Sunday, 31 August 2014

Epidemic of rights abuse fails black kids across the US

As the world grapples with the containment of diseases such as Ebola, there is another epidemic that demands attentive responses, policies, and actions. It is one of grave proportions regarding the violation of basic civil and human rights in black communities across the United States. These violations end all too often in abuse, incarceration, and death.

Recent events in Ferguson after the death on August 9 of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of white police officer Darren Wilson in the suburb of St Louis, Missouri, have brought this crisis into sharp focus.

There is no way to discuss what has happened in Ferguson without addressing systemic structural and institutional racism. This includes the politics of poverty that presents the poor as complicit in their own deaths, missed educational opportunities, and economic ceilings.

In Brown’s case, insinuation and innuendo suggested he had stolen goods from a store and was a “thug”. At the same time, a narrative regarding education developed that labelled Brown as yet another black, unmotivated student.

In fact, he managed to graduate from a high school with one of the highest rates of poverty, unequal resources, and violence in Missouri – all of which contribute to low student achievement, little social mobility and economic stagnation. Often these conditions reproduce cycles of generational poverty that are felt in Ferguson and other poor communities of colour. Despite this, Brown’s family indicated he was headed to college with aspirations of starting his own business.

Bracing sand sculptures with gravity

Gravity keeps giant sandstone arches and pillars from crumbling.

Gravity keeps things from flying off the planet. It also helps towering pillars and soaring arches of sand stand up to the weather, scientists now report.
Tiny grains of sand stick together to form a type of rock called sandstone. Over time, wind and rain chip away at the edges, carving large natural sculptures that resemble arches and pillars. Scientists have typically credited sandstone's endurance to a chemical glue. It was supposed to hold the grains together. A study published July 21 in Nature Geoscience now challenges that explanation.

The study began when Jiří Bruthans was visiting a quarry. He's a geologist at the Czech Republic’s Charles University in Prague. Bruthans noticed a funny thing about sandstone at the quarry. Workers had to use explosives to break apart big chunks of the stone. But small rocks quickly crumbled in his hand. Something didn't add up.

Bruthans suspected some other force, not glue, was holding the sand together. So he gathered some scientists and started playing with the sand. They built sand cubes 10 centimeters (4 inches) on a side. Then they added 1-kilogram (2.2-pound) weights on top. Those weights simulated the downward force that would come from rocks stacked on top of sandstone. Then they put the cubes in water, allowing it to pick away at the edges, just as the weather might.

Over time, sides of the blocks eroded. Grains there had gradually fallen away. The process left an hourglass-shaped pillar that still held up the weight. And after a few minutes, the scientists found that the remaining pillars were even stronger than the original cube had been.

They concluded that as gravity pulled on those heavy weights, the downward force actually increased the sculpture's resistance to erosion.

“The weight allows these formations to withstand what would be horrendous weathering processes,” such as rain and wind, Alan Mayo told Science News. A geologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, he worked with Bruthans on the project. “These things survive thousands of years in a harsh environment,” he notes.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The power of vulnerability

Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share. 

This talk was presented to a local audience at TEDxHouston, an independent event. TED editors featured it among our selections on the home page. 

Preventing bullying with emotional intelligence

In school, emotions matter. Not only do children with anxiety and aggression have difficulty focusing and learning, they also tend to be victims or perpetrators of bullying. Whether it’s old-fashioned physical or verbal aggression, ostracism, or online abuse, bullying is deeply rooted in a lack of emotional intelligence skills. These skills can and should be taught, though they seldom are.

What kids need is a curriculum in emotional intelligence skills. These include the ability to recognise emotions in the self and in others; understand the causes of emotions and their consequences for thinking and behaviour; label emotions with a sophisticated vocabulary; express emotions in socially appropriate ways; and regulate emotions effectively. Emotionally intelligent people of all ages recognise a healthy range of emotions in themselves and others - insight that helps them to form stable, supportive relationships and enjoy greater well-being and academic or job performance.

Emotional intelligence protects people from depression, anxiety, and aggression, and equips them to face bullying by managing their own fear and reaching out for help. By contrast, a lack of emotional intelligence predicts aggression, substance abuse, and worse mental health.

Teaching emotional intelligence, while quite feasible, isn’t as simple as adding a subject to the schedule. On the contrary, a successful emotional curriculum takes a whole-school approach. It begins by educating teachers, administrators, and parents, for many of whom these skills will be new. Only after that are the concepts introduced to students.

