John Belcher’s Class Exemplifies Abstract STEM Learning

The TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning) paradigm in action.

John was concerned, as was his leadership. The required freshman college physics class he taught was failing 10–15% of students every year. “Ever since I came we had a high failure rate in physics,” he said. “And the other required courses in chemistry, two terms of math, biology — they were typically failing 5%. We would fail twice as many.”

He taught electromagnetism, the study of electric and magnetic fields and their interactions. It’s a hard course for many students. John thinks that’s because it’s an entirely abstract subject. Electric and magnetic fields are invisible to every human sense. “Plus…


Reopening requires good braking and visibility

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Some crazy guy was frantically waving for me to stop. In the middle of the New York State Thruway, on a stretch of road carved through solid rock, with no shoulder. Another person joined his plea. It was bad weather anyway, so I stopped, barely fifty feet from the crest of a large hill. At the bottom were dozens of cars in a heap, victims of an icy downhill. Those drivers were helpless. The crazy man saved me, but only because I was willing to trust him.

Covid-19 reminds me of that incident. Can the population trust that shutdown was…


Disease Fighting is a No-Win Business

The 2019-nCoV coronavirus protease, a potential therapeutic target. Drawing is courtesy of Innophore (https://innophore.com/2019-ncov/) and the Phyre2 web portal (http://www.sbg.bio.ic.ac.uk/phyre2/). Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

In October 2001, the biological defense community got a wake-up call. The nation was reeling from 9/11 when the Anthrax-laced letters appeared. It had personal relevance. A month earlier, I had transitioned from aviation safety to biological defense research. I wasn’t only focused on the research prospects. Terrorists had a sophisticated weapon, and I worried it was a harbinger of a new normal.

My biodefense job meant frequent interactions with the public health community. In most circumstances, they would be in charge of the aftermath of a bioterrorism event. We talked about highly-lethal disease involving tens to hundreds of thousands…


Will Unemployment Soar in the AI Era?

The Mythical Ned Ludd ( Source unknown; cropped from original; 195 years since publication; copyright extinguished)

Ned Ludlam had enough of the criticisms from his father. “Square the needles” was the latest complaint. He took a hammer to the knitting machine and “beat them into a heap.”

A few decades later, in the 1810s, Ned was a wanted man. The English Government suspected him of orchestrating a series of machine-breaking crimes. Ludd was his moniker by then. Ned himself never admitted to the deeds, but the quip “Ned Ludd did it” was common. Captain or King Ludd was the taunting title for the police. Several times the authorities thought they had their man, only to see…


Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

I’ve been worried about schools since my college teaching stint almost thirty years ago. The students were great at memorizing facts and processes. But I was teaching computer programming, a subject loaded with abstract concepts. Many of them struggled. The students separated into two groups, with no overlap. Those who got the concepts aced the work, while the rest bombed the assignments and tests. I wondered why; after all, some of the concepts were things I’ve seen elementary school kids learn. (I fully admit it could have been the teacher’s fault!)

In the workplace, I’ve had the pleasure of leading…

Tim Dasey, Ph.D

AI and human performance researcher, education enthusiast, writer, parent, envelope-pusher

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