Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Day of Reckoning, brought to us from India

Together, the rise of Reform Math, the reduction in ability-based grouping and AP classes, the demise of the close reading and the analytical essay (see also this), and the growing rarity of instruction in the finer points of English grammar and sentence construction, have caused current and future American high school graduates to be decreasingly prepared for college. As more and more American college students display skills in math, writing, and reading comprehension that are way below expectations (ending up, even in some of the more selective colleges, in remedial math and writing classes), college admissions committees are increasingly looking abroad.

While much of the news about overseas applicants centers on China, with its thousands of Ivy League-aspiring applicants and their glossy, high-production value applications (and the growing suspicion that a fair amount of cheating is involved), it's India, I predict, that will bring to the American K12 education system the day of reckoning that we so desperately need it to have. First, unlike their Chinese counterparts, college applicants from India face no linguistic barriers; many speak and write a much more eloquent English than American (and even British) students do. Second, there are apparently tons of extremely well-qualified Indian applicants pinning their hopes on America's top colleges.

Indeed, as an October New York Times article inadvertently suggests, the Day of Reckoning may be close at hand:

Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one of India’s top schools.
...

Ms. Mohan, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. With about half of India’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 25, and with the ranks of the middle class swelling, the country’s handful of highly selective universities are overwhelmed.
True, another reason--indeed, the only reason mentioned in the Times article--why American recruiters are seizing on this opportunity is because so many of the crème de la crème of overseas students are wealthy enough to pay full tuition, unlike many of their American counterparts. But it also helps that the K12 schools they attend aren't using Reform Math, aren't renouncing ability-based grouping, and aren't failing to provide college prep classes that are truly college preparatory. Indeed, if it were primarily her parents' pocket books that make Moulshri Mohan so attractive to Dartmouth and Smith, why are they offering her so many thousands of dollars of scholarship money?

So here are my dire predictions. In the next ten years, as the effects of Reform Math continue to percolate up the American school system, and as the number of highly qualified Indian students continues to outpace the numbers of spots at the best Indian universities, there will be a the growing displacement of American students by Indian students. Only then will a large enough proportion of the Powers that Be start realizing how urgent it is to enact actual education reform--reform, that is, that reverses the century's-long tide that has pushed our K12 schools further and further away from what's happening in the most successful school systems overseas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How about a college for high school "underachievers"

There are, perhaps now more than ever, a certain number of bright students who decide at some crucial point in the middle of high school to stop caring about their grades. Such students, of course, have always existed. Perhaps mostly male, some of them develop a taste for laziness as the workload increases; others decide that spending their time productively is more valuable than doing what they perceive, sometimes rightly, as busy work, even if this means tarnishing their academic records at the worst possible time. Not all of these guys end up with terrible GPAs; some, coasting on their natural abilities, and/or finding a large enough portion of their school work sufficiently gratifying, earn grades that are merely mediocre.

But even merely mediocre burns many more higher-educational bridges than it used to. At the same time, at the more high-powered high schools, a few new factors have surfaced that make the bright but bored/cynical high school student even more likely to check out. He (or she) looks around him and sees a seemingly senseless rat race populated by academically successful classmates whose parents are nonetheless micromanaging homework, hiring private tutors, and enrolling them in Kaplan Test Prep; classmates with long lists of resume-builders, ghost-written college application essays, and extra time allowances on standardized tests that savvy parents secure as accommodations for what the kids themselves say are baseless attentional and/or processing speed diagnoses.

Among the unaccommodated (or accommodated for good reasons), untutored, and unmicromanaged high school "underachievers" are some of the most interesting, solid, creative kids out there. Indeed, the reason why some of these kids have remained untutored, unmicromanaged and un-unnecessarily-accommodated isn't that the parents didn't do their level best to manage things otherwise, but that the kids refused as a matter of principle to go along with it. Sure, some of them, particularly the lazier ones, may have some significant maturing to do, but a lot can happen in the many months between the college application deadline and the first day of classes. The college admissions process catches these kids at a particularly vulnerable time in their academic lives; nine months on they may be perfectly college-ready.

