How the Net Gen Learns

05/21/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

By Ben McNeely
North Carolina State University

Are you interested in knowing how Net Geners learn? Let me illustrate using my friends, me, and my grandfather.

Learning by Doing

Patrick Clarke, graphics editor for a student newspaper, sits down at a computer and launches Adobe InDesign. He opens a template for the news page and pulls in graphics, pictures, and text. He manipulates the blocks on the virtual newspaper page, moving back and forth between two other Adobe products, Photoshop and Illustrator. By the time the page is sent to the printer for printing, the elements on the page would have been manipulated, edited, and reedited at least a dozen times. Patrick is a creative and dynamic designer, but he is not a design major—he's in computer engineering.

Chris Reynolds is a business major and wants to open a music store when he graduates. In his spare time, he is a DJ musician. He spins and mixes his own beats, using a computer, sound-editing software, turntables, and a keyboard. He teamed up with a friend to make a how-to video on spinning. They used digital video and professional editing software to create the video. Because he is a DJ, he worries about court cases involving the music industry. A recent case where the use of "sampling" was ruled illegal hit him hard, as sampling is widely used by DJs when they create their music.

Jake Seaton is a big arts and entertainment fan. He lives and breathes for music, movies, and anything Hollywood. He can tell you about film and music history and can quote even the most obscure lines from zombie movies (his favorite). He also is up-to-date on the latest in computer and console gaming. He chose a multidisciplinary degree in music journalism and has taken distance-education courses. In high school he won a state architecture award and has taught himself to use Photoshop and InDesign.

These are representatives of the Net Generation. They all use computers in their class work and in their hobbies. They have a wide range of interests, outside their chosen area of study. They are not locked into one thing, although all are highly motivated and pursue their interests with passion. They use the latest in technology, whether cell phones, computers, PDAs, MP3 players, or digital cameras. They expect things to work properly and work fast. They get bored if not challenged properly, but when challenged, they excel in creative and innovative ways. They learn by doing, not by reading the instruction manual or listening to lectures. These are the learners that faculty must reach.

When I first came to NCSU in 2000, I came to a public university dedicated to technology. There were numerous computer labs all over campus, and professors actively used assessment tools like WebAssign and WebCT in their classes. In an experimental psychology class, I used SAS statistical software to crunch data I collected from experiments. I used online message boards to post ideas and criticism in my opinion/editorial writing class.

In my technical document design class, I experienced the best use of technology in a class: hands-on, experimental, and interactive. This course covered the fundamental designs of technical documents: instruction manuals, memos, resumes, and so forth. Taught in a computer lab, the class sat one student to a computer. We learned to use Adobe Pagemaker, the most popular desktop publishing program at the time. With basic exercises from the instructor and trial-and-error assignments with broad guidelines, I learned not only how to use the program but also design fundamentals—by doing the actual design, not by reading it out of a book.

This is how the Net Generation learns: by doing. Many of my peers have emerged as the leaders of my generation. They will go on to become the leaders of our nation in many different roles—politicians, business executives, artisans, scientists, and journalists. Much like how we learn by doing, we lead by doing; that is, by practicing the art and science of our chosen paths.

Tags: net gen

Stem Cell Therapy Could Transform Parkinson's

05/21/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

Parkinson's diseaseScientific American Mind - Vol. 25
Issue 3 May 1, 2014
By Lydia Denworth
(Partial Article)

Stem cells can divide indefinitely and give rise to specialized cells, which can be used to repair brain damage from degenerative disorders such as Parkinson's.

Ethical concerns, limited access to stem cells and mixed results from clinical trials have stifled progress in advancing stem cell therapies; however, novel techniques for producing and transplanting these cells have recently inspired optimism.
v Researchers are aiming to use stem cells to treat more than a dozen diseases, including diabetes, spinal cord injury and several forms of cancer.
v Neurosurgeon Ivar Mendez of the University of Saskatchewan often shows a video clip to demonstrate his work treating Parkinson's disease. It features a middle-aged man with this caption: “Off medications.” The man's face has the dull stare typical of Parkinson's. Asked to lift each hand and open and close his fingers, he barely manages. He tries but fails to get up from a chair without using his hands. When he walks, it is with the slow, shuffling gait that is another hallmark of Parkinson's, a progressive neurological disorder that afflicts an estimated one million Americans, most of them older than 60.

