Summertime Green: Photosynthesis

Green plant in sunlight

This simple experiment will teach kids about photosynthesis.
Image: Shutterstock

If you live in a place that stays green all summer, this is a great little experiment to address two science questions: Why are leaves green? And why do plants need sunlight?

This is an easy one. All you need is some tape, black construction paper, clear plastic bags, and of course, a plant. One with big, broad leaves is best, either inside in a pot or outside in your yard. If you choose one outside, try to pick one that is a bit protected from wind so your sun shield won’t get blown off.

First, cut a piece of black construction paper big enough to cover both sides of one of your plant’s leaves. Wrap it around a leaf and tape it in place. Remember to be careful with this step – if you bruise the leaf you could affect the results of your experiment. If it might rain, cover the paper with your clear plastic bag and tape that on too.

Now the boring part. Wait for exactly two weeks. Don’t take the paper off, even for a peek. What you are testing is what the total darkness does to your leaf.

At the end of the time, carefully take off your sun shield. Compare the leaf you’ve had covered to the other leaves on the plant. It should look sickly, a little pale or dried out. This is because without sunlight, the plant hasn’t been able to make food to feed that leaf, and its chloroplasts, the green parts of the cells, are not able to produce chlorophyll, or plant food. When plants are deprived of light and grow spindly and pale, scientists call them etoliated.

To make this experiment more interesting, repeat the process on various plants around your yard. Do different plants need different amounts of light? What about plants that are already growing in the shade?

Phoenix Collegiate Academy: College for All

Graduates posing for a picture

Rachel Yanof’s Phoenix Collegiate Academy is taking to college students who never thought it was possible.
Image: Shutterstock

Seven years ago, Rachel Yanof was a door-to-door recruiter. She walked the streets of south Phoenix neighborhoods in the Arizona heat–not to make a sale or pitch a pyramid scheme, but to look for students. She and her staff worked hard to connect with parents in those neighborhoods, where students were mostly poor and Hispanic.

What she had to offer was a new school. Yanof, the young administrator at a brand new charter school, pitched it as a rigorous environment with high standards and higher goals. Students would wear uniforms, sign contracts that they would complete their homework, take extra courses in math and writing, and read vigorously.

And they would go to college. That was Yanof’s promise to every sixth grader and each of their parents: every one of her students would go to college.

Now, seven years later, her promise has come true. Phoenix Collegiate Academy’s first class of seniors has just graduated, and each of them, all twenty-five, has applied to college and been accepted. Between them they’ve also received 50 scholarships at a total of over $200,000 and counting.

Twenty-three of the twenty-five will be the first person in their families to attend college.

In 2015, the rate of students going directly into college from high school was a little less than 60%, and it trends much lower in neighborhoods like those from which Yanof recruited. And in this digital age, more and more entry level jobs require a four-year degree. Yanof and her staff have worked hard–as hard as their students–and the success was visible on every face as those young men and women crossed the stage to get their diploma, each accompanied by a loved one, and each with the name of their future college on their lips.

Positive Reinforcement Better for Adolescents

Businessman with one thumb up and one thumb down

A recent study found that adolescents respond best to positive reinforcement.
Image: Shutterstock

For about as long as we’ve understood the concepts, educators, parents, lawmakers, psychologists, and others have debated whether positive or negative reinforcement works better. Some argue that rewarding students will keep them on track and doing what they should, while others have argued that punishing criminals will prevent them from becoming repeat offenders. Now, thanks to a study by French researchers, we have a better idea of what works–but it’s not a simple answer.

According to the study, adolescents learn better from positive reinforcement and in fact seem to have a hard time learning from negative reinforcement. Adults, meanwhile, have an easier time understanding both and are able to learn from what would have happened had they made the wrong choice.

Groups of both were given a simple test where they were shown symbols that were associated with positive, negative, or neutral outcomes. While both groups were good at choosing the positive symbols, adolescents weren’t as good at avoiding the negative symbols. And furthermore, when told what would have happened if they had chosen the other symbol in the pair, the adults took that information into account with subsequent choices, but the adolescents didn’t.

