### Activity Based Learning

Lectures are literally medieval. The format is also inherently unfair:
[A] growing body of evidence suggests that the lecture is not generic or neutral, but a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students. This is not a matter of instructor bias; it is the lecture format itself — when used on its own without other instructional supports — that offers unfair advantages to an already privileged population.
We can do better. #ABLConnect at Harvard helps educators develop activity-based methods of teaching more effectively. It's not a fad. It's research-based, it's effective, and it's fun. It's also one of the many reasons I left Caltech to join the faculty at Harvard. It is truly refreshing to be at an institution that is serious about teaching innovation. Not just in words, but in resources and actions. Our students and our science depend on it.

Check out this promotional video featuring yours truly:

Lecto Verbum said…
Hey John,

I don't think its the communication format (lecture v. active learning) that causes the bias directly. It seems to me that would imply all sorts of inherent differences (attention span, distribution of learning styles, etc.) between women, people of color, etc. and white men that I find hard to believe.

To me, there is a separate process occurring when classes are taught with active learning, and that's a refocusing of the classroom onto all the students. Active learning unlike lecturing is filled with feedback and teacher-student interaction. It becomes much harder for students to not participate when the teacher makes the effort to force/reward participation, and that happens in active learning classrooms in a way that does not in traditional lectures. Traditional lectures rely mostly on individual student initiative and teacher reciprocation for participation, and its easy to see how biases regarding classroom comfort, prejudice, etc. to be introduced. Thus, the classroom becomes focused on a few students, who often get labels like "star" or "standout." So to me, the disappointing results seen in lecture-based classrooms is instructor bias as well as self-selection bias (I disagree with the NYT quote). The good news is that active learning can re-focus the classroom and dismantle some of that bias by re-focusing the classroom on all the students.

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.
As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.
Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…