That was quick

Last month, I linked to a New Yorker story about managerial and regime failings in a US school, though I was more interested in the ‘infatuation with data’ angle than the ensuing misconduct. On Twitter, several people commented that they were worried we’d eventually hear similar stories out of the UK.

In today’s Observer:

Academies run by a superhead praised by the government for producing schools that “outperform the rest” of the state sector had secret advance notice of Ofsted inspection dates.



Beautiful Chemistry trailer

This is something I’ve wanted to do for many years, which we discussed when I was at the Royal Institution but never quite got around to: careful macrophotography of chemical phenomena and reactions.

The Institute of Advanced Technology at the University of Science and Technology of China and Tsinghua University Press have teamed up with photographer and science visualisation specialist Yan Liang to film a series of reactions, and from the looks of this trailer they’ve made a really good job of it. There’s a ‘Beautiful Chemistry’ project website and blog, and I suspect I’ll be posting again when the main project goes live next month.

Extracting audio from video. Without a microphone.

We’ve all winced at those scenes in CSI:Nowheresville when somebody in a lab coat ‘enhances’ an image until you can see the reflection of the room in the pupil of somebody’s eye, or whatever.

This video is like that. Clearly implausible, most likely witchcraft.

Alternatively, a group of researchers at MIT really have found a way of extracting temporal information from CMOS sensor skew, sufficient to reconstruct audio up to around the 400Hz range from pictures alone.

Damned impressive, even if ‘sorcery’ is a more plausible algorithm.

Science Capital

A good number of years ago I came across a piece of American research that concluded that the closest indicator to whether a child studied science at a higher level was, aged ten responding positively to ‘being a scientist would make my parents proud’.

Let’s look at that again, shall we? Not ‘I like science’ or ‘I’m good at science’ nor even ‘This really cool scientist is an amazing role model’.

‘Being a scientist would make my parents proud’.

I remember being  struck deeply by this. Firstly: ten is young. Many interventions target teens. Secondly: the nuance involved. The child is already prioritising their parent’s hopes over their own interests, and that decision remains true through all their choices. Yikes.

This left me with a profound conclusion. We’ve been targeting the wrong people, folks!

Longitudinal studies are expensive and difficult, but one study isn’t enough to rewrite whole philosophies over,  which is why I’ve been following the Aspires project coming out of Kings College, London.

The final report last December tells us ‘Most students like science, but do not aspire to science careers’

Coming strongly out of that research is the concept that family ‘science capital’ is key. This attempts to measure how much science contact families have in daily life – interest, understanding, qualifications, knowing someone with a science career – these all count towards science capital.

Catching kids by themselves may not be enough, working with families and parents might well be more effective, which is why I was delighted to read Alom’s article last week giving some background to the Royal Institution’s new summer project ExpeRimental.

There is no silver bullet, no simple, single answer, but it’s a delight to see projects like this one coming from a recognised national institution based on current research.

It reminds me, I need to dig out more research like this, it helps to mould my thinking. I only wish I knew where to find that original paper. If it rings a bell with anyone, please leave a comment.