Wouldn't it be nice if some college would make these high school "underachievers" its niche, basing its admissions decisions (almost) entirely on test scores (problematic though these are, they are less problematic than grades); probing, intellectually challenging interviews conducted by perceptive interviewers; and extensive, proctored essays on unexpected but accessible topics? In this topsy turvy world in which admissions committees can no longer tell which applicants can really read, write, and think on their own (the SAT essay not being available to them, and its scoring being quite problematic), this may, in fact, be the best way to identify those who really are capable of college-level work.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Math problems of the week: 4th grade Investigation vs. Singapore Math

Early 4th grade multiplication problems

I. A (TERC) Investigations homework sheet, assigned in late November [click to enlarge]:





II. The first 4th grade Singapore Math multiplications problems (Primary Mathematics, 4B workbook):


III. Extra Credit
How many points should a child get for answering "I memorized my multiplication tables" as his or her explanation for his or her answers to the Investigations problems?

Should Singapore Math teachers be concerned if a student attempts to solve the Singapore Math multiplication problems using Investigations-type "Array Cards"?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Autism diaries XXX: "You need to think about the future"

The temptations of short-term pleasure still often prevail. So, when J's tutor accidentally leaves her gmail account open, he can't stop himself from seizing the moment, "impersonating" her, emailing several of her relatives to tell them that "my house burned down," and elaborating the fictional details with her brother over g-chat.

But, miracle of miracles, he's also becoming aware of the virtues of delayed gratification. Lately, for example, he's been suspending his urge to charge through bottlenecks of trolley and train commuters to land the best seat available on the earliest train possible, and calling his good behavior to my attention, all because he wants me to start letting him travel to school on his own, with all the perks that that will bring him (a cell phone and not having to read The Story of the World with Mommy on the way to school).

Just this weekend, having read about the Battle of Marathon two days earlier (in The Story of the World with Mommy on the way to school), he observes, while walking by the Philadelphia Marathon on his way with me to Chinatown, that the winners of these races, running as fast as they can bear to, are "thinking about the future," and that if he ever wants to win a race he needs to do the same. I point out that this also applies to chess tournaments, where, even though he's doing better and better (earning enough points for a bronze metal in the city-wide public school tournament the day before), he's still tempted to open with the checkmate-in-four-moves gambit that no one at chess tournaments falls for and that ends up compromising his game.

At a shopping gallery a few blocks closer to Chinatown, after filming some of the ceiling fans he doesn't yet have on tape, he checks out the latest price of Wiis and discovers that he now can afford one. All those years of pining after, and jokingly pleading for a Wii ("Buy me a Wii or I'll call 911") and saving up money from yard work and snow shoveling (last year was particularly lucrative) have finally reached their happy conclusion.

He's got his Wii, his Mii, and his printout of "WII RULES!" ("Before you play: Wash your hands, Make sure you have no drink, Make sure you have permission; When you play: Do not eat, Make sure the control is away from everything, Wear the strap on the control, Share with other people; After you play: Make sure the CD is where I can find, Make sure the remote is where I can find, Make sure the console is off"), in which he wants all of us to think about the future--and, of course, his future in particular.

(We've reminded him, however, that Mii is not master of the Wii-universe: we still own the TV screen and control its power supply).

Monday, November 21, 2011

On edworld double speak

For years now I've found myself increasingly nauseated by phrases like "higher level thinking", "be creative," "conceptual understanding," "critical thinking," "reflection," "multi-culturalism," "discovery learning," "open-ended problems," "community of learners," and "life-long learning." My now-automatic (and, admittedly, hyperbolic) mental translations include:

high-level -> fact-free
discovery-based -> instruction-free
reflection -> navel gazing
open-ended -> anything goes
creativity -> color & glitter
multicultural -> bromides plus "non-Western" trivia

Before I knew anything about current trends in education, I associated these phrases with many of the things I valued most; with what my ultimate goals were for myself as both a student and a teacher. Things like rote calculations and memorization of facts and procedures were things I valued far less, dismissing them as mere tools, rungs, or building blocks for helping you attain what really matters--and dismissing certain classmates of mine as excelling in regurgitation and rapid computing (things I myself have never excelled in), but not in conceptual understanding or creative synthesis (which I hoped were my relative strengths).

