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Programming

You Don't Have To Be Good At Math To Learn To Code 606

HughPickens.com writes: Olga Khazan writes in The Atlantic that learning to program involves a lot of Googling, logic, and trial-and-error—but almost nothing beyond fourth-grade arithmetic. Victoria Fine explains how she taught herself how to code despite hating math. Her secret? Lots and lots of Googling. "Like any good Google query, a successful answer depended on asking the right question. "How do I make a website red" was not nearly as successful a question as "CSS color values HEX red" combined with "CSS background color." I spent a lot of time learning to Google like a pro. I carefully learned the vocabulary of HTML so I knew what I was talking about when I asked the Internet for answers." According to Khazan while it's true that some types of code look a little like equations, you don't really have to solve them, just know where they go and what they do. "In most cases you can see that the hard maths (the physical and geometry) is either done by a computer or has been done by someone else. While the calculations do happen and are essential to the successful running of the program, the programmer does not need to know how they are done." Khazan says that in order to figure out what your program should say, you're going to need some basic logic skills and you'll need to be skilled at copying and pasting things from online repositories and tweaking them slightly. "But humanities majors, fresh off writing reams of term papers, are probably more talented at that than math majors are."
Space

World's Most Powerful Digital Camera Sees Construction Green Light 89

An anonymous reader writes: The Department of Energy has approved the construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telecscope's 3.2-gigapixel digital camera, which will be the most advanced in the world. When complete the camera will weigh more than three tons and take such high resolution pictures that it would take 1,500 high-definition televisions to display one of them. According to SLAC: "Starting in 2022, LSST will take digital images of the entire visible southern sky every few nights from atop a mountain called Cerro Pachón in Chile. It will produce a wide, deep and fast survey of the night sky, cataloging by far the largest number of stars and galaxies ever observed. During a 10-year time frame, LSST will detect tens of billions of objects—the first time a telescope will observe more galaxies than there are people on Earth – and will create movies of the sky with unprecedented details. Funding for the camera comes from the DOE, while financial support for the telescope and site facilities, the data management system, and the education and public outreach infrastructure of LSST comes primarily from the National Science Foundation (NSF)."
Education

NSF Makes It Rain: $722K Award To Evaluate Microsoft-Backed TEALS 64

theodp writes: Microsoft has $92 billion in cash parked offshore, so it's kind of surprising to see a $722K National Science Foundation award is going towards validating the efficacy of Microsoft TEALS, the pet program of CEO Satya Nadella that sends volunteer software engineers with no teaching experience into high schools to teach kids and their teachers computer science. Among its Program Changes for 2015, TEALS said it "explicitly commits to provide a core set of curriculum materials that are complete, organized, and adaptable," which should help improve the outcome of the Developing Computer Science Pedagogical Content Knowledge through On-the-Job Learning NSF study schools are being asked to participate in. Meanwhile, CSTUY, a volunteer organization led by experienced CS teachers (including Slashdot user zamansky), finds itself turning to Kickstarter for $25K to fund Saturday Hacking Sessions. So, as Microsoft-backed Code.org — which has also attracted NSF award money to validate its CS program — is fond of saying: What's wrong with this picture? (To be fair to TEALS: it may have Microsoft backing, but it's not strictly a Microsoft effort, and also started out as a pure volunteer effort, as founder Kevin Wang explained earlier this year.)
Education

Buzzwords Are Stifling Innovation In College Teaching 95

jyosim writes: Tech marketers brag about the world-changing impact of 'adaptive learning' and other products, but they all mean something different by the buzzword. On the other side of it, professors are notoriously skeptical of companies, and crave precise language. Richard Culatta, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, says the buzzwords have thus become a major obstacle to improving teaching on campuses, since these tribes (professor and ed-tech vendors) must work together.
Education

Wired: IBM's School Could Fix Education and Tech's Diversity Gap 176

theodp writes: Wired positively gushes over IBM's Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), saying it could fix education and tech's diversity gap. Backed by IBM, the P-TECH program aims to prepare mainly minority kids from low-income backgrounds for careers in technology, allowing them to earn a high school diploma and a free associate degree in six years or less. That P-TECH's six inaugural graduates completed the program in four years and were offered jobs with IBM, Wired reports, is "irrefutable proof that this solution might actually work" (others aren't as impressed, although the President is drinking the Kool-Aid). While the program has only actually graduated six students since it was announced in 2010, Wired notes that by fall, 40 schools across the country will be designed in P-TECH's image. IBM backs four of them, but they'll also be run by tech giants like Microsoft and SAP, major energy companies like ConEdison, along with hospital systems, manufacturing associations, and civil engineering trade groups. They go by different names and are geared toward different career paths, but they all follow the IBM playbook.
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Technical Resources For Non-Technical Disciplines? 87

