Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Hard parts of creating education

Two fundamental questions about education are What must be learned? and How can we verify that the desired learning took place?  These two questions are often labeled "curriculum" [what course is to be run, what path traveled?] and "test" [how can we be sure that the learner actually learned?]


The traditional answer to the first question is more or less "everything".  Much like nutritionists advise a varied diet, educationists advise learning a wide variety of subjects.  It is true that higher education has tended to focus on narrowed learning, where the student has a better chance of being an expert and of knowing more than the average person.  Men, by the way, often want to "win".  They don't much care at what, just as long as they win.  So, there is a tendency for me to become the world expert in the use and history of the comma or the history of the letter A.


The 1939 education classic "The Saber Tooth Curriculum" tells the fictional story about the requirements to learn the moves and strategies of saber-tooth tiger hunting, despite the fact that such beasts are extinct.  We have expert hunters or experts in what are believed to be advanced saber tooth tiger hunting and we require our youth to pass exams in the knowledge and skills of such hunting.  Why?  Who cares?  I had to learn it and they are damned well going to learn it, too!


Which brings us to the other hard part.  You teach 100 youngsters tiger hunting or Latin or the history of the ether.  They look like they paid attention.  They all were present for every lecture, every discussion.  But the public and the parents would like more convincing data.


We have the demonstrations and the history lectures on tape and we can show 100 or 1000 students the tapes at a time.  Not an expensive proposition.  But the testing, the verification - that gets a little more costly.  How about a multiple choice test, where we can arrange seating far enough apart that copying is nearly impossible?  We feed the tests through a machine that reads them and tallies up the number of "correct" choices.  There will be a few geniuses who can see a problem with all the choices to many of the questions but only a few.  There will be a few students with extra high levels of worry and fear.  We can test those who seem extra worried for blood pressure and such and give them a more personal test, maybe with an extra fee required.  It is expensive to build the test and we will be afraid that some enterprising group will each memorize one or two of the questions according to a pre-arranged plan and reconstruct the test for sale to next year's students.


The most basic difficulty still remains.  That is determining whether knowledge and skills of saber-tooth tiger hunting makes a large enough positive contribution to the later lives of the students and their society.  Don't forget that those who want to focus on the joys of music are urging educators to drop saber tooth tiger hunting and emphasize flute instead.


I am not sure we will ever get this right.  The problem is like a paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12:12 "Of the making of educational adjustments, there is no end."




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Monday, August 31, 2015

Change all the time

It is fun and it is easy to pin things down.  Harry is like this and pork is like that.  In real life, things are always changing.  That fact makes things more complicated.  It's easier to just fix things in our minds and leave them that way.  I wrote yesterday about visiting two small central Wisconsin villages.  Given changes in the weather, our purposes, and recent experiences and changes in the communities, we see again the value and applicability of the basic truth: Everything changes.

I use my two visit to Florence, Italy as a reminder of just how different two visits to a place or a  person can be. Here is my post from five years ago about two visits to Florence, Italy, 24 years apart.

Visiting two Florences

I visited Firenza, the city in Italy we call "Florence" twice, first in 1974 and then again in 1998.  Both visits were only for a few days but together, they make a great mental reminder of the individuality of life's experiences.


The first trip was my first visit to an old city anywhere.  It was extremely crowded on the main sidewalks and I had to shorten my steps to avoid the feet in front of me.  We stayed in a little rental up what I would have called an alleyway.  It seemed romantic.  I had bought a gorgeous loaf of bread in a stop in Assisi, but learned that bread made with no salt was not very tasty.  Up the alley from our lodging was a bakery and I felt so clever finding a way to ask if the loaf I wanted there had salt in it.  We were right around the corner from the Duomo, the cathedral church of Florence and I liked the striped building.  The famous Ponte Vecchio ("old bridge") is very colorful, a clearly old bridge with shops all along it.  [It is famous enough that 'ponte' into Google suggests Ponte Vecchio immediately.]


Twenty-four years later, guess what?  I was 24 years older!  I had been in my early 30's the first visit so of course, I had changed.  But the events, the scenes, the impressions were also quite different, different enough that in many ways it seemed like a different city.  For one thing, we came in quite late at night, using a different route and stayed at lodgings that were very different..  Coming into a busy city that is unfamiliar in the dark is no picnic.  We got a little lost and even managed to get our tour bus more or less stuck in an ancient and tiny street until we stood outside the giant bus and guided the driver in the dim light.  The next morning, we got a chance to see the enormous villa in which we were housed.  The entry hall itself seemed as big as an American high school gym.  It was out in the suburbs with an orchard beside it and had great views of the area.


If we hadn't seen the same cathedral and the same old bridge without leaving the city, I would not be sure that it was even the same city.  It wasn't the same me and it wasn't the same set of experiences.  That old Greek said you can't step into the same (totally unchanged) river twice and we found we can't visit the same place twice.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Sunday, August 30, 2015

No fly-over country

Yesterday morning, we visited the nearby villages of Amherst and Iola, Wisconsin.  You may not have heard of either one.  We often laugh at the idea that some of the midwestern states are "fly-over country" since we found charming, interesting, memorable places, people and events in every locale.  The same goes for Amherst and Iola, Wisconsin.  Try them out and you'll see.
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lost keys

Where could they be?  I always put them here but clearly they aren't here now.  They didn't fall down behind the stand and they aren't on the floor.  They are not beside the bed and they aren't by the computer.


When some sort of misplacing happens, you start to wonder if you might be losing it.  I often have trouble remembering what I did yesterday and when.  But then, I can recall searching for my glasses when I was six years old. I don't know if I have lost more things than most people but I do know I have spotty records of what was lost and when and why.  I am confident that my overall record extends from my grade school days.  Oh yes, I am the guy who carried two shoes to the shoemaker and found I had only one to give him to be repaired when I got there.  I was a 4th grader then.  I don't think I am losing it.  I might have been born without it!


