Tag Archives: Students

Teenagers can have a “social jet lag” because of the school’s hours

Everyone who once traveled between countries with different time zones experienced some level of fatigue or confusion — jet lag.

But you don’t need to travel to get jet lag. According to a new study, many teenagers suffer from social jet lag. This especially occurs when there are big differences between the number of hours they sleep at the weekend and in the week, the researchers found.

A school in Buenos Aires. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

A study by researchers in Argentina showed that teenagers that go to the school during the morning shift have lower academic performance and up to four hours of social jet lag.

The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, was analyzing more than 700 students from the Carlos Pellegrini school in Buenos Aires. The sample included 30 courses, 15 from the first year and 15 from the last year, half morning courses and half evening courses.

The researchers were able to link the chronotype of the students (essentially the circadian rhythms), figuring out which were more likely to be active in the morning or in the evening. They also tracked academic performance, measured by the grades obtained by the students.

“We observed that the students with a morning predisposition had a better performance in the morning shift than those who are more nocturn,” Juliana Leone, a researcher at the Torcuato Di Tella University and author of the study, said. “This suggests that academic results are better when the chronotype and the school time match.”

The researchers gave the students a questionnaire and asked about their sleeping times during weekdays, the time they go to bed, the time they get up and how long do they take to sleep. With this information, they were able to build four variables or indicators of sleep.

The variables were the chronotype of the teenagers, the total number of hours of sleep, the social jet lag and the proportion and duration of naps. By connecting the data with the grades, the researchers realized that teenagers going to the morning shift slept very little and had high levels of social jet lag.

“We discovered that teenagers in Argentina have more evening chronotype than in other countries. Nevertheless, we saw differences between shifts,” Leone said. “A general recommendation would be that school should start later, that would be better for all teenagers.”

An intermediate solution suggested by the researchers was that only the older students in the last years of school are the ones to start late, as they were seen to be the most affected. The school could also assign shifts according to the chronotypes of teenagers, they said.

Daniel Pérez-Chada, professor at the Austral University, who didn’t participate in the study, told La Nacion newspaper, that the research has many virtues. He highlighted the size of the sample and that it was done randomly, also agreeing with the idea of starting school later.

Could installing air filters into classrooms raise students’ performance?

A thought-provoking working paper suggests that installing air filters into classrooms could help students perform better by a significant margin.

A simple air filtering system could significantly increase school grades.

In October 2015, workers at a gas well in Aliso Canyon’s underground storage facility in Los Angeles, California, reported a massive gas leak. It was an environmental disaster, comparable to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Local communities felt the impact.

Residents reported headaches, nausea, and severe nosebleeds. Children were particularly affected — dozens of children went to school nurses every day with severe nosebleeds. Faced with public and political pressure, the company responsible for the leak installed air filter in every affected classroom. But here’s the thing: they did this three months after the leak was first reported.

Thankfully, with methane being lighter than air and the leak plugged after a couple of months, the level of pollutants had fallen to pre-leak levels by the time the filters were installed. In other words, the filters didn’t help clear up leaked methane because the methane was already gone. They did, however, clear the regular levels of pollution — and that’s when something weird started happening.

Test scores were going up, by a lot: 0.20 standard deviations for math and 0.18 standard deviations for English. This is the equivalent of cutting down class sizes by a third (or, similarly, adding a third more teachers) for the cost of an air filter (around $700).

The changes appear to be sustained over the next year, and cannot be readily explained by any other factor (there was no reform or substantial change). In addition, while Los Angeles has some relatively high pollution levels, they were similar to those of other schools — the effect only happened where the air filters were installed. There’s also some underlying science which could explain why this happens.

Study after study has shown that pollution, even pollution considered within ‘normal’ levels, can affect the cognitive abilities of both children and adults. A recent working paper found that pollution “harms chess players’ performance in cognitive tasks” — and for children, who are generally more sensitive to the effects of pollution, the effects may be even stronger.

