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October 31, 2012

How Do You Raise a Prodigy?

Drew Petersen didn’t speak until he was 3½, but his mother, Sue, never believed he was slow. When he was 18 months old, in 1994, she was reading to him and skipped a word, whereupon Drew reached over and pointed to the missing word on the page. Drew didn’t produce much sound at that stage, but he already cared about it deeply. “Church bells would elicit a big response,” Sue told me. “Birdsong would stop him in his tracks.”

Prodigies are able to function at an advanced adult level in some domain before age 12. “Prodigy” derives from the Latin “prodigium,” a monster that violates the natural order.

These children have differences so evident as to resemble a birth defect, and it was in that context that I came to investigate them. Having spent 10 years researching a book about children whose experiences differ radically from those of their parents and the world around them, I found that stigmatized differences — having Down syndrome, autism or deafness; being a dwarf or being transgender — are often clouds with silver linings.

Families grappling with these apparent problems may find profound meaning, even beauty, in them. Prodigiousness, conversely, looks from a distance like silver, but it comes with banks of clouds; genius can be as bewildering and hazardous as a disability. 

October 29, 2012

Grading and supporting U.S. education: study examines consequences of international comparisons

K-12 schools in the United States are often criticized for falling behind their counterparts in other countries, but a new Cornell University study suggests that this “negative spin” does not increase public support for spending more to improve the nation’s schools.

October 25, 2012

Homework 'won't improve performance'

Homework is little if any use for primary school pupils, say two Australian education academics trying to change the approach to after hours study across the Tasman.

"We're not saying homework should be abolished, just reformed and refined," Professor Mike Horsley from Central Queensland University said.

Horsley said homework had been found to improve academic achievement in the senior years of high school. In Australia that is years 10 to 12 where students are generally aged at least 15.

At that level homework benefited about 45 per cent of students, Horsley said.

"But research shows it won't improve the achievement of children in the early years of primary school, and that it has negligible benefits in the higher grades of primary school."

FOR KIDS: A slime with memory

A slime mold called Physarum polycephalum can crawl from one spot to another. Some people liken its appearance to moving, pulsing dog barf.

Others clearly feel more tenderness toward the organism — enough to spend much of their life studying it.

One such team of scientists now reports finding that although slime molds lack a brain, this goo may still have a memory of sorts.

October 24, 2012

Higher-math skills entwined with lower-order magnitude sense

The ability to learn complex, symbolic math is a uniquely human trait, but it is intricately connected to a primitive sense of magnitude that is shared by many animals.

“Our results clearly show that uniquely human branches of mathematics interface with an evolutionarily primitive general magnitude system. We were able to show how variations in both advanced arithmetic and geometry skills specifically correlated with variations in our intuitive sense of magnitude.”

Babies as young as six months can roughly distinguish between less and more, whether it’s for a number of objects, the size of objects, or the length of time they see the objects. This intuitive, non-verbal sense of magnitude, which may be innate, has also been demonstrated in non-human animals.

When given a choice between a group of five bananas or two bananas, for example, monkeys will tend to take the bigger bunch.

FOR KIDS: Young scientists tackle abstract problems

When Nilesh Tripuraneni set out to make pancakes one morning, he had no idea he’d also wind up with the makings of a first-rate science fair project. But as the high school student sprinkled water on a hot griddle to test its temperature, the dancing droplets got him thinking: What, exactly, was going on beneath them?

The sophomore at Clovis West High School in California turned to the Internet for clues to the hopping water droplets. He learned that when the surface of a griddle becomes very hot — much hotter than the boiling point of water — the lower part of water droplets can vaporize, or turn to gas, before reaching the griddle. That cushion of vapor allows the rest of the droplet to dance.

Tripuraneni also learned about researchers at the University of Oregon in Eugene who had discovered a way to make the droplets race across a heated, grooved surface. This movement really fascinated Tripuraneni, who has always loved fluid mechanics. That’s a branch of physics that deals with liquids and gases. Before long, the teen was at work describing the racing water droplets mathematically.

