Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Bookless library opened by new US university

Florida Polytechnic University's enormous facility promises to make 'many more books available for the students' in digital form.

There are no dusty bookshelves or piles of textbooks in the library of Florida's newest university. Welcoming its first students this week, Florida Polytechnic University's new library houses not a single physical book.

Instead, its inaugural class of 500 will have access to around 135,000 ebooks. "Our on-campus library is entirely digital," said director of libraries Kathryn Miller. "We have access to print books through the state university system's interlibrary loan program. However, we strongly encourage our students to read and work with information digitally."

The 11,000 square-foot library is situated within a huge, white-domed building, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Eschewing physical books, it is a bright, open space featuring computer terminals, desks, and comfortable spots to read.

A budget of $60,000 (£36,000) has also been set aside for students to read ebooks that the library doesn't already own. Once a book has been viewed twice on this system, it will be automatically purchased. The set-up, said Miller, "allows for many more books to be available for the students, and the university only has to pay when the student or faculty member uses the book", allowing students "to make direct choices regarding the books they want to read and have available in the library".

The new university offers courses exclusively in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and Miller said that one of its objectives was to "prepare students for the high-tech workforce by giving them hands-on experience with advanced technology".

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Censorship of books in US prisons and schools ‘widespread’ – report to UN

Free-speech organisations find US government is ‘failing to protect the rights of its most vulnerable citizens’ as popular books – including Shakespeare – are banned from institutions.

There is “widespread censorship” of books in US prisons, according to a report submitted to a UN human rights review, which details the banning of works about artists from Botticelli to Van Gogh from Texan state prisons for containing “sexually explicit images”.

The report from two free-speech organisations, the New York-based National Coalition Against Censorship and the Copenhagen-based Freemuse, to the United Nation’s (UN) Universal Periodic Review states that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) lists 11,851 titles banned from its facilities. These range from the “ostensibly reasonable”, such as How to Create a New Identity, Essential Throwing and Grappling Techniques, and Art & Design of Custom Fixed Blades, to what it describes as “the telling”, including Write it in Arabic, and the “bizarre” (Arrival of the Gods: Revealing the Alien Landing Sites at Nazca was banned for reasons of “homosexuality”).

Prisoners in Texas are entitled to be mailed books and magazines, but the titles are checked on arrival against a “master list” of acceptable works. If they do not appear on the list, then it is the decision of the post-room officer as to whether they are objectionable.

“Of the 11,851 total blocked titles, 7,061 were blocked for ‘deviant sexual behaviour’ and 543 for sexually explicit images,” says the report, naming artists including Caravaggio, Cézanne, Dallí, Picasso, Raphael, Rembrandt and Renoir among those whose works have been kept out of Texas state prisons.
“Anthologies on Greco-Roman art, the pre-Raphaelites, impressionism, Mexican muralists, pop surrealism, graffiti art, art deco, art nouveau and the National Museum of Women in the Arts are banned for the same reason, as are numerous textbooks on pencil drawing, watercolour, oil painting, photography, graphic design, architecture and anatomy for artists,” states the submission, with prohibited literary works by Gustav Flaubert, Langston Hughes, Flannery O’Connor, George Orwell, Ovid, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, John Updike, Shakespeare and Alice Walker also on the banned list.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Maldives will censor all books to protect Islamic codes

In a move condemned by free speech advocates, the islands’ government moves to curb literature and poetry’s ‘adverse effects on society’

Poetry and literature will have to be approved by the Maldivian government before they are published in the country, according to new regulations which have been described as a “disaster for freedom of expression” by free speech campaigners.

Published earlier this month, the regulations are intended to “standardise all literature … publicised and published in the Maldives in accordance with laws and regulations of the Maldives and its societal etiquette”, and to “reduce adverse effects on society that could be caused by published literature”, according to an unofficial translation by lawyer Mushfique Mohamed shown to the Guardian.

The rules insist that those wishing to publish books in the Maldives must submit a finished copy of their work, along with a form and a MVR50 revenue stamp, to the national bureau of classification for approval, or face fines. This includes poetry, which is defined by the regulations as “words and phrases structured into verses that fit a particular form, expressing thoughts and ideas that are heartfelt”. One strand of publication is exempted from the requirements: “…any writing published to circulate information among its members/employees by a political party, civil society group, company, or specific governmental body”.
The bureau will be looking to ensure “that the works published in the Maldives do not contravene Islamic principles, the laws and regulations of the Maldives and societal etiquette”, and to “reduce adverse effects on society that could be caused by published literature”. They will also, according to the translation, “respect the constitutional right to freedom of expression and allow novel and constructive ideas”.

Men, masculine pride and how to cope with depression

Masculinity plays an important role in dealing with problems such as depression. Men often don’t feel able to reach out for assistance because both the symptoms of depression and the act of seeking help goes against a stereotypical view of how us blokes should or shouldn’t behave.