But now that I've seen how many of these tools, rungs, and builing blocks are missing from today's classrooms, I find myself appreciating them as never before, and harping on them as I never in a million years would have imagined myself doing.

Equally baffling to my ealier self, when I hear "higher-level" thinking and "conceptual understanding" I no longer think of a substantive synthesis or analysis of a richly interconnected body of (internalized) knowledge, but of a lack--of substance, of teaching, and of learning; and, ultimately, of all the good these words used to connote.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why we can't trust math (and STEM) professors, II

In an earlier post, I list various reasons why we can't trust the math professors on Reform Math. I'm now realizing that I omitted one. Math (and science) professors, as rigorous and analytical as they are within their chosen fields, are perhaps no less credulous than the rest of the public about claims made by "education experts." Two recent articles show two mathematicians and one quantum physicist who have eagerly drunk the edworld Kool-Aid now parotting the usual arguments and buzzwords.

First, a November 11th article in Slate entitled "How to Fix Math Education in High School and College" cites self-styled “mathemagician” Arthur T. Benjamin, who teaches at Harvey Mudd College, on daily life relevance and 21st century skills:

One of the primary problems with math education today, according to Benjamin, is that the sequence of courses leads students in the wrong direction. “For the last 200 years, the mathematics that we’ve learned starts with arithmetic and algebra, and everything we do after that is taking us toward one subject, calculus. I think that is the wrong mathematical goal for 90 percent of our students,” he says. “We’re now living in an age of information and data, and the mathematics that will be most relevant to our daily lives is probability and statistics.”
and on computation undermining rather than supporting conceptual understanding:
Benjamin... hopes that mathematical education will be less about computation—we’ve got calculators for that!—and more conceptual, like “understanding when you need to do integrals, when you need to do a square root.”
Then we have an article in a community newspaper on a public hearing regarding Haverford High School's switch to College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM), a Reform Math algebra and geometry curriculm. Here we have the views of Michelle Francl, a Ph.D. and professor of quantum mechanics at Bryn Mawr College, on what research has shown about cooperative learning:
Michelle Francl... said research has shown that "cooperative learning approaches are significantly more effective than traditional lecture and individual work in student mastery of mathematics, as measured by standardized tests."
And we have Villanova math professor Robert Styer's views on creativity:
[He] noted that industry wants people who can "think creatively and outside the box," and CPM is good for teaching that.
Mathematicians buying into the belief systems of ordinary humans isn't particularly noteworthy... except when those in power use this phenomenon as further justification for those beliefs. For example, Haverford school director Phil Hopkins:
He noted that people supporting CPM were academics, educators and mathematicians, while "those who are objecting are not...I haven't heard anything that would make me say we made a bad choice and need to change."
To be fair, there are plenty of mathematicians (especially those who have kids in Reform Math classrooms and/or who have closely examined Reform Math textbooks) who oppose Reform Math. And, naturally, when these mathematicians speak out against it, they're treated as out-of-touch mathematicians rather than as in-touch, math-aware educators.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why is our home schooling program so Western? Part IV

(Final installment!)

What about English-language texts that incorporate elements of the non-Western cannon, or expose children to non-Western cultures? Shouldn't I be including more of these in our homeschooling curriculum?

Unfortunately, the more recent introduction of writing systems into many languages, and the dearth of good translations of non-Indoeuropean, non-Semitic texts into English, mean that there simply isn't that much high-quality literature from the non-Western canon that is accessible to English-speaking students--especially the younger ones. 

