One Pathway for Future Engineers and Computer Scientists

Amazon is committing $50 million to computer science education in the United States with new programs supporting high school and early undergraduate students. Part of this includes financial aid to help schools bring AP computer science courses to their students. They have recently expanded this initiative into K-8.

The program has begun offering free online lessons and funding summer camps to help students discover the "fun" of computer science. Amazon critics might say this a just a kind of farm system for training new employees. Their efforts may benefit the company, but those students are probably more likely to work for other companies. And yes, I would agree that $50 million dollars is a lot of money, but not a lot of money when spread across the country's schools.

Students who start computer science early (and this seems to especially be true for females) are more likely to say they like computer science and have confidence in their computer science abilities.

I'm sure many people would write about this as another STEM or STEAM effort, but their materials talk about how positive it is for everyone to understand how computers (and that word means so many things besides the traditional laptop or desktop computer we talked about just 20 years ago) work and how they are programed.

Most students will not end up working as programmers or computer scientists, but that technology will touch the lives in and out of the workplace.

The program promotes how programming will aid not only the understanding of computers, but other technology and also a student's understanding of logic, precision and creativity.

Amazon Future Engineer Pathway is a partnership with organizations such as Code.org and Coding with Kids.

The Amazon Future Engineer Pathway program aims to support 100,000 high schoolers in taking Advanced Placement courses in computer science. It also is set to award four-year scholarships and internships to a sizable group of students from under-represented populations who participate in those courses.

Amazon is accepting scholarship applications for the 2019 campus and classes.
Schools and districts may also apply on behalf of families

https://www.amazonfutureengineer.com/

https://code.org/

https://www.codingwithkids.com/amazon/

 

On Internships

Serendipities

“Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.” - Julius Comroe

 

cover Eco

Umberto Eco's book, Serendipities: Language and Lunacy, is not a book about education or technology. It is about some riddles of history and the "linguistics of the lunatic." I am an Umberto Eco reader and first noticed him, as many people did, with his novel The Name of the Rose

That novel takes place in 1327 in an Italian Franciscan abbey that is suspected of heresy. Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate and the story is a medieval mystery with a series of seven murders. Eco is

and he mixes in Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Roger Bacon. There are secret symbols and coded manuscripts in a higher level version of the Dan Brown novel formula.

I was partially attracted to Serendipities because of the title, but it's not an easy to read novel, but rather a non-fiction study.

Eco looks at mistakes that have shaped human history. For example, Christopher Columbus assumed that the world was much smaller than it is, land so he assumed he could find a quick route to the East via the West. He was wrong, but he accidentally "discovered" America.

Cults such as the Rosicrucians and Knights Templar seem to have resulted from a mysterious starting place that was a hoax. That kind of start made both groups ripe for conspiracy theories based on religious, ethnic, and racial prejudices. 

Eco posits that serendipities and mistaken ideas can have fortuitous results. 

On The Writer's Almanac, there was a nice short history of serendipity, parts of which I have also written about here. The word “serendipity” was first coined in 1754, and is now defined by Merriam-Webster as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” 

“Serendipity” was first used by parliament member and writer Horace Walpole in a letter that he wrote to an English friend who was spending time in Italy. In the letter to his friend written on this day in 1754, Walpole wrote that he came up with the word after a fairy tale he once read, called “The Three Princes of Serendip,” explaining, “as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” The three princes of Serendip hail from modern-day Sri Lanka. “Serendip” is the Persian word for the island nation off the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka.

The invention of many wonderful things have been attributed to “serendipity,” including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Charles Goodyear’s vulcanization of rubber, inkjet printers, Silly Putty, the Slinky, and chocolate chip cookies.

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin after he left for vacation without disinfecting some of his petri dishes filled with bacteria cultures; when he got back to his lab, he found that the penicillium mold had killed the bacteria.

Viagra had been developed to treat hypertension and angina pectoris; it didn’t do such a good job at these things, researchers found during the first phase of clinical trials, but it was good for something else.

The principles of radioactivity, X-rays, and infrared radiation were all found when researchers were looking for something else.

A U.K. translation company put "serendipity" on a list of the English language’s ten most difficult words to translate along with plenipotentiary, gobbledegook, poppycock, whimsy, spam, and kitsch.

In Eco's intellectual history of serendipities, he includes dead ends and mistakes that were not fortuitous. Leibniz believed that the I Ching illustrated the principles of calculus. Marco Polo identified a rhinoceros as the mythical unicorn. 