October 23, 2012

Parents Look On the Bright Side of Kids' Worries

Parents consistently overestimate their children's optimism and downplay their worries, according to new research.

The findings suggest that secondhand evaluations by parents or other adults of children's emotional well-being need to be treated with caution.

Many psychologists and researchers have long held that children under the age of seven cannot accurately report how they feel, said Kristin Lagattuta, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis, who led the study. So behavioral scientists frequently rely on the impressions of parents, teachers and other adults.

In the Future, Who Will Need Teachers?

Will Web connections and new apps really replace much of our human need for real-live teachers? If the free-for-all business of guitar lessons is any indication, the answer is yes, as Your Guitar Sage's Erich Andreas and WSJ's Dennis Berman explain on The News Hub.

The current hype is that ubiquitous Internet connections and tablet devices will emerge as a competitive threat to real-life teachers, kill the textbook business and bring low-price learning to billions around the world.

Such big changes may take a generation, as problems at many for-profit colleges are showing today. But these forces are already at play, in their full smashup glory, in what has happened to the simple guitar lesson.

October 22, 2012

TV, Devices in Kids' Bedrooms Linked to Poor Sleep, Obesity

Children who bask in the nighttime glow of a TV or computer don't get enough rest and suffer from poor lifestyle habits, new research from the University of Alberta has shown.
"If you want your kids to sleep better and live a healthier lifestyle, get the technology out of the bedroom," said co-author Paul Veugelers, a professor in the School of Public Health, Canada Research Chair in Population Health and Alberta Innovates -- Health Solutions Health Scholar.

Children With Mental Health Disorders More Often Identified as Bullies

Children diagnosed with mental health disorders were three times more likely to be identified as bullies, according to new research presented Oct. 22 at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans.

Bullying is a form of youth violence defined as repetitive, intentional aggression that involves a disparity of power between the victim and perpetrator. A 2011 nationwide survey found 20 percent of U.S. high school students were bullied during the preceding 12 months. And while it is well-established that victims of bullying are at increased risk for mental health illness and suicide, few studies have investigated the mental health status of those who do the bullying.

October 20, 2012

The Marshmallow Study Revisited

Greeland Sea Ice (NASA)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Is Both Under and Over Diagnosed

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is both under and over diagnosed. That's the result of one of the largest studies conducted on ADHD in the United States, published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

A substantial number of children being treated for ADHD may not have the disorder, while many children who do have the symptoms are going untreated, according to the 10-year Project to Learn about ADHD in Youth (PLAY) study funded by the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Boys Now Enter Puberty Younger, Study Suggests, but It's Unclear Why

A large study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that boys are entering puberty earlier now than several decades ago - or at least earlier than the time frame doctors have historically used as a benchmark.

The study, widely considered the most reliable attempt to measure puberty in American boys, estimates that boys are showing signs of puberty six months to two years earlier than was reported in previous research, which historically taught that 11 ½ was the general age puberty began in boys. But experts cautioned that because previous studies were smaller or used different approaches, it is difficult to say how much earlier boys might be developing.

The study echoes research on girls, which has now established a scientific consensus that they are showing breast development earlier than in the past.

October 19, 2012

FOR KIDS: The 2012 Nobel Prizes

Every fall, a few scientists receive big recognition when they’re named winners of the Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry or medicine.

On October 8, John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering that adult cells can be forced to morph into other types of cells.

The next day, Serge Haroche and David Wineland won the physics Nobel for independent experiments related to light and matter.

And the day after that, Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka won the Nobel in chemistry for showing how cells use special molecules called receptors to communicate.

Each prize, shared between the winners in that category, brings a cash award of about $1.2 million. That’s not bad, though the award may come for work the scientists had done decades earlier.

Pediatric Studies Show the Flu's Deadly Danger, the Benefits of School Vaccinations

"During the 2004-2012 influenza seasons, almost half the children who died had been previously healthy," said Karen K. Wong, MD, an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the study's lead researcher.

