Category Archives: education

Cilantro Does Not Taste Like Soap

As promised, I will reveal all (well, not all, but most) of the results of my adventure into personal full genome sequencing. But I will reserve that for a more formal article that is forthcoming. Suffice it to say that I am not, in fact, a chimp. I know, I’m disappointed, too. I did discover, though, that I HAVE BROWN EYES! I, too, am shocked. Continue reading Cilantro Does Not Taste Like Soap

Wicked Smaht Learnings in Bahston

Boston from the plane

Greetings from Boston (well, Cambridge, to be precise) where I have arrived to do some science-y stuff on the M.I.T. campus, specifically regarding the sequencing of my mostly-chimp genome.  Rest assured, further details about this frivolous and expensive adventure will be forthcoming.

The last time I was in Boston was over a decade ago. I had a consulting meeting with a large drug company that is headquartered in New London, CT. (I’m sure now you know which company. Hint: the meeting was in a large facility that I affectionately call “Viagra Towers.”) I had hoped that they would fly me into New York so I could spend some happy Manhattan time. Instead, they flew me into Boston and limousined me back and forth to New London.

Now, that might sound pretty comfortable (and it was), but for a working class dude like me, it’s weirdly uncomfortable having a chauffeur for an extended period of time. I always feel the need to make small talk, like he’s a taxi driver. Quite awkward. I would have preferred a bus.

This time around I’m staying within a 20 minute walk from M.I.T. I have to say, the M.I.T. campus is gorgeous.

There’s even a building here that’s supposed to look like a boat. Can you see it:

Boston is kind of cool. I like how everything is “wicked”:

And I just got back from my evening burrito quest, as always wondering if I should stray from my vegetarian tendencies and opt for the chicken.. then I saw this sign, right next to the daycare, and realized…. yep, it’s going to be a rice and beans night:

All right, I lied. I had a roast beef sandwich. Bad fake vegetarian Ray. Bad.

My favourite part of the trip so far is my Russian taxi driver cursing out the driver in front of him for not making the left turn on time. “Got to be a fucking Uber driver!” he kept saying. Now I’m afraid to use Uber here.

Random Musings

Today I watched the Fall finale of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. I enjoyed it, despite the persistently unlikable main character, atrocious fight scenes, and character departures. As they’ve now introduced the multiverse, maybe this nonsensical abuse of the canon can make more sense: it takes place in an alternate universe.

Despite my intention to spend this evening holed up in a hotel room getting all kinds of shit done, I have instead been binge watching the 2nd season of Stranger Things. (Check out my review of season one.) So far I only have this to say: Holy shit, Paul Reiser got OLD!

I leave you with these images of medical art from the Koch Institute at M.I.T.:

Gethard Over Drones, Science Jokes, and Educational Policy

Holy shit. It’s snowing outside. Sigh. I guess summer is officially over.

Random Musings

There’s a guy named Chris Gethard?  GET HARD?  I trust he was suitably bullied as a child. If not, I don’t have faith in this world anymore.

Hey, want to know what it looks like when Louis CK takes his clothes off in front of you?  Here you go. Now you have that in your mind, too.

I just found out that one of my long time students HAS NEVER EVER HAD A CUP OF COFFEE.  What is the point of life?

Long time reader of this blog, Darth Vadum, sends me this article about a stinky way to end a police interrogation.

I can’t be the only one completely unexcited by the news that they will be making a new Star Wars trilogy?  Sounds like a turnip-squeezing contest and I am soooo over it.

In honour of a week of superhero movies (my review of the new Thor movie is forthcoming), here’s your animated GIF of the day.

One of the inventors of Facebook says it “interferes with productivity.”  Dude, I’ve been off of it for two days and my productivity has already increased by 500%. But I gotta say, I feel…. lonely.

 

Three science jokes from Reddit:

(1) Einstein, Newton and Pascal decide to play hide and seek. Einstein is “it”, closes his eyes, counts to 10 then opens them. Pascal is no where to be seen. Newton is sitting right in front of Einstein, with a piece of chalk in his hand. He’s sitting in a square drawn on the ground, a meter to a side.
Einstein says “Newton, you’re terrible, I’ve found you!”
Newton says “No no, Einy. You’ve found one Newton per square meter. You’ve found Pascal!”

(2) A Higgs Boson walks into a church and the priest says, “You can’t be in here”.
The Higgs Boson replies, “But without me how will you have mass?”

