Category Archives: Education

What skills are needed by graduates . . . and employers?

Tom Friedman, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist, predicts that “college education is headed for a huge disruption”.

Tom Friedman portrait image
Tom Friedman

According to Friedman, “High wage/middle skill jobs are disappearing”, leaving a different employment landscape. Graduates “won’t need to find a job. They’ll need to invent a job.” He claims that “Bosses look for people who are relentlessly entrepreneurial.” Employers don’t care what you know; “they will pay you only for what you can do with what you know.”

loudspeaker image22 minute audio interview published two weeks ago by Innovation Hub.

I’ve recently found a few programming reference “books” on The site includes open-source text books on a broad range of topics. Today I browsed a few books in the Humanities section. I should have stuck to the technical books.

wikibooks siteI had forgotten just how tedious, boring, and pompous most academic writing is: five syllable words where two syllables work better, passive voice everywhere, long compound sentences, and of course the obligatory “methodology” word thrown into every other paragraph. I began to edit one text, but there’s not enough time in the universe to make that boring pretentious mess interesting.

The scientific and engineering texts, on the other hand, seem pretty darn good.

Years ago, I spent small fortunes on computer books: languages, operating systems, communication protocols, etc. Now before buying another computer book I’ll have a look at first. You may find something worthwhile there, as well.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Academic Challenge on local TV

I watched a recent Academic Challenge competition on Palm Beach County’s education channel. Teams of 6 students from Palm Beach high schools were simultaneously presented with academic questions by a quizmaster. The first team to answer correctly scores a point. The questions were challenging! The better teams beat me every time on the math questions; I had better luck with the other questions, but still my score was pathetic.

Just based on this tiny sampling, I hold great hope for the future. These kids knew their stuff!

I gather that within each county only the team from the winning school advances to the finals at Disney World. I have no idea why neither Broward nor Dade County schools participated. (The Dade school board worries about providing native language instruction in dozens of languages — a waste of resources. Most of the Broward school board is usually under indictment for accepting bribes from contractors. I guess that they’re busy.)

Florida Commissioner's Academic Challenge
Florida Commissioner’s Academic Challenge
Walt Disney World, 2013

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

All about college, in 140 seconds

Ian Shoales bookIan Shoales ( refines everything that he learned during 12 years in college into this two-minute video clip filled with his rapid-fire instructions. It concludes:

If you’re dumb enough to get stuck in a class that requires a term paper, sprinkle your essay with these words: interface, relevance, dialectic, discourse, disturbing, and amorable.

Remember kids, all great art is boring.

Dress well and drink a lot. That’s what college is for. As for a major, go with law or medicine. Everything else is just too iffy. I oughta know. I gotta go.

Ian Shoales is the alter ego of writer and performer Merle Kessler. Ian and Merle both currently reside in San Francisco.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Common Core pushback?

About two years ago, I wrote about the insanity of the disjointed US education system (It’s time to rationalize school curricula). According to Common Core’s website, forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards. This is good news.

Common Core State StandardsFox News reports that some people fear that adoption of Common Core could lead to excessive federal interference. Their concerns seem silly to me. I think that it’s essential that all American school children follow the same curriculum.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

LMS = Learning Management Systems

The proliferation of Internet access has encouraged the growth of LMS (Learning Management Systems) over the last decade and competition is hotter than ever. Why? LMS can provide a walled garden for students to learn. Many LMS vendors have priced their LMS products cleverly: they’re available gratis for a single classroom, but require substantial payment when deployed throughout a school district. The profit motive is alive and well in the LMS market.

lms-300wToday’s LMS leaders are

  1. Edmodo
  2. Schoology
  3. Haiku
  4. Moodle
  5. Blackboard
  6. Canvas

In my neighborhood, the Palm Beach County school district has committed to Edmodo.

This blog discusses LMS deployment from a teacher’s perspective.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Bicycle Maintenance 101

Bicycle Cassette teethI’ve ridden bicycles for decades and thought that I understood their maintenance. One procedure that I have trouble with is derailleur adjustment, so when my Trek 7900 hybrid bike’s rear derailleur stopped shifting smoothly, I took it to Miguel Escobar, the chief mechanic at a Fort Lauderdale bike shop.

I expected that Miguel would carefully adjust my bike’s rear derailleur. Instead, after noticing that both up- and down- shifts were erratic, Miguel began carefully cleaning my bike’s freewheel, followed by cleaning and lubricating the chain.

I thought that clean freewheels and chains looked nice, but aside from reducing friction, I wasn’t aware that they affected gear shifting. I was wrong. Miguel pointed out that dirt and oil form a sticky paste that glues the chain to each cog on the freewheel, so the chain doesn’t obediently follow the rider’s shift commands.

