Monday, 22 June 2015

6 Ways to Combine Summer Fun and Learning

Learn 6 ways to combine summer fun and learning.

1. The lemonade stand

On a hot day, everybody loves lemonade — and lemonade stands! That old-time activity is actually a terrific opportunity for children to learn math and science skills (by measuring and mixing the lemonade) as well as social skills (when they interact with customers). Start by talking with your child about what she'll need: lemonade, a table and chairs, paper cups, decorations for the stand, a sign announcing the price, and a box to keep the money in. Where would be a good place to set up the stand? How much will she charge for each cup of lemonade? When it's time to make the lemonade, help her measure 4 tablespoons of lemon juice, 8 tablespoons of white grape juice, and 6 cups of water into a large plastic pitcher. Stir and chill. Outdoors, help her set up the stand and hang the sign. Demonstrate how to greet customers, pour, and serve the lemonade (if necessary, pour the lemonade into smaller pitchers to make it easier for your child to handle), and make change. When the big event is over, talk with her about what she'd like to do with the money she earned!

2. The alphabet garden

Any kind of gardening is a great way for kids to learn the science of how things grow. Planting a theme garden can make the learning experience even more fun. One favorite is an ABC garden. Together with your child, look through seed catalogs or garden centers to choose what you'll plant — one variety for each letter of the alphabet. When you create your garden, have your child make a tag for each plant or paint the plant name on a rock with enamel paint. To make the project as rewarding as possible for your child, you'll want to steer him toward plants that are hardy and grow quickly in your area. Some of the most reliable vegetables and flowers are bush beans, cherry tomatoes, herbs, marigolds, radishes, zinnias, and zucchini. If you live in an urban area and don't have room for a full garden, try doing an abbreviated version of this activity. Choose vegetables or flowers that start with letters that spell out your child's name or initials, and plant them in a window box.

3. Local tours

How do doughnuts get their holes? Where does the mail in the mailbox go? How do farmers milk so many cows? You and your child can discover the answers by going behind the scenes at a doughnut shop, post office, or dairy. Just ask your local proprietors. They may be willing to allow chaperoned children to pay a visit and see all that goes on in their busy workplace. You may think of other great places to see as well! Before the trip, talk with your child about where you're going and what questions he'd like to ask when you get there. Write them down and bring them with you for reference. Take lots of photos of your trip, and help him put them in his summer scrapbook.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Collecting trash in space

A satellite that gets rid of space junk could help prevent devastating collisions in Earth orbit.

Satellites play big roles in modern life. Some look downward to monitor environmental conditions on Earth. Others look outward in search of major solar flares that can disrupt the transmission of electrical power to homes and businesses. Some spy on our enemies. Others relay communications around the globe. But all of these million-dollar marvels of technology can be knocked out by a collision with space junk — debris from satellites and other Earthly technology orbiting high above the planet. Now, a teen from Jordan has designed a satellite to chase down space junk, collect it and then dispose of it.

NASA is the U.S. space agency. It and other organizations are tracking about 500,000 pieces of space junk that are currently orbiting Earth. Many come from satellites or rockets that have blown up and shattered. The objects being tracked are the size of a marble or larger. About 20,000 are at least the size of a softball (some are as large as a refrigerator). Most are too small to detect from Earth’s surface. In all, some 100 million pieces of debris likely orbit Earth today, says 15-year-old Dana Arabiyat. She attends Alridwan Schools in Amman, Jordan.

Even bits of space junk as small as flecks of paint pose a threat, says Dana. That’s because this debris orbits our planet at speeds up to some 28,200 kilometers per hour (17,500 miles per hour). That’s about 7.8 kilometers per second! Such blistering speed explains why tiny paint flecks have chipped the windshields of space shuttles so badly that they needed to be replaced.

Researchers have come up with many ideas for getting rid of space junk. Some have suggested vaporizing small bits with lasers. Others have proposed launching satellites to collect the debris. Dana’s design falls into this category.

Here’s how hers would work: A radar system aboard the satellite would scan for and find a piece of space junk. Then, thrusters would change the satellite’s orbit so that it could chase down the errant object. As the satellite closed in on its prey, cameras would keep it on target.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

To really learn, fail — then fail again!

That ‘error’ in trial-and-error learning can be the ticket to learning well —and having more fun.