Meanwhile, too much of what passes for instances of non-Western cultural heritage turn out to be unmemorable settings of "traditional" folk tales vapidly retold by North American outsiders, and books of multicultural trivia that reduce languages to alphabets and simple phrases, and cultures to highly formulaic, summary accounts of food, dress, and ceremonies--all of it flowing seemlessly into one ear and out the other.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why is our home schooling program so Western? Part III

Beyond the issue of availability of good materials, there are some other reasons why we ultimately switched gears and chose French over Chinese.

First, there's the issue of cognitive retention. In comparison with French and other Indoeuropean languages, Chinese presents two disadvantages. One is its writing system. Mastering the thousands of Chinese characters required for basic literacy demands hours of daily practice. I've seen first hand how a short hiatus can result in massive forgetting. One simply cannot learn to read anything of substance in Chinese without a long-term commitement to significant daily practice. Another is its vocabulary. Chinese words are especially challenging for English speakers to remember because they bear no resemblance to English words.

So if your (or your child's) goal is to learn a language spoken by billions that may someday become a job-opportunity-expanding lingua franca, or a language whose pronunciation, vocabulary, and written form  (though not so much its morpho-syntax) differs greatly from English, and you can commit to the hours, days, and years of instruction (or don't care about learning the written form of the language), Chinese is just the ticket. But if your goal is fast mastery and easy retention of a spoken and written language, you're better of with one that uses an alphabet and whose words bear some resemblance to English words.

Which brings us to French--the original lingua franca. Like other Indoeuropean languages, it shares not only our basic writing system, but also tons of cognates (glace-glacier; sympathique-sympathetic; regarder-regard; to name just a few my daughter has recently observed). This means that English-speaking French learners are immersed in mnemonic devises. The effect of these cognates goes in the other direction as well: learning a Romance language like French enhances one's acquisition of many of the more sophisticated elements of English vocabulary. Cognates aside, French difers from English along the more linguistically interesting dimension of morpho-syntax, arguably at least as much as Chinese does. It therefore presents a nice combination of (1) mutual reinforcement with English vocabulary and an easily-mastered writing system, and (2) morpho-syntactic challenge and a window into some of the morpho-syntactic variability of the world's languages.

The mutual reinforcement of retention and enrichment also argues (in the Western world) for the Western cannon. The myths, fables, and histories that a native English speaker is most likely to remember are the ones that are alluded to or depicted throughout English-language literature and in much of the art that one encounters in our major art museums. As core knowledge avocate E. D. Hirsch has argued, knowing these classic tales and histories also enriches one's understanding of English-language texts, even at the level of basic comprehension. Just a few days ago a New York Times Op-Ed piece referenced an ancient Babylonian king in an allusion that would resonate with any child who has read Story of the World, Volume I. Familiarity with the best-known ancient civilizations--from China to Mesopotamia to Rome--is also both enriched by, an enriching of, one's visits to the many ancient civilization wings at museums around the country.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Math problems of the week: 3rd grade Investigations vs. Singapore Math

The culminations of first semester 3rd grade multiplication and division units:

I. The entirety of the 3rd grade (TERC) Investigations End-of-Unit Asssessment for the "Multiplication Towers and Division Stories" unit [click to enlarge]:



II. The two most comparable pages of the 7-page Review that follows the 3rd grade Singapore Math "Multiplication and Division" unit [click to enlarge]:



III. Extra Credit
Investigations features short, easy, unit-specific assessments; Singapore Math features more challenging, lengthy, culumlative reviews.  What does this indicate about the priorities of each curriculum?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why is our home schooling so Western? Part II

Why, in particular, is our history (The Story of the World), language curriculum (French), and musical curriculum (mostly Northern European classical) so Western?

One reason relates to what's been written down. Written historical records of ancient times are unevenly distributed around the globe, favoring the parts of the world traditionally covered in ancient history classes--and in The Story of the World (which include Egypt, the Middle East, China, India, North Africa, and Turkey).