"The numbers demonstrate how important it is for all children, even children who are otherwise healthy, to get a flu vaccine every year, and underscore why all children with severe illness should get treated early with influenza antiviral medications."

Take Control: Exploring How Self-Discipline Works and How We Might Boost It

Converging scientific evidence -- not to mention a great deal of life experience -- tells us that self-control is an important ability. It helps us keep our cool, get things done, and resist the things that tempt us. Scientists believe that gaining a clearer understanding of how self-control works could provide critical insights into addressing some of the large-scale problems facing society today, including obesity and addiction.

Numerous studies have found evidence for the idea of self-control as a limited resource, but emerging research suggests that this model may not tell the whole story. Research published in the journals of the Association for Psychological Science explores the various mechanisms -- metabolic, cognitive, motivational, affective -- thought to underlie self-control.

Researchers Explore How the Brain Perceives Direction and Location

Note: Wilkes School students navigate 5 floors of winding staircases...

The Who asked "who are you?" but Dartmouth neurobiologist Jeffrey Taube asks "where are you?" and "where are you going?" Taube is not asking philosophical or theological questions. Rather, he is investigating nerve cells in the brain that function in establishing one's location and direction.

"Knowing what direction you are facing, where you are, and how to navigate are really fundamental to your survival," says Taube. "For any animal that is preyed upon, you'd better know where your hole in the ground is and how you are going to get there quickly. And you also need to know direction and location to find food resources, water resources, and the like."

October 18, 2012

FOR KINDS: Curiosity’s watery find

Since August, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring a giant Martian crater with a mountain in the middle. In late September, scientists announced that if the rover had landed there 3.5 billion years ago, it might have landed with a splash. Curiosity seems to have landed right in the middle of a former streambed.

The moving water would have been “from ankle to hip deep, and maybe moving a few feet a second,” planetary scientist William Dietrich told Science News. Dietrich works with other scientists on the Curiosity mission.

Finding water on Mars is no surprise: Previous studies had turned up evidence that long ago the “Red Planet” may have had streams, rivers, oceans and plenty of rain. Images and other data collected from previous orbiting missions suggested that the giant crater probably contained water billions of years ago. Still, the scientists who work on Curiosity say they’re glad evidence for water came so early in the rover’s mission.

A Little Science Goes a Long Way: Engaging Kids Improves Math, Language Scores

A Washington State University researcher has found that engaging elementary school students in science for as little as 10 hours a year can lead to improved test scores in math and language arts.

"A lot of students say things like, 'I didn't know science was fun. And because they think it's fun, all of a sudden it's not work anymore. It's not homework. It's not something extra that they have to do."

The fourth-graders in turn took home nonfiction books and showed a greater willingness to practice reading and math, says Gizerian.

Test scores bear that out.

Read more

October 17, 2012

Books Trim the Brain

Books and educational toys can make a child smarter, but they also influence how the brain grows, according to new research presented here on Sunday at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The findings point to a "sensitive period" early in life during which the developing brain is strongly influenced by environmental factors.

Studies comparing identical and nonidentical twins show that genes play an important role in the development of the cerebral cortex, the thin, folded structure that supports higher mental functions. But less is known about how early life experiences influence how the cortex grows. To investigate, neuroscientist Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues recruited 64 children from a low income background and followed them from birth through to late adolescence.

They visited the children's homes at 4 and 8 years of age to evaluate their environment, noting factors such as the number of books and educational toys in their houses, and how much warmth and support they received from their parents.

October 16, 2012

Exercise May Lead to Better School Performance for Kids With ADHD

A few minutes of exercise can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder perform better academically, according to a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

The study shows for the first time that kids with ADHD can better drown out distractions and focus on a task after a single bout of exercise. Scientists say such "inhibitory control" is the main challenge faced by people with the disorder.

"This provides some very early evidence that exercise might be a tool in our nonpharmaceutical treatment of ADHD," said Matthew Pontifex, MSU assistant professor of kinesiology, who led the study. "Maybe our first course of action that we would recommend to developmental psychologists would be to increase children's physical activity."

