zaterdag 27 december 2014

Making college interesting

The article "Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science" discusses how science education at universities fails its students - specially in the first year. Problem is that the lectures are boring while they could be much more engaging. As a consequence the drop-out rate in the science subjects is much higher than in other subjects. And that can easily be addressed by making it more engaging: The University of Colorado, a national leader in the overhaul of teaching science, tested thousands of students over several years, before and after they each took an introductory physics class, and reported in 2008 that students in transformed classes had improved their scores by about 50 percent more than those in traditional classes. The article describes how such an engaging class looks like: In a nearby hall, an instructor, Catherine Uvarov, peppers students with questions and presses them to explain and expand on their answers. Every few minutes, she has them solve problems in small groups. Running up and down the aisles, she sticks a microphone in front of a startled face, looking for an answer. Students dare not nod off or show up without doing the reading. This deters specially non-traditional students, like women and blacks: In fact, there is no shortage of interested students, but failure rates in the beginning classes are high. At four-year colleges, 28 percent of students set out as math, engineering and science majors, but only 16 percent of bachelor’s degrees are awarded in those fields. The attrition rate is highest among women and blacks. “A lot of science faculty have seen themselves as gatekeepers,” said Marco Molinaro, an assistant vice provost here at Davis and director of its effort to overhaul science courses. [] Rather than try to help students who falter in introductory classes, he said, “they have seen it as their job to weed people out and limit access to upper-level courses.”

zondag 7 december 2014

IBM ideas for a creative meeting

In the NY Times article "Hearing Every Voice in the Room: How IBM Brings Ideas Forward From Its Teams" the general manager of IBM Design tells how his department deals with brainstorming sessions. Their method is designed to give everyone a say and not just the loudest. At the start of the meeting the leader presents a challenge. Then everyone starts to write his ideas on sticky notes. After about 10 minutes they start posting them on a board. One idea per note. No talking allowed. When the flow of ideas has (almost) stopped the leader groups the notes by subject and everyone has a look at them. Then there is a break that may last minutes or days. When people come back there is once again an opportunity to add ideas to the board. Only then starts the real discussion. The idea behind this process is that once ideas are out in the open visible to everyone they can no longer be easily ignored.

dinsdag 2 december 2014

About Gratefulness

Gratefulness is one of the thing that is increasingly mentioned both as a recipe for success and a recipe for happiness. The Wall Street Journal had a nice article about it: Raising Children With an Attitude of Gratitude: Research Finds Real Benefits for Kids Who Say 'Thank You': Gratitude works like a muscle. Take time to recognize good fortune, and feelings of appreciation can increase. Even more, those who are less grateful gain the most from a concerted effort. "Gratitude treatments are most effective in those least grateful," says Eastern Washington University psychology professor Philip Watkins. Among a group of 122 elementary school kids taught a weeklong curriculum on concepts around giving, gratitude grew, according to a study due to be published in 2014 in School Psychology Review. The heightened thankfulness translated into action: 44% of the kids in the curriculum opted to write thank-you notes when given the choice following a PTA presentation. In the control group, 25% wrote notes. The mere act of giving thanks has tangible benefits, research suggests. A 2008 study of 221 kids published in the Journal of School Psychology analyzed sixth- and seventh-graders assigned to list five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. It found they had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction three weeks later, compared with kids assigned to list five hassles. Another study [] found that those who showed high levels of gratitude, for instance thankfulness for the beauty of nature and strong appreciation of other people, reported having stronger GPAs, less depression and envy and a more positive outlook than less grateful teens. A 2013 study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that tracked materialism in 355,000 high school seniors from 1976 to 2007 found that desire for lots of money has increased markedly since the mid-1970s, while willingness to work hard to earn it has decreased. Among kids surveyed, 62% thought it was important to have lots of money and nice things between 2005 and 2007, while 48% had this view from 1976 to 1978. Everyday actions may be even more important than big efforts, researchers say. "Express gratitude to your spouse. Thank your kids," Hofstra's Dr. Froh says. "Parents say, 'Why should I thank them for doing something they should do, like clean their room?' By reinforcing this, kids will internalize the idea, and do it on their own." Another article: How to Teach Kids to Be Grateful: Give Them Less Toys can help children learn to be thankful for what they have.

zaterdag 15 november 2014

To Help Language Skills of Children, a Study Finds, Text Their Parents With Tips

To Help Language Skills of Children, a Study Finds, Text Their Parents With Tips. A new study shows that mobile technology may offer a cheap and effective solution. The research, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research this month, found that preschoolers whose parents received text messages with brief tips on reading to their children or helping them sound out letters and words performed better on literacy tests than children whose parents did not receive such messages. Half of the parents received thrice-weekly texts for eight months with messages like “By saying beginning word sounds, like ‘ttt’ in taco & tomato, you’re preparing your child 4 K,” or “Let your child hold the book. Ask what it is about. Follow the words with your finger as you read.” Parents who received the literacy texts were far more likely to report pointing out rhyming words or describing pictures in a book to their children than those who received the more general texts. Teachers, who were not aware of which parents were placed in which group, also reported that those who received the literacy tip messages asked more questions about their children’s lessons. And when the children were given tests of letter and sound recognition, those whose parents had received the literacy texts had scores that indicated they were about two to three months ahead of those children whose parents had received only the general information texts.

