Serving Up A Slice Of Einstein On Pi Day,Which Is Also Albert Einstein’s Birthday


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It’s on this day each year that so many debate the merits of Dutch apple a la mode vs. lemon meringue pie.

It’s the day pie lovers embrace the (other) Pi (3.14…), transforming March 14th into a good reason to globally celebrate Pi with pie.

For those of us who celebrate fundamental scientific research every day, we raise our forkfuls for yet another reason: to celebrate the man who brought us theories about space and time that, among other things, make today’s GPS so accurate and our search for gravitational waves a reality. Yes, Pi Day is also Albert Einstein’s birthday.

Soon, I will have the honor of participating in this year’s World Science Festival in Australia, where so much of my involvement there is a reflection of science and technology that hinges on Einstein’s contributions and specifically his connection to the NSF-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO).

Einstein, the “poster child” for fundamental scientific research

It’s been a little over a year since the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that the project it had funded for more than 40 years, LIGO, had detected gravitational waves resulting from two merging black holes 1.3 billion lightyears away.

Not only did Einstein theorize the existence of gravitational waves, his theories provided the tools to set up experiments, simulations and instrumentation that could realize his bold ideas. How did we know LIGO’s detection was two black holes merging? Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. Gravitational physicists from around the world had developed numerical codes that model black holes in this theory. This new discipline, called Numerical Relativity, is the one that provided the simulations that agree with the observations.

And these simulations, done on supercomputers, weren’t easy to achieve. Most of the breakthroughs in this area have been achieved by brilliant researchers in only the past 15 years, and by a large margin most of this work in the U.S. was funded by NSF.

But this is what we do. And the payoff is that NSF research, along with our national and international collaborators, has literally opened a new window to our universe. We have found a way to observe some of the most powerful cosmic phenomena that occur in the farthest reaches of our universe, without leaving our own planet, and we have achieved the means to understand it! It’s a feat that never ceases to amaze me. And one certainly worthy of quite a bit of pie!

When science gives you new windows…

I’m often asked why I became an astrophysicist, to which I reflect on the wonder I held even as a young girl, looking out at the stars. Today, that same sense of awe is coupled with a curiosity shared far beyond my scientific community. In much the same way one gets to know a school or neighborhood to its fullest extent, I believe collectively we share a desire to learn more about our universe. Only last month, an NSF-funded astronomer was among the cadre who discovered seven Earth-like exoplanets outside our solar system.

NSF has long invested in exploring our universe with ground-based approaches that exploit the electromagnetic spectrum from radio waves to gamma-rays. It has also funded observatories that detect high-energy particles of cosmic origins. Now, with the advent of LIGO, NSF also supports the observation of gravitational waves. In fact, as NSF leadership and our National Science Board distilled the broad range of science into “big ideas” that represent important questions for our future, we naturally determined one of them as “windows on the universe.”

I believe strongly that it’s our investment in fundamental research that will allow us not only to see and understand so much more of our universe, but develop understanding, tools and technology along the way that can also be important economic drivers and excite the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who test and prove theories and create new theories of their own.

What’s next for LIGO

NSF continues to invest in this project because we believe this is just the beginning for a whole new way to study our universe. The plan for Advanced LIGO is that it will run at three separate times, increasing sensitivity with each new “run” of the project’s two interferometers in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. The hope was that with this second run that is ongoing, European collaborators would also jump into the observations with their Advanced VIRGO detector, and all of this would potentially increase and improve detections.

At this point, VIRGO is delayed because of technical issues, but the LIGO detectors will likely continue until the summer, and we still hope that VIRGO can join in. Our expectation is that potentially we could still see two to five detections. The third run will occur in 2018.

Additionally, we may hear from India on which location they have officially selected, and their plans for a third LIGO interferometer that could get up and running in 2024. That seems like a long time away, but a third LIGO interferometer would help triangulate signals and potentially allow researchers to pinpoint the origin of these cosmic phenomena more accurately.

These are big plans that potentially will provide big news about our universe. And that’s a win for all of us, anyway you slice it.

Some strategies to help you both cope when the going gets tough


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No matter how hard you try, your child may struggle academically at some point in his school career. Here are some strategies to help you both cope when the going gets tough.

