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View Diary: A Blue-Collar Girl in a White-Collar World (105 comments)

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  •  How about learning science in practice? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FloridaSNMOM, leftyparent

    Would it be possible to learn what you need to know in a program that worked like an apprenticeship?

    •  I think so, tho there are a lot of important... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angelajean

      detailed knowledge to be absorbed so you can function effectively in a real-life science "lab" environment.  But that knowledge could be acquired presumably by self-study and certification as well as classwork in a formal "school" setting.

      But then I'm no scientist!

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 03:28:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  No, it really isn't (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FG

      If all you want is to be a lab technician and work in a science lab -- then maybe.  But if you aspire to be a scientist, then there is a whole lot of information and expertise that you need to cram into your head.

      For example, one of the labs I have worked in used a laser to excite the carbon atoms in graphite.  This laser pulses on a femtosecond timescale, faster than anything we could reasonably buy "off the rack."  So we had to design and build our own, along with the circuitry to detect and measure the effects of the laser.

      On the other hand, that laser will only interact with carbon if it is tuned to a very narrow wavelength.  Just calculating what that wavelength was and how narrow the spread had to be was a non-trivial task.  

      It took not one scientist, but an entire team of scientists with an extremely specialized and diverse pool of knowledge just to make a single measurement.  

      If someone had just trained "hands on", they might know how to perform one role in this one experiment.  However, in three years when our grant is out and we move on to an entirely new experiment with entirely new tools, that person with only the hands on experience would have precisely nothing.

      The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

      by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 03:31:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This answer is rather ironic... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        leftyparent, FloridaSNMOM

        It seems that your solution was found not in a lecture room but in a team setting working hands on. Granted, you each had lots of info in your heads that you may have learned in lecture or from books but it was the practical application that made all the difference.

        I am a big proponent of practical application - it's why I wanted my son to have biology lab along side biology lecture. But I wish we taught more subjects hands on and less by lecture. So many people I know retain the knowledge from those hands on experiences much more completely that the knowledge they memorized only for a test.

        •  The hands on experience . . . (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angelajean, FG, RainyDay

          was only made possible by the fact I had spent 2 years learning different ways to solve differential equations and hundreds of hours practicing solutions to the Schrodinger equation.

          Sure, get your hands dirty in a lab, but it takes 4-6 years of focused instruction and dedicated study just to bring an undergraduate up to about world war II in terms of understanding math and science principles.  That's the price we pay for living at the top of a technological tower we've been building for centuries.

          The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

          by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 04:19:46 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The STEM challenge is to make all that... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            fuzzywolf, angelajean

            seat time more compelling and less "drill and kill", a riddle I guess we have not solved yet because we struggle to get our young people into science career paths!

            Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

            by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 04:32:06 PM PDT

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            •  There is a fine line ... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

              that we debate often at the university.  The ultimate goal is to prepare students to do original work as soon as possible.  The problem lies with giving students "enough" background knowledge.  

              Some students (a minority) will continue on in academia and get a PhD.  Some (considerably more) will get a master's degree to prepare them for work in a specialized field (e.g., U of Oregon's excellent 2 year master's program in renewable energy).  More will stop with a BS degree and then get some job in industry or government where they can apply the background knowledge they have acquired.

              We are desperately deficient in the number of scientists we put to work.  There are many programs that shave down required material to a minimum.  What we do not want to create, however, is a legion of magicians who are able to apply the principles put forth by the theoretical sciences with no idea as to why they might work.

              To make an example, someone who intends to be an auto mechanic does not need to be able to calculate the efficiency limits of the engines he repairs -- he can easily look up the relevant benchmarks.  However, he really ought to have some idea of why hydraulic brakes work, what creates an electrical short and what combustion is.    Lacking this information causes a tragic disconnect in his work -- it reduces him to a medieval priest who merely performs the sacred rites handed down to him.

              The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

              by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 05:30:10 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  IMO we are only "deficient" if... (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                reconnected, FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

                there are kids that might be interested in the sciences that are not being given an opportunity to be exposed to them in a compelling way.  Kids need to make their own choices.  If kids in other parts of the world have more interest in this area right now, so be it.

                I have become really uncomfortable with top-down control-model education policy which creates coercive standardized curricula to ensure (force) a certain number of kids to become scientists.  IMO if we can't convince them freely that its a compelling career, then we shouldn't be pressuring them to take so much science and math classes in K-12.

                Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 05:46:51 PM PDT

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                •  If kids can't .... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  angelajean

                  get interested in the concepts that make their milk cold, their TVs turn on, their cell phones work or the sky blue, then the fault does not lie with the sciences .... it lies with us, the parents.

