Saturday, 30 May 2015

American Kids Are Poorer Than They Were Decades Ago, Education Report Shows

Poverty, which affects a growing number of American students, begins its negative impact on learning as early as the beginning of kindergarten, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report released Thursday.

Teachers reported that kindergarten students from affluent households in the 2010-2011 school year were more likely to have positive approaches to learning than those whose families live below the poverty line, according to the center's annual report, called The Condition of Education 2015. A positive approach to learning includes paying attention in class, keeping belongings organized and enthusiasm for learning.

Female students, students who were older at the start of the school year, students who came from two-parent households, and students whose family income was more than twice the poverty threshold were more likely to have positive approaches to learning, according to teachers. Black students, male students and students whose parents did not graduate high school tended to have poorer approaches to learning. Students who demonstrated positive approaches to learning in kindergarten were more likely to have top scores in first grade.

"Research suggests that living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower than average academic performance that begins in kindergarten and extends through elementary and high school," the report says. "Living in poverty during early childhood is also associated with lower than average rates of school completion."

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Student gardeners: here's how to grow your own fruit and veg

Whether seasoned seedsmen or gardening greenhorns, all students can harvest the benefits of growing their own food.

From nurturing a few fresh herbs on a windowsill, to making regular trips to your local allotment, growing is the gift that keeps on giving. Gardening can provide fresh food at student-friendly prices. It’s a perfect antidote to work stress and the best way to win someone’s heart, should you wish to.

Whether you’re at one with a trowel, or a gardening novice, there’s always something new to learn. Here’s how to get growing while at university.

Growing with no garden or with limited space

If you live in student accommodation, you may find that the closest you get to a garden is the Great British Bake Off finale, when Mary Berry and Paul are joined by bakers and their families to celebrate outside the tent.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Mark Ridsdill Smith founded Vertical Veg in 2010 to encourage people to grow food in containers if they don’t have access to gardens. As well as running the online project, Smith gives workshops in cities across the UK. “You’ll be amazed at what’s possible in a tiny space. Try it,” he says.

Observing how much sun your growing space gets is key. Three hours or more a day and you’ll be able to grow salad leaves and other leafy greens like kale and chard, says Smith. If it gets five or six hours you can grow peas, beans and potatoes. Over six and you can grow fruiting crops like tomatoes and courgettes.

Sunshine aside, make sure containers are kept well watered as they dry out easily, and check how windy your growing spot is – as rooftops and balconies are often exposed. Smith offers more advice on container growing on the Vertical Veg website, as well as a list of 10 edible growables to get you started.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Sometimes Misbehavior Is Not What It Seems

When Sigmund Freud reportedly said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar," the key word was "sometimes," because sometimes a cigar is more than a cigar. So it is with understanding misbehavior. Sometimes the reason for misbehavior is very different than the obvious and requires a totally different intervention than the usual consequences. It is never easy to determine why children do the things they do.

The following are examples of seeing misbehavior from a new perspective. In each of these cases, diagnosis is very difficult -- as are the remedies. For chronic misbehaving students, pay close attention to their home situations, the type of misbehavior, when it occurs, and whether they behave differently with other adults. Be advised that the best responses to these situations sound easier than they are to put into practice.

1. Sometimes students misbehave because they like you too much.

Some students have experienced so much pain that they build a wall between themselves and everyone else. For those familiar with the Simon and Garfunkel song, it's the "I Am A Rock" syndrome:

And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries.

The closer to you get to children like this, the greater their fear of getting hurt. As this fear intensifies, the more they try to push you away. The more the child pushes you away, the more you think that he either dislikes or disrespects you. When feeling disrespected or disliked, many teachers try to develop a closer relationship. While this strategy works for most students, it only frightens students like these into more dramatic methods of pushing you away.