Of course, traditional masculine characteristics are not necessarily “good” or “bad”. Stereotypical male traits such as self-reliance and independence can be very valuable in life (for both men and women). But when demonstrated through unhealthy and over-used psychological practises, they can spell trouble for well-being and mark seeking help as off-limits.

For example, adherence to “strait-jacket” masculinity, might not only prevent getting treatment but also intensifies tactics such as hiding depressed mood and increasing risk-taking behaviours such as substance use.

So being competitive with your mates on the football pitch, rugby field or golf course, for example, is great in order to secure the win and bragging rights, but “not giving in” to a serious dose of depression by coping in secret is not, and can do more harm in the long run.

So, if the prospect of seeking help makes you twitchy, what can you do about it?
Get out of the strait-jacket

Research has shown that some men re-interpret and expand what it means to be a man in order to subtly un-hook themselves from the strait-jacket variety of masculinity. It may seem subtle to those on the outside but it’s a big personal step. Rather than seeing seeking help as an unacceptable behaviour, some see it as demonstrating an ability to be responsible, proactive, and practical. So rather than a sign of dependence on others, it can be seen as a responsible way of maintaining psychological health and responsibilities, by being an engaged partner, for example.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Streaming six-year-olds by ability only benefits the brightest

The streaming of children at primary school by their ability is actually widening the achievement gap between low and high-attaining pupils. Our research has shown that streaming in primary school leads to higher marks for children in the top class, but lower marks for those in the middle and lower classes compared to those in mixed ability classes.

Streaming – when children are placed in a class based on general ability and taught in that class for the whole time – is on the increase among five to seven-year-olds in UK primary schools. While around 2-3% of year 2 pupils were streamed in the 1990s, by 2007 this had increased to 17% in England, 16% in Scotland, 20% in Wales and 11% in Northern Ireland. 
 Streaming for six year olds

Our research, presented at the British Educational Research Association conference, used data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) to investigate how grouping children by their ability into upper, middle and lower streams in year 2 (six to seven-years-old) relates to their academic progress. We also took into account other key child, family and school characteristics.

The MCS follows the lives of around 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 to 2001. Five surveys of cohort members have been carried out so far – at nine months, three, five, seven and 11 years.

Our research focused on children in families in England where information on streaming had been provided by their primary school teacher – and we had data from the National Pupil Database on their test results at Key Stage 1 (five to seven-years-old). The analysis was based on 2,544 children in 307 primary schools, of whom 83% (2,098) were not streamed, 8% (222) were in the “top” stream, 5% (130) were in the “middle” stream and 4% (94) were in the “bottom” stream.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Your sleeping brain is listening

Your brain can sort information even as it snoozes.
A soundly sleeping brain monitors its surroundings. It also can respond to them without waking, a new study finds. For instance, even while snoozing, a person’s brain can sort words correctly into different categories.
This is not the first study to show that the sleeping mind can do useful work. Two years ago, researchers in Israel showed the sleeping brain can learn.

Sid Kouider of the National Center for Scientific Research (or CNRS) in Paris, France, led the new study. His team recorded brain signals from people — all wide awake — as they classified spoken words as either animals or objects. To do that, the participants might push a button with their right hand when they heard an animal name. Then they’d use their left hand to push a different button when the word represented some other type of object.

As each volunteer responded, the researchers tracked their brain activity. They did this by measuring the participants' brain waves. Such recordings are known as EEGs. And those EEGs showed that when an individual was about to hit the right button, the brain responded differently than when it was going to hit a left button.

The media’s dangerous influence on body image

Television, advertising and more can send young girls the wrong message about what is a healthy — and normal — body weight.

Researchers say it is too early to know whether social media is having a big impact on the number of people who develop eating disorders. In the United States and other countries, the overall rate of eating disorders has remained steady for decades. That isn’t always the case elsewhere, including the southern Pacific island nation of Fiji.

Here, for nearly 20 years, Anne Becker has probed the effects of media on youth. She wants to know how outside influences — such as media and networks of friends — affect a young girl’s body image.

Becker is an expert on eating disorders at Harvard Medical School in Boston. She chose to study girls in Fiji for two reasons. The first: Until the mid-1990s, doctors had reported only one case of anorexia nervosa in this entire country. She wanted to know what may have protected the girls in Fiji from this disorder.

The second reason: People in remote areas of Fiji had almost no exposure to television until 1995. That’s when their government began allowing TV stations to broadcast Western programs. Almost overnight, youth became exposed to Western media.

Until very recently, Fiji’s culture valued large, robust and strong-boned women. In fact, the culture encouraged women to eat a lot. When Becker started looking for evidence of eating disorders in 1995, she couldn’t find a single report of a girl in Fiji who had purged — vomited — to manage her weight. Then Western TV exploded onto the scene. People started watching shows such as Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and The X-Files. Becker wondered if the images and ideas in these shows might have affected peoples’ views of what the ideal woman should look like.