Read more

Children With ADHD Find Medication Frees Them to Choose Between Right and Wrong

"ADHD is a very emotive subject, which inspires passionate debate. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the condition, what causes it, and how to deal with children with ADHD, but the voices of these children are rarely listened to," explains Dr Singh. "Who better to tell us what ADHD is like and how medication affects them than the children themselves?"

Children living with ADHD tend to feel they benefit from medication to treat the condition and do not think the medication turns them into 'robots', according to a report published October 17. In fact, they report that medication helps them to control their behaviour and make better decisions. The study, which gives a voice to the children themselves, provides valuable insights into their experiences and the stigma they face.

Findings Reveal Brain Mechanisms at Work During Sleep

New findings presented today report the important role sleep plays, and the brain mechanisms at work as sleep shapes memory, learning, and behavior. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

One in five American adults show signs of chronic sleep deprivation, making the condition a widespread public health problem. Sleeplessness is related to health issues such as obesity, cardiovascular problems, and memory problems.

Read more

Prion Protein Hints at Role in Aiding Learning and Memory

Scientists from the University of Leeds have found that the protein called prion helps our brains to absorb zinc, which is believed to be crucial to our ability to learn and the wellbeing of our memory.

Professor Nigel Hooper from the University's Faculty of Biological Sciences explains: "With aging, the level of prion protein in our brains falls and less zinc is absorbed by brain cells, which could explain why our memory and learning capabilities change as we get older.

By studying both their roles in the body, we hope to uncover exactly how prion and zinc affect memory and learning. This could help us better understand how to maintain healthy brain cells and limit the effects of aging on the brain."

FOR KIDS: Earth’s big breakup

In April, a powerful earthquake shook Sumatra, an island in the Indian Ocean that’s part of the country of Indonesia. Two hours later, a second earthquake — one nearly as powerful — hit the same region. This one-two punch had a big reach: It set off additional quakes as far away as Mexico.

The Sumatra earthquakes occurred near where a 2004 earthquake struck and caused a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Big quakes also hit the area in 2005 and 2007. Scientists now suspect that all of the earthquakes there don’t only add up to a lot of shaking — those powerful tremors also indicate something may be changing deep underground.

Discontinued Treatment of ADHD Could Impact Emotional, Social Wellbeing

Young boys who discontinue treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are featured in a new study that many experts say highlights the importance of proper and continued treatment.

An average of 9 percent of children ages 4 to 17 are diagnosed with ADHD each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considered one of the most common childhood disorders, the condition is defined by over-activity, and difficulty focusing and controlling impulsive behaviors.

October 15, 2012

Do Re Mi Fa ... How Do You Know What Comes Next?

How do you remember a song -- and why is it that a beginning pianist who forgets the middle of a melody needs to start over again to recall the tune?

Brain scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center now have a response to these questions. At Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the researchers reveal their solution to what has long been a fundamental puzzle in neuroscience: What does the brain have to do to process a new musical sequence, and what must it do to recall a song, once learned?

The answer, says Brannon Green, a graduate student who works in the laboratory of senior author, neuroscientist Josef Rauschecker, Ph.D., is that two different areas of the brain are used -- one to learn a sequence and another to recall it -- and that higher motor areas participate in both.

School-Wide Interventions Improve Student Behavior

An analysis of a school behavior strategy -- known as School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) -- found that these types of programs significantly reduced children's aggressive behaviors and office discipline referrals, as well as improved problems with concentration and emotional regulation.

"These findings are very exciting, given the wide use of SWPBIS across the country. These results are among the first to document significant impacts of the program on children's problem behaviors, as well as positive behaviors, across multiple years as a result of SWPBIS," said Catherine P. Bradshaw, PhD, MEd, lead author of the study and associate professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Mental Health.

Read more

October 14, 2012

FOR KIDS: Color-changing robot

Chameleons and octopuses are masters of disguise: These animals can change their appearance at a moment’s notice. Now, so can a robot.