2. Sometimes students want you to prove yourself.

Some students have been promised that things would be better only to have things get worse. Children shuffled through the foster care system are likely to feel this way. The same is true for students who have had teachers that overly encouraged success and rewarded them for minor behavioral achievements, only to give up on them later. Sometimes children of divorced parents feel cheated and abandoned by one parent or the other. Before they can trust you, they continue pushing you, harder and harder, to see if you will give up on them, too.

The best approach for both of these two situations is the same. No matter what they do, believe in them, even if their behavior is serious or severe. Say things like, "What you just did is unacceptable in our classroom, but no matter what you do, I'm still on your side. I will never give up or stop believing in you." There are two big dangers in this approach:

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Keeping roofs cooler to cut energy costs

A simple paint-on coating might cut home energy use and urban pollution, a teen’s research suggests.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The roof of a house can get pretty hot in the summer. Even if there is an insulated attic below, some of that heat can work its way into the living space. That can make air conditioners work harder and pump up electricity bills. But a thin, paint-like coating could help keep roofs cooler, a teen researcher finds. And in urban areas, widespread use of her new roofing treatment might even cut the formation of lung-irritating ozone on hot days.

Shingles come in many colors, but dark ones are especially popular, says Jesseca Kusher. The 18-year old attends Spartanburg Day School in South Carolina. Like most dark objects, shingles absorb a lot of heat from sunlight. In the summer sun, they can easily reach 73.5° Celsius (164° Fahrenheit), she notes. If those shingles reflected more sunlight, they’d stay cooler. And that could help cut down on home cooling bills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, air conditioning consumes about 5 percent of all the energy used in the United States. Cooling buildings costs the nation about $11 billion each year.

So Jesseca looked into ways to make shingles reflect more light. She mixed tiny particles — a powder — made from any of several different substances into a clear paint-like coating. One coating got graphite, the same material in pencil lead. Another recipe included gypsum. That’s a soft mineral often found in the drywall used in construction. She even tried adding mica. That’s a mineral used in some lampshades. It readily breaks into small, glittering flakes.

Each of these powders came in several colors. In each of Jesseca’s test recipes, her reflective powder accounted for 40 percent of the weight of the final mixture. She also prepared some of the paint-like coatings with no additive. That would let her judge whether a powder — versus the transparent goop it was added to — affected a shingle’s reflectivity, she explains.

Jesseca used four different colored shingles. She painted each of her concoctions onto bits of each color of shingle and let them dry for 24 hours. Then, to simulate how the shingles would heat up in summer, she placed each postage-stamp-size sample under a 150-watt sun lamp. (Those bulbs send out radiation across a wide band of wavelengths, similar to those emitted by the sun.) Each test sample was irradiated for 15 minutes, or until the untreated shingles reached a temperature of 73.5 °C, whichever came first. To measure how hot each sample got, the teen used an instrument that measures the infrared radiation (heat) emitted by an object.

Studying? Don’t answer that text!

Multitasking impairs learning, according to new research by teen brothers.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Cell phone use and texting are increasingly common, especially among teens. And that could be a problem. Texting affects learning and performing on tests, a new study finds. On average, students who responded to texts while working got lower scores. This trend held even for teens who felt they could multitask effectively.

Many students think that multitasking has no effect on how they perform in school, says Colter Norick, 17. (Multitasking is when a person tries to do more than one thing at the same time.) So the Montana teen and his 16-year-old brother Colin decided to test that notion.

They recruited 47 classmates at Columbia Falls High School to take part in a two-phase experiment. The goal was to gauge how well these students understood written material. Each participant had to read a paragraph or two about a certain topic, then answer a question about it.

In the first phase, the teen participants had 15 minutes to digest and then answer questions about six readings. Throughout this testing, the volunteers encountered no distractions.

A little later, Colter and Colin had their recruits tackle a new set of readings. This time, the brothers used a computer program to send texts to the volunteers’ cell phones every 90 seconds. In each text, a fictional character named “Bob” asked questions that required a reply. One example: What’s your favorite type of music?

