A Perfect Day for a Maker Faire

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For the first time I’ve had the opportunity to attend an event dubbed “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth”, and it was really the Greatest!! World Maker Faire which took place this weekend at the New York Hall of Science was simply a treasure trove of fun and learning.

I haven’t had the pleasure of attending this event (now in its fifth year) before; each year something had prevented me from going. One such reason is that being a Sabbath observer, the Saturday day is not on the menu, and Sundays in the past two years hadn’t worked out. (Last year it coincided with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.)

In the past three years, since I discovered Make Magazine and their Faire, I really wanted to go to this “show and tell”, and even more importantly I really wanted to take my students to the event. It promised to be a place that would inspire all kinds of learning opportunities, a great way to meet people in the eye of the maker movement, and to just see all the great new things that people are working on. It was all that and even more! It is truly a perfect event for learning that doesn’t seem like “learning”.

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So here’s something I don’t understand: why does the Maker Faire take place only over the weekend when school is not in session? Wouldn’t it be great if schools can make a day trip out of it? I’m not sure if many schools have the liberty to skip class and take their students to an event that can really inspire creativity, imagination, awareness of possibilities etc, but I presume that enough schools in this great and vast city would allow for such a wonderful opportunity for informal but possibly life altering education to make it worthwhile to keep the fair going another day.

And then there’s the price. Why in the world is this event so expensive?

Now I generally assume that there’s a good reason for things. Sometimes these reasons that are not always apparent and obvious; it is always a good idea to consider the possibilities. Furthermore, in my general experience with the folks in the makersphere, they are usually altruistic and passionate about their makering. That’s why I was particularly surprised by the hefty price tag for this wonderful event.

I perfectly understand that putting together an event of this magnitude is financially a massive undertaking. But the tickets are not the only source of income for the fair. Booth rentals, for one, which I heard from the makers, start at around $2,500. Corporate sponsorships are another. It seems that such an event, which is expanding with each year, should be becoming more affordable for the visitors.

Looking around the Maker Faire yesterday, it was striking how little minorities were represented at this event. In today’s world where there seems to be a national effort to strengthen STEM education, not making this super inspiring event more widely available is truly an opportunity missed.

As I was contemplating composing this bit of frustration expression, I decided to google the proper procedure for open letter writing. I soon realized that writing an open letter right now would be more cliche than spilling a bucket with ice and water over my head.

(In truth, I’m not sure if the term is even at all useful in the internet age. Everything we post online is open. Even if the text doesn’t conclude with “sincerely”, it still technically serves the same purpose as the open letter, namely to elicit a response to some issue by making the request public.)

So if anyone is at all listening, please consider making the show go on for more days. For many children the only chance to make it to the show is by going to it with their class. If the organizers of the show cannot afford to extend the show for another day, then I appeal to the show sponsors to consider making it more available. And finally if the sponsors can not increase their giving, then I urge any interested non-profit or the municipality of New York to get involved and get more New York kids to experience this truly one of a kind event.

DNA Day

In honor of DNA Day via Roche Life Sciences

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Another Study on Economic Disparity Between College and HS Graduates

Yet another study to confirm what most of us already know. The latest study by the Pew Research Center, based on a survey 2,002 adults as well as economic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, finds that college educated millennials are better paid, more employed, and feel better about their career prospects than persons with only a high school diploma.

For those who question the value of college in this era of soaring student debt and high unemployment, the attitudes and experiences of today’s young adults—members of the so-called Millennial generation—provide a compelling answer. On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment—from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the share employed full time—young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education. And when today’s young adults are compared with previous generations, the disparity in economic outcomes between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less formal schooling has never been greater in the modern era.

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Why We Learn?

Why do we need to learn? – is a question that one hears often in a secondary school setting.
Well, we do it because the living world is an astonishingly interesting place, its inhabitants are curiously puzzling, and the possibilities for creating new stuffs with the basic blocks that the world has to offer are endless. We need to learn because doing anything else seems rather boring.

3D Printing and Paleontology

Paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara of Drexel University has began introducing 3D Printing technology into his work already some time ago. Back in February of 2012, Drexel University announced that they will use 3D printing for reproducing scaled robotic models based on actual dinosaur bones in order to test dinosaur locomotion.

Later Dr. Lacovara expanded the use of 3d printing to print copies of fossils and other materials discovered during digs in order to allow scientists all over the world to have access to replicas of his finds. This will enable them to analyze his discoveries without traveling to his lab. It may also prove helpful as a classroom tool.

See video here.

Math / Art and a Transformation Geometry Exercise

Here’s a Geometric translation exercise that also poses a question that I personally find interesting.

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It’s simpler than it looks. Just follow the given instructions to first plot the set of coordinates. Then perform the two translations to unscramble the word that appears when you connect the lines between the coordinates and reveal the big question.

Here’s what you’ll get after the first translation:

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And here’s image” of image’ with the question revealed:

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It’s 2040, and You Are the Prime Minister

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A test from 2011 taken by 12 year old boys vying to join a select group of students at Eton College known as King’s Scholars has recently appeared upon the discussion table of British blogosphere. For those unfamiliar with this legendary British institution: Eton College is a boarding school for boys 13 to 18 founded by King Henry VI back in 1440. The chemist Robert Boyle, the author Alduos Huxley, the economist John Maynard Keynes are just a few of notables that went here. It is one of the best schools in the world.

