Category: Culture

New teaching model may be a game changer

Hundreds of students have just completed new courses in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences’ Active Learning Initiative (ALI), part of a strategic effort by the college to embrace engaged learning models and emerging technologies…

ALI uses a “flipped classroom” approach: Knowledge transfer happens before class, through assigned reading material or videos. Class time is then used for “deliberate practice,” applying the new knowledge via problem-solving and reasoning to give students experience making and testing predictions and solving problems. Studies have shown that the deliberate practice model is the quickest path to expert-level mastery of a given skill set.

“Because the College of Arts and Sciences teaches foundational courses that all undergraduate students throughout the university take, we have the unique opportunity to impact undergraduate education throughout Cornell with this initiative,” says Gretchen Ritter… “We’re harnessing the passion and commitment from both faculty and alumni to institute these initiatives and expand our efforts to other foundational courses throughout the college.”

Physics and biology, the pilot departments for ALI, each converted large course sequences to the new model and reach almost 3,000 students. Jed Sparks, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and ALI project lead for biology, said the initiative is “not fixing bad or broken classes but ones that are well-received – making something that works well work even better.”

Advanced students in ALI courses benefit from the deeper level at which the courses operate beyond basic knowledge transfer; midrange students have more opportunity to develop expert-level skills through greater exposure to more material; and the least prepared students benefit from improved opportunities to engage the course material, develop and practice skills, and close achievement gaps more quickly…

Developing the curricula for the pilot classes requires re-examining lecture objectives and what material should be covered, says Sparks. “For the active learning model to be successful, the teacher must have very clearly in mind what the teaching objectives for the class are. It requires them to teach in a more deliberate and intentional way. It’s transformative.”

The new learning model expects more of students as well as teachers, says Arias. “They must have the discipline to do their preparation before class, but by doing so, we can take them further and deeper than we could before…”

Another benefit of response technologies is direct, frequent pedagogical assessment, says Lisa Sanfilippo, a teaching support specialist for the biology initiative. “Ongoing assessment is a key element of active learning,” she says.

RTFA for notes of methods and tech used not only for assessment of the teaching; but, students to self-evaluate, peer-evaluation. Both ends of the dialectic utilizing not only purpose-designed devices/systems like iClicker; but, with any smart device.

Sounds fascinating. Sounds like something I would have enjoyed BITD – and still may.

As ever, my first concern will be to examine how well any portion of this new system can be translated down to younger age groups, public schools not funded as well as Cornell, students from a broader demographic than folks who end up at one of the primo universities in the country. Every class needs a better education.

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VA incompetence creates $6,324 bill for dying veteran who got married


Debbie Shafer cares for her husband, Rob ArthurSteve Ringman/The Seattle TIMES

Snohomish County, Washington — When Rob Arthur was diagnosed with brain cancer back in January, the gaunt, gray-haired Vietnam veteran decided to wed his longtime girlfriend, Debbie Shafer, in a hospital room.

The marriage has been a source of comfort for this couple as they face the challenges of an unforgiving disease, deemed terminal, in a trailer home set by the steep flanks of the North Cascade mountains.

It also has been a big source of stress in their dealings with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Last summer, the VA ruled that Arthur — his earnings boosted by his wife’s wages as a nurse’s aide — was no longer eligible for an income-based pension and would have to repay $6,324 in checks mailed out during the more than six months that the department took to make this decision…

These overpayments are more fallout from the troubled VA’s inability to keep up with a massive caseload of veterans who turn to the department for benefits. These delays sometimes can create major financial problems for the veterans by sticking them with unexpected bills to repay checks they should not have received.

“It can be an incredible hardship,” said Amy Fairweather, a policy director at San Francisco-based Swords to Plowshares, a nonprofit veterans service organization. “The onus should be on the VA to take care of these matters and not to go after destitute or low-income veterans to pay back pensions.”

VA officials say their actions are guided by blah, blah, blah…

And, gee, you could ask Congress to fix the problem – in the next century or so.

The 68-year-old Arthur and his wife say they accept the loss of the pension. But they want the VA to drop demands to pay back the pension checks sent out earlier this year.

“We simply cannot afford to survive should we be held responsible for this debt,” Arthur wrote in a letter to the VA. requesting a hardship exemption. “We did not do anything to deceive the Department of Veterans Affairs. We completed any and all documentation required of us in a timely fashion…”

The debt owed the VA adds to the uncertainty over the future. Shafer frets that the department might try to garnish her wages, or even take part of her husband’s Social Security check.

Earlier in the fall, she sent the VA a $5 check to start to pay off the debt.

“I don’t have time for all this. I want to spend my time with Rob,” Shafer said.

I want him to die in peace.”

Meanwhile, government bureaucrats, elected officials, use the same defense offered by all Good Germans at the end of World War 2 — “We’re just following orders.”