In the United States, some 500 schools have introduced an evidence-based program called RULER, designed to teach the skills for recognising, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Five Habits of Creative Teachers

Ken Robinson’s renowned TED talk, “How Schools Kill Creativity,” has had 27 million views. To date, it is the most-watched TED talk of all time. Clearly, the idea behind it resonates with many.

But despite growing interest in creativity and its application in classrooms, solutions for harnessing creativity have been scarce. Last fall, the University of Pennsylvania offered a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) on Creativity, Innovation, and Change. Over 125,000 students from across the globe signed up.

My partners and I were five of those students—drawn to the MOOC by our shared interest in finding a solution to the creativity crisis in education. We connected with each other by answering questions posted on LinkedIn and sharing resources and ideas over email, Google hangouts, and Slack.

Eventually, the MOOC came to an end—but our meetings and enthusiasm did not. We wanted to prototype a solution for improving creativity in classrooms, and we knew we had to start with teachers.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Academics and Archaeologists Fight to Save Syria’s Artifacts

CAIRO — In 2011, after three decades of working in Syria, the archaeologist Glenn M. Schwartz was unable to return to his dig at the Bronze Age city of Umm el-Marra. The intensifying civil war had made work in the country impossible.

Like many archaeologists of the Middle East, Mr. Schwartz, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, is watching the news from the region with deep concern and, he said, a feeling of impotence.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happened in Syria in terms of cultural heritage and more so for the country at large,” he said.

The upheavals and conflicts sweeping the Middle East in recent years have caused untold human suffering, and they have resulted in deep losses to the heritage of the region.

Scholars can do little to stop the fighting and looting, but they have created blogs, websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts to monitor the destruction and raise awareness about it. By sharing excavation records, scholars outside the Middle East have helped their counterparts in the Arab world to compile online lists of missing or stolen objects.

What are asteroids?

Unless they’re ‘trojans,’ most of these space rocks fly in a belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The solar system contains millions of asteroids. They may be round or oblong. Some have even stranger shapes, as though molded in play dough and left in space to harden. All are made from the same stuff as the planets. However, unlike rocks on Earth, those that make up asteroids have not been shaped by erosion, heat or intense pressure.

All asteroids are fairly small. Their diameters tend to range from less than a kilometer (a little more than half a mile across) to nearly 1,000 kilometers (621 miles across). Together, all of the asteroids in our solar system have a combined mass that is less than that of Earth’s moon.

Some asteroids resemble small planets. More than 150 of them have their own moon. Some even have two. Still others orbit with a companion asteroid; these pairs race circles around each other as they orbit the sun.

The orbits of most fall in a swath of space between Mars and Jupiter. It’s known, naturally enough, as the asteroid belt. But that's still a lonely neighborhood: An individual asteroid is usually at least a kilometer (0.6 mile) away from its nearest neighbor.

Asteroids called trojans don't inhabit the belt. These rocks may follow a larger planet's orbit around the sun. Scientists have identified nearly 6,000 trojans that follow along in Jupiter's orbit. Earth has only one known trojan.

How to teach ... the transition

Whether it’s a new school or moving into secondary education, transition is unavoidable. Here are some resources for teachers to help students cope with change.

Making sure that any period of change for your students goes smoothly can make a huge difference to their progress. So this week, at the start of a new school year, we have a range of resources to help you tackle the challenges.

For pupils moving from pre-school to primary, it’s important to ensure that the more “formal” curriculum and teaching style isn’t detrimental to their enjoyment of learning. Circle Time is great for creating a supportive environment. This activity, which sets out instructions on how to set up a circle, is a really nice way for pupils to introduce themselves to one another.

For pupils changing class, this All about me passport is good for sharing likes and dislikes, while this giant jigsaw template will help you create a quick and easy display about your class. Find Someone Who is a fun mixer activity that will get pupils talking about what they did on their summer holidays, while this Superhero Transitions resource encourages children to think about things that they are good at, things that they could improve on and their hopes for the future.

One of the hardest transitions is the move from primary to secondary school. INTOFILM has put together a guide to help students adjust to their new surroundings. The films are about young people fitting in, working together and believing in themselves. The aim is to help pupils identify and address any challenges they might face at their new school. The guide is accompanied by a selection of warm-up activities and games that are available on the INTOFILM website. In one of these, students are asked to create a short trailer for a film about their first day at secondary school. In another, they take part in a treasure hunt that leads to different areas of the school.

Doris Lessing's last gift: 3,000 books donated to public library in Zimbabwe

Books from collection owned by celebrated author, who died last year, to go to country where she lived for quarter of century.

