The Week in Print [Week 1]

21 09 2011

The following articles, sites and other items are posted here because they were part of my weekly reading adventure. These are some that resonated in some interesting ways.

1.1 Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein folding game player
Nature America September 18, 2011

 Based on this title, not something that most people want to read. However, what if I changed the title to read:

Serious Gamers Solve Protein Puzzle Alluding Scientists for Years.

Or,

Gamers Through Game Play Discover Protein Structure Important Anti-HIV Drugs.

Is it possible that the next big medical breakthrough will come from a partnership between medical researchers and serious gamers?

A group of scientists from the University of Washington, Seattle have created a game called Foldit, a multiplayer online game, that draws from the global audience of gamers and tasks them with solving difficult 3-dimensional protein folding problems that have alluded scientists for years. Punch Line…THEY WERE SUCCESSFUL.

ABSTRACT:

Following the failure of a wide range of attempts to solve the crystal structure of M-PMV retroviral protease by molecular replacement, we challenged players of the protein folding game Foldit to produce accurate models of the protein. Remarkably, Foldit players were able to generate models of sufficient quality for successful molecular replacement and subsequent structure determination. The refined structure provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs

Article: http://www.cs.washington.edu/homes/zoran/NSMBfoldit-2011.pdf

Foldit: http://fold.it/


1.2 What if the secret to success is failure?

This is a great piece that appeared in the New York Times last week. It is the story of a Dominic Randolph-headmaster with a personal streak of independence at Riverdale, an independent school on the east coast. How independent? Examples:

  • He “did away with the Advance Placement classes in the high school soon after he arrived at Riverdale.”
  • He “encourages his teachers to limit the homework they assign.
  • He is increasing emphasis on character which can help an individual when they are not doing well.
  • The work he is doing at Riverdale is drawn from the emerging field of Positive Psychology
  • What if every student graduated with not only a GPA but a CPA- Character-point Average

The article points out one of Dominic’s observations when looking at KIPP schools is that those who do well in college and persevere are often not the ones that did well in secondary schooling. It turns out that these were the ones with exceptional character or “grit”.

Enter the grit scale. This is a 12 question survey where you rate yourself on things like “I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one”, or “I finish whatever I begin”. The researcher who developed this scale administered it to 1200 freshman cadets at West Point and found it to be a better tool for determining who will most likely persist compared to drop out than the extensive testing that cadets are normally subjected to at West Point. In other words, who has the grit or the ability to keep working even when things are not going so well?

The article is interesting and has many different points to consider. You can also explore the Grit Survey for yourself as it is available online at: http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/gritscale.htm


1.3 Why are Finland’s schools successful?
Smithsonian.com

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html

Another article that indicates that Finland is doing something right about education while we are still struggling. This is a quick read and one that raises several interesting points to consider. For me the most interesting point is that they have been working on this for over 40 years (reminds me of Lesson Study out of Japan). Bottom line, the youth are important. ALL youth are important. There is a “whatever it take” attitude. A great section of this article looks at how their system works for every child. They highlight cases where there is wealth and poverty, They also highlight students from different countries and cultures studying in Finland. Again, every student is important. Education is important. Teaching is a profession. To be a teacher in Finland, you must be selected from the top 10 percent of the nations graduates in your field then enter a program to earn a Master’s Degree in education. That is right…EDUCATION not some other field. You actually need to focus on the art of teaching and learning from as an educator, not a mathematician, historian, scientist etc. It is a given that you are good in your field. After all, you were in the top 10% of your class.

This article is highly recommended and should make one think about the state of education in the United States, What we are doing to improve it and what we should be doing. What should we be doing? WHATEVER IT TAKES!


1.4 The New 3 E’s of Education: How today’s students are leveraging emerging technologies for learning
K-12 Students & Parents
SPEAK UP 2010 National Findings
Project Tomorrow, 2011

The report starts off with an introduction that makes comparisons between 2005 and now in what 6th graders are doing today. This list should raise some eyebrows as it clearly indicates a highly connected 6th grade population.

  • In 2005, half of the 6th graders said they had a cell phone. Today, that statistic still holds true plus an additional one-third say they now have a smart phone.
  • Almost 73 percent of 6th graders have an MP3 player today – compared to one-third in 2005.
  • In 2005, the 6th graders complained about internet at their school being too slow; today, their number  one complaint is that school filters and firewalls block websites they need for their schoolwork.
  • Half of all 6th graders take tests online today and three times as many have taken an online class as in 2005.
  • 25 percent of today’s 6th graders are already using an e-textbook.
  • And in 2010, almost half of all 6th grade girls and over a third of 6th grade boys are regularly updating their social networking site, an increase of over 125 percent since 2005. All of this despite the fact that many of those 6th graders are not old enough to legally register on many social networking sites. 

To think that this represents a 5 year change in many cases. I do have to wonder though about the number of children who are not described by the above characteristics. Are they part of the growing members of poverty in the United States? If so, how do we help them in this increasingly digital world?

This report leans heavily on the mobility of technology and the ubiquitous nature of mobile technology in the hands of students today. The new 3 E’s are: Engaging, Engaging, and Empowering. Here is how they describe the 3 E’s:

  • Enabling students to reach their potential through increased access to educational resources and experts that extend learning beyond the capacities or limitations of their school or community.
  • Engaging students in rich, compelling learning experiences that develop deeper knowledge and skill development especially the problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking skills so highly desired for our world today.
  • Empowering students to take responsibility for their own educational destinies and to explore knowledge with an unfettered curiosity, thus creating a new generation of life long learners.

The authors report several trends emerging from this study. Mobile Learning, Online and Blended Learning, E-textbooks and Parental Digital Choice. Mobile Learning provides anytime, anywhere learning that generally fits in a student’s pocket. Yet, I am still amazed at the number schools that ban these devices from their classrooms and even campuses. The study indicates a 42% increase between 2009 and 2010 in middle and high school students with smartphone access. Making me think is their reporting of little difference between Title 1 and others. This study indicates equal access between title 1 schools and non-title 1 schools. They essentially indicate that the “traditional interpretation of the digital divide appears to be no longer relevant.” But does this make the Digital Divide a non-issue? I think not. Regardless, this report is easy to read with some nice graphics depicting their results and should make for good conversation.

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