Controversy over Swedish math scores

24 Jul

Having done research on the Flynn Effect, I am interested in how and why scores on cognitive tests of large populations change over time.

This week a controversy has erupted over the decline in math scores of Swedish students. Two explanations have been proposed; one centers on the implementation of educational vouchers, the other argues that the problems lies in faulty teaching techniques.

I suspect there is some truth in both arguments. Having studied education for many years now, I have come to realize that the problems are complex and, while we should always keep an open mind, it pays to be suspicious of simple solutions that are supposed to fix all the problems. This is certainly the case for school vouchers, which are still touted as a miracle cure for education, now that the experiment has been tried I think it is safe to say that education privatization has been a failure.

On the other hand, faddish educational innovations such as group and cooperative learning have also not been successful. There is evidence that some students are actually harmed by grouped learning . Group learning has a substantial free rider effect, where students who have not mastered the material are evaluated based on group rather than individual performance.  As a consequence, these students do not receive the extra help they need.

How To Learn Language In Your Sleep

24 Jul Featured Image -- 2593


Language Boat describes this as learning language in your sleep. I think it might be more accurate to describe this learning language as you fall asleep. There is good evidence that studying something just before you fall asleep improves memory.
While the research on sleep learning has yielded mostly negative results, this approach is novel and I will keep an open mind.

Originally posted on Language Boat:

learn language while sleepingAre you interested in learning a language in your sleep? Yesterday I wrote about how I’m learning Tagalog while I sleep. Try reproducing my results with the following:

  1. Download a Pimsleur language course of your choice. Preferably a language that you have not studied before. Pimsleur courses are fairly spendy, so you can experiment with the free Tagalog course first.
  2. Listen to the first lesson as you are falling asleep. Lessons are about 30 minutes long.
  3. For the next several nights, repeat, until you begin to “hear” phrases from the language in your mind. Stick to lesson one or two, until this happens.
  4. Now that your are “hearing” phrases, listen to lessons one and two while awake, in addition to bedtime listening. You can listen while doing other activities like driving, getting ready for work or school, or surfing the internet. Make it convenient and easy for yourself.Y
  5. Repeat the…

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Doktor Kaboom at Chautauqua

23 Jul

I know the show is for kids, but I always like to see Dr. Kaboom when he performs at Chautauqua.

Dr. Kaboom is the alter ego of science educator David Epley. With a faux German accent and slapstick abandon Dr. Kaboom demonstrates important ideas from science with explosions and madcap stunts.



“Alzheimer’s Disease Hits Women Hardest”

22 Jul

Justin Williams reports:

“The estimated risk of a woman developing Alzheimer’s disease in her 60s is 1 in 6, the Alzheimer’s Association says, compared to 1 in 11 for breast cancer.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association:

“Not only are women more likely to have Alzheimer’s, they are also more likely to be caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s. More than 3 in 5 unpaid Alzheimer’s caregivers are women – and there are 2.5 more women than men who provide 24-hour care for someone with Alzheimer’s.”



Remaining Lifetime Risk of Women Developing Alzheimer’s Disease and Breast Cancer, source Alzheimer’s Association

Chautauqua Summer

21 Jul

Regular readers know that I spend my summers at the Chautauqua Institution. This New York Times article explains why.


Wish List: Languages I Would Like To Learn

21 Jul Featured Image -- 2578


My list is much shorter, but I think it is admirable to have ambitious learning goals.

Originally posted on Language Boat:

listWhile there is no language I don’t want to learn, these are the ones that have piqued my interest at some point and therefore remain on my wish list. The reasons vary and some are a little silly. but I’ll share them with you anyway.

These are in addition to the languages I’m actively learning, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, and Tagalog, In no particular order:

  • Nahuatl- I became interested in Nahuatl when I lived in Mexico. Many names of places are Nahuatl, and I love the sounds and the feel of the words in my mouth. Also I’m deeply moved by Mexican history and ancient cultures, and I feel a strong resonance with it. Language is always a key to access deeper knowledge and understanding of culture, history and thinking.
  • Vietnamese- A language that has been on my list for a long, long time. I had Vietnamese coworkers and I tried…

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A Walk to Remember (a foreign language)

21 Jul


“Moderate physical activity improves various cognitive functions”

Originally posted on Science Abstracts:

This is consistent with other studies on movement and memory and some practices used by actors, memory athletes and others.


Treadmill walking during vocabulary encoding improves verbal long-term memory

Moderate physical activity improves various cognitive functions, particularly when it is applied simultaneously to the cognitive task. In two psychoneuroendocrinological within-subject experiments, we investigated whether very low-intensity motor activity, i.e. walking, during foreign-language vocabulary encoding improves subsequent recall compared to encoding during physical rest. Furthermore, we examined the kinetics of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in serum and salivary cortisol. Previous research has associated both substances with memory performance.In both experiments, subjects performed better when they were motorically active during encoding compared to being sedentary. BDNF in serum was unrelated to memory performance. In contrast we found a positive correlation between salivary cortisol concentration and the number of correctly recalled items. In summary, even very light physical activity during…

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