maandag 18 augustus 2014

Magic Mushrooms and Psychological Health

‘Magic Mushrooms’ Can Improve Psychological Health Long Term
In their study, the Hopkins scientists were able to reliably induce transcendental experiences in volunteers, which offered long-lasting psychological growth and helped people find peace in their lives — without the negative effects.
As described by early advocates of the use of psychedelics — from ancient shamans to Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead — the psilocybin experience typically involves a sense of oneness with the universe and with others, a feeling of transcending time, space and other limitations, coupled with a sense of holiness and sacredness.
To zero in on the “sweet spot” of dosing, Griffiths started half the volunteers on a low dose and gradually increased their doses over time (with placebo sessions randomly interspersed); the other half started on a high dose and worked their way down. Those who started on a low dose found that their experiences tended to get better as the dose increased, probably because they learned what to expect and how to handle it. But people who started with high doses were more likely to experience anxiety and fear (though these feeling didn’t last long and sometimes resolved into euphoria or a sense of transcendence). “If we back the dose down a little, we have just as much of the same positive effects. The properties of the mystical experience remain the same, but there’s a fivefold drop in anxiety and fearfulness,” Griffiths says.
Some past experiments with psychedelics in the ’60s used initial high doses of the drugs — the “blast people away with a high dose” model, says Griffiths — to try to treat addiction. “Some of the early work in addictions was done with the idea of, ‘O.K., let’s model the ‘bottoming-out’ crisis and make use of the dark side of [psychedelic] compounds. That didn’t work,” Griffiths says.

zondag 17 augustus 2014

Teaching is not a business

An opinion piece in the NY Times by David L. Kirp (Teaching is not a business) list successful school improvement projects - where the accent is on building human ties with the pupils.

maandag 4 augustus 2014

The kids who beat autism

The NY Times has an article The kids who beat autism about how some kids "outgrow" autism.

How extreme isolation warps the mind

The BBC has review (How extreme isolation warps the mind) of the book The Power of Others by Michael Bond (Oneworld Publications). It discusses how disorienting isolation can be. But it also mentions the big difference between people. Some become crazy from a week of isolation in prison. Others choose isolation in solo sailing, mountaineering or meditation and seem to thrive on it.

zondag 11 mei 2014

Dealing with pain without drugs

A soldier's war on pain relates how doctors are less relying on drugs nowadays for chronic patients. The Veteran Administration is running in front in this area because it is not dependent on insurers and for that reason more free to experiment and innovate. Problem is that some patients get ever increasing doses of those pills and also increasing numbers of pills to deal with side effects. This turns them into a kind of zombies. Recommendation is a combination of alternative therapies (like acupuncture, baths and non-opioid medicine) and accepting that experiencing the pain may be better than the alternative of being drugged. Some quotes: A 2008 study by the Mayo Clinic found that patients who were weaned off opioids and put through a non-drug-based program experienced less pain than while on opioids and also significantly improved in function. Other studies have had similar findings. Programs like his are initially more expensive than opioids, and insurers are loath to invest in patients when they do not know if they will be their customers next year. The drugs do not seem to help many with chronic pain. “I think that the more appropriate use of opioids is in the acute pain setting and the surgical setting,” said Dr. Seal, the expert in San Francisco. “I am not convinced that opioids are any better than non-opioids” for chronic pain, she said.

donderdag 8 mei 2014

The Phineas Gage story

Slate has a story (Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient) that is inspired by a book (An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage about this man who got a metal rod through his brain and became a fixture in every psychology textbook to illustrate the effects of the loss of the frontal lobes. According to the article very little is actually known about Gage. There are many claims, but they are often contradicting each other and without proof. Gage's story is often told as that much of his frontal brain was destroyed and that afterwards he started behaving badly, cursing a lot and losing his job. But the pictures that have been found from him after the accident show a well dressed man and it is now known that he later found another steady job. So the harmful effect of damage to the frontal brain may be exaggerated. Also the stories of Gage and others may actually be illustrations that even after major injury the brain holds a lot of capability to repair itself.

donderdag 30 januari 2014

Obesity starts young

An article (Obesity Is Found to Gain Its Hold in Earliest Years) studied the weight of a number of children for many years. Conclusion: children that are obese when they are five years old tend to stay that way. And few children become obese after they are eleven years old. This would mean that those programs to have less sugared drinks at high school will do little to reduce the obesity epidemic. It is important to start much earlier in the life of children. Postscript: according to this article (Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade obesity among the youngest children is falling. In other age groups it is stagnating.