Education

An Advanced Math Education Revolution Is Underway In the U.S. (theatlantic.com) 198

AthanasiusKircher writes: The Atlantic has an >extended article on the recent surge in advanced math education at the primary and secondary levels in the U.S., arguing that last year's victory for the U.S. in the Math Olympiad was not a random anomaly. Participation in math camps, after-school or weekend math "academies," and math competitions has surged in recent years, with many programs having long wait lists. Inessa Rifkin, co-founder of one of these math academies, argues that the problems with math education begin in the 2nd and 3rd grades: ""The youngest ones, very naturally, their minds see math differently.... It is common that they can ask simple questions and then, in the next minute, a very complicated one. But if the teacher doesn't know enough mathematics, she will answer the simple question and shut down the other, more difficult one." These alternative math programs put a greater focus on problem-solving: "Unlike most math classes, where teachers struggle to impart knowledge to students—who must passively absorb it and then regurgitate it on a test—problem-solving classes demand that the pupils execute the cognitive bench press: investigating, conjecturing, predicting, analyzing, and finally verifying their own mathematical strategy. The point is not to accurately execute algorithms, although there is, of course, a right answer... Truly thinking the problem through—creatively applying what you know about math and puzzling out possible solutions—is more important."

The article concludes by noting that programs like No Child Left Behind have focused on minimal standards, rather than enrichment activities for advanced students. The result is a disparity in economic backgrounds for students in pricey math activities; many middle-class Americans investigate summer camps or sports programs for younger kids, but they don't realize how important a math program could be for a curious child. As Daniel Zaharopol, founder of a related non-profit initiative, noted in his searches to recruit low-income students: "Actually doing math should bring them joy."

Programming

Drag-and-Drop "CS" Tutorials: the Emperor's New Code? 157

theodp writes: Teaching kids computer science is a great movement," writes HS senior David Yue, "however, to overly dilute the magnitude of the difficulty in regards to the subject area of coding and to create the illusion of mastering a 'superpower' (Code.org) is a huge mistake. There are many videos and articles on the Internet these days that have demonstrated positive support towards computer science education. Below these articles, one can find many comments, left mostly by parents and supporters. These people usually express how proud they are that their children have an opportunity to learn computer science or how proud they are that computer science is being integrated at a more substantial level into the education system." But Drag and Drop Doesn't = Coding, argues Yue. "Parents and teachers today who aren't technical need to be aware that the drag and drop code or the candy-coated learning process does not effectively teach children programming but eventually causes a huge amount of shock once they are immersed in real code." Yue's Emperor's-New-Code warning comes days before President Obama — a graduate of Code.org's drag-and-drop Disney Princess coding tutorial — asks Congress for $4-billion-and-change in the upcoming budget to fund his "Computer Science for All" K-12 initiative.
Democrats

Perfect Coin-Toss Record Broke 6 Clinton-Sanders Deadlocks In Iowa (marketwatch.com) 634

schwit1 writes: While it was hard to call a winner between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders last night, it's easy to say who was luckier. The race between the Democrat presidential hopefuls was so tight in the Iowa caucus Monday that in at least six precincts, the decision on awarding a county delegate came down to a coin toss. And Clinton won all six, media reports said.
Math

Ancient Babylonians Figured Out Forerunner of Calculus (sciencemag.org) 153

sciencehabit writes: Tracking and recording the motion of the sun, the moon, and the planets as they paraded across the desert sky, ancient Babylonian astronomers used simple arithmetic to predict the positions of celestial bodies. Now, new evidence reveals that these astronomers, working several centuries B.C.E., also employed sophisticated geometric methods that foreshadow the development of calculus. Historians had thought such techniques did not emerge until more than 1400 years later, in 14th century Europe.
Stats