                  There are too many reality based social issues that would simply stop being issues if people had more science education that I could never agree with any call for less science and math in the classroom.

                  The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                  by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 08:51:20 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I hear your concern... mine is forcing... (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

                    the learning process.  I don't think it is effective!

                    Yes... give more kids the opportunity to have compelling experiences in science, but ultimately let them drive the vehicle of their own development.  Trying to control them is not the answer.

                    Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                    by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 09:06:44 PM PDT

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        •  I will revise and say . . . (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          leftyparent, angelajean

          that they experiences that increased my understanding the most were when I stood up at a white board and verified for myself the results quoted in a textbook.  If that is what you meant by hands on, then I apologize for misinterpreting you, and you are quite correct.

          I always say that math is a skill you learn not facts you memorize, and that the only way to get good at math is to use it.  A lot.

          The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

          by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 08:47:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  As a big math person myself, I agree... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FloridaSNMOM, Alden

            The best math classes I had were the ones where I spent all my time at the chalk board explaining my problem solutions and proofs.  I liked the algorithmic and logical sequences of math proofs, it really resonated with me.

            My degree was in computer science, but could easily have gone the direction of electrical engineering.  But with the EE degree in Los Angeles in the 1980s I would have ended up working in Aerospace probably building weapon systems.  So I went the computer science route and the more high paying jobs were in business systems, which appealed to my interest in systems theory.

            So I was a math geek, but my own kids clearly are not.  They should be able to pursue their own different passions.

            Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

            by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 09:13:58 PM PDT

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            •  However... (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              reconnected, angelajean

              In 35 years of applied computer science, most of it spent at an advanced level creating tools used by other programmers, I can recall only a single occasion when I called on any non-trivial math of the type required so extensively in my CS curriculum.  

              That was when I needed to transform the output of a random number generator from its uniform distribution into a normal distribution.  Alas such a transformation was not among any of the map theory or calculus or even statistics that had been rammed down our throats.  Instead I looked it up in a handbook of engineering formulae.  Granted, I might have had some difficulty finding and understanding it without at least some of my college-era math studies.

              Additionally the math/science-track math courses (not the simplified ones for liberal arts majors) focused so intently on computational and derivational details that they largely obscured the grand concepts and their beauty, which began to emerge for me only later in life in a more recreational context.  

              I've sometimes wondered if the difference in American and European student performance in math, and the absence in many European countries of the boy/girl divide in outcomes we see in America, might be a result of the way we jump straight into heavy computation and manipulation of formulae with insufficient focus on the abstract concepts and their intuitive applications in the real world.

              ------
              Ideology is when you know the answers before you know the questions.
              It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

              by Alden on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 09:27:25 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Difference skills (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                reconnected, angelajean, melo

                In fact, in teaching programming courses to people from various backgrounds over the years, I've come to the conclusion that math and the kind of sequential logic and visualization used by programmers must be not only separate skills, but perhaps different ways of looking at the world or different types of intelligence.

                I found that many (not all) mathematicians in my classes had trouble with the sequentiality of programming.  They expected a certain relationship to simply BE true, it seemed at times -- something they could assert by knowing it is so --  without going through intermediate steps to make it beCOME true.

                That's not easy to reconcile with the notion of a mathematical proof, which is indeed sequential, and yet I saw this sort of difficulty recur over and over again in students coming from a primarily mathematical background.

                One of the most promising backgrounds seemed to be music.  I have only an intuitive notion of why that might be so, and it has to do with music as an unfolding process, a cyclic, iterative process, in which certain "things" (events, alterations, whatever) are stored (or occur) at certain "locations" along the way.

                Math and music both require visualizing and remembering complex, abstract structures, but there must be a difference in the way they are processed in the brain.

                There is also a certain arbitrariness to music or a computer algorithm.  Unlike how it is in math, there is no single inherent truth to uncover and represent.  Rather there is an arbitrary path to create in order to achieive a certain desired impression, effect, our outcome.  There are few points of reference along the way that an tell you if you are 'right' or 'wrong'.  You're right if the outcome in the end is what you were looking for.

                ------
                Ideology is when you know the answers before you know the questions.
                It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

                by Alden on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 09:46:04 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Abstract math is such a conundrum... (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Alden, angelajean

                  when it comes to education and requiring all kids in high school to take several years of it.  That abstract math requirement (rather than an option) is what seems to make school problematic and unpalatable for a lot of kids, including both my son and daughter.  It really struck me when I saw it in them, since I had always been a "math geek" myself.