Another has to do with available resources and my familiarity with what's out there. French happens to be my strongest foreign language, and I've long known about French in Action, which is the best available, child-accessible, audio-visual language curriculum I'm aware of for any language. In particular, I haven't found anything comparable for young English speakers learning Mandarin Chinese (the first foreign language my daughter studied--in a once-a-week after-school program--and a language with which I am only somewhat familiar). There are a number of software programs out there that purport to teach all sorts of languages, but these, imho, are so highly deficient they they aren't worth bothering with--even if they didn't cost hundreds of dollars.

Non-Western music scores, non-Western musical instruments, and non-Western music teachers are also hard to come by in this corner of the world.

But there are some other, more cognitive/academic reasons for some of our homeschooling choices. Stay tuned for Part III.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why do college students defect from STEM

In this weekend's New York Times Education Supplement, author Christopher Drew asks "why science majors change their mind," and why "roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree." His short answer, "it's just so darn hard," rings true. So does his observation about "the proliferation of grade inflation in the humanities and social sciences, which provides another incentive for students to leave STEM majors."

It's in his investigation of why science is "just so hard," and what to do about it, that Drew falls short. His focus is a single data point, Notre Dame student Matthew Moniz:

He had been the kind of recruit most engineering departments dream about. He had scored an 800 in math on the SAT and in the 700s in both reading and writing. He also had taken Calculus BC and five other Advanced Placement courses at a prep school in Washington, D.C., and had long planned to major in engineering.

But as Mr. Moniz sat in his mechanics class in 2009, he realized he had already had enough. “I was trying to memorize equations, and engineering’s all about the application, which they really didn’t teach too well,” he says. “It was just like, ‘Do these practice problems, then you’re on your own.’ ” And as he looked ahead at the curriculum, he did not see much relief on the horizon.

So Mr. Moniz, a 21-year-old who likes poetry and had enjoyed introductory psychology, switched to a double major in psychology and English, where the classes are “a lot more discussion based.” He will graduate in May and plans to be a clinical psychologist. Of his four freshman buddies at Notre Dame, one switched to business, another to music. One of the two who is still in engineering plans to work in finance after graduation.

Mr. Moniz’s experience illustrates how some of the best-prepared students find engineering education too narrow and lacking the passion of other fields. They also see easier ways to make money.
From this one data point, the solution emerges naturally. It is-- you guessed it--a greater emphasis on relevance, aspiration, leadership, and student-centered project-based learning. At Notre Dame, for example,
Dr. Kilpatrick [the Dean] has revamped and expanded a freshman design course that had gotten “a little bit stale.” The students now do four projects. They build Lego robots and design bridges capable of carrying heavy loads at minimal cost. They also create electronic circuit boards and dream up a project of their own.

“They learn how to work with their hands, how to program the robot and how to work with design constraints,” he says. But he also says it’s inevitable that students will be lost. Some new students do not have a good feel for how deeply technical engineering is. Other bright students may have breezed through high school without developing disciplined habits. By contrast, students in China and India focus relentlessly on math and science from an early age.
Drew also cites Worcester, which
ripped up its traditional curriculum in the 1970s to make room for extensive research, design and social-service projects by juniors and seniors, including many conducted on trips with professors overseas. In 2007, it added optional first-year projects — which a quarter of its freshmen do — focused on world problems like hunger or disease.
Some of this sounds quite reasonable. There's perhaps no subject where project-based-learning is more appropriate than engineering. But how much sense does it make to dilute the course requirements for, say, biology and chemistry with overseas field trips and social service projects when there's so much hard material to cover to prepare students to compete for research & development jobs in STEM?

