Tag Archives: university

We Lied To You

Click to download the book
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This book contains 50 lies taught in the VCE Chemistry course.

These lies include well-meaning simplifications of the truth, mistakes in the textbook, and, in a few extreme cases, blatant falsehoods.

This book isn’t a criticism of the VCE Chemistry course at all. In fact, I just want to highlight the sheer complexity of Chemistry and the need to make sweeping generalisations at every level so it can be comprehensible to our students. This is a legitimate practice called constructivism in pedagogical circles. (Look that up.)

Many of these ‘lies’ taught at VCE level will be debunked by your first-year chemistry lecturers at university.

Here’s a preview of some of the lies mentioned in the book. Check out all 50 by clicking the download link at the bottom of the page.


lie-2


lie-15


lie-25


we-lied-to-you-cover-lightbulbs

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Pre-order my second book “We Lied To You” here

Pre-order here
Pre-order here

The content you’re learning now is probably not as true as it seems. Chemistry is a set of models that explain the macro level sometimes at the expense of detail. The more you study Chemistry, the more precise these models become, and they’ll gradually enlighten you with a newfound clarity about the inner workings of our universe. It’s profound.

Rules taught as ‘true’ usually work 90% of the time in this subject. Chemistry has rules, exceptions, exceptions to exceptions, and exceptions to those – you’ll need to peel pack these layers of rules and exceptions like an onion until you reach the core, where you’ll find Physics and Specialist Maths.

Enjoy this book. I hope it emboldens you to question everything you’re told, and encourages you to read beyond the courses you’re taught in school.

Pre-order the FREE e-book by filling in the form here.

Periodic Table Smoothie

periodic table by randall monroe what if.png
Image from Randall Monroe’s excellent book, What If?: Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions

Yesterday, I was wondering what would happen if we mixed the entire periodic table of elements together in a blender. Unsurprisingly, it would explode, scattering radioactive dust and debris for miles around in a red-hot fireball formed from the simultaneous fission of the entire seventh row. The periodic table would only need to be the size of a matchbox in order for this explosion to happen.

Calculating exactly what would happen would be incredibly difficult. There are so many simultaneous reactions – including nuclear reactions – taking place that it’s almost impossible to predict the outcome in any more detail than “KABOOM”.

Making a real Periodic Table Smoothie  would be prohibitively expensive. You’d need 118 particle accelerators (costing $1 billion each) all pointing at the same target just to get single atoms of each element to collide at the same time. This is even more difficult than it sounds: those elements near the bottom of the periodic table (numbers 105 and above) are so unstable that they’d break down before they even reach the target. There are massive financial and physical challenges to mixing an entire periodic table up in a blender.

Instead of adding all the elements at the same time, I’ll be adding one element each week to an imaginary 10-litre vessel and documenting – as a theoretical exercise – what happens. Ultimately, we all know it’s going to explode at some point. But when will it do that? How many elements are we able to add before it finally explodes? Will we create anything interesting along the way?

This very idea was floated on Reddit’s AskScience forum in 2013 but nobody actually figured out (seriously) what would happen.

Join me next week to start the experiment.

periodic table smoothie on reddit.jpg

 

3 Things You Take With You from Year 12

1) Friendships

Memories and connections are some of the most valuable things you’ll take with you from Year 12. Keep in touch with as many people as possible both officially (using alumni networks) and unofficially (using social media). People move in different directions after graduation and you’ll be surprised at how your friendships evolve, too: classmates who were mere acquaintances during school might become very close friends in five years’ time. Keep in touch with all your classmates to make sure you don’t miss out on these future business connections, too. You might even meet again one day sitting opposite each other at a job interview!

2) ATAR

Remember that your ATAR is only a means to a much more meaningful goal: it’s the key to a university course of your choice. Strive for an ATAR that’s high enough: there’s no need to stess yourself out by aiming for a ‘perfect’ score of 99.95. Your ATAR is like a disposable key: it gets you into university but doesn’t help you while you’re there. Nobody asked me what my A-level results were throughout my undergraduate years at Cambridge. High-school results simply weren’t important.

