Saturday, April 09, 2011


Education, Intelligence, Innovation and the Wiz

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak expressed some enlightening views on education at the spring SNW show. (SNW is "produced by Computerworld and co-owned by Computerworld and SNIA (The Storage Networking Industry Association")
Public education remains a passionate subject for Woz, who was unabashed in saying that schools today are far too structured and thus impede innovative thinking - which is key to "the artistic side" of technology.


"A really innovative person is known for something that usually took an awful lot of thinking, maybe even over years, and a lot of development in a laboratory putting it together and getting it to work. And it's new and it's different. And it's not something you read about in a book," he said.

"In school, intelligence is a measurement," he continued. "If you have the same answer as everyone else in math or science, you're intelligent."

In subjects other than math and science, such as English, students are given essay assignments where individuality shines, where each pupil goes off on their own and creates an answer that's different from every other student's. And yet, that's not associated with innovation today, he said, but that's exactly the thinking schools and businesses need to apply to computer sciences.
(Emphasis added.)

One middle school science activity my kids were required to to do was lay out food and let mold grow on it. I say "activity" rather than experiment because it was never clear to me what the purpose of the project was, to cultivate mold or to see what mold, if any, grew on various types of food left laying out for 1-2 weeks.

Because this project was always done during the winter when the air inside the house was especially dry, little or no mold grew on anything. Last time we lay out raw hamburger, cheese slices, bread, and a sliced open potato. The potato grew a little mold, nothing grew on the other substances. My kids always told my kids the projects wasn't successful. I never clarified with the teacher whether this was an experiment or a cultivation project.

If it was an experiment, it was successful. If it was a cultivation project, it was not. Many people forget that in an experiment, even if you don't get the results you predicted, it is a success if you performed the experiment according to scientific principles.

This was burned into my mind one day when I was sitting in my father's office (he was a psychology professor) and a graduate student burst in in great distress. He cried out that his dissertation was a failure and he would have to do a new one. (This would be cause for distress as dissertations normally took 9-12 months.) My father asked why. The student proclaimed the the results on his research disproved his hypothesis. My father explained that the student's dissertation research was in fine shape. The research was valid, he had disproved a hypothesis and he would simply report that in the dissertation. Having a correct hypothesis is not a requirement of science. Doing scientifically correct research and accurately reporting the results is.

Often I wonder how many times important findings are rejected or simply passed over because the findings didn't agree with what the researcher(s) wanted to find. And, is this what we teach our kids rather than to discover and innovate.

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