New Exoplanets Very Old

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

With all of the hoopla over exoplanet discoveries in recent years, it’s a big surprise that this one did not receive more attention. Kepler-444 is a small star, about 25% smaller than ours, and is 11.2 billion years old. According to measurements made by the 600-million dollar Kepler space telescope, it has five rocky planets ranging in size from Mercury to Venus.

Artist's concept of the 11.2-billion-year-old star Kepler-444, which hosts five known rocky planets. Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine.

Artist’s conception of Kepler-444, an 11.2-billion-year-old star, and its five orbiting rocky planets. By Tiago Campante/Peter Devine.

The above information is sufficient to generate great excitement. When you realize that the universe is only about 13.6 billion years old, you know that this star and its planets formed in the early days of a very young, only about 2.5 billions years old, universe. Our own star is less than half as old at 4.6 billion years and has an expected lifespan of around 10 billion years.  Continue reading

The Science of Deflategate

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

The New England Patriots have muddled up the Super Bowl in a grand fashion. It might as well be an MIT prank but on a national scale. We haven’t see the like since Caltech (MIT’s famous rival in the prank world) jimmied the Rose Bowl’s card stunts half a century ago. (Personal note: I was a member of the Caltech group of twelve that did that. Also see this LA Times article.)

Denials are not going to change any fan’s mind. If you’re a Patriot fan, you probably don’t think it’s important. If you’re not, then you will believe any evil of the New England dynasty.

Before delving into the science, I should note that reporters have said that the ball deflation was discovered during halftime and rectified. As the final score was 45-7, and the second half score was 28-0, even if every Patriot point in the first, seemingly flawed half were rescinded, the score would still be 28-7 in favor of the Patriots. We are not discussing, therefore, who should play in the Super Bowl. We are instead discussing how balls would have become low in pressure.

As any high school physics teacher will tell you, PV=nRT, the ideal gas law. Okay, that’s gibberish to many, but it’s really very simple. So simple in fact that you can do the calculations yourself with calculator or even readily with paper and pencil. Let’s deconstruct this equation.  Continue reading

The Imitation Game: A Cautionary Tale

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

With The Imitation Game having academy award nominations, it’s a good movie to consider for science learning. Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly star in this story of Alan Turing. Turing is famous in computer science for the Turing Machine and the Turing Test. The latter was named by him as “the imitation game.”

A Turing Machine is a concept created by Turing that says that anything computable can be computed by a ridiculously simple machine consisting of a tape of indefinite length that contains only ones and zeroes and a reader that decides what to do upon reading the tape — to move forward or backward and how much. This decision depends on the state of the machine and the number read on the tape. Turing’s machine can, in theory, perform any computation being done today by any computer. You can say that Turing invented the modern computer — in theory anyway.

Alan Mathison Turing at the time of his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society. Photograph was taken at the Elliott & Fry studio on 29 March 1951.

Alan Mathison Turing at the time of his election to a Fellowship of the Royal Society. Photograph was taken at the Elliott & Fry studio on 29 March 1951.

As Alan Turing sat and thought about computers, he asked himself what is the potential of computing machines in the indefinite future. He decided that it’s possible for a machine, in theory, to mimic human behavior. He then asked how can you tell if the machine truly is behaving as a human. In those days, all communication with machines was by writing or, worse, by looking at lights or blips on a CRT. His test involved writing to a machine and receiving written replies. If, no matter how much you wrote and read, you could not tell whether the replies were coming from a human or a machine, then the machine passed the test, “the imitation game,” and should be considered for all intents and purposes as human.  Continue reading

Register for TCC 2015 – The Future Is Now

kimura80By Bert Kimura

Aloha,

Register for the TCC 2015 Worldwide Online Conference, The Future Is Now:

http://tcconlineconference.org/

Enjoy KEYNOTE sessions by:

  • Dr. Howard Rheingold, Author, Critic, Journalist & Educator
  • Alan Levine, Pedagogical Technologist, Architect of Open & Connected Learning
  • Dr. Stella Perez, Sr. VP Communications and Advancement, American Association of Community Colleges

This year, our 20th conference features an ONSITE option to participate in-person at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa campus. There is also an option to participate virtually ONLINE as in previous years.

