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The gist of this episode might read: Neural networks, anyone?

Neural networks are commonplace, but we might not be aware of them. They are used when Facebook suggests tags for photos, a diagnostic lab analyses cell samples for cancer, or a bank decides whether or not to offer a loan.

So knowing what neural networks are and how they work are important. However, this episode provided only a small taste of both with this schematic.

My marked up version of the PBS/CrashCourse graphic on a basic neural network schematic.

Marked up version of the PBS/CrashCourse graphic on a neural network schematic.

If the input layer is a query we might have and the output layer is an answer, the black box is where rules and algorithms break down and process the input.

What happens in the black box is still a mystery. We might not care how exactly a social media system knows what tags to suggest for a photo, but we probably want to know why a financial system denies us a loan.

Perhaps the next episode might shed more light on the black box.

Here is segment that one might call News We Need Right Now. It is about an autistic, near non-verbal boy who went “Wow!” at the end of a classical music concert.

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When I started teaching, all I hoped from my students were “Oh!” or “A-ha!” as expressions of realisations. As an educator of 30 years, perhaps I should aspire to “Wow!”

You know what? I would rather that my learners go “Hmm…”

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This tweet reminded me of how people in power play the numbers game to oversimplify complex issues.

In this case, the number (USD 5000) looked good because the mathematical average supported a predisposed conclusion. This is not how to analyse data or conduct research. The data might reveal one or more conclusions; bias or mindset should not dictate the analytical process.

One way to counter the misleading conclusion could be to use the median gain instead. This takes into account the number of beneficiaries and will reveal that there are many more ordinary folks receiving less than claimed.

Countering such a numbers game is relatively easy. Pundits on Twitter and news channels alike can make the same point as I have. But some activities-by-numbers are more insidious.

Consider the claim that the administrative load of teachers here has been reduced on average. However, they might have been lowered only from a policymaker’s or administrator’s spreadsheet, e.g., timetables, co-curricular duties, committee work, special projects, etc.

Such spreadsheets do not consider how school leaders and managers replace the “void” with smaller and more numerous tasks that do not look like administration. Consider how a teacher might be told to follow up on an event by writing a report, counsel a sensitive parent-student case, or chaperone an overseas trip.

All these can be quantitatively defined in a spreadsheet (if they are at all), but not qualitatively justified. A post-hoc report might involve gathering data, sorting though photographs, and drafting documents, all of which take more time than anticipated.

Dealing with a difficult parent and/or student can be emotionally draining and this affects all other work. One might bean-count a two-hour contact time and ignore the lasting effects of such an engagement.

The solutions for countering such a blind and cruel numbers game are not easy. They might include having empathetic leaders, conducting frank and open communication between teachers and their managers, and crafting policies that look into the quality of work and not just the quantity.

Many of our teachers a self-selecting because they are empathetic nurturers. They care for others, but in the process, forget to care for themselves. They do not care about the numbers game or know how to counter it when assaulted by unexpected responsibilities. Might their leaders and managers nurture these nurturers by not playing the numbers game?

I reminded myself of two change principles after watching the videos below.

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The first principle is: Don’t preach, teach instead. The second is: Don’t sell a story, tell the story.

In both cases, you let your audience decide to learn and change. Tell the story well and without preaching, and you are more likely to get learners and changers.

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This video pit students against teachers in a mathematics test. But what was the point?

Neither party did well, so was the message about the state of mathematics learning was in the US? The PISA findings already told us that.

Was the point that test-worthy mathematics was not relevant to both schooling teens and working adults? If you collect enough anecdotes it becomes data. If you analyse that data, you might come to the same conclusion.

Was Buzzfeeed reaching for low-hanging fruit (we hate mathematics but we want to feel good about it) so it made a video to ingratiate itself and its audience? It’s Buzzfeed — that is their modus operandi.

The subtle point is that nuance is difficult and undesired. It is hard to show that mathematical thinking (not just going through the motions of using formulae) is what is important.

An academic test is just that — it results in a score to sort and possibly remediate before subjecting the student to another test. But passing a test does not guarantee that the student has mastered mathematical thinking. Passing a test shows that the student is good at taking tests.

Trying to showcase such nuance does not make for good viewing. Reality TV and video producers focus on the heightened or controversial for entertainment. Educators on the other hand need to look at the everyday and mundane to make mathematics relevant. Sadly, such videos do not have as many hits as Buzzfeed ones.

Sometimes it is worth going down a YouTube rabbit hole. The creator of a channel I subscribe to shared a once-in-a-blue-moon piece.

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YouTube’s algorithms led me to this offering from another channel.

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It is easy to go down rabbit holes. But they have a bad name because the process is often equated to time-wasting.

I disagree. What is time-wasting about appreciating what talented people can do? What is pointless about a shared experience of open and generous sharing?

Some rabbit holes are good. Like how my RSS and Twitter feeds lead me from one informative article to another. This digging and uncovering is what enables my lifewide (not just lifelong) learning. The negative aspect of going down the rabbit hole needs to be buried.

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I am in the eighth month of a year-long free trial offered by the telco TPG. (Note: This entry was neither sanctioned nor sponsored by TPG.)

In my first reflection, I was disappointed by the lack of signal in below ground areas, i.e., some MRT stations and mall basement levels. My TPG SIM phone would indicate “no signal” while my StarHub SIM phone worked fine.

Last month a study conducted by mobile analytics firm, OpenSignal, revealed that TPG Telecom had slower speeds and poorer signals than Singtel, StarHub, and M1.

The telco responded. This month I discovered that TPG’s reach had improved. I frequent a basement level grocery store about once a week and was able to get a usable signal there.

My reflection is not about what an organisation might do in the face of competition or how they should respond to bad news. It is about rolling out change.

One principle of change is:

Doing things differently does not always mean doing things better. But doing things better always means doing things differently. -- Hank McKinnell

TPG made waves when it first announced that it would provide free two-year plans for seniors and then also offered a year-long free trial to all others. The first move does social good; the second helps capture a user base. The moves are examples of doing better by being different.

However, mobile calls are still only available on voice over LTE (VoLTE) enabled devices. This limits voice calls to some phones by Huawei, Oppo, and Samsung.

According to TPG’s general manager, Apple has “refused to add the telco’s settings to its carrier settings.” This excludes upwards of 40% of the mobile phone users. Doing things differently does not mean this results in doing things better.

We might find many other examples of this change principle in action if we bother to look. But will we bother to learn? Or will we needlessly make the same mistakes?

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