Stories tagged learning

It's Friday, so it's time for another Science Friday video. Science Friday
Science Friday
Courtesy Science Friday
"Australian brush turkeys (Alectura lathami) are what biologists call "super precocial," says Ken Dial of the University of Montana Flight Lab. The birds fly the day they hatch, and hatchlings can climb vertical ledges better than adults, according to Dial's latest research."

This video shows the evolution of coordinated behavior of simulated robot soccer players. In the simulation, each soccer player is controlled by a neural network. The neural networks are evolved using an evolutionary algorithm, so generation after generation the strategy improves.
The corresponding paper "Evolving neural network controllers for a team of self-organizing robots" is available at

Scientists at Columbia University have demonstrated that babies are capable of learning new things while they sleep, and that their frontal cortices are active during the process (crazy picture of the device used here). Evidence of this sort of thing has been found before, but without measuring brain activity.

As someone who's a big fan of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, this news is at once awesome and terrifying.


Information and communications technology
Information and communications technologyCourtesy edans

Tech trio wants to change what is tested

Three tech giants, Microsoft, Intel, and Cisco, have banded together to develop new ways of measuring skills and competencies that current and future generation of students will need for successful and prosperous lives in the 21st century.

Changing global educational systems

Based on extensive research, they concluded that most education systems have not kept pace with the skill sets that are required for students to succeed.

Barry McGaw will serve as executive director over leading experts and innovators from both academia and government.

“Reforming assessment is essential to enabling any systemic change in education. And change on a global scale is required to equip students of today with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow,” he says.

McGaw and his team of researchers, especially John Bransford and his working group on learning environments, will look into innovative classroom practices globally and identify those practices that support 21st-century skills.

"In many classrooms, the teachers teach what is measured," said Gupta. "By influencing international assessments, and working with countries to influence their policy and approaches to national assessment, we believe this project will have a direct and large-scale impact on what is taught and how it is taught in schools across the [world]. In this way, it is our hope that this project will help schools move to the style of learning environment that engages the current and future generation of students and delivers to students the skills and competencies they need for successful and prosperous lives in the 21st century."

Skills tech leaders recommend

  • to think critically and creatively
  • to work cooperatively
  • to adapt to the evolving use of information and communications technology (ICT)

Learn more

Tech giants vow to change global assessments
Measuring 21st-century skills

The online issue of The Scientist is featuring profiles of two prestigious scientists who are also highly effective mentors for the students working in their labs. Their tips and techniques are useful for anyone, in any field, who has an opportunity to mentor. Check it out.


This man is a professional: And his yelling can make anybody learn.
This man is a professional: And his yelling can make anybody learn.Courtesy xiangdian
So, it turns out that kids aren’t able to learn from their mistakes, at least not until they’re about 12 years old.

That is to say, negative feedback don’t mean a thing to an 8-year-old, as far as learning goes.

Now, don’t start worrying yet. All that time you’ve spent hollering at little children hasn’t been a total waste of time, it’s just been a waste of their time. And kids have time to waste—they’ll be alive for decades, while you could go any day now. With your days as numbered as they are, it’s important that you spend your remaining time living life to the fullest, and part of that involves yelling at young children, doesn’t it? Everybody needs a good yell now and again, and if you were to go around yelling at grown-ups all the time, you’d probably get punched in the mouth all the time. Because yelling at people is disrespectful.

And I don’t want you to walk away from this thinking that you should only yell at young kids. In fact, yelling at kids after they’re about 12, but before they’re old enough to crash your car on purpose, is particularly effective, because those kids can actually learn from negative feedback. This means that they’ll probably learn to provide you with fewer excuses to yell at them—and that makes each rarified yell that much sweeter.

See, it just so happens that kids develop a dramatically different learning style between the ages of 8 and 12. An 8-year-old (and younger kids) will only learn from positive reinforcement—so saying to them “Hey, JGordon Jr, good job bringing me my cigarettes!” is a good strategy, but yelling, “These aren’t my cigarettes, you accident, these are Darla’s!” at them is just going to go over their heads. You may have enjoyed yelling, but that’s not necessarily going to help you get the right cigarettes in the future.

Once they reach the age of twelve, your productive yelling options really open up. So, if you really wanted to, you could probably praise your 12-year-old for the stuff they do right, and they’ll learn. But you could also yell at them, with just as effective results. “Two and a Half Men season 3? What am I supposed to do with this? I wanted Three Men and a Baby! Three Men and a Baby! Charlie Sheen is a kitten killer!” is going to make sure you get what you want next Christmas.

Researchers are still unsure as to whether this change in learning styles is a result of the brain maturing, or if it simply comes from experience. But, as I see it, there’s only one good way to find out.

Professor Julius Sumner Miller educated and entertained generations of Australians on television with his TV series called "Why is it so?"
Now you too can watch some "enchanting experiments" with the good professor! Both dialup or broadband connections available (click the link above for dozens of episodes).


Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century

Want to know what to do with your life. A diverse committee of experts from around the world, at the request of the U.S. National Science Foundation, identified 14 challenges that, if met, would improve how we live.

Here is their list in no particular order. You can learn more about each challenge by clicking on it.

You can vote for which is most important

The committee decided not to rank the challenges. NAE is offering the public an opportunity to vote on which one they think is most important and to provide comments at the Engineering Challenges website


Biological research resource

A great biology teaching resource can be found at Both the Biology Browser home page and their search engine are subdivided into:

  • organism (animals, plants, viruses)
  • subjects (biodiversity, botany, genetics)
  • geography (Africa, Asia, North America)

To experiment, I entered the term "turtle" in the search box which resulted in 369 hits (the MN DNR web page entry, Turtles of Minnesota was #6).

Biological database gains several hundred links per day

A fourth column lists the latest additions to the BiologyBrowser database gleaned from the Biology News Net site. This week averaged about 300 new additions per day!

Access top papers and interviews with top scientists

Biology Browser
Biology BrowserCourtesy Art Oglesby
Another feature is the "Hot Topics" box inserted top and center of the page. Todays hot topic was "stem cells". The link took me to an Essential Science Indicators page listing the top 20 papers, authors, institutions, and journals.
An editorial section features, interviews, first-person essays, profiles, and other features about people in the stem cell field. Three scientists are featured, the first being Dr. Outi Hovatta discussing her highly cited paper, "A culture system using human foreskin fibroblasts as feeder cells allows production of human embryonic stem cells"
Check it out
If you wish to keep up with advances in the biological sciences, I recommend exploring BiologyBrowser and learn to use the tools they provide.

Alex, an African Gray parrot who was the subject of many groundbreaking studies on bird intelligence, learning, and communication, as well as the subject of many, many documentaries and educational TV programs, has died in Massachusetts at the age of 31. (The title of this post isn't meant to be flip: I had the distinct privilege of meeting Alex a few years ago, on a trip through MIT's Media Lab, and I can honestly say I've never met a smarter and more charismatic bird.)

*All due credit to Monty Python