idea of having specialist science teachers in primary schools. People who love science and love teaching primary would be amazing – and there are some in my classes. I don’t think they need science degrees, although people who do have science degrees could be great. But a science specialisation in a primary education degree, perhaps with some science content courses tailored to their needs, would mean some proportion of primary teachers could do a better job of science education in primary schools. Just quietly, the fact that it would become a timetabled session a couple of times a week would also protect science education against being pushed out quite so easily.

The other issue is something I’ve written about here before. Because of the selection-for-university pressures, our science education in schools largely becomes a process for sieving *out* those students who won’t go into science careers. In practice, that means telling 90% of the community ‘science is not for you’. We need, rather, to be teaching ‘science for citizenship’ or ‘science for all’, equipping students with the scientific knowledge, habits of mind and thinking skills they need to live in a technologically advanced 21st century society faced with many issues with a science component.

I thought it was unfortunate that this issue didn’t really get an airing at today’s symposium. It was implicitly there in Rachel Grieve’s comments on critical thinking, but much of the focus was on retreating future workers in the STEM industries, rather than on preparing all citizens.

I’ll link below to a few older posts on these topics that readers might find interesting, but hopefully just raising these issues offers a useful contribution to the on-going conversation.

Developing Australians’ scientific understanding to face the challenges of the near future

What is science and what is it good for?

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Uncomfortable but Valuable

Ever since I worked on my Masters in education I’ve been receiving compliments on my writing – clear, allusive, lively and so on. I’ve kind of taken it for granted that, whatever my other weaknesses, I was a good writer.

I’m currently working on my lit review, the first chapter of my MPhil thesis to be written, and the drafts keep coming back with comments about needing topic sentences.

I’m not sure whether it’s a science thing or an American thing – my supervisor is from the US, where I believe they really concentrate on writing in very structured ways, where each paragraph has a topic sentence, body and conclusion.

I have to admit, I’ve typically been much less structured, and tried to write something that flows and communicates the ideas, as well as perhaps something of my own thoughts and feelings in relation to them. Sentences are structured to contain an idea: and sometimes need cutting up when they get over 100 words.

Paragraphs, for me, separate thoughts, but are not structured mini-essays in themselves.

This is clearly a skill and a mode I need to learn to write in for clear, concise academic papers in science, so it’s an excellent education for me. It’s also a little confronting, though, even at this stage of life, to be challenged in an area in which I’d always felt pretty strong before.

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I feel a refreshing breeze in the zeitgeist

Google stops using GPAs to select employees, because their internal data shows effectively no correlation with employee effectiveness.

http://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/06/22/1448228/google-respins-its-hiring-process-for-world-class-employees

We’ve been getting more and more grades-driven for a few decades… because the data are there. The data, though, also show that the data are useless for the purpose…

So perhaps we can get back to teaching for learning, and learning for learning, and soft-pedal the number-generation?

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Five Secular Humanists Go To Church

(a quick note on the title: various of us, including me, have different beliefs about the existence or otherwise of gods, but what I mean by ‘secular humanist’ here is the beliefs that (a) religion of any kind should have no role in government and no disproportionate power in society and (b) we regard human beings as good and with the potential for good and seek improvement of life in human actions)

I found out on Tuesday that my brother, Paul, was preaching at Alstonville church, his former home church, about 90 minutes drive from here. It’s close to where my best mate Cam lives, and I’d been telling Crank and Peter about Paul’s preaching for a while, so we put together a bit of a road trip for yesterday. Along with Cassie and Alex, the five of us (Suzie was working and then had an exam later) drove south yesterday morning.

None of us are regular church attenders, but all of us have backgrounds in churches: Cassie and Alex in the SDA denomination, Crank in an Anglican church in Toowoomba and (I think) Peter in a C of E Sunday School in England. So part of the interest for ‘the boys’ was just what a Seventh-day Adventist church service is like.