Math Says Conspiracies Are Prone To Unravel (bbc.com) 303

An anonymous reader writes: Who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory? Well, I don't — they're usually annoying daydreams from annoying people. Fortunately, an Oxford mathematician seems to feel the same way. Dr. David Grimes just published research in PLOS One establishing a formula for determining the likelihood of a failed conspiracy — in other words, how likely some of its participants are to spill the beans. There are three main factors: number of conspirators, the amount of time passed since it started, and how often we can expect conspiracies to intrinsically fail (a value he derived by studying actual conspiracies that were exposed). From the article: "He then applied his equation to four famous conspiracy theories: The belief that the Moon landing was faked, the belief that climate change is a fraud, the belief that vaccines cause autism, and the belief that pharmaceutical companies have suppressed a cure for cancer. Dr. Grimes's analysis suggests that if these four conspiracies were real, most are very likely to have been revealed as such by now. Specifically, the Moon landing 'hoax' would have been revealed in 3.7 years, the climate change 'fraud' in 3.7 to 26.8 years, the vaccine-autism 'conspiracy' in 3.2 to 34.8 years, and the cancer 'conspiracy' in 3.2 years."
Math

Ask Slashdot: Math-Related Present For a Bright 10-Year-Old? 238

peetm writes: I have an above averagely bright nephew, aged 10, who's into maths and whose birthday is coming up soon. I'd like to get him a suitable present – most likely one that's mathematically centred. At Christmas we sat together while I helped him build a few very simple Python programs that 'animated' some simple but interesting maths, e.g., we built a factorial function, investigated the Collatz conjecture (3n + 1 problem) and talked about, but didn't implement Eratosthenes' Sieve – one step too far for him at the moment perhaps. I've looked about for books that might blend computing + maths, but haven't really found anything appropriate for a 10-year-old. I should be indebted to anyone who might suggest either a suitable maths book, or one that brings in some facet of computing. Or, if not a book, then some other present that might pique his interest.
Science

How Melinda Gates Got Her Daughters Excited About Science (geekwire.com) 106

theodp writes: GeekWire reports that Melinda Gates concluded a Davos panel discussion about gender parity with a personal story about her own family, explaining how she originally became interested in computer science, and how she later played Lab Manager to Bill's Mr. Wizard to help pass along their passion for science and math to their kids. "On Saturday mornings," Gates explained, "I wanted to sleep late. So you know what I did? I made sure there were science projects available, and that's what he did with our two daughters and our son. And guess what my two daughters are interested in? Science and math."
Bitcoin

Is Blockchain the Most Important IT Invention of Our Age? (theguardian.com) 190

mspohr writes: This article makes a fairly persuasive argument for the utility of the blockchain. It discusses a wide variety of companies and government exploring blockchain to maintain secure records which cannot be altered. One interesting application is to use blockchain to maintain property records in many countries where these records are often incomplete and are easily corrupted (intentionally or unintentionally). A linked article in The Economist expands the thought and discusses changes to the blockchain to improve performance, reduce overhead and accommodate different uses. (See also this related poll.)
Math

Finally Calculated: All the Legal Positions In a 19x19 Game of Go (github.io) 117

Reader John Tromp points to an explanation posted at GitHub of a computational challenge Tromp coordinated that makes a nice companion to the recent discovery of a 22 million-digit Mersenne prime. A distributed effort using pooled computers from two centers at Princeton, and more contributed from the HP Helion cloud, after "many hiccups and a few catastrophes" calculated the number of legal positions in a 19x19 game of Go. Simple as Go board layout is, the permutations allowed by the rules are anything but simple to calculate: "For running an L19 job, a beefy server with 15TB of fast scratch diskspace, 8 to 16 cores, and 192GB of RAM, is recommended. Expect a few months of running time." More: Large numbers have a way of popping up in the game of Go. Few people believe that a tiny 2x2 Go board allows for more than a few hundred games. Yet 2x2 games number not in the hundreds, nor in the thousands, nor even in the millions. They number in the hundreds of billions! 386356909593 to be precise. Things only get crazier as you go up in boardsize. A lower bound of 10^{10^48} on the number of 19x19 games, as proved in our paper, was recently improved to a googolplex. (For anyone who wants to double check his work, Tromp has posted as open source the software used.)
Programming

