Recommending Free Code Camp

When looking for a resource I could use to brush up on HTML and learn CSS, I came across Free Code Camp.

So far, I enjoy using it. The lessons include definitions, examples, practical exercises, and the freedom to play around with the code to see the effect of different changes. And it’s a free site. Definitely worth checking out.

Another thing – the site offers opportunities to complete projects and receive certifications. I’m not sure what value these certifications have for professional development, but the experience gained on the site, including the completed projects, may help when you apply for certain jobs.

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Dickens Depicting Terrible Child Education

One of the best things about Dickens is his description of places. Even his better characterizations depict a person as a landscape of crags, folds, and crumpled postures.

I’m in the middle of one of his novels, Dombey and Son, and so far one of my favorite descriptions is of a school for boys run by the respectable Doctor Blimber. Blimber takes the young sons of wealthy families and forces on them a grueling study schedule that relentlessly stuffs knowledge into their brains until they risk becoming stupid or deeply depressed. (The head boy, a Mr. Toots, loses the ability to form coherent thoughts.)

Dombeyson serial cover

By Bradbury & Evans (Christies Auction House) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dickens compares Blimber’s little school to a “great hot-house, in which there was a forcing apparatus incessantly at work” –

Mental green-peas were produced at Christmas, and intellectual asparagus all the year round. Mathematical gooseberries (very sour ones too) were common at untimely seasons, and from mere sprouts of bushes, under Doctor Blimber’s cultivation. Every description of Greek and Latin vegetable was got off the driest twigs of boys, under the frostiest circumstances. Nature was of no consequence at all. No matter what a young gentleman was intended to bear, Doctor Blimber made him bear to pattern, somehow or other.

The boys are also compared to sad birds making cheerless noises in the house:

… and sometimes a dull cooing of young gentlemen at their lessons, like the murmurings of an assemblage of melancholy pigeons.

The descriptions are funny, but at the same time, Dickens is depicting a depressing environment and its unwholesome effects on the children and teens who are trapped in it.

Even though every moment of their day is scheduled and, for the most part monitored, the boys are neglected. Their needs and their individual temperaments, talents, and inclinations don’t matter. (Dickens is setting himself against a blank slate type of attitude, where every child starts out more or less the same – and, if the teacher wishes it, can be squeezed into the same shape.) They lose their spirits. Learning isn’t learning; it’s a steady force-feeding with thick, flavorless food. Their parents don’t seem to mind, because attending Doctor Blimber’s school is the expected thing to do. It’s respectable.

Doctor Blimber knows how to prepare kids for life, so that they enter adulthood mentally and/or emotionally crushed and ready to discharge whatever tedious duties are laid before them. Only, he would never see it that way. He would see it as cultivating their minds on their path to a respectable adulthood.

Just to end this post on a modern note – a recent article from Fast Company talks how U.S. schools often fail to prepare kids for college. A major issue is how kids receive assignments that aren’t sufficiently challenging. The emphasis is more on funneling the kids through to the next grade than on teaching, particularly teaching them to think critically and creatively and to persist on challenges. (Of course, cramming knowledge into them Blimber-style isn’t the answer, not least because it doesn’t teach creativity or critical thinking.)

If you don’t know about this person, read about her now: Rita Levi-Montalcini

She is a Nobel Prize winning neurologist who passed away two days ago at age 103. Where was her earliest work done?

“Amazingly, Levi-Montalcini did her early research into nerve growth by studying chicken embryos in a makeshift laboratory in her bedroom.”

This was while she was living in Fascist Italy. And she was Jewish.

Here’s another good article on her in the New York Times:

“Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, a Nobel Prize-winning neurologist who discovered critical chemical tools that the body uses to direct cell growth and build nerve networks, opening the way for the study of how those processes can go wrong in diseases like dementia and cancer, died on Sunday at her home in Rome.”

Photo of Rita Levi-Montalcini

Classrooms around the world

This post from Brainpickings displays some of Julian Germain’s photos of classrooms around the world.