New submitter nashpt writes: An accountant friend has recently joined a startup looking at developing a web platform. My friend is now dealing with developers directly where he would not have done so previously and feels he is at somewhat of a disadvantage. He asked me if I could advise on how he could get knowledgeable in the relevant technologies, HTML and JavaScript, in order to better interact with their developers. While there are numerous resources available to learn to program both of these, I didn't feel that would be the best approach; if nothing else, because he will have significant constraints on his time. Instead I looked for any primers that focus on technical subjects for non-technical disciplines. I haven't found much I think would be suitable for his needs. I appreciate this is a broad subject but can you recommend any resources that would be suitable in general or specific to these technologies? Do you even agree that this is an appropriate approach or should he look to develop a working knowledge of these languages instead? Any other suggestions on how to approach this?
Education

The Case For Teaching Ignorance 236

HughPickens.com writes: In the mid-1980s, a University of Arizona surgery professor, Marlys H. Witte, proposed teaching a class entitled "Introduction to Medical and Other Ignorance." Far too often, she believed, teachers fail to emphasize how much about a given topic is unknown. "Textbooks spend 8 to 10 pages on pancreatic cancer," said Witte, "without ever telling the student that we just don't know very much about it." Now Jamie Holmes writes in the NY Times that many scientific facts simply aren't solid and immutable, but are instead destined to be vigorously challenged and revised by successive generations. According to Homes, presenting ignorance as less extensive than it is, knowledge as more solid and more stable, and discovery as neater also leads students to misunderstand the interplay between answers and questions.

In 2006, a Columbia University neuroscientist named Stuart J. Firestein, began teaching a course on scientific ignorance after realizing, to his horror, that many of his students might have believed that we understand nearly everything about the brain. "This crucial element in science was being left out for the students," says Firestein."The undone part of science that gets us into the lab early and keeps us there late, the thing that "turns your crank," the very driving force of science, the exhilaration of the unknown, all this is missing from our classrooms. In short, we are failing to teach the ignorance, the most critical part of the whole operation." The time has come to "view ignorance as 'regular' rather than deviant," argue sociologists Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey. Our students will be more curious — and more intelligently so — if, in addition to facts, they were equipped with theories of ignorance as well as theories of knowledge.
Education

As Coursera Evolves, Colleges Stay On and Investors Buy In 46

An anonymous reader writes: The hype over online academics has diminished as it became clear that it wasn't a panacea for cheap, global education. While many organizations are struggling with the realization that online courses don't fit in everywhere, Coursera has found out they definitely fit in somewhere. The colleges partnering with Coursera are sticking around, and the company has drawn fresh investments totaling $60 million from venture capitalists. Rather than shoehorning traditional college courses into an online format, they've begun experimenting with different ways to structure education. "The company has created a series of courses that add up to mini-degrees that students can earn quickly, and pay a small fee to certify that they successfully completed them." Other students are using it as a stepping stone to traditional universities: "Rice University, for instance, reports that it is getting more applicants — and higher-quality applicants — for its computer-science masters' degree after offering a CS course on Coursera."
Stats

Standardized Tests Blamed, Asian Students Ignored In Google-Gallup K-12 CS Study 184

theodp writes: According to a study released Thursday by Google and Gallup, standardized tests may be holding back the next generation of computer programmers. The Google-Gallup Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in U.S. K-12 Education report (PDF) found that the main reason given by a "comprehensive but not representative" sample of 9,693 K-12 principals and 1,865 school district superintendents in the U.S. for their schools not offering computer science "is the limited time they have to devote to classes that are not tied to testing requirements." Which makes one wonder if Google now views Bill Gates as part of the problem and/or part of the solution of K-12 CS education. The Google-Gallup report also explores race/ethnicity differences to access and learning opportunities among White, Black and Hispanic students — but not Asian students — a curious omission considering that Google's own Diversity Disclosure shows that 35% of its U.S. tech workforce is Asian, making it by far the most overrepresented race/ethnicity group at Google when compared to the U.S. K-12 public school population. Which raises the question: Why would the Google-Gallup study ignore the access and learning opportunities of the race/ethnicity subgroup that has enjoyed the greatest success at Google? Not unsurprisingly, the Google-Gallup report winds up by concluding that what U.S. K-12 education really needs is more CS cowbell.
Education

Stopping Universities From Hoarding Money 274

HughPickens.com writes: Victor Fleischer writes in the NYT that university endowments are exempt from corporate income tax because universities support the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. But instead of holding down tuition or expanding faculty research, endowments are hoarding money. Last year, Yale paid about $480 million to private equity fund managers for managing about $8 billion, one-third of Yale's endowment. In contrast, of the $1 billion the endowment contributed to the university's operating budget, only $170 million was earmarked for tuition assistance, fellowships and prizes. Private equity fund managers also received more than students at Harvard, the University of Texas, Stanford and Princeton.

