Posted in communication and networking, education, literature

Why Does Writing Make Us Smarter?

I always felt like I remembered my notes better when writing other than typing. I wonder if this is related:

A new study that compared the different brain processes used for writing by hand and typing has found that there are cognitive benefits to putting a pen to paper. These findings give support to the continued teaching of penmanship and handwriting in schools.

Children who don’t learn the skill of handwriting, like generations before them had to, may be missing out on an important developmental process. Compared to using two hands to type out letters on a keyboard, writing with one hand uses more complex brain power.

Writing is more complicated because it integrates the following three brain processes:

  • Visual: Seeing what is on the paper in front of you.
  • Motor: Using your fine motor skills to actually put the pen to paper and form the letters to make the words.
  • Cognitive: Remembering the shapes of the letters requires a different type of feedback from the brain.

more via Why Does Writing Make Us Smarter?.

Posted in communication and networking, electronic imaging and displays

Gates Foundation pledges millions to make learning fun |

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

This is so cool! I’ve heard about a couple of these programs, so to hear that these education programs using technology to make learning engaging and fun is so great!

The Seattle-based Gates Foundation is working with the Pearson Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Pearson, and is pledging $3 million to the creation of a digital curriculum for kids. The program includes online math and English courses with video, software, social media and print resources – including four courses as free platforms for schools to use.

The foundation also is giving $2 million to Florida Virtual School, which is billed as “the nation’s first statewide, Internet-based public school,” according to the announcement. Nearly $743,000 is going to Reasoning Mind, an education organization that provides interactive math programs to schools.

The pledge also is focusing on game-based learning tools from iRemix ($2.6 million), the Institute of Play ($2.5 million) and Quest Atlantis ($2.6 million). And $2 million more will go to Educurious Partners, which develops high-school courses in biology, literature and algebra via social networking.

Another $10 million is coming in June from Next Generation Learning Challenges, which will award grants to “promising technology-enabled programs built around embedded assessments that can help students master 7th, 8th and 9th-grade content and competencies,” the Gates Foundation said.

more via Gates Foundation pledges millions to make learning fun | The Microsoft Blog –

I’ll be interested to see who gets grants as part of the Next Gen Learning Challenge as well.

Posted in communication and networking, design and architecture, education, electronic imaging and displays

Kinect-ing for kids

Ha ha, you knew I had to go for the pun, right?

But seriously, there are a lot of cool games coming out right now for little kids on Kinect. And it’s the perfect kind of game play for them, if you think about it; they don’t have the best dexterity yet, and the LOVE to move.

And of course game companies feel they have to make these games EDUCATIONAL. But actually, games, especially games that incorporate movement, are great ways for learning, for grown-ups and kids alike.

Here are two examples of just such scenarios:

Sesame Street, for example, has developed a game for Kinect that they are dubbing “emotional entertainment” and education, a sort of sensitivity trainer for little kids:

The game uses Kinect’s hands-free controls to teach lessons about “real human themes like shyness, friendship, bravery, sensitivity, empathy,” said Martz, adding that though videogames often capture human emotions, they rarely teach sensitivity. How often are gamers really asked to think about the impact of their actions on other peoples’ lives?

As an example, Martz pointed to Once Upon a Monster’s opening scene, in which players meet a monster named Marco who looks absolutely miserable. It’s his birthday, and nobody’s shown up to celebrate with him. Using Kinect’s camera-based motion controller, players interact with onscreen visual cues and strike poses in response to Marco’s body language in an effort to cheer him up.

“As the game progresses, you do sillier and sillier poses together, until at the end you’ve made a new friend,” Martz said.

Schools are also using Kinect for educational purposes:

Body and Brain Connection, a sort of brain-training game from software giant Namco, takes the education concept to a whole new level with fun games, questions, and a way for you to have fun while learning.

Hopefully teachers and students will hop on the 360 Edutainment train as we roll into a new semester of schooling in August/September. I for one am looking forward to what else MS has to offer us in terms of games that are not only fun and cool, but help you learn something new.

Know of other applications for Kinect and education? Post it in the comments below.

Posted in Uncategorized

Zapping the Brain Improves Math Skills : Discovery News

From the article Zapping the Brain Improves Math Skills : Discovery News.


  • A mild electrical current improves a person’s ability to learn math skills.
  • The effect lasts up to six months.
  • The technique could help students learn other skills besides math as well


It’s barely enough to light a light bulb, but passing a very mild current of electricity through the brain can turn on a metaphorical light bulb in a person’s brain.

Scientists from the University of Oxford have shown that they can improve a person’s math abilities for up to six months. The research could help treat the nearly 20 percent of the population with moderate to severe dyscalculia (math disability), and could probably aid students in other subjects as well.

more via Zapping the Brain Improves Math Skills : Discovery News.