Of course, we shouldn’t look too much into one single study (which was not peer-reviewed). However, the effects are so impressive and the costs of installing air filters would be so small that we would really love to see a few schools and cities experiment with this. This opens up some very interesting research avenues, and potentially, offers some very concrete in helping students’ cognitive abilities with low costs.

Planets collage.

Art-integrated science lessons make some students ‘learn at 105%’, new study finds

Mixing arts into science lessons can help students better retain information and be more creative in their learning process.

Planets collage.

Image via Pixabay.

Is there a place for arts in science? We’ve tackled this idea before (read about it here and here) and, long story short, we feel the answer is a confident “yes”. A new study supports our view: the team, led by the vice dean of academic affairs for the School of Education at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), reports that art isn’t only desirable in the classroom — it’s “absolutely needed”.

Rappin’, dancin’, drawin’ science

“Our study provides more evidence that the arts are absolutely needed in schools. I hope the findings can assuage concerns that arts-based lessons won’t be as effective in teaching essential skills,” says Mariale Hardiman, the study’s first author.

Past research has shown that dabbling in the arts helps improve students’ academic outcomes and memory capacity, the team writes. However, it was still unclear whether instructing students on art, incorporating it into lesson plans, general exposure to it, or a combination of these factors, was responsible for the observed benefits.

The team writes that one of the biggest hurdles teachers are facing is that “children forget much of what they learn” in class, so the content of the previous year has to be taught again. The efforts of the current study focused on improving students’ retention of information (specifically science content) through the integration of art in the curriculum.

They followed 350 fifth-grade students in 16 different classrooms across 6 schools in Baltimore, Maryland, throughout the 2013 school year. Each student was randomly assigned in one of two classroom pairs: astronomy and life science, or environmental science and chemistry. The experiment consisted of two sessions, each spanning three to four weeks.

In each session, students first took an arts-integrated class or a conventional class — and switched for the second session. Thus, the team ensured that all students experienced both types of classes and that all eleven teachers involved in the study taught both types of classes.

Art-integrated classes included activities such as rapping or sketching to support learning new terms and expanding their vocabulary. The students also designed collages to separate living and non-living things. In conventional classes, these activities were matched with your regular educational process: reading paragraphs of texts with vocabulary words aloud in a group and completing worksheets.

To estimate how well each approach worked, the team analyzed students’ content retention before, right after, and 10 weeks after the study ended. Those at a basic reading level before the study began showed (a quite surprising) 105% content retention in the long term on average. The authors themselves seem surprised with this result, explaining that :

“The value of 105% […] is an actual value. This value for Basic Readers in the Arts Integrated condition resulted from students demonstrating enhanced retained content on the followup testing beyond what was initially demonstrated on the posttest,” they write in the paper.

So not only did their art-infused approach help students remember the subjects being taught during the study, it helped them better retain content they were later exposed to. The team explains that students remembered more in the delayed post-testing because they kept singing songs they had learned during their art activities. Much like how a catchy tune gets stuck in your head the more you think of it or sing it aloud, these songs helped students hold onto educational content in the long term.

The study also found that students who took a conventional session first remembered more science in the second (art-integrated) session. Students who took the art-integrated session first maintained performance over in the second session. The exact differences between the two groups aren’t enough to be statistically significant, the authors note, but it does suggest that students carry the creative problem-solving skills they learned in arts-and-science classes over to the conventional lessons — and it helps to enhance their ability to learn.

Looking forward, Hardiman hopes that educators and researchers will put their methods to use, which will serve to expand on their study and improve understanding of arts integration in schools. They also say that integrating arts into science lessons could be a very powerful tool for students who struggle the most with skills such as reading, because so much of the conventional curriculum relies on students reading material to learn — so if they cannot read very well, their ability to learn also suffers.

“Our data suggests that traditional instruction seems to perpetuate the achievement gap for students performing at the lower levels of academic achievement,” says Hardiman.