                  How do we design an education system that identifies the students with an aptitude for abstract math and get enough of them to pursue it as a career to staff the needed job slots requiring this skill set? An how do we do that while not inflicting all this abstract math on the rest of the kids who just do not think that way and are debilitated by being forced to embrace these abstract methodologies.

                  Certainly concrete arithmetic is important for most everybody - budgeting, accounting, etc.  But requiring that all kids have three years of abstract math to graduate high school is an awful imposition on minds that don't readily think that way.

                  I think right there in abstract being a big part of the teach-to-the-tests high-stakes standards we are destroying the public school system as a viable institution to actually help all kids with their development.

                  Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                  by leftyparent on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 11:11:32 AM PDT

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                  •  Abstract is a misnomer (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    angelajean, Alden

                    for, at least, secondary math education.  Arithmetic, basic algebra, basic geometry, basic trigonometry ... what concepts could be more concrete?  These are the basic tools that move our everyday technology from the realm of dark mysticism to the realm of bright possibility.

                    Put another way, mathematics is one of humanity's greatest achievements, and it is all the greater because it developed across boundaries of culture, gender, race and history.  Why do we take for granted that children are enriched through exposure to the subtleties of Shakespeare but not the beautiful infinities of calculus?

                    The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                    by fuzzywolf on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 02:54:42 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  IMO good drama resonates more broadly... (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Alden

                      Because it is about the range of human interactions, and most everybody is invested in that and can get some inspiration for leading their own lives.  I think a significant percentage of people just don't resonate with the numbers that lie under the biology and physics of our lives.  It's hard to give them context.

                      Neither of my kids were at all interested in algebra, geometry and trig.  Many other young people I interact with are not either.  Others are.

                      IMO it is a way of abstracting the real world that resonates with some but not with others.

                      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                      by leftyparent on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 05:46:08 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I don't resonate with numbers, but... (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        leftyparent
                        a significant percentage of people just don't resonate with the numbers
                        I don't resonate with numbers but I resonate all the more with abstract concepts and sometimes with the curves that represent them.

                        Internalizing the symbolism that represents these concepts has always been difficult for me, just as the sounds of Ancient Greek never leapt off the page at me the way the sounds of something in a Latin alphabet do.

                        The swoops and swings and tapers of nature are particularly interesting and I find them in the rhythm and dynamics of music as well.  But I would be in baby steps at telling you how to codify and parameterize them mathematically.

                        I did acquire (recreationally) some new physics/mathematics terminology two weeks ago, relating to the higher-order derivatives of position:  In addition to velocity and the change in velocity called acceleration, there are changes to the changes (higher order derivatives) known as jerk and then jounce and thereafter, in the words of some wags, snap, crackle, and pop.

                        Whether there is anything in all of this to inform the mathematical education of future generations, I do not know.  But math seems to be taught with a bottom-up approach.  Maybe some kind of top-down approach that starts with the concepts would work better for some of us.

                        ------
                        Ideology is when you know the answers before you know the questions.
                        It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

                        by Alden on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 09:54:46 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  I think more context for math instruction... (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Alden

                          would be very helpful.  That said I still think abstract math should not be a high-stakes requirement for all our youth.

                          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                          by leftyparent on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 08:24:32 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  abstract math includes . . . (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Alden

                            abstract algebra, number theory, complex analysis, topology and a dozen other fields that 96% of people have never heard of.

                            What students learn in high school is more properly called concrete math.

                            The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                            by fuzzywolf on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 09:14:04 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

          •  Too true. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            reconnected, leftyparent

            I didn't have trouble until college level calculus and a learned the hard way how much math I had memorized and how little I understood. As an adult, I look back at that time and feel sorry for the kid that I was. Back then, I thought I was stupid. But now I realize that the system was designed to push us through and if memorization was the way to do it, so be it.

            Just the other day, I was going through old papers and ran into my SAT scores. My oldest, 16, is getting ready to take his soon. I showed him the scores as an example of how testing can be so wrong. My math scores were incredibly high and my reading comprehension on the low side. Yet I couldn't crack it as a Electrical Engineering major. Instead, I graduated as in English Lit.

    •  No. You need to know a lot about the subject area (0+ / 0-)

      in order to even start doing anything useful. While it is possible to learn some of it from textbooks, it will take you almost as much time as actually going to college (given that you can start actual work while you're still in college). People will not bother explaining you the concepts behind every single thing they do if you don't have at least some idea about them already.

      And it's pretty much impossible to find a job in science that doesn't require a college degree.

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