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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

QaliaSoup has a great video which addresses some misconceptions and explains some of the basics of evolution.

See the evolution video on YouTube here.

If you enjoyed that one we think you will also enjoy one of their other videos, Skewed views of science.

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Video Games: Good For The Brain

Sinking blocks and clearing lines in Tetris may pay off with more than just a high score. Playing the classic shape-fitting computer game, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, for just three months may boost the size and efficiency of parts of the brain, a study published September 1 in BMC Research Notes finds.

Who knew playing Tetris for hours had a positive effect? (Hint: not your mom.)

When researchers wanted to test this theory out, they recruited young girls because boys tend to already have extensive video game playing experience, which may have affected the results.

Brain scans revealed that certain regions of gray matter — an information-processing mix of brain cells and capillaries — grew thicker in 15 adolescent girls who had played Tetris for three months. On average, these participants played for just 1.5 hours per week.

Although parts of the brain became bigger, other parts became less active.

Surprisingly, the brain regions that got bigger over the three months of Tetris play were not the same regions that showed a drop in activity, ruling out the simple explanation that as brain regions get bigger, they become more efficient.

The most important question from this study remains unanswered – is it good for you?

Haier and colleagues don’t know whether these Tetris-induced brain changes have any real benefits in tasks like memory, spatial reasoning and problem-solving ability. “We know Tetris changes the brain,” Haier says. “We don’t know if it’s good for you.”

On a related note, research has shown that women who play video games can improve their spatial skills.

“Our first experiment discovered a previously unknown sex difference in spatial attention,” said Jing Feng, a psychology doctoral student and lead author of the study. “On average, women are not quite as good at rapidly switching attention among different objects and this may be one reason why women do not do as well on spatial tasks. But more important than finding that difference, our second experiment showed that both men and women can improve their spatial skills by playing a video game and that the women catch up to the men,” Feng added. “Moreover, the improved performance of both sexes was maintained when we assessed them again after five months.”

It is important research with non-trivial applications in the field of education. One of the reasons why men rather than women are drawn to games which improve spatial skills is because those games tend to be violent 3D action shooter type games, like Halo 3, which are simply not as appealing to women. Unfortunately, playing The Sims or other games which require strategizing and deep thinking will do nothing for enhancing spatial intelligence in particular.

“One important application of this research could be in helping to attract more women to the mathematical sciences and engineering. Since spatial skills play an important role in these professions, bringing the spatial skills of young women up to the level of their male counterparts could help to change the gender balance in these fields that are so important to our economic health,” Spence added.

Spatial intelligence is not the only target for improvement. What if it were possible to boost fluid intelligence by training with a video game? Ed Yong points out that the latest research indicates it is possible, if done correctly.

There are products available on the market now such as Brain Age, Brain Age 2 and Big Brain Academy which will improve your abilities at certain specific tasks. However, improving at a specific task does not necessarily translate into an enhancement of overall fluid intelligence.

Nonetheless, Susanne Jaeggi from the University of Michigan has developed a training programme involving a challenging memory task, which does appears to improve overall fluid intelligence. The trainees do better in intelligence tests that have nothing to do with the training task itself and the more training they receive, the higher their scores.

Here’s how the actual training test worked:

Jaeggi recruited 70 young students and set half of them on a challenging training regime, involving the so-called “n-back task”. These trainees watched a series of screens where a white square appeared in various positions on a black background. Each screen appeared for half a second, with a 2.5 second gap before the next one flashed up. While this happened, the trainees also heard a series of letters that were read out at the same rate.

At first, their job was to say if either the screen or the letter matched those that popped up two cycles ago but the number of cycles increased or decreased depending on how good the students were at the task. Boffins had to compare the current pair with those many cycles ago, while dunces only had to remember fairly recent ones. The students sat through about half an hour of training a day for either 8, 12, 17 or 19 days, and were tested on their fluid intelligence before and after the regimen using the German Bochumer-Matrizen Test.

Those who participated for longer had better scores on a fluid intelligence test. The benefits extended to those who were initially low performers, not just the brilliant participants. Many training regimes have been designed to do precisely what was accomplished here, so what made this one successful where others have failed?

Jaeggi thinks that this task worked where others have failed because it remained challenging. The students were never allowed to get comfortable with the task – as soon as they improved, it became accordingly more difficult. Faced with the combination of two info streams and shifting difficulty levels, they couldn’t develop simple strategies or switch to autopilot. The task was also very challenging. To succeed in it, students had to remember old items, constantly update the memories they were keeping, block out irrelevant ones, and manage two tasks at the same time using both sound and sight.

Ed Yong ends with some related questions:

How exactly does the training programme lead to better fluid intelligence? At what point will the benefits of extra training start to level off? And how long will it take for the programme’s effects to wear off, it they ever do? The answers to these questions will help to decide if the findings are indeed “highly relevant to applications in education” as the authors claim.

And speaking of education, perhaps readers who are more familiar with the literature on intelligence can enlighten me on this: Jaeggi claims that fluid intelligence is fairly unchangeable in the face of education, which seems quite shocking. That would imply that our education system improves our knowledge and skills, but not our innate ability to solve problems or draw inferences. Is that really the case?

Try your hand at a free dual n-back style memory and intelligence training test here.

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UPDATE: Welcome guests from LinkedIn. The 3 Monkeys Guide To Health can be found on LinkedIn @ http://www.linkedin.com/in/3monkeysguidetohealth

Josh Dean writes in Popular Science:

The world’s most prestigious universities have begun posting entire curricula on the Web—for free. Is there such a thing as a free higher-education lunch? I enrolled to find out.

