Your Child’s Next Teacher Could Be a Robot

Today, those looking for a non-traditional education have limited access to online classrooms, especially ones that are for-credit and affordable. But Thomas Frey predicts that, within 14 years, learning from robots will be entirely commonplace — even for children.

Frey is a futurist who began as an engineer at IBM and went on to found the DaVinci Institute, a networking firm and think tank for technical innovation to bring about a brighter future. Frey gives lectures and interviews on strategies for progress to high-profile audiences at places like NASA, the New York Times, and various Fortune 500 companies. He told Business Insider that he sees a future where innovators will enhance and improve the current landscape of online education.

“I’ve been predicting that by 2030 the largest company on the internet is going to be an education-based company that we haven’t heard of yet,” Frey said in the interview.

Frey claims that, in order for students to learn through an advanced online course, we must construct an educational program that learns its students’ individual proclivities and preferred learning strategies.

“It learns what your interests are, your reference points” Frey said. “And it figures out how to teach you in a faster and faster way over time.”

EQUITABLE EDUCATION

Regardless of the effectiveness of online learning platforms, there is still an inherent societal distrust of robots, especially within sectors like education. In fact, in a recent survey by the European Commission, it was found that 30 to 34 percent of people thought that robots should be entirely banned from education. But Frey doesn’t go so far as to argue education bots will replace traditional schooling outright. Also, as technology progresses, it is possible that these fears and opinions will change.

If Frey is correct about the future of online education, it could propel many to levels of education they could not otherwise achieve. Students around the world have limited access to public education, quality one-on-one help from a teacher, and advancement beyond their assigned grade or classes. However,  many of these students are gaining access to computers and the internet. A vastly improved online education system could provide the opportunity and resources underprivileged students need to fulfill their educational aspirations.

So, while robot teachers might sound a little scary for some, they could allow for more affordable and accessible education around the world. No longer would students have to live in districts with certain levels of wealth just to receive decent education. No longer would students be constantly overwhelmed or, conversely, bored by lessons that advance too quickly or too slowly. Perhaps, instead of taking our children’s jobs, robots could prepare them for a career they would love.

Why Millions of Americans Never Finish College

How can millions of Americans be out of work or stuck in low-wage jobs, while employers leave millions of jobs unfilled each year? A big reason is the nation’s college completion crisis—something that is just beginning to get the national attention it deserves. In fact, less than half of America’s college students ever graduate. And the numbers are worse at community colleges, which are the primary providers of education and training for the 29 million middle-skill jobs that pay middle-class wages.

This isn’t only a problem for the individuals who don’t graduate. It’s a problem for all of us. Without decent jobs with decent pay, people remain trapped in poverty, income inequality persists, and the American promise of opportunity for all can’t be fulfilled.

Well-paying jobs that require only a high school diploma have largely disappeared as automation and globalization continue to transform the economy. By 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require at least some postsecondary education. Community colleges serve close to half of all American students, enrolling 10 million students each year, but just under 20 percent earn an associate’s degree within three years.

Dismal as these numbers are, they don’t reflect the full extent of the problem, since the statistics exclude students enrolled part-time and those who “stop out”—take a break from school to work or care for family and later return to college. There is anecdotal evidence that completion rates for these students are even lower. This means that a large swath of America’s potential workforce isn’t getting the education and training they need to support themselves and their families and climb into the middle class.

There are two central reasons that students don’t complete college, and they typically operate in tandem: inadequate preparation and difficulty navigating college.

High school graduates from high-poverty areas are generally not well prepared for college-level work, so they get assigned to “developmental” (remedial) courses in math and English. Working adults who enroll in community college in an effort to advance their careers face similar hurdles, as their academic skills are typically rusty.

Students may be required to take anywhere from one to three developmental courses, which must be taken sequentially and don’t confer college credit. The delay costs students both time and money—developmental courses use up financial aid, which has a lifetime limit, and don’t count toward a degree—and produces frustration and discouragement. Seventy percent of students assigned to developmental courses never complete college.

The second reason students don’t earn a degree is the difficulty of combining college with other commitments or navigating the higher education system. Close to two-thirds of community college students work to support themselves and their families while in school, and they may be facing homelessness and hunger. Many are single parents, and more than a third are the first in their families to attend college—both factors that can pose major obstacles to graduation.