Then the video jumps forward in time. The same man appears, still off medications. It is now eight years since Mendez transplanted dopamine cells from a fetus into the patient's brain. These neurons, which live in a midbrain region called the substantia nigra and secrete the neurotransmitter dopamine to initiate movement, are the ones that die off in Parkinson's. The man has aged, but his energy and demeanor are characteristic of a much younger man. Asked to do the same tasks, he smoothly raises his arms high and flicks his fingers open and shut rapidly. Arms crossed on his chest, he rises from a chair with apparent ease. Then he struts down the hall.

In the 25 years since the first few patients received transplants as part of a clinical trial at University Hospital in Lund, Sweden, hopes of using cell-based therapy as a treatment for Parkinson's have repeatedly risen and then been dashed. Stem cells are a biological raw material of enormous potential because they can generate new cells through the ability to divide indefinitely and to give rise to specialized cells. These cells can then be used to repair brain damage from degenerative disorders such as Parkinson's. Stem cells, however, have been hard to come by. So far the cells transplanted in humans have been derived from aborted fetal tissue, although scientists have also transplanted stem cells derived from human embryos into animals. Thorny political and ethical issues limit access to both fetal cells and embryonic stem cells, and fetal cells are in particularly short supply. Two large clinical trials using fetal tissue, published in 2001 and 2003, were considered failures because of their widely variable results; not enough patients improved by the study end points, and some developed serious side effects. Many scientists gave up on cell therapy.

But a handful of laboratories persevered. Now new evidence showing that transplantation can work well, as in Mendez's patient, and possible new sources of cells free of ethical concerns have sparked a fresh optimism. This year neurologist Roger A. Barker of the University of Cambridge will lead the first large clinical trial of cell therapy for Parkinson's in a decade. “We've broken through the old barriers,” says cell biologist Ole Isacson of Harvard University.

The momentum most likely will propel cell therapies for other disorders as well. Researchers are trying to apply the technique to more than a dozen diseases, including diabetes, spinal cord injury and several forms of cancer [see “Stem Cell Repair Shop,” on page 64]. In addition to Parkinson's, the most significant progress has been made with retinal diseases. Clinical trials are under way to use retinal pigment epithelial cells for treatment of macular degeneration. According to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, theoretically there is no disease to which stem cell therapy could not be applied. In each case, the requirements depend on the difficulties inherent in generating the specific type of cell scientists hope to replace.

Will Robots Eventually Be Able to Teach?

04/30/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play


Honda's remarkable humanoid robot, ASIMO, has come a long way since I first saw it stiffly walk across a stage more than a decade ago.

The latest edition can run briskly, climb stairs with ease, dance like Travolta, kick a ball and jump up in down in what can only be described as a robot tantrum. In our brief time with ASIMO, the robot showed off all its skills, including running across the stage at nearly 3 miles an hour; it even shook my hand. As I held its cool, magnesium alloy appendage and felt it firmly, yet gently, pump my hand, I imagined a not-too-distant future where a robot like ASIMO is carrying my luggage, fetching a ginger ale from the fridge, or keeping my children entertained with a game of soccer. The 4 feet tall, 115-pound robot now features five dextrous fingers on each hand with force feedback sensors. As we saw in its first North America demonstration at the International Auto Show in New York on Wednesday, ASIMO can pick up a sealed container filled with orange juice, unscrew the top, pick up a paper up with its other hand, pour the juice and carefully set both cup and container back on the table.

It's a simple task for humans. For ASIMO, it takes a great deal of sensors, including its two camera eyes and the sensors in its hands — which not only tell the robot that it's holding something, but what kind of object it is and how much it weighs.

Earlier versions of ASIMO were somewhat larger and heavier, but this robot has a far greater degree of autonomy.

When I first saw ASIMO (which stands for "Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility”) in 2003, the robot was remote controlled from behind the stage. Now the engineers program it with simple tasks — and ASIMO uses its sensors figures out the rest.