Scientists at Harvard University recently invented a squishy robot that looks like an inflatable letter “X.” About the size of a smartphone, it lurches along like a mysterious jelly creature on the bottom of the sea. Now, in a project funded by the U.S. government, these scientists have created a new cloak for the robot that gives it the ability to change color.

October 12, 2012

FOR KIDS: Bacteria learn new trick

E. coli bacteria live naturally in the human gut. For almost 25 years, researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing have been growing the germs in 12 glass flasks. The microbes have been growing, and reproducing — and growing some more. Meanwhile, biologists have been watching, watching, watching.

Richard Lenski and his coworkers recently reported a new finding from the long-term project. In one flask, the bacteria the scientists were nurturing did something momentous: They gradually evolved, or changed. In this case, the tiny organisms developed the ability to eat a new food — citrate — but only when oxygen is around.

That may not seem like such a big deal, and it’s not — for humans.

October 11, 2012

Natural Playgrounds More Beneficial to Children, Inspire More Play

Children who play on playgrounds that incorporate natural elements like logs and flowers tend to be more active than those who play on traditional playgrounds with metal and brightly colored equipment, according to a recent UT study.

They also appear to use their imagination more, according to the report.

The study, which examined changes in physical activity levels and patterns in young children exposed to both traditional and natural playgrounds, is among the first of its kind in the United States.

October 10, 2012

FOR KIDS: Bird malaria moves north

Fairbanks is the second-largest city in Alaska, and according to a new study it’s also now home to malaria germs that infect birds. The finding that these germs — which thrive in warmer climates — have established themselves in North America’s cold, northern reaches could mean trouble for local birds.

Malaria microbes are parasites, or organisms that live on or in other organisms. The parasites make their home in mosquitoes, which can then transfer the germs from bird to bird, or from person to person. (Another reason to hate mosquitoes! Thwap!)

Brain Scans Predict Children's Reading Ability

If a 7-year-old is breezing through the "Harry Potter" books, studies indicate that he or she will be a strong reader later in life. Conversely, if a 7-year-old is struggling with "The Cat in the Hat," that child will most likely struggle with reading going forward.

The study findings could eventually influence reading lessons for pre-elementary children, tailoring lesson plans to individual needs.

New research from Stanford shows that brain scans can identify the neural differences between these two children, and could one day lead to an early warning system for struggling students.

Studies Link Students' Boredom to Stress

While boredom is a perennial student complaint, emerging research shows it is more than students' not feeling entertained, but rather a "flavor of stress" that can interfere with their ability to learn and even their health. An international group of researchers argues this month in Perspectives on Psychological Science that the experience of boredom directly connects to a student's inability to focus attention.

Boredom is one of the most consistent experiences of school and one that can be frustrating and disheartening for teachers. According to findingsRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader in the High School Survey of Student Engagement, conducted by the Indiana University Bloomington, boredom is nearly universal among American students.

Parenting More Important Than Schools to Academic Achievement

"Our study shows that parents need to be aware of how important they are, and invest time in their children -- checking homework, attending school events and letting kids know school is important," says Dr. Toby Parcel, a professor of sociology at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. "That's where the payoff is."
Specifically, the researchers looked at how "family social capital" and "school social capital" pertained to academic achievement.
  • Family social capital can essentially be described as the bonds between parents and children, such as trust, open lines of communication and active engagement in a child's academic life. 
  • School social capital captures a school's ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, including measures such as student involvement in extracurricular activities, teacher morale and the ability of teachers to address the needs of individual students.

Exam Anxiety May Lead to Better Grades

Taking academic tests can be a stressful time for some young people and especially for those with a history of elevated anxiety. However a study published today (12 October 2012) in the British Journal of Psychology shows that anxiety only has a negative effect on test results if memory is also poor.. Furthermore if memory is good, increased anxiety is associated with attaining better marks.

In this study 96 school students aged between 12 and 14, from several schools, completed measures of anxiety and working memory, using computer tests. Good working memory predicts educational attainment. The students were then tested for cognitive ability and maths performance.

