Sunday, October 31, 2010

IPad for Therapeutic Usage?

Children really do see things differently - life - 31 October 2010 - New Scientist

CHILDREN do not see objects in a fully grown-up way until the age of 13, a new study suggests.

When judging whether shaded images are convex or concave, adult brains assume that light comes from above unless there is reason to think otherwise. Young children have to learn this ability.

To investigate when this happens, Jim Stone at the University of Sheffield, UK, showed embossed shapes such as squares and shaded images such as footprints to 171 children aged from 4 to 10. Each child was shown 10 images and asked whether they were convex or concave. The "correct" answer assumed an object was lit from above.

The children got better with age, with the average score out of 10 improving by 0.43 each year (Perception, DOI: 10.1068/p6725). If children of other ages develop at the same rate, Stone predicts that babies will learn to assume that light comes from above at about 21 months. But this aspect of their visual perception won't be "fully grown" until the age of 13 or so.

"Children really do see the world differently to adults, inasmuch as their perceptions seem to be more variable," says Stone. "No wonder they can't look at a cloud without seeing a dog or a bear."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Device gives parents their child's eye view

Child monitoring reaches a new level (Image: Yuriko Nagano)
Child monitoring reaches a new level (Image: Yuriko Nagano)

Yoko Ihara is watching her 5-year-old son Yoshinobu playing at a nursery in Tsukuba, Japan. She works full-time, and wonders how Yoshinobu gets on when they are apart. In this way, she's like many other mothers. 

Yet for the next five weeks, Ihara will gain insights into her child's life that few parents have before.

She and Yoshinobu are taking part in an experiment to test a unique child safety device. The technology builds on existing devices that can track the location of a child, but this gadget also monitors what the child is seeing, and even their pulse.

If a child's heart rate is faster than usual, it snaps a photo of their point-of-view and alerts parents via email.

The device's makers, a team led by Seung-Hee Lee at the University of Tsukuba, say carers could use it to identify bullying, for instance. It could also reveal if a child is separated from other device-wearing children for a given stretch of time. 

A password-protected website allows parents to access an activity log and photos taken during the day.

During the trial, 10 children aged 2 to 6 will wear the 97-gram device for several hours a week. As well as a camera, it holds an accelerometer with gyroscope, a GPS receiver and a digital compass. The heart rate monitor sits under clothing.

Future experiments are planned for school children aged 6 to 11 in Japan, with an additional microphone that can pick up and store the wearer's conversations.

Kenji Kiyonaga, who researches child safety at Japan Women's University in Tama, Kawasaki, says the technology is intrusive, but would be tolerated in Japan, at least in the near future. "Standards of privacy are low here," he says. 

"In the US or Europe, there would be much more controversy surrounding such child-tracking devices." Even if it's lightweight, the strap would feel oppressive for the child, he adds.

Lee brushes off such criticism. "I'm a mother and I'd say that if it's a parent's choice between a child's privacy and keeping them safe, most would choose the latter," she says. The strap has been carefully designed to be comfortable, she adds.

Phonics, Whole-word And Whole-language Processes = Reading Speed

Reading specialists have often pitted phonics against holistic word recognition and whole language approaches in the war over how to teach children to read.

However, a new study by researchers at New York University shows that the three reading processes do not conflict, but, rather, work together to determine speed.

The NYU study, by professor of psychology and neural science Denis Pelli and research scientist Katharine Tillman, measured the reading rates of 11 adult readers. It examined how three reading processes contribute to reading speed:

1) phonics, in which words are decoded letter by letter;

2) holistic word recognition, in which words are recognized by their shape; and

3) whole language, in which words are recognized by the context of the sentences.

Readers in the study read passages from a Mary Higgins Clark novel. The text was manipulated to selectively knock out each process in turn while retaining the others.

Whole word shape was removed by alternating case: "sHe LoOkEd OvEr hEr ShOuLdEr." To knock out the whole language process, the order of the words was shuffled. To knock out phonics, some of the letters were replaced with others.

Pelli and Tillman's results show that letter-by-letter decoding, or phonics, is the dominant reading process, accounting for 62 percent of reading speed.

However, both holistic word recognition (16 percent) and whole-language processes (22 percent) do contribute substantially to reading speed.

Remarkably, the results show that the contributions of these three processes to reading speed are additive. The contribution of each process to reading speed is the same whether the other processes are working or not.

"The contributions made by phonics, holistic word recognition, and whole-language processes are not redundant," explained Pelli.

"These three processes are not working on the same words and, in fact, make contributions to reading speed exclusive of one another."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Optical Illusions

DyBuster: a computer-based dyslexia remediation course

Dybuster focuses on the development of scientifically based and computer-assisted therapy for individuals with learning difficulties and neurobiological disabilities.

The firm was founded in 2007 as a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich. It is a joint-stock company with a share capital of CHF 200,000. Dybuster AG headquarters is in Zurich.

Dybuster, the multisensory therapy system for dyslexia has received international attention. The high effectiveness of this therapy system has been verified in several scientific studies.

