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UW-Madison Professor Provides Insight on Children’s Reading Comprehension

“The way kids are taught to read in school is disconnected from the latest research, namely how language and speech actually develop in a child’s brain.”

In an NPR interview with Mark Seidenberg, cognitive scientist and professor at UW-Madison, he offers insight on what it will take to improve reading instruction with the nation’s children.

Seidenberg is not the only one to come to the surprising conclusion that “only a third of the nation’s schoolchidren read at grade level.” He claims that in order to be a successful reader, it depends on linking the text to speech; successful reading is dependent on the child’s language, grammar and vocabulary. Where the big connection lies is through teaching kids the “correspondence between the letters on a page and the sounds of words.”

Only a third of the nation’s schoolchildren read at grade level, according to UW-Madison professor Mark Seidenberg. CC Image Credit to Pexels.

Seidenberg also notes that teachers are often told this connection is not relevant to their teaching styles and that these scientific discoveries has no connection with what they decide to teach in the classroom. In his book, “Language at the Speed of Sight,” he explains that in order to understand the scientific research, teachers need a basic level of scientific literacy in order to fully understand it. In his eyes, they can either dismiss what he is saying in his discoveries, or they can share the findings and create change.

He was motivated to write his book based on frustration that has built up. Scientific discoveries about reading have barely had an impact on educational practices and he feels that it has “put kids at risk for failure.”

“‘Reading scientists have been talking about this for a long time and tried to communicate with educators and failed,'” Seidenberg explained. “‘We have not been able to get the science past the schoolhouse door.'”

An interesting recommendation Seidenberg offers is that college graduates who sign up for Teach for America be hired for reading tutors instead of classroom teachers for supplemental reading instruction. This would put more people in the classroom or after-school programs instead of putting the entire responsibility on one teacher in the classroom.

Seidenberg also recommends that schools of education ensure that teachers have a basic understanding of linguistics and child development in order to properly teach reading. For him, it is an entire community effort, and if done correctly, it will make a monumental difference in improved youth reading levels.

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

“After Chernobyl” at Ebling Library

“The closer you are to Chernobyl, the less dangerous it seems.”

This is the theme of Ebling Library‘s latest exhibit, “After Chernobyl: Photographs by Michael Forster Rothbart.” Though the Chernobyl of popular mythology is a dead, barren wasteland (or, in some tellings, a radioactive breeding ground for monsters), Rothbart’s photographs tell a different story. The Chernobyl he shows us, nearly thirty years after the nuclear disaster, is filled with life in unexpected places. From the residents, many of them evacuees, of nearby “safe” towns and villages, to the workers and managers who maintain the inactive power plant as it is decommissioned, to the samosely—elderly evacuees who illegally returned to their homes inside the Exclusion Zone after the accident, and still live there now—the Chernobyl area is not quite as dead or barren as terrible horror movies would have you believe.

It would be interesting to ask Marie Curie if, had she known what her work would ultimately lead to—among other things, disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and, most recently, Fukushima (a link between our last Go Big Read book and our current one)—would she still have pursued her line of inquiry? Do the benefits of nuclear energy outweigh the risks? In the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, is it worth it to try to build a new life in a radioactive home?

As the Ebling exhibit asks: after Chernobyl, would you stay?

“After Chernobyl: Photographs by Michael Forster Rothbart” runs until August 31st in Ebling’s third-floor gallery space.

For more information on the Chernobyl disaster, you can check out these library resources. Lauren Redniss writes about Chernobyl in the 2012-13 Go Big Read pick, Radioactive. The once-flourishing, now-abandoned city of Pripyat, which was built to house plant employees and their families, has its own fascinating website, set up by an organization seeking to turn Pripyat into a “museum city.” In the meantime, as seen in the Chernobyl Diaries trailer, there are guided tours that will take you into Pripyat and to the Chernobyl plant. If you’re not feeling quite that adventurous, you can take a look at these photos of Chernobyl and Pripyat at the Telegraph.