"Classrooms without textbooks, or an atlas, or even a map pinned to a wall. A school where the teachers beg to be sent books to tell them how to teach, they being only 18 or 19 themselves. I tell … how everybody begs for books: 'Please send us books.'"

These were among the late Doris Lessing's opening remarks when, aged 88, she became the oldest person to accept the Nobel prize for literature.

The novelist was recalling a visit in the early 1980s to a school in Zimbabwe, a country where she lived for a quarter of a century, which she explored in vivid prose and to which she will now bestow a posthumous gift.

More than 3,000 books from Lessing's personal collection are to be donated to the country's leading public library in the capital, Harare.
The bequest includes biographies, histories, reference books, poetry and fiction. It has been welcomed by public services strained by years of neglect and underfunding; many libraries in Zimbabwe have no budget to buy new books.

Bernard Manyenyeni, the mayor of Harare, told the Herald newspaper: "It is most heartening to hear that Doris Lessing, with this magnificent gesture, has taken her love for this country beyond her death.

"We have every reason to feel special to have earned this much in her wishes – we are delighted and grateful as any city would be."

Monday, 25 August 2014

Teacher wellbeing: how to mentally prepare for a new school year

The stress of school life might seem like a distant memory but with a new term approaching psychologist Gail Kinman offers her advice on how to prepare for the melee.

You may be feeling zen now but for many teachers the start of term is like an onslaught. To help you get ready for a new school year, psychologist Gail Kinman offers advice on how to prepare and how to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Your employer has a legal and moral duty of care so, if you feel stressed, remember to talk about it with your line manager. 

A couple of weeks before a new term 
Ask yourself how you feel

Some people dread going back, while others are excited. The majority of teachers will feel a mixture of emotions. Asking yourself how you feel about the job will help you decide whether you need to take action and, if so, what that action should be. If you feel dread, what stresses you out and what can you do about it?

If there are steps you can take to change things: great. But if something is beyond your control, work on managing your reaction to it. It can be difficult to think rationally about how we feel during a stressful term. The holidays are an ideal time to reflect. 

Reflect on the way you work

For example, if you usually do lesson preparation or marking late into the night and miss out on social life or sleep, think about whether there are other ways of managing your workload. Perhaps take the opportunity to talk to your manager about it.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sunlight makes pleasure chemical in the body

Mice made feel-good chemical after exposure to ultraviolet light — and missed that light when the treatments ended.

The sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause more than a tan or burn. Indeed, their influence goes more than skin deep — to the brain, a new study finds. It showed that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light causes mice to make a feel-good chemical. And that chemical may explain why so many people feel compelled to get a tan.

The study also may help explain why people flock to beaches and coasts for relaxation, Steven Feldman told Science News. He studies public health and skin diseases at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“Do you know why people go to the beach on vacation? Why they put [Disney World] in Florida and not in Minnesota, where it’s cooler? Why caves are not more popular as a tourist destination? It’s all because of what these guys studied” in their new research, Feldman says. He did not work on the new study.

High-energy, UV rays come from the sun and the special lights used in tanning booths. Even though people know UV radiation can be dangerous, they continue to risk sunburns for a tan. Rates of skin cancer have been going up. David Fisher wanted to know why. He's an oncologist — a doctor who treats people with cancer — at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“We know [UV light is] dangerous,” Fisher says, but many people choose not to protect themselves.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

This Is Your Brain on Silence

Contrary to popular belief, peace and quiet is all about the noise in your head.

One icy night in March 2010, 100 marketing experts piled into the Sea Horse Restaurant in Helsinki, with the modest goal of making a remote and medium-sized country a world-famous tourist destination. The problem was that Finland was known as a rather quiet country, and since 2008, the Country Brand Delegation had been looking for a national brand that would make some noise.

Over drinks at the Sea Horse, the experts puzzled over the various strengths of their nation. Here was a country with exceptional teachers, an abundance of wild berries and mushrooms, and a vibrant cultural capital the size of Nashville, Tennessee. These things fell a bit short of a compelling national identity. Someone jokingly suggested that nudity could be named a national theme—it would emphasize the honesty of Finns. Someone else, less jokingly, proposed that perhaps quiet wasn’t such a bad thing. That got them thinking.

A few months later, the delegation issued a slick “Country Brand Report.” It highlighted a host of marketable themes, including Finland’s renowned educational system and school of functional design. One key theme was brand new: silence. As the report explained, modern society often seems intolerably loud and busy. “Silence is a resource,” it said. It could be marketed just like clean water or wild mushrooms. “In the future, people will be prepared to pay for the experience of silence.”

