Subtitles and transcripts of podcasts

Subtitles and transcripts are available for some podcasts linked to this blog, for example for all videos on Under the video, select Subtitles available in, and to the right of the video, select Open interactive transcript.
For Russian readers / Для русскоязычных читателей: Для некоторых подкастов, описанных в блоге, например, для подкастов на сайте, есть субтитры и записи текстов. Под видео выберите Subtitles available in Russian, а справа от видео выберите Open interactive transcript.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Frederick P. Brooks: The Mythical Man-Month

Frederick P. Brooks: The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition)
(book review)
This classic book remains a must read for programmers and managers to this day. It was first published in 1975, with 4 great new chapters added in the 1995 second edition. The short book is chock-full of practical wisdom coming from a computer scientist and manager with a ton of experience. I read it twice, about 10 years ago and again recently, and noticed that with additional experience, the book appears to be more relevant (usually a good sign).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives

Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives | Video on
(video, 19 min)
A must see for anyone who ever had an argument about politics! In this eye-opening talk, Jon Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, shows the fundamental differences between the moral roots of liberals and conservatives. His simple model helps explain much of the variation between these two groups and understand the "other" side better.
Haidt and colleagues classify morality into 5 foundations:
* Harm/care - ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
* Fairness/reciprocity - generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy.
* Ingoup/loyalty - underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one".
* Authority/respect - underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
* Purity/sanctity- underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).
Studies of tens of thousands of people from different cultures across the world showed that conservatives tend to have a "5-channel morality" (they value all 5 foundations almost equally) and liberals tend to have a "2-channel morality" (they value harm/care and fairness/reciprocity much higher than the other three foundations). One of the tests used in Haidt's research is here - you can find out how you score by taking this short quiz. The results of one of the studies (Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 1029-1046) are shown in the figure above.
According to Haidt, the progress of civilization, and especially the evolution of social order, benefited from all five foundations. Haidt encourages us to be aware of these fundamental differences between us, and use this knowledge to understand (and value) the moral foundations of people on the other side of the ideological debate. Step out of the "moral matrix" - even if it's just for a moment.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education

Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education | Video on
(video, 20 min)
A reader of the previous post sent me this amazing link. The Khan Academy offers a glimpse into a significant part of the future of education. Salman Khan started uploading video tutorials on YouTube to teach his cousins math and science. The tutorials became so popular (53 million views by May 2011) that eventually Khan quit his job as a senior analyst at a hedge fund and started the Khan Academy. In addition to the tutorials, the site offers self-paced exercises.
Salman Khan and colleagues did a pilot study in 5th and 7th grade classes in Los Altos. They tested supplementing the math curriculum with video tutorials and web-based exercises, with promising results. These web-based methods do not replace traditional education. Instead they essentially automate repetitive work, such as one-size-fits-all explanations and problem solving in the classroom, leaving the teacher to do more creative work. The most valuable metric in the classroom is student-to-valuable-human-time-with-teacher ratio.
Additionally, these methods allow the students with very different learning speeds to pace their own learning. The tools in the pilot study also offer teachers deep insight into the exact mechanics of how students learn, with real-time graphical views of exactly how proficient each student is at each learning module.
The Khan Academy won a $2 million award from Google. And the inspiring talk at the TED conference ends with a standing ovation!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

How to improve math education

Something must be wrong with math education, because so many TEDsters have been rushing to save it! I found these 3 podcasts interesting and provocative.
Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover | Video on
(video, 16 min)
Dan Meyer, a high-school math teacher, suggests in this smart and funny podcast to improve math education by making math problems less cookie-cutter, requiring more thinking, and encouraging patient problem solving. Meyer compares most math and science problems in current textbooks to mindless sitcoms. In one example problem, the students are given 3 pieces of data, and all they have to do is to plug them into a formula. When was the last time you had a real world problem, in which you had no extra and no missing pieces of data?
In another example problem, Meyer shows an interesting question, which, when posed properly, can help develop in students the ability to think about point labels, grid measurements, and line slopes.

Instead, in the textbook version (pictured here), the problem is dumbed down from real life level to "plug into the formula" level, which makes thinking unnecessary. The workaround that Meyer uses is his daily practice is to rewrite the textbook problems to make them less helpful. In one example, he changed a textbook math problem ("how long does it take to fill a water tank?"). Meyer eliminated all the input data, all the "helpful" intermediate steps, and replaced the precise answer key with an imprecise real life measurement. The students had to figure out what input data they need to solve the problem, get through all the intermediate steps by patient thinking, and verify the answer by comparing it with imprecise (real world!) answer key.

Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers | Video on
(video, 20 min)
Conrad Wolfram proposes to improve math education by using computers correctly, namely to let computers do the calculations currently done by hand. He suggests to free up the vast time spent on manual calculations to do more creative tasks, such as learning to translate real life problems into the language of mathematics and to verify mathematical solutions in real life. Some manual computation is useful, for example performing mental arithmetic for making quick estimates. And if someone is interested in hand computation, by all means they should do that. But hand computation is a discipline that, due to ubiquity of computers, is almost in the same category now as Ancient Greek, and thus should not be forced upon most people.
Conrad Wolfram, strategic director of Wolfram Research and the brother of the creator of the Mathematica software Stephen Wolfram, stands to benefit financially from this New Kind of Math Education. But, financial conflict of interest aside, I think he makes a good point.

Arthur Benjamin's formula for changing math education | Video on
(video, 3 min)
Professor of math at Harvey Mudd College, a performer of astounding mental calculations and book author Arthur Benjamin suggests that the pinnacle of math education for all high school students should be probability and statistics, rather than calculus, as it is now. Very few people use calculus in their day to day lives. But a lot more people use (or can benefit from using) statistics. Obviously, this is not about banning calculus in high school (study it if that's what you want), but about a shift towards more sensible priorities for most people.

What do you think? Is the current math education "good enough"? What would you change?