Tag: US news

What should I teach my children to prepare them to race with the robots?

I must prepare my sons to adapt to the fourth industrial revolution but that means sending them to schools that are equipped to exceed the averages

Years ago, as a reporter in Seattle, I watched Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer decry Washington states education system. He said Microsoft couldnt hire enough locals because our schools dont produce the kinds of minds he needed.

At the time, I was angry. He and his cohort, most notably Jeff Bezos of Amazon, contributed serious money to the campaign against a state income tax on the wealthy that would have funneled billions to our schools. Now I feel a pinch deep in my stomach, an emotion so primal I hesitate to name it.

As a mother, my time is come, or nearly done, and my childrens just begun.

Automation will absorb all of the jobs it can reach, whether on the factory floor or in an office. Artificial intelligence has already taken over the corporate earnings analyses I once produced as a business journalist. By the best measures Ive been able to find, machines will displace about half of American jobs by the time my toddlers look for work.

This new era has been called the second machine age, the fourth industrial revolution, the information economy.

From certain angles, Seattle residents seem well positioned to access the highly paid and creative jobs that arise from combining cutting-edge technologies with the exponential powers of computing and big data. My city is now considered a global city not because of the port, which put our state on the maps when they were still being drawn, but because of the presence of Microsoft, Amazon and numerous tech startups.

Amazon occupies one fifth of all office space in downtown Seattle, a short ride from my neighborhood on light rail. Incoming waves of well-educated tech workers have helped double the median home price during the past five years.

Many of these rich young people call themselves progressive. Are they proud to be joining the nations most regressive tax structure? In our state, poor people pay eight times as much of their family income to taxes as the wealthy 1%. Lacking a personal income tax, Washington state relies on sales tax and has long looked to levies to fund schools, parks and other social needs.

When I moved to Seattle in 2004, I marveled that the state didnt take a cut of my income from the now-defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It took me a while to contemplate what it means for an entire society to act against the interests of its children.

College-level tuitions before college

To survive the extinction of an entire class, I must prepare my two- and three-year-old sons to race with the robots, and not against them.

Our kids are going to meet an economy with far fewer entry-level positions and will have to clamber up a receding ladder. That means being in schools equipped to exceed the averages, not rising to meet them.

Washington state has underfunded our schools so long that our governments negligence was deemed unconstitutional by our state supreme court, which fined the state $100,000 a day for failing to provide a future for our children.

Years into this public shaming, the legislature came up with a multibillion-dollar package to fund basic education in our state, though they didnt manage to pass a capital budget before students went back to school after a long, dry summer.

Amazon Go opens to Amazon employees in its Beta program in Seattle. Photograph: Paul Gordon/Zuma Press / eyevine

From my porch, I can see the chain-link fence blur into gray around the asphalt playground of our neighborhood public school. On weekday mornings, my closest friends walk to Hawthorne Elementary with their children, ducklings that cluster at crosswalks along streets known for gunfire. A new home just sold for nearly a million dollars at the end of our block, but people keep getting shot and dying at our community playfield.

Despite valiant efforts by its admirable principal, committed educators, engaged parents and resilient students, Hawthorne has been labeled failing since long before my husband and I bought a peeling house from a nice couple who raised their family here.

Less than half of the schools fourth and fifth graders meet the states standards in math, which makes me doubt that our educational system is preparing these kids to thrive in the glittering economy they were born under. Five years ago, the office of the superintendent of public instruction ranked Hawthorne among the bottom 5% of the state, according to test passage rates.

This, in a city known for minting billionaires.

In The Second Machine Age, authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both MIT professors, recommend Montessori programs to prepare children for their future, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Thats Steam, for those not versed in educational acronyms.

Developed to help poor children realize their own innate potential, Montessori schools practice self-directed learning with tactile materials that encourage the freewheeling creativity that formed tech CEOs such as Bezos and Googles co-founders.

The private bilingual Montessori kindergarten I found 30 minutes away costs $20,000 a year.

Despite college-level tuitions, about one quarter of Seattle students opt out of the public school system to study at private or parochial schools. To send my sons to Seattles best private schools would cost more than $700,000, and thats before they get to college.

A survey of public schools in Seattle shows no Montessori options that my children can access, though a nearby program in Leschi was a success at first, drawing wealthier students into the public school system, bringing with them the engagement of their families.