Dybuster AG has been successfully introduced into the Swiss market with over 3,500 licenses sold. Since the beginning of 2009, the products from Dybuster have been accepted by the Canton Z├╝rich as official school teaching material and is available at the Canton Educational Books and Material bookstores. A number of awards and honors underscore the strength of the Dybuster company.


Apple offering 'Special Education' Learning for Everyone

Apple has created a custom area for the App Store titled "Special Education: Learning for Everyone." The new section contains five subsections: Communication, Hearing, Language Development, Literacy & Learning, and Organisation.

The apps featured include speech-to-text app Dragon Dictation, assisted hearing app iHearClearly, and handwriting tool iWriteWords, as well as a number of other gaming, reference, and productivity apps.

Mobile Learning for All Learners
itunes_specialeducation.jpgWhile cellphones in the classroom might not be routinely accepted, mobile devices are becoming increasingly ubiquitous as educational tools. And some educators have found the iPad in particular to be well-suited for Special Education programs, as it can provide multiple paths for engagement and expression for struggling learners and special needs students.

Until now, the lists of recommended app for Special Education have been scattered across educators' blogs.

So it's promising to see the recognition in the App Store that this is an important market.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dyslexia: Tutoring Ideas for Children

Children with dyslexia often experience a lot of frustration in school. They don't always learn well with traditional teaching methods and may fall behind. Tutoring can help children catch up and receive the individualized attention that they need. If you're a tutor of a child with dyslexia, you can find ideas from some of the many websites devoted to dyslexia teaching strategies.

Dyslexia-Teacher has tips for creating multi-sensory instruction for students with dyslexia. It also discusses how to teach phonemic awareness, which is an important pre-literacy skill. If you need more ideas, you can post questions on the site's discussion board and get tips from other educators.

The University of Sheffield has compiled a list of suggested teaching strategies for children with dyslexia. Some of the suggestions include presenting information in multiple ways and providing reading materials in a clear font, like Arial. As a tutor, you can engage your student in discussions and provide hands-on activities to help him or her understand the material.

You can get up to date tutoring ideas and news from the Dyslexia Tutor News blog, which has frequent posts about issues and achievements in dyslexia education.

More info...........Tutoring Ideas for Children with Dyslexia

How to Learn about Letters and their Sounds

Teaching children how to read is based on the concept of letters and sounds. There are a few ways that you can help your child learn to read using simple strategies. When your little one begins to read on their own, you will feel amazed at the progress and feel thankful for all the work that was put into it.

Make a Sound Connection
Before a child can read, they have to make the connection between the sounds that letters make and the letter itself. Once a child realises that the sound and letter go together, it can be a helpful step toward putting sounds together.

There are lots of phonic books available that can help your child learn the steps toward reading independently. They will first begin to recognise that letters have sounds and begin to memorise what they are. A book that features fun activities for children, will increase their motivation and make them want to learn more.

Words Worth Repeating
A good phonics reading material will feature lots of repetition, so that your child really understands what is trying to be taught. The more practice they have with letters and sounds, the more they will comprehend what they are doing.

One step at a Time
Often a book will be broken down into several teaching strategies, it is recommended that a child learn one area of reading before starting a new topic. When a phonics book is divided into separate components, it can assist the child with learning in a way that suits their learning needs.

Practice, Practice, Practice
The best way to have your little one reading, is to practice every night. You can help them do some work sheets during the day, and then read together at night before bed. The more that reading takes place together, the higher the chance of early reading. Helping your child learn to read, takes patience and time.

If your child has a hard time picking up a new skill, then just keep going over the same concept until they understand it. When a child feels successful at something, they will be more inclined to stick with it.


10 Ways to support Young Readers

ICT has an important role to play through engaging and supporting children while they are learning phonemes and how to blend and segment words. 

These will be achieved through a mix of adult and child-initiated activities as they begin to apply what they have learned.

The following ten tips are just a few of the ways that will support our future young readers, and writers!

1.         Using an interactive whiteboard to teach blending and segmenting
Look for programmes that can deliver blending and segmenting for you on an interactive whiteboard.

These need to give the children plenty of practice at learning individual phonemes, then blending and segmenting across the word, in the correct order.

A ‘voice over or character that models how to do this ensures that the children learn the correct way to pronounce the phonemes as they blend and segment. The interaction with the characters on screen is great fun!

It also releases the teacher from the need to use cards to hold up and practise. S/he is then free to ‘look, listen and note’ what the children are doing – providing on going, easy to manage and effective assessment.

2.         Using CD-ROM games to practise and develop new phonic skills on an interactive whiteboard
Look for programmes that allow the class to play games in teams.  The children will enjoy showing off their newly acquired skills of blending and segmenting as they compete with each other. Reading words that appear on screen quickly, identifying missing letters in words - all supported by animations and colourful characters will engage the children and further strengthen learning.   

