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Friday, March 23, 2012

Will.I.Am and Dean Kamen Want Kids to be excited about STEM

There is an interesting piece just posted by Will.I.Am and Dean Kamen, they want to get children excited about Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. They have teamed up with several sponsors and have launched a contest that aims at doing just that, Wouldn't It Be Cool If. The aim of this contest to get children to dream up the coolest idea to make their lives more awesome. It is open to kids ten to fifteen years old, here are the contest rules. The submission deadline is next Wednesday, March 28th.
I really like ideas that improve the chances that we will have more Scientists and Engineers among us in the future.  I hope that they have contests like this when my son is old enough to participate.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Site News - Added Discussion Forum

I spent some time last week installing software to host a discussion forum.  As of now there is only the roots of a discussion or two, but I expect it to grow over time.  The link to the forum is available from the sidebar on the main site, and directly by clicking on the following link: MemVance Discussion Forum.

Learn a Foreign Language - Method of Loci

So for the readers that have learned about the Method of Loci and are working to improve your memory, you might be asking yourself what would be a good thing to practice committing to memory?  It turns out that the Method of Loci and other mnemonic techniques are very good for learning vocabulary in a foreign language.  I personally already have a functional understanding of Brazilian Portuguese, due to being married to a wonderful Brazilian woman.  I have decided that I wanted to improve my Portuguese vocabulary and wanted to share some resources that I have developed, and techniques I am using to help me memorize more vocabulary.

Even though I already have knowledge of a foreign language these resources and techniques are quite useful for even the beginner.  Learning common words is very important to get a feel for a language.  I have found that learning words that occur very frequently, you can quickly gain some proficiency with a language.

I have a Google spreadsheet that contains Portuguese word frequency lists that I am working on.  This spreadsheet is built from information available online in the Corpus Do Portuguese, an online repository of 45 million words from various Portuguese texts, Google translate, and a few other sources.  I have included as well a tab in this spreadsheet of 100 common conversation words, it might be a good idea to start with them if you are a complete beginner.  It is quite easy to remember these 100 words, but they will greatly help your ability to converse.

Try to learn around 10 - 50 words a day.  There are a little more then four thousand words in the spreadsheet currently.  If you learn them at a rate of 50 a day, you will take around 80 days to gain a working vocubulary in Portuguese.  I would suggest that you try to come up with images related to these words that are unique and are a little absurd.  One method that seems to work for me for doing this is the break the word into its syllables, then you have some small sounds you can try and find english equivalents.  Cabe├ža is a good example, you can break down this into three parts by sound: 'Cab' 'Bees' 'Ha'.  Armed with the sounds you can imagine a person with a giant head sticking out of a moon roof of a New York cab, filled with a bee hive, while he is laughing ceaselessly.  You can further imagine that he has one of those cartoon bubbles filled with "Ha Ha Ha!!!".  Images constructed in this way should be easy for you to remember using the Method of Loci.

I will report to everyone how I progress, for those wanting to join me learning Portuguese I wish you good luck.  This spreadsheet will be evolving over time as I work through it.  I plan on a few follow up posts describing more mnemonic techniques for foreign language.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ted Education - Video Lessons for Students

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), the organization based on ideas worth sharing launched a new initiative this past Monday.  It is called TED-Ed, it aims to engage students with unforgettable lessons.  There are many places in the world where a wonderful teacher or mentor is teaching something mind-blowing, but as it stands now not many people have access to that powerful experience.  Ted-Ed aims to bring that engaging experience to everyone who has an internet connection.

I have had a chance to review the material and was quite impressed by their quality and how the videos were engaging.  It is my opinion that as education evolves initiatives like Ted-Ed and Khan Academy will take a bigger and bigger place in educating our children.

I thought these lessons were so profound and I wanted to take a chance to share each of these videos with you and my initial thoughts upon viewing them.

TED-Ed's aim to bring engaging educational experiences to everyone who has an internet connection appears to be on a good start.  I'm excited to see how this progresses, I hope it becomes as successful as TED itself.  While the Khan Academy is a powerful model that teaches lessons in small digestable pieces, I believe it doesn't always do enough to engage the viewer.  I think TED-Ed has a chance to fill that gap.  Engaging experience can have a profound impact to a growing mind.  I wish them luck, there is great good to be done by capturing the hearts and minds of our children and students.

You can read more about this new project at the Washington Post, The Next Web, or view the videos at TED-Ed's youtube channel.


Adam Savage
How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries
It is very easy to come up with some concept in science that is beyond our understanding.  Let it inspire you and you might discover something profound about our world.

Pi Day is Tomorrow

Tomorrow is a great day, it is an official holiday to celebrate the mathematical constant Pi. Pi is a beautiful thing, it is the constant that represents the ratio of the circle's circumference over its diameter. However, it is so much more then that. There are so many relationships in nature that involve Pi, and tomorrow is a great time to teach the wonder of mathematics to your children.

With that in mind, I felt compelled to share one of the most remarkable pieces of mathematics, Euler's identity.

Pi is one central part of this identity, one of the most beautiful jewels of mathematics. It is a consequence of a more general piece of mathematics, called by the physicist Richard Feynman "one of the most remarkable, almost astounding, formulas in all of mathematics". He was talking about Euler's formula.

Euler's formula describes the connection between algebra and geometry in one simple condensed formula. It relates the complex numbers with the geometry of the triangle, forming a deep connection between two things which to most of us seem separate.

By substituting Pi into Euler's formula, we arrive at Euler's identity.

