Saturday, 28 February 2015

Students play Led Zeppelin on Xylophones

Watch this amazing video of the 2014-2015 Louisville Leopard Percussionists rehearsing "Kashmir", "The Ocean" and "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin.

These student musicians, who come from several different schools in Kentucky, are between the ages of 7-12 and each learns several different instruments such as xylophones, marimbas, drums, timbales, vibraphones, congas, bongos and piano.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Play isn’t just for primary school kids – it’s got an image problem

Why does a four-year-old play when a 14-year-old creates? It’s often argued that play is central to the lives of young children. Yet the play of older children and adults is often seen as leisure, escapism or even deviance. As psychologist Erik Erikson puts it: “The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” But there should not be such a binary division between what is educational and what is frivolous.

In my work in theatre education I’ve found playing to be a vital part of teaching young people of all ages, whether playing warm-up games, improvising scenes or exploring new ideas. Yet teachers are often held back by the belief that it’s only young children who are allowed to play.

Ruth Churchill Dower, director of Earlyarts, a network of people working in creative early years professionals, has highlighted the change in language from “play” to “creativity” as we talk of older children’s education. She points out that “play” is often seen as open-ended and egalitarian, while “creativity” is more associated with particular skills and “seems to sit higher in the unspoken hierarchy”.

Who’s being playful?

I wanted to find out whether we lose something when we stop talking about play in the education of older children. It was this question which prompted my current and ongoing, doctoral research, carrying out case studies of school classes taking part in Shakespeare Schools’ Festival. I followed six groups through rehearsal to the final performance looking at whether they play as they work together and if it’s relevant.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Six ways to beat chronic stress

Counseling, mindfulness training and purposeful social contact may counteract the effects of nagging stress.


Parenting classes

In a trial of 272 low-income black women in rural Georgia, each with an 11-year-old child, scientists randomly assigned 173 to receive parenting training. “This was a set of coping strategies that may be particularly adaptive in these difficult settings,” says psychologist Edith Chen of Northwestern University. At age 19, the children whose families received the seven-week intervention had lower levels of six blood markers of inflammation, Chen and colleagues reported in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Inflammation markers were lowest among kids who got the least harsh and most consistent parenting.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

For people with depression, anxiety and other woes, cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to replace self-destructive habits and negative thinking with improved coping skills. CBT stress management groups seem to boost the body’s immune responses to viruses, research shows. In a sleep study, older people with insomnia and joint pain were randomly assigned to receive CBT and therapy that emphasized setting a consistent waking time, only going to bed when sleepy and so on. They slept much better and reported less pain than those who didn’t have CBT, researchers reported in 2009 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Yoga and tai chi

These practices, which focus attention on posture, positive thoughts and breathing, can unwind stress at the clinical and molecular levels. Researchers in Germany scanned 44 trials in which healthy people were randomly assigned to do yoga or not and found the practice knocked nearly 6 points off their top blood pressure number. In breast cancer survivors, three months of tai chi reduced the inflammatory agents IL-6 and TNF-alpha, UCLA researchers report.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

This ‘smart’ self-cleaning keyboard is powered by you

The bonus: It works for its owner and no one else.

A new keyboard can tell if you’re its owner. It locks out anyone else, even if that person knows your password. What’s more, this device needs no batteries. It harvests all the energy it needs from the action of your typing.

All in all, “This will hugely improve the security of a computer,” predicts Zhong Lin Wang. He’s a materials scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and a co-designer of the new keyboard.
“Our fingertips have electrostatic charges,” explains Wang. That means there’s an imbalance of electrons. Your fingertips generally have a slight positive charge. So they have somewhat fewer electrons than the area around them. And that principle makes it possible for typing to induce an electric current in the keyboard, Wang points out.

To understand how this works, consider a magnet. At one end is a positive charge. At the other is a negative charge. Opposite poles attract. So if you put the positive end of one magnet next to the negative one of another, they will latch onto each other. A similar idea applies to electrostatic charges. Positive charges attract negative ones.

Wang’s group put two layers of metal electrodes under the keyboard’s plastic surface. When a finger approaches a key, it attracts free electrons to the top electrode. The bottom electrode supplies them. As soon as the finger lifts off of the key, the electrons flow back to the lower electrode. Any flow of electrons creates an electric current.

And this induced electric current can power the keyboard — but only if the current is strong enough. To achieve that, the Georgia Tech team focused on nanotechnology. (“Nano-“ refers to things measured on the scale of 100 billionths of a meter or less.)