Let your kids get frustrated. When kids are having a hard time with homework or a school-related subject, they often explode with anger. And parents wonder “What did I do wrong?” “You didn’t necessarily do anything,” advises Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “Sometimes when kids feel misunderstood at school or frustrated by a subject, they get angry or provoke the parent — as a way of making you feel as helpless or angry as they feel. It’s almost like your child is saying, ‘would you hold my hopelessness for a while?’ Or ‘I need you to feel what I am going through, so I am going to make you angry.’”

Take a break. If your child says “I can’t do it!” and throws the pencil down, take a little break. Maybe she needs to rant and blow off a little steam. Come back in five minutes and start fresh.This also gives a child a chance to “save face” and start over, without even discussing the previous difficulty or outburst.

Don’t always try to have a rational conversation. When kids get very upset about school, the upset may get in the way of their being rational. So wait it out instead of arguing or grilling children about the situation. Once they cool down, you might be able to talk it through.

Let your child make his own mistakes. It’s hard not to correct a child’s homework, but most teachers ask you not to take over unless your child asks for your help or the teacher requests it. Teachers generally want to know what the child understands, not what the parent understands about the material.

Put a time limit on the work. Most teachers will not expect younger kids to work longer than a half-hour on homework from any particular subject, but ask your teacher for a time limit. If your child struggles (while actively trying) and exceeds the limit, write the teacher a note explaining that’s all that could get done.

Contact the school. If homework or a project is turning into a dreaded battle, talk with the school. Don’t wait for your next conference. It’s obviously time for some new insights and new strategies.

Help your child learn how to organize himself. This is a life-long skill that can be taught, but it can be challenging to do so. However you can help your child discover the organizational tricks that will work for him by sharing some of your own. “It’s very difficult to teach children to be organized if it is not in their nature (or yours),” says guidance counselor Linda Lendman, M.S.W. “Encourage your child to label everything. Develop strategies, like the ‘must-do list’ before you leave school (put math book in backpack). Schedule a weekly ‘clean out the backpack and clean off your desk’ time so papers don’t build up. Be patient, and try not to place blame.”

Recognize that school work will never be conflict-free. No one ever raised a child without a homework battle. “There is no conflict-free homework strategy for most kids,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. “At times, kids will find it fun and fascinating. Other times, it may be something they just have to do, and you have to help them find the structure for getting it done.”

The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Reading Nursery Rhymes To Children


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When you sing nursery rhymes to your children, you may be telling the same poems and tales that, in some form, were told by firelight from parents to their children centuries ago, perhaps even as far back as the Middle Ages. Determining the origins of these famous tales before they were written down is impossible, but many have made guesses about their early roots. “Ring Around the Rosy” may refer to the swollen cysts that afflicted the sick during the Black Death. You might be recalling an ancient Welsh king in “Old King Cole” who drowned in a swamp 1700 years ago, and in “Little Miss Muffet” the daughter of a bug expert in Shakespearean England, or a queen beheaded for her Catholic faith in “Mary Mary Quite Contrary.” These stories have undergone so many changes over the centuries that these meanings –if they did originate in these long-ago dark circumstances –are mostly obscured.

“Many of these songs were not originally for children,” says Kay Vandergrift, Professor Emerita of Children’s Literature at Rutgers University. Most of these songs were part of an oral-based society that relayed news, spread coded rumors about authority figures, and worked out its moral dilemmas (for kids and adults) in rhyme and song. And existing nonsense rhymes that were part of this oral tradition could be used or adapted to make references to current events. It was in the nineteenth century, when Victorian society sentimentalized childhood and romanticized “quaint” times from the past, that most nursery rhymes were written down and presented as for children only.