He’s right. After the freewheel cog cleaning, the bike shifts gears smoothly. I still have lessons to learn, even on relatively simple devices.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Frontline “Poor Kids”

“People can’t stop you from believing in your own dreams.” Those words were spoken by 9 year-old Kaylie at the end of the powerful PBS Frontline documentary, Poor Kids. Because her mother is poor, Kaylie is moved from one improvised shelter to another, missing school, so Kaylie’s education is a mess. She tells us that she’ll need an education to escape poverty. All of the kids are malnourished.

Poor Kids by PBSThere is no voice-over narration. All the kids speak candidly and their words are haunting. You can view the entire documentary at Poor Kids.

1 of 5 kids in the U.S. lives in poverty.  Disgraceful.

Update, January 2016: Read the comments to this video. You’ll find not only empathy, but wisdom borne of suffering and overcoming impoverished childhoods. Some amazing stories.

Raspberry Pi: cheap tiny computer

Do you hunger for a cheap computer for learning programming? How does 25 dollars sound? Do you want a tiny computer that you can use to browse the web? It’s yours for 35 dollars.

Raspberry Pi and Eben UptonA group from Cambridge University has designed and developed a credit-card size computer that can run Linux on an Arm processor. Their Raspberry Pi computer targets the student and low-income family markets, but has industrial controller applications as well.

The $35 version of the tiny computer includes 512 MB RAM, 2 USB ports, 100baseT ethernet adapter, and HDMI video output. Its sales numbers have been huge since it began shipping in February.

While in charge of undergraduate admissions to the computer science program at Cambridge, Eben Upton (pictured) first envisioned what eventually became Raspberry Pi. He and five colleagues founded the Raspberry Pi Foundation as a UK-based charity whose goal is to promote computer science study in schools. Eben now works at chip manufacturer Broadcom, who produce Raspberry Pi’s “computer on a chip”.

Excellent The Guardian article: Everyone wants a slice of Raspberry Pi

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

University of the People

University of the People (UoPeople) sounds like a terrific idea: use the Internet to provide university level education and ultimately American Associates and Bachelors degrees to anyone around the globe (who can access the worldwide web).

The faculty consists of retired university professors. So far, they’ve provided the teaching gratis. They expect that soon they’ll charge $100 per class test. UoPeople was founded by Shai Reshef and occupies small offices in Pasadena, California.

UoPeople is part of what Stanford’s president called “a tsunami” that’s about to crash into the American education system. Academia created the tsunami by allowing education costs to spiral out of control. There are two segments of the American economy whose costs are insane: education and healthcare.

It’s time to correct the education cost imbalance in America.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Wacky video illustrates our flabby education system.

I give this guy a score of 0 for his rhythmic gymnastics routine.


Michelle Rhee, on NBC-TV’s Meet The Press program today showed a hilarious Olympics-themed 30-second ad for her StudentsFirst (“a movement to transform public education”) organization. StudentsFirst advocates education reform, including the ending of teacher tenure.

I had no idea who Ms. Rhee was, before today. Thanks to Google, I learned that she was chancellor of Washington DC’s school system from 2007 to 2010. According to her entry in Wikipedia,

Rhee inherited a troubled system; there had been six school chiefs in the previous 10 years, students historically had below-average scores on standardized tests, and according to Rhee, only 8% of eighth graders were at grade level in mathematics. The D.C. schools were performing poorly despite having the advantage of the third highest spending per student in the US.


That last sentence confirms my contention that just throwing money at our broken education system won’t fix it. As a nation, we spend more money per student than any other country — and on math and science tests, our students score lower than most of them.


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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

A few more steps toward on-line education

drawing: Krzysztof Szymański
Education may be the Internet’s killer app.

I’m very excited to see that the Internet may allow us to unlock the doors to education. Salman Khan’s Khan Academy took a giant step forward, and now some prestigious universities are following. It’s just in time, because the cost of higher education is out of control. Why?

Salman Khan, at a recent Wall Street Journal Executive Conference (The 19 minute video is worth watching) explained why top universities charge $60,000 per year:

There is a fundamental disconnect happening between the providers of education and the consumers of education. If you ask universities what they are charging the $60,000 for, they’ll say, “Look at our research facilities. Look at our faculty. Look at the labs and everything else.” And then if you ask the parents and the students why they are taking on $60,000 of debt, they’ll say, “Well, I need the credential. I need a job.”

So one party thinks they’re selling a very kind of an enriching experience, and the other one thinks that they’re buying a credential. And if you ask the universities what percentages of your costs are “credentialing,” they say oh, maybe 5% to 10%. And so I think there’s an opportunity if we could decouple those things—if the credentialing part could happen for significantly less.