But your first stop, of course, should be the third floor of Ebling Library.

Science Expeditions

“‘Science Marches On’ in Chemistry Lab…”, UW Digital Collections

It’s been awhile, Go Big Readers! I hope everyone’s spring semester has been going well, and that you all got to take advantage of the nice weather over spring break.

For the past several weeks, the Go Big Read office has been kept very busy working on finding our Go Big Read book for 2013-14. The selection process is almost done: after receiving nearly 200 diverse and fascinating suggestions from all over the campus and Madison communities (thanks for those, by the way!), we’ve whittled our list down to our final choice, and we’re pretty excited about next year’s program! I can tell you that we’re doing something we’ve never done before. You’ll get to hear more about that later in the semester!

In the meantime, what are you up to this weekend? April 5, 6 and 7, UW-Madison and the Science Alliance present the 11th Annual Science Expeditions, a weekend of learning and exploration for all ages. On-campus events are free (!) and open to the public. You can even take a free Science Expeditions Trolley from place to place, while getting a free scientastic tour from a VIP tour guide. There are over 45 Exploration Stations, so it’s sure to be a busy weekend!

Included in the weekend’s events are free tours of Fallout, the Radioactive-inspired exhibit at Ebling Library. If you still haven’t seen it, first of all, what have you been doing with your life?! But also, this is a fantastic opportunity. Go get scienced this weekend!

You can find more information about Science Expeditions, including a list of Exploration Stations, info about the Expedition Trolley, and sneak peeks at Science Spectacular shows, at this link.

Wednesday Nite @ the Lab

If you’ve gotten to see “Fallout” at Ebling Library–or even if you haven’t!–here’s your chance to find out how the exhibit was put together! Join Ebling Library for Wednesday Nite @ the Lab on Wednesday, February 20th from 7:00-8:15 in Room 1111, 425 Henry Mall.

Curator Micaela Sullivan-Fowler

“Fallout” is an examination of subjects such as the early use of x-rays
in diagnosis & treatment, occupational hazards of working with
radiation, the military use of x-rays, the history of tanning, a UW
connection with Marie Curie, bomb shelters in the 1960’s, the bombing of
Hiroshima & concerns with nuclear accidents like Three-Mile Island,
UW’s Departments of Medical Physics & Radiology, shoe fitting
fluoroscopes and the like.

Micaela Sullivan-Fowler has been the curator and history of health
sciences librarian at Ebling Library for the past 14 years. She acts as
the liaison to the Department of Medical History & Bioethics within
the School of Medicine and Public Health. She works with graduate and
undergraduate students, helping them navigate the print and electronic
worlds when using primary material for their research papers. In designing exhibits, Micaela’s
primary goals are to highlight books in Ebling’s collections, and to
create thematic pathways between the subjects in the individual cases.
While the current exhibit on the history of radioactivity, x-rays and
radium has had glowing reviews, it was perhaps the most difficult to
tell in such a limited space. The discovery of so many interesting
stories is what Micaela loves to share…

Moderated Book Discussion and Exhibit

Have you seen Fallout at Ebling Library yet? If not, here’s your chance!

On Thursday, February 7 from 5:00-6:00pm, Ebling is hosting a viewing of the exhibit in its Historic Reading Room. And as if that’s not enough, History of Science professor Dr. Richard Staley will be holding a moderated discussion of Radioactive from 6:00-7:00pm. It’s a perfect double dose of science-y goodness! For more information, see the flyer below.

Dear Faculty,

Here on the west side of campus we have an engaging exhibition entitled: Fallout: The Mixed Blessing of Radiation & the Public Health. One visitor suggested, “…this is the coolest compilation of things I didn’t know about radiation.” The exhibition covers the time period of 1895 to the present and is culturally contextualized in terms of how x-rays, radiation and radioactivity have influenced diagnostics, treatment, occupational health protocols, politics, the teaching of radiology, the public’s engagement with fallout shelters, the aftermath of nuclear accidents and the like.

