Tag Archive for folksy wisdom

What is a p-prim?

I’ve been using the p-prim ever since I’ve learned of them, back in my graduate school days at UC Berkeley. P-prims stand for phenomenological primitives and were “invented” by Andrea diSeesa, a UC Berkeley professor in the School of Education who also happens to be a physicist (diSessa, 1983). Visit his Wikipedia page and check out some of the cool projects he’s working at now. Before I give a definition of a p-prim, I think it would be good to give a few examples. Here’s a graph published by OkTrends on beliefs of various groups (in this case as defined by their sexual orientation) about the relative size of our sun versus the Earth (our planet). Even disregarding the differences in percentages due to sexual preference, an awesome 5 % to 10 % of our population believes that the planet we live on is larger than the star it orbits. Would this qualify as a p-prim? Yes: it’s not a formally learned concept; it describes a phenomenon; it’s a bit of knowledge based on personal observations: the sun looks like a small round disk in the sky; it’s a useful problem-solving tool when one has to draw a picture with…

Grabbity and Other Folksy Wisdom

We spend our lives engaged in problem solving: When should I leave the house to get to work on time? What can I make for dinner given the stuff in my refrigerator? How much work do I need to get done today in order to leave a bit earlier tomorrow? What’s the best driving route given the traffic report coming over the car radio? Can I make the this green light? Can I talk my way out of a traffic ticket? What’s the maximum amount I can pack into my trunk after a COSTCO run? How can I get that stain off the carpet? Is this blog good-enough to post? Looking over this sample list of problems, it’s easy to see that some have to do with temporal and spatial processing (e.g. packing the trunk, picking the best route, judging speed, making schedules), some with background knowledge manipulation (e.g. coming up with a recipe given a list of ingredients, looking up cleaning strategies), some with social processing (e.g. ability to analyze social situations and make correct predictions of possible outcomes—”I will get that ticket, if I run that red light.”), and some with metacognitive tasks (e.g. judging quality, comparing standards…

Science vs. Media: Degree of Public Involvement

Recently, there has been an explosion of public discourse (fueled by the media) on whether we should do away with tenure in our institutions of higher learning. The basic argument boils down to “tenured teachers can do as they please due to job security and education suffers as the result.” Tenured professors, we are told, focus on research and publishing incomprehensible articles aimed at a few individuals in the world who could even understand them. What’s the use in that, people ask? My son/daughter/neighbor’s kid are being taught by a TA (with poor language skills) while we pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of these children attending universities with all those lazy good-for-nothing tenured professors! You might say that my summary of this world-view is extreme and simplifies the ideas to their comic representation. But that’s the point: the articles (and the readers’ comments they inspire) are written to get an emotional response. The issues of tenure, of the research that these tenured professors are engaged in and the articles they publish, and of teaching styles are complex. To evaluate the contribution of a scientist to his field, one needs to have a certain amount of expertise in that…

Metacognition Failure: If I find it easy, it must not be important

Making something easy to understand is extremely difficult. A good designer knows this, knows how hard one has to work to make something comprehensible and easy to use. Unfortunately, users and consumers of products (including education) tend not to get it. We live in society ruled by “More is Better” p-prim: more stuff is better, more money is better, more food is good, more medication is great…more, more, more. Movies, television, newspapers, magazines, all reinforce this idea in our minds. We live in a “super-size me” world. But this basic decision-making algorithm leads to very faulty reasoning. There are multiple corollaries to the “more is better” axiom: thick books without graphics are more educationally valuable, more important (this is based on research I did many years ago with 5th graders); longer essays are clearly better and should get higher graders (the students worked harder/longer on them); big words are better than small ones in expressing ideas (thus we get very pretentious writing); work should be judged by the time it took to complete and not by the quality of the results it produces; more expensive clothes (cars, stereos, etc.) are clearly more valuable (this is a true statement, but most…

A coffee can make you forget

BBC Staff. (2004). “A coffee can make you forget.” BBC NEWS. Retrieved July 1st, 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3909085.stm SUMMARY: This article looks at the effects of caffeine found in coffee to the short-term memory. It proves that caffeine hinders ones ability to produce one-word answers but instead testers state that the answer is ‘on the tip of their tongues.’ To prove that caffeine does in fact affect ones short-term memory a study was conduction on two groups of 32 college students. One group was given 2oo mg of coffee, while the other was given a dummy drug. When the group with caffeine was asked to answer a question with a one-word answer they were less likely to answer correctly, while the ones without caffeine were successful. It was concluded from this study that caffeine does in fact keep one alert but unless a question is posed, pertaining to the users current train of thought it will be very difficult to produce a word. “It aids short-term memory when the information to be recalled is related to the current train of thought but hinders short-term memory when it is unrelated.” As a regular coffee drinker I found this article really interesting as I…

Dressed to Distract

Dowd, M., (2010). “Dressed to Distract.” NYTimes. Retrieved on July 1st, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/opinion/06dowd.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=homepage. Summary: Good looks are an advantage to any woman, man or child (and maybe even animal) in this world. Research tells us that babies will look longer at a good looking parent, and the “good looking” babies receive the same preferential treatment. The University of Alberta put together a research team to carry out a study in a supermarket to see if parents gave more attention to their more attractive children. Team leader, Dr Andrew Harrell, says that just as other animals do, “…we tend to parcel out our resources on the basis of value.” Debrahlee Lorenzana, a single mother of 33, was fired from Citibank in August for “looking too sexy”, she claims. According to her lawyer, the shape of her figure made the clothing she chose to wear too distracting for the males in her workplace. Lorenzana wasn’t like other women who chose to come to work in low-cut tops and tight pants, but because of her hourglass figure, any well tailored clothing she wore was “too distracting”. This specific case is interesting because normally the attractive people get better treatment and evaluations at work.…

On “‘Ringtone Therapy’ Sweeping Mobile Phone-Mad Japan” by Buerk

Buerk, R. (2010). “Ringtone Therapy Sweeping Mobile Phone-Mad Japan.” Retrieved 23. August, 2010: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8591845.stmhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8591845.stm Summary: Buerk lets the world in on a new craze sweeping across Japan—a country known for being on the frontier of technological innovation. What’s the craze? Ring-tone therapy! The Japan Ring Tone Laboratory run by Matsumi Suzuki is producing ring-tones which they claim have therapeutic uses. One such tone touts the ability to dislodge pollen from a user’s nose by holding the handset to the nose while the ring-tone plays, another can help one lose weight, and another helps insomniacs fall asleep. Index, Japan’s mobile phone content provider acknowledges there is no proof that these therapeutic ring-tones actually work, but they note that people must believe in their effectiveness due to the large amount of downloads. The therapeutic ring-tone works by playing a tone emitted from the handset of the cell-phone. Depending on the ring-tone the therapeutic effect is different. If one has allergy problems, they can download and play a ring tone, place it up to their nose and it will in principle dislodge the pollen from the nose, reducing allergy symptoms. If one is having sleeping problems, another ring-tone once downloaded onto the cell…