Thomas Edison just couldn’t get it right.

After more than five months and 9,000 experiments, the famous inventor couldn’t get a new type of battery to work. Too bad, a co-worker said. What a shame that effort had produced no results.

But Edison saw it differently. “Results? Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

Edison eventually did get his new kind of battery to work. In the end, it took even more time — and thousands more experiments.

Today, more than a century later, a bit of that same spirit of curiosity and determination lives on in Emily Hogan’s classroom. She teaches eighth-grade physical science at Westlake Middle School in Broomfield, Colo.

On a spring morning, Hogan had given each of her students a tool kit containing a plastic foam dinner plate, a balloon, a small plastic stirrer straw, a sharp pencil and masking tape.

She instructed her young inventors to use the parts in any way they wanted to make racing cars from the foam plates. They also were charged with figuring out how to propel those cars great distances across the floor. The kit’s balloon would be a key component of these “rocket” racers.

Kids in many classrooms across the United States are learning science in much the same way. Instead of explaining things to kids from the front of a classroom, teachers are beginning to instead “guide from the side.” They are nudging kids to become Edisons — tinkerers who learn by doing.

A big take-home lesson from such projects is that there may be no one single right answer to a problem. There may instead be many. Along the path to discovering this, kids were being encouraged to propose theories — and then test them.

Along the way, many students will fail. Often, they’ll fail many times. Perhaps not several thousand times (like Edison). But along the way they may just find out that by analyzing why something went horribly wrong, they’ve learned a lot. And they can take ownership of that learning, knowing that they earned it from hard-won experience.

What’s more, the lessons we learn this way are those we are most likely to remember.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Just how effective are language learning apps?

Around 70 million people – including Bill Gates – have signed up for the language learning app Duolingo. The app has received plenty of media attention, and its creators claim that it can help anyone with a smart phone learn a new language.

The app is free, and promises all kinds of cutting edge features, such as adaptive algorithms to suit users’ learning speed, as well as gamification to boost motivation. They also claim that this app can provide members of poorer communities with access to language learning that would otherwise be denied them; a worthy aim indeed.

For those who haven’t tried it, Duolingo works as follows. The user is introduced to some vocabulary, and then every day they spend a few minutes doing language exercises, such as translating sentences.

There is a level of adaptivity: words that you get wrong come up again and again, while words that you get right come up less often – although they do still appear. This recycling and repetition is a core element of the app – it is what the creators hope will eventually lead to acquisition of new vocabulary. As users complete the exercises successfully, they can move up through the “levels”, and unlock bonus lessons on “flirting” and “idioms”.

Language learning in theory

As experienced language teachers, we wanted to think about whether or not this technology is really cutting edge. Clearly the delivery mechanism is new, and textbook writers would be amazed at selling 70 million copies. But in a field filled with spirited – and sometimes acrimonious – academic theorising about language learning, it’s worth investigating where Duolingo fits in.

The earliest modern language instruction was called “grammar translation”. It focused on translating sentences and learning the rules of the grammar as the primary goal. This type of rote learning is how many people learned Latin – including Monty Python’s Brian. It is also the method used by the teachers of generations of happy English tourists to France, who ended up knowing how to conjugate a verb, but utterly unable to make themselves understood without shouting in a strange type of pidgin English with a French accent.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

California Thursdays Success Story

Gary Petill is convinced that if you’re trying to get kids to eat healthy food, the secret is in the presentation. Petill would know. He’s responsible for serving over 26 million meals a year through the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), and has an impressive track record when it comes to pushing produce.

That’s why Petill and his staff serve fruit cups chock-full of bright slices of mango, watermelon, cucumber, and jicama in see-through containers. School salad bars brim with locally sourced lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, kiwis, and citrus, and sport signs encouraging students to “Try Something New.”

The effort doesn’t end at the salad bar.

Mondays are meatless. School gardens are thriving. A vibrant farm-to-school program taps into San Diego County’s 350+ organic farms (the most in the nation). Those farms also support the popular “Harvest of the Month” program, through which a locally grown item such as creamy avocados or juicy plums is introduced to students and offered repeatedly throughout each month. An innovative "Breakfast in the Classroom" program reaches 90 percent of eligible children, up from only 25 percent when it began. And the "Prime Time Kids" dinner program currently serves a nutritious evening meal to students at more than 120 sites.