It can navigate a floor, labeled with tape so ASIMO can keep track of where it's going. It can walk up a flight of steps without pausing (or falling). ASIMO still has to pause before descending the steps (it kind of stomps down them).

The robot's battery still doesn't last more than 40 minutes, and ASIMO has an unfortunate habit of walking in a semi-crouch. But it can now also jump in place and hop on one foot. Neither of these actions look super smooth, and seem unimpressive until you realize you're judging a man-made object by human standards.

It's a robot that can jump, not a person jumping while wearing a robot suit. Honda, which started the ASIMO project in 1986, is spending a lot of time working on ASIMO's communication skills. The robot can understand a handful of phrases and is now quite adept, thanks to its articulated hands, at Japanese sign language. Honda executive Jeffrey Smith told us that ASIMO is in the process of learning American Sign Language.

Best know for making cars, Honda, is working hard on removing the "creepiness" factor from ASIMO, a task that becomes increasingly important — and perhaps difficult — as ASIMO becomes more and more human-like and starts to approach the uncanny valley.

ASIMO, for example, can serve tea — but instead of focusing the robot entirely on the task of delivering and pouring hot liquid, Honda has programmed ASIMO to pause and look at the guests before bending down and placing the tea on the table. That simple act, which mimics what a human might do, "helps people have more friendliness and affinity toward ASIMO," explained one Honda executive through an interpreter.

It's also critical that ASIMO, which can now recognize faces and vocal commands, also read our non-verbal communication. Honda researchers hope to build this skill by placing ASIMO in more real-world situations, where they can collect additional data.

In our brief time with ASIMO, the robot showed off all its skills, including running across the stage at nearly 3 miles an hour; it even shook my hand. As I held its cool, magnesium alloy appendage and felt it firmly, yet gently, pump my hand, I imagined a not-too-distant future where a robot like ASIMO is carrying my luggage, fetching a ginger ale from the fridge, or keeping my children entertained with a game of soccer.

For now, though, ASIMO remains an impressive piece of robotic technology — one that, like a favorite aunt, visits far too infrequently and has no timetable for a lengthier or permanent stay.

Using Active Learning in the Classroom

04/30/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

Active learning shifts the focus from the teacher and delivery of course content to the student and active engagement with the material. Through active learning techniques and modeling by the teacher, students shed the traditional role as passive receptors and learn and practice how to apprehend knowledge and skills and use them meaningfully. What is “active learning”?

Active learning involves providing opportunities for students to meaningfully talk and listen, write, read, and reflect on the content, ideas, issues, and concerns of an academic subject. (Meyers & Jones, 1993, p. 6)

Research and anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly support the claim that students learn best when they engage with course material and actively participate in their learning. Yet the traditional teaching model has positioned students as passive receptors into which teachers deposit concepts and information. The model has emphasized the delivery of course material and rewarded students adept at reflecting the course content on assessments. The spoils have tended to go to students with good short-term memories and reading skills.

Active learning techniques are not educational magic bullets. Of course some of your students may not be willing to abandon their passive roles. But between those who are self- motivated and those who choose to sink, there is most likely a large middle group who, with some facilitating from you, will be active learners and markedly improve their performance and long-term command of the material. The obstacle to integrating active learning techniques into your class is contained within Confucius’s aphorism:

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand

When students learn actively, they retain more content for a longer time and are able to apply that material in a broader range of contexts. Many faculty members assume that their role is to teach.

Instead, think:
My role is to help students learn.

New research shows that faculty who are facilitators, collaborators, leaders, and organizers are having great success in helping students prepare for lifelong learning and making them more capable to work in fields where they must acquire new skills and knowledge regularly.

Even lecturing, which may seem to be inherently passive, can be an active learning experience if the following are integrated:

• Students are provided with a set of questions as well as instructions to look for answers within the lecture.

• During pauses in the lecture students are asked to jot down questions. The following class may then begin with these questions, which can function as connectors from the previous class to the present class.

• Students are periodically asked throughout the lecture to (silently) make connections between the current material and course materials covered previously.

Other Active Learning Techniques

Paraphrasing spoken statements

• Students pair up. You do not have to classify students as those who understand and those who do not - simply ask students to pair.

