iPads are child’s play

Today’s kids are surrounded by more technology than ever.

Even children ages 3-4 years old can pick up iPad skills quickly and intuitively in classrooms.Researchers at Brock University set out to explore how technology affected young children’s literacy learning. Their big question was: If you introduce iPads into early years classrooms, what happens?

“[The kids] are very inquisitive [and] very interested in learning new things, so they get right in there and start touching, and playing, and swiping,” says Debra Harwood, a researcher in early childhood education and the principal investigator of the iPad study. “They don’t have any kind of inhibitions about trying things out, which is perfect because that’s what an iPad invites the kids to do.”

Harwood and her colleagues employed a 21st-century definition of literacy that goes beyond just reading and writing.

“To me, traditional literacy has always been an ability to read printed words and to write printed words. That’s a very 20th-century mindset,” says Jennifer Rowsell, Canada Research Chair in Multiliteracies and member of the research team. “I would argue that literacy today is much more about being communicatively competent.”

Harwood and Rowsell presented some preliminary findings at Congress 2014 in St. Catherines.

They’re seeing a new world of play for young children where the boundaries between what’s real and what’s virtual are blurred. They refer to this as “convergence of play.”

They might be playing with Lego building blocks, for instance. Then they’ll grab the iPad and go onto the Lego app. They seamlessly move back and forth between the app and the concrete world.

lego app

“Sometimes as adults, we have preconceived notions about digital technology. We would say things to them, if they’re colouring on the iPad: Wow that looks like real colouring! And the child would kind of look at us and say: It is real!” says Harwood.

While there is an abundance of articles that highlight the negative effects of technology on children, Harwood argues that in the classroom context it’s all about the way they’re introduced as a tool to facilitate learning.

The researchers and educators controlled the apps that were on the iPad depending on the interests of the children. They chose apps that would foster collaborative play.

“For example, when spring came, the kids started going outside more so we were able to add apps so that they could photo-document trees, birds, those types of things, and then write stories around them,” says Harwood.

Social interactions are also an important part of the learning process. For this reason, not every child was given an iPad, but rather one for every three to four children. They saw that kids were able to problem-solve how they were going to share the iPads, either by helping their friend or negotiating a time when they would get access to it.

kids and ipad

“So [that level of self-regulation] for me was really quite interesting because we’re talking about such young children,” says Harwood.

Another key aspect in introducing this type of technology into classrooms is teacher training. Although the tools are constantly changing in this past-paced world, it’s becoming increasingly important to train teachers in using technology as a tool to support learning.

Turns out, iPads can be a useful tool to promote literacy. It simply offers another lens for kids to explore ideas or create their understanding of things.

“I’ve always known how clever young children are. It reaffirmed that thinking on a level that I couldn’t have imagined,” says Harwood.

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Outdoor skating goes south

Wilfrid Laurier University staff | February 9, 2016

In future winters, Canadians will have fewer opportunities to skate outdoors, according to a new study by Wilfrid Laurier University researchers. The number of days cold enough for outdoor skating in a typical Canadian winter could decrease by 34 per cent in Montreal and Toronto and by 20 per cent in Calgary over the course of this century, according to a newly published study in The Canadian Geographer. Laurier geography and environmental studies researchers Colin RobertsonRobert McLeman, and Haydn Lawrence reached their findings using data volunteered by hundreds of Canadians who maintain outdoor rinks in their backyards and neighbourhood parks. The researchers combined observations of daily skating conditions with climate-warming scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for years 2020 to 2090, and found a noticeable decline in the number of days when it is possible to skate. “The opportunity to build an outdoor rink won’t disappear entirely, but, especially in central Canada, the length of the skating season will shorten to the point where some winters it may not be worth the trouble of building a rink,” said Robertson, lead author of the study. The data for the study was obtained through RinkWatch, a citizen-science project that invites people from across North America who maintain outdoor skating rinks to identify the location of their rinks on an interactive website map, then report the daily “skateability” of their rinks throughout the winter. Approximately 11,000 skating condition observations were entered from 961 rinks across Canada and the United States for the two winters of data used for the study (2012-13 and 2013-14). The researchers compared skating conditions at rinks in 10 Canadian cities with temperature data from the nearest weather stations to calculate the relationship between local temperatures and the suitability of outdoor ice for skating. These calculations were in turn used to forecast the number of skating days under simulations of future daily average temperatures under the IPCC’s ‘A2’ greenhouse gas emissions scenario. The researchers found that the number of outdoor skating days in the future would vary considerably from one year to the next, and from one region of Canada to another, with the impacts being most noticeable in southern Ontario and southern Quebec. They also found that when average daily temperatures warm even slightly above –5 °C, the likelihood of outdoor skating is reduced, even though temperatures remain below freezing. “We risk having winters where it’s cold outside, but not cold enough to skate,” said McLeman, co-author of the report. “In the greater scheme of things, the disappearance of skating rinks from Canadians’ backyards is minor compared to the risks climate change poses to people living in water-scarce regions or low-lying coastal areas. It’s more a quality-of-life thing. The reality is, climate change is going to affect all of us, and this is just one way Canadians are going to notice it, right in their own backyards.” Watch the RinkWatch video   A version of this story was originally published by Wilfrid Laurier University. It has been edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity, and is republished here with permission

