Thursday, February 23, 2012

Time to Question Short Term Perspectives

Sir Martin Rees in his closing comments makes a moving reference to the builders of Ely Cathedral and the way that despite the harshness of their lives they built a structure of enduring magnificence. He draws a nice contrast between that aspiration to provide a legacy to future generations despite their relative lack of knowledge about the world and our current short term approaches to problems. Despite all our scientific knowledge our historical understanding of how failed policies lead to more hunger and poverty we seem fixated on repeating them and not addressing how we can make the planet a safer and healthier place for the billions more people who will occupy our world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is the Kahn Academy Ready To Change Education Globally?

If Bill Gates is impressed-we should be too. Viewing this TED lecture I am more convinced that we can create a classroom centered on mastery learning and so avoid the problems caused by using other metrics such as time on task. Kahn seems to have moved beyond his neat video tutorials to figuring out how to implement a model of how to use these videos in a real classroom through effective management of who has mastered the concepts and who continues to struggle. Through the use of data collected from his pilot studies in the Los Altos schools we can now see that almost all of the students eventually reached mastery. This is big news. Now the question is can we scale this intervention model of delivering education effectively. Kahn suggests peers who have mastered the concepts can be as effective as a teacher. He may be right and he may well have developed an effective model that can change millions of lives forever. Let's hope so!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

EV Battery Conversions--Game Changing Technology?

The President's call in his recent State of the Union speech for one million electric vehicles by 2015 was pretty much ignored by the media. It was another missed opportunity for both the White House and the media to lead a good discussion about the need to change our ways if we are to successfully confront the challenge of global warming. The congressional deadlock is perhaps to blame for the lack of media interest since the means chosen for reaching the goal is a tax deduction and we know how difficult they are to get enacted before an election year. Some observers like The Verge feel that the deduction will not be enough to move the needle much "As far as the credit’s effect on sales, if our math is right, sales of plug-in vehicles will need to grow by 143 percent each year in order for the President to reach his goal of a million on the road by 2015. If the government’s serious about fostering that kind of EV adoption, it might take a little more than a $2,500 tax credit.

But there maybe help on the way. The latest technology is rapidly becoming within reach of the average consumer. As Les Hamasaki of the Clean Tech Institute states

"The average cost of EV conversion is about $10,000 to $15,000, depending on the battery technology being installed.  That cost will go down by increasing the demand for the lithium ion batteries, motors, and controllers used in EVs as well as the demand for other EV components.   The gasoline savings -- if these goals are met -- will be substantial, especially for low- and moderate-income workers and students.  For example, if one travels 10,000 miles per year at 20 miles per gallon and the cost of gas reaches $5 a gallon, it will cost you $2,500 annually for gas plus the periodic oil change.  On the other hand, if you have an electric car and a solar PV system at your home or multi-family dwelling with a battery backup, your cost may be only 3 to 5 cents a mile, or $300 to 500 per year, and eventually nothing." Already one California school's students are converting cars and making it clear that the technology works. This could be a game changer if we can apply the current tax incentives aimed at boosting the purchase of EV cars to converting gasoline cars.