• One student explains a concept, principle or method to another.

• The listener paraphrases what the teller has said and seeks clarification if necessary. The listener may use such phrases as “What I hear you saying is...” and “You’re saying...” The listener seeks mainly to reflect the teller’s statements back to the teller accurately and does not try to analyze, judge, or lead the direction of discussion.

Submitting questions

• Ask students to write down and submit any questions they have at the end of each class.

• The answers to these questions become the beginning of the next class.

• This technique can be used to gauge student learning, as well as to motivate students to listen. It also provides a way to review course material before moving forward.

Writing a summary of summaries

• Students write a 2-3-page summary of an assigned reading and exchange summaries.

• Each student then writes a 1-paragraph summary of the other person’s 2-3-page summary.

• The resulting summary of a summary can be presented to the class.

Can ADHD Be Prevented?

04/16/14 | by Training Games | Categories: Play

A game-style intervention for preschoolers might prevent ADHD from developing, reducing reliance on medications

Mar 1, 2014 |By Emily Laber-Warren

Games such as freeze dance coach kids to abruptly stop what they are doing.

Pay Attention
By addressing signs of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder very early, some psychologists hope they can prevent the problem from arising.

Treatments under development involve teaching children and their parents a wide variety of games designed to strengthen focus, planning ability, memory and impulse control.

The brains of very young children are furiously sprouting new connections, creating a window of opportunity for learning that slows after age five.

From the start, Tzippora Gold was a smart and loving little girl, with a strong independent streak and tons of energy. During infancy and toddlerhood, her family noticed nothing amiss. But when Tzippora entered preschool, she did not listen to the teacher or sit in a circle. “I had never in my life thought that a three-year-old could get sent to the principal's office,” recalls her mother, Sara Gold of New York City, a graphic designer. “But she was. I pulled her out in the middle of the year because they couldn't handle her. And this was supposed to be a top-of-the-line preschool.”

A few months later Gold began seeing flyers posted by psychologists at nearby Queens College. The researchers were seeking unusually distractible, talkative and active children for a study. Gold signed up Tzippora. She had just turned four.

Plenty of four- and five-year-olds zoom around and have trouble paying attention, but those who qualified for the Queens College study, like Tzippora, were at the extremes. These youngsters showed early signs of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition associated with a variety of challenges, including trouble with attention, impulsivity and poor school performance.

ADHD affects around 10 percent of children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is typically diagnosed at age seven or eight, when a child's inability to sit still and focus conflicts with the increasingly academic demands of elementary school. Pediatricians and psychiatrists often prescribe drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin, which can dramatically increase productivity and motivation. Yet the drugs have side effects, such as insomnia and loss of appetite, and many parents are uncomfortable medicating their children so they will do better in school.

The Queens College psychologists are exploring a different treatment paradigm. They hope that by addressing signs of ADHD early—before the disorder has even been diagnosed—it may be possible to change kids' brains so that they never get ADHD or, if they do, are less seriously afflicted. The treatment is a five-week series of games designed to strengthen focus, planning ability, memory and impulse control. It draws from growing evidence that the brains of very young children are furiously sprouting new connections, creating a window of opportunity for learning that slows after age five. Two such programs are in development in the U.S.: the one at Queens College and another at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. A similar intervention, the New Forest Parenting Program, is already in use in the U.K. and attracting interest from psychologists and educators in Brazil, France, Hong Kong and Japan. “We're trying to capitalize on the fact that the brain is changing rapidly and forming and laying down those connections early on,” says psychologist Leanne Tamm, who is developing the Cincinnati early intervention program.

ADHD brain-training programs are deceptively simple, many of them involving variations on Simon says, I spy, Jenga and freeze dance. Parents and children learn them during weekly laboratory visits, but the real work happens at home, where everyone is expected to repeat the activities on a near-daily basis. (In the U.K. program, trainings also take place in families' homes.) The approach seems to work: recent results from small early trials were impressive enough that the National Institute of Mental Health is underwriting larger ones. “The idea of early intervention is building,” says Jeffrey M. Halperin, the psychologist leading the Queens College study. “The hope is that we can change the long-term trajectory of the disorder.”

