GAO Reports of Interest (Dec 2011)

IT Dashboard: Accuracy Has Improved, and Additional Efforts Are Under Way to Better Inform Decision Making
GAO-12-210, November 7, Link
Tags: Information Technology

Managing for Results: Opportunities for Congress to Address Government Performance Issues
GAO-12-215R, December 9, Link
Tags: Government Operations

Commercial Spectrum: Plans and Actions to Meet Future Needs, Including Continued Use of Auctions
GAO-12-118, November 23, Link
Tags: Telecommunications

Postsecondary Education: Student Outcomes Vary at For-Profit, Nonprofit, and Public Schools
GAO-12-143, December 6, Link
Tags: Education

Coast Guard: Security Risk Model Meets DHS Criteria, but More Training Could Enhance Its Use for Managing Programs and Operations
GAO-12-14, November 17, Link
Tags: Homeland Security

Homeland Defense and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Additional Steps Could Enhance the Effectiveness of the National Guard’s Life-Saving Response Forces
GAO-12-114, December 6, Link
Tags: Homeland Security; National Defense

National Capital Region: 2010 Strategic Plan is Generally Consistent with Characteristics of Effective Strategies
GAO-12-276T, December 6, Link
Tags: Economic Development; Government Operations; Homeland Security

Nuclear Nonproliferation: Action Needed to Address NNSA’s Program Management and Coordination Challenges
GAO-12-71, December 14, Link
Tags: Energy

International Space Station: Approaches for Ensuring Utilization through 2020 Are Reasonable but Should Be Revisited as NASA Gains More Knowledge of On-Orbit Performance
GAO-12-162, December 15, Link
Tags: Space

Transportation Security Infrastructure Modernization May Enhance DHS Screening Capabilities, but It Is Too Early to Assess Results
GAO-12-192R, December 8, Link
Tags: Homeland Security; Transportation

Homelessness: To Improve Data and Programs, Agencies Have Taken Steps to Develop a Common Vocabulary
GAO-12-302T, December 15, Link
Tags: Housing

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Learning In The Clouds

No, I’m not talking about daydreaming although I have previously expressed my love for and interest in daydreaming as a necessary practice. But here, I’m talking about education and the internet.

It is well understood that education as a discipline has made positive strides in recent decades, but still has many leaps to take. There exists an issue of a profound educational gap between demographics, an issue of comprehensive standards through which student understanding can be measured, and an issue of standards and processes by which teachers can be evaluated for feedback and professional growth, to name a few.

But for this topic, let’s set these issues aside and assume internet access is available for all students and schools. How can the internet be leveraged as an enabler of quality education? How does the existing cyber framework and status of collaborative tools enable efficient and effective education?

Key Themes

  1. Writing/typing enables memory and understanding: As stated in my previous post “Spectrum Logic”: “To put something on paper and organize the information as to make visual sense – in words, lines, colors, and curves – is to recognize some understanding and to create a basis for new insight and discovery.”
  2. Differing opinions and verbiage, on any topic, provide full-spectrum input, fuel discussion, and parallel what’s to be expected in the professional world.
  3. Technical skills are essential. This includes understanding technical concepts, the digital organization of information, social networking, and collaboration.
  4. Relationships are a key to happiness and provide a medium for professional growth. Digital relationships formalize relationships and provide concrete structure between multiple people, enabling this growth in an organized manner.
  5. Exploring and understanding the depths of the internet and related technologies forges new intellectual connections, and more importantly, personal interests.

Core Components

Blogs – As a central medium for information exchange, blogs can be used as a fantastic teaching tool. Imagine a class where after each lesson, different students memorialize class notes, in their own words, in blog posts for the rest of the class to see. Posts can be categorized, commented on, and used as a fantastic medium for discussion. Come test time, the notes are in there for all to see and use as study material.

Wikis – At their core, wikis provide a semi-structured environment for the capture of knowledge. Yes, Wikipedia seems complete, but that’s not the point. Imagine a class that started with a blank wiki, and had an objective to create a new knowledge framework around class material. This would not only prove to be great study material, but would also teach students a good deal about Web 2.0, digital organization of information, and parallel the growth and interconnectedness of new knowledge through links, references, and version control.

Social Networking – Private and/or public, social networks establish relationships, organize contact information, and provide a framework through which individuals can learn about other individuals and interact with them. Whether on a similar interest or topical matter, social networking for a class could be incredibly useful for building new relationships, and easier interaction with peers and professors. You can never replace a hallway conversation or a whiteboard tutorial, but this could better enable those circumstances to take place.