Posted in astronomy, communication and networking, electronic imaging and displays, museum

Learn about the cosmos while playing on your phone

American Museum of Natural History: Cosmic Discoveries App

This is a great example of combining technology, science education, and art into one engaging toy.

This App is actually very cool. It’s the American Museum of Natural History: Cosmic Discoveries. The App puts things into one of those mosiac images in which several tiny pictures create one huge image. You can zoom in by double-tapping or pinching, and read up on a ton of information.

Cosmic Discoveries was produced by the Museum’s Digital Media Department and curated by Dr. Michael Shara, a leading scientist and Curator in the Department of Astrophysics. It was developed in celebration of this exciting tradition of innovation and is the latest offering of the Museum’s expanding digital platform which enables public access to the Museum’s extensive resources in science, education, and exhibition—whether they are visiting on site or online. By anticipating the new ways that people access, learn, and share information today, the digital platform integrates the experience of visiting the Museum with a variety of mobile offerings that extend the Museum’s impact beyond its walls and put the wonder and excitement of discovery into the palm of one’s hand.

The design is great because it is artistically engaging, making the user want to explore and vicariously learn. It doesn’t feel like learning to the user, it just feels like a cool toy that they get cool factoids from.

It’s also free, so have a look at it here. Credit to for the discovery.

Posted in biology, communication and networking, education, literature

Doodling boosts concentration

If you want to doodle as you read this, please feel free, although reading and writing at the same time is way beyond my skill level.


Happy Square Root Day! Today’s date on the Gregorian calendar is numerically expressed as 3/3/09. Three is the square root of nine. Only a few of these dates exist every century. For example, the next square root date will be January 4th, 2016 (1/4/16). Just for more number trivia, the most recent all-odd-numbered date was November 19th, 1999 (11/19/1999). We won’t have another all-odd date until the 3000’s.

So, hopefully you’re all still paying attention. Good, because according to new research doodling while listening to a lecture or a boring phone message (as was done in the study) helps people concentrate and remember the information better.

“In the small study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, the doodling group was able to remember an average of 7.5 pieces of information from the message, while the control group could only remember 5.8 on average.”

I know some people who need to listen attentively and not even take notes if they want to fully absorb the information. For myself and what sounds like the majority of people, though, that hand/ear/brain coordination is definitely important in remembering details.

Posted in biology, chemistry, communication and networking, education

Video Games are NOT the same as Math Lessons

I will keep ranting about this until the day I die. I don’t care how many articles and research you throw at me saying that using videos games to teach children Reading, Science, or Math is beneficial; I will throw back at you ten times as many studies and research that say they DON’T!

Scientific American recently published an article with examples of video games being used to teach children different skills.

One is River City, “funded by the National Science Foundation and  developed by programmers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and targeted at students in grades six through nine.” In River City, children learn about how diseases are spread and how humans can affect and be affected by it. Using video games to explore scenarios is old hat, and this one I’m not too concerned by. I played Oregon Trail as a kid, same thing. The graphics even look somewhat similar. Did I learn a little history in the process? Not really. It created a framework for me when I later learned in History class about the Oregon trail and how it related to my life.

But another game they mention, Alien Contact, bugs me to no end. First thing, it isn’t a video game, it’s a treasure hunt using GPS. The idea is that aliens have landed on Earth, and the kids, each assigned different areas of expertise – chemist, linguist, computer expert or FBI agent – and must work together to solve math and word puzzles to figure out what the aliens are up to.

The game has a great concept, I love it in fact: it promotes teamwork, interdisciplinary skills, teaches somewhat real life applications to math and language, and getting out into the real world and breathing some fresh air. So why do they need a GPS in there? “Because kids these days are hooked into technology,” “Because these are also skills kids are going to need to learn.” I don’t buy the “kids need technology” argument for one second for kids in the U.S. I’d much rather see kids using their eyes and looking for clues, not staring deep into a Blackberry looking for where they are.

For kids who have never seen a computer before in their lives, yes, I think that computer classes are useful. Knowing basic computer skills is essential if you are interested in working with anyone outside your village, here or abroad. But for kids living in the U.S., the issue isn’t lack of access to technology, it’s lack of access to exercise and being engaged by something other than a screen. Sure, GPS is a good skill, but do middle school kids need to learn how to use it?

The New York Times put out a story last year about using video games to get kids interested in classic books and “trick” them into reading the book. I know so many students who don’t read the book and just read CliffNotes or watch the movie (assuming their is one), and video games aren’t going to help that trend. The kids who would read the book related to the video game are the same kids who read the book so they can compare it to the movie. I doubt it’s going to “catch” new readers.

For one thing, video games train people to have quick reflexes but short attention spans, whereas a with a book you have to commit yourself to long, concentrated efforts and remembering a lot of facts at the same time.

I can see how video games could be used as a supplemental element of learning, but never a replacement.