It was found that when working memory was poor, increased anxiety was associated with low test scores. When working memory was good, anxiety was associated with higher test results.

October 9, 2012

Academic Achievement Improved Among Students Active in Structured After-School Programs

School-age children who participate in structured after-school activities improve their academic achievement, according to a new study from Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

"Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas and other structured programs are really having a positive impact," said Ken Springer, an associate professor. "We believe that the homework support that the clubs consistently provide students may be a key factor. Now we plan to extend the study and take into account more variables."

Your Child Shows Up for Middle School, but What About His Classmates?

How often do your child's classmates go to school? Whether fellow students show up for class matters more than you think, especially if your son or daughter is in middle school, according to Robert Balfanz, a research professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

While it's natural for parents to focus their attention solely on their own child's attendance, Balfanz said it is also critically important that they start paying attention to what he calls the chronic absentee rate: the percentage of children who miss a month or more of the school year, as detailed in his recent report, The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation's Public Schools.

October 8, 2012

New Field of Developmental Neuroscience Changes Our Understanding of Early Years of Human Life

By the time our children reach kindergarten their learning and developmental patterns are already taking shape, as is a trajectory for their future health. Now, for the first time, scientists have amassed a large collection of research that looks "under the skin," to examine how and why experiences interact with biology starting before birth to affect a life course.

The implications of the research are far reaching, from new approaches to learning and language acquisition, to new considerations for the health effects of social environments affecting large populations, and policies for early childhood care and education.

Language Learning Makes the Brain Grow

At the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy, young recruits learn a new language at a very fast pace.

By measuring their brains before and after the language training, a group of researchers has had an almost unique opportunity to observe what happens to the brain when we learn a new language in a short period of time.

October 6, 2012

Testing Can Be Useful for Students and Teachers

Pop quiz! Tests are good for: (a) Assessing what you've learned; (b) Learning new information; (c) a & b; (d) None of the above.

The correct answer?

According to research from psychological science, it's both (a) and (b) -- while testing can be useful as an assessment tool, the actual process of taking a test can also help us to learn and retain new information over the long term and apply it across different contexts.

New research published in journals of the Association for Psychological Science explores the nuanced interactions between testing, memory, and learning and suggests possible applications for testing in educational settings.

See also: How Testing Improves Memory (October 15, 2010)

BOOK REVIEW: Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ In The Twenty-First Century By James R. Flynn

IQ scores have risen dramatically over the last few generations. Flynn, a psychologist who discovered this trend 25 years ago, takes a provocative look at what escalating scores mean for the death penalty, racial differences in IQ and other controversial social issues.

Flynn begins by reviewing IQ rises in developed countries. An average Dutch person in 1982, for instance, scored as a near genius relative to the Dutch of 1952. Formal schooling and more complex cultures sparked IQ inflation, Flynn says. Gains occurred largely on test items that gauge the ability to classify things using scientific terms, such as listing dogs and rabbits as mammals, and to use logic to solve hypothetical problems, such as determining how a sequence of abstract shapes will play out.

So people today are smarter than those in the past at dealing with complex, abstract problems, Flynn says. Perhaps modern societies have nurtured an analytical intelligence that contrasts with a past emphasis on practical smarts, he suggests.

October 5, 2012

Education: Get With the Computer Program

From email to Twitter, blogs to word processors, computer programs provide countless communications opportunities. While social applications have dominated the development of the participatory web for users and programmers alike, this era of Web 2.0 is applicable to more than just networking opportunities: it impacts education.

The integration of increasingly sophisticated information and communication tools (ICTs) is sweeping university classrooms. Understanding how learners and instructors perceive the effectiveness of these tools in the classroom is critical to the success or failure of their integration higher education settings. A new study led by Concordia University shows that when it comes to pedagogy, students prefer an engaging lecture rather than a targeted tweet.

What Makes Self-Directed Learning Effective?

Research from cognition offers several explanations that help to account for the advantages of self-directed learning.