Because many community college students have had little prior exposure to higher education, they often struggle with all the moving parts that go into completing college successfully: choosing courses that lead to a degree, applying for financial aid, obtaining tutoring or other academic supports, and balancing work and school.

This is not a new problem; it’s been on the radar of educators and policymakers for decades. Our organization, Jobs for the Future (JFF), and its partners have developed some solutions to improve college completion rates nationwide:

Redesigning remedial education

New approaches aim to shorten the time a student spends doing remedial work and make that work relevant to the student’s career goals. Whenever possible, developmental education courses become credit-bearing, speeding the student’s progress toward a degree.

Colleges are also looking for more effective ways to measure academic readiness. Instead of relying on standardized test scores to determine which students need remediation, colleges are using multiple measures, including high school transcripts, teacher evaluations, and conversations between students and advisors.

JFF has worked with Florida, West Virginia, Ohio, and other states to lead a national movement to reform developmental education.

Guided pathways through college

A course catalogue is not unlike an all-you-can-eat buffet: It presents students with a dizzying array of appealing options but provides little guidance on choosing the right courses, in the right order. With only minimal advising available, college students frequently make poor choices and end up with a disjointed collection of credits instead of a degree or the right credits to transfer to a four-year school.

The solution, called “guided pathways,” is like a prix fixe menu. The universe of choices is narrowed and organized into sequences that help a student get and stay on a path to completing a certificate or degree. Guided pathways also include intensive advising and other supports to help students navigate all aspects of college life. JFF provides expertise to institutions and policymakers to promote policies and programs that support guided pathways.

Early college high school

Early college high school prepares low-income students academically and gives them the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate college. Students in these programs take college courses, for credit, in high school, so they reach college academically prepared instead of requiring remediation. Extensive support from teachers and counselors, and lots of exposure to college campuses, culture, and expectations, gives even the most vulnerable students an opportunity to complete college.

Most students (94 percent) in these programs graduate from high school with some college credit, and a third earn an associate’s degree by graduation, allowing them to enroll directly in a four-year college. JFF and our partners have helped start or redesign more than 280 early college schools that currently serve more than 80,000 students nationwide.

Developing these solutions requires a great deal of thoughtful, collaborative effort. Each has taken years—often decades—to develop, and all are works in progress that require significant investment to sustain. Improving college completion rates is slow and costly, but the cost of leaving large swaths of the population behind is far higher.

Today, No Degree Means No Job

Amid heated discussions of employee displacement due to automation and outsourcing, the fact that employers of traditionally low-skill jobs are now placing a premium on college degrees is getting overshadowed.

“In our factories, there’s a computer about every 20 or 30 feet,” Eric Spiegel, former president and chief executive of Siemens USA, told the New York Times. “People on the plant floor need to be much more skilled than they were in the past. There are no jobs for high school graduates at Siemens today.” The same goes for John Deere dealerships, where employees are often tasked with fixing tractors and harvesters. The traditional toolbox has been replaced by a computer that requires advanced math, comprehension, and problem-solving skills to operate.

As more companies incorporated various technologies into their business models over the years, the need for employees with more sophisticated skills and credentials increased. Now, not only have the jobs themselves evolved, but many companies are using a lack of a bachelor’s degree as a simple way to weed out less-desirable candidates. This means that a lot of factory-floor jobs aren’t going to be open to people without a college diploma, even if those people would be otherwise qualified for them.

Pursuing some form of post-secondary education is an obvious route for many, but only 44 percent of high school graduates enroll in a four-year program right after school, and fewer than half of those students will finish their degrees in four years’ time. Traditionally, two-year programs and community colleges have been used to bridge the skills gap, but they often end with students getting some kind of generic training or degree that still falls short of employers’ expectations.

Rapid changes in our technological landscape are demanding more from human workers because machines are now capable of delivering more, and contrary to what President Trump has said throughout his campaign and into his presidency, members of the working class aren’t losing most of their jobs to offshoring and globalization. In fact, a Ball State University study has concluded that almost nine out of 10 jobs have been lost to automation since 2000.

