Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Judith Curry interview on climate change

The IPCC May Have Outlived its Usefulness

 Some extracts:

 OP: What are your personal beliefs on climate change? The causes and how serious a threat climate change is to the continued existence of society as we know it.

 JC: The climate is always changing. Climate is currently changing because of a combination of natural and human induced effects. The natural effects include variations of the sun, volcanic eruptions, and oscillations of the ocean. The human induced effects include the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, pollution aerosols, and land use changes. The key scientific issue is determining how much of the climate change is associated with humans. This is not a simple thing to determine. The most recent IPCC assessment report states: “Most [50%] of the warming in the latter half of the 20th century is very likely [>90%] due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.” There is certainly some contribution from the greenhouse gases, but whether it is currently a dominant factor or will be a dominant factor in the next century, is a topic under active debate, and I don’t think the high confidence level [>90%] is warranted given the uncertainties.

 As I stated in my testimony last year: “Based upon the background knowledge that we have, the threat does not seem to be an existential one on the time scale of the 21st century, even in its most alarming incarnation.”

OP: You are well known in climate and energy circles for breaking from the ranks of the IPCC and questioning the current information out there. What do you see as the reasons for the increase in skepticism towards global warming over the last few years.

JC: Because of the IPCC and its consensus seeking process, the rewards for scientists have been mostly in embellishing the consensus, and this includes government funding. Because of recent criticisms of the IPCC and a growing understanding that the climate system is not easily understood, an increasing number of scientists are becoming emboldened to challenge some of the basic conclusions of the IPCC, and I think this is a healthy thing for the science.

OP. What are your views on the idea that CO2 may not be a significant contributor to climate change? How do you think such a revelation, if true, will affect the world economy, and possibly shatter public confidence in scientific institutions that have said we must reduce CO2 emissions in order to save the planet?

JC: Personally, I think we put the CO2 stabilization policy ‘cart’ way before the scientific horse. The UN treaty on dangerous climate change in 1992 was formulated and signed before we even had ‘discernible’ evidence of warming induced by CO2, as reported in 1995 by the IPCC second assessment report. As a result of this, we have only been considering one policy option (CO2 stabilization), which in my opinion is not a robust policy option given the uncertainties in how much climate is changing in response to CO2.

OP: Do you believe that the language used in papers and at conferences is a problem? The public just wants straight answers to questions: Is the climate warming, By how much, and what will the effects be? Scientists need to step out from behind the curtain and engage the public with straight answers and in their own words. Is this achievable, or is climate science too complex to be explained in laymen’s terms? Or is it because even climate scientists can’t agree on the exact answers?

JC: I think the biggest failure in communicating climate science to the public has been the reliance on argument from consensus. We haven’t done a good job of explaining all this, particularly in the context of the scientific disagreement

For more Judith Curry see Climate etc.

the roots of socialism grow out of the perversions of capitalism

Joe Scientist comes face-to-face with the scientific publication business

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rhonda Farkota's educational philosophy explained in five paragraphs

 The student-directed versus teacher-directed learning debate is an ancient one; indeed, the polemic goes back to Plato. In her doctoral research (The Effects of a 15-minute Direct Instruction Intervention in the Regular Mathematics Class on Students’ Mathematical Self-efficacy and Achievement) the author carried out a comprehensive review of the relevant research and literature, and reached the inescapable conclusion that some skills were better acquired through one approach and some through the other. When it came to the employment and cultivation of higher order skills where reasoning and reflection were required it was clear that a student-directed approach to learning was better suited. But when it came to the acquisition of basic skills the empirical evidence unequivocally showed that a teacher-directed approach was best suited.

It is well accepted that problem solving skills operate from a knowledge base that has been acquired through practice; in fact, genuine competence in both problem solving and basic skills only comes with practice. Significantly though, it is actually when the base knowledge in a discipline is being acquired that the foundations for effective problem solving are being laid. Because the essential knowledge required for automaticity is stored in students' long term memory, it is best retained when explicitly taught and practiced repeatedly. This automaticity originating from practice empowers students to maximise their mental capacity by concentrating exclusively on the more complex task of problem solving.