Eco then turns to how language tried to "heal the wound of Babel." But throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, various languages were held up as the first language that God gave to Adam. Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, and Egyptian were alternately seen as the starting place for language.

These essays by Umberto Eco are prefaced with his conclusion that serendipity is the positive outcome of some ill-conceived idea.

Lucky 13th Anniversary

13Serendipity35 has reached another birthday or anniversary. Launched on this date in 2006, we has survived 13 years online. That's at least 26 in blog years - maybe more. With the visitor counter clicking over the 104,588,736 mark as I type this post, the world has seen 1,942 posts here. 

I looked up the gifts you could send us for anniversary 13 and they are pretty lousy. I guess that unlucky 13 sticks even to anniversaries.

The recommended gifts are lace, furs, the precious stones citrine, malachite; moonstone or opal. I'm not into any of those. But you can get creative.

How about a nice pair of hiking boots with laces? And I do love licorice laces

I took a look in the archive at the first few posts on Serendipity35. Besides a first post on why we are Serendipity35, the first post is oddly about the Philadelphia Experiment and Orson Welles's radio play of The War of the Worlds. There is a slight and serendipitous reference to NJIT and perhaps some tenuous connections to technology, but no education. The blog had not found its theme at that point. I only started writing here in order to demonstrate what a blog was to a group of business people attending a conference on the NJIT campus.

Another early post starts off as many of my posts do - with a book I have read. In this case it was about three books that I gave my youngest son as he was headed out to start college as a business/finance major. I bought him Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. But the book I had read that I thought he really needed to read was The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. That book had gotten a lot of attention then. It is definitely still worth a reading - or listening - and it would be interesting to discuss it now after a decade has passed. How flat is that world?

A third early post from 2006 also was about a hot topic of the time. I wrote about The Millenials Go to College which came from a presentation at the college that my department was putting together titled "How Does the Millennial Generation Differ from Other Generations at the Same Age?"  

There were lots of articles about this generation now appearing on campus that don't want to work or play like their parents generation.  They use information, and learn, differently. We weren't even sure what to call them. Millennials was the popular label, but Gen Y, Next Gen and Echo Boomers all got some play in the media. They were born between 1979 and 1994. Both my sons were in this group. They are the largest generation since the Boomers (1946 to 1964). And they were in colleges and universities as we were putting together our program, We put them on panels and we interviewed and surveyed them in front of their professors.

Many of the posts here from 2006 to about 2013 are now museum pieces. I am regularly cleaning up some of the older posts when I stumble on them and find their broken images and links, typos, and the many references to technology that is no with us. But Serendipity35 is still here and I'm still posting about once a week these days on topics that interest me in learning and technology.

Thanks for traveling with me.

Science Fiction, Technology and Maybe Education

2001 tablet
2001 tablet

If you watch the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick, you will see some technology that seemed to predict technology of today, such as the iPad and other tablets. 

I was watching "Design is [Sci-Fi] – How Design in Sci-Fi and the Real World Influence Each Other," which is a talk given at Google by Christopher Noessel, a veteran in the UX world. He is the author of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction. 

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design is the update to Make It So that addresses the shift to smartphones and tablets, mobile apps and touch interfaces.

communicator
Star Trek Communicator replica (Wikimedia)

Designers sometimes use interfaces first described in in science fiction or shown in films and television shows. Film production designers working in the sci-fi genre are often free of the conventions of current technology. They can develop what are known as "blue-sky" designs. And then, fictional devices and interfaces might give designers inspiration for their real-world designs.

One example often used is the communicator used on Star Trek which seems to predict the early flip-phone mobile devices. On scifiinterfaces.com, you will find examples of how sci-fi and real-world interface design influence each other.

Films like Blade Runner tried to portray the future and give ideas in their predictions to designers in UX and technology. But does sci-fi have an influence on other fields? For example, what have educators learned from science-fiction? How has science-fiction portrayed education?

Generally, science-fiction writers and filmmakers have not really given schools of the future very much attention. Many schools and students portrayed are at the K-12 levels. Higher education is less likely to appear. Are they predicting an end to post-secondary learning in institutions? 

I remember watching the 1960s TV show and young Elroy Jetson having a robot teacher. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, there is a school for the space station's youngsters that is not very different from our current earthbound schools.

Certainly, online learning has made deep inroads into education at all levels, but especially in higher education. We don't have robot teachers yet, but AI, machine learning and predictive analytics have certainly started to make their way into education.