As automated systems continue to improve, this disconnect between the number of workers and the number of jobs they are qualified to fill is only going to grow. The job market in the age of automation is going to get even more competitive, so we need to find better ways to bridge the gap and put more people to work.

For employers, bachelor degrees are considered a validation of an applicant’s skill set and propensity to do well in a job. To some degree, they could be right, but experience gained through apprenticeship programs or on-the-job training is also a good way to assess potential. Those options are also a great way for young people to avoid costly student loans or the nerve-wracking process of hunting for a job after graduation. “Apprenticeships can start with a job and end with a Ph.D.,” said Noel Ginsburg, president and founder of Intertech Plastics in Denver.

Though it may be an easy way to cut down on the number of applicants for a job, a degree shouldn’t be the only thing employers look for in potential employees. Ultimately, we need to find other ways of judging an applicant’s past performance and suitability for the workplace. Pushing for education is important, but in this era of rapid technological advancement, it has to be combined with human adaptability and initiative, two skills that might prove to be the most valuable characteristics an employee can bring to the job site.

LEGO Partners With HP To Help Bring Creative Learning Into Schools

Maker of famous multicolored blocks, Lego, has announced a partnership with HP at Bett 2017.

Lego will be joining the HP for Education scheme, which allows schools that have invested in HP computers to cash in credit for software, devices and training.

As part of this, Lego will bring two education programs into the fray: Lego Mindstorms Education EV3 is a package designed to get secondary-school students interested in the basics of robotics and computer programming, while WeDo 2.0 mixes Lego bricks with basic modelling software, to introduce primary-school students to computing and science.

“At HP we recognize that with tight budgets, schools have to make difficult decisions every year between buying much-needed education hardware or investing in software such as education programs and training courses.” said Neil Sawyer, education business director at HP.

“We want to stop schools from being forced to minimize their IT assets or forgo software purchases in order to invest in vital education technology.

“With Lego Education adding two of its leading software programs and brick sets to the initiative, HP for Education will deliver creative learning solutions to thousands more pupils in the coming months, boosting STEM skills and preparing young people for the workforce of tomorrow.”

Not many brands shout “creative learning solutions” as eloquently as Lego, so it’s a boon for HP to have them onboard with their education scheme. Indeed, the nebulous term of “creativity” has been championed at this year’s Bett show, from Adobe’s push to bring Creative Cloud Android apps to Chromebooks in schools, to startups exploring ways for technology to enable students to create in the classroom.

Scientists Say Natural Selection Is Causing A Decline In Human ‘Education Genes’

The genes that predispose people to attain higher levels of education have been in decline over the past 80 years, and researchers are suggesting that they’re now under negative selection, which could have a big impact on our species in the coming centuries.

A study involving more than 100,000 people in Iceland found that those who carry the genes for longer education time were less likely to have a big family, which means the smartest people in the room were actually contributing less to the Icelandic gene pool.

“As a species, we are defined by the power of our brains. Education is the training and refining of our mental capacities,” said Kari Stefansson, CEO of Icelandic genetics firm deCODE, which ran the study.

“Thus, it is fascinating to find that genetic factors linked to more time spent in education are becoming rarer in the gene pool.”

To be clear, this does not necessarily mean that humans are getting dumber – we’re going to need a whole lot more evidence to get anywhere near a conclusion like that.

There’s also the fact that more people are getting access to education than ever before, so even if less educated people are having more offspring, non-genetic factors like more schools could counteract and even eclipse the effect.

But if we look at the trend over the course of several centuries into the future – well beyond the proliferation of schools and training access – the researchers say it could have a significant effect on our species in the long run.

“It is remarkable to report changes … that are measurable across the several decades covered by this study,” the study concludes.

“In evolutionary time, this is a blink of an eye. However, if this trend persists over many centuries, the impact could be profound.”

The researchers analysed the birth rate of 129,808 individuals born in Iceland between 1910 and 1990 who had their genomes sequenced, and compared this to their education levels.

They found that there was a genetic factor related to a person’s likelihood of attending school for longer, and came up with a ‘polygenic score’ based on 620,000 sequence variations – or markers – in the human genome to determine an individual’s genetic propensity for education.