George Stinney Jr. – executed at 14 – cleared of murder 70 years later


Click to enlarge

George Stinney Jr., who was 14 when he died in South Carolina’s electric chair 70 years ago, was cleared Wednesday of killing two young girls.

Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen found “fundamental, constitutional violations of due process” in Stinney’s one-day trial before an all-white jury. During a two-day hearing in January, Mullen said she could not determine if the boy was guilty or innocent, only if the proceedings were fair.

Stinney, the youngest person to be executed in the United States, at least in the 20th century, was so small he had to sit on a book when he was strapped into the electric chair. He was put to death 81 days after Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7, were killed in the small town of Alcolu, S.C.

The only real evidence against the boy was a confession he allegedly gave police officers after hours of questioning without his parents or a lawyer. He was alone during the trial because his family had been warned they would be lynched if they remained in Alcolu.

No written record of the confession was presented during the trial, and George Frierson, a historian who has been fighting to clear Stinney, said he has been unable to find one. Stinney later denied confessing.

Just in case you wondered why so many think it impossible for Black folks to receive a fair trial for anything in the United States – this is a pretty ordinary example of where it comes from.

Do you think the folks picked for juries, grand juries, in racist towns governed by racist politicians have changed much in three generation? Or one generation? Do you think cops in towns with a tradition of “white means right!” have changed in a couple of generations?

The weatherman

This story is as interesting as the photography – and the photography is classical. Something worth saving as a portfolio of what can be done with a camera.

Click here to the slideshow. Open it up to full screen and enjoy, peer into Vyacheslav Korotki’s life and work in solitude. Revel in the richness of Evgenia Arbugaeva’s photography.

Thanks, Mike

Former Seattle mayor urges divesting from fossil fuel

Sometimes the best measure of a movement’s momentum is the reaction of its critics. When, in early October, the Australian National University (ANU) announced that it would sell its shares in seven fossil-fuel and mining companies, it triggered a chorus of criticism from the country’s conservative politicians.

These nominal champions of the free market were quick to tell the university what it should do with its money. The Treasurer of Australia, Joe Hockey, disparaged the ANU’s decision as being “removed from reality.” Others chimed in, calling it “a disgrace,” “very strange,” and “narrow-minded and irresponsible.” Never mind that the sums involved were relatively small – making up less than 2% of the university’s estimated $1 billion portfolio.

As the drive to divest from fossil fuels picks up speed, such panicky responses are becoming increasingly common. The outrage of Australia’s conservatives reminds me of the reaction I received when I testified before the US Congress in 2013 that we should “keep our coal in the ground where it belongs.” David McKinley, a Republican congressman from West Virginia, in the heart of America’s coal country, replied that my words “sent a shiver up [his] spine,” then changed the subject to the crime rate in Seattle, where I was Mayor.

…The fossil-fuel industry clearly sees the divestment movement as the political threat that it is. When enough people say no to investing in fossil-fuel production, the next step has to be keeping coal, oil, and gas in the ground.

That is a necessary step if we are to head off the most dangerous consequences of climate change. To prevent world temperatures from rising above the 2º Celsius threshold that climate scientists believe represents a tipping point beyond which the worst effects could no longer be mitigated, we will need to leave approximately 80% of known fossil-fuel reserves untapped…

…reality implies another compelling case for divestment. To be sure, some will claim that the world will never change and that we will continue to depend on fossil fuels forever. But one has only to look to Seattle, where gay couples marry in City Hall and marijuana is sold in licensed retail outlets, to see the human capacity to reexamine deeply held assumptions. The prudent investor, and the wise business leader, will look where the economy is headed, not where it has been.

We need more courage like that shown by the ANU. Its leaders bucked the power of coal and oil interests, which wield enormous power in Australia. If they can do it to popular acclaim, others can, too.

Hear, hear!

Australia tweeted #illridewithyou – and traveled in solidarity with Muslims

#illridewithyou

Against a backdrop of fear and uncertainty following the hostage taking in Sydney, thousands of ordinary Australians turned to social media to spread a message of unprecedented tolerance and solidarity.

Trending worldwide, the #illridewithyou hashtag was a response to a number of Muslim listeners who called Australian radio stations to say they were scared to travel in public as the siege unfolded.

Users offered to ride on public transport with anyone feeling intimidated. They posted their travel plans and invited others to get in touch if they were going the same way and wanted a companion.

Police stormed the Lindt cafe in the central business district, bringing an end to a day-long standoff with gunman Man Haron Monis. There is still uncertainty about his motive for taking up to 30 people prisoner.

But the sight of hostages being forced to hold a black flag bearing the shahada, the basic Islamic creed – “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God” – in the window of the cafe seemed enough to make innocent people concerned about a backlash if they wore Muslim dress in public.