When I was teaching young adult novels, some students read Robert A Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky. This 1955 novel presented things like high school students being teleported for their final exam in a survival class to a distant planet. My students found these schools better than their own classrooms.

I found that my students often wished they could go to these futuristic sci-fi and fantasy schools.

I'll admit that when I read the Harry Potter books, I sometimes wished to be in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or be a teacher there, or just have Harry, Hermoine and a few of their mates as students. 

One of the few higher education depictions I have read is Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy found in the The Magicians books by Lev Grossman and the TV adaptations. 

Are there any things that most of these future schools have in common? You would be quick to note that students have much more choice. Their curriculum seems to be all directly related to what they want to do. Yes, some of Harry Potter's classmate may not like a course on magical plants, but they realize that it is an important part of the magical world.

Obviously, these future students have amazing technology to use. Paper notebooks and books and pens and pencils generally don't exist. Everything is digital. 

But there are also things that seem very much the same. Typically, there are still classrooms, labs, rows of desks and a teacher in the front of the room. I suppose even blue-sky writers and designers haven't come up with any good alternatives to those. 

Isaac Asimov made many predictions, including some about 2019, often they were based on current scientific research. Education was something he predicted “will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” He wrote a short story that I used to teach called "The Fun They Had." It is about future students that were completely educated at home via teching machines. When the system breaks down one day, they have to read a book and find out that kids once went to a school building and had classes with other kids their age. The children are in awe of the fun those kids must have had.

I wouldn’t use “fun” as my main adjective for education today, but through MOOCs, alternate degrees, customized programs and other DIY educational paths there is more education “bubbling up” than ever before.

Christopher Noessel is a veteran in the UX world: designing products, services, and strategy
for the health, financial, and consumer domains, among many others. In this talk,
he investigates how the depiction of technologies evolve over time, how fictional interfaces
influence those in the real world, and what lessons interface designers can learn
through this process, with many examples of good and awful designs.

 

Jumping Through the Dissertation Hoop

jumping through hoops
"Jumping through hoops at Arabian Nights" by Experience Kissimmee, Florida is licensed under CC BY 2.0 CC BY 2.0

Ah, the dissertation. That mammoth writing task that a student needs to complete in order to get that terminal degree. ("Terminal" - interesting term to use)

If you work in higher education, then you have stories to tell about people trying to jump through that academic hoop. I have lots of tales of friends and colleagues who struggled to write, finish and make it through their defense. (Isn't "defense" an interesting word to use for that part of the process?)

One friend of mine was being pushed to extend his writing for an additional semester because his supervising professor needed him to justify not teaching an additional class. The professor actually told him that. When he reacted negatively, the prof replied that "We had to jump through these hoops to get our doctorate, so now we get to make you jump."  Wow. It's the academic equivalent of fraternity hazing.

I could also write a post on "NOT Writing the Dissertation" since that was my own experience. I enrolled in a Ed.D program in "pedagogy" but lost interest when I was required to take courses on topics such as "school law." I continued to take classes - just not the right ones. Since at that time I was teaching in a public school, when I had amassed 32 credits beyond my MA degree, I "advanced" on the salary guide. Not as far as if I had the Ed.D, but pretty close.

So, I was close to being ABD (All But Dissertation) but really closer to being ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

Through my LLC with my wife, we have done editing for academic writing, including some dissertations. When I saw an article by Leonard Cassuto in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the "Value of Dissertation-Writing Groups," it was a good reminder that although we seem to value the solitary work of writing a dissertation, it is - and should be - more of a collaborative writing task.

Cassuto says, "The glorification of solitary labor permeates the imaginary ideal of scholarship in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Your dissertation is your own work of expertise, your own plot in the great intellectual firmament. And you write it by yourself. Here’s the trouble: It just ain’t so."

The dissertation is supposed to be part of the process of making a student into a scholar and getting research out into the world. Scholarly and academic writing outside of dissertations is especially collaborative. As the article says: "Academic writing done by those who already have the doctorate is very collaborative, as is obvious if you look at all those acknowledgements in scholarly books. There are other academics, librarians, archivists, proofreaders, but also — and crucially — the people who have been reading drafts all along, making suggestions, editing, shaping. The person whose name is on the spine does the largest part of the work, but others share in the labor."

It seems to me that working with graduate students who are doing writing (dissertation or otherwise), you should certainly address the collaborative element. One way to do that is to have a dissertation group. The students we worked with on dissertations all had formed a group on their own with classmates, mostly ones who were on a similar path. That is a part of the process that should be formalized, encouraged and - perhaps most importantly - accepted by academia.