Knowing how to launch and maintain a successful nutrition program may help San Diego succeed with its next one.

Starting in late October, two dozen San Diego schools are rolling out California Thursdays™, a collaboration with the nonprofit Center for Ecoliteracy. This new program taps into San Diego’s existing commitment to source local produce, but takes it further by offering students a complete meal featuring ingredients from the Golden State.

The California Thursdays program is designed to connect the food on the plate to nearby farms and local communities that students know first-hand. Tender local asparagus and just-picked strawberries already come with great flavor; layering in the California Thursdays message teaches students to consider the source of their food and helps emerging healthy habits take root.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Fun and Free Summer Learning Resources

Summer learning loss is a real problem. Alarmingly, research suggests students lose more than two months of math knowledge during the summer, and the losses in reading are similar.

Here we’ve compiled a few resources to keep students learning through the dog days of summer, with a particular focus on math and reading. For starters, the Edutopia blog How to Beat Summer Learning Loss from Anne O’Brien is chock full of useful information and strategies for parents and students.

Fun! Fun! Fun! Summer Learning Sites

Summer Learning Resources for Parents From Colorín Colorado: This reading resource roundup for parents is awesome! The page features guides, tips, and reading lesson ideas in Spanish and English. Another great resource from sister site Reading Rockets is Get Ready for Summer! Ideas for Teachers to Share With Families.

Cool Summer Reading and Learning for Middle School Kids: Author Susan Curtis highlights some of the most useful websites, ideas, and strategies for helping middle school students stay active readers during the summer. Included are links to reading lists, online reading contests, and ideas for practicing reading with tech tools. Also check out Awesome Apps for the Six Traits of Writing, from WeAreTeachers, for improving writing skills with apps during the summer.

Calculation Nation From the NCTM: If you're looking for a fun, web-based game for students, Calculation Nation from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is a wonderful resource. This is just one example; there are tons of awesome games. Also check out Funbrain Math Arcade from Pearson, 10 Best Math Apps for Kids from, and Cool Math.

Summer Learning Resources for Parents From ReadWriteThink: This after-school and parent collection from ReadWriteThink offers something for everything. There are links to summer activities and projects, games and tech tools, printouts, and how-to articles. Plus, there's a link to a useful podcast series about out-of-school learning.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Pediatrics Group to Recommend Reading Aloud to Children From Birth

In between dispensing advice on breast-feeding and immunizations, doctors will tell parents to read aloud to their infants from birth, under a new policy that the American Academy of Pediatrics will announce on Tuesday.

With the increased recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child’s life, and that reading to children enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills, the group, which represents 62,000 pediatricians across the country, is asking its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud, every time a baby visits the doctor.

“It should be there each time we touch bases with children,” said Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the new policy. It recommends that doctors tell parents they should be “reading together as a daily fun family activity” from infancy.

This is the first time the academy — which has issued recommendations on how long mothers should nurse their babies and advises parents to keep children away from screens until they are at least 2 — has officially weighed in on early literacy education.

While highly educated, ambitious parents who are already reading poetry and playing Mozart to their children in utero may not need this advice, research shows that many parents do not read to their children as often as researchers and educators think is crucial to the development of pre-literacy skills that help children succeed once they get to school.

Reading, as well as talking and singing, is viewed as important in increasing the number of words that children hear in the earliest years of their lives. Nearly two decades ago, an oft-cited study found that by age 3, the children of wealthier professionals have heard words millions more times than have those of less educated, low-income parents, giving the children who have heard more words a distinct advantage in school. New research shows that these gaps emerge as early as 18 months.

Intergalactic lessons: five creative ways to teach about space

Create your own big bang in the classroom with our lesson ideas, including making edible meterorites and studying real lunar rocks.

When Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the dusty surface of the moon, Armstrong summed up the epochal event with the famous words “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

The first moon landing will be remembered for centuries to come and this summer (Monday 20 July 2015) marks 46 years since it happened.

The anniversary is a great launching pad for teaching about outer space. We’ve gathered a few creative intergalactic lesson plans below – including edible meteorites and studying real lunar rocks. Our list isn’t exhaustive, however, so feel free to offer your own ideas in the comments thread below, or tweet us your favourites @GuardianTeach.