Marketing women’s fantasies

Eleanor Ty | February 8, 2016

Eleanor Ty is a professor in Wilfrid Laurier University's English and film studies department.  Ty offers Research Matters her take on Jane Austen and the endurance of romance literature, particularly romances that reach back in time. In “The 39 Steps to Being A Gentleman,” Rupert Uloth includes the following: #30 Has read Pride and Prejudice.  However tongue-in-cheek the list is (ex. # 34. Sandals? No. Never), that Austen’s novel is the only book mentioned suggests its importance in our cultural repertoire. Scholars have written many critical interpretations of Austen’s novels, but in popular culture, she is best known for romance and love.  Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, about a thirty something single woman living in London looking for Mr. Right, is based on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Costume dramas of Pride and Prejudice, most recently the BBC TV series by Andrew Davies featuring Colin Firth (1995) and Joe Wright’s 2005 film with Keira Knightley emphasize falling in love rather than politics, philosophy, or morals. Austen would have been disturbed to find that Pride and Prejudice (1813) has become the prototype for today’s mass marketed romances, but the novel does highlight two of the most often used tropes of contemporary romances: the Cinderella rags-to-riches story, and the taming of the beast by a beautiful woman. While women have made great strides in the last 200 years, it's fascinating how our fantasies have not. Judging by the sales of adult romances, which in 2013 had an annual total sales value of $1.08 billion, love, the search for true love and reading about love are alive and selling very well. In 2014, romance novels constituted 13 per cent of the share of adult fiction in hard and paper books, but a whopping 39 per cent of ebooks. The formula has changed and yet not changed since the days of the queen of Regency Romance, Georgette Heyer. Heyer’s romances, inspired by Austen, featured protagonists from the upper class: men were strong, authoritative, powerful and older than the young, beautiful, and innocent heroines. The romances attempted to give historically accurate depictions of the period’s social activities, such as dinners, plays, assemblies, carriage rides, fencing, hunting, riding, and boxing.  Often, they featured marriages of convenience and mistaken identities, but tended to be comedies of manners. Changing time and place Today’s historical romances are still set in England before the 1950s, but also in the Medieval period, in colonial American, the American West, and in Scotland.  Settings, clothes, weapons, cooking and travelling methods are historical, but attitudes tend to be contemporary.  As publishers realize readers' changing preferences, historical romances have become more explicitly sexual, and reflect more independent and strong-willed heroines, albeit anachronistically. Love and ultimately heterosexual marriage are still the end goals, but the verbal and physical interaction between the couple, and the means to get to the happily-ever-after end distinguish one romance and one author from another. One way present-day authors rewrite the stereotype of the helpless heroine is by making them proficient at wielding weapons. K.J. Jackson’s Stone Devil Duke begins with the heroine disguised as a hack coach driver who coerces the hero into helping her shoot and kill four thugs. In Glynnis Campbell’s Captive Heart, a warrior maid who is trained as a swordswoman kidnaps a lord in order to prevent her sister’s unwanted marriage.  Both of these women are initially not interested in courtship and marriage but rather wish to protect their family or clan. Other authors deal with contemporary women’s issues such as the after effects of violence and rape. Claire Delacroix’s Frost Maiden’s Kiss features a pregnant heroine who has been raped by an army of mercenaries in Medieval Scotland while Barbara Ankrum’s hero in Holt’s Gamble rescues the heroine from an abusive relationship with her saloon master in 19th century colonial America. In both these romances, the handsome hero has to care for a psychologically-wounded woman, reversing the nurse romances of the 1960s and 70s. A favourite plotline of historical romance today is the time travelling story popularized by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, about a nurse from the Second World War who is mysteriously transported to the Highlands of 1743. How she and her Scottish husband fight the ruling English soldiers at Culloden has been adapted into a TV series nominated for a Golden Globe recently. Similarly, Tanya Anne Crosby’s heroine in Once Upon a Highland Legend, who is studying Archeology and Anthropology, is searching for the Stone of Destiny and instead finds herself falling for a half-naked Pict in the 9th century. These time travelling women happily forego flushed toilets and penicillin to live with their Medieval or 18th century kilted heroes.  Ah, true love!

