[ECP] SCIENCE: Educational CyberPlayGround K12 Newsletter

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  • Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2007 04:00:00 -0500


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This Week at Hilton Pond
Spring arrived officially on 21 March, but the whole week preceding
was filled with activity at Hilton Pond Center, from native wildflowers
to small mammals to insects to reptiles to birds and even a human
visitor from the frozen north.
For a photo essay about what was happening in our natural world, please
see "This Week at Hilton Pond" for the week of 15-21 March 2007 at
As always we include a tally of all birds banded or recaptured, plus
a slew of shorter phenology notes. There are also links to some recent
newspaper and magazine articles about Hilton Pond.

Kids Learn Words Best By Working Out Meaning
Toddlers learn new words more easily when they figure out the words'
meaning for themselves, research by a 22-year-old Johns Hopkins
undergraduate suggests. Not a 'blicket' in the bunch. Meredith
Brinster uses nonsense words to determine how toddlers acquire and
comprehend unfamiliar vocabulary.  Meredith Brinster's original
research, suggesting that learning words by inference is more powerful
for 3-year- olds than just being told their meaning, is intriguing and
may have important implications for the future of teaching, her
faculty adviser said. "One of the things that is particularly exciting
about the work Meredith is doing is its potential to change the way we
think about education and learning," said Justin Halberda, assistant
professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns
Hopkins.Interested in how very young children learn to attach the
names of objects to the objects themselves, Brinster designed a study
to measure which word-learning strategy was more effective: direct
instruction, in which an adult "directly" points to and names an
unfamiliar object, or inference, in which toddlers use reason (such as
process of elimination) to mentally "fasten" an unfamiliar word to an
unfamiliar object. Based on previous research, Brinster posited that
the young children would learn words more quickly via inference.
According to her preliminary results, she was correct. "We found that
our hypothesis was true, and that inference is better than
instruction," said Brinster, a psychology major.

Creepy: Spiders Love to Snuggle
Birds do it, bees do it, even baby arachnids do it...
While not usually considered paragons of tender, familial love, some
spiders do have a touchy-feely side.  Scientists have discovered two
arachnids that caress their young and snuggle together.
Social behavior is extremely rare in arachnids, a group of critters
typically defined by their aggression, clever hunting methods and even
predatory cannibalism.
?This was the best example I had ever seen of friendly behavior in an
arachnid,? said lead study author Linda Rayor, a Cornell University

Official Defends Editing Climate Papers
A former White House official accused of improperly editing reports on
global warming defended his editing changes Monday, saying they
reflected views in a 2001 report by the National Academy of Sciences.
House Democrats said the 181 changes made in three climate reports
reflected a consistent attempt to emphasize the uncertainties
surrounding the science of climate change and undercut the broad
conclusions that man-made emissions are warming the earth.
Philip Cooney, former chief of staff at the White House Council on
Environmental Quality, acknowledged at a House hearing that some of
the changes he made were "to align these communications with the
administration's stated policy" on climate change.
The extent of Cooney's editing of government climate reports first
surfaced in 2005. Shortly thereafter, Cooney, a former oil industry
lobbyist, left the White House to work at Exxon Mobil Corp.

'Generalist' Genes Linked To A Variety Of Learning Disorders
According to a review in the premier issue of Mind, Brain, and
Education, the latest research into learning disabilities suggests
that ?generalist? genes are responsible for a wide range of learning disorders.
?Old studies tend to focus on finding the genes responsible for single
disorders,? says review author Robert Plomin, ?but with the new
analysis techniques available, new studies are providing evidence that
genes can be responsible for a wide range of learning disorders.?
According to Plomin, these ?generalist? genes can be linked to
language and math disorders, and even spatial and memory functions.

The Brain Loses Neurons During Adolescence
Earlier studies in humans have found gradual reductions in the volume
of the prefrontal cortex from adolescence to adulthood, said
psychology professor and principal investigator Janice M. Juraska.
?But the finding that neurons are actually dying is completely new.
This indicates that the brain reorganizes in a very fundamental way in

Action Of Nerves Is Based On Sound Pulses, Anesthetics Research Shows
Science Daily ­ Danish scientists challenge the accepted scientific
views of how nerves function and of how anesthetics work. Their
research suggests that action of nerves is based on sound pulses and
that anesthetics inhibit their transmission.
The figure shows a biological membrane at its melting point. The green
molecules are liquid, and the red are solid. Molecules of anesthetics
reduce the number of red areas so that the sound pulse can no longer
transport its signal. The nerve is anesthetised.

China bans firm from selling land on the moon

Cold is hot in evolution -- Researchers debunk belief species evolve
faster in tropics
University of British Columbia researchers have discovered that
contrary to common belief, species do not evolve faster in warmer
climates. UBC Zoology PhD candidate Jason Weir and his mentor Prof.
Dolph Schluter, director of the UBC Biodiversity Research Centre,
charted the genetic family tree of 618 mammal and bird species in the
Americas over the last several million years.
 By analyzing the DNAs of species that are closely related to one
another, the researchers found that speciation ­ the process in which
one species splits into two ­ takes place faster in temperate zones
than in the tropics. Their findings are published in today?s edition
of the journal Science. "It?s been long established that the tropics
have more species, but it?s not clear why," says Weir. "The common
assumption is that species simply evolve faster in warmer climates."
"Our analysis shows that new species actually evolve faster as we move
towards the poles. It would take one species in the tropics three to
four million years to evolve into two distinct species, whereas at 60
degrees latitude, it could take as little as one million years." The
higher speciation rate in higher latitudes, however, is counteracted
by a high extinction rate, both likely due to more intense climate
fluctuations, says Weir.

Music classes are often among the first to be cut when school budgets
get tight. That's a mistake.

Music Makes You Smarter

My first wingsuit jump

Sally Ride Educators

Sally Ride Science STS-118 Educator Institute at
Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas
Sally Ride Science, in partnership with Northrop Grumman and NASA,
is offering an Educator Institute on April 21, 2007, at NASA's Johnson
Space Center in Houston, Texas. This one-day professional development
program for upper elementary and middle school science teachers will
focus on the upcoming flight of Barbara Morgan, the first Educator Astronaut.
The institute will include presentations about the STS-118 mission,
hands-on workshops and a keynote address by a NASA astronaut.

Sally Ride Science STS-118 Educator Institute at
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Sally Ride Science, in partnership with Northrop Grumman and NASA,
is offering an Educator Institute on May 5, 2007, at the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. This one-day professional development
program for upper elementary and middle school science teachers will
focus on the upcoming flight of Barbara Morgan, the first Educator Astronaut.
The institute will include presentations about the STS-118 mission,
hands-on workshops and a keynote address by a NASA astronaut.

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