Personal/Team Websites – Personal and/or team websites enable individuals to provide some level of scope to their interests and personal attributes while teaching hands-on technical skills. Building a website teaches organization, visualization, data management, marketing, and a whole boat load of other concepts. Whether as a class or as individuals, website creation forges new intellectual connections and practical skills that directly translate to the professional world.

In the end, there’s a world of opportunity on the web, and as education tackles its outstanding issues as a whole, it’s only beneficial to use and leverage the internet as a medium to foster new learning and create new opportunity for students across the US and the world.

Links

Boundaries Of The Human Condition

“That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.” – Thomas Jefferson

There exist many concepts and rules by which we are bound, some of which we may be aware and some of which we may not be aware. Those concepts and rules of which we are aware exist throughout nature and space because we can observe them and learn them, manipulate them and control them, and hear them and speak them. Those concepts and rules of which we are not aware exist because we cannot observe them and learn them, manipulate them and control them, and hear them and speak them. In a sense, we are bounded by that which we can know and cannot know – although those boundaries can and will change throughout the course of history.

It’s interesting to think about our intellectual boundaries, limits, and intersections because they can be sliced and diced a thousand and one different ways. To a chef, his or her capacity may be bound by a colander, letting some things in and others out, clogged and dirty at times and crystal clear at others. To a biologist or chemist, he or she may see it as some semi-permeable membrane that expands and contracts, filters substances based on the needs of the whole system. And to an astronomer, the boundaries may be the vast unknown of our universe: with new discovery always comes more knowns coupled with more unknowns.

Regardless of the profession, it’s valuable to think about. For me, I’ll gladly wear the shoes of a different scientist each waking day but to start, here are a couple different categorizations of our intellectual boundaries, just to jot some thought.

Spatial Dimensionality

Think of our intellectual capacity as bounded by one big room. This room can grow as it’s supported by more material, can shrink with the absence of structural connections, and can lose energy with a loss of insulation, cracks in the windows, etc. It can become more complex or simple in a hour’s time with the addition or removal of new features and can take on a new look and persona with the manipulation of a few simple characteristics such as paint and fixtures. You get the point.

Walls – The walls are the support and protection, and are the primary means by which we are bound. The walls are our rules of lateral movement, being, and knowing. In a room of infinitesimal walls, we’ll find just as many corners (getting us ever close to the perfect circle) but we’ll still be limited by a surrounding perimeters. In our room, the walls are our physical concepts, our school subjects, our theorems and laws, our rules of society.

Floors – The floors are our foundation. Without the floor we would not be able to maintain our position and as a result, move from one position to another. The floors are our foundation for thought – our family, our circumstance, our physicality – our reference point.

Ceilings – The ceiling is our limit. The ceiling provides cover and security, shape and reflection, and a foundation for belief and new thought. The ceilings are our hypotheses and conjectures, our gateway to the unknown as much as it they’re the gateway for belief and clarity of vision.

Corners – The corners are the intersections of life, the crossroads of knowledge and new thought. Every corner is formed by the other structures mentioned above. The corners are the relationships, the interdisciplinary nature of life, the idea that everything is connected.

Existential Dimensionality

Now think a bit differently. Think that our intellectual capacity is bounded by core concepts which, when intersected, form feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and understanding. The core concepts are the things we should study – the basics of existence from which we should gain our foundations. I spoke about studying people earlier, with an overview of Archimedes. For the places, I’ll talk about some of my 2010 visits in the near future. And for time, we’ll it’s the scale by which we can make sense of history, and the perception and reasoning that comes with it. The triangulation of these three things gives an enclosure of feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that form the boundaries of our intellectual capacity.

People – We are who we are as much as we are who we’re with (and who used to be with us). To feel, learn, and think, we must understand how other people feel, learn, and think (or felt, learned, and thought). This is core to society, law, science, religion, and everything else.

Places – We are who we are in the place that we are. If I were in a different place right now, my actions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs may be different as a result. Place is a part of circumstance which most certainly contributes to our thoughts and beliefs.

Time – We are who we are because of the historical context in which we live. Time forms this context and provides structure to the way we think, how we can act, and as a result, what we might think and believe.

Feelings, Thoughts, & Beliefs – Our coordinates at any one time (say, x=people, y=place, z=time) describe who we are. The result of who we are is an output of feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. These form the boundaries, limits, and intersections of our intellectual capacity. Change coordinates, and we’ll find new outputs. And the most important thing to note: as with mathematical coordinate systems, there’s no limit to our coordinate system space, only to a local solid surrounding a group of coordinates. Limits may exist on my axes, by not on the coordinate system as a whole.