“We also found that students at advanced levels of achievement didn’t lose any learning from incorporating arts into classrooms, but potentially gained benefits such as engagement in learning and enhanced thinking dispositions. For these reasons, we would encourage educators to adopt integrating the arts into content instruction,” .

The paper “The effects of arts-integrated instruction on memory for science content” has been published in the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education.


Exercising in a group rather than alone is a great way to handle stress, researchers reveal

Working out in a group can improve your quality of life and lower stress significantly, compared to exercising individually, a new paper reports.


Image via Pixabay.

Exercising as part of a group could prove to have some meaningful advantages over flying solo, according to researchers from the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. They found that individuals usually put more effort in the task but see no significant changes in their self-perceived stress levels and only limited improvements in quality of life compared to those who work out in groups.

“The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” said Dayna Yorks, DO, lead researcher on this study.

“The findings support the concept of a mental, physical and emotional approach to health that is necessary for student doctors and physicians.”

Dr Yorks and her team recruited 69 medical students at the college for the study. Medical students are a group known for handling high levels of stress and who usually reports low to very low quality of life. The students were allowed to select following a twelve-week exercise program either within a group setting or individually. A control group was also set up, and its members were asked to abstain from any exercise other than walking or biking as a means of transportation.

Every four weeks, participants had to complete a survey in which they rated their levels of perceived stress and mental, physical, and emotional quality of life.

Those who opted for group exercise spent 30 minutes at least once a week in a core strengthening and functional fitness training program called CXWORX. By the end of the experiment, their mean monthly scores showed significant improvements in all three categories (12.6% for mental, 24.8% for physical, and 26% for emotional wellbeing).

Individual fitness participants, in contrast, were allowed to keep any exercise schedule they liked and could opt from a wide range of activities such as running and weight lifting — but they had to always work out alone or with no more than two partners. On average, their surveys showed that they work out twice as long as the other group, but saw no significant change in anything except mental quality of life (11% increase). The control group saw no significant changes in quality of life or perceived stress.

“Medical schools understand their programs are demanding and stressful. Given this data on the positive impact group fitness can have, schools should consider offering group fitness opportunities,” said Dr. Yorks.

“Giving students an outlet to help them manage stress and feel better mentally and physically can potentially alleviate some of the burnout and anxiety in the profession.”

But you don’t have to be a med student to feel the bite of stress — so if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed, gather up a few of your friends and hit the gym. It could be just the quality of life boost you need!

The paper “Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students” has been published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Higher emotional intelligence can make you more vulnerable to stress — if you’re a dude

Emotional intelligence can be a double edged sword, a new study has found — while it can attune you to the feelings of those around you, helping you interact with them better, it can also make you more predisposed to risk, the team reports.

Image credits Ryan McGuire.

We all know that having good social wits — emotional intelligence — is a really big boost for all your social endeavors. But does it only bring advantages to the table, or are there drawbacks to be had as well? To find out, psychologists Myriam Bechtoldt and Vanessa Schneider of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany assessed 166 male students’ levels of emotional intelligence by asking them a series of questions to assess. For example, the participants were asked to look at photographs of faces and then estimate what emotions they were conveying, and to what degrees.

The same students then had to hold a mock job interview in front of judges who displayed stern facial expressions. To asses their levels of stress, the team measured cortisol (stress hormone) concentrations in the participants’ saliva before and after the talk. Students who rated higher on the emotional intelligence scale in the photo trial showed greater levels of cortisol during the second experiment and took longer to drop down to baseline levels.

Just like too much of a good thing can turn toxic, the findings suggest that some people simply could be too emotionally intelligent for their own good. By tuning in to others’ emotions so accurately, they become highly sensitive to their effects, which can put them under a lot of stress. Some sensitive individuals may even assume responsibility for other people’s sadness or anger, which ultimately stresses them out, Bechtoldt adds.

