Posts about Students

Math Education Results Show China, Singapore, Korea and Japan Leading

The most comprehensive comparison of student achievement in math and science around the globe undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) focuses on math understanding of 15 year olds (the 2014 report will focus on science). The 2009 report focused on the results of science education student achievement around the globe.

2012 results for the math portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Singapore – 573
  • 2 – Korea – 554
  • 3 – Japan – 536
  • 5 – Switzerland – 531
  • 6 – Netherlands – 523
  • 7 – Estonia – 521
  • 8 – Finland – 519
  • 9 – Canada – 518
  • 12 – Germany – 514
  • 24 – UK – 494 (this is also the OECD average)
  • 34 – USA – 481
  • 49 – Malaysia – 421
  • 50 – Mexico – 413

All 34 OECD member countries and 31 partner countries and economies participated in PISA 2012, representing more than 80% of the world economy. Portions of China participated and did very well including Shanghai-China (highest mean score of 613 points – if you ranked that as a country, I ignored these “regional results” in the ranks I shown here), Hong Kong-China (561, 3rd if including countries and regions together), Chinese Taipei [Taiwan] (560, 4th), Macao-China (538, 6th).

Boys perform better than girls in mathematics in 38 out of the 65 countries and economies that participated in PISA 2012, and girls outperform boys in 5 countries.

Related: Playing Dice and Children’s NumeracyNumeracy: The Educational Gift That Keeps on GivingMathematicians Top List of Best OccupationsThe Economic Consequences of Investing in Science EducationCountry H-index Ranking for Science PublicationsEconomic Strength Through Technology Leadership

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Citizen Science

Citizen science enters a new era

Another online program, Phylo, is advancing scientists’ knowledge of genetics by making a game out of DNA matching. If areas of genetic sequence are roughly similar between species, it suggests strongly that they could have an important function. Finding them has been beyond the scope of computer algorithms. But earlier this month, researchers published a study where gamers outsmarted the best computers – they made the best possible DNA sequence match between up to eight species at a time.

The potential for regular people contributing to science is great. This has a long history. For most of human history science was done by non-scientists since there were no scientists. Calling is science might be a stretch but to me it was (passing on what health cures worked for various sicknesses, how to use various tools, how to grow crops…). As scientists came into being they were primarily unprofessional – that is they practiced science but were doing so as a hobby, they were not paid and had no requirements to get a PhD or anything.

Today regular people help by collecting data (counting birds, documenting plant growth [time of year], migration data, weather data…) sharing knowledge with scientists who ask, sharing their computer to be used to analyze data, analyzing data (for example, in astronomy hobbyists often make new discoveries) and the latest way people help is through games (that essentially tap human brainpower to analyze data – such as Foldit, which I have posted about previously).

I like the contributions people can make to science but I think the biggest value is the scientific understanding people gain while participating. As Neil Degrasse Tyson says the scientifically literate see a different world.

Cornell University provides an online tool to find opporunities participate in scientific research.

And we shouldn’t forget the amazing science done by students like those honored with Intel Talent Search, though the work those winning the awards do I would lump with science by “real scientists” (I believe now most of those who win are working on projects with university scientists).

Related: Backyard Scientists Aid Research8-10 Year Olds Research Published in Royal Society JournalTeen diagnoses her own disease in science class

Exploring Eukaryotic Cells

This webcast is packed with information on the makeup and function of eukaryotic cells, which are the type of cells found in animals. It is part of a interesting series of science webcasts by Crash Course. The webcast style might be a bit too hyperactive and flippant for some but the content is quite interesting and the videos they are are of similar style and quality so if you like this one you can subscribe to their channel. They offer quite a few webcasts on science but they also offer webcasts on history.

Related: Plants, Unikonts, Excavates and SARsHow Cells AgeMidichloria mitochondrii

Numeracy: The Educational Gift That Keeps on Giving

I like numbers. I always have. This is just luck, I think. I see, how helpful it is to have a good understanding of numbers. Failing to develop a facility with numbers results in many bad decisions, it seems to me.

A new article published in closed anti-science way, sadly (so no link), examines how people who are numerate (like literate but for number—understand) process information differently so that they ultimately make more informed decisions. Cancer risks. Investment alternatives. Calories. Numbers are everywhere in daily life, and they figure into all sorts of decisions.