Fleischer, a professor of law at the University of San Diego, says that as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act expected later this year, Congress should require universities with endowments in excess of $100 million to spend at least 8 percent of the endowment each year. Universities could avoid this rule by shrinking assets to $99 million, but only by spending the endowment on educational purposes, which is exactly the goal. According to a study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity a minimum payout of 5 percent per annum, would be is similar to the legal requirement for private and public foundations. "The sky-high tuition increases would stop, and maybe even reverse themselves. Faculty members would benefit from greater research support. University libraries, museums, hospitals and laboratories would have better facilities," concludes Fleischer. "We've lost sight of the idea that students, not fund managers, should be the primary beneficiaries of a university's endowment."
Programming

Rupert Murdoch Won't Be Teaching Your Children To Code After All 57

theodp writes: Plans for Rupert Murdoch & Co. to teach your children to code just hit a bump in the road. Murdoch's News Corp. last week announced it plans to exit the education business as it announced a $371 million write-down of the investment in its Amplify education unit, which aimed to reinvent education via digital tools, tablets and curriculum reinforced with snazzy graphics. The news may help to explain why Amplify MOOC, the entity that offered online AP Computer Science A to high school students, was re-dubbed Edhesive ("online education that sticks") a couple of months ago. Tech-backed Code.org, whose $1+ million "Gold Supporters" include the James and Kathryn Murdoch-led Quadrivium Foundation, announced a partnership with Edhesive to bring CS to schools in June, around the same time Edhesive LLC was formed.
United Kingdom

Legal Scholars Warn Against 10 Year Prison For Online Pirates 168

An anonymous reader writes: The UK Government wants to increase the maximum prison sentence for online copyright infringement from two years to ten. A number legal experts and activists are pushing back against the plan. One such group, The British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association (BILETA) has concluded that changes to the current law are not needed. "legitimate means to tackle large-scale commercial scale online copyright infringement are already available and currently being used, and the suggested sentence of 10 years seems disproportionate," the group writes.
Education

Is There an Ed-Tech Critic In the House? 61

theodp writes: Educational technology has been stuck for awhile, laments Hack Education's Audrey Watters in And So, Without Ed-Tech Criticism... (an accompanying 1984 photo of Watters making a LOGO turtle draw a square looks little different than President Obama 'learning to code' 30+ years later by making a Disney Princess draw a square). "We might consider why we're still at the point of having to make a case for ed-tech criticism," writes Watters. "It's particularly necessary as we see funding flood into ed-tech, as we see policies about testing dictate the rationale for adopting devices, as we see the technology industry shape a conversation about 'code' — a conversation that focuses on money and prestige but not on thinking, learning. Computer criticism can — and must — be about analysis and action."
Books

XKCD Author's New Unpublished Book Becomes Scientific Best-Seller 90

An anonymous reader writes: XKCD cartoonist Randall Munroe will be publishing a new book in November, but it's already become Amazon's #1 best-seller in two "Science & Math" subcategories, for mechanics and scientific instruments. Inspired by a cartoon describing NASA's Saturn V rocket as "the up-goer V", Randall's created a large-format collection of blueprints describing datacenters, tectonic plates, and even the controls in an airplane cockpit — using only the thousand most common English words. "Since this book explains things, I've called it Thing Explainer," Randall writes on the XKCD blog, trying to mimic the humorously simple style of his book. Randall's previous book of scientific hypotheticals — published one year ago — is still Amazon's #1 best-selling book in their "Physics" category, ranking higher than Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time."
Twitter

Lawsuit Over Two-Word Tweet Moves Forward 220

An anonymous reader writes: A defamation suit filed by a former Minnesota high school student has gotten approval from a federal judge to proceed. The suit was filed in response to a suspension issued by the school after Reid Sagehorn published a two-word comment on Twitter. In 2014, there existed a Twitter ostensibly about confessions from students at Sagehorn's high school. That account asked if Sagehorn had made out with a particular female teacher, and Sagehorn jokingly replied, "Actually yes." Not long after, he was suspended for five days, and that suspension was later extended to the rest of the month. The school administration convinced his parents to withdraw him from the school and send him to a different one. The town's police chief even spoke about it to the media, saying the comment was likely a felony. Sagehorn filed the lawsuit seeking damages and an expungement of the disciplinary actions.
Education

