Quick hits (part I)

1) How does a law professor get arrested for standing in a Wal-Mart?  When he’s a young black man and part of a Ferguson protest.

2) Marc Thiessen– the right’s leading torture apologist– thinks it’s only  a matter of time before ISIS starts using Ebola as a weapon.  Of course, this is simply Thiessen’s fantasy.

3) This Planet Money episode on how women started getting way less into computers in the 1980’s (when me and all my male friends loved them) was really, really interesting.

4) I’m an extrovert.  Do I look that way?

5) Who knew that Philosophy departments were bastions of sexism?!

6) On reading actual books.

7) One of the better pieces on Renee Zellweger’s plastic surgery.  All sorts of things are wrong with our ideas about famous females and their appearance, but all that said, if plastic surgery chances your appearance to the point that people don’t even recognize you, well, that’s worthy of some commentary in it’s own right.

8) Want teenagers to wait longer to have sex?  (I do).  Then let Planned Parenthood teach them Sex Ed.

9) A couple of my FB friends are totally pushing this ridiculous new competitor to FB that monetizes your posts in a pyramid scheme.  Seriously!  How many people are looking to make money off FB?  There’s far more psychic value in posting photos like this and getting dozens of likes.

10) Interestingly, breast self exams have no value added beyond that which comes from simply paying attention to any changes in your breasts.

11) I’m fascinated by the business of fast food.  Good article on why Chipotle is thriving and McDonald’s is not.

12) Lawmakers who support Voter ID and not so interested in responding to their minority constituents.  Surprise, surprise.

13) I’ve only read one Percy Jackson book and was way disappointed.  Not that that’s the point of this essay on Rick Riordan books and YA fiction.

14) On Ginsburg’s dissent on Texas Voter ID and the Texas Election Law blog via Hasen.

15) I want some Breaking Bad action figures!

16) More on the Republican attack on science funding.

I grade like a Brit

Interesting piece on the out-of-control grade inflation in American universities:

At the beginning of this school year, Princeton University changed its contentious grading policy. The university had previously limited the number of students who could receive A grades, but rescinded for a variety of reasons, including fears that the lower GPAs disadvantaged Princeton students on the job market and discouraged the top students from applying to the university in the first place.

Grading can feel like the cruelest part of the semester for teachers and students alike. And no one seems to have quite gotten it right. Commentary on grading brings to mind the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like the porridge that is too hot or too cold or the bed that is too big or too small, grading policies are either too lenient or too harsh. Top U.S. universities have come under fire in recent years for grade inflation. A grades have been the most common grade atHarvard for 20 years, and the median grade there today is an A-. There’s even awebsite that has tracked grade inflation in American schools and universities over time.

In the face of this, Heidi Tworek advocates grading more like the Brits do:

A final suggestion draws inspiration from the country where I pursued my own undergraduate education. Why not simply have fewer grades and accept that the majority of students might receive the same mark? The United Kingdom’s system only has three classes of grades: first, second, and third (although second is split into 2:1 and 2:2). A first denotes work of outstanding quality. In 2012 to 2013, 19 percent of students graduated with a first. An overwhelming 76 percent of students received a second-class degree (51 percent earned a 2:1, 25 percent a 2:2). Only 5 percent were given a third.

That’s not actually very far off from a typical grade distribution in one of my upper-level classes (though, I usually have somewhat more than 5% in the C range).   I never intentionally set out to grade this way, but my grading basically evolved such that I am really not that hard to get a B from, but you really need to earn that A and I rarely give out more than 20%.  I’ve never been quite sure what to make of it, but now that I know I’ve basically stumbled onto the British way on my own, I’m pretty happy with it.

North Carolina students– not smart enough for Common Core?

Yes, according to some.  I don’t doubt that some Common Core standards might be a little too optimistic, especially in lower grades, but I really am concerned by the sound of these complaints (via WUNC):

A state commission in charge of reworking the Common Core academic standards has begun reviewing them…

The 11 members were politically appointed to review and possibly make changes to the academic standards after lawmakers heard complaints from parents and teachers that they do not progress in a natural or developmentally appropriate way.

“Our kids are not common,” said Jeannie Metcalf, co-chair of the commission and long-time Forsyth County school board member. “They are different and they may not be able to achieve some of these higher level expectations.”

Wtf?  That sure sounds a hell of a lot like our kids are just not smart enough.  Wow, is that really the direction we want to go with state-wide standards.  Will you be shocked to learn that Metcalf is from the Tea Party brigade.  Oh, and how is this for classic Orwellian doublespeak:

Metcalf and others explained that some of the standards may need to be rearranged without lowering the bar for students.

“I don’t think any of us want to lower the bar,” said Jeffrey Isenhour, a principal from Catawba County. “There needs to be some alignment, things have to make sense in terms of how students learn.”

Ummm, right.  Standards need to be “aligned” but not “lowered.”  Yeah, and ignorance is strength.  Again, in all fairness some of the standards may need adjusting, but I really don’t trust the people who think the solution is to entirely ditch the higher, better, standards of the Common Core because North Carolina is somehow “unique” or “different.”  At this rate we will be, though– uniquely behind in public education (of course, not really uniquely, we’ll always have Alabama and Mississippi to make us feel good).

Chart of the day

I think the Wonkblog headline, “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong,” may be a little extreme, but this chart is about the most depressing thing about how modern America works:

Poor Grads, Rich Dropouts

Quick hits (part II)

Sorry these are a little late today.  Spent more time than anticipated watching the terrific Notre Dame vs. Florida State game last night.