People who are numerate are more comfortable thinking about numbers and are less influenced by other information, says Ellen Peters of Ohio State University (sadly Ohio State allows research by staff paid by them to be unavailable to the public – sad), the author of the new paper. For example, in one of Peters’s studies, students were asked to rate undergraduates who received what looked like different test scores. Numerate people were more likely to see a person who got 74% correct and a person who got 26% incorrect as equivalent, while people who were less numerate thought people were doing better if their score was given in terms of a percent correct.

People make decisions based on this sort of information all the time. For example, “A lot of people take medications,” Peters says. Every drug has benefits and potential risks, and those can be presented in different ways. “You can talk about the 10 percent of the population that gets the side effect or the 90 percent that does not.” How you talk about it will influence how dangerous the drug seems to be, particularly among people who are less numerate.

Other research has shown that only less numerate people respond differently to something that has a 1 in 100 chance of happening than something that has a 1 percent chance of happening. The less numerate see more risk in the 1 in 100 chance—even though these numbers are exactly the same.

“In general, people who are numerate are better able to bring consistent meaning to numbers and to make better decisions,” Peters says. “It suggests that courses in math and statistics may be the educational gift that keeps on giving.”

Related: full press releaseBigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg?Data Doesn’t Lie, But People Can be FooledUnderstanding Data: Simpson’s Paradoxapplied statistics is not about proving a theorem, it’s about being curious about thingsEncouraging Curiosity in KidsDangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of DataCompounding is the Most Powerful Force in the Universe

The Beneficial Phytochemicals in Vegetables Help Us Lead Healthy Lives

If I don’t pay attention, I won’t eat enough vegetables. Even when I do pay attention I still don’t eat enough (but get closer). Paying attention to what you eat is important for your health.

Some tips from the video.

  • Eat a wide variety of vegetables, to get the benefits each offers.
  • Cruciferous vegetables have cancer preventing benefits and enhancing the immune system. Vegetables in this category include broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Berries also have chemicals that aid in the prevention of cancer.

Related: Healthy Diet, Healthy Living, Healthy WeightEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Are Our Vegtables Less Nutritious?

Top Online Graduate Engineering Programs in the USA

Online degree programs are growing quickly in popularity in the USA. Over 6 million students took online courses in 2011. The costs of traditional education continue to rise at extremely high rates – schools have done a horrible job of dealing with this. I personally, don’t understand how they have done so horribly on this measure. Administration costs have exploded. Building vanity projects that costs tens of millions of dollars add little to student achievement and waste limited resources driving up costs.

We really need to find administrators that will reduce administrative staffing levels and costs. Let some schools continue on the ego driven spiraling costs, but let us at least find some who will focus on reducing education costs and providing good education at reasonable costs. For engineering, more than maybe any other discipline, I can excuse some of the costs. But given the universal failure to manage costs I think the failure to manage costs is the primary issue (the extra demands for spending on engineering education, I understand).

The failure to stop the lavish spending has greatly increased the demand for online education. Given the unreasonable cost increases for traditional education many are priced out of considering that option. Given how unable schools have proven to be at providing good education for reasonable rates the last few decades it is reasonable to assume online education will continue to gain popularity. I don’t see the top tier schools facing much competition from online efforts (even if some students are drawn away there are plenty wanting to upgrade their school choice at whatever the cost – as the administrators know as they continue to drive up costs).

One danger is that online education is hardly a proved commodity yet. Both in terms of what you learn and the acceptance and desirability of degrees. So right now students are having to make guesses that are more challenging with online programs than the traditional choices. US News and World Report has selected 3 online engineering master’s programs for the honor roll.

Related: Engineering Education in the 21st CenturyHow the Practice and Instruction of Engineering Must ChangeGlobal Engineering Education Study

What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working?

Antibiotics have been a miraculous tool to keep up healthy. Like vaccines this full value of this tool is wasted if it is used improperly. Vaccines value is wasted when they are not used enough. Antibiotics lose potency when they are overused. The overuse of anti-biotics on humans is bad (especially the huge amount of just lazy, not scientific use). But the massive overuse in livestock is much worse, it seems to me.