It is also well accepted that to perform a task competently one requires not only the requisite skills, but also the self-belief in one's ability to implement performance. In the learning process this is termed self-efficacy, and when laying the foundational skills in mathematics, or for that matter any academic discipline, it is important that student self-efficacy be accomodated. Students with low self-efficacy in a particular skill area are reluctant to engage in tasks where those skills are required, and if they do, they are more likely to quit when encountering difficulty.

Students engaged in the learning process automatically monitor their progress, and for this reason the capacity to self-evaluate progress is an integral and ongoing component of the JEMM program. Because JEMM tasks gradually increase in difficulty, students have clear criteria by which they can independently assess their performance and gauge their progress. As they progress they acquire more  skills and become more proficient at the self-evaluation process.

JEMM lessons were deliberately designed not to be seen as tests, but this is precisely what is happening on a daily basis; without being conscious of it, students are willingly engaging in ongoing assessment. As such the lessons serve as a powerful diagnostic tool clearly mapping students' progress, identifying precisely where and when they are experiencing difficulty. The students' responses provide teachers with reliable diagnostic information similar to that which could only be acquired from a formal test situation. Because students receive daily feedback on their performance they are acutely and immediately aware of their progress, which strengthens their self-efficacy, sustains their motivation and enhances their academic achievement.

source:  JEMM = Junior Elementary Maths Mastery, page x

Friday, February 17, 2012

a tux moment

A great photo from Tony Forster's blog.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Rhonda Farkota: Australia's Direct Instruction maths expert

PhD thesis:
  The Effects of a 15-minute Direct Instruction Intervention in the Regular Mathematics Class on Students’ Mathematical Self-efficacy and Achievement by Rhonda Maree Farkota

 Currently I've read Chapter 2 which describes, compares and evaluates the constructivist and Direct Instruction methods in maths teaching. It does leave out Papert's constructionism (a common fault in most of these reviews) but otherwise does provide a comprehensive comparison of the different methodologies and demonstrates the superiority of Direct Instruction in practice.
She is a specialist in the US developed teaching model, Direct Instruction (DI), and has designed and developed her own DI model. She has conducted professional development and lectured on Effective Teaching Practices at universities, schools and seminars throughout Australia. Rhonda continues to conduct professional development in these and related fields and in 2010 she presented to the Singapore Ministry of Education. In 2003 she was nominated for the 2003 National Learning Difficulties Australia Award in recognition for her work in learning disabilities.
- source
In the past few days I have seen the materials developed by Rhonda Farkota Junior Elementary Math Mastery - JEMM
... a mental math program ... suited for middle primary, and upper primary remedial students. Requiring only 10–15 minutes daily to implement, plus 3–7 minutes for instant feedback ...

  Elementary Math Mastery - EMM
... a mental math program ... suited to upper primary, first year secondary and secondary school remedial students, and requires only 15–20 minutes daily to implement, plus 5–10 minutes for instant feedback and correction proceedures.

 I'm very impressed. These are the materials which could make all the difference for the most disadvantaged students in Australia and elsewhere.

 Thanks Wayne.

Friday, February 10, 2012

some possible uses of information technology on the APY Lands

I visited Peter Ruwoldt at Grant High School in Mt Gambier, during his farewell sessions at the end of the 2011 school year.

 Peter (Wara) is working as an educator at Ernabella in 2012, with the possibility of this continuing for 5 years. Peter began his teaching career at Fregon in the 1980s and is now returning to the APY Lands. Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) is a large Aboriginal local government area located in the remote north west of South Australia

Peter has a very strong background in IT technology and education and is expert in both Open Source and Windows based educational applications and is very familiar with the constructionist educational concepts promoted by Seymour Papert and Mitch Resnick. He has won various awards for his IT work, such as CEGSA (Computer Education Group of South Australia) teacher of the year.