The steady creep of less sleep

Fewer and fewer tweens and teens report getting adequate shuteye.


Tweens and teens report getting less and less sleep with each passing year. The disturbing trend comes from data collected over the past 20 years from U.S. students.

As of 2012, more than half of the surveyed kids age 15 or older reported sleeping less than seven hours a night. That is two to three hours less sleep than doctors and others recommend. Sleep is essential, especially for young kids and teens. Too little sleep leads to poor health and poor performance in school. It also increases the risk of accidents.

The new study found consistent decreases in sleep between 1991 and 2012. The largest drops happened in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Details appeared online February 16 in the journal Pediatrics.

The study crunched data that were collected as part of a program called “Monitoring the Future.” Each year, this survey asks some 50,000 U.S. students a variety of questions about their behaviors. One of them: “How often do you get at least seven hours of sleep?” Another asks: “How often do you get less sleep than you should?”

“Overall, across 20 years and all age groups, 12 to 19, there has been a downward shift in the proportion of adolescents getting seven or more hours of sleep,” says Katherine Keyes. A co-author of the study, she works at Columbia University in New York City. As an epidemiologist, she studies the factors that can influence the health of certain populations, including teens.

Girls were less likely than boys to report getting at least seven hours of sleep, the researchers found. Students who lived in urban areas, belonged to minority groups or whose families were poor also were less likely to report getting at least that much sleep.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Inside the schools that dare to break with traditional teaching

From Quest to Learn in New York to the Liger Learning Center in Cambodia, Matthew Jenkin explores schools that use innovative teaching methods and curriculums.

On 21 October 2015, we will finally arrive at the point in time that Marty McFly travels to in the 1989 sci-fi sequel, Back to the Future II. But if a teenager today were to drive Doc Brown’s DeLorean back to Hill Valley High, the film hero’s fictional school, would he or she notice any difference?

Just as we are still waiting for someone to market hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces, we have yet to see a radical shift in teaching models, despite the ebb and flow of education reforms. There are schools, however, that are breaking the mould and daring to free teachers from the shackles of curriculum dictates. They are giving students and educators the power to become masters of their own learning.

The Quest to Learn school in New York was founded in 2009 with a mission to make schools fit for the 21st century, an era when advances in technology have created an increasingly global society. Teachers at the school, which is a collaboration between non-profit organisation the Institute of Play and New York’s department of education, believe using games to teach the curriculum increases pupil engagement and better prepares young people to navigate the complexities of the modern world.

But we’re not talking Twister or Super Mario. In Quest to Learn lessons, play involves imaginative inquiry by students, ranging from group storytelling activities that explain literary structures in English to an exercise imagining a microscopic doctor journeying through his patient’s body to teach biology.

Co-director of the school, Arana Shapiro, says the best games are those that can be used in multiple classrooms at all grade levels. The curriculum is taught using the principles of a game, with the teacher starting a new school year by presenting an initial challenge. They then design lessons and activities that give students the knowledge and tools to meet the challenge.

The year of books? Today's young people interpret reading as a social exercise

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has declared 2015 the Year of Books, committing to read a book every fortnight while discussing it on Facebook. The ultimate digital champion is now championing the world's most traditional form of expression and creativity, telling us that reading books and our social media culture can go hand in hand.

The smell of fresh paper and the thrill of turning over a new page could never compare to pressing a microscopic button on a Kindle e-reader. But given the unquestionably lower cost of non-print books, Britain's libraries and independent booksellers are in tougher competition than ever. The obvious question is: are young people reading, and if not, what will encourage someone to pick up a book in 2015? We live in an age of sharing. What was once considered a distinctly private experience is now one to make public. These days, it hardly seems worth looking past the front cover of a book before checking its rating on Goodreads. Put simply, the nature of reading is changing, and those rare independent bookshops still thriving are the ones that embrace this.

A prime example of this is Beerwolf, a bookshop within a cosy, dimly-lit pub in Falmouth, Cornwall. Books are flying out just as fast as pints. The owners are book-and-beer lovers at heart, passionate about creating an atmosphere which encourages both reading fascinating books and socialising.

"Some people come in for a book and end up having a drink, and some people come in for a drink and end up buying loads of books," says bar manager Ellie.

Monday, 16 February 2015

UK science teacher reaches shortlist for 'Nobel prize of teaching'

Richard Spencer uses techniques such as experiments, videos, models, role-play, games, poems, songs and dance to make lessons interesting.