Saturday, 23 May 2015

How to help a perfectionist student

Starting a university is often a stressful time and can lead to perfectionist tendancies. If you 're a worried parent, here's how you can help.

Unmanageable to-do lists, working late into the night, an internal voice demanding success. These are all typical traits of a perfectionist student.

Myra Woolfson, of the University of Nottingham’s counselling service, says that perfectionists are often too overwhelmed by their own expectations to start work. “Perfectionism can lead to an almost complete withdrawal of study – and sometimes from everything else. It can involve procrastination until the deadline gets close,” she says.

“This behaviour is often not entirely conscious. One of the reasons for it is that the student can tell themselves that if they had worked harder or for longer, they might have achieved more.”

Many people spend their lives pursuing unattainable perfection. It’s a mission rooted in feelings of inferiority or the impact of bullying, says Woolfson. It could also be caused by a family that prioritises success and status or a school under pressure to deliver good grades. For self-confessed perfectionist Alice Lovatt, studying A-levels in Newcastle, it’s sibling rivalry: she wants to achieve at least as much as her sister.

“A perfectionist approach to studying is the only way I can succeed,” she says. “Errors mean failure, and failure means disappointment. Sometimes I worry that I need to learn how to fail and how to take to it better. If I was to suddenly suffer a slip in my standards it would come as a shock.”

The transition to higher education can be a turning point for perfectionists. Self-learning, independent living, a lack of structure, fewer and less obvious targets and more talented and competitive peers can all derail a student who has been used to excelling at school.

According to Alan Percy, head of counselling at the University of Oxford, perfectionism is “an increasingly insidious phenomenon” at UK universities. More students are taking smart drugs to get higher grades and universities are experiencing an increase in mental health problems. Meanwhile, the cost of tuition fees and living, along with the pressure to get jobs, can put strain on students.

Friday, 22 May 2015

How to have a healthy exam term

With exams fast approaching, here’s how to boost your mental and physical performance.

Many students are now in their final term of the academic year: all the hours spent attending classes, studying and revising culminate in the assignments and exams scheduled for the next couple of months.

With the pressure and stress of having so much to do, avoiding procrastination and getting work done efficiently can be more difficult than it seems. So with exams fast approaching, here are some tips to make your life easier and increase your productivity.


Having a consistent sleeping pattern is one of the most essential things for getting through the term. Under- and over-sleeping are as bad as each other, so aim for between eight and 10 hours. Working through the night and sacrificing sleep can be counterproductive.

Students are using new methods to keep themselves well rested, such as binaural beats, a type of sound that can affect the brain. Prajesh Patel, 20, an economics student at Queen Mary, University of London, takes power naps consistently and is a fan of this technique.

“Binaural beats are particular frequencies that can be played through earphones to stimulate a particular brain state, such as studying or sleeping,” he says. “I take a 20-minute nap with the aid of a binaural beat soundtrack every day after lunch. I wake up refreshed and more focused to tackle the second half of my day.”


Food is also incredibly important, and maintaining a balanced diet will make you feel better and give you the right nutrients to work that little bit harder (pdf).

Coldwater fish, such as tuna and salmon, may not sound like a library-friendly snack, but they are a rich source of amino acids, which improve brain chemical levels and your ability to revise efficiently. Walnuts and flaxseed are also recommended, as they’re known for keeping attention spans under control.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Students with autism need targeted attention – not a cage

A review has been announced into school policies in Canberra after it was reported that a school was restraining a child with autism in a cage-like structure. Former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes said this was not an isolated incident, and my research and time spent in schools attests to this.

I worked with one child whose restraint had an innocent genesis, but over time the teacher was incapable of coping with the student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the innocent mechanism became harmful.

A “time-out room” was provided for the child, which is important for children with ASD because they can suffer from sensory overload and need a place to calm down.