People already do. In a loud world, silence sells. Noise-canceling headphones retail for hundreds of dollars; the cost of some weeklong silent meditation courses can run into the thousands. Finland saw that it was possible to quite literally make something out of nothing.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Your food choices affect Earth’s climate

Eating meat can have twice the ‘carbon footprint’ of consuming fruits, veggies and grains.

Every action has a cost. That’s as true for driving a car as it is for growing food and delivering it to your dinner plate. A team of researchers has just tallied the costs of producing meat versus other types of foods for human diners. They find that meat production — from farm to fork — releases more climate-warming pollution that does producing fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. A lot more.

Their calculations suggest that people could do a lot to slow global warming if they limited how much meat they eat.

There are plenty of “costs” to producing any goods, including food. Sure, people pay money for the food as well as the fuel needed to get groceries to the store or restaurant. But those are just the most visible costs. Producing things also takes resources. For foods, this includes the water used to irrigate crop fields. It also includes the fertilizer and chemicals that boost plant growth and fight pests. And don’t forget the gasoline and diesel that fuel plows and also those trucks that take crops to market.

Along with those resources are wastes: pollution. Manure is one obvious pollutant associated with meat production. But there are others, including the air pollutants spewed by tractors that plow fields and the trucks that move feed to the animals and animals to the slaughterhouse. Peter Scarborough at the University of Oxford in England, and his colleagues decided to tally some of the less-visible pollution created by food production.

They focused on greenhouse gases. In the atmosphere, these gases trap heat from sunlight. Lately they’ve been trapping too much, causing a sort of mild, global fever. Overall, food production accounts for one-fifth of this type of pollution.
One greenhouse gas emitted through the production of our food is carbon dioxide, or CO2. It’s released by the burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline and natural gas. They are used to power farm machinery, to take foods to market (and home), to store foods awaiting processing and to cook foods. The researchers also tallied methane. Fermentation in the guts of ruminant livestock — mostly cows — releases this gas. And the scientists calculated the nitrous oxide released during the plowing and fertilizing of crop fields.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

What works best to help stop bullying in schools?

Bullying in schools has been recognised as a serious and pervasive problem now for at least two decades. There is now also evidence, including from the UK and other European countries, North America and Australia, that traditional forms of bullying in schools have decreased modestly over the last decade or so. This is very likely due to the increase in work to prevent bullying.

Yet much still persists. In 2010, the EU Kids Online project found 19% of children were victims of bullying and 12% bullied others. A recent follow-up study in 2014 suggested an increase in cyberbullying, though not in traditional bullying. Figures elsewhere are not dissimilar, although prevalence rates vary greatly in terms of how it is measured and how bullying is defined.

Lessons from Scandinavia

Bullying is usually defined as intent to harm another person repeatedly; with an imbalance of power, the victim cannot easily defend themselves. It can take the form of everything from physical and verbal attacks, to social exclusion, spreading rumours and cyberbullying.

Internationally, there have been many school-based anti-bullying programmes that bring about, on average, a reduction of some 20% in bullying. The Norwegian Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme aims to provide a different structure to school classrooms to discourage bullying and reward more helpful behaviours. The Finnish KiVa programme uses virtual learning methods and enlists high-status peers as defenders of those who are being bullied.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

New generation is happy for employers to monitor them on social media

Will employers in the future watch what their staff get up to on social media? Allowing bosses or would-be employers a snoop around social media pages is a growing trend in the US, and now a new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Said Business School suggests it may well become the norm.

Drawing on a global survey of 10,000 workers and 500 human resources staff, the report predicts that employers' monitoring of workers’ lives on social media will increase as they “strive to understand what motivates their workforce, why people might move jobs and to improve employee wellbeing”.

More than a third of the young workers surveyed said they were happy for their employer to monitor their status updates and tweets in return for greater job security.

Let the right one in

The anticipated thirst of corporations and employers of all sizes for the personal data of their employees is arguably one of the most troubling aspects of the findings, matched only by the apparent willingness of a significant proportion of young people to acquiesce.

Monday, 11 August 2014

A Levels must do more than just prep students for university

The first lessons teaching the new linear A Level, designed specifically with the preparation of students for degree-level education in mind, will be taught in schools and colleges from September 2015. But this does not mean that we can expect those students admitted to university from 2017 to be significantly better prepared for our degree courses than they have been previously. This is not because of any fault with the A Level content, but because the idea that they are designed primarily to prepare students for degree-level courses is rather outdated.