The Leschi teachers were so distressed by the resulting racial, linguistic and housing disparities between the traditional and Montessori classes that they melded the programs, rather than working to recruit more students of color into the Montessori program, which they could not afford to expand. A taskforce opted against including technology in the curriculum, fearful they would attract too many white families.

I believe in diversity; my own blood is blended. A first generation Latinx, Ive invested years of effort to raise my sons to be bilingual. I also want to work toward equity in a city whose neighborhood schools reflect the segregation compelled by redlining and white flight.

Leschis students are learning hard truths about equity, but theyre improving together. Maybe thats enough. But I worry when well-intentioned people lacking the resources to serve their students equally decide against teaching technology, the lingua franca of our world. Even the state administers student tests by computer.

I sought answers from Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of public instruction. The injustice of it all is that we have never seen technology as a core learning, Reykdal said. Do we still consider technology an enrichment, or should it be a more profound part of basic education? The state hasnt made that decision yet.

Washington has hundreds of school districts overseen by elected boards that enact tangled mandates without the resources to see them through. All over the state, schools used levy monies to take care of basics and pay their teachers, rather than acquiring and teaching technology.

Deb Merle is Governor Jay Inslees K-12 education adviser. Merle said that designating technology as part of basic education, which would ensure that the dollars flowed to their purpose, is not a state priority, though she recognized that Reykdals predecessor also advocated for keeping technology funds separate.

I dont think we teach enough science, period. Thats what I spend a lot of time worrying about, not what kind of science, Merle said. Our elementary schools teach less than one hour per week of science.

Steam as a social justice issue

I kept dialing, determined to maintain the education-fueled trajectory of my family.

My kin have lived in dictatorship-induced diaspora since famine swept Spain under Franco; they later fled Batista, who ruled Cuba before Castro. I am not conditioned to expect social stability as a condition of being for any country.

The meeting I most dreaded was closest to home. On the short walk to our neighborhood school, I decided to come right out and tell its principal, Sandra Scott, that I am afraid to send my kids to Hawthorne because the schools test scores, though on the rise, are low enough to make me wince.

Luckily, Scott is a pragmatic visionary, the kind of principal who inspires parents to put down the remote and join the PTA. Since 2009, Scott has led Hawthornes revitalization, winning admiration and awards from Johns Hopkins University for her program of school, family and community partnerships.

Test scores dont define who the students are. Our kids are not a number, Scott said. There were things we needed to do differently or better like improving the academics and the school culture to bring families back into the community.

To face the age of automation, it is recommended children are taught a program with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Photograph: Will Walker / NNP

Recognizing the opportunity that Seattles tech economy presents, Scott retooled Hawthorne to focus on Steam programming. Rather than cluster the high-performing test takers together which has segregated programs within diverse schools Hawthorne distributes them throughout classrooms. If a student excels in math, outstripping peers in that grades curriculum, the teacher walks that child to the next grade for math.

When it comes to fifth-grade science, those efforts more than doubled the test passage rates over three years, from 20% to 46%. I ache upon rereading that last sentence the hope and pride in the increase, the grimace I cant help but make at where they started, and what remains to be accomplished.

Scott and her staff find ways to make progress. But she doesnt have the funds for a technology teacher or trainings, so the lab will be largely unused this year. As a mother who cares about the kids who go to Hawthorne, I cant afford to wait for someone else to find those resources.

The leaders of this school are working to undo the effects of intergenerational poverty that dates back to slavery and other forced migrations. More than half of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. A quarter of the students are learning the language theyre taught in. Scores reflect circumstances, which is why Reykdal is refocusing the state on racial gaps, poverty gaps and English language gaps, down to the school level.

Many of the jobs first displaced by automation belong to peoples of color, women and others who depend on a combination of part-time positions. A federal council of economic advisers found an 83% likelihood that, by 2040, automation would displace jobs paying less than $20 per hour.

In Washington, Steam-related jobs pay double the median wage, for starters. The people moving here to work for Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing make much more. When we choose not to provide public schools with the resources needed to provide educational access to those opportunities, we are consigning local students to lesser-paid sectors of the economy, the very same that are vulnerable to automation. In other words, we are allowing our government to consecrate our children to poverty in real time.

Mass unemployment would make American society more violent, our law enforcement more brutal and our peoples more vulnerable to genocide. Automation is a social justice issue, and if history is any teacher, it shows us that vast swaths of disenfranchised peoples are a harbinger of war.