3.         Support for teaching handwriting on an interactive whiteboard
There are well researched links between fluent handwriting and improved spelling - so use a phonics programme which uses animations to demonstrate how to form letters. The teacher can stand at the back of the class and observe the children copying the form of these letters as skywriting (writing words in the air with a finger). This is an easy and manageable way to assess children’s progress.

4.         Manipulating letters of the alphabet on an interactive whiteboard
The provision of colourful alphabet letters on screen – capital and lower case - allows pupils to create new words and captions. They will need to select capital or lower case letters according to what they are writing. Unlike an assortment of magnetic letters in trays, these will not run out, and because these are arranged alphabetically, they are easier to locate.

As they manipulate these letters, pupils are also learning about the conventions of print - left to right, top to bottom, for example, and that letters in simple consonant-vowel-consonant (cvc) words must be placed in the correct order. 

5.         Supporting the young writer on a PC – labels, signs, lists and rhymes
Teachers should type for the children when they are attempting to write their first lists and messages showing them how to say the word first then attempt to spell it by breaking it into individual phonemes. This can be linked to real purposes for writing, such as:
  • labels for the role-play shop
  • signs for the classroom
  • a shopping list for the role-play area
As children become more experienced in using the keyboard, expect them to type for themselves. Children enjoy working in pairs at the PC – plan activities where they are collaborating together to type out a verse from a well known nursery rhyme, This is easier than creating something, from scratch. 

6.         Making an alphabet book with your pupils for a toddler
Arrange for children to work in pairs at the computer, finding and inserting three pictures that all begin with a certain phoneme. Provide an alphabet on a strip by the computer and signal which phoneme they should use.  These can be printed off and with the help of the children, made into a zigzag book.  Invite some toddlers in when it is finished - and arrange for a group of pupils to share it with them.

7.         Digital Photography
Photograph children at play during different phonic activities e.g.
  • fishing for letters floating in a bowl of water
  • finding letters buried in sand
  • sorting and posting words starting with the same letter into the correct post box
Display these in the classroom on the boxes containing these resources – these will prompt the children to set up these phonic activities independently.

Take the children on a ‘print walk’ around the school and in the neighbourhood. Ask them to find signs, labels, street names and advertising captions on shop windows, and to take photos of these. 

When shared on screen with the children, or printed off and displayed, these form a great wealth of resources for looking closely at words, from initial letters to blending along whole words or parts of words. This encourages the children to think about the uses of print other than in books!

8.         Using a simple web cam to make a film 
Help children to video this blending and segmenting game ‘Cross the River’.

You need a puppet, a collection of cvc toys. e.g. cat, dog, hen, pig, cub, and five children. Give each child one toy and ask them to stand one side of the ‘river’ (a skipping rope).  The teacher stands on the other side of the ‘river’ and calls out the three sounds in a ‘robot voice’. Children listen carefully to the sounds, say the word to match their toy, and cross the river.

Video this game to save on a PC or interactive whiteboard and display as a screen saver throughout the year, to prompt the children to play this important game independently.

9.         Programmable toys
Using a control toy like a ‘Roamer’, stick individual phonemes on the back of the toy and ask the children to send it to the picture or toy that begins with that letter. Later on, stick cvc words on the toy and go through the same process. Later still, get children to write their own words and send it to their own selection of toys. Praise them for their spelling attempts.

10.       Search the web for phonic games, songs and stories.
Children may already be using some of these at home – ask their advice when you search with them! Make sure these games practise initial letter, or blending and segmenting through words in the correct order e.g. c-a-t and cat=c-a-t.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mental Illness: The worst things to say

Unfortunately, the 'well population' just doesn’t understand what it is to be unwell. They demonstrate this heartily by repeatedly saying the worst things possible to a person with a mental illness.

Worst Things to Say to a Person With a Mental Illness
  1. Snap out of it
  2. There are a lot of people worse off than you
  3. You have so many things to be thankful for, how can you be depressed?
  4. You’d feel better if you got off all those pills
  5. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
  6. Go out and have some fun
  7. I know how you feel
  8. So you’re depressed, aren’t you always?
  9. This too shall pass
  10. We all have our crosses to bear
And as a bonus, my personal favorite: We create our own reality. Ugh!

Why These are Stupid Things to Say

megaphoneAny of those statements demonstrates a severe lack of knowledge about the condition being addressed and will prompt a response of "You have no idea what you’re talking about!"

You fundamentally do not understand the concept of an illness if you think any one of these are appropriate.

Try saying the same tyoe of thing about other disorders and see how you feel:
Hey, diabetic, snap out of it.
Hey, epileptic, I know how you feel.
Hey, paraplegic, so you can’t use your legs, isn’t that always the case?
Hey, person with multiple sclerosis, we create our own reality.

Get the idea?  No one would think that is reasonable, and it’s no more reasonable just because you can’t see the illness because it’s in my brain.