For further information (including low-cost housing and an optional educational tour), see:

http://2015.tcconlineconference.org/register/

Site licenses for unlimited participation from a campus or system are available. Special rates apply to University of Hawai’i faculty and staff. For more info, contact Sharon Fowler <fowlers@hawaii.edu>.

We look forward to seeing you at TCC 2015.

Warm regards,
Bert Kimura
For the TCC Conference Team

Practical Reasoning – Challenges for Teaching and Assessment

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

In a faculty brown bag lunch, Molly Sutphen, Associate Director of the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence and author of the seminal book Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation, delivered a talk on Practical Reasoning at the School of Government. The talk was a nice follow-up to the Teaching Palooza that our faculty organized last summer. Since the School’s focus is on teaching adult learners, enhancing practical reasoning skills is an important objective of my instructional design work.

Molly Sutphen, Associate Director of the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence

Molly Sutphen, Associate Director and Teaching and Learning Coordinator, UNC Center for Faculty Excellence

Characteristics of Effective Practical Reasoning

  • To be able to draw on knowledge from different areas, courses, or types of knowledge and use it
  • To develop a sense of salience about a situation
  • To realize the stakes of a situation
  • To put boundaries around a problem or question
  • To be able to envision different outcomes
  • To be able to construct a narrative forward and backward

Assessment and Practical Reasoning

With the pressure of constantly demonstrating impact, assessing the short term learning outcomes of practical reasoning is problematic. “Practitioners may learn, but we don’t know it – what you teach, someone will perhaps not use for another five months – or ten years,” said Dr. Sutphen. She recommends taking “a long view” instead.

Instructional Strategy: Unfolding Cases

Dr. Sutphen introduced unfolding cases as an instructional strategy to teach practical reasoning skills. Unfolding cases are underdetermined (no obvious plan or resolution), scaffolded (controlled amount of information), and orchestrated (prompting specific, relevant questioning). In a plenary exercise, she presented a list of questions to help teachers construct unfolding cases.

  • What is this a case of?
  • Where do you want to start and end?
  • How underdetermined do you want the case to be?
  • Who are the actors? At which point will they be revealed?
  • What is the arc of the narrative?
  • What information will you provide or conceal?
  • Will you give boundaries or expect them to be discovered?

Further Reading

Benner, P., Sutphen, M., Leonard, V., & Day, L. (2009). Educating nurses: A call for radical transformation (Vol. 15). John Wiley & Sons.

Colby, A., Ehrlich, T., Sullivan, W. M., & Dolle, J. R. (2011). Rethinking undergraduate business education: Liberal learning for the profession (Vol. 20). John Wiley & Sons.

Schwartz, B., & Sharpe, K. (2010). Practical wisdom: The right way to do the right thing. Penguin.

Gherardi, S. (2012). “Docta ignorantia”: Professional Knowing at the Core and at the Margins of a Practice. Journal of Education and Work, 25(1), 15-38.

Seed Wins the Mars One University Competition to Germinate Life on Mars in 2018

Mars One Press Release: Amersfoort, 5 Jan. 2015:

Mars One is proud to present the winner of the Mars One University Competition: Seed. The Seed team is an important step closer to sending their payload to Mars. The winning payload will fly to the surface of Mars on Mars One’s 2018 unmanned lander mission. Seed was selected by popular vote from an initial 35 university proposals and this is the first time the public has decided which payload receives the extraordinary opportunity to land on Mars.

Photo courtesy of Bryan Versteeg and Mars One.

Photo courtesy of Bryan Versteeg and Mars One.

