Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Suggestions how to improve the U.S. education system

A paradigm shift is needed
The U.S. education system, as many other education system, is still stuck in an industrial age paradigm that does not prepare young people for the knowledge age. There are two basic kinds of change: Piecemeal and systemic (Reigeluth, 1999). Currently, most educational reforms happen in a piecemeal fashion that try to "fix" the existing system. What is needed is a radical systemic reform.

1) The current U.S. education paradigm is based on the "conveyor belt" analogy of the Industrial Age. All students learn the same content in the same amount of time. As Campbell and Monson (1994) state "This may be a model of efficiency, but certainly not for effectiveness". The current paradigm of standardized education allows for valid comparison of students with each other and sort them out efficiently, but does not aim to educate every student (Reigeluth, 1992). When an educational system holds the time of instruction constant, achievement must vary. It is well documented that students learn at different paces. What is the alternative? Instead of grouping students by age group that passes through the education system, schools need to give each learner the time he or she needs to reach the learning goals.

2) Besides the Industrial Age paradigm, the U.S. education system still uses elements from the older Agricultural Age: The three month long summer break was intended to allow children to help during the harvest on farms. Instead of one long summer break, the U.S. could introduce several shorter 2-3 week breaks spread out throughout the year. Research provided strong documentation that the long summer break increases the achievement gap between poor and middle class students (See Summer learning loss and The Case Against Summer Vacation). This also links to the main reason for the education achievement gap in the U.S.: Poverty (or "socio-economic disadvantage") (See Poverty is key factor to improve U.S. education).

3) A dual education system, with an academic and a vocational pathway, offers students valuable alternatives. Unfortunately, the U.S. does not have a well-structured vocational school system as found in many European countries. In Finland, around 50% of students choose vocational school over University education (See The Finland Phenomenon). In the U.S. there exists no alternative to high school, and the current high school curriculum was created to prepare students for higher education not a vocation. In other words, a seventeen year old in the U.S. has only one option: He/She is either a high school student or a dropout (See Americas misplaced disdain for vocational education and Strengthening vocational education could improve U.S. education).

Instead of piecemeal reforms, like "No child left behind" that encourage standardization and assessment (=> sorting), the outdated paradigm itself needs to be changed (See Changing Education Paradigms). Changing the content (educational content standards) or assessment (standardized tests) is not sufficient to meet the needs of the Knowledge Age for the very structure of education discourages self-guided learning, initiative, and creative diversity.


Campbell, R., & Monson, D. (1994). Building a goal-based scenario learning environment. Educational Technology, 34(9), 9-14

Reigeluth, C. M. (1992). The imperative for systemic change. Educational Technology, 32, n11

Reigeluth, C. M. (1999). What is instructional design theory and how is it changing? In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-Design theories and models, vol 2: A new paradigm of instructional theory. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Big Bang Theory Network Diagram

The popular CBS TV-show "The Big Bang Theory" presents a complex network of characters. I created the diagram below to illustrate the various types of relationships.

Big Bang Theory Network [Click to Enlarge]

For other entries on geek culture, see for example Geek hierarchy chart and Evolution of geek.

Big Bang Theory Wikia

Monday, January 23, 2012

Over 60,000 page views total and more than 10,000 in the past two month. Thanks to all visitors of the proto-knowledge blog.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Celebrities of Science: Making Science Popular

Carl Sagan in Action
Science needs public faces to tell its fascinating stories. A few scientists dared to step into the TV spotlight to make science accessible to a wide audience (and sometimes gain criticism by their peers for simplifying science too much in return).

I compiled a short list of some of the most popular faces of science on TV:

General Science
Physics and Astronomy



Wikipedia has an extended list of English-speaking popularizers of science. However, the world needs still more people who can make scientific findings accessible to the public.

The Meta-Geek

Copyright Scott Johnson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottjohnson/1190004360/ 

With geek culture becoming more mainstream, a novel form of geek emerges - the meta-geek.

A "meta-geek", or "geek geek", is fascinated with geek culture without being deeply involved in any one sub-culture. Meta-geeks are geeks about geek culture itself.

For example:

  • A meta-geek can follow geek-related blogs and watches videos from geek-related events (such as Comic-Con, Dragon-Con, or Star Trek conventions) without going there in person.
  • A meta-geek can be knowledgeable about comic characters without reading comics themselves. 
  • A meta-geek can blog about other geek cultures (for example, see Geek hierarchy chart and Evolution of geek) or read geek-related blogs (for example Geeksaresexy.net or Geekosystem.com).