Initially he was invited to go to the room with the door open when he was feeling overwhelmed. As his behaviour escalated over time, due to a failure to understand his needs, he began to be sent to the room. After a time the door was closed and eventually the child was locked in the room.

One day his parent came to pick him up and found him in the room bloodied from hitting his head against the wall in frustration and anger.
Why are children being confined?

Keeping a child confined is clearly not an acceptable way of coping with students with special needs, so why does it continue to happen?

When a child is restrained at school, at home, or anywhere for that matter, it’s often a cry for help. It’s a sign of desperation, of not knowing. Teachers are often unsure what to do, needing to protect themselves, their assistants and the other students and to comply with disability legislation.

They often don’t have time to carefully plan and tailor an intervention for a particular child, so they take bits and pieces of what they have heard about the need for safe boundaries, reduction of sensory overload and inclusion of the child in the classroom.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Let the Kids Learn Through Play

TWENTY years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up.

The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.

But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.

One expert I talked to recently, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., describes this trend as a “profound misunderstanding of how children learn.” She regularly tours schools, and sees younger students floundering to comprehend instruction: “I’ve seen it many, many times in many, many classrooms — kids being told to sit at a table and just copy letters. They don’t know what they’re doing. It’s heartbreaking.”

The stakes in this debate are considerable. As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?

In the United States, more academic early education has spread rapidly in the past decade. Programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have contributed to more testing and more teacher-directed instruction.

Another reason: the Common Core State Standards, a detailed set of educational guidelines meant to ensure that students reach certain benchmarks between kindergarten and 12th grade. Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted both the math and language standards.

The shift toward didactic approaches is an attempt to solve two pressing problems.

By many measures, American educational achievement lags behind that of other countries; at the same time, millions of American students, many of them poor and from minority backgrounds, remain far below national norms. Advocates say that starting formal education earlier will help close these dual gaps.

But these moves, while well intentioned, are misguided. Several countries, including Finland and Estonia, don’t start compulsory education until the age of 7. In the most recent comparison of national educational levels, the Program for International Student Assessment, both countries ranked significantly higher than the United States on math, science and reading.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Fight on to preserve Elfdalian, Sweden’s lost forest language

When I visited the remote Swedish town of Älvdalen, I was immediately struck by the tranquil splendour of the undulating, forest-covered valley in which it is situated. The river Österdalälv, which runs to the valley and has given it its name, was still partly frozen, and the gleaming ice resonated with the last patches of snow that were strewn across the landscape. Here, in this Swedish Shangri-La, I was set to meet the last speakers of Elfdalian, a tiny and well-hidden linguistic gem that only very few know about.

Elfdalian (älvdalska in Swedish and övdalsk in the language itself) sounds like something you would more likely encounter in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings rather than in a remote Swedish forest. But the small town of Älvdalen, which gives the language its name, is not an Elven outpost. It is one of the last strongholds of an ancient tongue that preserves much of Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. And it is now to be taught in the town’s preschools for the first time in September, marking a small victory for a group campaigning for its preservation.

Elfdalian is currently used only by about 2,500 people, but is a treasure trove for linguists. Hidden between the trees and hills, it has preserved linguistic features that are to be found nowhere else in Scandinavia, and that had already disappeared from Old Norse by 1200 AD.

Unique among Nordic languages

Elfdalian has, for instance, preserved nasal vowels that disappeared elsewhere. Nasal vowels are well-known from French, as in un bon vin blanc (“a good white wine”), but not from the modern Nordic languages. In Old Norse, nasal vowels are only found in a single manuscript from 12th-century Iceland, but linguists never thought much of it – until it was discovered that modern day Elfdalian has nasal vowels in the exact same words.

Because of its relative isolation, Elfdalian evolved in an entirely different direction than the modern Scandinavian languages. Its sounds, grammar and vocabulary differ radically from Swedish. So, while speakers of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian can easily understand each other in simple conversations, Elfdalian is completely unintelligible to Swedes who are not from the area.

