Because You Liked Chemistry, …

Because You Liked Chemistry, We Recommend These Classes
December 18, 2013

The same kind of technology that recommends movies on Netflix or purchases on Amazon is now helping students choose college courses.

A new program developed on a campus in Tennessee uses predictive analytics to suggest classes

the outcomes have turned heads, from the White House to Bill Gates, whose foundation pitched in startup funding.

college isn’t about finding the easiest path, but about broadening your horizons and challenging yourself. Denley says, sure — for some.
“But there is a real sense in which academic curiosity is a luxury that lots of people simply cannot afford,” he says.

Desire2Learn, which already works with dozens of universities around the globe, has licensed Degree Compass for its profit potential. CEO John Baker won’t say exactly how much he’s charging colleges

Games and Apps, Social Skills, and Schooling

Games And Apps Will Push Social Skills Back To The Center Of Schooling
August 19, 2013

Games and apps begin to unchain us from the outdated educational conventions of the 20th Century.

During the last century, schools mastered the process of brick and mortar teaching. Students learned to line up against cinderblock walls and follow rigid schedules. The school day mimicked the work day. Children sat in rows and responded to bells. Practically automated like a factory, teachers–expected to act more like foremen than educators–herded kids from classroom to cafeteria, from gym to playground. Skilled teachers were reduced to attendance-takers and grade-stampers. The lines between “schooling,” “conditioning,” and “brainwashing” remained fuzzy and ambivalent.

In 1954 Michel Foucault wrote that “in its education a society dreams of its golden age.” So presumably, at some point the United States envisioned our rich way of living modern life and, perhaps unintentionally, we created a training program to make it a reality.

And one could easily argue that it worked perfectly. Private schools nurtured budding executives. Magnet schools crafted bright kids into middle managers. The rest of the institutions catered to the labor class.
It was a “know-your-place” kind of education. It reinforced a world of haves and have-nots.

“The education system is essentially a socio-economic class system,” said Susan Crown.
Schools teach not only reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also cultural and social behaviors.
The prioritization of cognitive skills, test scores, and easily quantifiable information only veils the even bigger achievement gap in interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.

Michel Foucault also asked, “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?”

Foucault wasn’t the only one who noticed. After all, in The Republic, Plato also illustrated how ways of thinking can be confining.
He used the image of prisoners chained in a cave in his discussion of the essence of education.
He wrote about the inherent tensions of schooling, between creating good citizens rather than simply creating good conformists.
Is teaching about igniting the passion that comes from within the individual, or putting in place the social conformity that is a prerequisite for civilization? Both, of course.

see also:


Think Faster, Focus Better and Remember More

Think faster, focus better and remember more — Rewiring our brain to stay younger and smarter
Google Tech Talks. June 16, 2008
Dr. Michael M. Merzenich

Professor, University of California at San Francisco June 16, 2008

Neuroplasticity, memory … and human (your) potential

brain plasticity

< 27: we can reverse …

28: every time you specialize …

31:19 Learning problems can be effectively overcome in most children by intensive training that targets brain processing accuracy & speed: THE KEY NEUROLOGICAL SKILLS THAT SUPPORT FACILE LANGUAGE AND READING.

32:45 There is (of course) great variation in the richness of environments, and in the consequent elaboration of the brain machinery of individual children (and adults). Too much is credited to (blamed on) genetics.

A_30_million_word_gap_200833:16 The great disparities in language exposure (of course) powerfully influence a child’s school-house performance in the language and reading (A 30 million word gap). Hart and Risley, 1995.

33:50 differences in the nature of the interactions between the child and the adult: approbations: affirmatives (2:1 vs 1:6)
affirmative: Stop that shit, Billy! Don’t do that, Billy!
approbation: Way to go, Mary! Nice job, Mary!

35:55 going forward, when children enter high school, we know that children from these 2 great divisions in society are going to be about 5 years separated in their reading ability

36:40 Limitations can be overcome in most children, by intensive training that corrects their neurology

Exercises are “game-like” (engaging, fun, rewarding)

37:55 Proficiency in reading: taking the child to 70 percentile (so, 70% of children in American schools aren’t proficient)

Age-related_cognitive_decline_200844:47 Age-related cognitive decline–A pervasive feature of aging Effect of age on various aspects of mental function:
– Vocabulary
– Reasoning
– Spatial visualization
– Episodic memory
– Perceptual speed
[Adapted from Salthouse et al.]