 A British science teacher is among the final 10 candidates for a million-dollar Nobel prize-style award for teaching. Richard Spencer, of Middlesbrough College, Teesside, is in line to win the first ever Varkey Foundation Global Teacher prize, which recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

The winner is due to be revealed at a ceremony held at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai next month. The biology teacher said he was honoured to have been shortlisted.

It was announced at the end of last year that Spencer was one of two UK teachers to make the longlist of 50 potential winners. The other was Tom Bennett, of Jo Richardson community school in east London.

“I read all 50 profiles and with each one I thought, ‘That’s amazing,’” said Spencer. “I really don’t know how they got it down from 50 to 10.”

Spencer learned that he had made the final 10 during a visit with two other finalists to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican last week. The three had been invited to meet the Pope to tell him about their experiences in teaching.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

'Smart’ windows could save energy

Tiny droplets sandwiched between glass panes turn cloudy when it’s hot outside; this filter out some warming sunlight.
Sunlight streaming through a window can really heat up a room. In winter, when heating bills can soar, people tend to welcome that extra warmth. But in summer, that heat just boosts cooling costs. A homeowner could keep out some of that warming light by drawing the curtains or lowering the blinds. Or the window could change its transparency — blocking out some light, as needed — all by itself. That’s the idea behind new “smart” windows.

Some smart windows already exist. They work just like large versions of the LCDs (liquid crystal diodes) found in watches and other electronic devices. When an electric current flows through an LCD window, a coating on the panes of its glass darken. That blocks out some of the light. A homeowner can control the window’s light-blocking ability — or opacity — simply by flipping a switch. Or, a sensor connected to the window can automatically control the current, just like the thermostat used to control a furnace or air conditioner.

But the new smart window does not require such electronics. It depends only on the temperature outdoors, says Xuhong Guo. He’s a chemical engineer at the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. His team designed a new liquid that it sandwiches between two panes of window glass. The researchers describe how this makes their window “smart” in the December 3 issue of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

The key: A heat sensitive gel

The material that Guo’s team designed is a colloid. That’s a substance in which tiny particles or droplets that don’t dissolve are spread throughout a larger volume of some other material. (Smoky air is one type of colloid. Milk is another.) The larger part of the new mix is a blend of water and alcohol. Floating inside are tiny globs of a gel.

Each glob is only between 200 and 700 nanometers across. That makes the diameter of the thinnest human hair about 24 to 85 times wider than each glob. The gel contains a heat-sensitive polymer (a chemical made from chain-shaped molecules). It also contains water and glycerol, a type of alcohol. The water and glycerol attach loosely to the polymer. This keeps the gel from dissolving into the larger volume of liquid. This also ensures that the gel globs don’t react with each other to form one big lump of goo.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The future of Britain’s libraries: why lattes and Wi-Fi are nothing to fear

Few victims of austerity have been so fiercely mourned as libraries. If they are to be revived, a recent report argues, they must look down the High Street to Starbucks. Can that approach change a writer’s beloved childhood sanctuary for the better? 

I started coming to Torridon Road Library in Catford, south-east London with my book-loving father when I was four or five. My parents still live in my childhood home, five minutes’ walk from Torridon, and Dad still visits the library every week. But until today I hadn’t been back since I took my GCSEs nearly – God help me – a quarter of a century ago.

Torridon is the sort of library – small, beloved, attuned to the needs of the neighbourhood – that most people would agree we need more of, but which recent local authority cuts have made rarer than ever. Accordingly, it seems like a good place to settle down quietly and read the Independent Library Report, a recently published set of proposals for how those cuts might be mitigated. From the outside, only two things have changed since I shook the exam-room dust off my shoes: automatic doors have been installed behind the heavy oak originals (which now stand open all day) so that all may enter easily and not have to wait for a strong young man to happen past and help them get in; and the bit on the left that once housed the silent study room has been demolished and replaced with a two-storey children’s centre.

Inside, the lovely polished parquet floor has been mostly covered with inoffensive but unmistakably municipal carpet, and the space has been slightly reconfigured by the removal of two walls. Computers and automatic loan/return stations, a sofa and a loo have been added. The long oak table in the children’s section has gone and the hardback pony books replaced by paperback vampire romances.

But the bones of the place I remember are still there. The beautiful dome that I had no idea then was probably an homage to the British Library’s famous reading room is still intact, and comfortable seats are still clustered for long reading stints in the light-filled area beneath. Elsewhere, the high windows bordered with amber-coloured glass that for some reason used to fascinate me more than the dome are also untouched. It is not silent, but it has what Jeanette Winterson recalled her childhood haunt, Accrington Public Library, having: “a sense of energetic quiet.”