Ask Slashdot: Good Introductory SW Engineering Projects? (HS Level) 140

New submitter mtapman writes: I'm looking for suggestions on introductory software engineering projects for a high school level student. Assume the student can do basic math (up through Algebra I or Statistics I) but is new to logic and computer science. Each project should take no more than four hours to complete including research, coding, and testing. The intent is to introduce the student to software engineering (and computer science) through practical and fun examples. Classic CS problems are welcome. One of the key criteria is available research/reference material to allow the student to make progress with 30-60 minutes of online research.

Some ideas that came to my mind (not necessarily good ones) are: (1) pick a sorting algorithm and sort a list of ten words alphabetically, (2) write a program to convert characters from lower to upper case, (3) write a program to divide two numbers in two different programming languages and compare the results to determine the differences between the languages.
Businesses

Apple Releases 2015 EEO-1 Diversity Data Over Weekend (qz.com) 112

theodp writes: Just days after it came under fire for dismissing a call for diversity as "unduly burdensome and not necessary," Apple quietly released its 2015 EEO-1 diversity report (dated 10/6/2015, reflects the 8/1 payroll). Like other tech companies' diversity disclosures, Apple's EEO-1 raw numbers can't really be reconciled to the percentages based on undisclosed raw numbers that grace the infographic-heavy diversity progress narrative CEO Tim Cook spoke to last August. As to why they keep two sets of diversity books, Apple explains, "The EEO-1 has not kept pace with changes in industry or the American workforce over the past half century. We believe the information we report elsewhere on this site is a far more accurate reflection of our progress toward diversity." Taking this stance allows Apple CEO Tim Cook to boast that "in the United States, we hired more than 2,200 Black employees — a 50 percent increase over last year," while ignoring Apple's EEO-1 report, which indicates that Black employees showed a year-over-year net increase of only 1,475 employees and accounted for only 1.9% of the 4,333 YOY net increase in "Professionals" at Apple (White employees accounted for 50.6%, Asian for 42.1%). If you want to check the math, Apple's EEO-1 data (typed in from the content-copy-not-allowed 2015 and 2014 PDFs) and additional charts can be found in this Tableau workbook.
NASA

Katherine Johnson: NASA's Pioneering Female Physicist (thenewstack.io) 133

destinyland writes: Tuesday's State of the Union address included a shout-out to Katherine Johnson, the pioneering African American mathematician and physicist who calculated the trajectory of Alan Shepherd's 1961 space trip. "Her reputation was so strong that John Glenn asked her to recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth," notes one technology reporter. NASA policy at the time was to not acknowledge the female contributors to scientific papers, though "She literally wrote the textbook on rocket science," according to one NASA official, noting that her impact literally reaches all the way to the moon. At a ceremony in November, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the 97-year-old pioneer continues to encourage young people to also pursue careers in technology, science, engineering and math.
United States

US Dept. of Ed: English, History, and Civics Teachers Good Enough For CS Class 242

theodp writes: In A New Chapter for Computer Science Education, the U.S. Department of Education explained earlier this month that the federal STEM Education Act of 2015 'provides an unprecedented opportunity to fully leverage federal resources' to address large gaps in students' participation in Advanced Placement (AP) computer science classes based on gender and race. "In three states," lamented the DOE, "not a single female student took the AP computer science exam" (that only 8 boys took the AP CS exam in those same 3 states was apparently not a concern). And the DOE has good news for those hoping to tap Title I and II funds for CS, but don't have any computer science teachers. "A background in math or science isn't necessarily a requirement to teach CS," explains the Dept. of Ed, "as disciplines like English, history and civics can also provide a solid foundation for teaching CS concepts."
Bug

