The new AP sounds like a good step

Last month the New York Times pub­lished a fea­ture on the changes com­ing to Advanced Placement courses. 1

I finally got around to read­ing it and found it pretty inter­est­ing. They men­tion the fol­low­ing change, among oth­ers, for the biol­ogy course and exam:

College Board offi­cials say the new labs should help stu­dents learn how to frame sci­en­tific ques­tions and assem­ble data, and the exam will mea­sure how well they can apply those skills…The board plans to cut the num­ber of multiple-choice ques­tions nearly in half on the new test, to 55. It will add five ques­tions based on math cal­cu­la­tions, and it will more than dou­ble the num­ber of free-response ques­tions, to nine.

It is not a per­fect exam but it sounds like a good step for­ward in many ways.

In the AP U.S. History course I took dur­ing my Junior year we had to copy def­i­n­i­tions for all the glos­sary terms to index cards that counted as a sig­nif­i­cant part of our grade. These index cards then made up a good chunk of the test mate­r­ial for class and, the­o­ret­i­cally, the AP exam.

Ultimately I could rat­tle off dates and dic­tio­nary like def­i­n­i­tions with­out really under­stand­ing the greater con­text and rel­e­vancy of events. It was noth­ing like the American History course I took Freshman year in col­lege.

If cut­ting the num­ber of multiple-choice ques­tions in half means fewer stu­dents have to mind­lessly re-copy glos­sary def­i­n­i­tions then that’s progress. 2

Notes:

  1. H/T to Lauren.
  2. Until we have our per­fect sys­tem that is. :)

The attention-span myth

Virginia Heffernan dis­putes the tra­di­tional notion of an attention-span. Good to see some­one con­front Nicholas Carr’s notion that tech­nol­ogy causes brain dam­age.

I’m sur­prised that any­one ven­tures so far into this thicket of sophistry. I get stuck much ear­lier in the equa­tion. Everyone has an atten­tion span: really? And really again: an atten­tion span is a free­stand­ing entity like a boxer’s reach, exist­ing inde­pen­dently of any news­pa­per or chess game that might engage or repel it, and which might be mea­sured by the psychologist’s equiv­a­lent of a tailor’s tape?

If mate­r­ial is engag­ing peo­ple will focus on it, regard­less of what their sup­posed attention-spans are.

Making Lunch a Social Networking Game

Combining fast food with social gam­ing is fas­ci­nat­ing, par­tic­u­larly giv­ing restau­rant credit as a mea­sure of suc­cess­ful burger ideas. The Bits Blog explains 4Food:

Here’s how it works: I cre­ate a burger, call it “The Bits Burger” and broad­cast it to Twitter or Facebook. Each time some­one orders my spe­cial cre­ation, I get 25 cents credit in the restau­rant and my burger rises up the leader­board. The more cus­tomers order my burger, the higher it goes and the more cred­its I get, until I’m eat­ing free.

I Tweet, Therefore I Am…Seriously?

The New York Times pub­lished “I Tweet, Therefore I Am” today. It is too bad because I though we were past the days of main­stream media feel­ing to need to pub­lish some­thing, any­thing about Twitter.

The fun of Twitter and, I sus­pect, its draw for mil­lions of peo­ple, is its infi­nite poten­tial for con­nec­tion, as well as its oppor­tu­nity for self-expression. I enjoy those things myself. But when every thought is exter­nal­ized, what becomes of insight? When we reflex­ively post each feel­ing, what becomes of reflec­tion? When friends become fans, what hap­pens to intimacy?

If Twitter causes you to exter­nal­ize every thought and post every feel­ing you should step back and take a deep breath. For your fol­low­ers’ sake, put down the tweet button.

On a sep­a­rate note, we need to stop absolv­ing respon­si­bil­ity by form­ing broad claims as ques­tions. If you are going to bring those ques­tions up attempt to answer them. Otherwise you are prey­ing on read­ers who do not know any better.