3) A Relentless Work Ethic

You’ve worked harder in Year 12 than you’ve ever worked in your life. If you want to be successful, you’ll have to maintain this level of hard work – or even increase it – to accomplish your goals in life. You’ve learned the difficult way that in Year 12, going to school and doing all the required homework isn’t enough. You’ve figured out in Year 12 that you have to spend hours reading the textbook by yourself, doing practice question sets that aren’t on the course, and making summary notes that your teacher will probably never see in order to get a high grade.

The relentless work ethic you’ve garnered will help you to conquer bigger obstacles in the years that follow. Give every major event in your life at least as much passion, dedication and preparation that you gave to your VCE examinations and you’ll be sufficiently prepared for the challenges that await you in the future. VCE is pre-season training for life.

Is there anything I’ve missed from this list? Is an ATAR more than just a “key to a university course”? Let us know in the comments section below.

How to Make Time for 100 Days of Revision

Revision Timetable for GCSE studies
A well-planned revision timetable

Students who aim for a Study Score of 42 or above complete at least 20 practice papers for each subject they’re studying and correct them critically before examinations begin. High-achieving students print these 20 practice papers and make a detailed revision schedule before full-time revision sets in.

Learn how to make a quality revision timetable here.

Twenty practice papers, with proper correction and revision of theory, require 20 days to complete. A student studying 5 VCE subjects therefore needs 100 Days of Revision before their examinations begin.

VCE exams begin on October 28th, 2015, and 100 Days of Revision therefore begins on July 20th, 2015 for students who want to excel. Most schools plan to finish teaching Unit 4 at the end of August, which is just 40 days before the final examination. Forty days allows you only 8 days of revision for each of your 5 VCE subjects, and this simply isn’t enough practice for students who want to excel.

The best way to make time for 100 Days of Revision is to study Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 during this upcoming Easter Holiday.

In this upcoming Easter Holiday, by yourself, or with the help of a home tutor, you can study the topics that your school has planned to teach after July 20th, 2015. Typically, this is Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 (Chapters 23 to 28 in the Heinemann Chemistry 2 textbook). By studying this topic early, you’ll save time later in the year, which will allow you to complete 20 practice exams per subject instead of using that time to learn new theory.

Easter Holiday Tutoring 2015

If you want to learn Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 this holiday, and free up your homework schedule later in the year, get in touch for a short-term set of tutoring sessions in April 2015. I am offering new students a short-term Easter Holiday tutoring package for $300.

The $300 tutoring package includes:

  • Chemistry Unit 3 & 4 diagnostic test;
  • Quizzes based on knowledge areas that need to be improved upon (as identified in the diagnostic test);
  • Three home tutoring sessions of 2 hours each, which includes:
    • Critical review of the student’s homework answers;
    • 1-to-1 teaching of Unit 4 Area of Study 2 (Chapters 23-28) with homework exercises and quizzes;
    • Answering any Chemistry questions the student has accumulated while doing homework exercises.
  • Personalised Chemistry study timetable for the whole year; and
  • 24/7 email and phone support for the duration of the Easter Holiday.

The program includes 6 hours of home tutoring and requires 15 to 18 hours of self-study to be completed by the student during the holiday.

Get ahead in Chemistry this Easter. I am available for VCE Chemistry tutoring on the following dates and times.

Monday 30th March 2015 to Friday 3rd March 2015: 9am – 5pm daily
Monday 6th April 2015 to Friday 10th March 2015: 9am – 5pm daily

*UPDATE: I am now fully booked for the 2015 Easter Holiday. Fill in the contact form below to enquire about term-time tutoring at evenings and weekends.

Request VCE Chemistry tutoring using this online form.

More information about my tutoring services can be found here.