How are these poems—inhabited by kings, queens and peasants of a rural past predating electricity, television and computers—still relevant to twenty-first-century kids and parents? If we are so far removed from the world that hatched these rhymes, why should we still read them? Some of the reasons people sang nursery rhymes to each other in the past remain good reasons to do so today. Here are four main reasons nursery rhymes can be beneficial for kids:

They are good for the brain. Not only does the repetition of rhymes and stories teach children how language works, it also builds memory capabilities that can be applied to all sorts of activities. Furthermore, as Vandergrift points out, nursery rhyme books are often a child’s first experience with literacy: “Even before they can read, children can sit and learn how a book works.” This extends to the pictures and music associated with nursery rhymes: it is a full visual and oral experience.
Nursery rhymes preserve a culture that spans generations, providing something in common among parents, grandparents and kids—and also between people who do not know each other. Seth Lerer, Humanities Professor at the University of California San Diego and expert in the history of children’s literature, says that reading nursery rhymes to kids is, in part, “to participate in a long tradition … it’s a shared ritual, there’s almost a religious quality to it.”
They are a great group activity. Susie Tallman, who has put out several award-winning nursery rhymes CDs, and is also a nursery school music teacher, describes how singing nursery rhymes allows all kids—even shy ones—to feel confident about singing, dancing and performing because they are so easy to grasp and fun: “It builds confidence right in front of my eyes,” she says. “They really see the connection between movement, rhythm and words.” She has also had kids of different ages collaborate on making music videos for their favorite nursery rhymes.
Most important is that they are fun to say. Lerer downplays the life lessons that some rhymes contain, arguing that while parents might consider them important, children probably do not register them. He remembers how as a kid he had no idea what “Peas porridge hot/peas porridge cold” meant but that “he just loved the way it sounded.” One should not let any supposed deeper meanings or origins to nursery rhymes obscure their true value: the joy of a child’s discovery of an old, shared language.

Tips For The Summer Reading


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What comes to mind when you think about summer with your children? Swimming? Summer camp? Barbecues? Music in the park? This year, why not make sharing books part of your family’s summer fun?

Teachers and literacy experts agree that children of all ages need to be read to or to read by themselves and to talk about books over the summer. When you read or talk to your young child about books, she develops important language skills, understandings about books and print, and knowledge about how stories are constructed that will help her to become a strong reader and writer. Your school-aged child’s summer reading and book discussions will help him maintain his reading skills, improve his reading fluency, and learn new vocabulary and concepts. Most importantly, when parents and children enjoy summer reading together, children develop a love of books and reading that lasts a lifetime.

Learn tips for weaving language and literacy activities into your child’s summer days and for helping your school-aged child tackle her school summer reading list . In addition, you can explore links to summer reading lists and more.

“Read” Illustrations can Help Improve Literacy Skills


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Snuggling up with my children and a good picture book was one of my favorite things to do when my son and daughter were young. As parents, we intuitively know the value of this intimate exchange, and understand that reading to our children helps them internalize the structure of language and develop their appreciation for the power and beauty of the written word.

How many of us, though, think to “read” the illustrations in a book with the same amount of attention and care that we read the words? And why might this be important?

On a daily basis we are presented with a steady stream of advertisements, signs and symbols designed to shape our decisions and direct our attention. In addition, one look at the Internet makes it obvious that we are becoming an increasingly visual society. If we want our children to be intelligent and discerning consumers of visual information, we need to teach them how to read visual compositions for meaning.

Picture books present a perfect opportunity for parents to introduce their children to the language of visual composition and its power to inform. Illustrators and writers work closely together to tell stories. Thus, when reading the text, it is well worth taking the time to carefully examine what the images have to say. Liz, a parent of two elementary school-aged children, describes how she encourages her kids to explore images in books: “We take ‘walks’ with our eyes through the illustrations of a new book before reading the words. My kids and I have fun together describing what we see, imagining the events of the story and guessing what might happen next when we turn the page.”

Another mom, Diane, uses the illustrations to pique her son’s imagination: “I asked him to tell me the story he saw in a picture. He described himself within the scenes, imaginatively interacting with the characters and participating in the adventure the illustration unfolded. A visual image often became the basis of his pretend play later on.”

Here are more ways to explore illustrations with your child and to help him develop his ability to “read” visual compositions:

Colors
If your child is very young, ask him what colors he notices most in an illustration. Based on what he says, help him connect the color(s) to particular feelings and/or actions. For example, is red describing something exciting, black telling the story of fright, blue something sad, or yellow revealing excitement or happiness? When you read the words, see how they extend or confirm what you “read” in the image. Or, do the opposite—read the words first, then see how the illustrator helps to further the plot with color. An example of a great book that explores the connection between colors and emotions is “Yesterday I Had the Blues” by Jeron Ashford Frame.