And sure enough, signs of a change were emerging by 1998. In one small survey of teen girls in Fiji, slightly more than one in every 10 reported having vomited to lose weight. “That is an oh-my-gosh kind of finding,” says Becker. “That’s about what you would expect in a Massachusetts high school.” In addition, more than three-quarters of the girls reported that television influenced their body image.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Water discovered in a small, warm exoplanet’s atmosphere for first time

The planet is a ball of gas with surface temperatures of 600C, but future studies of alien atmospheres may reveal signs of life.
Astronomers have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet that orbits a star far beyond our solar system.

Observations of the Neptune-sized planet, which lies 120 light years from Earth in the constellation of Cygnus, revealed that its atmosphere was mostly hydrogen with around 25% made up from water vapour.

Until now, researchers have been frustrated in their efforts to study the atmospheres of planets much smaller than Jupiter because their skies were thick with clouds. The problem was so persistent that astronomers had begun to think that all warm, small planets formed with substantial cloud cover.

But writing in the journal Nature, scientists in the US describe how they found a Neptune-sized planet with cloud-free skies, enabling them to make detailed measurements of a small planet’s atmosphere for the first time.

The planet, named HAT-P-11b, is about four times the diameter of Earth. It orbits so close to its star that surface temperatures reach more than 600C and a year passes in five Earth days. Like our own Neptune, the planet lacks a rocky surface – it’s a ball of gas – and is thought to be lifeless.

Scientists from the University of Maryland used Hubble’s wide field camera to analyse light from HAT-P-11b’s host star through the planet’s atmosphere. They found that light with a wavelength of 1.4 micrometres was absorbed, matching the absorption spectrum of water molecules.

“Although this planet is not classically habitable, it reveals to us that when we find Earth 2.0, we will be able to use this technique, transmission spectroscopy, to understand its atmosphere and determine the quality of life available on its shores,” said Jonathan Fraine, a graduate student and first author on the study.

What do primary school children need to eat?

We should be concerned about our children’s diets. In 2011, nearly 10% of four to five-year-olds in the UK were classified as obese. By the time they leave primary school, nearly 20% of children are obese. Around 40% of these overweight children will continue to have increased weight during adolescence and 75-80% of obese adolescents will become obese adults. If these children are to avoid health problems such as tooth decay, iron deficiency, rickets, type-2 diabetes and heart disease later in life, something has to be done about their diet.

Now that the government has launched a programme of free school meals for all five to seven-year-olds at state school in England, the policy is under the microscope to see if it will actually make a difference to children’s health.

Compared to adults, the energy and nutrient requirements of children are actually relatively similar. Here is a list of six key nutritional elements to be aware of in primary school children.


The energy requirement of young children is not far off what we need as an adult. All that physical and mental development needs a lot of energy – as the table shows. 
But according to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), published in May 2014, children are perhaps getting a bit too much of their daily recommended amounts of certain foodstuffs, as the graph below shows. This could be contributing to obesity. It’s worth noting that the NDNS is a survey, so food intake is often under-reported.

How neuroscience can teach children about mental health

At a recent talk I gave as a Sheffield NeuroGirl, a group of three female PhD students who aim to bring interesting and exciting research on the brain to the public, I carried out a little experiment. I asked everyone to get to their feet and then for everyone who either had, or knew someone with a mental illness to sit back down again. Amazingly, only two people were left standing.

This is by no means an unusual state of affairs. One in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem, including 10% of all children. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds across the globe, with depression a major risk factor. And a breakdown in a healthy brain is indiscriminate in who it targets: rich, poor, all races and both sexes.

Yet negative attitudes from the stigma of mental health problems are still very prevalent, and the perception of those that seek help for mental ill health is that they are “crazy”, “weak”, “flawed” or “dangerous”.

A 2007 study found that anticipated negative attitudes – from peers, family members and even school staff – were crucial to whether they sought help for mental health problems. So why is there still so little education on the brain and how it works in schools? Lessons could teach children what our brains do and why they might go wrong. If mental health will likely touch us all at some point throughout our lives, can we not begin to understand it earlier?

If a child breaks their arm, everyone talks about it; from how it was broken, why it hurts, how it will mend, potential complications. No-one bats an eyelid about seeing a cast. However, if a child becomes depressed, there is usually no frank discussion about what might be wrong with their brain and why they could be feeling down. Although there are treatments available, there may be a big gap in explaining the processes happening in the brain.

Neuroscience, which investigates how the central nervous system and the brain functions in health and in disease, can inform education and reduce stigma. Those of us who study or work in neuroscience are aware of the many problems the brain can face throughout its lifetime.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Meat Free Mondays

Sir Paul McCartney asks fans to pledge support for Meat Free Mondays in an attempt to raise awareness on the environmental impacts of eating meat.