In Euler's identity three basic arithmetic operations are used exactly once each, addition, multiplication and exponentiation. The identity links 5 fundamental mathematical constants:
  • The number Pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle over its diameter.
  • The number e, the base of the natural logarithms.
  • The number i, the imaginary unit that allows us to solve any polynomial equation
  • The number zero, which is the additive identity
  • And finally, the number 1 which is the multiplicative identity.
So much of the foundations of mathematics can be summarized in this tiny little formula. This and countless other relationships in mathematics and nature involve the number Pi. It is so basic and beautiful, it deserves to be celebrated.

So when 3/14 rolls around share a little mathematics with your child on Pi day. Try and show the mathematics around you, bake a round cake or pie, decorate it with some geometric shapes. Teach your children the area formula for a circle by helping them write it on some sugar cookies. There are countless other things you can do with your child, use tomorrow to instill wonder in mathematics. You won't regret it.

You can find plenty of other ideas at the Pi Day official site

Monday, March 12, 2012

Multiplication – Times Tables

I've been teaching my kindergartner multiplication recently.
Many people might think this is not a good thing, and I partly would agree with them.
I would only agree with them if they were talking about forcing a child to learn the multiplication tables by rote memorization. I don't think introducing math concepts early is bad, you just have to explain things conceptually rather then force them on your child. Teach the concepts slowly and at your child's own pace. Some kids will get this concepts quickly, others might take a lot of time and practice to internalize the concepts.  If you try and force a concept onto a child and don't explain it, you risk making something interesting and fun into something that they do not enjoy.  You risk taking the wonder out of math, so be careful.

There are two prerequisites for a child to learn to multiply:
The first thing to teach is the basic concept of counting and adding groups of objects. My son picked this up awhile ago, but it is the first thing they need to know to learn multiplication. Do not start teaching multiplication without the child understanding addition and counting well. They don't have to be fast at it, but they have to know it before you begin this journey.
Second, teach counting by 2's, 5's and ten's.

Once they have these two skills down pat you can begin teaching your child multiplication.

Teaching Multiplication

  • Begin by teaching the concept of multiplication. Multiplication is just addition of number to itself a given number of times. For example: If you want to multiply 7 by 3, you add seven to itself 3 times. You should also point out that multiplying 3 by 7 will give you the same answer as well.

  • Teach the concept of the multiplicative identity, any number multiplied by one will yield the same number.

  • Teach the multiplicative property of zero, any number multiplied by zero will always yield zero. I used the analogy that zero is a black hole, and that multiplying numbers by it will result in the zero eating them up.
Once your child understands the concept behind multiplication, it is time to practice applying this concept. The way that I found works best is to have your child build their own multiplication table. I like to leave off the '1' column, since you really don't need a table to do them.

Create a 2 by 2 grid with the numbers 2 to 10. If you would like you can print the images I created for this purpose.

Fill in the 2's column by adding two to each of the resulting answers above it. Right after you finish the 2's column, point out that the column's contents can also be copied to the 2's row as well.

Do the same with the 5 x 5 row and column and then the 10 x 10 row and column.

All three of those rows are very easy since the child already knows to count by 2's, 5's and 10's.

Now you should teach the 'finger trick' for multiplying by nines. All the digits of all the multiples of 9 from 1 - 10 will sum together to 9.
9, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90.
Because of this fact, you can quickly multiply by nine by counting out the number you want to multiply by nine on your hands, going left to right, placing the finger down as you go. The numbers to the left of that finger will be the tens place. The number after your finger will represent the ones place. You can quickly read off the answer this fashion.

Use this technique to fill in the missing values of the 9x9 row and column.

Having done the above, we will have just a small number of grid columns that need to be filled in:
3 x 3, 3 x 4, 3 x 6, 3 x 7, 3 x 8

4 x 4, 4 x 6, 4 x 7, 4 x 8,

6 x 6, 6 x 7, 6 x 8

7 x 7, 7 x 8

And finally, 8 x 8
multiplication table

You have now created a multiplication table from scratch with your child, and got a lot of practice doing addition and counting along the way. Teaching multiplication in this manner focuses on the concepts of multiplication and addition, instead of just rote memorization. Once the concepts are cemented, only then is it appropriate to have them memorize and commit the tables to memory.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

K Anders Ericsson and Deliberate Practice

We all want to be an expert in our given fields. Have you ever heard that practice makes perfect? Well, it turns out to be true. Sort of. It turns out that there is a large body of work describing the process to become an expert. A professor at Florida State University, K Anders Ericsson has spent a great deal of time analyzing experts in a wide variety of fields. Based on his findings, he has found that the most likely trait that determines an expert is daily deliberate practice over a period of years and decades. If you want to become an expert you need to work hard at it, but not just any practice will do.
Deliberate practice focuses on two things, improving skills you already possess and extending the reach and range of your skills. To do this effectively, you must perform this practice with intense concentration. Because of this intense concentration, the time you can spend doing so is limited. Often experts practice deliberately only two hours per day, but over time since they continually work to eliminate their weaknesses they continuously improve. If you focus and do the right kind of practice with regularity, you can sharpen nearly any skill. Two hours a day adds up to 700 hours a year and 7000 hours in a decade.
Deliberate practice requires that you constantly step outside your comfort zone. If you only practice what you are already good at, you will plateau very quickly and not improve. Only if you focus on what you aren't good at, and attempt to figure out how you can do better at it, will you succeed at becoming an expert.
For those interested more in Deliberate Practice, I have found an online copy of The Making of an Expert for your review. This article by Ericsson is definitely an eye opener, and Deliberate practice is a very important concept to keep in mind while on your path to expertise, Good Luck.