These Are Hurtful Things to Say

And perhaps worse than showing ignorance, these things even inflict pain on the person you’re trying to “help”. You are saying that:
  1. They could choose not to be sick if they really wanted
  2. Their illness is not serious
  3. They have no “reason” to be ill
  4. Their treatment is wrong
  5. They’ll be better off from it
  6. They would be fine if they would just “go out”
  7. Their illness is minimal
  8. Their pain doesn’t matter
  9. They should just wait for the pain to end
  10. Their illness is just like anyone else’s problem
  11. They choose to be sick

And lest we forget, the mentally ill person in front of you is already probably feeling very bad about themselves, and you have now chosen to go and make it worse for them.

Best Things to Say: Supporting the Mentally ill

Most of us have heard some dismissive things from people in our lives but: What are the best things to say to someone with a mental illness?

Best Things to Say to a Person with a Mental Illness
  1. I love you
  2. What can I do to help?
  3. This must be very hard for you
  4. I am there for you, I will always be there for you
  5. You are amazing, beautiful and strong and you can get through this
  6. Have you seen your doctor/therapist?
  7. You never have to apologise for your illness or for feeling this way
  8. I’m not scared of you
hand_holdWhy These Are Great Things to Say
These statements show that you recognise that the person is sick; you recognise that they’re in pain you don’t understand, and that you will be there for them.

These are great things no matter what the illness is and really, no matter whom the person is.

These Are Supportive Things to Say

What you are really saying, or implying:
  1. The three best words in the English language. It shows that you care about the person in spite of their illness. We need reminding.
  2. This shows that you really want to help in a way that works for the person.
  3. You’re validating their feelings and illness. As we often get the opposite, this is a gift.
  4. You’re showing the person that you really are there for them and that you’re not going anywhere. Every human has a fear of abandonment and we perhaps more than most as we often see people leave us due to our mental illness.
  5. These compliments very person-to-person but basically our brain is attacking who we are and skewing our self-perception. If you can bring some reality to the table it’s appreciated. And honestly, we might not seem to believe you, but it helps to hear it anyway.
  6. This is a tricky one but I do think it’s important to encourage professional help in whatever form that takes. We get so sick we don’t do this and by saying this to us you’re reinforcing that we need to do it and you’re saying it in a loving way. You could offer to make, drive to or come to an appointment.
  7. We feel bad about being sick. Really. Guilty. And guilty and scared about being sick around you. By saying that we don’t have to apologize, you’re telling us that you accept us and our illness and we don’t have to apologise for something outside of our control. (This isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t apologise for behaving badly, that everyone should do.)
  8. You’re reinforcing that you love us and we’re not driving you away. Everyone’s scared of our illness, including us. We need to know that you’re not terrified that we’ll suddenly explode like TNT lit by Wile E. Coyote.


It’s Hard to Say the Right Thing

These are hard things to say. They’re not only hard things to say to anyone but also, they’re certainly hard things to say to someone suicidal. Everyone is human and we don’t always say the right thing at the right time.
So every conversation doesn’t contain all eight items. No one could expect it would. If you just feel comfortable saying one, that’s perfectly OK. But if the basic ideas of love, acceptance, support, acknowledgment and help can be remembered, the conversations can go better whatever their flow.
Remember, if someone takes the courage to say these things to you, always say thank you. We should all appreciate such kindness.

Colours can enhance your moods?

Teens with anorexia may do better with family therapy -

Family-based treatment for anorexic teenagers may be more effective in the long-term than individual counseling, a new study finds.

"Family therapy has been part of the landscape for the treatment of anorexia nervosa for maybe 40 years, but this specific form has been evolving as a likely effective treatment for the last 10," said Dr. James Lock, lead author of a study in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. "But this is the first study to actually compare this treatment to an active treatment."

Anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder most common among teenage girls, can stunt growth, delay puberty and reduce peak bone mass. Almost 6% of anorexics die from heart failure or suicide each decade, the authors write.

"Family treatment is offered in specialty centers but not typically available in most communities," said Lock, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. "This would be an argument to bolster (its) availability, and training people to be able to use it."

The family therapy model featured in this trial involved the family in treatment as opposed to simply blaming parents for causing the disorder.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dyslexia: Phonics-based Instruction

New research shows that phonics-based instruction can actually change brain activity in adults with dyslexia, resulting in significant improvements in reading.

The findings from a collaborative study by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and Georgetown University Medical Center were reported today in the journal Neuron.

“With about 112 hours of phonic-based instruction, adults with dyslexia had significant improvements in reading and changes in brain activity while reading,” said Lynn Flowers, Ph.D., senior researcher, from Wake Forest Baptist.

“We know that dyslexia is not something children outgrow, and our findings suggest that it’s never too late for instruction to overcome this disability.”

This was the first independent research study of whether phonics-based instruction is effective in adults with dyslexia and the first to measure whether the instruction would result in changes in brain activation.

Dyslexia, or difficulty learning to read, has been associated with underactivity in areas of the brain that process language and “decode” words into groups of letters that are associated with meaningful sound patterns.

The research involved 19 adults with dyslexia and 19 typical readers without dyslexia. The mean age of participants, who were mostly from the Winston-Salem area, was 42.5.