Problems that reflect the world

Whenever I have a problem thats too big to solve, I call my dad, and we argue about what to do. He told me the solution was simple. I should move. The only financially feasible choice would be the suburbs.

Something in me balks at leaving a city I love, and especially our neighborhood, where my children are happy. As a community, we just celebrated our 10th annual block party, a Cuban pig roast that my husband and I organize for our wedding anniversary. Our neighbors come bearing side dishes, canopies and games, and we dance until the DJs stop playing. The conversations we start on that night have lasted a decade. I want to stay.

As native Spanish speakers, my sons could option into the bilingual public schools on the other side of our gridlocked downtown, north of the covenants which kept people of color from buying homes. Those schools wait lists are legendary, but I am uncomfortable with the mostly white and relatively well-off demographics produced by saving only 15% of seats for native speakers. I want my kids to feel at home in a country that contains multitudes, which is why we moved to one of our nations most diverse zip codes.

Computers solve the problems theyre given. And so we must ask ourselves what we value, and whom.

Not every child wants to be a robotics engineer. But without the modes of thought elicited by learning computer science from an early age, many Washington state students will not be competitive for the jobs that remain. I want my own sons to be chosen and better yet, able to choose as I was, though I fell for a profession whose financial structures imploded five years after my college graduation.

I hope my privileged vulnerability encourages you to reflect on those truly trapped by our system. This essay invokes my worries as a mother, and with them, my socioeconomic position. Hawthorne is a happy place with diverse classrooms whose problems reflect the world, but I am glad of the years I have left to decide what my kids truly need to learn.

There can be no denying that I am one of the gentrifiers of this neighborhood, and with the honor of living here comes the responsibility to contribute. Looking at whats coming in the second machine age tremendous opportunities, to be sure, but also massive loss of what weve known as jobs I feel compelled to join those working toward a better future, minds whirring whenever problems arise.

Two nonprofits, FIRST Washington and XBOT Robotics, have offered support and equipment for Hawthorne to start a Lego robotics league after school. Four parents signed up to lead teams during last nights PTA meeting, my very first.

Its a start.

Get involved

To bolster Steam education for students, hybridized systems have sprung up as non-profits seek to prepare our children for the economy we will leave to them.

First Washington: This nonprofit helps start and sustain after-school Lego robotics leagues from K-12.

XBOT Robotics: Operating in one of the nations most diverse zip codes, offering robotics programming K-12.

Code.org: Free online programming for learners at all levels. Work through problems with your kids.

Technology Access Foundation: Helping people of color access Stem-related education in middle school, high school and beyond.

Washington State Opportunity Scholarship: A non-profit that funds thousands of Stem scholarships for Washingtons college-bound high school graduates. More than half of those scholarship recipients are students of color, women and/or the first in their family to access a higher education, if not all three.

Teals (Technology, Education and Literacy in Schools): Matches professionals with teachers to co-teach computer science in classrooms.

Seattle Mesa (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement): Provides scholarships, in-class math and science projects, advanced learning opportunities, tutoring, math camp and teacher trainings.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/18/what-should-i-teach-my-children-to-prepare-them-for-jobs-in-their-era

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Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman to win mathematics’ Fields medal, dies at 40

Stanford professor, who was awarded the prestigious prize in 2014, had suffered breast cancer

Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields medal in mathematics, has died. She was 40.

Mirzakhani, who had breast cancer, died on Saturday, the university said. It did not indicate where she died.

In 2014, Mirzakhani was one of four winners of the Fields medal, which is presented every four years and is considered the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel prize. She was named for her work on complex geometry and dynamic systems.

Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry, the Stanford press announcement said.

Mastering these approaches allowed Mirzakhani to pursue her fascination for describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas in as great detail as possible.

Her work had implications in fields ranging from cryptography to the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist, the university said.

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran and studied there and at Harvard. She joined Stanford as a mathematics professor in 2008. Irans president, Hassan Rouhani, issued a statement praising Mirzakhani.

The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heart-rending, Rouhani said in a message that was reported by the Tehran Times.

Irans foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said her death pained all Iranians, the newspaper reported.

The news of young Iranian genius and math professor Maryam Mirzakhanis passing has brought a deep pang of sorrow to me and all Iranians who are proud of their eminent and distinguished scientists, Zarif posted in Farsi on his Instagram account.