How rising temperatures affect ...

Sharon Oosthoek | February 4, 2016

Starting around the mid 1900s, Canada's northern and Arctic areas have seen some of the largest temperature increases in the world — up to 4 C in some cases. As climate change turns up the heat in the North, Indigenous populations, particularly Inuit, are grappling with significant health effects, says the University of Guelph's Sherilee Harper, an eco-health researcher who works with Indigenous communities. "A one degree temperature change can mean the difference between stable and unstable ice," says Harper. "That's important for people's ability to hunt for food, which affects their physical and mental health." Harper says while the consequences are significant, her research suggests communities have a built-in resilience that is too often ignored. "Climate change will have an impact everywhere," says Harper. "It's already affecting the North and we can learn a lot from Inuit wisdom as they adapt. Their ingenuity is amazing." Location, location, location Most Inuit communities in the Arctic are located along the coast on small, rocky outcrops of land surrounded by vast amounts of water. In the summer, people use boats as their main source of transportation. In the winter, when the water turns to ice it forms a highway that links often road-less communities together, while also shaping new hunting grounds. But the “in-between time” can be dangerous travelling. That's when water is a slushy combination of solid and liquid, and people can't trust its stability. Rising temperatures in the North mean these conditions are more common than ever before. Forced to stay put, Inuit are physically inactive and have less access to food, says Harper.  Grocery stores — where a turkey no bigger than a soccer ball can cost more than $200 — are few and far between. Those who do venture out when the ice is unstable do so at their own risk. The possibility of drowning or injury not only affects their own physical and mental health, but the mental health of those left at home to worry over their loved one's safety, says Harper. "There have always been safety concerns, " she says. "But in the last 20 years, changes in temperature have been bigger and more difficult to predict." Word of mouth In an effort to deal with this uncertainty, some Inuit communities have begun posting online photos and videos of unsafe parts of established routes. "They are building on their oral culture and increasing the availability of information," says Harper.  In fact, oral traditions that highlight information-sharing are a crucial part of climate change adaptation in the North, says Harper. That became clear while her team searched for solutions to repetitive problems that were identified during a study she conducted with Inuit in Nunatsiavut, Labrador. The team found heavy rainfall and snowmelt — a more common occurrence as temperatures rise — are followed by significant increases in visits to the local clinic for diarrhea. The connection is fairly simple, says Harper: "Heavy rainfall and snowmelt washes E. coli and other bacteria into the water. If people drink brook water after it rains, it can make them sick." The answer, developed by local high school students, was also simple: radio ads warning people not to drink brook water after heavy rain or snowmelt. While people in the community follow a longstanding tradition of drinking fresh brook water, students urged them to temporarily turn to treated tap water. "Inuit are natural adaptors," says Harper. "Sure climate change is a huge challenge, but they are resilient."

Canada’s vanishing ice ...

Sharon Oosthoek | February 1, 2016

In February 2008, Derek Mueller flew over the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf off the coast of Canada's Ellesmere Island, warily eyeing the enormous cracks along its edge. The Carleton University researcher studies the impact of climate change in frozen parts of the world and was visiting the area's ice shelves to gather data about the changes he and his team had observed via satellite. "When we saw the cracks, we thought, 'Wow, those are really big. It's a sign of things to come,'" recalls Mueller. read more »
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Building a better hearing ...

Araina Bond | January 25, 2016

At the age of 85, Henry Becker still enjoys playing the violin and his ability to hear the nuances of the music is partly thanks to his daughter’s research. Sue Becker, along with colleagues from McMaster University's Intelligent Hearing Aid Group, has developed a technology that completely changes the way hearing aids interact with our ears and brains. It is a project spanning 15 years and several disciplines, with contributors from the university's departments of psychology, and computer and electrical engineering. read more »
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