Embedded Systems Lab – Essays on Education

Embedded Systems Lab – Essays on Education

Marilyn Wolf: Essays on Education

Bowling for Grades and Beyond: A Paradigm for Achievement-Based Learning

Perry Cook and Marilyn Wolf


Today’s teaching environment presents multiple challenges for both the educator and the student. Students grow up in a multi-modal, multi-cultural, multi-medai world that is unfamiliar to their instructors. Educators must find a way to bridge that gap to deliver formative knowledge and skills using palatable methods.

An Achievement-Based Approach to Performance-Driven Learning

Our approach to course design takes advantage of the diversity of skills that students bring to the classroom. We integrate physical and cognitive skills with traditional course activities to motivate and reinforce.

Bowling for Grades, simply put, uses a well-defined socio-kinetic practicum as a model for the underlying pedagogical goals of the knowledge/skills matrix. Socio-kinetic skills provide an excellent platform for the analysis and measurement of the full range of curriclular media: cognitive, interpersonal, motor, etc.

We have implemented this methodology in ELE/COS 579/479, Pervasive Information Systems, at Princeton University. This course provides a statistically significant sampling of age groups, backgrounds, and studential goals through which we can evaluate the efficacy of our underlying hypothesis.

Bowling for Grades

Students react positively to this novel metaphor for evaluation. They intuitively grasp the importance of the cumulative goal and conceptually render a vivid image of their required performance. This rendering is formed at the initiation of the course and lasts through the entire educational process. They appreciate the parallel, inter-sensory feedback provided by the evaluative task and leverage their evaluation to internalize both course content and broader life skills.

From Classroom to Curriculum

One may reasonably ask whether this achievement-based approach is limited to class-by-class application. We propose a holisitc view of the education process that we call Bowling for Diplomas. Rather than evaluating knowledge modules individually, as is traditional practice in instutional settings, we believe that a universally quantified evaluation strategy would both reinforce learning and achieve operational efficiencies. Global evaluation is not commonly used in the United States, but the practice has been used successfully elsewhere, such as the examination system common to British universities. Our proposed methodology builds on those traditions by introducing an evaluation model that leverages to the socio-kinetic paradigm.


Pedagogical parameters must be adapted to meet the changing content of student socio-economic expectations. We believe that achievement-based paradigms like Bowling for Grades can serve fundamental factors in engines for achievement.

About the Authors

Perry Cook is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Music at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1991. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and is the author of Music, Cognition, and Computerized Sound among other books.

Marilyn Claire Wolf is the Rhesa “Ray” S. Farmer Distinguished Chair of Embedded Computing Systems and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Before joining Georgia Tech, Prof. Wolf was with Princeton University from 1989 to 2007 and with AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1984 to 1989. She received her B. S., M. S., and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University in 1980, 1981, and 1984, respectively.


How to Make an Excuse

Marilyn Wolf

Today’s students are no more or less prompt with their assignments than were students of past years, but they are much less alacritous with excuses for not having finished their homework. Throughout the centuries, students have offered a variety of excuses for not finishing an assignment; today, students are likely to simply say, “Nope, I didn’t do it.” As a public service, this essay privides some tips and techniques to help these students achieve historic norms of mendacity while failing to do their work.

In order to understand the basic techniques of crafting excuses, let’s consider some historically popular ones:

  • “I spilled my milkshake on it.” Not bad, but the teacher could ask to see the damaged paper. Even if you think to prepare a spurious document, it may take you as much time to thoroughly stain the paper with the milkshake as it would have to do the homework in the first place.
  • “The dog ate my homework.” The workhorse of excuses. Evidence of your reputed work has disappeared and the teacher is unlikely to shove his or her hand down the dog’s gullet to check. The only possible hitch is that you may need to display the dog. If you don’t have a dog of your own, borrow one for the day from the local pound.
  • “My grandmother died.” Unassailable, but you can only use it twice. “My great aunt’s second husband died” doesn’t have the same ring.

From these examples we can extract a few basic principles of excuses. First, an excuse should have the ring of truth. Blaming space aliens will not generally work. (If it does work, then your teacher is vulnerable to a variety of mind control techniques techniques too numerous to mention here.) Second, the excuse should be unverifiable. Although a teacher could search death certificates around the country to verify your grandmother’s demise, the bureaucratic delays introduced in the process of publishing such records means that you will have graduated before your teacher will be able to prove that you are wrong. Third, the excuse should leave no recourse. While a milkshake-covered paper may be analyzable by x-rays or chemical analysis, a paper that has been masticated and digested by your dog will be beyond today’s analysis techniques. (Nanotechnology may, however, cause some problems in this area in the future.)

Keeping these principles in mind, let’s now craft some modern excuses that build upon time-honored techniques and introduce topical references that will throw your teacher off guard:

  • “I dropped it in a puddle of toxic waste on the way to school.” If you live in a neighborhood in which this excuse works, then perhaps you should spend as much time as possible studying so that you can afford to move to a better neighborhood.
  • “My computer crashed.” Has the ring of versimillitude, but your teacher may only use it against you jujitsu-style as a lesson in how to back up your files.
  • “Global warming.” Vague yet ominous, but this will work only on a registered Democrat. Use your “Al Gore Rocks!” t-shirt to perform a vampire-style test of your teacher’s political affiliation before you try it.
  • “FEMA lost my homework.” Perfect—even a diehard Republican will believe this one.

As these examples show, today’s students have at their disposal a range of traditional excuses upon which they can improvise new excuses to fit the needs of today’s complex society. The excuse is a basic tool of civilization and no student should graduate without having mastered the fundamentals of excuse-making.


Last revised on
May 24, 2012