May 31, 2011

Teaching and Learning

An interesting post from Mark Thoma and Frances Woolley about young students not being good in math and being quite dependant on calculators.
I think there is nothing wrong in using calculators as a tool, but surely people should have a sound understanding of things before using them. And this applies to many others things as well.
The point is why do young students seem to be so bad at math and so dependant on calculators even for elementary operations? And of course this leads to the question of how should we teach math and everything else.
My idea is that sometimes the way things are thaught makes student more prone to memorizing or learning how to apply some rules, without deeply understanding them. Sometimes a superficial understanding and a good memory are enough for a good grade, while perhaps the opposite would be more desirable (altough clearly not the first best). Exams should try to test understanding, more than knowledge. Moreover I believe that a deep understanding helps memory as well.

Quoting Eric Mazur:
You can forget facts, but you cannot forget understanding.

Here a debate from the last days about Education in Italy and about the Invalsi test in particular.
Articles: Tito Boeri 1 e 2 su Repubblica.
Analysis: Erich Battistin e Antonio Schizzerotto su

May 29, 2011

Italy in Stop Motion

There is a weird debate in Italy about our income and how many people are poor, are becoming poor or are at risk of becoming poor...
Istat presented its last annual report, which of course is not so entusiastic about Italian position. Then the minister Giulio Tremonti said he doesn't trust those data and that Italian economy is not that bad (apparently he has a private secret data source), the media reported wrong statistics etc.
In this post I am trying to gather some material and look at some facts.

May 20, 2011

A Tale of Freedom and the Right to Read

I already posted something about copyright and intellectual monopoly here.
I think the tale titled "The Right to Read" by Richard Stallman is quite nice and relevant.
It is not just about software, but about intellectual monopoly in general.
Here however I want to talk about books...
(UPDATE: and of course ebooks and DRM - Digital Rights Management - ita)

From “The Road To Tycho,” a collection of articles about the antecedents of the Lunarian Revolution, published in Luna City in 2096

For Dan Halbert, the road to Tycho began in college—when Lissa Lenz asked to borrow his computer. Hers had broken down, and unless she could borrow another, she would fail her midterm project. There was no one she dared ask, except Dan.
This put Dan in a dilemma. He had to help her—but if he lent her his computer, she might read his books. Aside from the fact that you could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your books, the very idea shocked him at first.

May 17, 2011

The Pin Factory

Without any specific reason, I decided to post some stuff that I find worth being on my blog.

In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging, and unless very particular pains have been taken to render him otherwise, he is equally incapable of defending his country in war. The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind, and makes him regard with abhorrence the irregular, uncertain, and adventurous life of a soldier. It corrupts even the activity of his body, and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employment than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expence of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.

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