Tageducation

Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow

Evan, a student at IMSA

I wrote about the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a boarding high school in Aurora, IL, for Wired:

The IMSA Wednesdays are like Google’s “20 percent time” — only better. “At Google, 20 percent time is actually tacked on to the rest of your job. ” says Daniel Kador, another former IMSA student. “At IMSA, it really is built into your schedule.” And though Kador and other students admit that they spent more than a few Wednesdays just goofing off — as high school students so often do — they say the environment at IMSA ends up pushing many of them towards truly creative work. And it pays off.

After teaching himself to program at IMSA, Chu went on to the University of Illinois, where he worked on NCSA Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, following in the footsteps of fellow IMSA alums Robert and Michael McCool. And, eventually, he joined several other IMSA graduates as an early employee at PayPal, where he still works today.

Chu is just one of many tech success stories that have sprung from IMSA over the years (see sidebar, page two). Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well. You can think of IMSA as a Hogwarts for Hackers.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow

Photos by: Greg Ruffing

How the British Elite Are Trained to Think

Here’s an essay question from a scholarship application to Eton, an elite boarding school in the UK:

Eton College exam question

Laurie Pennie weighs in:

questions like this – topics for debate designed to reward pupils for defending the morally indefensible in the name of maintaining “order” – crop up throughout the British elite education system, from prep schools to public schools like Eton to public speaking competitions right up to debating societies like the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, which are modelled on parliament for a reason.

This is how you’re meant to argue when you’re eventually in charge. You’re trained for it, and part of that training is regularly being presented with morally indefensible positions to defend anyway or risk losing whatever competition you’re engaged with. I have seen perfectly decent young men get carried away defending genocide and torture because that’s the only way to win. Those who are unable to do so are taught that they have no business having political opinions. The people assumed to be the future elite are not rewarded for getting the answer which is most correct, most compassionate or humane or even sensible – they’re rewarded for smashing the opposition. And that’s how you get politicians who will argue anything they’re told to, enact any policy they’re told to no matter how many how many people will get hurt, just so that their team can win.

Moreover, this isn’t just a standard homework question. It appears on a scholarship entrance exam, a test designed to be sat by young men seeking to join the ranks of the rich and powerful by virtue of merit and smarts rather than family money.

Full Story: New Statesmen: The Eton Scholarship Question: this is how the British elite are trained to think

Meanwhile, Tim Maly poses some alternate questions.

Kiera Wilmot Won’t Be Charged With Felony For School Yard Explosion

Good news from the Orlando Sentinel:

Kiera, 16, was a student at Bartow High School until last month when she was arrested after she mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a water bottle on school grounds, a police report stated. She was arrested and faced felony charges for possessing a weapon on campus and discharging a destructive device.

She also was suspended from school and told she faced expulsion, according to her attorney, Larry Hardaway. He said she served a 10-day suspension and is now attending classes at an alternative school.

Her case drew national attention and outrage on Twitter and other social media sites, with many arguing both school and police overreacted. An online petition on her behalf has more than 195,000 signatures.

The office of State Attorney Jerry Hill, whose jurisdiction includes Polk, said that it extended “an offer of diversion of prosecution to the child.” That typically means a probationary-like program that allows the youngster to perform community service or meet other conditions and then avoid a criminal record.

Full Story: Orlando Sentinel: Kiera Wilmot, student who caused small explosion, won’t face charges

Previously: Teen Girl Charged With Felony For Science Experiment Gone Wrong

Teen Girl Charged With Felony For Science Experiment Gone Wrong

Kiera Wilmont

Update: here’s an online petition to drop the charges against her.

Koa Beck writes:

Given all the data that is out there regarding young girls and STEM fields, ladies who demonstrate an interest in science should be culturally supported. A quick peruse of certain popular culture guarantees that they certainly won’t be getting that support elsewhere. Yet when 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot, who reportedly “got good grades” and had “a perfect behavior record” had a science experiment go awry, she was slapped with felony charges. Way to support our young girls in the sciences.