Nicky Morgan, the new secretary of state for education, will be responsible for overseeing the introduction of the new A levels. One of her first acts in post was to announce a consultation on further content changes. But the changes are unmistakably the product of her predecessor Michael Gove.

In Gove’s view – set out in a letter to the chief executive of curriculums regulator Oqual in January 2013 – A levels needed reforming so that their “primary purpose” would be to “prepare students for degree-level study”, something which he believed the previous modular nature of the qualification and repeated assessment windows did not allow. Gove argued that this bite-sized approach prevented students from developing the “deep understanding or the necessary skills to make connections between topics.”

The government’s own data reveals that in 2012-13, 48% of those who took an A level or equivalent level qualification did not go on to university. Figures for last year have been delayed until the end of August. To lump all degree-level courses together as something which a single qualification can prepare for is naive at best.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Screen time: Most U.S. teens overindulge

Most American 12- to 15-year olds spend too much time at their computers and watching TV.

It’s unhealthy to be a couch potato. Yet, a new study finds, at least 70 percent of U.S. 12- to 15-year olds spend too much time in front of a TV or computer.

Kirsten Herrick works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, in Hyattsville, Md. She and other CDC scientists analyzed data collected in 2012 as part of two major surveys. One was the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The other was the National Youth Fitness Survey. Each survey asked a representative cross-section of all Americans to answer a series of questions.

Almost every kid in the United States regularly watches TV, the data show. More than 90 percent spend at least some time each day on a computer. Enjoying each is fine, the researchers say. The trick is not to overindulge. And that would be watching TV and/or playing on a computer for more than 2 hours a day. 

Two groups established that recommended screen-time limit. One is the American Academy of Pediatrics (doctors who specialize in the health of children and teens). The second is the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Its researchers focus on heart health. Both groups are concerned about kids who substitute athletic sports and other vigorous exercise for couch potato pursuits. Too much time in front of a TV or computer screen has been linked in adolescence with being overweight (or obese), having high blood pressure and having elevated cholesterol. Each of these features put individuals at risk of heart disease.

Chemistry: Green and clean

Chemists are finding ways to save energy, cut waste and boost safety.

People have used chemistry to improve their lives for tens of thousands of years. An early example: fire. Our prehistoric ancestors tamed flames to transform plants and animal products — that is, to cook them into food. Over time, their descendants learned about the chemical properties of rocks and other minerals, and of chemicals derived from plants and animals. They mixed materials together. Sometimes, they also applied heat, pressure or both. Through trial and error, they learned how to make new and useful materials. Paints and soap are two notable early examples.

Today, chemistry plays a role in almost every product imaginable. Manufacturing companies have registered more than 83,000 chemicals with the U.S. government. Many of these find use in everything from foods and plastics to trucks and electronics.

Making, using and disposing of these chemicals, however, can pose risks to people or wildlife. Some chemicals, after all, are made from toxic raw materials, such as mercury or lead. Making other chemicals requires huge amounts of energy, clean water or other natural resources. And as we use them or discard them as trash, many chemicals can pollute the air, water or soil.

In the early 1990s, chemist Paul Anastas called for a change. While working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, he recognized that chemists usually probe possible risks of chemicals long after they have developed them. Anastas urged his fellow chemists instead to design products that would be safer and cleaner from the start.

The color green is often associated with anything that is good for the environment. So Anastas called this new field “green chemistry.” (It’s also sometimes called sustainable chemistry.)

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Attacks on UN schools in Gaza clearly breach international law

The shelling of Jabalia Elementary Girls' School in Gaza on July 30 by Israeli forces was a shocking example of modern military action. The shelling was the sixth time a United Nations school has been struck since the current hostilities began.

Increasingly and tragically, education is at the centre of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza as people flee their homes to shelter in places like schools. It is a cruel reminder that in modern conflicts the civilian population suffers most. The attacks on UN schools have been described by UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon as “shameful”, “outrageous” and “unjustifiable”. A spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said international humanitarian law has been breached.

What is a UN school?

The UN schools in the region are provided by UNRWA, which is mandated to provide services and programmes for: “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period June 1 1946 to May 15 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict” and their descendants

UNRWA operates in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, providing services to some 5m registered Palestinian Refugees, 40% of who are under the age of 18. Education accounts for more than 50% of the $1.4 billion UNRWA budget, providing basic education aimed at combating the high levels of poverty and unemployment experienced by refugees. UNRWA is funded almost totally by voluntary contributions from donors, but at the beginning of 2014 it had a cash deficit of $65m. The education of each child costs $755 per year.