Links

Happy Planet Index vs Human Development Index

With my post on “Everything is Connected” I thought I’d investigate a bridge between happiness and the level of development in a country…

The Happy Planet Index (HPI)

“The HPI is an innovative measure that shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world. It is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live long and happy lives.”

The Human Development Index (HDI)

“The first Human Development Report (1990) introduced a new way of measuring development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into a composite human development index, the HDI. The breakthrough for the HDI was the creation of a single statistic which was to serve as a frame of reference for both social and economic development. The HDI sets a minimum and a maximum for each dimension, called goalposts, and then shows where each country stands in relation to these goalposts, expressed as a value between 0 and 1.”

Thoughts and Hypotheses

There are two relationships we will want to consider:

  • Correlation: Is there any direct relationship (positive or negative) between the values of the HDI and HPI?
  • Clustering: By region (or other characteristic field) can we find any clusters in the data?

Since these are composite indices of several weighted variable inputs, hopefully this top-level approach can identify some possible matches and mismatches between underlying data fields too. Related to the HDI, I bet the UN’s HPI (Human Poverty Index) has a bridge to happiness… or most likely, unhappiness.

Data/Discussion

  • There seems to be a connection between deviations in the data. When there exists a large deviation, for a specific region, for the HDI, there seems to also be a large deviation of values for the HPI. Notice that Africa, Australasia, and the Middle East all have similar double-digit deviations. What does this tell us about the range of development and happiness within a specific region? Perhaps this could be tested across many country-level metrics to see if the similar deviations occur more frequently.
  • As with the above note, since we have these metrics on a same scale/range, let’s combine them to see who has the highest composite score. In alphabetical order we have: 84, 125, 138, 137, 133, 134, 126, 134, 119, 117, 119. There seem to be three groups here: High (>130), Medium (100-130), Low (<100). Depending on a user need, algorithms can be created to join metrics to provide a big picture representation of economic, political, sociological, etc metrics, and flexibility can be built to dig into the weeds on the underlying data. This would be a nice comprehensive framework for understanding how countries (and regions as a whole) change over time.


  • Looking at the scatter plot, it is clear that some clusters may exist, for example with Africa (blue). Caribbean (orange), Europe (green), and Russia and Central Asia (purple) also show some quick visual clustering, while the Middle East (red) shows the opposite. What could this mean? That regional trade, policy, weather, etc are good supplementary foundations for providing happiness and development?
  • We could add trend lines and quickly check for any linear (or logarithmic) relationships. If any relationship does exist as a whole or with a region, it is certainly not a directly proportional or inversely proportional one. This was expected as these metrics are quite different (despite the overlap in life expectancy as an input dimension).

Moving forward, the methodologies and underlying dimensions (with their sources) should be compared. Data is always good, but with good data one still must be careful. That being said, this is a good start for a much larger investigation into the connections between different country-level metrics, especially if they are to be used in international and national policy.

geek speak

Modern investment in math and science education requires the subjects to evolve. Most of that evolution should be in the language and culture to make it more connected to society.

Historically, math and science have had their own language, so to speak. Geek speak – complex phrases and nerdy nomenclature have made it a world in which one must be “admitted” (no pun intended, although it surely can be crazy).

I’ve spent the past three years in a technical and scientific environment, and the majority of my academic years with strong focus in math and science. It’s clear to me that bubbles form from which the admitted can rarely escape. That’s because there is a standard by which many professors, scientists, mathematicians, and researchers live and it includes living the language of their subject. But for me, the teachers and mentors that have had the greatest impact on me were those that could speak plain English to me while still teaching the concepts and theorems without loss of transmitted information. They successfully connected plain English with geek speak.

Naturally, within any subject, company, or even group of friends, it’s expected for a lexicon to be developed and learned. It’s important for that standard dictionary of terms and phrases to exist as it creates the social networks and communities that fuel collaborative innovation. But again, those bubbles need to have a more permeable film, to allow a constant admission of newbies no longer deterred by a language barrier.

A recent Sept 2009 Wired Magazine article talks about this, particularly for those in middle and high school. Author Daniel Roth states, “If we want to reform education, we have to make it cool to be a geek.” This is exactly the point. Connect the notion of fitting in with the realms of math and science by connecting the languages and the culture at specific educational levels. If nerdiness can become a part of everyday life, the bubble will not only expand but the film will become more permeable. The positive results will be seen in technological advancement, discovery, and common understanding.