  • Use IT to support teachers in teaching reading and writing of Pitjantjatjara. 
  • Cross age tutoring with older students being taught to teach younger students 

Peter's idea is to trial various ideas on a small scale, see how the students respond to them and take it from there.

 1) Pitjantjatjara spell checker Open Office or Libre Office Writer has an option for setting to various languages, which, in turn can activate a spell checker in that language. Peter plans to work with Pitjantjatjara language specialist, Paul Eckert, to enable this option. This requires a Pitjantjatjara word list for the spell checker (to be supplied by Paul Eckert) and some XML to integrate the word list into Open or Libre Office (to be supplied by Peter, see The Locale Generator). I mentioned to Peter that something similar had been done by Roland Gesthuizen for the Khmer language.

 2) Graphics tablets
Bamboo pen and touch CTH-661/SO-C
Needs to be large and pressure sensitive
software: Canvas Paint
Students responded enthusiastically to this opportunity during a recent visit by Peter to Ernabella

 3) One laptop per child or xo
We noticed that on the OLPC australia google map that Amata Anangu School will have full saturation of xos in 2012 (18 xos deployed June 2011; 82 xos pending deployment in 2012 – full saturation) Peter may decided to deploy xos at Ernabella.

 4) Music recording and editing using Audacity (already happening to some extent?)

 5) Scratch is an educational multimedia visual drag and drop programming language. Peter plans to make template programs using Scratch to support teachers in teaching reading and writing of Pitjantjatjara.

For example: Unmarked object on screen which when you click on it plays a sound of a Pitjantjatjara word, eg. Punu (tree). Another object on screen which contains the word spelt out, punu. The user drags the spelt out word icon onto the sound playing icon and the program generates a reward of some type. Students could then proceed to making their own sound and word objects, creating their own word – sound dictionary.

 6) Peter shared with me the excellent year 9-10 IT course, which he has developed, which is available on moodle. The course includes these sections:
  • Audio using Audacity
  • Basic photo editing using Paint.Net or GIMP
  • Diagrams and Vector graphics using Giffy
  • Mind mapping using or Mindomo
  • Making a small wiki about children's movies using wikispaces
  • Developing a Screen Recording tutorial using CamStudio or TipCam
  • Introduction to the Linux free operating system using the Ubuntu Live CD
  • Make your own online Cartoons and Animations using Captain Underpants, ToonDo, Witty Comics or Comic Creator
  • Computer Security
  • Create an online survey, implement it and graph the results on a spreadsheet
  • Use Google maps to pin point a particular area

Land of the Free, Home of the Poor

The extent of economic inequality is astonishing and underestimated by nearly everyone. PBS NewsHour’s Land of the Free, Home of the Poor with Paul Solman is brilliant and a must watch.

Over 90% of people interviewed underestimated the extent of wealth disparity picking the Swedish wealth profile as the one they thought represented America. Differences b/w Democrat and Republican voters were insignificant.

  • Top 20% possess 84% of the wealth 
  • Second 20% possess 11% of the wealth 
  • Third 20% possess 4% of the wealth 
  • Fourth 20% possess 0.2% of the wealth 
  • Fifth 20% possess 0.1% of the wealth 
In the last 10 years most of the change has been a dramatic increase in the wealth proportion of the top 0.1%

Warren Buffet:
Yes, there has been a class war in the United States and my class, the super rich, have won
Towards the end Richard Freeman points out that the extent of inequality in the USA matches that of China, still a mainly peasant society, and African countries.

Another reference which makes some similar points and also emphasises that across the political spectrum Americans desire a more equal society than the one they currently live in: Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time
First, respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality. Second, respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution. Most important from a policy perspective, we observed a surprising level of consensus: All demographic groups—even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy—desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.