Grapes of Math

13th September 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

The Grapes of Math, by Greg Tang. We’ve recently become aware of Greg’s work as a math educator. He came about his calling through a circuitous path—first earning a B.A. and M.A. degrees in Economics from Harvard, and later an M.A. degree in Math Education from New York University. Greg is certified as a middle and high school math teacher. His books, including the Grapes of Math, Math-terpieces, the Best of Times, and many more, are cleverly designed to allow young people to learn and become excited about math, and to learn how to problem-solve in creative ways.  Enjoy!

Science Progresses One Funeral at a Time. 

We’ve had our eye out since 2015 on an important working paper by Pierre Azoulay, professor of management at MIT, and his colleagues. The working paper has finally gone into print in the American Economic Review as “Does Science Advance One Funeral at a Time?” An excellent summary of the study by Colleen Flaherty can be found in Inside Higher Education. Basically, the “funeral” study describes how major stars in a field can come to dominate and lock out any other approaches to that field, no matter how logically suitable those approaches might be.  Azoulay points out that, although he focused on biology, this work is relevant to many fields. As Flaherty notes:

“Following the deaths of star scientists, subfields saw an 8.6 percent increase in articles published by those scientists who had not previously collaborated with the late luminaries. Those papers were disproportionately likely to be highly cited. All effects are compared to control subfields, which are associated with superstars who did not die.

“The effects were more pronounced for those who were previously ‘outsiders’ to the subfields. 

“‘To our surprise, it is not competitors from within a subfield that assume the mantle of leadership, but rather entrants from other fields that step in to fill the void created by a star’s absence,’ the paper says. ‘Importantly, this surge in contributions from outsiders draws upon a different scientific corpus and is disproportionately likely to be highly cited…’

“Christopher Koivisto, assistant professor in biochemistry and molecular biology at the Medical University of South Carolina, said he thinks there’s ‘a dangerous tendency among scientists to become overly dogmatic within their respective field.’ And when an “outsider makes an observation or conclusion that challenges their dogma, they are reluctant to accept it.

“Too often, he said, editors and chairs of grant review committees yield to the ‘dogmatic experts.’ Scientists should ‘first evaluate the methodology,’ and if that’s ‘sound and sufficient, then we should accept the new data and interpretations that challenge our current state of knowledge.’”

We believe this paper is particularly relevant to the insular approaches sometimes seen in education.

My Childhood Schooling In The Soviet Union Was Better Than My Kids’ In U.S. Public Schools Today

This thoughtful essay by Katya Sedgwick perfectly captures some of the problems in US school systems today. She writes “…I am forever thankful to this country for taking me in and for giving me liberty. Yet when I talk to people in our community about their wishes and anxieties, they always express discontentment with U.S. schools. ‘How is it,’ some ask, ‘that we are all engineers, but our children can’t do basic math?’”

Girls’ comparative advantage in reading can largely explain the gender gap in math-related fields

This fascinating Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences article by Thomas Breda and Clotilde Napp finds that “Women remain strongly underrepresented in math-related fields. This phenomenon is problematic because it contributes to gender inequalities in the labor market and can reflect a loss of talent. The current state of the art is that students’ abilities are not able to explain gender differences in educational and career choices. Relying on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data, we show that female students who are good at math are much more likely than male students to be even better in reading. As a consequence, the difference between 15-y-old students’ math and reading abilities, which is likely to be determined by earlier socialization processes, can explain up to 80% of the gender gap in intentions to pursue math-studies and careers.” These findings are right in line with Barb’s New York Times op-ed “Make Your Daughter Practice Math, She’ll Thank You Later,” which some reform educators, mired as they can sadly be in dated approaches with little grounding in broadly replicated science, were quick to criticize. [Hat tip Kelly Papapavlou via Dynamic Ecology.]

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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