Borrow the moon

Get engagement levels soaring by bringing in real moon rock. The Science & Technology Facilities Council loans out moon rock, brought back to Earth by Nasa’s Apollo astronauts in the late 1960s and early 1970s, free of charge.

Advice on the website says that teachers should reserve samples four months in advance, and each loan comes with a wide range of support materials including books and DVDs. For example, as part of the Earth science unit at key stages 2 and 3 you can use the rocks to hold a talk exploring what lunar idioms and expressions mean. Teach about the differences and similarities between the Earth and the moon, as well as whether humans could survive there. There are plenty of ideas here on how to use the samples with secondary students.

Edible meteorites

Explore chondrules and fusion crust by making edible meteorites from peanut brittle and chocolate brownies. This resource, designed by Nasa, is aimed at 10- and 14-year-olds (fifth to eighth grades) in the US to help teaching the exploring meteorite mysteries unit. It can easily be adapted for other curriculums, however, including the Earth science unit in the UK.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Why do heavier children do worse at school? It’s not their fault

Negative stereotypes towards heavier individuals starts to affect long-term life opportunities from a young age. A number of studies in recent years have suggested that bigger children fare less well in school than their slimmer peers.

The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children followed nearly 6,000 children in the south-west of England and found that higher body weight at age 11 predicted lower scores on standardised tests at age 11, 13, and 16. This was particularly the case in girls, and a decline that was not explained by lower IQs.

Other studies, mostly conducted in the US, have reported similar findings, suggesting that students classified as “obese” tend to be awarded lower grades than their peers in both secondary and tertiary education, despite no differences in intelligence or conscientiousness, and no actual difference on standardised tests of maths or language ability.

So are fatter students really under-performing in school, or do their teachers just think they are? And why?

Anti-fat attitudes – from teachers

The answer is probably a bit of both. Researchers think low expectations and anti-fat attitudes among teachers probably play a role. Some of the existing research has been criticised for taking a cross-sectional approach, like a snapshot at a point in time. This makes it impossible to tell whether low expectations are leading to under-performance or if it’s the other way around. But a new study published by a team from the Harvard School of Public Health may help to answer this question.

The researchers followed a nationwide cohort of kindergarten children for around ten years. This particularly study looked at how weight change between the ages of ten and 14 affected teacher ratings of the children’s abilities, taking a range of other factors like socioeconomic status, family situation, exercise and television time, and so on, into account.

Nash’s mind left a beautiful legacy

Death of game theory pioneer ends a genius’s dramatic story.

His mind was beautiful, but troubled. His math was just beautiful.

John Forbes Nash Jr., who died in a traffic accident on May 23, gained more fame than most mathematicians, though not only on account of his math. His battle with schizophrenia, described artfully by Sylvia Nasar in her book A Beautiful Mind, made for drama suitable for a movie. Russell Crowe played Nash in the 2001 film, which garbled the math but made the point that despite his affliction, Nash accomplished works of genius — particularly in the theory of games.

That genius emerged in the 1940s when Nash was an undergraduate at Carnegie Tech, the forerunner to Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. He started out as an electrical engineering student, but soon shifted to chemical engineering and then just plain chemistry. But the lab was not for him. He switched to math, and by age 20 he was on his way to graduate school at Princeton with a one-sentence letter of recommendation from a Carnegie professor: “This man is a genius.”

At Princeton, Nash revolutionized economic theory, showing how the freshly developed game theory of the great John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern could be made more relevant to real life. In their book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, von Neumann and Morgenstern had attempted to derive a mathematics of strategy. They showed how participants in an economy could choose the most profitable behaviors. Von Neumann, one of the foremost mathematicians of his time, and Morgenstern, an economist, realized that their math could be applied to human behavior more broadly, evaluating strategic choices in realms from poker to warfare.

But the original theory offered rigorous solutions only for two-person games where the winner won what the loser lost (hence the label “zero-sum” game). Nash extended game theory both to cooperative situations (where win-win scenarios were possible) and to competitive games with multiple players.

Out of this work came the concept of the “Nash equilibrium,” the set of strategies that guaranteed the best possible payoff for all participants. Nash’s genius was to prove that at least one such set of strategies was always possible. In other words, as the economist Samuel Bowles once put it, there is always “a situation in which everybody is doing the best they can, given what everybody else is doing.”