By Heather Kelly, CNN
Forget tiny iPads - the classrooms of the future might turn entire tables into interactive touchscreens.
Given that many children can sit rapturously before a glowing touchscreen for hours, such gadgets seem like a natural for the classroom. But as with any new teaching technology, it's important to make sure it actually helps students learn and teachers teach before getting caught up in its "cool" factor.
A recent study by researchers at Newcastle University in the UK took touchscreen tables into the classroom for some hands-on tests and found the technology (and training) still have to improve before they are fully effective. The researchers say theirs is one of the first studies of this type of technology in actual classrooms, instead of lab situations.
The tables were used in real classrooms over the course of six weeks for lessons in geography, English and history. The five teachers involved in the study prepared the projects based on what the kids were currently learning in class. Each table was used by two to four students at a time, though the table's creators say it can hold up to six students. On the screen were a collaborative writing program and an app called Digital Mysteries, which were designed specifically for large tabletop PCs.
These types of tables are already commercially available and can be seen in the wild in locations like museums. SMART Technologies, for example, makes a table with a 42-inch, 1080p display for $7,749. The prices for these interactive tables will likely come down in the future, but they will still remain a big investment for any school district.
And before schools invest heavily in these kinds of tools, the study's authors say that more in-class research and tweaks to the software should be done.
A few of the issues raised were the same that come up in most group work. Some students would complete tasks faster than others, while others would lose focus and fall behind. Teachers in the study found they couldn't always tell when students were working versus just pretending to work and moving items around the screen.
Suggested improvements to the tools included more detailed progress indicators for the individual students. Researchers also recommend that the apps add more flexibility so that teachers can control, change and pause the lessons. In an old-school twist, researchers also recommended that the programs include an option for exporting kids' progress so they can print it out.
Researchers also emphasized the need for more teacher-friendly features and control over the apps, plus proper training for any educator who plans on integrating these types of tables with their regular classroom curriculum.
"To make the most use of them teachers have to make them part of the classroom activity they have planned – not make it the lesson activity,” said Dr Ahmed Kharrufa in a statement.
In other words, even the most advanced technology won't be able to replace good teachers.
Written By Heather M. Higgins, CNN
Video Edited By Nina Raja, CNN
A video of rainbow-pigmented cells opening and closing to the deep bass beats of an iconic 1990s rap hit has 2.1 million views on YouTube - all because a Michigan-based neuroscientist is using it to teach a new generation of young people about the brain.
“If you have an idea that involves the nervous system and electricity you can do that with very, very cheap parts – that’s the insight,” said Alex Wiltschko, a PhD student at Harvard University. “So you can clip a wire onto a squid and pump in Cypress Hill into this squid’s membrane and see its colors react, see the chromatophores open and close to the music.”
The science behind this phenomenon is explained by Greg Gage, the co-founder of Backyard Brains, the company he created to democratize neuroscience education.
“The reason why it’s dancing to the music is that at that frequency, the low frequencies have long wave forms. Those long wave forms allow current to pass by, which causes an action potential, which causes the muscles inside the chromatophores to open for that brief moment of time,” Gage said.
Editor's Note: Greg Gage is a globe-trekking neuroscientist, engineer, teacher and entrepreneur. He's the co-founder of Backyard Brains, a Michigan-based company that wants to revolutionize how science is taught by putting neuroscience in the hands of young people. Watch Greg Gage's full 30-minute profile this Sunday at 2 P.M. ET. on CNN’s “The Next List.”
Why he matters: Gage has come up with an innovative way to inspire future generations in neuroscience. As the co-creator of Backyard Brains, Gage created the “SpikerBox,”a small DIY kit that helps young people understand the electrical impulses that control the nervous system. He brings cool hands-on experiments to schools so students can see and hear brain signals, or “spikes” from the living neurons of insects like cockroaches.
Gage is passionate about coming up with ways to change neuroscience education, because, he says “when it comes to the brain, we’re in the dark ages. One out five of us will be diagnosed with a brain disorder that still has no cures. By getting more people involved ... we can inspire those interested to become neuroscientists, and perhaps cure brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”
Why he cares: The inspiration for Gage's work as an educator came from a realization that the advanced equipment he used as a PhD student could be made at home for a fraction of the price, in less than a day.
"Our equipment that we were using cost $40,000," he said. "We set off on a self-imposed engineering challenge to see if we could replicate our expensive lab equipment with something affordable by consumers.”
Gage ended up with the $100 "SpikerBox. It can be used with a smartphone, iPad or computer to monitor brain activity in real time. After a few minutes, amateurs can begin to understand the basic principles of how neurons encode information, and how remarkable the brain can be.
Editor's Note: Jim McKelvey is an engineer, entrepreneur, artist, environmentalist, co-Founder of Square and Third Degree Glass Factory and general partner of Cultivation Capital. He is a man who embraces challenge in many forms. Tune in Sunday, January 6 at 2 P.M. E.T. to watch The Next List's full 30-minute profile on McKelvey.
By Jim McKelvey, Special to CNN
Most glassblowers agree that one man, Lino Tagliapietra, is the best.
Who’s the most skilled programmer? Who’s the most talented singer? Who’s the smartest attorney? Who knows? But in glass, we all agree that this 80-year-old Italian dude is the best in the world. Imagine what you can learn from someone who is undisputedly the best in the world.
I got to study with the “Maestro” at a time when he took only 10 students a year.
During the week I spent with Lino, every student got to ask him one question. It could be anything. Lino always knew the answer.
Your one question was a big deal. Students either asked ultra-complex technical questions or requested that Lino make the glass behave in ways nobody thought possible.
My question was elementary. I asked the world’s best glassblower how to properly center a foot on a bowl.
By Heather M. Higgins, CNN
New York (CNN) – Daylight pours in a large northern exposed window and bounces off the grape-colored walls of a 13’ x 10’ office that is part of the 5500 square foot arts and science co-operative called Collab.
The six employees who work shoulder-to-shoulder at this lower Manhattan startup are designing tiny, brightly colored electronic squares. However, these Lego-like modules are much more than the next hot toy on the market – they’re encouraging young boys and girls to learn about science, engineering and basic circuits.
“The idea is that we want to make every single electronic interaction in the world into a ready to use brick,” says Ayah Bdeir, 29, founder and CEO of littleBits, a company that has been selling their product for less than a year.
One of the people collaborating to advance this mission is Krystal Persaud, 23, a 2010 graduate of Georgia Tech who interned for three months before being hired as a full-time junior industrial designer on June 1st. Persaud, who has always been into art and painting, pushed herself to pursue a degree in industrial design.
Her skills were tested at a recent workshop she titled ‘Techno Jungle’ – a littleBits Saturday class to inspire children to build animals whose tails spin and eyes light up.
“Krystal impressed me when I met her on Skype by her project ‘The Closed Loop,’ Bdeir said. “She grew weary of superficial sustainability solutions and embarked on a self-imposed project over several months where she was not going to produce any waste, and instead was going to live with her trash. I hired Krystal because, like us, she wants to change the world, she is starting from within, and most importantly, she knows how to have fun doing it.”