The 6 Best Graduation Speeches on YouTube

graduation caps james kennedy monash

It’s graduation time for Year 12 students in Australia. Emotions are high as students reflect on their years at school and look forward to university and the many years of adulthood that lie ahead. Graduation is a time of emotional speeches and life advice, and this post is no exception.

Here are my six favourite graduation speeches on YouTube. Watch them and be inspired.

1. Steve Jobs on “connecting the dots” (2005)

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

2. JK Rowling on “blaming your parents” (2008)

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”

3. Neil deGrasse Tyson on “thinking outside the box” (2012)

“You realize when you know how to think, it empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think. Now, let me tweet that”.

4. Oprah Winfrey on “doing what makes you come alive” (2013)

“Theologian Howard Thurman said it best. He said, ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.'”

5. Bill Gates on “being an activist” (2007)

“Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”

6. Barack Obama on “sacrifice and decency” (2009)

“Acts of sacrifice and decency without regard to what’s in it for you – those also create ripple effects – ones that lift up families and communities; that spread opportunity and boost our economy; that reach folks in the forgotten corners of the world who, in committed young people like you, see the true face of America: our strength, our goodness, the enduring power of our ideals.”

Know of any more that should be in this list? Share them in the comments section below.

Book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Stretched. Easy to read.
237 pages, ★★★

Amy Chua (a.k.a. “Tiger Mother”) bullies her children into being successful. Her loveable mixture of strict rules, punishments and blackmail locks her children into a world of all work and no play.

“Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin.”

Clearly, Amy Chua loves her children. She sees them as fallen deities, as sleeping giants, who, with enough maternal provocation, can once again prove themselves as prodigies. She sees in them infinite potential, and pressures them immensely to succeed.

Love for her children sometimes blinds her to reality. On page 7, she writes:

“I was on leave from my Wall Street law firm and desperate to get a teaching job so I wouldn’t have to go back—and at 2 months [of age], Sophia understood this”.

Really? That sounds like over-analaysis to me.

On page 8, she continues over-analysing: when her daughter draws what her husband calls “two overlapping circles”, Amy Chua calls it “doing simple set theory”. On page 11, she describes 豆腐脑, a simple Chinese tofu dish, as, “silken tofu braised in a light alabone and shiitake sauce with a cilantro garnish”. (Her description is correct—it’s just pretentious.)

Amy’s propensity to overestimate her ability to raise children is exemplified most clearly on page 82, when she takes pride in having raised a “weakling, underweight” puppy into an adult dog that “excelled on its dog IQ test” despite hating dogs. Clearly, she’s not only blinded by love, but also by pride.

Fortunately, Amy Chua’s ruthlessness is somewhat justified. Her daughters, not yet 20, have articles printed in the New York Post and have been accepted into world-class universities. It’s the millions of Tiger Mothers with average kids that are cause for concern.

Interestingly, the Chinese version of her book was titled “我在美国做妈妈”, which translates roughly as, “I am a mother in America”: no mention of tigers; no implication of being fierce, and no connotation of being Chinese! The Chinese title makes her parenting style look “normal”. Check out the Chinese cover, below:

我在美国做妈妈
我在美国做妈妈

While Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was an easy, double-spaced read, it is no more informative than Amy Chua’s famous Wall Street Journal article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. You can save time and just read the article (and this) instead. ★★★

Book: Whackademia

Whackademia: An insider's account of the troubled university
The title and subtitle together is an anagram of, “KIDDISH WANNABE AUTHOR FERMENTS REVOLUTION. SAUCY DICE, Act I.” How apt.

Sooooo predictable with added juvenile cynicism and pranks. Yes, pranks.
239 pages, ★

Too mechanical? Yep. Too expensive? Yes. Not what the prospectus promised? You got it. Too market-orientated? Yes. Too market-irrelevant? That, too. Academics feel overworked and students feel neglected? Absolutely right.