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability and affects about 10 percent of the population. “A huge number of adults have this problem, so it’s important to know whether something can be done to treat it,” said Flowers, an assistant professor of neurology.

“Adults with dyslexia can suffer significant financial and emotional consequences.”

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – which shows brain activation during a task – to verify whether adults with dyslexia process language differently from typical readers.

The testing – performed while participants completed a phonics task – showed that several areas of the brain, predominantly on the left side, were less active in participants with dyslexia.

These areas are associated with processing phonetic sounds and recognizing familiar objects.

“This verified our findings and those of others and confirms that dyslexia is biologically based,” said Flowers.

The researchers then tested to see if instruction in phonics would improve reading ability and produce changes in brain activation. Half of the participants with dyslexia received phonics-based instruction 15 hours a week for eight weeks.

Before the instruction began, they completed pen-and-paper tests to measure their reading ability and underwent fMRI. After the instruction, they completed a second round of written and fMRI testing.

The written tests showed that participants who received instruction made gains of between six and 23 percent in text reading, phonetic awareness and the ability to “decode” the written word.

fMRI testing revealed that the improvements in reading corresponded to increased activity in areas of the brain associated with phonetic processing, being able to associate a symbol with a sound and being able to recognize whether a string of letters represents a word.

Flowers said the gains in reading ability were significant enough to make a difference in the everyday lives of participants.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New theory links depression to chronic brain inflammation

Chronic depression may be an adaptive, reparative neurobiological process gone wrong, say two University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researchers, positing in a new theory that the debilitating mental state originates from more ancient mechanisms used by the body to deal with physical injury, such as pain, tissue repair and convalescent behaviour.

In a paper published in the September online edition of Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Review, Athina Markou, PhD, professor of psychiatry, and Karen Wager-Smith, a post-doctoral researcher, integrate evidence from diverse clinical, biological and behavioural studies to create a novel theory they hope will lead to a shift in thinking about depression.

“In contrast to other biological theories of depression, we started with a slightly different question,” said Wager-Smith. “Other theories address the question: ‘What is malfunctioning in depression?’ We took a step back and asked the question: ‘What is the biology of the proper function of the depressive response?’

Once we had a theoretical model for the biology of a well-functioning depressive response, it helped make sense of all the myriad differences between depressed and non-depressed subjects that the biomedical approach has painstakingly amassed.”

According to the new theory, severe stress and adverse life events, such as losing a job or family member, prompt neurobiological processes that physically alter the brain. Neurons change shape and connections.

Some die, but others sprout as the brain rewires itself. This neural remodeling employs basic wound-healing mechanisms, which means it can be painful and occasionally incapacitating, even when it’s going well.

“It’s necessary and normal so that an individual can adapt, change behavior and deal with altered circumstances,” Markou said. Real problems occur only “when these restructuring processes go into overdrive, beyond what is necessary and adaptive, and for longer periods of time than needed. Then depression becomes pathological.”

The theory extends findings made by other researchers that the neurobiological substrates of physical and emotional pain overlap. Just as the body’s repair mechanisms for physical injury can sometimes result in chronic pain and inflammation, so too can the response to psychological trauma, resulting in chronic depression.

Markou and Wager-Smith argue that existing, conflicting views about depression actually describe different aspects of the same phenomenon. Psychoanalytic and sociological theories refer to the psychological transformation that occurs during a productive depressive episode.

Biomedical theories relate to the neural remodeling that underlies this psychological change. And neurodegenerative theories account for remodeling malfunctions.

“The big question, of course, is why aren’t all people affected the same way,” said Markou. “Why do some people deal effectively with stress, but others perpetuate a pathological state? This is an interesting question for future research.”

To read more follow this link ......New theory links depression to chronic brain inflammation | Science Blog

Monday, October 18, 2010

Human or robot? Part 2

"Babies look to us for guidance in how to interpret things, and if we treat something as a psychological agent, they will, too," Andrew Meltzoff says.

"Even more remarkably, they will learn from it, because social interaction unlocks the key to early learning."

The finding offers clues to how babies decide whether a new object, such as a robot, can think and feel. Details are reported in the October/November issue of Neural Networks.

“Babies learn best through social interactions, but what makes something ’social’ for a baby?” says Andrew Meltzoff, lead author of the paper and co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.

“It is not just what something looks like, but how it moves and interacts with others that gives it special meaning to the baby.”

“Babies look to us for guidance in how to interpret things, and if we treat something as a psychological agent, they will, too,” Meltzoff says. “Even more remarkably, they will learn from it, because social interaction unlocks the key to early learning.”

Meltzoff and colleagues hypothesized that babies would be more likely to view the robot as a psychological being if they saw other friendly human beings socially interacting with it.

During the experiment, an 18-month-old baby sat on its parent’s lap facing study coauthor Rechele Brooks, a research assistant professor. Sixty-four babies participated in the study, and they were tested individually.

