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Science &Technology

wednesday, april 25, 2012 3

“Algebra for all” policy flawed, according to study

Scientific hoaxes

Learning algebra too early may not be beneficial for some students By RACHEL KUBICA Aggie Science Writer

Learning algebra too early in life could be more harmful than beneficial to some students, according to a new study conducted by UC Davis School of Education professors Michal Kurlaender and Heather Rose, along with education programs consultant Don Taylor. The study – which looks at low-performing eighthgrade students who are placed in algebra – holds negative implications for a policy that requires all eighth-grade students to take algebra. “I think the main message is that a ‘one size fits all’ policy is not likely to be effective, and that we need much more evidence about how policies may impact students across the achievement distribution,” Kurlaender said. “In other words, from the most successful students, those that perform at the average and those that struggle.” Current policies in action, as well as those proposed by the California Board of Education, support a belief that students who complete algebra are more successful. “Algebra is a critical gatekeeper for college and future academic success and so it is critical that everyone master it,” said Kurlaender. “The downside is that just be-

cause you make it universal, doesn’t mean everyone will master it.” Indeed, the findings of the study reinforce the need to reconsider this universal policy. In the study, Kurlaender, Rose and Taylor compared their test score outcomes and grades across subsequent years and found little positive difference between students placed in algebra and similar peers who are not placed in algebra. In fact, there appeared to be a negative result compared to those not placed in algebra. “On the student’s mathspecific GPA, algebra course placement was related to a reduction in their GPA by an average of 7 percent,” Taylor said. “In other words, it may be that placement in an eighthgrade algebra course academically harms a lowperforming student.” The researchers found that the hardest-hit group was low-income minority students, who were disproportionately represented in the low-performance group. According to Rose, these students experienced a drop in GPA, possibly due to unfavorable comparisons with high-performing students after standardized testing. So what can educators do to help provide more support for these lowperforming students? Taylor points to a suggestion made by other

L Some eighth graders may find algebra more difficult than others.

researchers. “Such students may need more diverse and thought-provoking instructional methods than are typically offered in high school algebra,” Taylor said. One local algebra teacher, Pat King of Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School, notes her own methods of helping low-performing students. “I plan ‘mastery’ quizzes of basic skills before the chapter test to be sure they have entry-level skills,” said King. “I also tutor every lunch and after school.” While Taylor’s and King’s solutions can help low-performing students at the level of the individual classroom, the question remains how policy makers can address this issue and recognize each student’s strengths. Taylor once again draws from other research on


the topic. “Education policymakers [can] closely examine the deficiencies in student performance at lower grades and intervene early enough in students’ careers to minimize these deficiencies,” Taylor said. King recognized this need to acknowledge individual students’ experiences with mathematics and put herself in students’ shoes. “People who have learned mathematics forget what it is like when you don’t know. To think kids learn just by telling them to ‘solve’ and follow some recipe is shortsighted,” said King. “Sure, they can copy what I demonstrate today, but how will they apply it to a new situation tomorrow?” RACHEL KUBICA can be reached at

Nuclear physicist and art critic son to discuss issues in creative process Developing and nurturing creativity in the arts and sciences By BRIAN RILEY Aggie Science Writer

Nobel laureate Martin L. Perl, a professor emeritus in physics at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif., will be making a public presentation this Thursday at UC Davis along with his son, art critic Jed Perl. They will speak on the topic of the similarities and differences of the creative process in art and science. Martin Perl was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1995 for discovering a subatomic particle called the tau lepton. Perl will address the issue of creativity in art as opposed to creativity in science and engineering. “How similar are they?” Martin asks. “What do you need to become a highly creative person or more creative person?” Jed Perl has authored a number of nonfiction books on art criticism, including Eyewitness: Reports From An Art World In Crisis and Trevor Winkfield’s Pageant, a book about a one-of-a-kind, living artist whose paintings have been compared to music. He was the art critic for Vogue and currently writes for The New Republic. “Creativity has something to do with how a person puts together two different elements — the emotional element and the intellectual element,” Jed said. “The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that you have very different processes going on in the arts and the sciences.” Dean Keith Simonton, a distinguished professor in the UC Davis psychology department, will be the moderator. Simonton has written extensively on the topics of genius, creativity, leadership and aesthetics. “Historically, there has been no agreed-upon definition [of creativity],” Simonton said. Simonton pointed out that creativity can be given a common definition regardless of the domain.

