Random stuff

i. I went to my first Mensa meeting a couple of days ago. It was nice, I felt very welcome. When I’m to participate in such a ‘new/unknown type of social event’, I always think a bit beforehand about how to approach things and how to handle various contingencies – below a couple of remarks I made in a skype conversation shortly before the meeting:

“I have been wondering what [would be] the best communications strategy today. I think I’ll probably just keep in the background, to the extent I’m allowed to do that, and observe what’s going on. It’s what I usually do when I’m in groups with lots of people. […]

On the other hand I should also use such activities to improve my social skills, and that involves actually talking to- and interacting with other people.. […]

And there’s a path-dependence aspect to consider as well. People usually categorize others and put them into some box quite quickly. If I’m put into the antisocial don’t-want-to-talk-with-others box from the start, it might be hard to break out of that later on.”

In the end I actually ended up talking myself into thinking that I should try to participate in conversations as much as possible, and try not to hold back like I usually do. As I put it in a later Skype conversation, “I actually made a point out of being significantly more verbose than I normally am. Maybe it was a bad strategic choice.”

Well, we’ll see. This was certainly not my last Mensa meeting.

ii. A look over my shoulder:



On a very slightly related point, I just started reading Tom Apostol’s Introduction to Analytic Number Theory.

iii. Another Stanford lecture:

You can easily skip the first 6 minutes without missing out on anything important. I think the first lecturer goes a bit overboard towards the end, and in general I’d say I preferred Erik Knudsen’s part of the lecture. I found it annoying that it was sometimes hard to figure out which figures or elements of a slide they were actually talking about – they’ll point to a specific part of a slide, but you can’t see where they’re pointing so you have no idea which dendrite ‘this dendrite’ actually is, and even though you can usually infer it it’s still confusing and suboptimal.

I know most readers don’t actually watch these lectures, so a couple of points to take with you that don’t require you to know much about the details:

“Human speech is about 500 to 3000 Hz. […] the low-frequency part of speech [are] vowels […] they’re lower tones […] Consonants […] give the sense to speech [and are higher frequency sounds]. And what happens as people lose high-frequency hearing [is] they become confused between the consonant sounds of speech. So hope and soap and cope begin to run together.” (I didn’t know this)

“the cues that you use to localise sounds in space are largely based on inter-oral differences in the timing and the level or intensity of sound in your two ears.”

They also argue (around the 1:30 mark) that given how important binaural interactions are, people shouldn’t wear hearing aids on just one ear.

iv. Schooling Is Not Education! – A Report of the Center for Global Development Study Group on Measuring Learning Outcomes. This point was also emphasized in one of my previous courses and I think I’ve covered this stuff before, but I haven’t linked to this paper yet. Some stuff from the paper:

“In India, national survey evidence reveals that only about one-third of children in grade 5 can perform long division, and one-third cannot perform two-digit subtraction.[11] Nearly one-half of grade 5 students cannot read a grade 2 text and one in five cannot follow a grade 1 text.[12] Sixty percent of Indian children enrolled in grade 8 cannot use a ruler to measure a pencil. Only 27 percent of Indian children who complete primary school can read a simple passage, perform division, tell time, and handle money, although students should master each of these skills by the end of the second year of school.[13] These statistics compare starkly with the official 81 percent youth literacy rate reported by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).[14]

Similar findings have emerged elsewhere.[15] […]

A flat learning trajectory through successive school grades is reflected in low test scores among older students. Using several sources of recent data from India, the Center for Global Development’s Lant Pritchett examined the number of repeat questions that fourth, sixth, and eighth graders answered correctly. For language, the percentage climbs from 51 to 57 percent between fourth and eighth grades. For math, it climbs from 36 to 53 percent. This suggests that it would take 32 years of schooling for 90 percent of all students to correctly answer a language question that more than half of all fourth graders already correctly answered. India is hardly unique in its flat learning trajectories. Studies of the impact of education on learning in Bangladesh in the 1990s found that three additional years of schooling had no appreciable impact on learning achievement.[18]

At higher levels, results are perhaps even more worrying. Internationally comparable mathematics tests under the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) suggest that the average eighth grader in Ghana has a test score that would place her in the bottom 0.2 percent of US students. Even in considerably richer developing countries, the learning gap is large: the average Chilean student would be in the bottom 6.4 percent of US students, based on TIMSS scores. [19]”

Fig 3

Fig 4

“Until school systems can guarantee that students will learn while sitting in class, it may even be counterproductive to encourage longer periods of universal education.[24] In fact, expanded enrollments can actually harm overall learning outcomes if quality cannot be broadly maintained. While grade 8 enrollment in India increased from 82 to 87 percent from 2006 to 2011, ASER tests suggests the fraction of grade 8 children who could do division fell from 70 percent to 57 percent. This suggests that fewer school-age children actually learned division, despite climbing enrollments.” […]

“on an average school day, 11 percent of teachers are absent in Peru, 16 percent are absent in Bangladesh, and 27 percent are absent in Uganda.[29] Even when they are present, teachers may make limited efforts to create a friendly learning environment. ASER’s observation of rural education practices in 1,075 classrooms across five Indian states reveals that in only about a quarter of classrooms was a student witnessed asking a question. Other child-friendly practices […] were even less common.

Direct methods to improve teacher attendance and effort have improved test scores with mixed results,[31] as has the use of contract teachers.[32] The importance of systemic issues is demonstrated by the fact that interventions that successfully improve teacher performance in one system can fail when applied elsewhere. For example, Paul Atherton and Geeta Kingdon show that students taught by contract teachers in public schools in Uttar Pradesh learned about twice as much per year as those taught by civil service teachers.[33] At the same time, an attempt to scale contract teachers in Kenya revealed that contract teachers only influenced test scores when hired by a nongovernmental organization, not the Kenyan government.[34] A randomized study in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh suggests that bonuses for teachers based on exam results can improve outcomes.[35] In Kenya, however, teacher performance incentives related to test scores increased student learning only in the short run.[36] […]

“It is perhaps not surprising that there is a gap between schooling and learning, and that education reform is difficult. Schools and education systems are about a lot more than learning. For students, schools are also about signaling innate intelligence, status, and social networks. For parents, they are also a form of daycare. For teachers, they are a stable source of income. For governments, schools are also about socialization, employment, and rent generation.[45] A complex story of political economy lies behind the schooling-learning gap. Given the complex political economy of systemic reform, and the considerable diversity in existing educational systems around the world, solutions to learning stagnation will vary immensely across countries.”

Fig 5

September 12, 2013 - Posted by | books, economics, education, Lectures, mathematics, medicine, personal

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