Wtsp.com reports that the teen was arrested and charged with possession/discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device. At seven a.m. that morning at Bartow High School, Kiera allegedly mixed some “household chemicals” in an eight-ounce water bottle. The top reportedly popped off creating a “small explosion” complete with smoke. No one was hurt, according to reports.

In addition to her criminal charges, she has since been expelled from Bartow High School. It remains unclear whether there was any malice in the experiment. But even the young lady’s school principal, as well as her peers, believe that she didn’t possess any vicious motives:

Full Story: Mommyish: Teen Girl With A Penchant For Science Is Slapped With Felony Charges After Her Experiment Explodes

There’s no clarity as to what she was actually trying to accomplish, or exactly how big the explosion was. I can understand people being on edge after recent shooting and the Boston bombing, but the charges seem trumped up for a simple accident. There could be more to this than meets the eye, but it feels a lot like another example of the criminalization of curiosity.

Update: Here’s a copy of the police report. The explosion happened outside “near the gazebo/lake area.” Her science instructor claims it was not part of any classwork, though she said it was part of a “science fair experiment.” She says she thought it would “just cause some smoke.” But what she built is what’s known as a drano bomb.

Here’s the news clip:

See also:

Criminalizing science: chemistry student arrested for home lab

Students in ‘Weird Science’ Halloween party arrested under anti-terror laws

Drone Artists/Hackers Detained Held in London on Suspicion of Terrorism

Counterterrorism Agency: Urban Exploration Helps Terrorism

30% Of Community College Grads Out Earning Those With Bachelor’s Degrees

CNN reports:

Nearly 30% of Americans with associate’s degrees now make more than those with bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. In fact, other recent research in several states shows that, on average, community college graduates right out of school make more than graduates of four-year universities.

The average wage for graduates of community colleges in Tennessee, for instance, is $38,948 — more than $1,300 higher than the average salaries for graduates of the state’s four-year institutions. […]

And while by mid-career, many bachelor’s degree recipients have caught up in earnings to community college grads, “the other factor that has to be taken into account is that getting a four-year degree can be much more expensive than getting a two-year degree,” Schneider says.

Full Story: CNN: Community college grads out-earn bachelor’s degree holders

Another issue is that “mid-career” might not ever exist for many of today’s college graduates. But it’s worth noting that these sorts of comparisons aren’t apples to apples — not all degrees are created equal. That’s also the problem with most studies that show that people’s with bachelor’s degrees out earn those who don’t have one. Someone with an associate’s degree in HVAC repair may very well out earn someone with an art history degree, but someone with a computer science degree will likely out earn them both. But I like that this study supports the fact that there are alternatives to getting a four year degree just for the sake of earning it.

Everything You Need To Know About Everything In 12 Hours

Big Ideas is an online course from Floating University. The university assembled experts in 12 fields, ranging from economics to art to psychology to physics, to explains everything a non-professional needs to know about a topic in 60 minutes.

All the video lectures are available online for free. Better yet: all the lectures have been transcribed so that you can read them. The only thing you’d have to pay for are the supplemental readings.

Big Ideas at Floating University

(via MetaFilter)

Who Makes More: A McDonalds Manager Or a Skilled Machinist?

Adam Davidson writes for the New York Times:

Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that there are roughly 600,000 jobs available for whoever has the right set of advanced skills.

Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages.

Full Story: New York Times: Skills Don’t Pay the Bills

Good comment from someone on Hacker News:

I think it is important to note that the fast-food jobs with comparable pay are low level managerial positions, not entry level ones. You can start working for minimum wage at a fast-food job without any previous experience and/or skills. These jobs require very little training, and allow employees to add value almost immediately (and well before promotion to the $15-$20 an hour positions).