As the team points out, no one knows the exact mix between genetic and environmental factors that leads to someone’s education level, but previous studies have estimated that the genetic component of educational attainment can account for as much as 40 percent of the difference between individuals.

Once that polygenetic score was correlated with factors like educational attainment, fertility, and birth years, the researchers found that those with a higher genetic propensity towards more education tended to have fewer children.

They also found that the average polygenetic score has been declining at a small, but significant rate on an evolutionary timescale.

As Ian Sample reports for The Guardian, the team found a drop in IQ of about 0.04 points per decade, but if all the genetic factors that could be linked to education were taken into account, that figure would increase to 0.3 points per decade.

Interestingly, the link between a higher propensity towards more education and having fewer children wasn’t because going to university is hard, and eats into your family-raising time – the team suggests that the genes involved in education can also affect human fertility on a biological level.

Because even those who carried the genes for longer education time, but who did not actually get more education, still had fewer offspring on average than those without the genetic factor.

“Those who carried more ‘education genes’ tended to have fewer children than others,” Sample explains.

“This led the scientists to propose that the genes had become rarer in the population because, for all their qualifications, better educated people had contributed less than others to the Icelandic gene pool.”

Again, this is all speculation is only based on one country, and it’s incredibly difficult to predict what’s going to happen to humans in the distant future.

But it’s certainly something to keep an eye on, the researchers say, and if anything, highlights the importance of a continued effort towards ensuring that every human has access to education, because that can override the negative selection that appears to be in play.

“In spite of the negative selection against these sequence variations, education levels have been increasing for decades. Indeed, we control the environment in which these genetic factors play out: the education system,” Stefansson said in a press statement.

“If we continue to improve the availability and quality of educational opportunities, we will presumably continue to improve the educational level of society as a whole. Time will tell whether the decline of the genetic propensity for education will have a notable impact on human society.”

The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Should Santa Be Allowed in School?

A school district in Oregon recently came under fire for circulating a memo banning Santa Claus — as well as any religious imagery — in classroom decorations. As you can imagine, parents are voicing their opinions on both sides of the issue, causing many to ask: Should Santa Claus be allowed in public schools?

Oregon’s Hillsboro school district is at the center of the recent controversy regarding Santa Claus in the classroom. It started when school administrators distributed a memo asking employees to refrain from using religious imagery, or Santa, in their classroom decorations.

“We will not be holding a door decorating contest this year,” read the memo. “You may still decorate your door or office if you like, but we ask that you be respectful and sensitive to the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our community and refrain from using religious-themed decorations or images like Santa Claus.”

The memo was sent to teachers and school staff, not to parents, but it did not take long for parents throughout Oregon — and throughout the country — to weigh in on the issue.

In a year when tempers are already at an all-time high and Americans are divided over issues small and large, it’s no surprise to learn that opinions vary widely on the topic of including Old St. Nick in the classroom.

Jason Ramirez, the parent of a child in the Hillsboro school district noted, “If you’re going to put a giant cross on the window that’s one thing, but I think Santa Claus is more folklore and American history than a religious symbol at this point.”

Cindy Jencks commented commented on the story with a different opinion, “Celebrate diversity by letting everyone decorate the way they want to for the holiday season. Encourage acceptance of people’s differences. Don’t ban religious themes. We are all different and there lies the beauty of it all.”

A 1984 Supreme Court ruling (Lynch vs. Donnelly) found that many of the symbols of Christmas — such as the tree, Santa Claus and even the nativity scene — are secular images that do not advocate a particular religious view. By that standard, images of Santa would be no different than say a shamrock in March or a red leaf in autumn.

But the winter holidays have always hit a special nerve for Americans. And Santa Claus is undeniably a symbol of Christmas, a holiday that is both secular and nonsecular, with roots in both religion and over commercialization.

Personally, I tend to lean toward Jencks’ point of view. Don’t ban Santa from the classroom, bring him on in. But also bring in the menorahs and dreidels and the symbols of Kwanzaa. Teach children about all of the various holidays that people celebrate throughout the year so that everyone feels welcome and included.

Now that would be something to celebrate.

