Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pauling Campus Again

I showed up early for an especially called meeting. Terry, our president, has something up his sleeve. There's no heat. I'm bundled up in layers.

Quaker educators have some loose knit professional groups, but there's really no top-down model for pushing out a message. Our interweaving Quaker journals have been a precursor to the "blogosphere" for some hundreds of years.

Cyberspace enables a faster pace, but doesn't change the anarchic flavor of our Religious Society.

TV pundits indulging in political rhetoric tend to follow a script regarding what issues to care about. Real investigative journalism is more difficult to carry out and does not always anticipate the findings, is more like real science in other words.

Does the engineering community still have the savvy to undertake such mega-projects as Old Man River City? We should not presume that as a given. As Dr. Haack made clear, back-sliding occurs. After the fall of the Roman Empire, some centuries went by before people got it together to build aqueducts on the same scale, a lot of them in Turkey.

Recent construction in Dubai, and in China for the Olympics, would suggest we still have some imaginative architects. On the other hand, the US Marines seem to have stopped building domes, since a golden age in the 1950s. Excuses about their impracticality do not match with reality, as domes have proved practical in many industrial applications. Perhaps the architecture schools have simply lost this curriculum component? They seemed somewhat ambivalent about geodesic domes in the first place, only grudgingly accepted them.

More to the point were the educational priorities of the last few decades. Spatial geometry was turned into a junkyard, a hodgepodge, with concepts such as "frequency" or "icosahedral symmetry" discouraged in high schools. Pentagon Math (as I've dubbed it), with its rhombic triacontahedron, its phi, its 108 degree angles, has pretty much fallen through the cracks, leaving traces on Lost.

"pentagon math"

Pundits fighting the Math Wars often prefer to speak in code about the various social ills that bedevil our society, without much direct focus on actual content. Really talking about math is something of an anathema to many so-called "math warriors". If they do talk about math, it's about "safe" issues, such as whether to tackle long division or use a calculator. The positions are well known.

Four of us have gathered for this meeting. We have been tasked with doing something for Portland Public Schools. Terry is thinking of producing a new study guide based on the lecture series. He's done that before. I have 1991 and 1995 copies in front of me. The next one would be on the web, saving printing costs.

I went over the whole idea of paying teachers to learn how to teach Computational Math, a vast undertaking that would require sponsors like Intel and Google helping to field an army of teacher trainers. A whole subculture would develop, based around community colleges, retreat centers, computer camps. Product placement opportunities, reality television... could ISEPP jump on this bandwagon?

Get me and other trainers in front of eager teachers, projecting "math objects" with Python (a five part series?) and we're in the game big time. Show off peer teaching tools, open source collaboration tools, encourage co-developing place-based curricula, local to school servers.

Let's start tomorrow! And let's focus on schools that don't already have lots of perks and advantages. Bridging the digital divide should start where it's most needed. Empower our teachers to empower our students!

Of course once trained, these same teachers would need the freedom to enhance their courses, based on their new insights and skills. The freedom to experiment, to try new things, would be a part of the job description.

That's just my wild fantasy though. Terry has some different ideas, based on his own experience. Regarding this study guide: will we use Wordpress? A wiki?

I demonstrated editing in Wordpress for Terry, finding a number of formatting errors in my write-up of the 1997 ISEPP Math Summit, recently transferred to Grunch Net, which I fixed on the spot. That math summit marked a decision point, when the state chose a bureaucratic approach over the reforms our keynote speakers were encouraging. Perhaps Oregon will reconsider its direction?

Python for high school math teachers? Why would we want such a thing, even in theory? They might want to try Sage, teach about hexadecimals, use Math for the Digital Age? I take some solace in the mind map at the Math 2.0 website, where Executable Mathematics has a track. At least I'm not entirely alone with this vision.

I notice Pycon / Singapore has a special track (labeled as such) for Python in Education, Science and Math. Again, I take some solace in this. Let's keep comparing notes with other Pacific Rim economies.

Karl Rove and Howard Dean were both in Portland last night, debating "foreign policy". I see no mention in the press accounts of any electrical grid issues, in Iran or anywhere else. Nothing about water management, agriculture, eating responsibly, conserving fuel...

This lack of substantive content indicates to me they were pandering to a more parochial mindset i.e. this was really a "domestic policy" debate in disguise (looking ahead to some next election).

World game is about building and maintaining infrastructure, providing life support (= wealth). Engineering enters in. From a "greatest achievements" site, under water supply and distribution:
UV Waterworks

Ashok Gadgil, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, invents an effective and inexpensive device for purifying water. UV Waterworks, a portable, low-maintenance, energy-efficient water purifier, uses ultraviolet light to render viruses and bacteria harmless. Operating with hand-pumped or hand-poured water, a single unit can disinfect 4 gallons of water a minute, enough to provide safe drinking water for up to 1,500 people, at a cost of only one cent for every 60 gallons of water—making safe drinking water economically feasible for populations in poor and rural areas all over the world.
Terry invited me to sit in on a next meeting as well, about turning the Linus Pauling House into a national historic site. I'm listening to the discussion while blogging the above. They're talking about coffee shops.