They played with toys for a few minutes, getting used to the experimental setting.

Once the babies were comfortable, Brooks removed a barrier that had hidden a metallic humanoid robot with arms, legs, a torso and a cube-shaped head containing camera lenses for eyes.

The robot—controlled by a researcher hidden from the baby—waved, and Brooks said, “Oh, hi! That’s our robot!”

Following a script, Brooks asked the robot, named Morphy, if it wanted to play, and then led it through a game. She would ask, “Where is your tummy?” and “Where is your head?” and the robot pointed to its torso and its head. Then Brooks demonstrated arm movements and Morphy imitated.

The babies looked back and forth as if at a ping pong match, Brooks says.

At the end of the 90-second script, Brooks excused herself from the room. The researchers then measured whether the baby thought the robot was more than its metal parts.

The robot beeped and shifted its head slightly—enough of a rousing to capture the babies’ attention. The robot turned its head to look at a toy next to the table where the baby sat on the parent’s lap.

Most babies—13 out of 16—who had watched the robot play with Brooks followed the robot’s gaze. In a control group of babies who had been familiarized with the robot but had not seen Morphy engage in games, only three of 16 turned to where the robot was looking.

“We are using modern technology to explore an age-old question about the essence of being human,” says Meltzoff. “The babies are telling us that communication with other people is a fundamental feature of being human.”

More news from the University of Washington:

Human or robot? Ask the baby

Babies who watched a robot interact socially with people were more willing to learn from the robot than babies who did not see the interactions, a new study shows.

The finding explores the age-old question: What makes us human?

“Babies learn best through social interactions, but what makes something ’social’ for a baby?” says Andrew Meltzoff, lead author of the paper and co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.

“It is not just what something looks like, but how it moves and interacts with others that gives it special meaning to the baby.”


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

8 Ways to Crush Creative Thinking in Children

We want our kids to be creative, and yet, often without thinking about it, we do the very things that destroy it. Encouraging creativity requires tolerance, patience, openness, and acceptance.

Busy teachers and overwhelmed parents are often short on these qualities. However, sometimes, all it takes is a little reminder.

So, if you catch yourself doing any of these things, ask yourself if there isn't another way to accomplish a similar goal.
  1. Discouraging Questions Creative kids ask a lot of questions. A question that seems silly to an adult may be important in the thought process of a kid. Take kids' questions seriously. 
  2. Answering Questions Taking a child's question seriously does not necessarily mean answering it. Only answer questions if the child cannot find the answer on her own. Often a child will ask a question that he can figure out himself if he just spends a few minutes thinking. Or he can use a resource (besides you) to find the answer. Consider answering the question with a question: What do you think? Where could you find the answer?
  3. Over Structuring When every moment of the day is filled with an activity, there is no time to think and reflect. To be alone with one's thoughts. To pursue an idea.
  4. Not Allowing for Choice When teachers give the same assignment to everyone in a class with no room for choice or variation, children learn to jump through hoops and do what is expected. Great for passing those standardized tests, not so great for thinking creatively.
  5. Accepting Only One Right Way Whether it is loading the dishwasher or solving a word problem, children need to be allowed to do things in their own way. When we make one way right and all other ways wrong, we lose the chance to explore options to find what works best for each individual.
  6. Giving an Example Examples promote lazy thinking. I once had a job where I gave science presentations in elementary classrooms. Sometimes the teacher would have the kids write thank you notes. I could always tell when an example had been given by the teacher. The letters were similar. The students picked out the same things to say that they had enjoyed, asked the same questions, signed off the same way. However, when an example wasn't given, the letters varied quite a bit, with kids coming up with all kinds of interesting things to write about.
  7. Discouraging Ideas Kids get all kinds of ideas about things they would like to try. Some of them, we as adults know, won't work. And so we tell them, shooting down their idea, and their enthusiasm and confidence along with it. Better to ask questions and encourage exploration. Most likely, the child will discover the flaws on her own. She may tweak it until she comes up with something that will work. She may try and fail. All good experiences that, with encouragement, the child can learn from. In any case, discovering that an idea will not work on your own can be oddly empowering, while having someone else tell you why your idea won't work, never is.
  8. Too Much Screen Time TV, Social Networking, Youtube, Video Games etc. all zap creativity. Limit the time your child spends doing that stuff. Yes, they need to be digitally literate. Yes, the computer is a great tool, and there are many ways to use it to be creative. But there is also a lot to be gained from real experiences and real human interaction.

Brain imaging identifies differences in childhood bipolar disorder, ADHD

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to use brain imaging to examine the effects of emotion on working memory function in children with pediatric bipolar disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The study is published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

PBD and ADHD are very severe developmental disorders that share behavioral characteristics such as impulsivity, irritability and attention problems.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers at UIC examined the brain activity of children as they performed a working memory task while viewing faces with different emotions, such as angry, happy or neutral expressions.