Hungarian inventor trying to impress the Empress Maria Theresa. The Turk won the majority of the games that it played against many people at the original exhibition for the Amy Empress. People continued to Stewart play against the Turk until its destruction by fire in 1854. The cabinet beneath the Turkish man looked like it was filled with cogs and gears; in fact, that was just the exposed outside of the cabinet. The inside of the cabinet actually contained a human chess master operating the Turk’s arms with levers and a voice ast week, the subject box to declare, “Check.” of my column was of Rabbit Mother: Mary Toft scientists being honwas a woman from Surry, est but wrong. This week, I England who, starting in 1726, want to talk about the other part of being wrong: being gave birth to more than a dozen rabbits. Apparently, durdishonest. Entire books can ing her pregnancy she beand have been filled with came fascinated by a rabbit, stories of infamous hoaxes by people with a variety of and her miscarriage soon afreasons (often money, some- ter contained several rabbit parts. Reports soon reached times fame, occasionally to the community, and then docprove a pet theory). Here are a few of the most tors, that several days later she gave birth to additional whole, infamous scientific hoaxlive rabbits. es through Well, not reout history. I only in- Though no one ever confessed ally. Hopefully cluded the to the hoax and there are you don’t need me to tell you ones where people have actually several suspects ... that. She managed to fool definitive a significant proof of denumber of surgeons, includception and that actually took place (urban legends ing the surgeon of the Royal House of King George I. She don’t count). was taken to London and in Piltdown Man: The Piltdown Man’s fame began in tensely studied. She produced no more rabbits, confessed 1912, when Charles Dawson said at a paleontological meet- to the hoax and was jailed for fraud. The method of her ing that he was given several fossil fragments by a workman madness soon became disgustingly apparent: After her at the Piltdown gravel pit. He took the finds to Arthur Smith initial miscarriage, while her cervix was still wide enough to Woodward, who was the geoallow it, an accomplice insertlogical keeper of the British ed the body and claws of a cat Museum. Woodward assemand the head of a rabbit. Her bled the fragments and demotive was most likely money; clared that it was a skull of an evolutionary “missing link” be- she claimed that a “traveling woman” had told her that if tween humans and apes due to its human-like cranium and she pretended to give birth to rabbits, she would never need its ape-like jaw. more money. How this could The hoax was not properpossibly happen is lost to hisly exposed until 1953, when tory and was known only to Kenneth Page Oakley, Sir Wilfrid Edward Le Gros Clark Toft. Dihydrogen Monoxide: and Joseph Weiner proved Did you know that dihydrothat the skull was actualgen monoxide is a chemical ly composed of three spethat is a major component of cies: a medieval human, a acid rain, contributes to the Sarawak orangutan (the jaw) and a chimpanzee (the teeth). greenhouse effect, is fatal if inhaled and has been found The fossils looked much older due to chromic acid and an in the tumors of terminal cancer patients? Despite this, it’s iron solution, which proves still commonly used as cooldeliberate deception rathant in nuclear power plants, er than putting together the wrong fossils. Though no one as a fire retardant, in pesticides and as food additives! ever confessed to the hoax Since this hoax has been and there are actually sevaround since the mid 1990s eral suspects, my money’s and was widely publicized, on Dawson working together with someone else; archae- I’m guessing many of you reading this already get the ologists looking at Dawson’s joke: Dihydrogen monoxcollection found that nearly ide is water. The list of “dan40 of them were forgeries. gers” of dihydrogen monox Chess-Playing Robot: ide came from a group of colSimply put, the “Mechanical lege students as a joke and to Turk” was a chess-playing roshow how gullible people can bot who looked like a Turkish be. man in traditional sorcerer’s garb. The Mechanical Turk was constructed in 1770 by AMY STEWART can be reached at science@ Wolfgang von Kempelen, a

Tech Tips Physics Nobel Laureate Martin Perl.

“Creativity is what’s involved in generating ideas that are original, valuable and surprising,” Simonton said. Martin will discuss the role of visualization in creativity. His process involves asking important questions that break down a creative process into stages. “What’s the start? How will you make progress? How will things go?” Martin asks. Jed studies the artistic aspect of creativity. His conception of creativity differs somewhat from his father’s process. “Different people have to work out the equation of creativity in their own way,” Jed said. Another important issue is the question of individual creativity as opposed to group creativity. “One major distinction between scientific and artistic creativity is that the former is now more likely to be collective; the latter, individualistic,” Simonton said. “It’s not completely separated,” Martin said. “The great painters [in France] knew others, but they worked as individuals.”


As an art critic, Jed has noticed common qualities among visual artists. Visual artists often live in cities in order to stay in contact with other artists. “But of course, any environment can become overwhelming. The pace of city life – or commercialism – can become too much for the artist,” Jed said. “Artists – all creative people – need to find the atmosphere that nourishes them.” Both Martin and Jed Perl, as well as Simonton, stress that a level of skill and expertise in some particular domain is important. “I find it fascinating that nobody would think that they could become a world chess champion or win at a sports championship without having first acquired the necessary knowledge and skill,” Simonton said. “Yet there are amateurs who believe they have great ideas without expertise.” Thursday’s event will be held at 8 p.m. at the UC Davis Conference Center and will feature a questionand-answer session. 
BRIAN RILEY can be reached at

View country-restricted content on the internet By RACHEL KUBICA Aggie Science Writer

If you watch a lot of television via the internet, chances are high you have come across a website or video that restricts content to the United States and other countries. Software program TunnelBear recognizes this issue and provides a free and easy way to access internet content globally. Why should I use TunnelBear? TunnelBear is simple and fast. Just go to the website, download the program, input the country whose material you wish to view and enjoy! TunnelBear works great for students studying abroad, professionals on global business trips or vacationers on extended holiday. Is it safe? TunnelBear is a secure program that works using encrypted connections. This means that TunnelBear connects your computer to a server in the country whose material you wish to view. It protects your priva-

cy by simply simulating the internet experience in that country. But I use a lot of data. Will TunnelBear still work for me? TunnelBear provides three options. There is a free “Little” plan that allows 500MB of data per month, a $4.99-per-month “Giant” plan that allows unlimited data usage during that month and a $49.99-per-year “Grizzly” plan that is exactly like the Giant program but lasts for a year. Opting for the Little plan does not require a credit card number, and TunnelBear will not force you into any contracts. Does TunnelBear work on my iPad and/or iPhone? TunnelBear currently has iPad and iPhone applications in beta mode, meaning they are trying out their software on those platforms and it is not an official release. Unfortunately, this beta is only available to paid users under the Giant and Grizzly plans. RACHEL KUBICA can be reached at science@

April 25, 2012