The study remains limited in sample size, age distribution, and in only studying male participants — further research is needed to see if this relation between emotional intelligence and stress plays out differently in women, different age groups, or people with other educational backgrounds. But it does illustrate some pitfalls of highly emotionally intelligent people — and why learning to cope with emotions is a crucial skill for them.

The full paper “Predicting stress from the ability to eavesdrop on feelings: Emotional intelligence and testosterone jointly predict cortisol reactivity” has been published in the journal Emotion.

We’re trusting a lot of fake news because we’re abysmal at weeding it out, study finds

We have more information at our fingertips than previous generations absorbed in a lifetime — but we’re doing a very poor job of filtering actual news from the shadier info released upon social media. Even students, the most technically capable and internet-literate people out there, are largely unable to make this distinction,  a new study found.

Image credits Oberholster Venita / Pixabay.

You’ve probably ran into a few bogus pieces of news out on your Facebook adventures at one point or another. And you may be doing a good job at dodging it for the most part. You also probably believe that everyone else can draw on the same level of news-savviness as you. You’d be wrong.

A new study led by Sam Wineburg from Stanford University found that up to a frightening 80% of surveyed US middle school students can’t tell the difference between fake news and actual news stories. An even higher percentage had no qualms to take information from anonymous Imgur posts as reliable facts at face value. Even worse, we believe that we’re doing a good job of weeding out the bad content from the rest just because we can get to it.

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there,” said lead researcher Sam Wineburg from Stanford University.

“Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

Fake news can take many shapes. Sponsored or advertising content, information from dubious sources, even straight-up fabrications that go viral all qualify. For example, there was the story that one FBI agent who was directly involved in the Hillary emails investigation was found dead in his apartment. Or that Pope Francis is all for Trump being president. Both stories had less much truth in them than there’s bagel in the bagel’s hole.

Traditionally, this job of weeding out fake news was done by editors or journalists themselves through the obscure ancient practice of “fact-checking.” Since those times, social media has largely taken over the role of dedicated news agencies, and anyone can post whatever they want. To their credit, companies such as Facebook or Google are working to de-monetize or actively ban this kind of content following the electoral news disaster. But the sheer percentage found gullible by the study points to a deeper issue in how suppliers and consumers in today’s media world interact. And with 62% of US adults getting the majority of their news from social media, it’s very important we understand just how much of a problem it is. The Stanford researchers themselves admit to being “shocked” by the results.

“In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” they write.

The survey totaled 7,804 students from middle school to college levels in 12 US states. The researchers gave each participant a range of activities to perform based on their educational levels. One task presented to high school students had them rate the trustworthiness of an Imgur photo showing deformed daisies. The headline read “Fukushima Nuclear Flowers: Not much more to say, this is what happens when flowers get nuclear birth defects.” And we’ve talked about this picture before.

“[…] people started to freak out all over the internet that these plants suffered mutations due to the devastating nuclear incident from 2011 in Fukushima, Japan. According to the photographer @san_kaido, the radiation level near the daisies was measured at 0.5 μSv/h at 1m above the ground, which in fact is not much higher than the normal values,” Alexandra wrote.

“In other words, no reason to freak out.”

Everything at face value, please!

Only 20% of students thought the photo (posted anonymously) was a little dubious. But double that, 40% of students, considered the photo as “strong evidence” that the region around Fukushima is hazardous.

“We asked students, ‘Does this photograph provide proof that the kind of nuclear disaster caused these aberrations in nature?’ And we found that over 80 percent of the high school students that we gave this to had an extremely difficult time making that determination,” Wineburg told NPR.

“They didn’t ask where it came from. They didn’t verify it. They simply accepted the picture as fact.”

Another task had middle-school students sift through the Slate homepage and decide whether each piece of content was news or an ad. They were pretty good at pointing out traditional ads, such as banners, but more than 80% of the 203 students though that a native finance ad — labeled as “sponsored content” — was a piece of actual news.

