Friday, October 11th, 2013
An 11-year-old Florida boy has won the top prize at a major science fair with his invention of a sandbag that could save property and lives in the event of saltwater floods. More from NBC News:
“Living in Florida, I’m keenly aware of hurricanes and saltwater flooding,” the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge grand prize winner Peyton Robertson, who is a sixth grader at the Pine Crest School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., told NBC News.
“Super-storm Sandy really got me concerned about how people can prepare for that damage from flooding. But today, the most common method of flood protection is sandbags. They are really heavy and difficult to transport and leave gaps in between the bags. So, I redesigned the bag,” he explained.
Instead of sand, his bag is filled with a mixture of salt and an expandable polymer. When dry, it is lightweight, easy to move and easy to store. Once the bag is positioned, such as to create a barrier around a house, users hose it down with water. The polymer absorbs the water, swells and fills the volume of the bag.
“I use salt so they are heavier than any approaching seawater … but the twist is when you add salt to the bag it reduces the swelling of the polymer so you need to recalculate how much you put in,” Robertson explained.
In other words, the young scientist, who is already taking pre-calculus and trigonometry, realized an interaction between his super-absorbent polymer and salt that required him to calculate the precise mixture to add to the bag so that the full volume fills when water is added.
The bags also have a novel interlocking mechanism that connects them at their midpoints in order to prevent gaps that floodwaters can penetrate.
Robertson tested the bags in the bathtub and a kiddie pool where they easily outperformed traditional sand-filled sandbags. He next hopes to test them “in a real hurricane situation because that is the only way to figure out what glitches or whatever might be in the solution.”
As winner of the Young Scientist Challenge, he was named “America’s Top Young Scientist” at an award ceremony on Tuesday that also comes with the $25,000 check, which he can spend however he pleases, though has expressed interest in saving it for college.
Image: Sandbags, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, September 19th, 2013
Children who exercise regularly and who are in good physical condition are better able to absorb and retain information in school, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More from The New York Times:
[Researchers recruited] a group of local 9- and 10-year-old boys and girls, testing their aerobic fitness on a treadmill, and then asking 24 of the most fit and 24 of the least fit to come into the exercise physiology lab and work on some difficult memorization tasks.
Learning is, of course, a complex process, involving not only the taking in and storing of new information in the form of memories, a process known as encoding, but also recalling that information later. Information that cannot be recalled has not really been learned.
Earlier studies of children’s learning styles have shown that most learn more readily if they are tested on material while they are in the process of learning it. In effect, if they are quizzed while memorizing, they remember more easily. Straight memorization, without intermittent reinforcement during the process, is tougher, although it is also how most children study.
In this case, the researchers opted to use both approaches to learning, by providing their young volunteers with iPads onto which several maps of imaginary lands had been loaded. The maps were demarcated into regions, each with a four-letter name. During one learning session, the children were shown these names in place for six seconds. The names then appeared on the map in their correct position six additional times while children stared at and tried to memorize them.
In a separate learning session, region names appeared on a different map in their proper location, then moved to the margins of the map. The children were asked to tap on a name and match it with the correct region, providing in-session testing as they memorized.
A day later, all of the children returned to the lab and were asked to correctly label the various maps’ regions.
The results, published last week in PLoS One, show that, over all, the children performed similarly when they were asked to recall names for the map when their memorization was reinforced by testing.
But when the recall involved the more difficult type of learning — memorizing without intermittent testing — the children who were in better aerobic condition significantly outperformed the less-fit group, remembering about 40 percent of the regions’ names accurately, compared with barely 25 percent accuracy for the out-of-shape kids.
This finding suggests that “higher levels of fitness have their greatest impact in the most challenging situations” that children face intellectually, the study’s authors write. The more difficult something is to learn, the more physical fitness may aid children in learning it.
Image: Kids playing at recess, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Toys ‘R’ Us stores in the United Kingdom have announced they will no longer stock toys according to gender, avoiding sections labeled “Boys” and “Girls.” The announcement is in response to an organization called “Let Toys Be Toys,” which advocates for gender-neutral toy marketing in order to encourage children to use their imaginations and find ways to enjoy all sorts of toys. More from The Huffington Post:
“We’re delighted to be working so closely with a major toy retailer and believe that there is much common ground here,” Megan Perryman, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner, said in a press release. “Even in 2013, boys and girls are still growing up being told that certain toys are ‘for’ them, while others are not. This is not only confusing but extremely limiting, as it strongly shapes their ideas about who they are and who they can go on to become. We look forward to seeing Toys ‘R’ Us lead the way to a more inclusive future for boys and girls.”
Toys “R” Us has attempted to put aside stereotypes in the past. In 2012, the U.S.-based company’s Swedish branch gained attention when images in its Christmas catalog challenged traditional gender roles.
According to the Let Toys Be Toys release, other U.K. retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots, The Entertainer and TJ Maxx have agreed to remove “boy” and “girl” signs from their stores in response to the campaign.
Image: Stuffed toys, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, August 1st, 2013
The natural inclination of a child to use hand gestures in addition to verbal language may suggest a heightened cognitive maturity level, according to a new study published in the journal Developmental Psychology. Time.com has more:
In research published in the journal Developmental Psychology, preschoolers and kindergartners who naturally gestured to indicate what they were trying to do showed more self control, an ability associated with cognitive maturity.
The scientists came to this conclusion after testing children for their ability to sort objects according to changing criteria. Even adults have difficulty switching from one set of instructions to another, since the brain automates some aspects of learning to optimize efficiency. Once something is learned, however, it’s a challenge to unlearn and inhibit the reflexive response. That’s why it helps to develop good habits early — whether it’s a golf swing or eating a healthy diet. It’s easier to learn something correctly the first time than it is to unlearn ineffective techniques and relearn better ones.
In the experiment, 41 kids aged 2 to 6 had to place cards in trays. In one round, the tots first had to sort pictures of blue rabbits or red boats by color and then were asked to sort them by the object’s shape, regardless of color. In another game, they had to distinguish pictures of large or small yellow bears either by size or by whether teddy was right side up or sideways.
During the task, some of the children instinctively used gestures — making rabbit ears when they knew shape mattered, or moving their palms from facing up to turning sideways when they were sorting by the teddy bear’s orientation — to guide themselves.
“Our study shows that young children’s gesturing can help them think,” says the study’s lead author Patricia Miller, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University. What’s more, she found that this effect had a stronger effect on successful performance than age — a powerful finding given that children’s skills improve rapidly with age during this stage of development.
Image: Child pointing, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, July 24th, 2013
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington state Republican member of Congress, is pregnant with her third child, which will make her the lawmaker who has given birth to the most children while in office. She is already the record-holder for having had her first two children while in office. More from Today.com:
It’s all pretty surprising for the Washington state Republican, who wasn’t even married when she first got elected to Congress in 2004.
“I went through a time when I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll be single for the rest of my life,’ because I wasn’t getting a lot of dates,” she told TODAY.com.
The highest ranking GOP woman in Congress, McMorris Rodgers currently chairs the U.S. House Republican Conference, the body responsible for electing that chamber’s leadership. When she announced her pregnancy, she promised that neither her political duties nor her re-election campaign would be affected.
“I think it’s becoming more and more accepted,” she said. “As more women serve in Congress, you’ll see it will become more common for women to have babies while they’re serving. It’ll become easier in that people probably just won’t think as much about it.”
Image: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, via http://mcmorris.house.gov/
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