In addition to a narrative which weaves together the conflation of these three fascinating topics, x-rays, radiation and radiotherapy, there are artifacts, photos and provocative printed matter which illustrate this multi layered subject.
For example, one can learn the story of UW’s unfulfilled connection with Madame Curie or see the switch (usually held by the University Archives) that cut off the electricity before the first atomic bomb detonation.

I can give tours and explanations of the contents of the cases (there are 13). I can talk to students about how one designs such an exhibit. I can talk about what did not fit in the exhibit. I can discuss how one can start with this small bit of primary material and design an entire research project based on one resource.

In short, if you are looking for a field trip to take up your student’s class time when you have to go to a conference, if you’d like to bring your class, if you’d like to assign a visit to the class for extra credit…this is an open invitation to visit. Especially for those who may be reading Radioactive as part of UW’s Go Big Read program, Fallout was imagined in response to that initiative, so it would be particularly germane to your class.

Let me know if I can help with your Spring Semester…

Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, Ebling Library for the Health Sciences, 750 Highland Ave. Madison (608) 262-2402 or msullivan@library.wisc.edu

Here are a few links to add to the excitement.

Are you “prepped”?

It’s cold and flu season, and your friendly neighborhood Go Big Read blogger took a sick day earlier in the week and spent the afternoon on the couch.  Buried under blankets, I ended up catching a few episodes of the show Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic Channel.

An underground fallout shelter.  Image source.

In Radioactive, Lauren Redniss recounts an interview with Vic Rantala, president of Safecastle, LLC.  Safecastle is a major seller of “prepping” materials, from meals-ready-to-eat to body armor to portable solar power generators to full-blown fallout shelters.  Vic Rantala describes how his personal experience, working as a “designated NBC – Nuclear, Biological, Chemical – specialist” in Germany during the Cold War, led to his personal belief in preparing for worst-case scenarios.  “You don’t have to be a wacko,” he says.  “You don’t have to be a gun nut.  You don’t even have to suspect the government of any conspiracies.  It’s logical to have a plan. […] What I’m selling is not necessarily protection.  What I’m selling is peace of mind. Whenever something big happens, it’s going to be something that no one expected.” (Redniss 149)

Doomsday Preppers explores the lives of people who have taken Rantala’s philosophy to heart, and are busily preparing for the end of the world, whatever form it happens to take.  Preppers stockpile food, water, and other resources; they build fallout shelters in their homes or maintain shelters elsewhere; they practice “bug out” drills (bugging out refers to quickly leaving home for a safer location in the event of an emergency) and outfit themselves with body armor, hazmat suits and, yes, weapons.  You can view clips of the show on the National Geographic Channel website, and you can even take a quiz to determine your own “prepper score.” (Your score is determined by the length of time you would likely survive in a worst-case scenario. If that’s not anxiety-inducing, I don’t know what is!)

As bizarre as this might seem to some of us, however, prepping is certainly not a new phenomenon.  Anyone who studied the Cold War in high school or college will probably remember the famous Duck and Cover video, put out by the Federal Administration for Civil Defense in 1952.  Below, a clip from the film.



 Federal Administration for Civil Defense, 1952.

These were the scariest years of the Cold War, the height of the McCarthy era, when every stranger was a potential communist and it was assumed that the Soviet Union could be deploying its nuclear weapons at any moment (weapons built, of course, on the foundation of the Curies’ research on radiation—though neither of them lived long enough to see where their research had led).  At this time, citizens were encouraged by civil defense organizations to build fallout shelters in their homes and to stockpile food, water, gas masks and other resources to help them survive in the event of a nuclear war. Today’s Doomsday Preppers are only following in a long tradition. Though the Communists with their atomic bombs may no longer be the “Big Bad” of our collective cultural imagination, there are other things to fear: global warming, government conspiracies, bioterrorism, a zombie apocalypse, the supposed “2012 prophecies,” and more.