Begins in the 20’s and 30’s; continues throughout life

People in their 70’s are in the bottom 20% relative to people in their 20’s

45:56 Why do we “lose it”, as we growth older? 1. Your brain is older and “noisier” … 3. You rely too much on abstraction …

Auditory_speed_of_processing_200851:02 Old brains slow down. Changes in auditory processing speed vs. age, in the “normal” population.

Auditory speed of processing

brain_adjustment_of_sampling_rate_200851:41 Consequences of your brain making a necessary downward adjustment of its “sampling rate”:
1. Error-prone (“sparse”) signal reception
2. Noise-sensitive signal recognition
3. Degraded syntactic (predictive) control
4. Widespread memory (cognitive) deficits
5. Reduced processing efficiency
6. Lower learning rates

training_generalizes_to_memory_and_everyday_cognition_200852:51 OUTCOME (Mayo Clinic: USC RCT ITT Trial) BFP results:
1. Training improves directly trained tasks
2. Which generalize to untrained measures of memory
3. Which generalize to everyday cognition function & Quality of life

52:55 What is the magnitude of this improvement? Cognitive ability in older individuals by this training takes about 40 hours. Translates to improvement of your overall cognitive performance by about 11 years.

Ball et. al., JAMA (2002)

Willis et. al. JAMA (2006)

Wolinsky et. al., Journal of Gerontology (2006a, b)

Edwards et. al., Gerontology (2002)

Edwards et. al. Aging & Mental Health (2005)

Renker et. al. Human Factors (2003)

brain fitness in adult life

For more information:

learn a foreign language

1:10:00 deep thinking

intensive, progressive, directed training

1:19:30 It’s all abstraction; there’s nothing real about the activities in your brain, in the sense it’s all symbolic

1:21:00 brain fitness

The only way you actually change your brain is when it’s serious to the brain itself. … It has to really matter to the brain. … focus of your attention … you would interpret under which motivation …

as long as you work on the cutting edge, as long as it matters …


Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: A randomized, controlled study
Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006 Aug 15;103(33):12523-8.
Henry W. Mahncke, … and Michael M. Merzenich

Is America Still The ‘Land Of Opportunity?’

Is America Still The ‘Land Of Opportunity?’
July 01, 2013

Is the old saying still true? Can you work your way up from the bottom today, to become an innovator and a leader? Host Michel Martin explores the skills you need to compete and succeed in school and beyond.


Shirley Ann Jackson, she’s president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She’s a theoretical physicist. She also happens to be the first African-American woman to lead a top-50 research university.

Joel Klein is a former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. He’s now the CEO of Amplify, the education division of News Corp.

Madeline Levine is a psychologist and author of “Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success.”

Paul Tough is a writer who’s been focusing on education for some time now. His latest book, “How Children Succeed,” is just out in paperback.

KLEIN: right now, increasingly, what you see is less and less mobility at the top colleges. You see fewer and fewer kids who grew up in poverty who are getting into those schools and those programs.

MARTIN: Antonio Villaraigosa said that the civil rights issue of our time is this issue of the achievement gap. It’s the democracy issue of our time. … If you want to be able to compete in the new economy, you have to have intellectual capital.

JACKSON: we get the product of the, primarily, the public school system, and there are issues with what we get,  … those things can range from how deep the knowledge is to what the maturity level of the young people turns out to be.

TOUGH: we’ve been focused very much in our school system and, I think, in many of our families on cognitive skills, on the sort of skills that get measured on standardized tests.
And as Shirley Ann is pointing out, those matter a lot when kids get to college, but they’re not all that matters.

There’s also this other set of skills that economists called non-cognitive skills, things like grit and perseverance, conscientiousness, optimism that matter a lot, especially at the college level.

LEVINE: At Stanford we just did a study, 95 percent of kids are cheating. It’s well-known.

KLEIN: as Paul has pointed out, they don’t have the grit, the determination, the stick-to-itiveness to grow.

JACKSON: it also would help to delineate where peoples’ skills and intelligences really are.
And there are multiple intelligences.

LEVINE: I think we need socioemotional learning in every classroom – Chicago’s doing a good job of integrating it – which means that, not as a separate course, but as part of how everything is taught.

KLEIN: Every place but education has gone through a technological revolution, and education is sitting still*. And I think the opportunities to empower our teachers, change the learning process, engage kids – I’ve seen it with the work we’re doing at Amplify, and I’ve been in schools that are using these products and how excited they are.

You want to get kids working together, give them the kind of quests we put them on.
Figure out in groups who killed Edgar Allen Poe and why.

* April 15, 2013