Lines
Ask your child to identify different kinds of lines in an illustration and trace her finger along them while describing what the line is doing. A dotted line might be skipping happily across the picture, a thick line plodding clumsily about the page, curly lines laughing, and thin, pointy lines jabbing angrily. Talk together about how the quality and movement of the lines in the illustration match the story that the words are telling. An exciting example of this is the book “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds, as it incorporates a variety of different lengths and textures of lines.

Shapes and Objects
Engage your child in naming some of the shapes and objects in an illustration and ask him to describe how big those objects are in relation to each other. Help your child see that the bigger the object and the closer it appears to the viewer, the more important it tends to be in the story. Next, ask your child to notice where his eye is initially drawn into the illustration, and to describe the path around the page his eye naturally takes. Notice together if moving in a horizontal path signals that a problem has been resolved; vertical paths indicate ascending steps toward problem resolution, or diagonal paths create anticipation about a solution that is yet to come. Once again, compare how the verbal text matches the visual story structure. Jan Brett incorporates this skill with great consideration and inspires young readers to infer what might happen next in “The Mitten.”

We live in a world where being visually literate is as important as being verbally literate. The more we can help our children understand the language of visual form and how images interact with words to communicate ideas, the better positioned they will be to interpret, understand and engage in the world around them.

Qualities of a Good Classroom Is Benefit For Children


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Decades of research about how young children learn have shown that good beginnings make a lifelong difference. Young children who spend time in homes and classrooms in which there is a great deal of conversation and daily exposure to books and writing are better prepared to become readers and writers when they enter kindergarten. School-aged children who are in classrooms with a well-balanced reading and writing program and who have support from home are more likely to become skilled readers and writers. This age-customized guide to child care settings and classrooms can help you get your child off to the best start possible.

Book Clubs for Kids And Parents To Share Books Together


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Book clubs, meetings where adults get together in person or online to discuss books that they have read, have gained popularity in recent years. Book clubs for kids and their parents, including mother-daughter book clubs, father-son book clubs, and parent-child book clubs, have also become popular. Book clubs are a great way for parents and children to share books together. By reading books and discussing them together, you can share special time with your child, while helping him develop a love of reading and important language and literacy skills.

Find out how to start a parent-child book club, get tips for organizing and maintaining a book club and suggestions for ways to have great discussions, and learn about the benefits of parent-child book clubs.

How to Create a Literate Home Atmosphere


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What exactly is a “literate home?” It is an environment that encourages children to learn to read and write and become lifelong readers and writers. It is simple and inexpensive to transform your home into a literate home. You need to consider what kinds of materials to have on hand and how to arrange materials so your child will use them. More importantly, you need to interact with your child in ways that foster literacy development. Follow the tips in the pages below to learn about what materials parents need and what parents can do. If you like, print the page that relates to the age of your child and stick it on the fridge, for regular reference.

Seven Tips From Knowing Your ABCs to Learning to Read for Early Literacy Learning


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Hooray! Your child can sing the alphabet like a pro! Now what? Once your child has mastered letter recognition, what can you do to help her get on the path to literacy? Here are seven important tips to consider after your child has learned the letters of the alphabet, but before she’s reading fluently.

Focus on the letters of her name. Names are the most important words for children, so it makes sense to begin literacy learning with the child’s name. Acknowledge the “child’s letter”—the first letter of his or her name—by pointing it out whenever and wherever you see it. Then do some letter scrambles using blocks, magnetic letters or letters on index cards. Mix up the letters of the child’s name and work together to put them back in the proper order. Repeat this often with your child’s name, and then introduce “Mom,” “Dad,” and the names of siblings, friends, family and pets.
Recognize each letter and know their sounds. It’s one thing for the child to know the letters in order, but it’s a bit harder for her to recognize each letter individually. When you see “her letter” on a sign, cereal box, or book, remember to point it out. Say, “Hey! Look here! I found your letter, Maddy! Here’s an M for Maddy. Mmmm, mmmm, Maddy!”
Talk about the sounds that letters make and return frequently to easily relatable objects or things that interest the child. For example, say: “There’s a letter B for ‘blankie.’ I know you love blankie and sleep with it every night. Blankie begins with the letter B, like ‘ball’ and ‘butter’ and ‘baby bear.’ What else can you think of that begins with the B sound?”