The health system in the USA is broken in a huge way in which it is broken is the failure to address creating systemic behavior that promotes human health and instead just treating illness. It is much better to avoid a situation where we breed super bugs and then try to treat those super bugs that have evolved to be immune to the antibiotics we have to use.

When antibiotics no longer work

While the source of the current salmonella outbreak remains murky, we can reasonably speculate about the genesis of the bug’s drug-resistance: the reportedly endemic overuse of antibiotics by the agricultural industry.

Drugs are given to livestock for multiple reasons. An obvious one is for the treatment of diseases. When livestock are sick, veterinarians administer a significant dosage in hopes of eliminating the animal’s affliction. Another reason is preventative. Animals in close quarters are more susceptible to infection, so farmers will often administer medicine to healthy animals in order to nip anything nasty in the bud. Most controversially, though, members of the agricultural industry use antibiotics for the express purpose of promoting livestock growth.

It’s a well-known, if not entirely intuitive, fact that healthy animals who are fed small, or “sub-therapeutic,” doses of antibiotics will wind up larger than their unmedicated counterparts. In many such cases, these drugs are given to livestock through their feed or water, and without the prescription or oversight of a veterinarian, according to Dr. Gail Hansen, a senior officer at the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.

An estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to food-producing livestock, according to the FDA. And approximately 83 percent of that medicine is “administered flock- or herd-wide at low levels for non-therapeutic purposes, such as growth promotion and routine disease prevention,” according to a lawsuit filed against the FDA in May. These figures could have very real consequences for public health, because the Catch-22 of this antibiotic abandon is the widespread development of drug-resistant bacteria, colloquially referred to as “super-bugs.”

In 2006, the European Union banned all use of antibiotics on livestock for growth promotion. And the U.S. Senate will consider similar legislation this year. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reintroduced the “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act” last month, which would significantly rein in agricultural drug use, and strictly prohibit the application of sub-therapeutic doses of drugs that have benefits for humans.

Still, the agricultural industry disputes data about its use of antibiotics and the rise of super-bugs, and it has aggressively fought efforts to legislate the matter. As a result, it’s hard to tell how far the legislation might proceed.

Related: Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus WoesOveruse of Antibiotics (2005)FDA May Make Decision That Will Speed Antibiotic Drug Resistance (2007)

The end of the era of antibiotics

How did this happen? The driving forces are Darwin and human carelessness. Bacteria are constantly evolving, adapting to the changing conditions they face. Antibiotics usually kill bacteria. But sometimes a bacteria will develop a biological defense – particularly if too small a dose is used.

Antibiotics require a prescription in America, but our nation is still very much a part of the problem. Patients routinely demand these drugs, and doctors acquiesce, for respiratory infections and other ailments that will not respond to antibiotics because they are caused by a virus. We use soap with antimicrobial agents when regular soap does equally well. And we allow farmers to feed antibiotics to livestock in horrifying amounts, not to treat illnesses but to make farming more efficient.

The Potential Role of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in Infectious Disease Epidemics and Antibiotic Resistance

This working group, which was part of the Conference on Environmental Health Impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: Anticipating Hazards—Searching for Solutions, considered the state of the science around these issues and concurred with the World Health Organization call for a phasing-out of the use of antimicrobial growth promotants for livestock and fish production. We also agree that all therapeutic antimicrobial agents should be available only by prescription for human and veterinary use.

Antibiotic Resistance in Livestock: More at Risk Than Steak
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The State of the Oceans

World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline

In a new report, [an expert panel of scientists] warn that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”. They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognised.

ocean acidification, warming, local pollution and overfishing are acting together to increase the threat to coral reefs – so much so that three-quarters of the world’s reefs are at risk of severe decline.

The report also notes that previous mass extinction events have been associated with trends being observed now – disturbances of the carbon cycle, and acidification and hypoxia (depletion of oxygen) of seawater.

Levels of CO2 being absorbed by the oceans are already far greater than during the great extinction of marine species 55 million years ago (during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum), it concludes.

The overfishing of our oceans has been a problem for over 100 years and a known problem, that we continue to give too little attention to. Adding to that impacts of climate change and the state of ocean life is in trouble. The decision of our population to not deal with the causes of climate change will have very bad consequences. It is a shame we have so little caring about the consequences of our decisions. And even sadder that our “leaders” do such an appalling job of leading – instead they pander to selfish immediate gratification.