I do offer my heartfelt condolences upon the passing of this lady scientist to all Iranians worldwide, her grieving family and the scientific community.

Mirzakhani originally dreamed of becoming a writer but then shifted to mathematics. When she was working, she would doodle on sheets of paper and scribble formulas on the edges of her drawings, leading her daughter to describe the work as painting, the Stanford statement said.

Mirzakhani once described her work as like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.

Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne said Mirzakhani was a brilliant theorist who made enduring contributions and inspired thousands of women to pursue math and science.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrk, and daughter, Anahita.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/15/maryam-mirzakhani-mathematician-dies-40

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Study reveals why so many met a sticky end in Boston’s Great Molasses Flood

In 1919, a tank holding 2.3m gallons of molasses burst, causing tragedy. Scientists now understand why the syrup tsunami was so deadly

It may sound like the fantastical plot of a childrens story but Bostons Great Molasses Flood was one of the most destructive and sombre events in the citys history.

On 15 January 1919, a muffled roar heard by residents was the only indication that an industrial-sized tank of syrup had burst open, unleashing a tsunami of sugary liquid through the North End district near the citys docks.

As the 15-foot (5-metre) wave swept through at around 35mph (56km/h), buildings were wrecked, wagons toppled, 21 people were left dead and about 150 were injured.

Now scientists have revisited the incident, providing new insights into why the physical properties of molasses proved so deadly.

Presenting the findings last weekend at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston, they said a key factor was that the viscosity of molasses increases dramatically as it cools.

This meant that the roughly 2.3m US gallons of molasses (8.7m litres) became more difficult to escape from as the evening drew in.

Speaking at the conference, Nicole Sharp, an aerospace engineer and author of the blog Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics said: The sun started going down and the rescue workers were still struggling to get to people and rescue them. At the same time the molasses is getting harder and harder to move through, its getting harder and harder for people who are in the wreckage to keep their heads clear so they can keep breathing.

As the lake of syrup slowly dispersed, victims were left like gnats in amber, awaiting their cold, grisly death. One man, trapped in the rubble of a collapsed fire station, succumbed when he simply became too tired to sweep the molasses away from his face one last time.

Its horrible in that the more tired they get its getting colder and literally more difficult for them to move the molasses, said Sharp.

Leading up to the disaster, there had been a cold snap in Boston and temperatures were as low as -16C (3F). The steel tank in the harbour, which had been built half as thick as model specifications, had already been showing signs of strain.

Two days before the disaster the tank was about 70% full, when a fresh shipment of warm molasses arrived from the Caribbean and the tank was filled to the top.

One of the things people described would happen whenever they had a new molasses shipment was that the tank would rumble and groan, said Sharp. People described being unnerved by the noises the tank would make after it got filled.

Ominously, the tank had also been leaking, which the company responded to by painting the tank brown.

There were a lot of bad signs in this, said Sharp.

Sharp, and a team of scientists at Harvard University, performed experiments in a large refrigerator to model how corn syrup (standing in for molasses) behaves as temperature varies, confirming contemporary accounts of the disaster.

Historical estimates said that the initial wave would have moved at 56km/h [35mph], said Sharp. When we take models … and then we put in the parameters for molasses, we get numbers that are on a par with that. Horses werent able to run away from it. Horses and people and everything were all caught up in it.

The giant molasses wave follows the physical laws of a phenomenon known as a gravity current, in which a dense fluid expands mostly horizontally into a less dense fluid. Its what lava flows are, its what avalanches are, its that awful draught that comes underneath your door in the wintertime, said Sharp.

The team used a geophysical model, developed by Professor Herbert Huppert of the University of Cambridge, whose work focuses on gravity currents in processes such as lava flows and shifting Antarctic ice sheets.

The model suggests that the molasses incident would have followed three main stages.

The current first goes through a so-called slumping regime, said Huppert, outlining how the molasses would have lurched out of the tank in a giant looming mass.

Then theres a regime where inertia plays a major role, he said. In this stage, the volume of fluid released is the most important factor determining how rapidly the front of the wave sweeps forward.

Then the viscous regime generally follows, he concluded. This is what dictates how slowly the fluid spreads out and explains the grim consequences of the Boston disaster.

It made a difference in how difficult it would be to rescue people and how difficult it would be to survive until you were rescued, said Sharp.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/25/study-reveals-why-so-many-met-a-sticky-end-in-bostons-great-molasses-flood

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