A Realistic Guide To Homeschooling

It’s a fact: Schools are institutions, and institutions are not flexible. No Child Left Behind is seen as a failed effort, yet schools continue with standardized testing and a one-size-fits-all approach. We’ve known for years that rewards—gold stars, red checks, and praise—can often result in decreased intrinsic motivation (a child’s self-sustaining want to succeed based on fascination or accomplishment), yet the reward model still holds strong in our education system. It’s become overwhelmingly clear in recent years that children are suffering from decreased free play time, yet many schools continue to only offer 20 minutes of recess per day.

When you homeschool, any new understanding or need can be integrated into your education model. After a few straight weeks of rain this spring, when the sun finally came out, we spent a full week outside with friends. It was what we needed, and we were able to make that choice. This year, I’ve been studying mindfulness—i.e., focusing your awareness in the present—and have been able to weave this idea seamlessly into our days. We set the stage for the practice through keeping a calm and orderly home and limiting distracting technology. Our days follow a regular routine that the children can relax into, allowing them to be truly present during meals, play, rest, and work—and without any concern over grades or test scores, all their focus can be on the process of learning.

This kind of flexibility supports each family member’s individual needs and encourages lifelong learning and growth. And days can change to reflect new needs or information without fighting the slow-moving bureaucracy of a school. Instead, much of a typical school day is spent negotiating and managing the needs of the group. We are able to spend more time on focused learning tailored to our child’s interests and level, and often cover the same amount of information as traditional school while still leaving hours every day for daydreaming, playing, and reading for pleasure. In many ways, this learning method can give children the gift of time.

A family-centered lifestyle:

One undeniable quality of this method of learning is the emphasis it puts on family relationships. When things are going smoothly, it means hours of play among siblings, lively and engaging conversation, and a solid foundation of trust that we are in this together, and that all our needs matter. When my oldest daughter was interested in learning everything she could about space last year, it became a family affair. My husband took off work for a family field trip to the Air and Space Museum. We read countless books about space before bedtime, and created our own solar system (even the toddler painted some planets).

When parents take back responsibility for their children’s education, the ripple effects are significant. In the role of formal educator, parents face the reality of how their children actually learn. Efforts to force-feed knowledge are met with resistance and parents are continuously required to rethink their methods, and often, their core beliefs about education. Naive plans to “do math lessons every morning after breakfast” or “only keep toys in the bedrooms” crumble before the reality of everyday life. Our homes, schedules, and attitudes must truly come to reflect our needs and priorities. This means carving out space and time in our home and schedule to meet each family member’s needs. Our family room is a playroom and our kitchen doubles as the kids’ studio space. Many of my husband and my books are stored in boxes in the basement to make room for kids’ books on the main bookshelves. We respect the needs of our youngest members by spending time at playgrounds every day and setting aside time for naps.

I’ve found that in a world where people feel increasingly alienated from one another—where even children communicate largely through screens, even while in the same room—our method of schooling shines a light on the areas where our relationships break down. Sibling quarrels must be worked out, parental disagreements must be addressed. When children don’t spend the majority of their day in school, limits and expectations about how we treat each other must be consistently set at home. We simply spend too much time together for conflict to be ignored. It is in these struggles to come back together that we lay the foundation for lifelong, fulfilling relationships.

Becoming a stronger member of the community:

A big misconception about homeschooling parents is that we’re responsible for every aspect of our child’s education. That’s simply not how it goes! My family lives in the city, so we attend nature school once a week to balance out the dynamics of metropolitan living. It’s a five-hour class led by a trained nature guide, spent in the woods with other homeschoolers, experiencing, connecting with, and learning about the earth.

With a toddler at home, it is a challenge for me to sit down and lead structured lessons, so this year, my dad (he’s a retired teacher, conveniently) has taken on that role, leading math and language arts twice a week. The subjects that I lead are the ones that fit our current circumstances and in which I am knowledgeable and skilled. Any holes can be pursued through a class, family member, friend, or tutor.

As for the oft-asked socialization question—we have a large community of friends who we see many times each week. I sometimes wonder if people think it’s just me and my kids day in and day out. It’s not! We regularly gather with other homeschoolers for casual meet-ups, field trips, and classes. In fact, a huge benefit as a parent is that you begin to build a supportive community around your kids that also becomes a strong network for parents. Often other parents, tutors, or community members become friends and the kids are already integrated into those relationships.