(3) Heisenberg, Schroedinger and Ohm are in a car. They get pulled over while Heisenberg is driving. The cop asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?”
“No, but I know exactly where I am,” Heisenberg replies.
The cop says, “You were doing 55 in a 35 zone.”
Heisenberg throws up his hands and shouts, “Great! Now, I’m lost. Thanks for nothing.”
The cop thinks this is suspicious behaviour and orders Heisenberg to pop the trunk. The cop looks in the trunk and asks, “Do you know you have a dead cat back here?”
“We do now, asshole!” Shouts Schroedinger.
The cop moves to arrest them. Ohm resists.

(I could explain these jokes. But, as one commenter put it, explaining a joke is like vivisecting a frog: sure, you understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.)

Great. Now I’m remembering all the frogs I had to kill when I was a lab assistant in the Physiology department at the University of Toronto. I’m totally going to frog Hell.

Frog Hell

 

The perceived rapid decline of public education

I’ve been ranting about this for some time. My students will read this and feel a bit put upon, I fear. But that’s an unavoidable effect. My observation from 8 years of university teaching is that each subsequent generation has lesser numeracy and literacy skills, and, most glaringly, lesser emotional coping skills.  I am teaching less content today than I did in the same classes 8 years ago, and at a more basic level; and some students still complain that the material and exams are too hard. It’s a concerning trend.

The observation seems to have reached the mainstream of public academics.  Camille Paglia recently said, “It’s really started at the level of public school education. I’ve been teaching now for 46 years as a classroom teacher, and I have felt the slow devolution of the quality of public school education in the classroom.” (I understand that both she and her interviewer are problematic figures to many. I like to think that we can appreciate insights without having to taint them with our personal distastes of those offering those insights.)

She further points out that her college students have no sense of history and no sense of world geography, and therefore no basis for understanding the nature of current events.  A lot of the other things she says are really fraught with some ignorance of recent history and the nature of power; she is not an historian or political scientist, after all, and should not pretend to be one.  As I said, she is a problematic figure.  But on this particular subject, the apparent decline in public education, I feel she might be onto something.

An unscientific poll of American educators concludes that American kids are indeed “getting dumber” (though I don’t think this has anything to do with intelligence.)  Empirical data are rare, but “researcher Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary analyzed 300,00 Torrance Creativity Test scores of children and adults in the US. Kim found creativity and IQ scores rose steadily until 1990, and were in decline thereafter, and the most serious decline occurring for the youngest children.”

In Canada, the blame is scattershot.  The right wing blames “discovery learning” for our decline in numeracy.  Some blame our relaxed admission criteria, which were lowered to attract more international students and therefore more revenue. Others point to a change in student behaviour —they don’t read or study as much as previous generations— that nonetheless gets rewarded due to our very real trend toward grade inflation.

Weirdly, in Canada we seem to actually be spending more time on certain core subjects, like math, but getting fewer results, at least if such results are measured in terms of standardized testing.

I’m trying to put together a research project to examine and measure this perceived sea change in students; it might not be real, after all.  This got me to reading this recent report from the Centre for International Policy Studies at my university.  I’m sure you will await my commentary with bated breath! If you’re new to this field, might I recommend scanning the most recent PISA report, which is a summary of public school standardized testing across OECD nations.

It’s not all doom and gloom, mind you. PISA suggests that Canadian students are doing well compared to the rest of the OECD.  It’s just that anecdotal evidence suggests that they are not doing as well as they did in the past:

And before we get on our SJW podiums and declare that the problem is an inequitable system that does not address the challenges faced by those with socioeconomic barriers, some evidence suggests that in Canada the problem isn’t mostly socioeconomics, but family structure and —gasp!— how much reading kids do outside of the classroom, of their own volition.

Reading is fast becoming a rarity, folks. I’m trying to make more time for it in my own life. But even my attention span is failing, as are my eyes.

Overly Complicated Breakfast™

Today’s breakfast is….

…eggs scrambled in yogurt and spicy salsa, kale & broccoli fried in olive oil and garlic, a fresh avocado, a dollop of garlic-infused hummus, and a bowl of vegan chilli, which was actually leftovers dropped off by a former student. Oh, and a drone for scale.

Yes, a drone!  You know you want one.

 

Forthcoming…

In coming days, you can look forward to (and I know you will) my reviews of Thor: Ragnarok and Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic novel, 2312.  As well, it’s my intent to write an analysis of the relevance of both ecologic and exception fallacies in educational and social policy.  Fun? Wow!

Research Ethics: Why You Need It

June 29, 2017 — This is the third of three presentations I gave to the attendees of a summer institute on social justice, hosted by the Indian Institute of Technology in Ahmedabad, India. Slides can be downloaded here.