People surrounding chalk image of game controller

A new, educational version of Civilization will bring together gaming and the classroom.
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Video games in our schools aren’t a new thing. Back in the early nineties, students were learning to do math with the help of virtual race cars and using reading comprehension to catch a school-themed supervillain.

The Civilization franchise isn’t new to classrooms, either. Civilization III and IV, released in 2001 and 2005, respectively, have both been used by history teachers as a way to illustrate topics about imperialism, expansion, arms races, and geography. Civ IV came complete with modes to guide the game as close to historical realism as could be managed, featuring real-world plagues and disasters to influence the growth and death of a player’s civilization.

With Civilization V, Take-Two Interactive, the game’s publisher, is taking an active role in how we can engage students in learning world history. A modified edition of the game called CivilizationEDU, developed with ed-tech company GlassLab Games, will be available for high school classes starting next September. Analytics will be added to the game so teachers can set goals and track progress for students. Tutorial videos and lesson plans for teachers will also be included, so they can easily integrate the game into their usual curricula.

GlassLab Games has an education-focused resume. They make their own educational games, and also have partnered with major game companies like EA to craft classroom-aimed versions of popular games. Use Your Brainz is a version of Plants vs Zombies, for instance, and they are also behind SimCity EDU.

“For the past 25 years, we’ve found that one of the fun secrets of Civilization is learning while you play,” said the creator of the Civilization series, Sid Meier. That secret’s been out for a long time, and if there really is educational value in seeing if you can get Gandhi to become a berserk warlord (a well-known and loved game feature, originally a glitch), then these should be a fun addition to the toolbox of history teachers everywhere.


Minecraft: Free Trial of Education Edition Launches

Young girl playing Minecraft on tablet

Microsort is releasing a new version of Minecraft to be used in the classroom.
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Microsoft has released a free trial of the new edition of the building game Minecraft, intended for use in schools. The new version of the game includes extra features that make it classroom-friendly, says Microsoft. The company has provided lessons for students in primary, intermediate, and secondary schools that help them develop a variety of skills.

Minecraft in schools is meant to help students develop skills in digital citizenship, empathy, and literacy. The program can be used to study coding, science, city planning, or to get a unique perspective on history. Lessons included in the game include “City Planning for Population Growth,” “Exploring Factors and Multiples,” and “Effects of Deforestation,” as well as several others like lessons on story settings, climate change, and Rube Goldberg machines.

The version just released isn’t the game’s final form, but it should give a good overview of what Minecraft Education has to offer. Teachers can try it out over the summer and begin making lesson plans, and they can offer feedback to Microsoft to improve its performance. The new edition includes a number of suggestions the Minecraft team received from teachers’ experiences in the past, so the game now allows for easier classroom collaboration, non-player characters, and can allow students to snapshot their work.

Teachers can change the program to suit their students’ needs. An electrical engineering teacher could implement rules for the game for an assignment teaching students to hardwire a city’s power grid. How cool is that!

Up to 30 students can play in a world together without needing separate serves. Students can also work in groups or as individuals, but in the future, Microsoft hopes to offer a “Classroom Mode” which will provide a map and list view of all participating students, teleport capabilities, and a chat window.

Minecraft: Education Edition will be available for purchase by schools, libraries, museums, and participants in nationally-recognized home school organizations, says the product’s website. The game will cost between $1 and $5 per user, depending on the size of the organization and what kinds of qualifications it has. Microsoft anticipates that Minecraft: Education Edition will be available this coming September.

Life Expectancy Linked to Education

Notebook, tape measure, and green apple

A new study has found a correlation between education and life expectancy.
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Life expectancy around the world has risen since the middle of the 20th century, but that increase has not been uniform around the world. “Developed” nations tend to have greater life expectancy at birth than do less developed nations, and there are a lot of factors involved. One factor that, until recently, hasn’t been given a lot of attention is education.

According to researchers from Slovenia, education correlates well with life expectancy, in that nations with broader access to education have children with a greater chance of living into old age. There are a number of reasons why this might be true. Educated women are less likely to become infected with diseases like HIV and have a better grasp on things like nutrition. Furthermore, the children of educated parents generally attend higher education in greater numbers, meaning that their kids will subsequently have a better life expectancy and so on down the line.

Teen pregnancy also correlates to education, in that less educated teenage girls are at a higher risk of becoming pregnant, and their children tend to have a lower life expectancy.

The onus isn’t entirely on educating children, though. Researchers also found that continuing education was important to high life expectancy. Continual education is important, especially in terms of things like health care, because science and society change at a faster rate than they did in the 20th century or before. New discoveries about what is or isn’t healthy can impact how long a person lives, as can keeping up with current technology in order to not be left behind while employers move ahead.

Access to medical care, or even basic needs like food and shelter, also contributes to life expectancy, and more educated individuals tend to have access to better jobs, allowing both them and their children to live longer, healthier lives.

Green Screen: Can Trees Really Clean the Air?

Front of school building

St. Margaret Mary School is about to become involved in an interesting study on trees and clean air.
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St. Margaret Mary School is set on a busy road in Louisville, Kentucky. Right outside the bus turnaround is a light, and for hours a day, traffic backs up there, idling and putting out exhaust so thick it makes a visible haze.

This summer, a University of Louisville study will be aimed at addressing that pollution. Not just for the benefit of St. Margaret Mary students, but for widespread gain.

It’s long been known that trees and growth help reduce some kinds of air pollution. Enough for some health benefits as a result? Still debatable.

“People appreciate trees, and they’re good and they’re aesthetically pleasing, but whether they actually have specific quantifiable health-promoting effects by removing pollutants from air has never been rigorously tested,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, a staff member at University of Louisville.