Exams have left my students incapable of thinking

The word ‘why’ fills them with dread and being asked their own views provokes panic. A book is a decoration, a thought is a distraction and an idea is irrelevant.

“How many sentences should I write? How big should I draw the diagram? Should I write my own opinion?” These are some of the questions my students asked me this morning. Looking at that sample, you might assume they are in primary school, but you would be wrong. I teach a humanities subject in an “outstanding” sixth-form college in an affluent area. My students are bright, engaged and well-behaved, but there is something missing: they cannot think.

“Is this a thinking lesson?”
Not only can they not think, they don’t realise that education is about thinking. In the same way some people claim that reading is a hobby, they see thinking as an exhausting activity, not the minimum requirement for education.

“What word should I use to start this sentence?”
Minds focused on the future and eyes trained on exams, anything unrelated to the syllabus is considered an irrelevant distraction. I was moved to write this by a conversation I had with one of my brightest students last week. In the middle of a lesson, she asked if I was going to give the class a summary sheet of answers.

“Er, no…” I responded, “I’m not going to spoon-feed you.”

“Oh,” she said. “But I like being spoon-fed.”

I felt winded. I don’t know where I got my love of learning from, but, thinking is freedom. The legacy of the Enlightenment. Thought is what separates us from animals, gives us human rights, protects us against groupthink, and enables us to create democracies, computers, music and comedy. I am immeasurably grateful that I have been encouraged to think, to satirise, to criticise. I have been asked questions, not given the answers. But all my students want to do is blindly copy down information.

“Which category does that belong to?”
They lack creativity, not just in how they deal with the content of what they are learning, but in the process of learning itself. They will not make a mark on their paper unless I tell them to, or highlight a sentence without my permission; they won’t even start a new paragraph without checking first. They don’t understand that learning is thinking.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Send disadvantaged pupils to boarding school and only the brightest thrive

Send a child to a boarding school and they’ll thrive. That’s what many richer families believe when they send their children away to board, and it’s the belief behind a series of programmes set up around the world in the past two decades, aimed at providing places at boarding schools for disadvantaged children.

Two examples are the SEED boarding schools, started in the US in the late 1990s to teach poor black students, and the internats d’excellence (boarding schools of excellence), introduced in 2008 in France to teach students from poor families. There are 45 such internats are now operating in France, serving 4,200 middle and high school students, essentially for free.

These schools were opened because of concerns that the negative influences students are exposed to in their home environment could impair their academic potential. But very little is known about the effects that substituting school for home produce on students. The only study considering this question found that being enrolled in the SEED boarding school in Washington DC increases student test scores.

Boarding by lottery

In research co-authored with Luc Behaghel and Marc Gurgand from the Paris School of Economics, and conducted with the Poverty Action Lab, we analysed the effects of a French internat on student outcomes. Our findings suggest that while these boarding schools can help boost pupils who are already strong academically, they might not be helping weaker students.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Better Ways to Learn

Credit Stuart Bradford

Does a good grade always mean a student has learned the material? And does a bad grade mean a student just needs to study more?

In the new book “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens” (Random House), Benedict Carey, a science reporter for The New York Times, challenges the notion that a high test score equals true learning. He argues that although a good grade may be achieved in the short term by cramming for an exam, chances are that most of the information will be quickly lost. Indeed, he argues, most students probably don’t need to study more — just smarter.

Mr. Carey offers students old and young a new blueprint for learning based on decades of brain science, memory tests and learning studies. He upends the notion that “hitting the books” is all that is required to be a successful student, and instead offers a detailed exploration of the brain to reveal exactly how we learn, and how we can maximize that potential.

“Most of us study and hope we are doing it right,” Mr. Carey says. “But we tend to have a static and narrow notion of how learning should happen.”

For starters, long and focused study sessions may seem productive, but chances are you are spending most of your brainpower on trying to maintain your concentration for a long period of time. That doesn’t leave a lot of brain energy for learning.

“It’s hard to sit there and push yourself for hours,” Mr. Carey says. “You’re spending a lot of effort just staying there, when there are other ways to make the learning more efficient, fun and interesting.”

The first step toward better learning is to simply change your study environment from time to time. Rather than sitting at your desk or the kitchen table studying for hours, finding some new scenery will create new associations in your brain and make it easier to recall information later.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The most common mistake parents make about reading

Raising good readers seems pretty straightforward. Much of the research on it sounds like common sense: Let children pick what they want to read, even if it’s comic books or magazines; let them see you read; talk about books to them; make reading material available in your home; and above all else, read to them.