Besides field trips and social service projects, and also not to be confused with research and development, there's leadership. The University of Illinois, for example:
began this fall to require freshmen engineering students to take a course on aspirations for the profession and encourages them to do a design project or take a leadership seminar.
The underlying assumption is that the problem isn't so much that STEM majors are difficult, but that students find the classes boring and irrelevant to daily life, and that they lack confidence. Says Arthur C. Heinricher, the dean of undergraduate studies at Worcester Polytechnique, in reference to its student-centered projects:
"That kind of early engagement, and letting them see they can work on something that is interesting and important, is a big deal. That hooks students.”
More generally:
...The main goals [at Worcester] are to enable students to work closely with faculty members, build confidence and promote teamwork. Studies have shown that women, in particular, want to see their schoolwork is connected to helping people, and the projects help them feel more comfortable in STEM fields, where men far outnumber women everywhere except in biology.
It doesn't seem to occur to Drew, or to any of his interviewees, to consider a more obvious reason why STEM courses are "so darn hard" for students these days, and why they lack confidence: the decreasingly poor preparation that they are receiving in high school math and science classes. There are many reasons for this, ranging from the No Child Left Behind-inspired dumbing down of the curriculum, to the decline in AP course offerings and ability-based grouping, to the ravages of Reform Math (which begin in elementary school). But among these reasons is precisely the kind of child-centered, project-based learning that Drew and his interviewees are advocating (one need look no further than Philaelphia's project-based Science and Leadership Academy, and its dismal test scores in science). While it often sounds great in theory, project-based learning is an inefficient and disorganized way of learning the core curriculum necessary for college-level science courses and STEM r&d jobs.

Furthermore, if you're ill prepared for college-level math and science classes, and therefore don't understand what's going on in class unless it's hands-on and student-centered,of course non-hands-on courses will seem dry, narrow, borring, and irrelevant to your aspirations.

And of course you will end up dropping out, especially if you face competition from classmates who got their K12 science training overseas, where rigorous math and science classes still abound. Indeed, this explains why, as the article notes, "the attrition rate can be higher at the most selective schools, where...the competition overwhelms even well-qualified students." The most selective schools, after all, attract the highest numbers of better-trained STEM students from overseas.

Ironically, Drew begins his article by alluding to "test scores showing American students falling behind their counterparts in Slovenia and Singapore." Isn't the first step, then, to look inside Slovenian and Singaporean classrooms and see what sorts of curricula and pedagogy these countries are using? I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that one would find many more hours of rigorous study of core content, and many fewer hours of leadership, inspiration, and project-based learning.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why is our home schooling program so Western? Part I

Currently, my daughter is reading Greco-Roman history, Greek myths, Bible stories, Lives of Saints, Aesop's fables, and American and British children's novels; she's learning French; she's playing and listening to Western European classical music on Western European classical instruments.

With home schooling you have the lattitude to include anything you want, and, in particular, to fill any gaps that your child would otherwise experience in the public education system. So why have we chosen such a Western, Eurocentric curriculum when we could be drawing from all over the world?

On closer inspection, our curriculum isn't as Eurocentric as it first appears. Our history source, for example, is The Story of the World. Before we got to the Greeks and Romans we spent time with the ancient civilizations of Egypt, the Middle East, China, India, and the Phoenicians. Later we encountered the Persians and the Carthaginians and, later still, Byzantium. I myself have learned more about early South America and early sub-Saharan Africa from The Story of the World than I have from any public school textbook. As for our classic tales, we'll soon be moving Eastwards to the Arabian Nights.

My daughter has moved eastwards in music as well. In addition to Bach and Beethoven, she is also playing Kabalevsky. The math she does is decidedly Singaporean. The animals she's learned about (our 4th and 5th grade home school science has been largly zoology) hail from all over the globe.