Essentially, there is a lot of great material out there for the taking but you can quickly find yourself in over your head. One of the advantages of being in an actual classroom setting is the ability to ask the professor questions. For difficult classes, such as physics, having the textbook is essential. If you do decide to plow ahead in a particularly hard course, take the time to see if there are any online communities with people able to answer any questions you may have.

Read the whole thing for the details of Josh’s adventures.

Here’s a list of free online education resources:

1. MIT OpenCourseWare
Its list of 1,900 courses includes Weight Training and Playwriting. But the majority of “students” visit the oldest open courseware program for the subjects that made the Institute so renowned: physics, math and electronics.

2. University of Berkeley
It’s no surprise that the top-ranked public university offers a few dozen online audio and video lectures each semester. And live videos from special campus events, like the Dalai Lama talking about peace through compassion, could make you feel like you’re in the middle of college life.

3. Johns Hopkins School of Public Health OpenCourseWare
If you’re interested in a softer side of science, you can find written, video and audio lectures on public health topics ranging from sexual health to the fundamentals of human nutrition.

4. Google Code U
Becoming a master of your own domain, speaking C++, and hackproofing your data are all possible at Google Code U. And if you feel inspired to give back to the community that teaches you all that computer science, you’re in luck. The site accepts appropriate course content from its users.

5. Hewlett-Packard Learning Center
Brush up on basic computer skills like Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, as well as life skills such as business etiquette, from the technology giant Hewlett-Packard. You can even opt to receive a degree to hang on the wall once you completed your course.

6. BYKI
“You know,” “generally speaking,” “in order to” learn a foreign language, you have to memorize the most common phrases and words. Or so goes the mantra of this online language resource that promises to have you speaking one of over 70 different languages “before you know it.”

7. Digital Photography School
The site offers tutorials and tips for digital photographers of all levels.

8. Academic Earth
Perusing video lectures from different universities on Academic Earth is so smooth and seamless that you will have plenty of brain cells left over for learning.

9. YouTube EDU
In the same familiar format used for scanning screenshots of fluffy kitty videos, YouTube aggregates video content from different learning centers.

10. iTunes U
Use your iPhone or iPod touch for a higher purpose than tweeting with iTunes U. The application brings a list of the most popular lectures from different universities and cultural institutions to your fingertips.

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Be A Savvy Daddy

We recommend checking out Savvy Daddy, a great parenting resource geared towards fathers. We aren’t knocking the mommyblogger revolution, but sometimes a dad needs more tailored advice.

The site has a “survival guide” and “conversations” on such topics as how to talk with your daughter about her period, how to decide on the whole spanking thing, and how old is too old to let your kids see you naked.

They have a good set of core values.

There is no one right way to be a savvy daddy because every kid is different (and there’s no such thing as one “right” way). In fact, we may learn the most from dads we don’t agree with. Our goal at savvy daddy is not agreement or consensus or convincing you that our way is better (because it’s not!). Rather, our goal is to unleash thoughtful, intentional, and savvy daddying. However, we do hold to a set of core values that guides our approach:

  1. Character matters – We believe generosity, respect, and integrity are important so that our kids can grow up into responsible, productive, and happy contributors to the world.
  2. Enjoy it! – Part of being a great dad is sincerely enjoying it! We believe in delighting in our kids for who they are today, not just who they may become tomorrow.
  3. Every kid is unique – We believe every child is unique in his/her passions, gifts, talents, and personality, and it’s our job as dads to help them reach their full potential.
  4. Have fun! – Being a dad is fun because kids are fun! Admit it – your inner child is just looking for an excuse to get out!
  5. Better caught than taught – We believe that the best lessons we teach our kids are through our example, not our words.
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    Use It Or Lose It

    Putting your brain to use through years of formal education can serve as a protector against the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The remarkable effect discovered was not that years of education lower the odds of getting the disease. Instead, researchers discovered that those individuals with more formal education were not showing clinical symptoms of brain deficits compared to other people with Alzheimer’s and without the educational background.

    These phenomena are often ascribed to the theoretical concept of cognitive reserve. A high level of cognitive reserve results in a strong individual resilience against symptoms of brain damage; cognitive reserve can therefore be seen as protective against brain damage.

    The amount of brain tissue lost was assessed through MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans. Somehow, those with the benefit of a formal education showed an equal amount of brain volume lost, yet they were able to function normally.

    Human brains are flexible organs, and it’s never too late to give them a workout. Although this study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (“Education attenuates the effect of medial temporal lobe atrophy on cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease: The MIRAGE Study,” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, August 2009), used formal education as a convenient guideline, you can get similar benefits by exercising your brain regularly with mentally challenging activities.

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    Spore is a game created by Will Wright, a legend in the business. You may recognize some of his other creations, such as Sim City. The game plays homage to science but is not faithful to in an attempt to make the game fun to play.

    In case you missed the hype, players start the game as microbes. They spawn pincers and flagella and swim to shore, “evolving” into a complex multi-celled organism that later becomes tribal, then builds cities and spaceships and finally colonises inhospitable planets and strives for galactic domination.

    Actually evolving a creature may only take hours, yet the timeline will describe the process as having taken billions of years. On the other hand, the game’s evolution doesn’t rely on random natural selection and creatures evolve linearly, whereas in real life there are many branches on the tree of life.

    Wright himself admits that making a great game – not absolute faithfulness to scientific knowledge – has to be the priority. But he told me later that: “We only break science with good reason.”

    Overall, it is a fun engaging game which we recommend. It will force you to at least think about the processes involved in evolution. The only part of Spore which we found to be a negative is the space stage – it takes a long time, and certain tasks need to be done repetitively and manually which should be automated. At that point, gameplay becomes more of a chore. However, it’s easy to start a new round and find a different niche to explore and not be bored.

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