Here’s one from Argentina:

Argentina natural science class

There are so many stories in these photos, in the faces of the students, in the way each classroom looks. Some of the classrooms are overcrowded and short on materials; each has its own atmosphere. A question that comes up in one photo after another is: What conditions are best for learning?

Your Handy-Dandy Mini-Guide to Brain Tourism

If you’d like to see some brains and learn more about how they work, here are thirteen neurotourism suggestions found in the U.S., abroad, and online:

In the U.S.

Koshland Science Museum’s Life Lab Exhibit
Location: Washington DC

An exhibit where you can learn about the brain, memory, learning and general aging across the lifespan.

Brain Extravaganza
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
Dates: April – October, 2012

22 large colorful brain statues around Bloomington accompanied by signs listing facts about the brain. A brain location map can be found at the bottom of this page.

Photo by Sarah Gordon of one of the Bloomington, Indiana brains

Wonder Years Exhibit at The Science Museum of Minnesota
Location: St. Paul, Minnesota

An exploration of early childhood development and the world as kids see it.

Goosebumps! The Science of Fear
Location: A traveling exhibit currently at the Space Center in Houston, Texas
Dates: Will be at the Space Center until September 3, 2012 (see the link for future locations)

Interactive exhibits on the brain and body’s fear response.

Brain Matters: Interactive Exhibits on Brain Science and Health
Location: Nashville, Tennessee (at Vanderbilt Health, One Hundred Oaks)

Learn about brain chemistry, anatomy, disorders and diseases.

W.O.N.D.E.R. Center at the Arizona Science Center
Location: Phoenix, Arizona

The Walton Optimal Neurological Discovery Education and Research Center (W.O.N.D.E.R.) explores the human brain; includes a neurotheater showing brain surgeries.

Use Your Brain exhibit at Gateway to Science
Location: Bismarck, North Dakota

Brain teasers, brain specimens, and brain MRI images.

Outside the U.S.

The Brain Museum in Lima
Location: Lima, Peru

A collection of 3,000 brains and fetuses with various abnormalities resulting from neurological disorders, substance abuse, and other diseases and harmful conditions.

The Mind Museum’s Life Gallery
Location: Taguig, Philippines

Features a giant Human Brain exhibit.

Human Anatomy Museum at the University of Turin
Location: Turin, Italy

Displays include brains of different kinds (including a collection of criminals’ brains) and plaster skull casts.

Online goodies

Comparative Mammalian Brain Collections
Large online collection of mammalian brain images and information.

The Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art
Knitted and quilted brains!

What Have You Got in Your Head?
Sara Asnaghi’s sculptures of the human brain using foods ranging from black rice to rainbow candy.

Educational resources for kids with dyslexia

Eight sites worth a visit if you’re looking for resources – including worksheets, suggested activities and games, and other educational advice for parents and teachers – helpful to children who have dyslexia. (Updated July 2018.)

1) American Dyslexia Association Free Worksheets
Over 1500 free printable worksheets targeting different skills areas.

2) Reading Resource
Links to worksheets, suggested activities, and information on dyslexia.

3) Strategies for Summer Reading for Children with Dyslexia
Advice on encouraging reading and setting up a summer reading program.

4) Dyslexia Online
List of links introducing and discussing dyslexia, with some teaching tips as well.

5) Dyslexia Tutor
Blog with updates on research and educational developments and insights.

6) Dyslexia Classroom Resources
A compilation of dyslexia classroom resources including sites providing worksheets, ideas for activities and games, and advice for teaching strategies that could be used by both teachers and parents.

7) The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity
Includes a pages for parents and educators with advice on teaching kids and cultivating their well-being. Also emphasizes the strengths of kids with dyslexia.

8) Dyslexia-related FAQs from Reading Rockets
Contains further links to pages with teaching strategies, resources for finding tutors, and other information.

One reason scientific literacy is important

PhD Comics Science News Cycle

Two worthwhile reads from ActionBioscience.org: Why should you be scientifically literate? and Scientific literacy in the classroom.