At this point, you may think this all sounds interesting, but still feel fuzzy on the technical aspects. Let’s get to the practical information—how would a parent even get started with homeschooling?

Curriculum:

Some families choose to use a curriculum. There are a ton of homeschooling curriculums available with a range of educational approaches, including Traditional (which revolves largely around a private school style of manuals, texts, and workbooks), Waldorf (a study that includes body, mind, and spirit and involves art, movement, and nature), and Classical (a “learn for yourself” method that focuses on a foundation of “reason, record, research, relate, and rhetoric”), to name a few. Our family takes inspiration from a curriculum based on Waldorf Education, which we also combine with a more interest-led, project-based approach.

Some families—unschoolers or project-based homeschoolers, for example—choose to not use a curriculum at all. These families use the world as their classroom and take an interest-led, experiential approach. In practice, however, most families combine several philosophies and approaches.

In addition, you’ll want to look for groups and classes that may be available in your area. It sounds obvious, but these are fairly easy to find via Facebook Groups and plugging into other community centers or groups in your neighborhood that have classes or tutoring for children. Where we’re from, there are several homeschooling centers and co-ops that offer classes, field trips, and other gatherings. You can find a variety of classes offered to homeschoolers at science centers, museums, and nature centers. Generally, once you find one homeschooler, many other groups, tutors, and parents will follow.

Government requirements and costs:

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. Each state’s requirements are a little different—in some states, no notification is required, while in others, parents must give notification, and log reviews and test scores with their local government. (There are also state-by-state laws on the primary teaching parent’s education, vaccinations, and state-mandated subject coverage.) Here in Maryland, I register my homeschooled children with the state and participate in mandatory twice-yearly reviews, either directly with the city or through an umbrella group, an organization that helps families comply with local laws. Our reviews include checks to make sure that all required subjects are being addressed and that students are making progress.

Unfortunately, homeschooling doesn’t provide much of a cost benefit, especially when compared with public schools. In Maryland, for example, homeschoolers don’t receive any tax breaks—which means that loss of income for the primary homeschooling parent, plus cost of classes and activities quickly adds up. However, when we compare homeschooling to a private school education, we find that we can often spend less while experiencing more. This understanding, combined with a belief that we are providing the best possible education and lifestyle for our children, supports the net benefit of this choice.

Is it worth it?

Well, let’s address the elephant in the room. There are families that might find it very difficult to homeschool—single parents without any other help, or families dealing with serious health or financial issues, for example. But in many cases it’s an option worth pursuing.

For my family, homeschooling became not only an educational choice, but also a lifestyle one. Our decision came from questioning some very long-held beliefs, and was borne out of the conviction that our children would benefit from this method over others. What we’ve found, though, is that with hard work and dedication, we have redefined what modern childhood, family life, and education is for our household and community. Together, we have forged a path of discovery and connection that I’m not sure we could have otherwise.

SeaWorld Awards $5,000 Scholarships to Florida Students

SeaWorld Orlando announced today that they have awarded $5,000 scholarships to students throughout Florida as part of their 2016 Environmental Scholarship Program. The students were awarded their scholarships at SeaWorld Orlando this past Friday before heading into the park with their families to celebrate.

The scholarship opportunity was made available to Florida high school seniors with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The winning students demonstrated their passion for animals and the environment through a written application and a short video highlighting their environmental achievements and goals.

The applications were evaluated by representatives of SeaWorld’s Education & Conservation Department. Judges considered originality, creativity, content, organization, neatness and the general presentation of the application.

While at SeaWorld Orlando, the students and their families were treated to lunch, taken on an in-depth behind-the-scenes tour with members of the SeaWorld education and zoological team, a meet and greet with a sea lion after a showing of Clyde & Seamore’s Sea Lion High and a front row ride on Mako, Orlando’s tallest, fastest and longest coaster. The scholarship recipients also received four SeaWorld Orlando Annual Passes and a tablet to bring with them to college this fall.

Stay tuned after the break for a list of students that received scholarships and links to their submission videos.