Fixing JavaScript's Broken Random Number Generator (hackaday.com) 136

szczys writes: It is surprising to learn how broken the JavaScript Random Number Generator has been for the past six years. The problem is compounded by the fact that Node.js uses the same broken Math.random() module. Learning about why this is broken is interesting, but perhaps even more interesting is how the bad code got there in the first place. It seems that a forum thread from way back in 1999 shared two versions of the code. If you read to the end of the thread you got the working version, if you didn't make it that far (perhaps the case with JavaScript devs) you got the bad version of the code whose fix is just now being rolled out.
Cloud

Amazon Makes It Almost Impossible To Calculate Their "Virtual CPU" Equivalent (informationweek.com) 114

dkatana writes: AWS started out defining its virtual CPUs as being composed of EC2 compute units, or ECUs, which it defined as an equivalent to a physical Xeon processor. However, a virtual CPU now looks suspiciously variable... A virtual CPU is whatever Amazon wants to offer in an instance series. The user has no firm measure to go by. From the article: [B]y doing a little math, you could actually compare what you were getting in virtual CPUs in EC2 versus Azure. Also by doing a little math, you knew how to compare one Amazon instance to another based on the ECU count in each virtual CPU. Microsoft didn't look too bad in the comparison. That is one of the casualties of the nomenclature change. I have searched for updated information on how a virtual CPU is measured and found nothing comparable to the definition of the 2012 ECU measure. I have questioned Amazon representatives three times between Oct. 27 and Dec. 21, and don't have much of an answer."
Education

Ask Slashdot: Resources For Explaining Statistics For the Very First Time? (thejuliagroup.com) 90

theodp writes: Teaching multivariate statistics to college students, writes AnnMaria De Mars, was a piece of cake compared to her current project — making a game to teach statistics to middle school students who have never been exposed to the idea. In the interest of making a better game, De Mars asks, "Here's my question to you, oh reader people, what resources have you found useful for teaching statistics? I mean, resources you have really watched or used and thought, 'Hey, this would be great for teaching?' There is a lot of mediocre, boring stuff on the interwebz and if any of you could point me to what you think rises above the rest, I'd be super appreciative." Larry Gonick's The Cartoon Guide to Statistics is pretty amazing, but is it a little too advanced for this age group? Anyone have experience with the Khan Academy Data and Statistics offerings? Any other ideas?
NASA

NASA Looks To PlayStation VR To Train Space Robot Operators (roadtovr.com) 13

An anonymous reader writes: Humanoid robots in space are attractive because their emulation of the human form makes them capable of a huge range of tasks. But remotely controlling such bots is a very different challenge from the math-based methods used to make probe course corrections or plot rover routes. NASA has collaborated with Sony using PlayStation VR to explore methods for controlling humanoid robots in space, and created a virtual reality simulation designed to train operators to compensate for the data delay caused by the vast distances involved in space communication.
Education

WSJ: New Education Bill To Get More Coding In Classrooms 88

theodp writes: The WSJ's Yoree Koh reports that computer science has been recognized as important an academic subject as math and English in the new Every Student Succeeds Act, putting it on equal footing with other subjects when state and local policymakers decide how to dole out federal funds. The law is likely to be a boon for tech companies, Koh adds, which constantly face a shortage of engineers to hire, and have backed Code.org to lobby for computer science teaching in schools. "This legislation will increase access to STEM and computer science learning nationwide and will advance some of the goals outlined in Microsoft's National Talent Strategy," said Microsoft in a blog post. "ESSA makes a number of significant improvements to expand access to computer science education by diverse populations in urban, suburban, and rural areas," explained the ACM. As far as CS and STEM goes, the bill calls for "increasing access for students through grade 12 who are members of groups underrepresented in such subject fields, such as female students, minority students, English learners, children with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students."

Slashdot Top Deals