To conclude, the ability to communicate complex concepts and theorems in a way that’s easily understood by a new learner is essential. It’s essential for building a more connected society – one with greater educational opportunity and understanding. In other words, the societal congruence at time t will optimize the combinatorial pathways for achievement at time t+1.

on creativity

Overview


It’s imperative that curriculums (especially for early education) are built on more than just core subject matter. They also need to be strongly founded upon core ideals, values, and principles. The teaching of such values (although much harder to guide, manage, and track) is absolutely essential to the intellectual growth and prosperity of emerging generations.
What values are most important to push early in a child’s development? Honesty & trust. Altruism & empathy. Individuality & originality. Happiness & humor. Confidence & faith. Creativity & innovation. Innovation & creativity. Creativity!

I’ve posted about holistic education before and creativity is one of the three main pillars of such education – It’s seen in the SunWALK model of holistic education as “one of the three intrapersonal ‘primary colours’ or modes of engagement, of the human spirit, that are utilized in facing, individually and interpersonally, progressively more challenging tasks to nurture the development of abilities.”

Creativity is essential to the development of other abilities and the fundamental ability to engage/interact with people, nature, and the world in which we live. It’s from creativity that the purest dreams and ideas are born.

Definitions


So how is creativity defined? Let’s look…

Wikipedia: “Creativity is a mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity is fueled by the process of either conscious or unconscious insight.”

Children’s Health Encyclopedia: “Creativity is the ability to think up and design new inventions, produce works of art, solve problems in new ways, or develop an idea based on an original, novel, or unconventional approach.”

Some more definitions can be found at a great post by Dr. Leslie Owen Wilson of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point “On Defining Creativity”.

It’s important to note that creativity and intelligence are not synonymous. There are plenty of studies addressing possible correlation between IQ and creativity, but the main point is that with a positive surrounding environment and culture, we must believe creativity can exist in any individual of any level of intelligence.

Qualities

  • Impulsivity and spontaneity – Just do it! / Just think it!
  • Nonconformity (not going with the majority) – Stray from the beaten path.
  • Courage – Naturally be unafraid of trying new things.
  • Self-Confidence – Have no susceptibility to peer pressure.
  • Persistence – Learn when to maintain thoughts or set thoughts aside.
  • Balance – Convergent / divergent thinking – Learn to hypothesize, speculate, and evaluate multiple conclusions while reserving the ability to logically find and support a single conclusion.
  • The “One Brain” Concept – Right brain thinking and left brain thinking together are the best engine of creativity.
Some Take-Aways

  • Need to create good inner resources in children. Multi-dimensionality is key.
  • Give children an active role in their own learning.
  • Educators need to be aware of the “blocks to creativity” or things that can interfere with it. SunWALK says there are two types of blocks: Environmental (the lack of a motivating physical surrounding, trustworthy acquaintances, or positive leadership) and Cultural (the fear of making bad choices, lack of an appetite for chaos, and the general lack of enthusiasm). It should be noted that the positive case of “blocks” would be that Environment and Culture become “enablers” of creativity.
  • In order to foster creativity in schools, education should be based on the discovery of knowledge and the development of critical attitudes, rather than on the passive absorption of knowledge.

Simple Creativity Exercises

  1. Spell all the letters of the alphabet using letters other than the one you are spelling. Now try it without using any vowels. CAY-YII-FEE-EYE-EHDT (that ‘N’ was very hard)
  2. Draw an adjective, act a noun, describe a verb.
  3. Create an equation that has never before been created. Describe its elements, fundamentals, and purpose.
  4. Contemplate a newly-shaped earth. What would a cubed earth be like? What if the world really was flat? How would business, transportation, politics, weather, etc change?

Quotes

  • “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” – Erich Fromm
  • “The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau
  • “Creativity is the ability to see relationships where none exist.” — Thomas Disch
  • “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook
  • “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou
  • “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” — Joseph Chilton Pierce
  • “Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game.” — Goethe
  • “To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty, you want to bring a little more music to it, a little more poetry to it, a little more dance to it.” –Osho
  • “We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own and other’s people’s models, learn to be ourselves and allow our natural channel to open.” — Shakti Gawain
  • “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” – Einstein
  • “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” – George Bernard Shaw

early childhood math education

“Evidence shows that early success in math is linked to later success in both math and reading. Given the increasing importance of science and technology in everyday life and for gaining entry into many careers, it’s crucial that we give all children a strong foundation in math and that we start many years before they enter formal schooling.”