1) Really interesting Vanity Fair article that give an account on this Ebola outbreak– unlike all the others- became an epidemic.

2) On a somewhat related note, a FB friend shared this story from last year of how an extremely dangerous bacteria was nearly impossible for the NIH to eradicate from it’s research hospital.  With plenty of scary stuff about the future of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

3) Heck, let’s stick with a theme.  Here’s a Yahoo! story about a robot that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect rooms (the CDC used a robot that filled rooms with hydrogen peroxide gas).

4) Alright, let’s just keep going here.  James Surowiecki putting everything in perspective and reminding us we should be way more scared of the annual flu.

5) A Tennessee woman involved in manufacturing meth got 6 years added to her sentence for being pregnant at the time.  Hmmm, that just doesn’t seem right in a variety of ways.

6) We could use better data on charter schools.

7) True tales from the making of Princess Bride.  Much to my dismay, my 8-year old son refused to like it because of the title.  My almost 4 daughter liked it even though it was over her head.

8) Teenagers should so not be interrogated without a parent or a lawyer.  It is a legal travesty that this happens all the time.  I’ve told David never to talk to the police without a parent.  Never.

9) Garrett Epps on the “undue burden” standard from Casey and how courts are increasingly ignoring it.

10) Republican Congressmen are intent on cutting NSF funding based solely on the title of research.

11) How modern pork production is bad for pigs and not so good for workers, either.

12) NYT Magazine feature on how billionaires are becoming their own political parties.

How to learn

Really enjoyed this NYT piece last week on the latest science of the best ways to learn.  I especially enjoyed seeing that the most effective approach was what I had figured out for myself in college.  Here you go:

In the new book “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens” (Random House), Benedict Carey, a science reporter for The New York Times, challenges the notion that a high test score equals true learning. He argues that although a good grade may be achieved in the short term by cramming for an exam, chances are that most of the information will be quickly lost. Indeed, he argues, most students probably don’t need to study more — just smarter…

The first step toward better learning is to simply change your study environment from time to time. Rather than sitting at your desk or the kitchen table studying for hours, finding some new scenery will create new associations in your brain and make it easier to recall information later…

One way to signal to the brain that information is important is to talk about it. Ask a young student to play “teacher” based on the information they have studied. Self-testing and writing down information on flashcards also reinforces learning.

Another technique is called distributed learning, or “spacing,” and it’s a particularly relevant aspect of brain science for ambitious students. Mr. Carey compares it to watering a lawn. You can water a lawn once a week for 90 minutes or three times a week for 30 minutes. Spacing out the watering during the week will keep the lawn greener over time…

Studies have shown that for a student to learn and retain information like historical events, vocabulary words or science definitions, it’s best to review the information one to two days after first studying it. One theory is that the brain actually pays less attention during short learning intervals. So repeating the information over a longer interval — say a few days or a week later, rather than in rapid succession — sends a stronger signal to the brain that it needs to retain the information…

From the data, the scientists determined the optimal intervals for learning information. If your test is a week away, you should plan two study periods at least one to two days apart. For a Friday test, study on Monday and review on Thursday. If your test is a month away, begin studying in one-week intervals…

“Sleep is the finisher on learning,” Mr. Carey says. “The brain is ready to process and categorize and solidify what you’ve been studying. Once you get tired, your brain is saying it’s had enough.”

I’ve already shared this with all my students and will continue to do so in future semesters.  And Carey’s books in in my queue– hopefully I’ll report back on it here some day.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) John Dickerson on how fundraising emails encapsulate everything wrong with politics:

Perhaps it’s effective, but there’s a larger point to be made about political fundraising emails: They are a bouillon cube of all that is awful about American politics—the grasping for money, the neediness, the phony plays on your emotion, the baiting, and reduction of anything complex into its most incendiary form. What makes these emails bad is not the breadth of their insult—you can opt out of receiving them, which makes them easier to avoid than a television commercial—but what it says about the people who send them. Here’s the short version: They think you’re stupid.

2) Personally, I love Common Core math.  I love that my boys are asked not just to apply algorithms, but actually understand what they are doing and really think about math.  Here’s a nice Vox post explaining the virtues of this approach.  Also, so embarrassed to admit I missed this math problem (but I am so inside the box I don’t even know I’m in the box).

3) This piece by Sahsa Issenberg about changing minds on gay marriage and what they may tell us about changing minds on abortion was really fascinating.  Long, but worth it.

4) Amy Davidson on Texas’ abortion law nicely takes about the “not a large fraction” argument.  And TNR’s Jen Gunter looks at the patient safety argument.

5) Yeah, so our kids totally need grit and persistence.  We just haven’t quite figured out how we are supposed to teach them.

6) In case you haven’t seen this alternate ending to Titanic that’s gone viral.  It truly is awful.

7) So love this Onion headline:

Yard Sign With Candidate’s Name On It Electrifies Congressional Race

8) Paul Waldman on our failure to actually learn in our dealings in the Middle East.

9) Sharing your chocolate makes it taste better.

10) Sensationalist coverage of foreign policy makes Americans more hawkish.

11) Adam Gopnik on the power of images in terrorism.

12) This Onion headline so captures some awkward experiences I’ve had:

Coworkers Each Putting In Herculean Effort To Sustain Conversation For Entire Commute

13) Of course teachers should have serious apprenticeships rather than just 6 weeks of student teaching.  Let’s do this.

14) Awesome interactive Smithsonian feature on the Anthropocene era we are living in.

15) The latest in the Post’s terrific series on the abhorrent police practice of stealing innocent people’s cash because, you know, drug dealers use cash, too.

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