In conjunction with the Institute of Healthy Air, Water, and Soil and Louisville Metro’s Office of Sustainability, the U of L will spend the summer taking in data at the school. Once they have a solid basis of comparison, they’ll plant a “green screen” of twenty-foot-tall trees and bushes, screening part of the school’s campus from nearby Shelbyville Road. Then they’ll continue to monitor the school for the next year or longer.

They aren’t just using the school as a testing ground, though. St. Margaret Mary students will be involved in the entire process, from data-gathering to tree-planting. The new green space will become an outdoor classroom, and eventually, the school will use the results of the study to decide if they want to continue the screen around the entire school.

Bhatnagar’s hope for the study is for it to show clear enough benefits from this limited experiment to be expanded. He’d like to perform the same research on a neighborhood scale.

“Two-Minute Warnings” Don’t Help Children Transition from Screen Time

Boy using tablet

A two-minute warning may not be the best way to get kids away from screens.
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Interactive technology like iPads and computers are an almost essential part of life in many families, and toddlers of today will be the first generation or so to never have not known such devices. As such, figuring out how to incorporate those devices into their lives is an important part of raising them to be productive adults. One aspect of that is finding ways to transition away from “screen time” to other activities.

One common method is to offer a “two-minutes warning” to let children know that their screen time is almost up. Conventional wisdom would point to this making transitions easier, but a recent study from the University of Washington finds that the opposite is actually true. Children who are given two-minute warnings tended to plead or fight more to keep using devices when time was up.

The reason behind this might be that those warnings and subsequent stoppage of screen time don’t come at a natural stopping point in the activity. If that happens in the middle of a video or game, the child is less likely to want to stop. The study found that the most successful transitions came when a game or video ended on its own, when the child became bored, or when there was something else that naturally interrupted it, like arriving at a destination or a friend coming over to play.

Some of the most successful transitions came as part of a daily routine. The same child who gets to play with an iPad as a reward was more resistant to ending screen time than when it was time for breakfast or the like. If it was routine, the child knew to expect that end to screen time and was more accepting of it.

The study also found that most parents weren’t using such devices as babysitters, but as a distraction during medical visits, to keep kids occupied while driving, or so they could take care of other children or do chores.

A Visit from Space

Earth viewed from space

A set of happy circumstances meant a surprise visit for one California school.
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Retired Air Force Colonel Donald McMonagle was in fourth grade when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the planet, and he vividly remembers the amazing photographs that came home with the first astronaut.

“I actually got my ruler out of my desk to prove to myself that the Earth was round,” he said, remembering using a ruler and a book to prove the curvature of the horizon from those photos.

Now, he’s seen that sight with his own eyes. McMonagle has three spaceflights under his belt from the early 90s, and he’s spent more than three weeks outside the Earth’s atmosphere. He’s paying forward that moment of childhood inspiration by visiting students at La Honda Elementary School in Lampoc, California.

In a forty-five minute after-school presentation, McMonagle shared stories about brushing his teeth and doing research aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, as well as answering questions about about daily life in orbit.

La Honda’s luck in scoring a personal visit from an astronaut really came down to a neat set of coincidences. Susana Hernandez, the president of La Honda’s PTA, arranged the visit because her brother-in-law works with McMonagle and knew that the astronaut would be in the area. All of the plans were last minute, but they came together beautifully.

The timing was perfect, too, as the third-grade classes were studying space that same week, and in fact had launched their own rockets just the week before McMonagle’s arrival.

McMonagle, who was once told that the only future for him as a pilot was in the commercial sector, had two lessons he wanted the students to take home from his presentation: Never lower their aim, and never stop learning.

“I can tell you that you are just starting your life, and there’s all kinds of things ahead of you that you can launch into many different kinds of careers,” he said. “Only your imagination can determine how far you can go.”

Rockefeller University Helps Grow Biotech In New York City

Students in a classroom

Rockefeller University–and New York City in general–has a history of supporting biotech education.
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New York City is a world-class metropolis and has been a center of innovation in the arts, sciences, business, and financial communities for decades. It continues to lead the way by supporting creative partnerships in life sciences and the biotech industry.

One of these new developments is located at The Rockefeller University, a leading research center. It will be the future home of the Stravos Niarchos Foundation-David Rockefeller River campus. These ongoing–and lucrative–partnerships have attracted the support of leaders in the financial community such as Chief Executive Officer Bill Ford of General Atlantic, who also serves a Vice Chairman at The Rockefeller University.

The Rockefeller University welcomed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in March to tour their campus and host a biotech conference. Wall Street has made New York City a center of international business for many years. Mayor de Blasio is working with life science industry leaders and educators in New York City to ensure that this region continues to be an important address for doing business today and in the future.

The biotech conference grew out of an interest in continuing the sustained growth of this sector in the region. Over the past five years the mayor’s office has been supporting policies that have created 15 percent growth in the city’s life science job market. The innovative policies have supported the construction of lab space that startups can afford to use. It has also encouraged entrepreneurship and supported programs that offer training and mentorship to life science companies launching new ventures.

The new campus will support the University’s goal of maintaining 75 independent laboratories. It will allow them to continue their groundbreaking research in biological imaging, cancer biology, immunotherapy, genetics, neuroscience, and other areas.

University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne spoke enthusiastically about the ongoing partnership between the university, the city, and the business community. “New York City has made significant progress in recent years in developing its commercial life-sciences industry,” he said. “Both Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Glen are committed to sustaining this growth and are working actively with industry leaders to help the bioscience sector reach its full potential.”

The future of life sciences and the biotech industry in New York City looks healthy today and for the foreseeable future.