Outgrowing ADHD
ADHD runs in families, and evidence suggests a strong genetic component. “Very few, at this point, think that bad parenting or bad teachers cause ADHD,” Halperin says. “It really is a brain disorder. There is compelling evidence for that.” But about half of children with ADHD eventually outgrow it, although no one knows why. In a 2008 study Halperin and his colleagues tried to understand what differentiates individuals whose ADHD persists from those who get better. They tracked down 98 adolescents and young adults who had ADHD as children and gave them tests of verbal, reasoning and math skills, among other mental abilities.

To the researchers' surprise, they found that those who had recovered from ADHD and those who had not had many similar brain impairments. For example, both groups had trouble consistently focusing during 15 minutes of computer-based exercises. Yet those who overcame the disorder had developed especially strong higher-level thinking skills and mental control, abilities that seemed to compensate for their deficits. These skills reside in the prefrontal cortex, a brain area that because it continues to develop throughout childhood offers the potential for change.

That study inspired Halperin to create a preschool brain-training program. His thinking was that if for some children the natural course of brain development counteracts ADHD, exercises specifically designed to promote that growth might help people shed the symptoms—if not the underlying biology—of the disorder.

Child's Play
Five children watch while a young woman puts six plastic cups upside down on a table. Underneath each she places an M&M. “We are going to take turns lifting a cup,” she tells the children. “If you find a piece of candy, you may eat it.” And so begins a memory game called remember the treasure, in which candy rewards serve as motivation. Children must watch carefully as their peers make their moves, endeavoring to recall which cups have been lifted, so that when their turn comes they will choose a cup that still conceals an M&M.

The children are gathered in a cheerful blue room at Queens College decorated with decals of monkeys and vines, birds and leaves. As they become more adept, the game intensifies. The leader next instructs the children to save the M&Ms they find rather than eating them. Whenever they err by choosing an empty cup, they must forfeit one of their hoarded sweets, placing it under the cup.

Kids with ADHD often have trouble holding in mind several pieces of information, an ability known as working memory that is related to attention and is essential to effective reasoning, planning and problem solving. Games such as remember the treasure enhance working memory because children have to keep track of which cups have been lifted. Another working memory exercise is a list game, in which one person recounts several things, such as activities he did that day or places she has gone on vacation. Players then must name one of the things on the list or, as the game intensifies, repeat all of them in order or, harder still, backward.

Children with ADHD also struggle with impulsivity, so delaying gratification is built into some of the games. The instruction to save the M&Ms is one example. Another activity, used in the Cincinnati program, involves giving children a banana and asking them to notice as much as they can—what it smells like, whether the skin is smooth or rough, what shape it is—before eating it. The programs also use variations on games such as freeze dance and Simon says to help kids learn to abruptly terminate an activity or train of thought. Picture puzzles such as the ones in Highlights magazine, where unexpected items are hidden in the background, help children hone their ability to concentrate and attend to details. In addition, because kids with ADHD can get wound up and have trouble regulating their emotions, some of the early intervention programs also include meditation and relaxation and sensory awareness exercises.

Here in the U.S., Tzippora Gold is one of a very few children who have experienced the experimental play-based approach. One of the first changes her mother noticed after Tzippora began participating in the Queens College study was at bedtime. Every night at seven o'clock Sara Gold would put her daughter to bed after a calming routine of a warm bath and stories, but Tzippora would spend the next two hours bouncing, singing to herself or knocking on the window to get the attention of passersby. The early intervention program taught Tzippora how to focus on her breathing and relax her muscles. Soon she was falling asleep within 20 minutes.

When walking with her daughter, Sara began playing upbeat songs on her cell phone and practicing the freeze dance game. Eventually Tzippora began stopping when her mother called out, and Sara no longer feared she would dart into the street.

At her new preschool, Tzippora received occupational therapy and was assigned an aide who coached her on proper classroom behavior. Last fall, when Tzippora entered kindergarten, she no longer needed an aide. “She's a different kid in the classroom, like a new person,” her mother said. “There's a kid in her class she comes home telling me stories about, saying that he's a troublemaker and he doesn't listen. Last year she was that kid.”

This article was originally published with the title "Concentrate."

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