For centuries, it was unnecessary for the majority of the native Elfdalian-speaking population to learn standard Swedish, as the economic networks were locally-oriented and there was no compulsory schooling in Swedish until the mid-1800s. As a result, Elfdalian remained a vigorous language until well into the 20th century.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Surge in young people seeking help for exam stress

NSPCC reports 200% rise in requests for counselling, with its ChildLine service receiving more than 34,000 approaches in 2013-14.

The number of young people in Britain seeking counselling over exam stress has increased by 200% in recent years, according to the child protection campaigners NSPCC, with worry over education one of the leading causes of concern for children.

The NSPCC said last year that its ChildLine service received record numbers of approaches from students worried about exams, with a tripling in the number of those receiving counselling over exam stress specifically.

In 2013-14 ChildLine said it received more than 34,000 approaches from young people over school worries such as revision, workloads, problems with teachers and other issues, putting education into the top 10 of most frequent concerns among users for the first time.

Where school and education was given as a young person’s main concern, more than half of subsequent counselling sessions dealt with exam stress specifically, a 200% increase compared with 2012-13.

The NSPCC also said that there were also more than 87,500 visits to ChildLine’s website over the same issue.

The charity said that one teenage boy told an adviser last year: “I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much pressure as my parents are expecting me to do really well. I am going to revision classes and trying really hard but I feel like it is not good enough for them.

“My parents don’t allow me to do anything else apart from revision and if I try and talk to them it always ends up in an argument.”

The figures came as hundreds of thousands of pupils prepare to sit GCSE exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, followed by many thousands more sitting A-levels.

Even at primary school, pupils in their final year are taking key stage two tests, followed by key stage one assessments for those in year two.

Back off, bullies!

Study finds higher risk of mental health problems among the bullied than the maltreated.

Growing up can sometimes seem like a roller coaster. There are ups and downs and unexpected turns. Abuse or neglect by an adult can make the ride even rougher. But being tormented by another child can leave especially lasting scars. That’s the finding of a new study.

Bullied kids face a high risk of mental health problems as teens and as young adults. Indeed, kids tormented by bullying may be worse off than those who had suffered physical abuse or neglect, the study found.

Bullying is a global problem. About 1 in 3 children worldwide report being bullied at some time by other kids.

Dieter Wolke works at the University of Warwick in England. Until recently, most studies of child victims focused not on bullying but on maltreatment, this psychologist says. Maltreatment includes physical or emotional abuse, neglect or other behaviors that can harm a child.

Wolke’s team wanted to better understand how bullying’s long-term effects compare to those due to maltreatment. They focused on 4,026 children in the United Kingdom and 1,420 more in the United States. Information about bullying and maltreatment was collected for American children to age 13. They collected the same information for British youth up to age 16. The researchers also gathered data on each individual’s mental health as a young adult.

Among the Americans, 36 percent of bullied kids had mental problems later. Those problems included anxiety, which is a state of excessive worry. They also included depression. That is a feeling of hopelessness that can last a long time. Among kids who had been maltreated by adults, 17 percent later suffered mental health problems. That was less than half the rate seen in people who had been bullied as school kids.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Brain food: diet’s impacts on students are too big to ignore

As their children submit themselves to the ordeal of all-important end-of-year exams, parents of high school and university students may be wondering what they can do to help. One thing they ought to consider in particular is diet and its potential impact on academic outcomes.

Unfortunately, there’s relatively little research into the effect of nutrition on scholastic performance in young adults. But we do know that what we eat affects brain power.

Research findings

Let’s start with a brief overview of what the research says. Regular meals three times a day have been linked to higher academic performance in Korean adolescents, in a study from 2003.

In Norwegian teenagers, regular meals (lunch and dinner) were negatively associated with self-reported learning difficulties in mathematics. While foods reflecting a less healthy diet (including soft drinks, sweets, snacks, pizza, and hot dogs) were linked with learning difficulties in maths.