Monday, 22 September 2014

To help dyslexic pupils, go to the root of how children learn

Dyslexia isn't just about bad spelling – teachers need to try a variety of strategies to build confidence.
I have this issue with how I hear words, Gareth, a 31-year-old graphic designer, tells me.

"So for example, while I was growing up, it was really hard to tell the difference between the words 'girl' and 'grill' because the 'ir' and the 'l' kind of overlapped in time unless you spoke really slowly. My teachers were always just flabbergasted that I couldn't tell."

To most of us, it seems obvious that the "ir" sound in "girl" comes before the "l", but for Gareth, like many dyslexic sufferers, a dysfunction in the processing of neurological signals relative to each other in time, means that the letters tend to slip.

This problem snowballs when it comes to learning to read. It's vital to be able to hear the sounds of the words and associate them with a symbol before you can decode them on a page.

But like all neurological disorders, dyslexia is not a static condition. The brain has an astonishing capacity to adapt and overcome hindrances which may be present in our neurobiology when we're born – an ability referred to as neural plasticity.

This process works through a combination of repetition and feedback, in other words, practising. It's the same way a violinist gradually learns to find finger positions on the strings.

System is skewed against dyslexics

Through persistence, and repeatedly trying to hear the differences between words, Gareth says he's overcome many of the problems he faced when younger. But he feels that the education system is skewed against dyslexics.

A Child's View of Sensory Processing

Learn about sensory processing from a child's prospective.

Loeb Classical Library 1.0

When James Loeb designed his soon-to-be-launched series of Greek and Roman texts at the turn of the twentieth century, he envisioned the production of volumes that could easily fit in readers’ coat pockets. A century later, that compact format is still one of the collection’s hallmarks. Beginning in September, however, the iconic books will be far handier than Loeb had hoped: users of the Loeb Classical Library (LCL) will have the entire collection at their fingertips. After five years of dedicated work on the part of the library’s trustees and Harvard University Press (HUP), which has overseen LCL since its creator’s death in 1933, the more than 520 volumes of literature that make up the series will be accessible online. Besides allowing users to browse the digitized volumes, which retain the unique side-by-side view of the original text and its English translation, the Digital Loeb Classical Library will enable readers to search for words and phrases across the entire corpus, to annotate content, to share notes and reading lists with others, and to create their own libraries using personal workspaces.

LCL managing editor Michael Sullivan, whose position was created earlier this year to supervise the virtual library, said that the digitization project is “a major leap forward in the history of the Loeb.” According to HUP executive editor-at-large Sharmila Sen, the launch of the digital LCL marks “a moment of rebirth” for the historic collection. She explained that in the years preceding the library’s 2011 centenary, the trustees and HUP administrators began to think about how to make the LCL “relevant to the twenty-first century.” Even though online databases of Greek and Latin literature have existed for years, said the library’s general editor, Jeffrey Henderson, a classics professor at Boston University, the digital Loeb will be unprecedented in its accessibility and scope: for the first time, readers without knowledge of Greek and Latin will be able to explore a vast range of the classical literary heritage online through high-quality, modern translations. He added that the project, which cost the LCL foundation more than $1 million, will serve as a model for the digitization of other HUP series, noting, “It’s strange that the oldest literature becomes the model for the digital age.”

Consolidating a vast literary corpus involving two different alphabets into an interconnected, elegant, and easy-to-use website required much behind-the-scenes work, Sen said. Designing the software for the digital library and transferring the data have concluded, she noted, but the project overseers view the current product—which will be available by subscription to institutions and individuals—as only a 1.0 version. The website will be a dynamic workspace, Henderson pointed out, adding that user feedback will help the editors increase its functionality.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

How Repetition Enchants the Brain and the Psychology of Why We Love It in Music

“Music takes place in time, but repetition beguilingly makes it knowable in the way of something outside of time.”

“The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism,” Haruki Murakami reflected on the power of a daily routine. “Rhythm is one of the most powerful of pleasures, and when we feel a pleasurable rhythm we hope it will continue,” Mary Oliver wrote about the secret of great poetry, adding: “When it does, it grows sweeter.” But nowhere does rhythmic repetition mesmerize us more powerfully than in music, with its singular way of enchanting the brain.

How and why this happens is precisely what cognitive scientist Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, director of the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas, explores in On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind (public library). This illuminating short animation from TED Ed, based on Margulis’s work, explains the psychology of the “mere exposure effect,” which makes things grow sweeter simply as they become familiar — a parallel manifestation of the same psychological phenomenon that causes us to rate familiar statements as more likely to be true than unfamiliar ones.

Beyond the big three: French, German and Spanish aren’t the only languages that matter

The shortage of foreign language skills in the UK is now a permanent preoccupation, with some sources placing the estimated cost of the deficit as high as £48 billion a year. Britons are now seen as a “nation of monoglots” and ridiculed when attempting to communicate in international contexts.

But part of the problem is that although teenagers recognise the need to learn languages, few are doing so – and even fewer are studying non-traditional languages such as Mandarin, Arabic, Russian and Turkish, which are only available in a handful of schools.