Related: Altered Oceans: the Crisis at Sea (2006)Unless We Take Decisive Action, Climate Change Will Ravage Our PlanetArctic System on Trajectory to New, Seasonally Ice-Free State (2005)

Google Science Fair 2011 Projects

The Google Science Fair selected 60 semi-finalists in 3 groups (age 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18). The 60 global semi finalists will then be narrowed down by our judging panel to 15 global finalists who will be announced later in May.

The 15 global finalists will be flown to Google HQ in California, USA for our celebratory Science Fair event and finalist judging round will take place on 11 July 2011. These finalists will be expected to present their projects before a panel of acclaimed scientists including Nobel Laureates, tech visionaries and household names.

Sailboats using canting keels are among the world’s fastest ocean-going vessels; however, there are inherent problems. Canting sailboats require the addition of canards or dagger boards to replace the loss of the primary underwater lifting surface, adding significant complexity. The second and more important issue is that the cantilevered weight of the ballast bulb at the end of the keel generates tremendous loads on the vessel. The objective of this research was to test a concept to make sailboats even faster and safer than the current designs. To test the concept, this researcher built a remote control functional model fitted for both canting and hydrodynamic keels. The results showed that the hydrodynamic keel out performs the canting keel both upwind and downwind.

The Grand Prize winner plus one parent or guardian per winner will win an amazing 10 day trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions. Traveling aboard the National Geographic Endeavour the winner will visit Darwin’s living laboratory and experience up-close encounters with unique species such as flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, and domed giant tortoises. They also win a $50,000 scholarship, split equally between team members should a team win this prize. This scholarship is intended to be used towards the finalists’ further education.

The 2 age group winners that are not selected as the grand prize winner will win $25,000 scholarships.

You can vote on your favorite projects and help select the people’s choice winner that will receive a $10,000 scholarship.

Related: 11 Year Old Using Design of ExperimentsPresident Obama Speaks on Getting Students Excited About Science and EngineeringScience Fair Project on Bacterial Growth on Packaged Salads

Evolution of Altruism in Robots

The webcast explores robots evolving cooperative behavior. A Quantitative Test of Hamilton’s Rule for the Evolution of Altruism (open access paper)

One of the enduring puzzles in biology and the social sciences is the origin and persistence of altruism, whereby a behavior benefiting another individual incurs a direct cost for the individual performing the altruistic action. This apparent paradox was resolved by Hamilton’s theory, known as kin selection, which states that individuals can transmit copies of their own genes not only directly through their own reproduction but also indirectly by favoring the reproduction of kin, such as siblings or cousins. While many studies have provided qualitative support for kin selection theory, quantitative tests have not yet been possible due to the difficulty of quantifying the costs and benefits of helping acts. In this study, we conduct simulations with the help of a simulated system of foraging robots to manipulate the costs and benefits of altruism and determine the conditions under which altruism evolves.

By conducting experimental evolution over hundreds of generations of selection in populations with different costs and benefits of altruistic behavior, we show that kin selection theory always accurately predicts the minimum relatedness necessary for altruism to evolve. This high accuracy is remarkable given the presence of pleiotropic and epistatic effects, as well as mutations with strong effects on behavior and fitness. In addition to providing a quantitative test of kin selection theory in a system with a complex mapping between genotype and phenotype, this study reveals that a fundamental principle of natural selection also applies to synthetic organisms when these have heritable properties.

Related: Robots That Start as Babies Master Walking Faster Than Those That Start as AdultsFriday Fun: Robocup 2010, Robot FootballToyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair
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5% of the Universe is Normal Matter, What About the Other 95%?

Dark Matters from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

Great discussion and illustration of the state of our understanding of physics, matter, dark matter and the rest of the stuff our universe has from PhD comics. What is the universe made of? 5% of it is normal matter (the stardust we are made of), 20% dark matter and the other 75% – we have no idea!

Dark Cosmos is a nice book on some of these ideas. It is 5 years old so missing some of the latest discoveries.

Related: Why do we Need Dark Energy to Explain the Observable Universe?The Mystery of Empty SpaceFriday Fun, CERN Version
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