2016 Environmental Scholarship Award Winners

· Christen Aniel from Mandarin High School (Jacksonville) – Christen Aniel has applied her passion for coral reefs to a school project that uses left over concrete from construction companies and creates artificial reefs for marine life to thrive once again on her local Jacksonville coastline.

View Christen’s submission here.

· Gabriela Gonzalez from Charles W. Flanagan High School (Pembroke Pines)- Gabriela Gonzalez spends her time as a vet technician in Pembroke Pines while managing several foundations and organizations focusing on animals in need.

View Gabriela’s submission here.

· Margaret K. Parrish from Chamberlain High School (Tampa)- Margaret Parrish designed and constructed a low-cost, portable water test kit that looks for certain bacteria in potential drinking water.

View Margaret’s submission here.

· Connor Wong from Edgewood Jr. Sr. High School (Merritt Island)- Connor Wong brought his ideas to life, literally, by growing mangroves in his own backyard and planting them, in turn contributing to reforesting the Indian River Lagoon.

View Connor’s submission here.

Braille LEGO-Style Bricks Help Blind Children Learn To Read While Playing

Co-founded by the non-profit initiative Dorina Nowill Foundation for the Blind, and the agency  Lew’Lara\TBWA, The Braille Bricks project aids blind children to learn how to read through play. Each block features a braille letter, for blind and sighted children to use as a toy and learning tool.

Take a look at the first ever braille lego bricks below and how they are used. The simple but brilliant design used the Braille alphabet & six-dot figures to help the visually learn to read, while stimulating creativity. The blocks showcase the 26 letters of the alphabet in braille in a fun and exciting way.

[youtube id=”qV79fzEVr_s” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Why Kids Are Learning to Ride Bikes at School

All public schools students in Washington, D.C., will now learn to ride a bike in second grade — something I wish someone would have thought of sooner.

The school district, with assistance from the District Department of Transportation and some private donors, bought 1,000 bikes that will rotate from school to school throughout the year. Kids will hop on their bikes and pedal around the gym or playground learning how to start, stop and not fall off as well as basic bike care.

“This a lifelong skill,” Miriam Kenyon, director of health and physical education for D.C. Public Schools, told the Washington Post. “It’s a way students can get to school and it’s also a way they can exercise with their family. It promotes independence, and it’s a good way to get around.”

Kenyon said the district wants to make sure that students throughout the city know how to ride a bike, a skill that many people take for granted.

Daniel Hoagland of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, who reaches bike safety courses in D.C. schools, told the Post that he encountered “surprisingly high numbers of kids” who didn’t know how to ride bikes, especially in schools that serve students in poor neighborhoods.

Hoagland also teaches adults to ride and says he has heard all sorts of reasons why they didn’t learn as children. Some had bad experiences early on that made them give up, some come from other countries where bike riding wasn’t familiar, and others said their parents didn’t know how or just never taught them.

I know the feeling.

I grew up the oldest child of immigrant parents in a working-class neighborhood in Cincinnati. At some point, I had a bike with training wheels, but I rarely rode it — I was a real bookworm. While my younger siblings were out biking, skating and running around the neighborhood, I was usually reading or writing stories. My siblings somehow took off their own training wheels and figured out how to ride. I never did.

Years later when I confessed this to my then-boyfriend (and now my husband), he vowed to teach me. On a beach vacation, we rented bikes and I gingerly pedaled around a parking lot … straight into some hedges. That was the limit of my biking experience until our preschooler was learning how to ride a bike and wanted me to join the fun. I pedaled around the cul-de-sac and was so ridiculously petrified, I gave up — again.

(Ironically, I’ve ridden horses for years. There’s plenty of balance involved there, but four legs instead of two wheels is much more reassuring to me.)

Not afraid to fall

Back in Washington, D.C., administrators say they chose second grade because that’s when the curriculum focuses on balance and coordination. (As the kids in the video above prove they have a handle on.) It’s also an age when children aren’t afraid to fall, Kenyon told the Post, and when enough students already know how to ride so that they can help teach their classmates.

“We decided second grade is a foundational year,” said David Gesualdi, a physical education teacher at D.C.’s Walker-Jones Education Campus. “A kid needs this experience before second grade, and if they don’t receive it by this age, we are going to provide it.”