In the same way our children see us watching television, surfing the Internet and listening to music for entertainment, they should see us read for fun. If a parent loves to read, odds are good the child will learn to find joy in words, too.

So, it was surprising when a finding from the latest Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report caught my eye, because it brought to light a common mistake most parents don’t realize they are making.

Most of us stop reading to our children too early.
The survey found that, predictably, the number of children read aloud to dips dramatically as a child grows up. More than half of children under the age of 5 are read aloud to almost every day. That drops to 1 in 3 children ages 6 to 8 and just 1 in 6 children ages 9 to 11. More telling than those numbers is how the children said they felt about it: 40 percent of children who are no longer read to aloud to say they wish their parents had continued.

Their No. 1 reason was because “it was a special time with my parents.”

Monday, 2 February 2015

MIT Researcher’s New Warning: At Today’s Rate, Half Of All U.S. Children Will Be Autistic By 2025

Research scientist Stephanie Seneff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a widely published author on topics ranging from Azlheimer’s Disease to autism and cardiovascular disease, raised plenty of eyebrows recently with a bold proclamation on autism at a special panel in Massachusetts about genetically modified organisms and other topics.

“At today’s rate, by 2025, one in two children will be autistic,” Seneff said last Thursday in Groton, MA at an event sponsored by the holistic-focused Groton Wellness organization.

Seneff presented slides showing a remarkably consistent correlation between the rising use of Roundup (with its active ingredient glyphosate) on crops and the rising rates of autism; while it doesn’t show a direct correlation it does give researchers plenty to think about, especially considering Seneff’s research into the side effects of autism that mimic glyphosate toxicity and deficiencies.

The slide notes that the heaviest use of Roundup, Monsanto’s flagship weedkiller, began in 1990 and continued to rise since. Meanwhile, the number of kids with autism has gone from 1 in 5,000 in 1975 to 1 in 68 today, a puzzling and frustrating stat that shows no signs of slowing down and one that correlates strongly with the rise in glyphosate use.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

China says no room for 'western values' in university education

Education minister says books which ‘smear socialism’ will be banned.

China’s education minister has vowed to ban university textbooks which promote “western values”, state media said, in the latest sign of ideological tightening under President Xi Jinping.

“Never let textbooks promoting western values appear in our classes,” minister Yuan Guiren said, according to a report late Thursday by China’s official Xinhua news agency.

“Remarks that slander the leadership of the Communist Party of China” and “smear socialism” must never appear in college classrooms, he added according to Xinhua.

China’s universities are run by the ruling Communist party, which tightly controls discussions of history and other topics it construes as a potential threat to its grip on power.

The party often brands concepts such as multiparty elections and the separation of powers as “Western”, despite their global appeal and application.

China has tightened controls on academics since Xi assumed the party leadership in 2012, with several outspoken professors sacked or jailed.

Xia Yeliang, an economics professor at the prestigious Peking University, was fired from his post in 2013 after a 13-year tenure in a decision he attributed to persistent calls for political change in China.

Fast sea level rise is a very recent change

New calculations show how much faster oceans have been rising in the last 20 years than in the many years before that.

Sea levels have been rising pretty quickly over the past two decades — on average, about 3 millimeters (0.12 inch) per year. Scientists had known that this rate of rise was speeding up. But new data indicate that, compared to 25 years ago or more, those recent increases are far steeper than previously realized. That could boost how much scientists expect seas will rise in coming decades. Such information is important for people living near coastlines.

Carling Hay was on a team of scientists that released the new estimate. As a physicist, Hay studies the nature and properties of energy and matter (including water). She works at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Her team developed the new estimate by comparing historical and modern-day rates of sea level rise. They found the seas did not rise as quickly between 1901 and 1990 as scientists had thought. But the rate of rise between 1993 and 2010 does match earlier calculations.

Compared to the data on sea level rise through 1990, the more recent rate of rise is far steeper than earlier research had suggested. Hay and her colleagues did not set out to show this. Instead, they were trying to shed light on a mystery: There are two main ways to estimate sea levels, and their results have not always matched.

Throughout history, people have put out tide gauges to track sea level. These devices are like very big rulers. Placed along coastlines, they record the water’s height. The other way to calculate sea level is to figure out how much water flows into the ocean from the planet’s melting glaciers and ice sheets. This method also takes into account thermal expansion — how much cold water expands as it warms up.