70 of these students get to be in a separate boarding house reserved for King’s Scholars with scholarships from the original foundation, hence the name. To get the prestigious King’s scholarship, boys take this challenging test that tests not only math and logic but language and culture as well.

The question that has gotten the British blogosphere abuzz is the third part of the first question:

The year is 2040. There have been riots in the streets of London after Britain has run out of petrol because of an oil crisis in the Middle East. Protesters have attacked public buildings. Several policemen have died. Consequently, the Government has deployed the Army to curb the protests. After two days the protests have been stopped but twenty-five protesters have been killed by the Army. You are the Prime Minister. Write the script for a speech to be broadcast to the nation in which you explain why employing the Army against violent protesters was the only option available to you and one which was both necessary and moral.

A bit much isn’t it? Perhaps even surreal? Smells of Machiavelianism? Well, the text that precedes this question is an excerpt from Machiavelli’s The Prince. Also, did I mention that 19 prime ministers (including the current one) of England were / are Etonians? It’s not that I am against teaching boys to think out of their skin, but this just seems (for lack of a better word) too creepy.

The rest the test is quite interesting. Question 2 is quite creative; it asks you to decode a made up language. Question 3 is another open ended question about education based on Nietzsche. And question 4 consists of a bunch of math and logic puzzles, like: If today is Friday, what is the day that follows the day that comes after the day that precedes the day before yesterday?

Individualized Education Program

feldstein-whiteWhile the debate about education in United States rages on, while education experts question whether American students are sufficiently well prepared for college or more importantly for careers in today’s ever-changing, ever-more-specialized environment, while policy makers deliberate on how to improve our education standards, rubrics, testing practices, and other such very important issues, the only education question with which every parent should be primarily concerned is: how do I utilize resources at my disposal to nurture, develop, and advance my child’s unique skills, abilities, and talents.

The ‘macroeconomics’ of education policy are to be sure extremely important; the direct causes and variables in your child’s future are significantly more so.

Individualized Education Program or IEP is in some sense a dirty word; it refers to the special education program, the individualized curriculum for students with special needs, students that cannot keep up with the standard curriculum or that require alternative ways of instruction. Shouldn’t everyone have an individualized education program? Are not most things standardized inferior to custom made? As Nietzsche remarked: “In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad.”

For obvious reasons, the department of education or even the administrators of a large school are unable to design and implement a custom made program for each individual child. It is left up to the parents to develop a plan for their child’s education, for many if not most parents, a task beyond their area of expertise.

A child’s parents, however, may have insights into their child’s personality, his or her interests, unique talents and abilities that educators may not have. And while school standards focus on creating a strong “middle class” of students, a parent is uniquely positioned to nurture a child’s talents to achieve results that are outstanding.

A person is likely to accomplish great things only in a subject or field dear to his or her heart. Therefore, only a parent or a personal mentor can prod his child or his protege towards concrete and personal goals.

Fortunately for interested parents there are almost limitless resources to help them navigate the oceans of educational possibilities for their child. More importantly, however, is the actual process of navigation. The more a person is immersed in the topic, the more a clarity of direction begins to form itself.

So what should a parent do? Here are some general dos and don’ts:

Do immerse yourself in the field of education. Read about children whose accomplishments have already been noticed by the media. (Here are some: Science, Writing, Music, Tech, and there are many many more.) Watch the TED Teen videos. Make a list of resources. Stay in the know. This is mainly to keep your horizons open (very important) and help you understand the wide world of possibility that exists out there.

Do identify your child’s strengths. Make a short list of skills and abilities that appeal to your child. Do write these down. Do your research on how to develop these interests into extraordinary skills.

Do not try to project your own interests onto your children; see them for who they are.

Do remember you’re in it for the long run. It is true, the long run is an aggregate of all the short term accomplishments. Along the way, however, there are sure to be many ups and downs. In short: identify short term goals, but keep your sights on the future.

Do find and introduce your child to real role models. This one is really important. A child needs to meet great people. Only first hand experience with role models can really deliver a full sense of what it means to achieve one’s goals. Please understand that even really great people love to pass on some of their know-how to others. Don’t be shy. Make the connection.

Do keep track of progress. From a practical point of view, keeping a log of your child’s activities and achievements will help him or her with college admissions, portfolio building, etc. It may seem like there’s not much to keep in mind. I assure you, having it all in one place will be extremely helpful.

Do start right now. Whether your child is in preschool or in high school, it is never too early or too late to start.

Top Starting Salaries Out of College

A recent survey by National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that top earning professions for those straight out of college were:

Petroleum Engineering: $93,500

Computer Engineering: $71,700

Chemical Engineering: $67,600

Computer Science: $64,800

Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering: $64,400

Mechanical Engineering: $64,000

Electrical/Electronics and Communications Engineering: $63,400

Management Information Systems/Business: $63,100

Engineering Technology: $62,200

Finance: $57,400

Buzzword: Engineering

See more at the Wall Street Journal.