You know how it is.  When you can't find what's missing, there doesn't seem to be much that can be done except retracing your steps and looking over and over for them.  Did I look carefully in those pants?  Really carefully?  Maybe I missed a pocket?  I'll try again.


The only reason I was looking for them at that hour was that today is a recycling day.  I can't get the recycling bin out of the garage unless I move one of the cars out first.  I didn't want to admit defeat and get the spare key to move my car but after several repetitious rounds of looking in about the same places, I went to the spare key drawer.  These days there is some notable expense to have a spare key for a car, what with the special computer chips and all.  But this was one of those times when I was glad I had a spare.  The instant i pushed the spare into the ignition, I remembered placing my keys in the bag on my bike yesterday afternoon.  Until that moment, I could not think of any place or activity that had been part of yesterday that could explain how those keys could have gotten away.


Putting my keys in the zippered bag was good handling.  I put them in a place where they were likely to be ok even if I had some minor accident.  I have taken tumbles on a moving bike and I know mishaps occur.  But after the ride was over and I was ready for something else, I didn't think of those keys still safely zipped in that seat bag.


When I am going around and around, looking in the same places and making zero progress in finding them, feelings of stupidity, negligence, unreliability, carelessness and their cousins are buzzing around me like flies.  I have some good records of achievement and I don't qualify as too careless most of the time.  I am old and experienced enough with those flies that I can keep them mostly at bay.  When I do find the damned missing keys, I am glad that I didn't yell at myself too much.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Friday, August 28, 2015

He has everything he needs

The other great-grandchildren were interested in shopping after having lunch at a place of their choosing.  But the five year old dismissed a chance to shop for toys or goodies.  "I have everything I need," he said.

He is right.  He is not cold nor dangerously hot.  He is not thirsty, nor hungry.  He has live, healthy, loving parents and other relatives.  He has a seat belt and wears it.  He gets to watch football games and read books he likes.


He is the shame of American marketing, of course.  Having failed to create a deep longing for a secret decoder ring or a smart phone or a superhero cape, it is clear that our economy is looking for a downturn when a five year old is content.  What we will hear from him when he is 20 years older and is looking to start a family or complete his studies, maybe both at the same time, remains to be seen.  It is possible that he will have everything he needs then, too.  


But it will be fine, and expected, if his needs develop.  His children, his profession, his country may be concerns.  He may feel motivated to save, to spend, to build, to learn, to create, to teach.  On the other hand, he may also be able to stay aware that actual needs are small and contained.


I have no fear that he will be overly complacent or lack ambition.  This guy is a living ball of fantastic energy.  He will want to provide his wife and family with companionship, love, material satisfaction and comforts.  So, don't worry about him being overly satisfied.  Just be happy that there are people, even children, who in this country, today, can say they have everything they need.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Complaints

I guess the evidence is clear: positive thinking is better for a person's health and friendships than negative thinking.  Still, once in a while I have complaints.


I don't have a smartphone and I don't use my cellphone much.  So, I don't get really important calls on it.  I am still of the opinion that getting a phone call is more or less a private thing.  I don't approve of people answering their phone in public and holding a conversation in a place and in a way that I am a part of it.  I want people to step outside, much like lighting a cigarette, or into a hallway or otherwise get away from the group and the public and me while discussing when Uncle Harry is going to land and who is going to pick him up.


I get newsletters from quite a few sources and many of the items use "c'mon on" headlines, equivalent to but not quite as dumb as "New treatment for beautiful skin from an everyday vegetable".  The titles are written as c'mon-ons, almost always a sign that the author didn't really have much to say.  I suppose some departments get credit for clicks and people opening an item.  Generally, if you have something to say, I recommend saying it, not telling me that you are going say something real important in a sentence or two, or on the next page. I suppose somebody has data supporting the idea that if I get you to click onto my web page, the extra ads on it will tempt you into spending money.  Firefox, and I guess the new Microsoft Edge, have features that seem to be doing a pretty good job blocking the extraneous stuff, ads, and attempts at enticements so that I can read a post with less distraction.  


Finally, I am irritated with some soundtracks in some tv shows and movies.  I suppose it might be possible electronically to keep the speech but kill or strongly depress the music.  Some sound tracks go on and on in what I take to be an attempt to set a mood but do so with perfectly ordinary scenery of a type that the viewer saw plenty of a minute ago, when things were not supposed to be scary.  When things are at a fever pitch, some films have the sound track playing at a high volume right while actors are speaking their lines.  Seems dumb to me.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Interview with a photo editor

I had an interview with a woman who just spent close to two weeks, working a couple of hours a day, culling and editing 649 vacation photos.  They are all digital and she uses Photoshop Elements, a more compact version of Photoshop.  


I asked her what was the most common thing she did to the pictures before putting them on Facebook and sending links to them out to friends by email.  Her most used tool is cropping.  The first need is to make the whole picture file smaller.  From her camera or iPad, a picture may

be in quite a large format.IMG_0529.JPG This picture of a salad is 1.4 mb.  By comparison, a file of the King James Bible for Kindle is about 2.3 mb.  IMG_0529.2.JPG

This 2nd shot of the salad is only .7 mb, about half the picture information of the one above and seems like a close-up of the important parts of the picture.


That is the sort of cropping and focusing (and eliminating some parts of the picture) that she does by the hour.  The software allows her to brighten or darken a picture, to increase its contrast and make other changes.  IMG_0529.3.JPGFor this email, all my own changes were done in the editing part of Picasa, a Google photo service.




--
Bill
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

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