Federal Judge Calls BS On Homeland Security's 2008 STEM 'Emergency' 142

theodp writes: In 2008, the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security enacted 'emergency' changes to Optional Practical Training (OPT) to extend the amount of time foreign STEM graduates of US colleges could stay in the country and work ("to alleviate the crisis employers are facing due to the current H-1B visa shortage", as Bill Gates explained it in 2007). More than seven years later, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle has found that the government erred by not seeking public comment when it extended the program, and issued a ruling that could force tens of thousands of foreign workers on OPT STEM extensions to return to their home countries early next year. Huvelle has given the government six months to submit the OPT extension rule for proper notice and comment lest it be revoked. From the ruling (pdf): "By failing to engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking, the record is largely one-sided, with input only from technology companies that stand to benefit from additional F-1 student employees, who are exempted from various wage taxes. Indeed, the 17-month duration of the STEM extension appears to have been adopted directly from the unanimous suggestions by Microsoft and similar industry groups." Microsoft declared a new crisis in 2012, this time designed to link tech's need for H-1B visas to U.S. children's lack of CS savvy.
Programming

UK Industry Group Boss: Study Arts So Games Are Not Designed By 'Spotty Nerds' 207

nickweller writes: John Cridland is the leader of the Confederation of British Industry, a group that represents over 100,000 UK businesses. In a recent interview, he spoke about his enthusiasm for adding arts education to more traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs. Here's how he chose to express that: "One of the biggest growth industries in Britain today is the computer games industry. We need extra coders — dozens and dozens of them but nobody is going to play a game designed by a spotty nerd. We need people with artistic flair." Cridland also expressed support for an increased emphasis on foreign language education: "If we’re not capable of speaking other people’s languages, we’re going to be in difficulties. However, there is far too much emphasis placed on teaching French and German. The language we most need going forward is Spanish (the second most frequently spoken language in the world). That and a certain percentage need to learn Mandarin to develop relations with China."
Education

Massachusetts Embraces Philanthropy-Funded K-12 CS Education 38

theodp writes: The Boston Globe reports that after more than two years of lobbying, the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN) — an advocacy group comprised of Boston-area execs from Google, Microsoft, and other large tech companies — will use $1.5 million of state money and another $1.5 million in matching MassCAN funds to train teachers in computer science instruction and to lobby more school districts to introduce the lessons. The move comes two months after the State of Washington embraced philanthropy-funded K-12 CS education after being cajoled to do so by Microsoft and tech-bankrolled Code.org. "Computing isn't introduced in certain schools at all, or it's introduced very late in the educational experience — and computer science is a very difficult thing to learn later in life," said Steve Vinter, director of Google's Cambridge office and the head of MassCAN. Vinter acknowledged that MassCAN's campaign is driven in part by self-interest: Google and other companies are worried about a lack of programmers and developers that are highly in demand in the booming MA tech industry.
Education

Ask Slashdot: Switching To a GNU/Linux Distribution For a Webdesign School 233

spadadot writes: I manage a rapidly growing webdesign school in France with 90 computers for our students, dispatched across several locations. By the end on the year it will amount to 200. Currently, they all run Windows 8 but we would love to switch to a GNU/Linux distribution (free software, easier to deploy/maintain and less licensing costs). The only thing preventing us is Adobe Photoshop which is only needed for a small amount of work. The curriculum is highly focused on coding skills (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP/MySQL) but we still need to teach our students how to extract images from a PSD template. The industry format for graphic designs is PSD so The Gimp (XCF) is not really an option. Running a Windows VM on every workstation would be hard to setup (we redeploy all our PCs every 3 months) and just as costly as the current setup. Every classroom has at least 20Mbit/s — 1Mbit/s ADSL connection so maybe setting up a centralized virtualization server would work? How many Windows/Photoshop licenses would we need then? Anything else Slashdot would recommend?
Google

Google: Poor Kids Might Grasp Macbeth If They Code Like Kids At $43K/Yr School 144

theodp writes: While the CollegeBoard warned against drawing a causal link between learning computer science and improved learning in other subjects, Google has no such qualms. "CS is much more than computer programming and coding," writes the Google for Education blog in a post announcing a new gateway for Google's CS education opportunities. "It's a gateway to creativity and innovation not just in technology but in fields as diverse as music, sports, the arts, and health." Among the technology showcased at the gateway is Pencil Code, a programming tool for beginning coders that Google boasts is already helping kids attending the $43K-a-year Beaver Country Day School to brush up their Shakespeare by having students create interactive chatbots that play the part of characters like Lady Macbeth. "After completing this code I knew more and understood more of the play," begins one student's featured testimonial. "It allowed me to interpret Macbeth in a new way that I had never thought of before. I really enjoyed using Pencil Code because it made coding simpler for me and helped me try something new." Elsewhere on its CS gateway, Google laments that a new Google-Gallup Research Study shows that 'Blacks and low-income are less likely to have access' to such computer science opportunities.