Bad reputation 

The UK’s poor reputation for languages is not surprising. A 2012 European survey found that only 39% of UK respondents felt able to hold a basic conversation in a language other than English. For those who could, this was most likely to be French (19%) or German (6%).

In England, less than half of 16-year-olds now take a language at GCSE and only 8% continue to A Level. University entries for languages continue to drop, as does the number of university language courses on offer.

Promising policies

This may in time be tempered by the move to make languages compulsory for seven to 11-year-olds at Key Stage 2 from this September, plus £1.8m of funding offered by the government for school-centred training and support.

The introduction of the English Baccalaureate – a league table measure in which schools are rewarded for pupils who get a C grade or above in five key subjects, including a language – appears to have boosted language take-up at GCSE. Beyond that, there are early signs that the “Ebacc effect” has begun to increased the numbers studying French, Spanish and German at AS Level.

Proposed A Level reforms also promise to reinvigorate students' passion for languages – particularly for French, German and Spanish – by promoting a higher level of intellectual challenge and cultural understanding.

Helping Students Find Purpose and Appreciation for School

In a popular 2014 article titled, Why You Hate Work, Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath identify four areas that matter most to job satisfaction and productivity:
  • Feeling good and recharged physically.
  • Feeling like an appreciated and valued contributor.
  • Having a clear focus and a say in prioritizing.
  • Seeing a higher purpose in the work.
Think about this applies to your job situation. The prediction of Schwartz and Porath would be that to the extent you feel these four areas are strongly true for you in your work in school, you will like your job and look forward to getting there in the morning. On the other hand, if these areas are not true for you, then you will be more reluctant to head to school and you are also more likely to feel job-related stress.

Sadly, for too many educators, the glass is closer to 25 percent full than 90 percent full. The Common Core has elevated already high levels of workplace stress. During the course of the school year, a whirling crescendo of test-driven anxiety increases relentlessly until the conclusion of the last makeup test. When the test scores finally arrive, it is, in many ways, anticlimactic because there are usually no surprises; one often can't work directly with the students tested based on the results, and staff and administrative changes are not uncommon.

Considering Our Students

Now step back for a moment and look at the four areas and apply them to your students. If we did a parallel, "Why You Hate School," then shortcomings in the four areas would also explain a lot.

Where to begin? One thing I have learned from work with many schools over many years is that steps toward improvement have to be taken one at a time. If you and your students have shortcomings in all four areas, you cannot correct them all at once in a lasting and deep way. You will have to be selective. It hardly matters where to start, as long as you realize that you need to start at the same place for both educators and students.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Helping students with Asperger's prepare for university life

As the number of autistic students soars, universities are trying hard to help them with their social and life skills.

"I am quite a fussy eater. I only like avocado and boiled egg," Stefania Hanson explains, as her friend pushes a trolley past the frozen peas. They're navigating their way around Asda in Birmingham's Perry Barr, finding ingredients for a cookery session.

The activity is part of a three-day summer school for students with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) who are starting university this month. Run by Birmingham City University (BCU), the programme helps those who are academically very able, but may not have some of the social or life skills that university demands. "It's also a chance for the students – who can have very specific dietary or sensory needs – to have a practice run before the real thing," says Karin Qureshi, manager of counselling and mental health at BCU.
The number of autistic students going to university has soared in recent years, growing by more than 200% in five years – and this figure does not include students who haven't disclosed their disability. Academics believe the rise is driven by greater awareness of autism and better opportunities for those who have the condition to reach their potential at school.

"Although diagnosis can be problematic in certain parts of the country, it is generally easier than it was in the past," says John Harding, head of the disability resource centre at Cambridge University. It had 26 students with autism in 2009, and now has 122.

"Most autistic university students have high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome – rather than classic autism," explains Vicky Neale, the National Autistic Society's student support coordinator for London. Students with Asperger's aren't all replicas of The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper, Neale adds – though the highly intelligent, socially aloof character is seen as a hero by some.

Asperger's is associated with people of average or above-average intelligence. They tend to have fewer problems with speech than those with classic autism, but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language. This could mean they find it harder to understand instructions from lecturers, or to cope with living in student halls.

As more students are identified as autistic, academics are finding new ways to help them – from pet therapy to training for academics. An increasing number of institutions – including Bath, Cambridge and Aberystwyth – offer summer schools to help students adjust to university life.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Bone author Jeff Smith speaks out ahead of US Banned Books Week

‘You can’t take away someone’s ability to choose what they want to read,’ says Smith, as forces of free speech mobilise for 2014 event focusing on graphic novels and comics.

“The point,” says cartoonist Jeff Smith, whose multiple award-winning comic Bone was one of the books that parents tried hardest to ban in America last year, “is that they are trying to take away someone else’s ability to choose what they want to read, and you can’t do that.”