Contrast this to the skilled manufacturing jobs which require up front experience. Though many blue collar fields offer entry-level positions with on the job training, apprenticeships, and opportunity for advancement, this doesn’t appear to be common practice in manufacturing. Why not? I think the main reason is that it is very hard for a low skill worker to add value to a manufacturing company. There aren’t any comparable entry-level positions that allow the employee to learn while still being productive.

Because of this, hiring an unskilled employee for the purpose of training them is a huge risk, since it requires a significant investment. And since this industry is already very unstable with razor-thin margins, it’s not something many employers seem willing to do, which is unfortunate.

So maybe the solution is coming up with better training programs, so that manufacturers can hire new employees without taking on such large risks?

Other commenters discuss the paths from low-skilled labor to high skilled careers within a company that have been followed in the past. Are those days truly gone?

Previously: Even (Relatively) Low-Skilled Jobs Are Going Unfilled

Students Turning Away From College And Toward Apprenticeships?

I don’t know if this is common enough to call a trend, but it does sound interesting:

“I was planning on getting a degree in international relations, but with financial aid and how difficult it is to pay for college and everything,” she says. “So when Siemens came along and gave me the offer, it was too good of an opportunity to just let it go.

With college costs rising and student debt mounting, a group of college-prep kids in Charlotte are opting for an alternative route: European-style apprenticeships.

Siemens hired her and five other apprentices last year. These days, Espinal works on the factory floor.

“Running a machine, learning about programs, how to set up a machine for a program, also learning how to use tools and learning how to read blueprints,” she says.

NPR: A Different Road To Work, Bypassing College Dreams

XKCD Creator Randall Munroe On Making Physics Fun

XKCD creator Randall Munroe on his work, including his new What If? series.

First things first: Why did you create What If?

It actually started with a class. MIT has a weekend program where volunteers can teach classes to groups of high school students on any subject you want. I had a friend who was doing it, and it sounded really cool — so I signed up to teach a class about energy, which I always thought was interesting, but which is a slippery idea to define. I was really getting into the nuts and bolts of what energy is, and it was a lot of fun — but when I started to get into the normal lecture part of the class, it felt kind of dry, and I could tell the kids weren’t super into it. And then we got to a part where I brought up an example — I think it was Yoda in Star Wars. And they got really excited about that. And then they started throwing out more questions about different movies — like, “When the Eye of Sauron exploded at the end of The Lord of the Rings, and knocked people over from this far away, can we tell how big a blast that was?” They got really excited about that — and I had a lot more fun doing it than I did just teaching the regular material.

So I spent the second half of the class just solving problems like that in front of them. And then I was like, “That was really fun. I want to keep doing it.”

Full Story: The Atlantic: A Conversation With Randall Munroe, the Creator of XKCD

Khan Academy Now Includes Interactive Programming Tutorials

I covered the Khan Academy’s new interactive programming tutorials for Wired:

Since 2006 the Khan Academy, named for its founder Salman Khan, has provided free video lectures on subjects such as mathematics, biology and history. As we’ve reported before Khan garnered praise from the likes of Bill Gates (whose foundation invested $1.5 million in the site), but other have been more critical of the lecture-driven approach. Thus far the site has only included prerecorded lectures that offered no feedback or interaction.

That’s changing today with Khan Academy’s new computer science section.

The tutorials are interactive and live entirely in the browser. Instead of a video, each lesson contains a pane on the left side for students to enter code and a pane on the right that displays the output. The first lesson walks students through the process of writing code that will draw a face in the right pane. After learning to generate graphics, students work up to animation and eventually to games, such as a Pac-Man clone.

Rather than have students write code and then run it to see if it works, the results of changes are displayed in the right pane immediately, providing immediate feedback. The lessons also include tips for solving common beginner problems.

Wired: Coders Get Instant Gratification With Khan Academy Programming

Previously:

Ending the Tyranny of the Lecture

Author Teaches Kids to Code Without Computers

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