Without reading this book, you can guess all the criticisms of higher education that he’s going to make.

Two third of this book is about complaining. Yes, many people don’t like their jobs, but only a small fraction go about writing a book about it. This author didn’t just do that: he gathered rants (yes, they’re rants) from 60 education workers and pasted them into his Whackademia scrapbook. The result is unhealthy.

Rants range from the banal to the absurd. A tearful professor details how she is inundated with work: “I get emails at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning!” To this, I reply: So? You don’t have to reply to them at 3 or 4 in the morning! Do that in your “email time” instead, be it 9am, 4:30pm or on the morning train. That’s the beauty of email.

I noticed how Stephen Fry only ever mocks himself: his appearance, his weight, his smoking habit, his lack of dancing ability, and his opinions of Cambridge people (after all, he is one of them!) In Whackademia, Richard Hil does the opposite of Stephen Fry: he criticises everything around him, wittily, assuming that only he is right. I don’t like that.

The final third of the book opens with, “Enough complaint, now what?” Here, the author squanders the opportunity to save his whiny reputation by telling teachers and administrators to pull pranks on their employers. Yes, pranks.

On the one hand, he describes universities as stubborn and delinquent, just like the student body they supposedly nourish:

“Andrew observed that the universities appeared self-absorbed and resistant to change—a bit like recidivist juvenile offenders. To break this apparent recalcitrance, Andrew called for a ‘modern parnership’ between business and the university sector.”

Yet, on the other hand, his solutions are mostly from the Anarchist’s Cookbook:

Never sign off on critical reports;

If you are on video link, turn on the ‘mute’ button.

Never admit to screw-ups, cock-ups, student complaints…

Keep adding to and subtracting from your workload documents over time as, over time, this will exhaust the apparatchiks.

Claim depression, stress, anxiety disorders, backaches, drug and alcohol problems resulting from excessive workload.

If the author’s being sarcastic here, then this book nothing more than a useless collection of 60 rants. If he’s not being sarcastic, then he’s caving in to the same stubborn, juvenile behavour that he spent two-thirds of his book criticising; and doesn’t deserve any of my jameskennedybeijing stars at all. Conclusion: just love your job. Never publish rants, and never read them either. ★

Book: Student Survival Guide

Student Survival Guide
One major pitfall: this book’s target audience DOESN’T READ BOOKS.

Written by students. Never take university advice from students.
176 pages, ★

This book made BBC news. It’s a collation of sometimes conflicting advice from different students, most of which is rubbish. It concerns topics as broad as drinking, drinking games, parties, hangovers and drunken accidents. Sarcasm.

Student Survival Guide assumes not only that university students are stupid, and that they’re supposed to be stupid, but also that being stupid responsibly is the highest state of being to which they should all aspire. The sloppy title font is used for all chapter and subchapter headings—a periodic reminder not to listen to the author. Never take advice from someone who uses this font.

This book is filled with hangover cures, drinking games—yes, drinking games—most of which you already learned in kindergarten (without the alcohol). It tells students that the whole point of university is to be stupid. And that’s very irresponsible.

This book was written by two Welsh students in 2001. Back then, Welsh students were lucky enough to have all their tuition fees paid by the Welsh regional government. Maybe that’s why these authors played and drank during university—because it was free, they took the experience for granted, perhaps?

There’s nothing useful in Student Survival Guide. Students who don’t know any better will be negatively-influenced by this book. It’s full of bad advice. Keep it away from them. ★

 

In China, waitresses earn more than science graduates

Starting salaries in China

Graduate salaries in China are very low. By contrast, walk past any restaurant window in Beijing and you’ll see a poster offering employment, a bed, meals and about ¥1400–¥2000 per month in exchange for your hard work as a waiter or waitress. This is a better deal than the average Chinese Science, Medicine or Agriculture student can expect after graduation. Continue reading In China, waitresses earn more than science graduates