This research gives us some insight into how to handle education because it finally helps settle the debate about positive and negative reinforcement. Adolescents respond better to positive reinforcement and seem incapable of conceptualizing negative outcomes. Apparently, that behavior is still being learned. That isn’t to say that negative reinforcement never works, but it doesn’t work as well, and it stands to reason that focusing on positive reinforcement could lead to better results when teaching adolescents. Not that we shouldn’t try to teach them right from wrong, but rewarding their successes instead of punishing their failures might help them succeed more often.

411 Portraits

Phillip Sossou won his way into an AP art class at his high school by his reputation. He didn’t have a portfolio and hadn’t completed any of the other prerequisites, but his references were glowing. So Stephen Harris, the instructor, let him enroll, with a few caveats. He had extra work to make up for his missing prereqs.

His very first project in Harris’s class was a charcoal self-portrait. It was a new medium to him, but he took to it like a duck to water. That first portrait led to more, and then straight to his idea for a grand project – he would sketch every one of his classmates in the senior year at Boston Latin School.

All 411 of them.

He got a list of students from the office (public information), and got started. But after months of steady progress, he arrived at February and realized two things.

First, he’d not been making enough progress. To finish by graduation, he’d have to do several portraits a day.

Second, he really didn’t want to leave a single student out.

Sketching became his full time job. He would stay hours late at school and then keep working into the evening at home, fingertips and the sides of his hands always black with charcoal. He worked from memory, from Facebook pictures, and from his own photos taken discretely in the school hallways. Discretely, because he had a plan for this massive and growing body of work.

On June 3rd, the last Friday before graduation, a day when parents would be on campus, Sussou got permission to be in the school very early. With just a few of his closest friends, he hung the corridors with his collection. The walls were covered.

“Parents were crying. Students were crying,” he recalled. “Since I was working on it for so long, I became desensitized. But yeah, I guess it was pretty cool.”

“Cool” is an understatement. Sussou’s gift made certain that every single one of his fellows felt seen, felt that they had been known to be a part of the Boston Latin Community. It will be talked about in those halls for decades.

Economic Recovery Only Exists for Some

Construction workers

Recent studies show folks with less education are still struggling during the supposed economic recovery.
Image: bcgovphotos / Flickr CC

The recession may be “over,” but its after effects are still running rampant. According to recent studies, Americans with at least a little higher education are doing fairly well when it comes to jobs. Folks without a college education, however, are still struggling.

Since 2010, 11.6 million jobs have been added to the economy, but about 99% of those jobs—that’s about 11.5 million jobs—were filled by people with at least some college education, generally a bachelor’s degree or better. Only 80,000 jobs went to workers with a high school diploma or less, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

“It’s not just a factor of a more education population,” said study co-author Tamara Jayasundera in an interview. “The labor market is demanding a more skilled workforce.”

Society is changing. Industries need more skilled workers. The manufacturing sector, which used to employ many people with less education, has turned to automation for clerical, administrative, and hands-on jobs like construction. The sorts of positions they still hire for tend to require higher education.

It’s a trend all over: The Georgetown study found that in 2016, for the first time, the share of people in the workforce with a bachelor’s degree or higher overtook those with a high school diploma or less.

Of course there are still opportunities for folks without higher education to work their way up to mid-level jobs and provide for their families. But those opportunities are dwindling. Meanwhile, the cost of education is on the rise, and many more people are going into significant debt just to make it to undergrad.

Another study by Stuart Andreason (“Will Talent Attraction and Retention Improve Metropolitan Labor Markets?”) found that this increase in laborers with higher education isn’t even necessarily better for the economy. The increase generally causes one of two outcomes: Earnings per job increase, but inequality, unemployment, and poverty rates rise; or income inequality growth is low and poverty rates decline, but earnings per job stagnate or go down.

There’s no easy answer to the situation, unfortunately. But with the economy and labor force under heavy scrutiny, it’s possible we’ll be able to find a way to increase job availability for people with many different educational backgrounds.