There is little wonder that Australian Muslims are scared. As research has shown, terrorist attacks and events seen to be “the fault of Muslims” have been shown to catalyse a sharp increase in the number of Islamophobic attacks perpetrated against Muslims going about their everyday lives…

All this might make the popularity of the #illridewithyou hashtag surprising. But what really underpins this social media phenomenon is the fact that ordinary people are not only aware but are prepared to do something about the Islamophobia that ordinary Muslims face in the current climate…

In the world of bigots you don’t even need to be Muslim to be lynched. You simply have to “look” like a Muslim or “dress” like a Muslim. The first person I recall being murdered by a bigot right after 9/11 was a Sikh in Arizona. Reality didn’t matter in the least. The distance between Sikh and Muslim beliefs includes centuries and are nations wide. Meaningless to a narrow-minded fool.

I mentioned this response to the siege in Sydney to my wife and her first recollection was folks in a software company she deals with in much of her IT work. They’re in Georgia. After 9/11, folks throughout their company made it a point to travel together with many of their fellow workers, Indian, Pakistani, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist – everywhere – to act as an additional shield against the bigots and fools who wanted to kill a Muslim ar at least some kind of non-Christian foreigner.

Safe housing for the paranoid

Paraguayan home Caja Oscura, by local architects Javier Corvalán and Laboratorio de Arquitectura, consists of a basement structure, with a manually-operated tilting metal box placed atop. With no natural light available when the box is closed, this unusual dwelling is probably not suitable for those who fear being trapped in a small enclosed space, but it is arguably the perfect place to ride out the Apocalypse …

The property measures 914 sq ft and contains a bedroom and bathroom in the crypt-like basement, with a kitchen and living area located in the metal box above (access is offered via a staircase). This latter area is transformed into a semi-outdoor space once raised with a hand-crank, and the metal box itself is constructed from iron tubes, with a galvanized corrugated metal exterior and MDF interior.

When closed, however, the structure appears to be very robust, safe from prying eyes, and more importantly, virtually impenetrable.

To our minds…it’s obviously envisioned as the perfect post-apocalyptic retreat ready for the inevitable zombie rising

The hideaway was built for about $27,000 which should make it perfect for the average cheapskate survivalist. All you need to add is gun ports for the United States. Sturdier is possible – throwing more dollars at the project; but, if you expect nothing more than zombies this should be adequate.

Feds won’t stop Native Americans from growing, selling pot on tribal land

Opening the door for what could be a lucrative and controversial new industry on some Native American reservations, the Justice Department on Thursday will tell U.S. attorneys to not prevent tribes from growing or selling marijuana on the sovereign lands, even in states that ban the practice.

The new guidance, released in a memorandum, will be implemented on a case-by-case basis and tribes must still follow federal guidelines, said Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota and the chairman of the Attorney General’s Subcommittee on Native American Issues…

The policy comes on the heels of the 2013 Justice Department decision to stop most federal marijuana prosecutions in states that have legalized the possession or sale of pot. Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have all moved to legalize the drug, though the D.C. law may be scaled back by Congress.

Some tribes see marijuana sales as a potential source of revenue, similar to cigarette sales and casino gambling, which have brought a financial boon to reservations across the country. Others, including the Yakama Reservation in Washington state, remain strongly opposed to the sale or use of marijuana on their lands…

Even though Indian nations are recognized as sovereign, Anglo governments, white folks in general have such a long history of telling First Nation folks how to run their lives – there is no doubt that states still backwards enough to have restrictive laws on marijuana will try to continue that restriction on crops and sales on tribal lands.

From my perspective in a so-called tricultural state like New Mexico? Hey, it serves more good than selling fireworks. I have neighbors who make the short trek to the nearest Pueblo on the weekend to fill-up their pickup on cheaper gasoline. I imagine there will be folks doing the same in some states to stockup on weed.

Just watch out for The Man on the way home.

Thanks, Mike

Who is most likely to take truly idiotic risks and lose their lives?

Every year, a dozen or so people receive a Darwin Award. In the words of the award committee, “Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.”

Their stories — though tragic — are often criminal, and will stretch your understanding of just how idiotic humans can be.

Take, for instance, the South Carolina man who spray-painted his face gold to disguise himself while robbing a Sprint store, then asphyxiated from the fumes. Or the pair of Belgian bank robbers who attempted to use dynamite to break open an ATM, but ended up demolishing the entire building, burying themselves in debris, and dying.

Recently, a group of British researchers decided to analyze the data provided by the Darwin Awards as a way of finding out whether men are more likely to engage in foolishly risky behavior than women — as has previously been indicated by studies of hospital records and financial risk-taking.

Their finding, published…in the British Medical Journal, isn’t a huge surprise, but it’s still pretty jarring: 88.7 percent of the Darwin Awards winners were male…

The researchers note that there could theoretically be some selection bias at play, and that the disparity might also just reflect known differences in rates of crime and alcohol consumption between men and women.

Still, the lesson here is clear: men are much, much more likely to take truly idiotic risks that cost their lives.

I’m not surprised. Are you?