How Things Work

23rd March 2018

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Week

We want to bring up one of our favorite books: How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life, by Louis Bloomfield.  Barb has used this book for years to teach basic ideas of engineering to ordinary non-engineering types.  After all, “technological literacy” doesn’t just mean that you know a smattering about how your computer works—it should also mean you know the basics of how your car works, how your refrigerator keeps things cool, and how your house is kept warm in the winter. How Things Work will allow you to much more easily understand how these great technological advances work. Bloomfield uses wonderful, simple metaphors and great imagery that allow you to easily “chunk” the key ideas, even as you find yourself wading easily into the underlying physics.  There’s also a less textbooky version of the book How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary. Incidentally, if you are an engineering professor, you’ll find some great ideas here to more rapidly onboard your students using Lou’s great metaphors.

Although Dr. Bloomfield would have no memory of it now, about a decade ago, Barb was able to visit and tour his fantastic physics demonstrations at the University of Virginia.  He’s a wonderful man!


The reason we’re bringing up Lou Bloomfield’s terrific book is also that Lou happens to have invented a wonderful shape-memory silicone (MemorySil™), that has been developed into earplugs called EarJellies. EarJellies are bulb-shaped, but when you roll them out long and thin, they remember that new shape long enough for you to insert them in your ears. They gently return to their bulb shape, sealing your ear canal perfectly and with almost no pressure. They provide protection from loud sound, freedom from noise (including snoring), and guard against water (for swimmers).

Lou and his partner Rudy McEntire have launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter to help them ramp up production and start to have an impact on the world. Surprisingly many people have struggles with sound and their ears—many of Lou’s beta testers have found EarJellies life-altering in a good way: they can finally leave home without wearing earmuffs, they can swim again, they can perform on-stage again, they can sleep through the night. Lou and Rudy will be working with hospitals to help critically ill children and parents endure the noise.

We’ve given our part for crowd-funding Lou and Rudy’s invention. Knowing Lou’s work as we do, we can highly recommend his earplugs even though we are still avidly awaiting the ones we’ve ordered from his campaign.

Intrusive sound is often a major issue for learners, so while you are waiting, we can recommend Peltor High Performance Ear Muffs, which we find really help our focus as soon as we put them on.  On planes, we wear noise cancelling headphones to look less dweebish. (Although sometimes we throw all concern about how we look out the window and slap on these 31dB honkers.)

Want a Terrific, Inexpensive Masters Degree in Computer Science?

As Lindsay McKenzie notes in this excellent article in Inside Higher Ed: “Analysis of Georgia Tech’s MOOC-inspired online master’s degree in computer science suggests that elite institutions can successfully deliver high-quality, low-cost degrees to students at scale…. Students admitted to the online program typically had slightly lower academic credentials than those admitted to the in-person program, but they performed slightly better in their identical and blind-marked final assessments—a finding the study hailed as ‘the first rigorous evidence that we know of showing that an online degree program can increase educational attainment.’” Although the article questions whether other institutions will follow suit, the reality is that following suit is inevitable, and smarter administrators will pick up quickly on this.

Eddie WooMath Rockstar Teacher

Have a great math teacher when you are young can make an extraordinary difference in how your life unfolds. You have just such a teacher at your fingertips with Eddie Woo, star of the free math YouTube “WooTube” channel, Australia’s Local Hero for 2018, and top ten finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. We’re rooting for you, Eddie! [Hat tip, Michelle Imison.]

Registration is open for 2018 Summer STEM camps!
Oakland University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science offers weekly programs for upper elementary, middle and high school students who want to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Mathematics (STEM). (We should point out that Oakland University, where Barb is a professor of engineering, is in Michigan.)  Students are taken through a series of hands-on, student-centered experiences where they learn a little bit about each of the engineering fields. These programs are run by Chris Kobus, Barb’s longtime friend, who is an incredible engineering professor—the way he inspires kids is extraordinary. Register here!

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

Get the course recommended text, A Mind for Numbers!

NEW! Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens. Great ideas for parents, too!

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