For example, self-directed learning helps us optimize our educational experience, allowing us to focus effort on useful information that we don't already possess and exposing us to information that we don't have access to through passive observation. The active nature of self-directed learning also helps us in encoding information and retaining it over time.

But we're not always optimal self-directed learners. The many cognitive biases and heuristics that we rely on to help us make decisions can also influence what information we pay attention to and, ultimately, learn.

Scale to Measure Parent-Teacher Communication at the K-12 Level

Communication between K-12 teachers and parents has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. Parent-teacher communication represents a primary form of parental support or involvement, elements which have recently received much attention given the connections between parental support and academic achievement. In fact, parental involvement at the K-12 level represents a major component in recent education policies at the national level.

Mazer and Blair Thompson (Western Kentucky University) published an article in the April 2012 issue of Communication Education in which they developed a scale to measure parent-teacher communication at the K-12 level. The Parental Academic Support Scale (PASS) was developed to assess the supportive interactions between parents and teachers, including the frequency of specific behaviors associated with parental academic support, parents' perceptions of the importance of those supportive behaviors, and the modes (e-mail, face-to-face interactions, phone, etc.) of communication that parents commonly use to communicate with teachers. School districts nationwide may find this scale useful in enhancing communication between parents and teachers.

October 4, 2012

How 'Star Wars' Seduced Another Generation Of Kids

It's unusual for movies that appeal to one generation of kids to catch the fancy of the next. And, while no self-respecting 15-year-old would be caught dead wearing a T-shirt featuring one of his early childhood favorites — Thomas the Tank Engine, say, or the Berenstain Bears — plenty of teens are still into Star Wars.

"It's become such an important part of kids' lives when they're growing up that it has a nostalgia value as they get older," says Howard Roffman, a longtime licensing executive with Lucasfilm Ltd., the Star Wars production company. "We've been fortunate that we haven't suffered from the phenomenon where you embrace something as a kid and it becomes uncool when you're older."

FOR KIDS: How teachers cultivate young scientists

Exploding baking-soda volcanoes. Dissecting frogs. Bending the flow of water from a faucet with a recently used comb. These are the types of activities that probably come to mind when kids — even at the high school level — think of scientific research.

Although such experiments are educational and sometimes even investigative, they aren’t research. That’s because they all have predetermined outcomes. Instead, such demonstrations are really meant to help visualize scientific concepts.
However, “That’s not what scientists do. They’re looking for something new,” science teacher Bill Wallace of the Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., explained at the 2012 Fellows Institute in August.

Allowing kids to ask questions, study background information on a problem and then test their own predictions reveals the true nature of scientific inquiry. Along the way, tweens and teens will learn that biology, chemistry, physics and earth science are not static bodies of knowledge, but enterprises that churn out new discoveries every day.

October 3, 2012

When Curious Parents See Math Grades in Real Time

It's a parent's dream—or nightmare: More schools offer online systems that let families track grades, attendance and other student-related information. In the past five years, the number of schools using such systems has more than tripled, to an estimated 25% to 35% of U.S. public schools, says Rich Bagin, executive director of the National School Public Relations Association in Rockville, Md. Parent use is likely to expand faster in coming years, as more take advantage of the systems' mobile apps, Mr. Bagin says.

Systems that are supposed to help parents and schools communicate online about children's homework, attendance and grades can help keep some students on track, but they're frustrating for many parents, teachers and students.

October 2, 2012

Car-crazy Kid Wins Middle School Science Competition

After cruising through days of engineering enigmas, science stumpers and mathematical mysteries, a 14-year-old car aficionado earned the top award at the second annual Broadcom Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars, or MASTERS, competition.

In a project he called “Spare the Environment, Spoiler the Car: The Effect of Rear Spoilers on Drag and Lift,” Gilmartin studied how different sizes and shapes of spoilers change the amount of drag that cars experience. He built a six-foot wind tunnel in his house and tested various combinations of model cars and hand-carved wooden spoilers, tests that ultimately told him that some kinds of rear spoilers on SUVs may ease drivers’ pain at the pump. 