John Hennessy, president of Stanford University, replied:

We put some of this stuff online and then all of a sudden we got 100,000 students around the world signed up. We’ve learned a bunch of things. One of the phenomenal things we saw in our experiment was how quickly the community would answer questions when students in the class posed them. What I told my colleagues is there’s a tsunami coming. I can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to break, but my goal is to try to surf it, not to just stand there.

Now Stanford’s on-line experiment (initiated by Google’s Sebastian Thrun, not Sanford’s administration) is joined by some heavy hitters:

  • In May, Harvard and MIT announced edX, slated to offer full-blown online courses this Fall, apparently at no cost. In the announcement of edX, its president claims “This is the biggest change in education since the invention of the printing press”. Credentials? “Certificates of mastery will be available for those who are motivated and able to demonstrate their knowledge of the course material.”
  • Coursera, partnering with Stanford, the University of Michigan, Princeton, and University of Pennsylvania, will offer courses at no cost, but will charge money for still undefined additional services. (Do these include accredited degrees? I have no idea.).
  • Udacity has grown out of Stanford and is beginning to offer free online courses. It’s headed by Sebastian Thrun (who led Google’s driverless car project). In a Wall Street Journal interview, Mr. Thrun says “The dialogue always focuses on what’s going to happen to the institutions. I’m totally siding with the students.”

Do you remember the effect that email had on hierarchies? It flattened them. Maybe e-education will have the same effect. Victor Hugo (1802-1885) said it best: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

The American education system is a bad joke.

“It’s ludicrous to think that multiplication in Alabama and multiplication in New York are really different.” – Bill Gates


The Wall Street Journal published an article titled Was the $5 Billion Worth It?, about the Gates Foundation’s efforts to improve education in the United States. Five billion dollars sounds like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the billions of tax dollars that are wasted on our fundamentally flawed education system(s) each year.

I’m happy to see that Mr. Gates agrees that the idea of locally-controlled curricula is stupid. I ragged about this a few months ago (It’s time to rationalize school curricula). One national curriculum for all is the way to go. Bill puts it simply, “This is like having a common electrical system. It just makes sense to me.”

Then, what exactly does the U.S. Department of Education do, other than extend the layer of self-appointed government employees, whose benefits far exceed those of private-sector workers who pay for their salaries, benefits, and insanely generous pensions?

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

Tons o’ science video news

trademark: National Geographic Society
Keep up with the exploration of our world . . . and of other worlds.

I ran across the National Geographic Magazine‘s Space Technology News site. It loops through its many video clips with news from undersea to outer space exploration.

The clips are all well-produced, contain great material, and are succinct. You can catch up on any topic in just a few minutes.

I’m happy to see that the National Geographic Society has extended its reputation for the high quality of its print publications into the era of web-based video presentation.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

I’ve been fortunate!

Clipart courtesy FCIT
I once stuttered so badly that I was unable to speak one complete sentence.

I watched an interview with the actor Colin Firth, who played King George in the recent movie, The King’s Speech. Watching a clip from the movie brought back the claustophobia of my own stuttering, which lasted from perhaps age 12 to 15. I’d try word substitution, slowing down my speech, shortening my thoughts . . . nothing that I tried allowed me to speak a complete sentence. I felt imprisoned.

About that time, I became interested in electronics and radio. Using money that I earned at odd jobs, I bought a used Hallicrafters S-85 shortwave receiver. That was my gateway to the world: I’d listen for hours to Radio Moscow, BBC, Voice Of America, Radio France, Radio Deutschewelt, etc. Next, I became interested in amateur radio (“ham radio”). I spent hours in libraries, and taught myself the simple theory and Morse code (a mere 5 words per minute) that were needed to pass the FCC Amateur Novice Class license exam. A friendly ham neighbor, Ken Freeland, administered the exam . . . and I passed.

In those days (c 1962) Novices were limited to CW (Continuous Wave — Morse code) — not voice. I converted a surplus WW2 era ARC-5 T-19 transmitter for Novice use, built a power supply using a power transformer from a trashed television, and was soon “on the air”, using a telegraph key to “speak”, and decoding by ear the aural dots and dashes. My first contact was in Lockport, NY — about 60 miles west of my parents’ home — I was thrilled. It was the first of many hundreds, or maybe thousands, of Morse code conversations.

Something happened while I was pounding out those dots and dashes — I’m not sure why — slowly my stuttering problem subsided. I later upgraded my license and began to enjoy voice conversations over the air. I could adopt a persona, and not fear my audience, so I became (relatively) glib. What a miracle! And none of it by design.

Now that I think about it, I think that communicating via Morse code on a telegraph key helped strengthen the link between my brain and my muscles. Certainly, rhythm and timing are critical to good Morse code communication . . . and to good voice communication, as well. By using a telegraph key, I had unknowingly shielded myself from the embarassment and ridicule that’s part of the stutterer’s experience. All of this happened a long time ago, purely by chance, or by the grace of God.

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© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695