Smith was speaking as the forces of free speech mobilised in the US for Banned Books Week, the annual festival that opens on 21 September and which, in the wake of attacks on acclaimed books from Bone to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, is taking a special focus on comics and graphic novels this year. The most challenged book of 2013 – the book that received the largest number complaints in schools and libraries across America – was Dav Pilkey’s children’s graphic novel Captain Underpants. Smith’s Bone came in 10th, with the series – described as “one of the 10 greatest graphic novels of all time” by Time – drawing fire over its “political viewpoint, racism, violence”, according to the American Library Association.
“I’ll be honest, I had two simultaneous reactions when I heard Bone was in the top 10,” said Smith. “First, that I was being attacked and I didn’t know why. Then a thought like: hey, this isn’t the worst thing that can happen. A lot of my heroes are on this list. Mark Twain, Melville, Bradbury, Steinbeck, Vonnegut; authors whose work is about something – that do the kind of writing I aspire to.”

According to Smith, this year’s focus on comics “matters a great deal”.

“Comics are now part of the literary scene, part of the discussion, and it shines a spotlight on these kinds of attacks,” he said. “That doesn’t mean the people who want to ban these books are malicious; in fact just the opposite. They have a concern which to them is legitimate. But that isn’t the point. The point is that they are trying to take away someone else’s ability to choose what they want to read, and you can’t do that.”

Watch out: Cell phones can be addictive

Too much dependence on your smartphone isn’t smart.

The average college student uses a smartphone for about nine hours each day.

That’s longer than many of those students spend sleeping. In fact, such extended cell phone use shows that the technology could become an addiction, according to a new study. An addiction is a type of uncontrolled and unhealthy habit.

It’s well known that people can become addicted to drugs, such as alcohol, narcotics and the nicotine in cigarettes. What’s not so well known: “People can be addicted to behaviors,” says James Roberts. He’s a marketing professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Roberts also was the lead author of the new study. It appears in the August Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

Some cell phone users show the same symptoms that a drug addict might have, Roberts explains. Certain people use smartphones to lift their moods. And it may take more and more time on those phones to provide the same level of enjoyment.
For such people, losing a phone or having its battery die could cause anxiety or panic. That’s withdrawal, says Roberts.

Too much phone use can interfere with normal activities or cause conflicts with family and other people, he adds. Yet despite these social costs, people may not cut back on their heavy phone use. Indeed, he says, people might be unable to stop on their own.

What is Ebola?

An unusual type of virus has periodically led to outbreaks of a devastating infection where people may bleed to death.
It’s got a long name: Ebola hemorrhagic fever. As infections go, this is a scary one. It kills anywhere from 25 to 88 percent of everyone it infects. And people who do come down with the disease suffer mightily. From 2 to 21 days after exposure, they can develop a fever, headaches, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite. As the disease progresses, it can cause the body to start bleeding internally — and seemingly uncontrollably.

The good news: This disease is not easy to spread. For instance, people do not appear to become infected through the air, as occurs with influenza and many other germs. The virus lives in blood. And that’s the primary means by which people become infected — by getting tainted blood or other bodily fluids into a cut, an eye or the mouth.

The disease takes its name from the region where it was first identified: communities near the Ebola River in what was known as Zaire. (That country is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.) As of 2014, there appear to have been 21 major outbreaks of the disease, mostly in central or East Africa. The first was reported in 1976. At that time, 318 people in Zaire contracted the disease — and 280 died.

The germ responsible is called a filovirus. It’s a threadlike germ that causes only two known diseases: Ebola and a related infection known as Marburg. No one knows where the virus hides between outbreaks in humans. The suspicion is that bats, deerlike creatures, or some other wild animals carry the virus — perhaps without becoming ill themselves. Then, when people pick up an infected animal, or butcher it to eat it, they may encounter the virus.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

How parents can prevent and deal with bullying

Parents are one of the most influential factors when talking about bullying - in that they are the most likely to be able to prevent it. The way parents model appropriate interactions and communication to their children (for example, resolve disagreements, be assertive when appropriate) will impact on how their children interact with others – at school, online, or in the workplace.

In particular, children learn about interacting with others through their observations of others (for example how their parents treat one another and other family members). Parents should aim for an authoritative parenting style: one that includes showing love and care towards a child, gives a child an appropriate level of independence for their age, and also sets clear rules and consequences for inappropriate behaviour.

Parents can help children to develop empathy and learn to take the perspective of another by talking with their children about how others might feel when they behave in certain ways and how they feel given certain behaviours by others.

Providing children with opportunities to play with other children and learn how to do so in social ways under the supervision of parents, gives children the chance to practice interacting in socially acceptable ways from an early age.

But how can the parents know what goes on at school?