Certainly, there are things in this world that are frightening, and preparation for certain disasters and emergencies is wise. As Vic Rantala points out, peace of mind is a valuable thing. However, sixty years from now, these prepping extremes might seem as silly and antiquated as Bert the Turtle and his “duck and cover” technique—or maybe the preppers will have the last laugh after all.

To learn more about modern-day prepping, head over to the American Preppers Network, and check out their guide to getting started in prepping.  Or visit either of these sites for more information. You can also check out Vic Rantala’s company, Safecastle, LLC.

Doomsday Preppers airs Tuesday nights at 8pm CT on the National Geographic Channel.

Brooke Williams, Go Big Read grad student

Telling Science Stories

What happens when non-scientists tell science stories?  What does science look like from a humanities perspective?  If you’re curious, head to the fourth floor of Helen C. White today (October 25) at 4pm.  Go Big Read and the Holz Center are co-sponsoring a panel that will answer these questions and more!  More information is available here.  See you at 4:00!

Brooke Williams, GBR graduate student

Women in science at UW-Madison

The Curies (image source)
It is difficult to decipher whether Marie Curie is more famous as a scientist, or as a female scientist.  Obviously, these two things are not mutually exclusive; but when Madame Curie was working, they may as well have been.  While she was not the only female scientist in the field during her lifetime, women in science were still a rare sight in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, largely excluded from many of the major universities and laboratories.  Yet Marie, through the simple fact of being industrious, brilliant and female, made great strides toward gender equality in the sciences.  It would have been difficult to argue convincingly, even in a time when women were expected to stay at home and raise the children, that a scientist of Marie Curie’s caliber ought to give up her important pioneering research because she happened to be female. 
Marie left some pretty big shoes to be filled by the female scientists of future generations; but, according to this UW-Madison News article, those shoes are being filled every day by women here at UW-Madison.  According to the article, between 2000 and 2011, the biological sciences have seen an increase from 19% to 28% in female faculty, while physical sciences have gone from a 9% female faculty to 16% in the same period.  But Donna Paulnock, Associate Dean for Biological Sciences in the Graduate School, points out that the idea is not just to hire more women and even out a gender ratio:
“The goal is having as many women as possible in any pool of applicants
so we can evaluate them according to their accomplishments, and hire the
best person.”

The article also points out some roadblocks that face women in the sciences, and how those can be overcome, as well as some programs and initiatives put in place to encourage women and girls toward a scientific career.

As Marie Curie has proven, genius doesn’t discriminate by gender; and with more intelligent, accomplished scientists, male and female, working and researching and inventing and making discoveries, the result can only lead to greater innovation–which is better for all of us.

Brooke Williams, graduate student

“Go Big Read marries art and science”

 Image courtesy of Harper-Collins

Today’s Inside UW-Madison, the university’s newsletter for faculty and staff, includes this fantastic article by Jenny Price about Radioactive.  It’s a great discussion of one of the best things about this year’s Go Big Read pick: its widespread appeal.  Radioactive is not just a science book, although it deals with plenty of science; it’s not just an art book, although it’s certainly very artistic; and it’s not just a biography, although it certainly sheds light on Marie Curie’s private life.  Below, my favorite quote from the article:

The book is an arresting mash-up of art and science, with cyanotype images and luminous pages contributing to the emotional impact of a story about the human side of innovation and discovery.

Maybe that’s why Radioactive is so interesting to so many people: it’s a human story.  And of course that means the book can’t be just any one thing, because people aren’t just any one thing, either.

The article also talks about how members of the faculty will be incorporating the book into their courses, from introductory biology to journalism.  Have you gotten your copy yet?

Posted by Brooke Williams, (new) grad student assistant at the Go Big Read program