Book review: “Bilingual: Life and Reality”


A brief and very nice read on one of the wonders of the human mind

When a retired bilingual professor who knows his field very well takes the reader on a short and friendly tour, the result is a pleasure in many aspBilingual_Cover1ects. For me, two major aspects of “Bilingual: Life and Reality” were its explaining and debunking of myths related to bilingualism (and never forgetting the fact that experiencing a new language means experiencing a new culture and way of thinking at the same time), as well as having a dedicated chapter on the bilingualism of children.

The readers who did not know much about bilingualism will gain a lot from this book without having forced to struggle with heavy academic linguistics terminology. Parents who are concerned about the bilingualism of their children will be relieved as Prof. Grosjean explains why many of the myths are problematic or plainly false.

From the beginning to the end, the personal tone of the book made me feel like as if I was in a conversation with an old friend who knew a lot about bilingualism and shared this, as well as his personal experiences, without never intimidating.

If you want a good, non-academic starter for all matters related bilingualism, this book is one of the few I can sincerely recommend.

Do students who do their maths exercises on a tablet make more mistakes?

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According to a recent piece of news, the answer is a strong “yes”:

Students who do their maths exercises on a tablet make more mistakes, according to Stef Van Gorp, Master’s student at Thomas More University College in Mechelen, who examined the results of children in the third year of 16 primary schools. Van Gorp found that 72% of students make more mistakes on a tablet than on paper. On average, children made six mistakes on a tablet and just one on paper. Van Gorp’s conclusion was that children often consider tablets as toys and take the digital exercises less seriously. However, he said that mistakes can also be caused by the children not yet mastering the operation of a tablet.


You can read what Belgian newspapers said in Dutch here and here.

I have mixed feelings about this: Making mistakes is not a big deal, as long as children realize them in the process and learn from them. On the other hand, even though I’m all for bringing all of the advantages to education, I can’t stop myself from missing the robust nature of pencil, paper and huge black or white boards.

Impressions after completing the ‘How to Learn Math’ class

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The title of my blog entry for June 2, 2013 was “Can parents be better math teachers for their kids?“, referring to the online ‘How to Learn Math‘ class given by Prof.  Jo Boaler.  I had a few motivations for enrolling in this class, but the primary one was to get in touch with the latest methods and research in teaching mathematics. Even though I’m not a mathematics teacher by profession, I thought I could use the information and know-how I could gain for my son in the near future. I also had older kids in my extended family whom I tried to help in areas such as mathematics and programming.

This word cloud was generated on August 12th and is based on 5087 responses to the question "why do students often feel so bad about mistakes"?

This word cloud was generated on August 12th and is based on 5087 responses to the question “why do students often feel so bad about mistakes”?

Now that the class is over and I have completed it successfully, I can say that I’m satisfied with it more or less. One of the facts that Prof. Boaler admitted is that this was her first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) experience, and I think next time she gives a similar class it will be better. I think some of the videos could be shorter, less repetitive, whereas some of the exercises could be a little more challenging, and structured, with more opportunities for valuable feedback. These points aside, it was very valuable to see the challenges faced by actual teachers, and listening to the experiences of students from diverse backgrounds were also helpful in developing a perspective. On top of that, some of my academic heroes, such as Sebastian Thrun, were there, providing me with very valuable insights with their interviews.

Once again I have seen that having a background in mathematics, engineering and cognitive science is not enough by itself to realize the better methods of teaching, and that is reason enough for me to be thankful to Jo Boaler for her continued efforts. I hope one day I will be good guide to my son and other kids in their journey to the wonderful world of sophisticated abstractions and surprising ideas with some unexpected connections :-)



Visiting horses in the neighborhood: one year later

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I have decided to visit the horses in the neighborhood when I took my son outside for a short walk today. The horses live a few hundred meters from our house and it’s been almost a year since we’ve seen them; I thought he would be surprised and excited to see those beautiful animals again. It turned out to be that I made the right decision, his excitement was worth seeing.

I wish I can also show him those horses in action. I have myself seen a few kids riding them in the neighborhood, creating a fantastic view, those amazing animals taking their time slowly along cars and buses while people (at least I and a few others) admire them. It almost feels like time travel and changes your perception of time for a while.

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Space Expo at Noordwijk, Netherlands: A wonderful space center for children

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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the ESA center at Noordwijk. The biggest ESA site, namely ESTEC , is also very close to Space Expo, a great place where families can take their children to introduce them many interesting and exciting aspects of space research. My colleagues were kind enough to show me some parts of it and I was surprised by the things I have learned.

I definitely plan to take my son there, but I think I’ll have to wait a few years more.

If you are interested about similar activities for your children you should check out these, too:


A visit to Efteling

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I know it sounds cliché, but kids these days are lucky, or at least they have been since 1952, the year Efteling was opened. Yesterday we paid a short visit to this huge and wonderful theme park, which is about 90 km from Antwerp and takes 1 hour drive at most, and I was surprised to hear that it was such an old place with about 2 million m^2.

I’m not sure who had the most fun, we adults, or our 2-year-old son but one thing is certain: I want to visit Efteling again when our son will be more aware of fairy tales that are spectacularly presented there.

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Can parents be better math teachers for their kids?

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Like many people, I have tried (and still try) to help young people with mathematics, be it an occasional geometry problem, or at a higher level, such as calculus. Now that I have a child who is yet to have any trouble with math, I think I should spend more time in pedagogical aspects of teaching math. It is one thing to have had a formal university education in mathematics and engineering, and completely another thing to be good at teaching mathematics; first one does not necessarily lead to the second.

This is why I have decided to be a student again and take the summer course given by Dr. Jo Boaler: “EDUC115N: How to Learn Math

According to the official web site: More

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