The children, ages 10 to 18, were asked to remember the faces and to press a button in the MR-scanner if they saw the same face that was presented two trials earlier. The study involved 23 non-medicated children with bipolar disorder, 14 non-medicated children with ADHD and 19 healthy controls.

"It's a simple yet elegant working memory test that tells us a lot about how their brain remembers stimuli like faces or objects," said Alessandra Passarotti, assistant professor of psychiatry at UIC and lead author of the study. "We also added in an emotional component -- because both disorders show emotional deficits -- to study how their working memory is affected by emotional challenge."

The researchers found that while both disorders show dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex relative to healthy controls, the ADHD group had the most severe dysfunction in this important region. The prefrontal cortex controls behavior, such as impulsivity, and executive function, as well as complex cognitive processes such as working memory, attention and language.

From a treatment, learning and intervention perspective, the next step for researchers and clinicians is to figure out how to help patients use their prefrontal cortex, Passarotti said.

The researchers also found that while the ADHD group had greater dysfunction in working memory circuits in the brain, the bipolar group had more deficits in regions of the brain involved in emotion-processing and regulation.

Now that researchers are starting to differentiate between the two disorders at a brain network level, rather than just at a behavioral level, the long-term goal is to develop diagnostic tests based on neurological and behavioral markers of illness that can be used in a clinical setting. Currently patients are diagnosed using clinical measures, questionnaires, behavior scales and interviews with parents.

It is difficult for physicians to differentiate between the two disorders behaviorally, which may lead to an incorrect diagnosis and wrong medications, a worsening of symptoms, and greater frustration for children and parents, said Passarotti, a researcher in UIC's Institute for Juvenile Research.

She said that while researchers still do not understand all of the neurological deficits that characterize ADHD and PBD profiles, they know that drug treatment that works for ADHD does not work for bipolar disorder.

"In fact, if you give a stimulant to a child with bipolar disorder, they become more manic, and this makes their illness even worse, whereas if you give the mood-regulation medicine commonly prescribed for PBD to a child with ADHD, they still show a lot of attention deficits and do not show any improvement," Passarotti said.

"Our hope is that by better differentiating between these two severe developmental illnesses, we can help develop more accurate diagnoses and more targeted treatments for PBD and ADHD."

Brain imaging identifies differences in childhood bipolar disorder, ADHD

Monday, October 11, 2010

Simon's Cat - Just for fun

Overcoming Dyslexia

Inspirational business women Gabrielle Mathiesen has succeeded despite her struggles with dyslexia, but also says it gave her the drive to work harder to achieve her goals.

Gabrielle Mathiesen is the creator of Open Book, a project that seeks to provide front line aids for dyslexics and others with reading difficulties as they make contact and arrangements with businesses.
As the deaf community has a yellow sign and symbol of an ear denoting hearing problems, she has designed an open book sign to alert front line staff to literacy issues. She talks here to Hayley McCaughan.

Images of a little girl sitting in a classroom of laughing children as the teacher taunted her still move Gabrielle Mathiesen to tears.

She was that girl.

Such was the lot of a dyslexic child who struggled to survive an English education system during the 1950s and 60s.

Today she is a vibrant local businesswoman who credits her struggles with dyslexia and an unhappy childhood to spurring her to independence and success.

Gabrielle has a face that belies her age and eyes that deliver both enthusiasm and wisdom from experiences hard won. Her blonde hair is styled into a soft bob and she wears her apparel with colour and flair.

And it is with flair that she speaks; quickly. Thoughts and ideas burst forth. Arms and hands deftly punctuate her speech.

There is much to tell.

Having dyslexia still presents daily challenges, she says, but her aim is to do something about it.

And now she has formed an organisation to give today's dyslexic children and adults the help she never received.

The creator of Literally Challenged, an organisation for those with literacy issues and specific learning disorders, she has kicked off with her Open Book project to provide front-line aids for literacy-challenged people as they engage in their daily business transactions.

As the deaf community has a yellow sign and symbol of an ear denoting hearing problems, she has designed an open book sign to alert front line staff to literacy issues.
She is promoting the concept that businesses, such as banks, come up with a one-stop CD that provides visual advice and instructions on how to apply for mortgages and other transactions, for instance.

Some of the major banks have already expressed an interest in the concept.

A one-stop CD would reduce staff workloads and provide the literacy-challenged customer the information they needed before they commit to a contract, she says.

Online help to transform written material to voice is another concept she is keen to see widely available for dyslexic computer users.

Gabrielle believes such procedures could stop dyslexics going to loan sharks simply because their systems are targeted at those unable to access or understand complex bank forms.

Screen time linked to psychological problems in children

Children who spend longer than two hours in front of a computer or television screen are more likely to suffer psychological difficulties, regardless of how physically active they are.

The PEACH project, a study of over a 1,000 children aged between ten and 11, measured the time children spent in front of a screen as well as their psychological well being.

In addition, an activity monitor recorded both children’s sedentary time and moderate physical activity. The results showed that more than two hours per day of both television viewing and recreational computer use were related to higher psychological difficulty scores, regardless of how much time the children spent on physical activity.