Despite our best efforts to prevent bullying, it may still occur and parents need to know what to do in situations where their child is bullying others or being bullied by others. Parents should be aware of signs that their children may be bullying someone. This comes down to knowing your child well and detecting changes in behaviour. This includes changes in demeanour, and more obvious signs such as acquisition of money or expensive possessions.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Everyone has a part to play in managing classroom bullying

School bullying is a proactive form of aggression which doesn’t only have impacts on the individuals being targeted, but also on the child who is bullying, their classmates, the climate and tone of the class, the teacher, the parents and families, and the broader school community.

Gone are the days when bullying was an issue left up to the victim alone to deal with. Most schools now have whole-school anti-bullying policies, which ensure that everyone recognises that they have a role to play as part of the solution.

The difficulty for teachers is that what actually occurs between students is not often visible to them. Bullying can occur online or via mobile phones out of school hours, or sometimes in parts of the school where no teachers are present.

How can teachers help to prevent bullying?

Creating a climate where young people feel safe in reporting to teachers or a trusted adult that one of their peers is being victimised is important, in order to counter the views that young people currently hold, that:

a) the teacher will do little to effectively stop it

b) that the bullying will get worse if they report it or

c) that they will become the next target.

The single most important thing any teacher can do to prevent bullying is to be proactive at the class and individual level. They should not assume that if they can’t see anything, then bullying isn’t happening.

Monday, 15 September 2014

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

What is Sensory Processing Disorder? Can a person have SPD but not have Autism? How can we help students/people with SPD? You can find answers to these (and more questions) in the following video.

Librarian of the year: how I brought books to life with my Gruffalo tea party

The Guardian’s Lucy Ward meets an award-winning school librarian who increased library visits with a bit of imagination.

As a child, Tracey Needham’s favourite book was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the library she now runs at a small Cumbrian primary school offers the same sense of entry into a magical world where anything is possible.

Push through the furs in the wardrobe – or perhaps the coats on pegs in the cloakroom – and children can be found enjoying a Gruffalo tea party (complete with Gruffalo piñata), decorating hot chocolate mugs at a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory celebration or creating their own Spiderman comic strips.

Amid a constant buzz of craft activities, which are especially wonderful at pulling in less confident readers, Needham is encouraging pupils in a lifelong love of reading: running book groups, organising young library helpers, setting much-anticipated competitions based around books, literary anniversaries or current events such as the World Cup.
The whole school – Sacred Heart RC Primary in Barrow-in-Furness – is involved: Needham, a higher-level teaching assistant who has responsibility for the library, herself makes sure the children see her reading, and wall posters show reading choices of every member of staff from teachers to lunchtime helpers allowing inquisitive pupils to check just how often everyone changes their books.

Wisdom in the Age of Information and the Importance of Storytelling in Making Sense of the World: An Animated Essay

by Maria Popova

Thoughts on navigating the open sea of knowledge.
For my part in the 2014 Future of Storytelling Summit, I had the pleasure of collaborating with animator Drew Christie — the talent behind that wonderful short film about Mark Twain and the myth of originality — on an animated essay that I wrote and narrated, exploring a subject close to my heart and mind: the question of how we can cultivate true wisdom in the age of information and why great storytellers matter more than ever in helping us make sense of an increasingly complex world. It comes as an organic extension of the seven most important life-learnings from the first seven years of Brain Pickings. Full essay text below — please enjoy.

We live in a world awash with information, but we seem to face a growing scarcity of wisdom. And what’s worse, we confuse the two. We believe that having access to more information produces more knowledge, which results in more wisdom. But, if anything, the opposite is true — more and more information without the proper context and interpretation only muddles our understanding of the world rather than enriching it.

This barrage of readily available information has also created an environment where one of the worst social sins is to appear uninformed. Ours is a culture where it’s enormously embarrassing not to have an opinion on something, and in order to seem informed, we form our so-called opinions hastily, based on fragmentary bits of information and superficial impressions rather than true understanding.

“Knowledge,” Emerson wrote, “is the knowing that we can not know.”

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Early school starts can turn teens into ‘zombies’

Doctors' orders: Start schools later to make teens happier — and healthier.

Teens and their teachers know well that early-morning classes can be grueling. Doctors now have a prescription: For better teen health, push the snooze button on school start times.
Janet Croft studies teens and sleep at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga. U.S. high schools, she says, “start at such an early time that most teens are essentially brain dead when they go to these early classes.” As a result, she says, too many students start their day as “walking zombies.” Too little sleep has become so common among teens that the CDC calls it an epidemic, or a widespread public-health problem.

But zombies, take heart! There’s a cure, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This professional group includes more than 60,000 doctors who treat or study children. And this group has just issued a pair of papers calling for change.

One of the reports emphasizes the importance of sleep for teens and outlined the dangers from not getting enough zzzz’s. Studies in the past have shown over and over that sleep-deprived teens face higher risks of obesity and depression — and even car accidents.

Many teens get too little sleep because they attend middle and high schools that start earlier than 8:30 a.m., according to the AAP. Those early start times throw off a student’s internal body rhythm, called the circadian clock. Too little sleep disrupts that clock and causes problems.