“We were generally very pleased with the high quality of the university proposals and the amount of effort associated with preparing them,” said Arno Wielders, co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Mars One. “Seed itself is uniquely inspiring since this would be the first time a plant will be grown on Mars.”

The Winning Team – Seed aims to germinate the first seed on Mars in order to contribute to the development of life support systems and provide a deeper understanding of plant growth on Mars. The payload will consist of an external container, which provides protection from the harsh environment, and interior container, which will hold several seed cassettes. The seeds will stem from the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, which is commonly used in space plant studies. After landing, the seeds inside the cassette will be provided with conditions for germination and seedling growth. The growth will then be recorded using images transmitted back to Earth.

“We are really pleased to be the selected project among so many excellent ideas. We are thrilled to be the first to send life to Mars! This will be a great journey that we hope to share with you all!” said Teresa Araújo, Seed team member.

Seed consists of four bioengineering students from the University of Porto and two PhD students from MIT Portugal and the University of Madrid. The team is supported by Dr. Maria Helena Carvalho, plant researcher at IBMC and Dr. Jack van Loon, from the VU Medical Center, VU-University in Amsterdam, and support scientist at ESTEC-ESA. Seed benefits from scientific and technical support from several advisers, whose expertise range from biological systems to spacecraft development and validation. Read more about Seed here.

An in-depth technical analysis of the winning proposal will be conducted to ensure that the winner has a feasible plan and that their payload can be integrated on the 2018 Mars lander. Mars One and its advisers will contribute to the analysis by thoroughly and critically examining the Seed proposal.

If Seed runs into any issues regarding feasibility or can not stick to the schedule, Mars One will fall back on the runner ups of the university competition. The second and third placed projects are Cyano Knights and Lettuce on Mars.

More information

About Mars One

Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that will establish permanent human life on Mars. Human settlement on Mars is possible today with existing technologies. Mars One’s mission plan integrates components that are well tested and readily available from industry leaders worldwide. The first footprint on Mars and lives of the crew thereon will captivate and inspire generations. It is this public interest that will help finance this human mission to Mars.

For more information visit www.mars-one.com

College and Other Lies

vb0-80By Veronica Brockschmidt
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

Starting in elementary school, the importance of finding the perfect career for you is introduced with fun little surveys that point you in the direction of possible future jobs based on your interests and selected answers. Kids would get career options like Model, Painter, Teacher, Doctor, etc, and a statistic on salary ranges for each position. In high school, the importance of graduating and attending college is drilled in from day one. By the age of 16 you were expected to know, without a doubt, what you wanted to be when you “grow up.” By the time you actually graduated high school, you needed to know exactly what you wanted to major in and the career you wanted for the rest of your life. That’s some intense pressure, especially for still technically being a kid and not actually accepted into any colleges yet.

You were given more statistics about the financial lives of Americans with college degrees and how much better their lives were than those with only a high school diploma. The implication was that if you go on to finish college, you’d be a millionaire (Kristof), but if you stop now with only your high school diploma, you’ll be stuck at McDonald’s asking your old classmates if they “Want fries with that?” The fear tactic worked. Plus, who doesn’t want to make up to $1,000,000.00 more than someone with just a high school education?

So you do the whole college thing because it’s the new societal norm and you want to make your parents proud. You feel like you have your life together because you’re getting good grades and you have the career major that you truly love and could happily do for the rest of your life. Little do you know that you were severely overpromised on realistic job opportunities and, suddenly, being a college graduate seems like it has nothing to do with how successful you actually are (9gag).

Perhaps it was that, at the time of you declared a major, that industry was hiring a lot of people and that the promise of success even had something to do with your decision. But now that three to five years have passed, those positions have filled up due to the overwhelming flood of qualified applicants who all had the same idea as you. Either way, you, “the successful college graduate,” are somehow unemployed, still eating Top Ramen, and sharing a bedroom to be able to afford rent.  Continue reading

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