The authors of the report, published in the November edition of the American journal Pediatrics, conclude that limiting children’s screen time may be important for ensuring children’s future health and wellbeing.

According to the activity monitor, the children in the study who spent more time sedentary had better psychological scores overall. Those children who did more moderate physical activity fared better in certain psychological areas, including emotional and peer problems, but fared worse in some areas related to behaviour, including hyperactivity.

Lead author Dr Angie Page from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences said: “Whilst low levels of screen viewing may not be problematic, we cannot rely on physical activity to ‘compensate’ for long hours of screen viewing.

“Watching TV or playing computer games for more than two hours a day is related to greater psychological difficulties irrespective of how active children are.”

Children’s psychological wellbeing was assessed on the basis of a strengths and difficulties questionnaire which rated their emotional, peer, conduct and hyperactivity problems.

The children were asked to rate a series of statements as true on a three-point scale, varying from not true, to somewhat true to certainly true.

Statements to assess their emotional wellbeing included; ‘I am often unhappy, down-hearted or tearful’, while statements to assess their peer problems included; ‘I am usually on my own’, ‘I generally play alone or keep to myself’.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Research discovers how the deaf have super vision

Deaf or blind people often report enhanced abilities in their remaining senses, but up until now, no one has explained how and why that could be.

Researchers at The University of Western Ontario, led by Stephen Lomber of The Centre for Brain and Mind have discovered there is a causal link between enhanced visual abilities and reorganisation of the part of the brain that usually handles auditory input in congenitally deaf cats.

The findings, published online in Nature Neuroscience, provide insight into the plasticity that may occur in the brains of deaf people.

Cats are the only animal besides humans that can be born deaf. Using congenitally deaf cats and hearing cats, Lomber and his team showed that only two specific visual abilities are enhanced in the deaf: visual localisation in the peripheral field and visual motion detection.

They found the part of the auditory cortex that would normally pick up peripheral sound enhanced peripheral vision, leading the researchers to conclude the function stays the same but switches from auditory to visual.

“The brain is very efficient, and doesn’t let unused space go to waste,” says Lomber, an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Social Science.

“The brain wants to compensate for the lost sense with enhancements that are beneficial. For example, if you’re deaf, you would benefit by seeing a car coming far off in your peripheral vision, because you can’t hear that car approaching from the side; the same with being able to more accurately detect how fast something is moving.”

Lomber and his team are trying to discover how a deaf brain differs from a hearing brain to better understand how the brain handles cochlear implants. If the brain has rewired itself to compensate for the loss of hearing, what happens when hearing is restored?

“The analogy I use is, if you weren’t using your cottage and lent it to a friend. That friend gets comfortable, maybe rearranges the furniture, and settles in. They may not want to leave just because you’ve come back,” explains Lomber.

He also plans to conduct research to see if these changes in the brain also happen to those who could hear at one time, or if auditory experience prevents the changes from occurring.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dean Kamen - Dyslexic Inventors | Dyslexic Advantage

Dyslexic Inventors: Dean Kamen | Dyslexic Advantage

Many men and women with dyslexia become inventors because of their creative drive, "out-of-the box" thinking and talent in spatial / kinesthetic problem solving. There are long lists of famous dyslexic inventors, including historical figures like Michael Faraday (electromagnetism) and Henry Ford (Ford automobiles), but also contemporary like James Russell (inventor of the compact disc), William Hewlett (HP- personal computer), or Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the MIT Media Lab (created Guitar Hero, Lego Mindstorms, many more).

Dean Kamen is the dyslexic inventor of the 'Luke Arm' (named after Luke Skywalker), a prosthetic arm that is so sensitive it can pick up a raisin, the Segway human transport, novel solar power and water purification systems for Third World countries, and many more things that help people or make the world a better place. Kamen also created the FIRST Lego League to encourage students to pursue careers in science and engineering. (continued - Click Read More below)

At an early age, Dean's parents recalled that he liked coming up with new ways of doing things - like at age 5 inventing a way to make his bed without having to cross to the other side. His grades in school were not very good, partially because "he disliked being told what to do by teachers, and challenged them over their teaching of the principles of maths and physics." Kamen adds, "'I decided taking a test is a fool's errand. Because the ones you know the answer to, don't waste your time writing down. And the ones you don't know the answer to, why shine a bright light on how stupid you are?'"


Building Self-esteem In Children Who Have Dyslexia

Building Self-esteem In Children Who Have Dyslexia « The Ghotit Blog

It is inevitable; a child with dyslexia will sooner than later be “tagged” in a regular school as a student with problems by both the school staff and his classmates. The school staff will tag him as “problematic”, as he will require additional assistance, access to assistive technology solutions, extra exam time etc.

His classmates will tag him as different, from the first time that he is requested to read out loud in the classroom. The child with dyslexia will most probably make such reading mistakes which will result in laughter or degrading remarks by other children. Within such an environment a dyslexic child’s self-esteem will be negatively affected.