The other report offers a simple way to help teens stay healthy: Start the school day later. In its formal statement, the AAP “urges high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students the opportunity to achieve optimal levels of sleep.” Students, parents, doctors and school officials all need to heed this public-health problem, the group says.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Greek archaeological site yields statuary from 320 B.C.

The massive tomb dates to 320-300 B.C.
 ATHENS, Greece, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- Archaeologists are excited about the discovery of two statues from the era of Alexander the Great, found this week in an excavation in northern Greece.
The statues, life-size female forms carved in caryatid marble, are among the finds coming to light since the discovery of a tomb at Amphipolis was announced last month by the Greek government. It is thought the tomb, which dates to 320-300 B.C., may be that of a general, Laomedon, in Alexander the Great's army. Alexander is believed to be buried in Egypt.

Photos released Thursday by the Greek Cultural Ministry show an assortment of carved statuary in rooms within the tomb.

Archaeologists took two years to excavate a burial mound, and found the entrance to the tomb guarded by two sphinxes missing heads and wings. The ministry said an architrave, or door with an upper lintel, was discovered in a wall within the massive tomb, and a spectacular mosaic floor, in red and white tile, was uncovered in a room near the tomb entrance.

The burial mound -- and the tomb within -- is 497 meters (1,630 feet, or over a quarter-mile) in diameter, with a three-meter (10 feet) surrounding wall. 

Enigmatic Viking fortress discovered in Denmark

It is the first time for over 60 years that a new Viking fortress is found in Denmark, says curator Nanna Holm of The Danish Castle Centre.

Søren Sindbæk, professor of medieval archaeology at Aarhus University, explains: “The Vikings have a reputation as a berserker and pirates. It comes as a surprise to many that they were also capable of building magnificent fortresses. An example of such a structure is the Trelleborg Ring Fortress, excavated between 1936-1941 (Shown in the header image of this article).

The discovery of the new Viking fortress is a unique opportunity to gain new knowledge about Viking war and conflicts, and we get a new chance to examine the Vikings’ most famous monuments. ” The previously excavated Trelleborg-type fortresses – Fyrkat, Aggersborg and Trelleborg – are nominated for inscription in UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.

It was new, precise laser measurements of the landscape that led curator Nanna Holm on the trail of the fortress. An almost invisible rise in the field was proved by new measurements to have a clear circular outline. Nanna Holm explains: “It is a huge monument. The fortress measures 145m from side to side. We recognize the ‘Trelleborg’ fortresses by the precise circular shape of the ramparts and by the four massive gates that are directed at the four corners of the compass. Our investigations show that the new fortress was perfectly circular and had sturdy timber along the front; we have so far examined two gates, and they agree exactly with the ‘Trelleborg’ plan. It is a marvelous find. ”

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Learning rewires the brain

In the process, some of the brain’s nerve cells change shape or even fire backwards.

Musicians, athletes and quiz bowl champions all have one thing in common: training. Learning to play an instrument or a sport requires time and patience. It is all about steadily mastering new skills. The same is true when it comes to learning information — preparing for that quiz bowl, say, or studying for a big test.

As teachers, coaches and parents everywhere like to say: Practice makes perfect.

Doing something over and over again doesn’t just make it easier. It actually changes the brain. That may not come as a surprise. But exactly how that process happens has long been a mystery. Scientists have known that the brain continues to develop through our teenage years. But these experts used to think that those changes stopped once the brain matured.

No more.

Recent data have been showing that the brain continues to change over the course of our lives. Cells grow. They form connections with new cells. Some stop talking to others. And it’s not just nerve cells that shift and change as we learn. Other brain cells also get into the act.
Scientists have begun unlocking these secrets of how we learn, not only in huge blocks of tissue, but even within individual cells.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Debate education efficiency, but don’t rank countries on it

There has been a recent explosion of interest in the effectiveness of education systems around the world, largely driven by international studies that compare the performance of large samples of students from a wide range of countries.

Such comparisons made in these studies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) or other international reading and maths tests, have become a key factor in educational policymaking across the world.

Of course, how well children perform in maths and reading tests is not the only important aspect of an education system. In a resource-constrained environment, the costs of a good education cannot be ignored. In that sense, a new report by GEMS Education Solutions, the London-based consultancy wing of Dubai-based company GEMS Education which runs schools around the world, is certainly likely to spark debate around both the efficiency and effectiveness of education systems. But such a ranking is very problematic.

The authors of the Efficiency Index have used scores on the PISA tests and related these to (financial) inputs into the education system, of which they find two – teacher salaries and class size – to be significant.

The index is therefore a measure of how good a country’s pupils score on the PISA test, given how much (or little) a country spends on its teachers. Using these variables, the authors calculate an index for each of the 30 countries they studied, and rank them according to the efficiency index.

Finland, Korea, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Japan do particularly well, and the UK ends up in the top half of the table.