In the same 2013 Norwegian study, regular breakfast was associated with fewer learning difficulties, not only in maths but also in reading and writing.

In a 2008 Canadian study, higher academic achievement was reported in adolescents who consumed more fruits, vegetables and milk. Increased fish consumption positively influenced academic grades in Swedish teens, according to a paper published in 2010.

Another 2010 paper showed that, in Iceland, adolescents who had poor dietary habits (with higher consumption of chips, hamburgers and hot dogs) had lower academic achievement. In contrast, adolescents with higher fruit and vegetable consumption achieved higher academic scores.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Does the food children eat for breakfast fuel exam grades?

We don’t have to look far to find information on the benefits of eating a healthy, balanced diet. Good eating habits, like regularly having breakfast and eating fruit and vegetables, have been linked to positive outcomes for our bodies. But how does food influence how we think?

A recent US study showed that giving free school breakfast to poorer students can lead to improvements in maths, reading and science. These improvements were related to better eating habits and didn’t happen as a result of more time spent in school. The findings of the study support other research, which has also found a link between good nutrition and improvements in school grades.

Why nutrition makes a difference

Cognition, which is the way we think about, remember and use information, is an important part of learning. For example, to learn skills such as reading and maths we need to be able to pay attention to certain facts, hold thoughts in our memory and switch between different pieces of information. Research has shown that food, especially breakfast, can influence how well we are able to perform these cognitive tasks.

In a 2012 UK study of 1,386 children aged between six and 16, those who had breakfast performed better on tests of memory and attention than those who didn’t have breakfast.

But, further research has shown that what we eat is also important. For example, the glycaemic index of food, which shows how quickly the carbohydrates from foods are used up by the body, has been found to have an effect on cognitive performance. When children eat foods with a low glycaemic index, such as bran flakes, which release energy more slowly, their attention and memory performance is better than when they eat high glycaemic foods, such as chocolate-coated cereal.

When it comes to school grades, some researchers have suggested that memory and attention are especially important for learning and these are cognitive processes that seem to be influenced by food intake.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Children’s attention problems at age seven linked to lower GCSE grades

As thousands of 15 and 16-year-olds prepare for their GCSEs, new research has found that children who display inattentive behaviours at age seven are at risk of worse academic outcomes in these examinations. This was the case even after their IQ and their parents’ social and educational backgrounds were taken into account.

The results of our study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, were based on analyses of behavioural and academic data of participants in Children of the 90s, a population-based study at the University of Bristol. The research team, from the universities of Nottingham and Bristol, studied more than 11,000 children.

Childhood behaviour problems can be apparent to parents and teachers during the early years of primary school. These include difficulties such as inattention, poor concentration, being easily distracted, losing interest easily, daydreaming, not listening or being disorganised. They can also include oppositional or defiant behaviours, such as frequent temper tantrums, arguing with adults and not doing as adults ask.

Few representative large-scale studies have assessed whether these behaviours pose an independent risk for educational achievement during adolescence. It has not been clear whether the risk of lower grades from increasing levels of inattention applies across the whole population, or only for those children with the most severe problems, such as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In the study, parents and teachers completed questionnaires about the child’s behaviour at age seven. These assessed a range of different behaviours including inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity and oppositional/defiant problems. This information was then compared with the children’s academic achievements by looking at their GCSE examination results at age 16. We also took the child’s IQ and parents’ education and socio-economic status into account as these are linked with both early behaviour problems and academic outcomes.

Real impact on grades

We looked at the impact on children’s GCSE results in two ways. First, we looked at how many had achieved five “good” GCSE grades – five A*-C grades including English and Maths. This is a minimum expected level to access further education and is a key indicator that is published in school league tables. We found that for each one-point increase in inattention symptoms (based on a full scale of 0-18) at age seven, there was a 6-7% increased likelihood, on average across the whole sample, of not achieving the minimum level of five “good” GCSE grades at age 16.