With the recent publication by the National Research Council on early childhood mathematics, I thought I’d post a little summary with some thoughts of my own. I have always had interest in education policy, curriculum development, and ways to close the educational gap in the United States and around the world.
I believe even the smallest steps can lead to vast improvements, and the general idea is awareness then action, fueled by collaboration. Make the problems fully known and understandable, and then provide mechanisms through which those problems can be addressed at the individual, family, community, local/town, state, regional, national, and international levels.

I have particular interest in mathematics, science, and technology education and hope to stay involved in this realm for my entire life. Since it is quite high on today’s national policy agenda, hopefully action will be expedited to show progress domestically. Then in fixing our national education system, we can serve as a good example to developing nations in how to structure early education and community programs to maximize intellectual growth.

Click here for a Science Daily article about the report.

Here’s an excerpt from the report description:

“Early childhood mathematics is vitally important for young children’s present and future educational success. Research has demonstrated that virtually all young children have the capability to learn and become competent in mathematics. Furthermore, young children enjoy their early informal experiences with mathematics. Unfortunately, many children’s potential in mathematics is not fully realized, especially those children who are economically disadvantaged. This is due, in part, to a lack of opportunities to learn mathematics in early childhood settings or through everyday experiences in the home and in their communities. Improvements in early childhood mathematics education can provide young children with the foundation for school success.”

Some more highlights:

  • Math education must start at the earliest possible age. A coordinated national early childhood mathematics initiative should be put in place to improve mathematics teaching and learning, particularly for ages 3 to 6.
  • We must engrain mathematics and statistics as an environment and a behavioral necessity at an early age. Analytical processing, spatial thinking, and problem solving skills should become part of every day life at a very young age. The report says mathematics experiences in early childhood settings should concentrate on: A) numbers (whole numbers, operations, relations), and B) geometry, spatial relations and measurement. “How should I cut the cake so that everyone gets a piece?”
  • Mathematical process goals should be integrated in other content areas. Math should not be a stand-alone subject but should be a part of the curriculum for history, english, art, music, and other subjects/classes.
  • We must improve the technical and scientific literacy of the general public. This should be done by promoting “number comfort” from early education through adolescence and making math and science education a family, real life, and every day thing.
  • There need to be revised professional development initiatives for educators reflecting science/technical/mathematical curriculum needs.
  • Early childhood education partnerships should be formed between family and community programs to work together in promoting children’s mathematics.
These highlights offer just a glimpse of what is in the comprehensive report, which includes full-scale curriculum, professional development, and implementation recommendations.

In my own point of view, I think there needs to be some sort of accreditation program for mathematics and statistics education, covering preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school (truly, high school is a different story, but certainly some aspects by which the Pre-8 schools might be evaluated are applicable to grades 9-12 as well). A stepwise and gradated approach to evaluation of statistical/mathematical initiatives should help schools work from their current status to a desired and achievable one.

I am aware of accreditation programs that do currently exist at the state and regional levels (although it seems as though most are for a school as a whole and not individual subject areas). On the contrary, I am unaware of the steps these types of evaluation programs take to ensure that systematic inequalities don’t impact evaluation results. Subject-level evaluation programs should not reward schools but rather provide valuable feedback and awareness for all types of early education programs. It should provide a framework for schools to understand their relative status, in conjunction with possible areas for improvement, on a local, national and international level.
I believe evaluation of mathematical/statistical initiatives should take place at these core levels:
  • Administration/Management – Quantitative methods should be made operational in the management and evaluation of educators within the school system. It not only promotes understanding of such methods, but is also an engine for measurable results, positive reinforcement, professional development, and recognition. In some sense, schools are run like a business that should employ quantitative methods to ensure profitable return, an optimized allocation of resources, and quality control. Employ the DIS cycle and school administration will certainly find it easier to know what works, and what does not.
  • Culture/Community – As stated in the NRC report, partnerships must be formed between the student, school, family, and local community. Evaluation should occur on how well a school takes steps to forge and maintain these relationships. How much do children hear about math in school as opposed to out of school?
  • Curriculum – The most obvious one involves evaluation of the process by which a school teaches math and statistics. Does the school sustain its process equally over time? Do educators use a wide array of techniques to teach mathematical concepts?
In the end, something needs to be done and the NRC report is the right first step towards awareness. With the use of some simple quantitative methods and collective brainpower, we can take action to decrease inefficiencies and close the national and international education gaps in mathematics and science, and in turn, many other subjects… Use data to evaluate, support, and improve!