Up to $50,000 for astronomy and space science projects

The Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy and Space Science (IDEAS) Grant Program, administered by the Space Telescope Science Institute, is an independent education and public outreach grant program that does not have direct attachment to a science research program. The spirit of IDEAS is to provide start-up funding to explore innovative, creative ways to integrate astronomy and space science into United States education and public outreach venues through partnerships between astronomers or space scientists and education professionals. Proposals must reflect an astronomy/space science focus, as well as an innovative approach.

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ID critic agrees: Teach the controversy

In this opinion piece at Inside Higher Ed, Gerald Graf, a professor of English and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago who calls himself a critic of the intelligent-design (ID) movement in schools, nevertheless explains why he’s come to believe that students ought to be exposed to the full debate of ID vs. evolution.

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Games help train kids to pay attention

In what is believed to be the first real evidence to support what is becoming a growing field of inquiry, the use of special computer games to “train” their brains improved the ability of healthy children to pay attention during scientific trials, researchers reported Sept. 26.

Their research has important implications for schools, which are charged with educating an increasing number of students with attention disorders.

It’s not clear just how much the games helped, other specialists cautioned. But with booming interest in developing therapies for attention problems, the research sheds light on how a normal youngster’s brain pays attention in the first place.

At issue is “executive attention,” the ability to tune out distractions and pay attention only to useful information.

The capacity develops between the ages of 3 and 7, said University of Oregon psychologist Michael Posner, who has studied cognitive development by measuring electrical signals from the brains of preschoolers and young children.

There’s great individual variation among healthy children and adults, and problems with this particular attention-paying neural network might be one of many factors involved in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Posner and colleagues at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College wondered if it’s possible to speed this network’s normal development.

They adapted computer exercises used to train monkeys for space travel into games for 4- and 6-year-olds: For five days, the youngsters progressed from a game that moved a cat in and out of grass to more complex tasks, such as choosing the largest number amid deliberate distractions.

The researchers measured the children’s brain activity with electroencephalographs and administered tests of attention and intelligence before and after the training; some children also underwent genetic testing.

The brains of the 6-year-olds showed significant changes after the computer training compared with untrained playmates who watched videos, Posner reported Sept. 28 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They were small improvements compared with the effect that simply getting older brings, Posner cautioned.

The 4-year-olds showed little change.

There also was a genetic effect: Children who were less outgoing and more controlled were better able to concentrate for their age and thus showed less effect from the training.

The study “significantly advances our understanding … because it demonstrates that executive attention skills can be trained, or development accelerated, in young children,” neuroscientists Karla Holmbie and Mark Johnson of the University of London’s Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development wrote in an accompanying review.

But it’s not clear if the training truly accelerated development–or merely made the children better at test-taking through practice, said Lisa Freund of the National Institutes of Health’s child development branch.

“These kids may just be getting better at doing things in the lab,” she cautioned, adding that brain training for any reason, especially attention problems, is in its infancy.

Posner echoed the cautions. “The fundamental question is, can we improve attention in preschool ages–and can that be helpful?” he said. “We’re a long way from the final answer to that, or even a good answer.”

Still, the study is important because it shows how healthy youngsters’ brains work at different tasks at different ages.

“We’ve got to know normal before we can really understand what’s abnormal,” said NIH’s Freund. “Especially with young children, there’s such a wide range of normal behavior.”

The work of Posner and his colleagues seems to support other efforts involving the use of technology to help train students to concentrate more effectively.

Last summer, eSchool News reported on a commercially available solution that aims to treat ADHD by having users move images on a computer screen using only their minds (See “New technology offers help for ADHD students.”)

And in November, eSchool News reported on the use of a computer game by the University of Memphis to help train basketball players to block out distractions so they can make better–and faster–on-court decisions (See “Hey, coach: Get a video game.”)

Links:

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Learning Sciences and Brain Research

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$100 laptop coming soon to third-world countries

The Sydney Morning Herald of Australia reports that technology enthusiast and philanthropist Nicholas Negroponte has announced plans to move ahead with the development of his $100 laptop. Within a year, Negroponte, who founded the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says his foundation–One Laptop Per Child–will begin distributing somwhere between 5 million and 15 million of the machines to children in Brazil, China, Egypt, Thailand, and South Africa. U.S. students, though, won’t see the technology for at least two years, the paper reports.

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Tasers keep students in check at N.C. high schools

NBC 17 in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. reports that police responding to two separate incidents at local high schools used electric shock weapons to subdue unruly students. Though severe, some parents and teachers support the use of the technology. In some cases, they say, the threat of an electric shock is enough to make students think twice before acting out in school.

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School now a low-tech affair for Gulf Coast students

With an estimated $40 million in technology reported lost or damaged in Mississippi’s hardest hit coastal school districts, The Clarion-Ledger reports that the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has forced school leaders throughout the region to put several ambitious technology upgrades and projects on hold while they struggle to make do in the wake of the storms.

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‘Awesomestories.com’ enhances learning through supplemental and primary-source materials

How many times have you found yourself reading an article online, only to Google the name of a person, place, or event, look at a map, or search for other information to enhance what you were reading? Recognized as a valuable learning resource by the National Institute for Literacy, among other organizations, Awesomestories.com–which recently re-launched under Awesome Stories Internet Productions–eliminates the need to search elsewhere on the web to find valuable supplemental information. Embedded within the site’s content are links that take readers to different primary-source web sites, allowing users to peruse relevant videos, manuscripts, documents, pictures, maps, artifacts, and other resources that can add to their understanding of the topic at hand. Sample topics include World War II, Literature, Space & Aviation, and Civil Rights, among others. There’s also an area within the site where visitors can make suggestions for stories they would like to see added in the future. Awesomestories.com is provided free of charge to schools and libraries, though the site charges an annual subscription fee of $19.95 for individuals.

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KU chancellor: evolution is essential science

The Wichita Eagle reports that University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway supports the teaching of evolution in schools. Hemenway’s affirmation of the controversial practice comes as some conservative members of the state’s board of education have moved to include alternative creationist theories in lessons about the origin of life.

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Parents upset at Ga. school closings

CNN.com reports that parents in the state of Georgia are angry over Gov. Sonny Perdue’s request that school districts shut down for two days this week to avert potential fuel shortages. But while at least three districts agreed to the request, the shortages never materialized. Unhappy parents, meanwhile, were left to scramble for emergency child care.

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New high-tech school to open in Detroit

The Detroit Free Press reports that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Detroit Public School officials yesterday announced the opening of a new technology-based high school. The 250 freshmen at Crockett High School will get laptops, iPods, software, printers, digital cameras, and digital video cameras for use in what is being called “a digital learning community,” the paper said.

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