Participants also had difficulty identifying credible sources from shadier ones and most even ignored cues such as the authenticated tick on verified Facebook and Twitter accounts. A task saw 30 percent of the students arguing that a fake Fox News account was more credible than the verified one because it used better graphics. And even college students had a hard time identifying the political views of candidates based on Google searches.

Before algorithms are set in place to take this news out of our feeds, the researchers say we need to focus on better educating ourselves on the issue.

“What we see is a rash of fake news going on that people pass on without thinking,” Wineburg told NPR. “And we really can’t blame young people because we’ve never taught them to do otherwise.”

“The kinds of duties that used to be the responsibility of editors, of librarians now fall on the shoulders of anyone who uses a screen to become informed about the world,” he added.

“And so the response is not to take away these rights from ordinary citizens but to teach them how to thoughtfully engage in information seeking and evaluating in a cacophonous democracy.”

There’s also evidence that people can start remembering fake facts as real — an effect which could extend to fake news, as well.

The report “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning” is still awaiting publication and is yet to pass peer-review, so as always take it with a grain of salt. You can read it in full here.

Robotic surveillance without enforcement isn’t enough to stop people from stealing, a new study found

A Cornell University experiment shows that robot guards aren’t quite here. The team placed a snack table labelled “reserved” in a student common room and stationed a robotic guard to watch over it — without much success.

“I’m guarding! I’m a guardfull guard. Fear my guardiness.”
Image credits Bossa Nova.

Dr. Guy Hoffman of Cornell University of Ithaca, New York placed a mObi robot, made by US robotics company Bossa Nova, to guard a table of food labeled “reserved” from a group of ravenous students. It doesn’t have a threatening appearance, but it does come equipped with eyes that let it look around the room. To help him understand how people behave around robots, Dr. Hoffman was recreating a psychology experiment in which a picture of eyes, placed in an easily visible spot, made people behave more honestly.

So in theory, having the robot watch the table should have deterred the students from stealing food off the table — in reality, it proved to be a poor deterrent. Seven per cent of passers-by still took food from the table, only slightly fewer than the 8 percent who did so when the table wasn’t guarded at all. In contrast, only 2 percent of people pinched a snack when a human was sitting at the table.

“We talk about robots being in healthcare and education and the government and the military — these places where ethical behaviour is a big issue,” Dr. Hoffman says.

A GoPro camera hidden nearby recorded the behavior of hundreds of people as they walked by the food table. Many of them seem to be more interested in the robot’s reactions, taking food just to see if the robot would stop them. One student simply told his friend to turn the robot around so he could take some food. Another was recorded saying “It’s not listening. It’s a robot, we could take a cookie,” Hoffman and his colleagues said at the IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication in New York City last month.

“We found the robot made people engage more with the situation, trying to understand what was going on,” said Hoffman. “They’d wonder: ‘Why is there food? Why is there a robot?’ It raised their curiosity. In the end, however, they would take as much food with the robot present as without a robot.”

Matthias Scheutz, department of computer science director at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, isn’t surprised. He says the results come down to the robot’s lack of social engagement, such as speaking or “watching” people.

“Even if people thought that the robot was able to see them, it is very unlikely they thought that such a robot could object or report them,” he says.

Which isn’t very surprising — a guard that won’t stop you from doing what you’re not allowed to isn’t much of a guard at all. Unless the robot has a reaction to a would-be theft, people will simply ignore it. It doesn’t even have to intervene to stop a thief —  just looking disapprovingly at them or protesting audibly would help.

Team member Jodi Forlizzi at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that even dressing the robot up as a security guard, with dark-blue suit and badge, would help.

“Really subtle changes in how the robot looks or behaves can drastically influence how people interpret it,” she says.

Hoffman himself was a bit surprised by the results, diametrically different from his previous results.

“We thought the robot have some effect on the results. We feel that somehow it comes down to this idea of being judged more than being monitored,” he concluded.

The paper is still awaiting peer-review.