We said ‘very varied’, and provided some calibration: if there are drums, quite progressive, if there’s a bass but no drums, middle of the road, if there’s only piano and organ, quite conservative. Seems simplistic, but it works – and Alstonville was in the middle category. Hymns, but sung off PowerPoint rather than hymn books, a bass and guitar along with piano and organ, with 4 singers, and multiple songs in a row at the beginning rather than a few hymns interspersed with activities.

These codes relate to much more than the music, they will pretty strongly point to the theology and politics of the congregation.

Things didn’t start especially well when the person welcoming the congregation went off into some impromptu remarks about how experiments ‘prove’ that plants grow better with nature sounds and music than without. That was more of just a ‘science says no’ eye-roll moment.

The same person did the children’s story, a rather dark little tale of near child abduction, with a happy ending, but threw in a parenthetical comment: “It was a public school, so the teachers left 20 minutes after school finished”. With both Cassie and Crank being hardworking public school teachers who often don’t leave school until security throws them out at 6 pm, this did not go over well!

Fortunately Paul did a much better job! He did a couple of daring things – the first trying to preach two separate sermons with about 25 minutes to go before 12. The second was noting, to the congregation, that people tend to start fidgeting at 12 – then confidently preaching on well beyond 12 but keeping them riveted enough not to fidget!

First sermon was about prayer, and focused on dispelling a number of myths and misunderstandings. It addressed a lot of issues and ideas in about 10 minutes, and was typically well thought through and reflective. One metaphor – about choice and kids and foods – didn’t *quite* come together at the end to elucidate the point being made, but the point was clear nonetheless.

The key point was interesting. That ‘free choice’ thing keeps coming up, and (in very brief) the point was that prayer is not for coercing God to act, but about giving God permission… i.e. willingly giving up some free will to allow God to act. I’m not sure I can fully embrace it, but it’s a deeper and more thoughtful position than many we hear.

The second sermon was about ‘people and policy’, and used a number of case studies of Jesus’ iconoclasm from the Gospels to illustrate the issue – also graphically illustrated with props – that there is an Ideal way of relating to human beings, and that religious traditions can get in the way of that rather than support that ideal.

It was reflective and thoughtful and included taking a list of conceptions that non-Christians have of Christians. Rather than bridling at them, Paul took these as a mirror in which Christians can look at themselves to become more Christlike: to treat people better, and to challenge themselves to focus on amending their own faults rather than attacking the faults of others.

We chatted with Paul and his family – wife Vanessa and daughters Lucy and Anna (yep, like me, lucky dad of two daughters). As we headed out, I’m not sure, but it looked to me as though Paul was getting a bit of a lecture from a member of the congregation: a nerve touched? Perhaps I guessed wrong.

Went to lunch with Cam and Jen and their family – they fed us deliciously with virtually no notice, which was much appreciated, and hung out on their verandah on a gorgeous sunny afternoon for a while.

On the drive back we discussed all manner of things, religious, social, political and so on… and it was a great day all around.

Hopefully some of the people involved in the story will be by with comments. 😉

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The Paper Only I Can Write

I’m working on a theoretical paper at the moment that takes the idea of ‘weak measurements’ in quantum mechanics and uses it as a metaphor for how we use theories and methods in educational research.

‘Only I can write’ is probably an overstatement: there’s sure to be at least one other person in the world with similar background in both physics and educational research. But it occurred to me that I should write more things like this, that draw on the things that are unique to me, rather than the more generic educational research papers that hundreds or thousands of other people could write.

One of the fun things about writing this is the fact that I can look back through my own papers and see the seeds of this idea going right back to 1997: I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time, and had even used Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal (the core idea in weak measurements) to talk about the juxtaposition of theories way back then.

At the time I ended up deciding that we could just sort of sweep under the carpet the issue of combining incommensurable (‘not measurable on the same scale’) theories and methodologies. It was only in the past couple of years as I’ve studied more quantum that I have a glimmer of a different approach… and that’s what forms the heart of this paper I’m perhaps quarter of the way through writing.

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Scientists Get Email

I’m posting this mainly for the last part – about helping students learn to think instead of transcribe or regurgitate – but I can also see the point of the scientists.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/06/01/carl-zimmer-gets-a-lot-of-email/