This year's crop of finalists also included 13-year-old twin brothers — Shashank Dholakia and Shishir Dholakia of Santa Clara, Calif. — who tracked the movements of two stars in the sky; a 14-year-old surfer from Hebron, Conn. — Maura Clare Oei  — who developed a way to capture energy from waves; and a 13-year-old Texas rancher — Paige Gentry  of San Angelo — who had a run-in with a rabid skunk in her hen house. After tinkering around with various types of skunk bait that could eventually be spiked with a rabies vaccine, Gentry discovered that skunks like chicken best.

October 1, 2012

Scientific Inquiry Among the Preschool Set

When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, according to a new report in the journal Science: forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world.

[S]tudies have found that when children are simply taught, they don’t explore and test multiple hypotheses, Dr. Gopnik said, adding:

“There’s a lot of pressure from parents and policy makers to make preschools more and more like schools. This research suggests the opposite.”

FOR KIDS: Pathways to research, Problem-solving

Many young researchers get their start by trying to solve a problem or fulfill a need in their own communities. When students dedicate themselves to finding a solution that may benefit their community, “a passion is ignited,” says Wendy Hawkins, executive director of the Intel Foundation, which sponsors Intel ISEF. “Finding that passion and fostering it can be the key to many students’ future success,” she says.

News as inspiration

Students can find inspiration for their research almost anywhere. Newspapers, magazines and even TV are good places to start. Toll, for instance, decided to engineer a new way to build homes for refugees after seeing TV reports about families displaced by violence in Afghanistan.

FOR KIDS: Icy inns at Earth’s end

Icebergs, scientists are discovering, play host to all kinds of life — everything from tiny plantlike organisms called phytoplankton to enormous whales. This world of extreme cold and isolation bustles with surprising amounts of activity.

Identifying how and why animals choose to make their homes in and around icebergs hasn’t proven an easy task for scientists. Icebergs stretch to towering heights and even more dizzying depths. To study them underwater, scientists may sink scientific instruments hundreds of meters (yards) to the chilly seafloor. To understand what’s going on dozens of meters (yards) up on top, these experts may rely on remote-controlled aircraft. Meanwhile, waves may rock and soak scientists bobbing in nearby boats.

In fact, everything about studying an iceberg is challenging...

How Self-Expression Damaged My Students

Every decent human impulse we have as teachers shouts in favor of not imposing rules and discipline on students, but liberating them to discover the power of their voice by sharing their stories. Of course children will be become better writers if they write personal narratives instead of book reports. Obviously children will be more engaged and motivated if they can write from the heart about what they know best, rather that trudge through turgid English essays and research papers.

Grammar? Mechanics? Correcting errors? Please. Great writing is discovery. It is the intoxicating power of words and our own stories, writing for an audience and making things happen in the world. We know this works. We all saw the movie Freedom Writers, didn't we?

Like so many of our earnest and most deeply humane ideas about educating children in general, and poor, urban children in particular, this impulse toward authenticity is profoundly idealistic, seductive, and wrong. I should know. I used to damage children for a living with that idealism.

Tech will make us rethink age-grouping in schools

Online platforms like Khan Academy are already starting to flip classrooms across the country so that students can learn at their own pace.  But some think it might not be too long before technology pushes schools to personalize education in even more structural ways, so that students are no longer grouped by age, but by competency.

Noting advances in educational technology –- from online platforms that deliver instruction to programs that analyze student learning data -– Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of College and Career Readiness at McGraw-Hill, said Thursday he thinks that in the next five to six years, schools and educators are going to have to rethink age-grouping as the primary organizing principle for K-12 education, especially at the high-school level.

In a virtual roundtable with reporters, he said, “What does it mean to be a 9th grader or 10th grader beyond being a certain age? … It doesn’t make sense that all the 15-year-olds are in this grade and all the 16-year-olds are in that grade. It should be where your interests, your skills and your mastery of certain concepts takes you.”