To be fair, though, most of the humanities topics we cover do fall into that much-maligned Western canon. So I'd better have good reasons for choosing this route. Stay tuned for Part II...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Math problems of the week: 21st century geometry vs. 1960s geometry

I. The first and last pages of the Discovery Geometry (2003) Chapter Review of the "Reasoning in Geometry" chapter , pp. 138 and 140 [click to enlarge]:



II. The Weeks & Adkins A Course in Geometry (1961) Chapter Review of the "Proof" chapter, p. 55 [click to enlarge]:


III. Extra Credit
If you had to ditch a geometry course in order to make room for an entrepreneurship course, would you be more likely to ditch the Weeks & Atkins course, or the Discovering Geometry course?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jobs vs. Gates: right-brained assumptions about genius and creativity

When we Americans think of genius and creativity, as opposed to mere smarts, most of us think of  so-called "right-brain" rather than "left-brain" skills. A recent case in point is Steve Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson. In his opinion piece in this past week's Week in Review, Isaacson's contrast between genius Jobs and super-smart Gates falls exactly along the right-brain, left-brain fault line, with predictable results. Presented with a logic puzzle:

Mr. Jobs tossed out a few intuitive guesses but showed no interest in grappling with the problem rigorously.
This causes Isaacon to
think about how Bill Gates would have gone click-click-click and logically nailed the answer in 15 seconds, and also how Mr. Gates devoured science books as a vacation pleasure...
The impatient intuitor vs. the mechanically logical Aspie. Guess which one is the creative genius:
So was Mr. Jobs smart? Not conventionally. Instead, he was a genius. That may seem like a silly word game, but in fact his success dramatizes an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor. Trained in Zen Buddhism, Mr. Jobs came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis. He didn’t study data or crunch numbers but like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead.
Intuition vs. analysis and genius vs. smarts leads, almost inevitably, to East vs. West:
He told me he began to appreciate the power of intuition, in contrast to what he called “Western rational thought,” when he wandered around India after dropping out of college. “The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do,” he said. “They use their intuition instead ... Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”
Then there's experiential wisdom vs. conventional learning and imagination vs. knowledge:
Mr. Jobs’s intuition was based not on conventional learning but on experiential wisdom. He also had a lot of imagination and knew how to apply it. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Genius also involves "the ability to apply creativity and aesthetic sensibilities to a challenge," specifically, an interdisciplinary one:
In the world of invention and innovation, that means combining an appreciation of the humanities with an understanding of science — connecting artistry to technology, poetry to processors. This was Mr. Jobs’s specialty. “I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” he said. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Dealing the death blow to Gates (vs. Jobs), there's empathy and social skills:
The ability to merge creativity with technology depends on one’s ability to be emotionally attuned to others. Mr. Jobs could be petulant and unkind in dealing with other people, which caused some to think he lacked basic emotional awareness. In fact, it was the opposite. He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, cajole them, intimidate them, target their deepest vulnerabilities, and delight them at will. He knew, intuitively, how to create products that pleased, interfaces that were friendly, and marketing messages that were enticing.
It's eerie how closely the traits Isaacson praises in Jobs dovetail with the educational priorities of today's education world: imagination and creativity; intuition in place of analysis; experiential learning in place of "conventional" learning; interdisciplinary breadth; an emphasis on empathy and social skills; and  a rejection of "white," "Western" modes of thought.

In his East vs. West, Isaacson also mirrors the education world's simulltaneous caricature of Western thought as excessively left-brained, and of the more Eastern parts of Asia--even Steve Jobs' intuition-driven India--as even more excessively left-brained:
China and India are likely to produce many rigorous analytical thinkers and knowledgeable technologists. But smart and educated people don’t always spawn innovation. America’s advantage, if it continues to have one, will be that it can produce people who are also more creative and imaginative, those who know how to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences. That is the formula for true innovation, as Steve Jobs’s career showed.
In characterizing genius and creativity as being specific to the intuition-driven, empathy-driven, experientially-taught, interdisciplinary thinking side of humanity, and as being the comparative advantage of the U.S. over its competitors, the many pieces like Isaacson's are furthering well-established trends in education that have already become ridiculous parodies of what people like Isaacson are advocating.

For one recent example of some of this, take a look the following science project rubric I came across yesterday [click to enlarge]:
This is only one of many variations on the sort of rubric that is proliferating around our k12 schools and turning science into a superficial exercise in, and parody of, the creative and user-friendly design skills that Steve Jobs had in earnest--skills that constitute only a fraction of the many forms that genius can take.