Introduce uppercase and lowercase letters. Your child will not likely be reading books that have all uppercase letters, so it’s imperative that you talk about uppercase and lowercase letters early on. Play games that involve matching uppercase and lowercase letters and spell her name using both cases.
Practice early writing techniques. If children practice creating several simple letters, they will most likely be able to write the majority of the alphabet. Begin with X and O and then move on to a square and a triangle. Encouraging kids to “write” on sand, paint with water, or use their finger in shaving cream will make creating these shapes fun, and before you know it, they’ll be ready to move on to the letters of their names.
Connect objects with words. Because reading involves creating meaning by combining words, pictures and prior knowledge, early readers lean on illustrations when reading—and that’s okay. Label everyday objects and point to the word as you say it. Play games where children connect simple words with pictures, like “cat” with a photo of a cat and “dog” with photo of a dog, etc. Model how to do it by pointing out the first letter of the word and saying the sound that the word makes, followed by the word, and then pointing to the picture.
Practice print referencing. Print referencing is a simple yet meaningful way to enforce early literacy skills. It involves pointing out print elements in texts: pointing to the title of the book as you read it, running your finger under the words as you read the text on a page, or talking about anything related to the text. This helps children learn the basics: every book has a title and an author (and sometimes an illustrator), and we read from left to right, followed by a sweep down to the next line. Later, consider touching on basic grammar conventions and punctuation marks, differences between fiction and nonfiction texts, and different genres (news, magazines, poetry, short stories, etc.).
Read, read, read! Read with your child every day, many times a day. Read books, signs, posters—anything with words. Read in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Read at the park, in the living room, at the pool. Read print everywhere you can find it!
Most importantly, make an effort to celebrate your child’s successes, because learning to read is something to smile about!

What You Should Do When Your Child Hates Reading


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Would your child rather empty the dishwasher or fold laundry instead of reading a book? Do you have to beg your child to sit down and read—for school or for pleasure? When you see other kids with their noses in books, do you wonder why you never see your own children doing the same? It’s difficult to know how to react when your child hates reading, and even harder to figure out how to motivate children to read. Try these simple, but meaningful steps to help move your reluctant reader toward a book-filled future:

Zero in on the child’s interests. Before you do anything, take a step back and examine what interests, excites or intrigues your child. Knowing what interests him can help you pinpoint what types of texts he may enjoy reading.
Start small. Just because your child likes to ride horses doesn’t mean he needs to start by reading The A-Z History of Horseback Riding; that may be intimidating—especially for a reluctant reader. Instead, consider watching a horse race with your child. Talk about the jockeys, the scores, the owners and the trainers. The next day, read the box scores in the newspaper or watch a movie about horses, like Seabiscuit. Then, closely examine the box scores or find a short nonfiction article about a related topic, like the Triple Crown or famous jockeys like Red Pollard or George Woolf. An interactive, reliable, and safe resource online, such as American Experience: Seabiscuit, can also be an engaging and interesting bridge toward books for reluctant readers.
If the topic of interest doesn’t lend itself to watching a related program or movie, start small by finding a magazine or graphic novel at the library that relates to the subject. Reading doesn’t need to begin with a chapter book; many other texts and various genres can be worthwhile for these readers.

Practice shared reading. Shared reading or reading as a collective experience could entail taking turns reading pages, sections or chapters, or you and your child silently reading the same book. Shared reading can vary depending on your child’s age and needs.
Shared reading is an often-overlooked and underappreciated technique for engaging reluctant readers. Most kids really want to spend time with their parents, but once children reach seven or eight years old, many parents don’t view reading together as an option; they think that’s reserved for preschool or early elementary school days.

For the ideal shared reading experience, choose texts that are rich, engaging and sure to lead to discussion. Part of the “sharing” in shared reading involves talking about the book. Perhaps several of your child’s friends and their parents can start a book club where texts read through shared reading are discussed in a welcoming environment. If book groups are not an option, find a reliable, child-safe website where your child can post a review of that book or encourage him or her to start a book review journal.

Reluctant readers are often struggling readers, so creating safe, comfortable environments where fluent reading is modeled and where children are set up for success is key. Though there is definitely not an easy answer, with a little focus and direction, you can help give your child the reading boost he needs. It’s not magic, but every little step helps.