Washing machines are a great innovation

Thanks to Aaron McKenzie of The Idiots’ Collective for directing me to this 10 minute TED talk from Hans Rosling.

In it, Rosling uses his mix of entertaining presentation skills, easy-to-understand graphics and simplifying data analytics to tell us how washing machines opened markets for books  and why environmental activists should refrain from giving energy use advice to others.

In the comments of his post, McKenzie requests a laundry folder.  That would be nice.

I have wondered why we store our clothes across the home to be close to our beds and baths rather than close to our washers and dryers.  Or, why we don’t put our washer/dryer closer to where we store our clothes.

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“The future of education”

As said by Bill Gates.  He might be right.

Thanks to Arnold Kling on EconLog for posting a link to this excellent TED video:

Here are some of my thoughts.

I’m glad to hear school teachers are trying to figure out how to use and integrate the Khan Academy videos into their programs.  I expected them to see Khan’s work as competition and try to use government to limit access to the site.

At the very least, I thought we’d hear criticism from the establishment that this guy is not a trained and credentialed educator or that he’s not an educational expert or that his videos don’t really work.  So far, I haven’t heard any of that.  It’s tough to argue with his results.

This is a black swan.

At about the 8th minute, Khan describes the traditional classroom:

…homework-lecture-homework-lecture-homework-snapshot exam.  And then whether you get a 70%, 80%, 90% or 95%, the class moves onto the next topic.

Even the 95% student, what’s that 5% that he missed?

That’s analogous to learning to ride a bicycle where I give you a lecture, give a bike to you for a couple weeks and then come back and evaluate you.  You can’t quite stop, you can’t make left turns.  You’re an 80% bicyclist.  I put a “C” stamp on your forehead and then I give you a unicycle.

You fast forward and you see smart students start to struggle because they have these Swiss cheese gaps that kept building.

That reminded me of my own experience. I was a reasonably good math student.  When I entered college I signed up to tutor algebra.  The rigor of the tutor training made me realize that I had Swiss cheese gaps in my skills, like Khan mentioned.  But, that training filled in those gaps and helped me considerably in other courses.  I remember thanking that rigorous tutor training out loud while taking a few exams in the weed-out physics courses.

Khan continues:

Our model is learn math the way you learn anything.  The way you learn to ride a bicycle. Stay on that bicycle.  Fall off that bicycle. Do it as long as necessary until you have mastery.

Next, Khan articulates amazingly well a problem I have recognized with our education model, but have struggled to explain it:

The traditional model penalizes you for experimentation and failure, but does not expect mastery [e.g. time to move onto next subject even if you only mastered 90% of the last one].

We encourage you to experiment.  We encourage you to fail.  But we do expect mastery.

That is excellent.

About 14 minutes in, Khan talks about the progress students make in his model vs. the traditional model.

When you go five days into it [learning a new subject], there are a group of kids who have raced ahead and a group of kids who are a little bit slower.

In the traditional model, you do the snapshot assessment.  You say these are the gifted kids and these are the slow kids.  You say things like maybe we should put them in different classes.

But, when you let every student work at their own pace, we see it over and over and over again, you see students who took a little bit extra time on one concept or the other, but once they get through that concept they just race ahead.

So the same kids you thought were slow six weeks ago, you now would think are gifted.

It makes you wonder if a lot of the labels that maybe many of us have benefited from were really just due to a coincidence of time.

Everything’s Amazing

Here’s an excellent TED video, which is a new take on a classic: How to Build a Toaster.  (Credit: Don Bourdreaux of Cafe Hayek)

Plot:  How to build a toaster from scratch if a modern person found himself on a planet inhabited by primitives.

Subplot:  The benefits of trade and specialization.

Some of the comments on the TED site ding Thwaites for taking for granted the other tools he used while making his toaster.  I also find it suspicious to assume that a 240 volt electric source would be readily available on a primitive planet or that he would have much to toast.

But the video is still eye-opening for its subplot exposes how much we take for granted the special, distributed, evolved and advanced knowledge and coordinated effort that goes into making something as seemingly simple and unremarkable as a cheap toaster and making it available at a local store to pick up at our convenience.

Here’s the first remake of the classic in the video world:

And here’s the original classic: I, Pencil by Leonard Reed