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When I learnt to read at about eight or nine, I developed a love of books that I’ve never lost. Books were precious, bundles of excitement that needed to be collected and treasured. This developed into a love of series of books such as the Famous Five that gave me joy in the reading but also joy from the act of collecting the series and my two favourite series of books as a child have stayed with me into adulthood. One was Swallows & Amazons as these were the first books I ever read for myself at my own pace. I still own the old, tattered hardback copies I had as a child. The other books were Herge’s Adventures of Tintin.

My love for Herge’s Tintin was different from that of my other books. Obviously Tintin is a comic rather than prose which meant they were quicker to read but you could spend hours going over each picture, marveling at the details. They also differed in the nature of the stories. Famous Five and Swallows & Amazon were adventures starring children. Tintin is an adult (or at least a teenager) who has guns, fights real enemies, flies planes and has fantastic adventures.

Even as a comic, Tintin stood out from the other comics I was reading. Beano, Dandy and other British children’s comics had a very simple style. Tintin wasn’t like the more intricate pen & ink work of Commado comics either. Herges ligne claire style was bold and above all colourful. Each Tintin album is a careful controlled riot of colour. Strong blocks of colour both compete for attention and balance each other out.

It was this colour (it was years later that I learnt the Tintin books were originally in black & white) plus the excitement that captivated me. I was further hooked by the illustration on the back of the book. In the early UK edition there was an image that used iconic elements from all the books, including ones that weren’t available in the UK. As a kid, this intrigued me. Later, when all the books had been translated into English, they did a montage of all the covers and I could look at each in turn, marveling at the ones I did not own.

Now, years later, as my problems with dyslexia fade to a bad memory and my artistic ability improves I find myself pulled towards Tintin once more as I strive to capture Herge’s clear and bold style. Just like as a child, Tintin captures my imagination and dreams but as a child I wanted to be Tintin, now I want to be his creator, Herge.

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Sorry about the downtime.

A server that had been running non-stop for months crashed two days after I went on holiday. Anyway, I’m back and so is the server.

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I did a server upgrade yesterday and one of the knock-on effects has been to break Myomancy’s RSS feed. It seems that all the news stories from around the world that I collect as part of the Blogroll are appearing as part of the RSS feed.

Sorry about this. I will try and get this fixed but I’m snowed under at the moment with work and I’m away for most of the next week for the Glastonbury festival.

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Project Tomorrow, have conducted a survey into a wide range of subjects relating to education. Talking to children, teachers and parents about how schools are preparing children for the future, focusing heavily on technology.

Part of the survey is on Educational Gaming, an area where I think there is a huge potential. It is also an area that is notorious for bad software. For educational gaming (or brain training or digital fitness) to work, it must be fun but most educational games are dire. For games to teach effectively they must use the same methods and have the same investment in development as a best selling game, but I digress.

The survey found that only 3% of elementary school kids don’t play computer games in one form or another. When asked about the value of gaming technologies within learning, students in grades 6-12 responded with :

Games make it easier to understand difficult concepts – 51%

I would be more engaged in the subject – 50%

I would learn more about the subject – 46% (56% of students in K-2 chose this as their #1 reason)

It would be more interesting to practice problems – 44%

Indicating that children what to learn through games because they understand how games allow them to explore, to practice and develop skills at their own pace and in their own way.

Though educational games are not universally supported, over 50% of teachers want to use games more and 11% said they currently use games.

Source: 21st Century Students Deserve a 21st Century Education [ PDF ]. The section about games is on page 4.

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Award winning, best selling author of the Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In typical style, Terry has decided to use his fame to draw attention to the low levels of funding for research into Alzheimer’s. He has given £500,000 ( $1,000,000 ) to research and has been round the TV and radio stations raising awareness of this terrible but often hidden disease.

In response, the millions of Discworld fans are coming together for Match It For Pratchett. A campaign to match Terry’s £500,000 with £500,000 raised from fans around the world. In just four days, £35,000 has been collected.

If you are a fan of the Discworld or want to help fight a disease which, in Terry’s words, “which strips away your living self a bit at a time” then please donate. There is a donation jar on the web site plus full details of how to give directly to various national charities.

P.s. I’m also the web master for Match It For Pratchett so their may be less updates around here for a while.

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All over the UK’s news today is a report into our primary school (age 4 – 7) education. One of the areas being discussed is what age children should start school. In the UK it is normally aged four and mandatory by age five. Some other countries don’t require it until aged seven.

School starting age may impact on educational problems such as dyslexia and ADHD if these are caused by a neurological underdevelopment. The early start to school may exaggerate the difference between those children who’s development is equal or greater than average and those who are below average. With the under-developed children immediately falling behind, their better developed peers and once behind they may never catch up. The argument for a later school starting age is that by seven there is a lot less variation in neurological development (at least relating to basic skills such speaking, listening and movement),

The report by the National Foundation for Education Research looked at a variety of research that should children in the UK who are summer born (April to August) do worse than those that are winter born. The obvious answer was that the summer born children got less schooling because they tend to started schooling later. However more detail research found that this wasn’t the issue. The report offers no easy answer why summer-born children do worse.

One interesting nugget the report throws out is that when our starting age was first set, part of the motivation was financial. The sooner the children entered school, the earlier the school leaving age would be, allowing the children to enter the workforce sooner. May be its time we embraced a schooling system more like that of our european neighbors and discard our system that dates back to the time we had children working up chimneys.

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Encephalon is a traveling smorgasbord of neurology and psychology that tantalises you with tit-bits of science. This edition is hosted by Living the Scientific Life and features a range of interesting articles including this one on suicide: Black Box Warnings on Antidepressants Backfires

After a 2003 report linking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, with increased suicide rates among children and teen agers was published, the use of this class of antidepressants in these age groups has decreased dramatically. This led to a change in labeling in 2003 that warned that use of the medications could increase suicidal thoughts and behavior among youths. Sadly, this ‘black box’ warning has caused a decrease in prescriptions for SSRI antidepressants which appears to have has triggered a sharp increase in suicide rates for these age groups, according to two papers that have recently been published.

Encephalon 33 will be hosted by GNIF Brainblogger on October 8th. Of course, next issue’s hosts are seeking your contributions for their issue of Encephalon, so be sure to check in with them for the deadline for sending in your submissions!

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Can you match ten drug safety warnings to their drugs?

“Vision changes, such as seeing a blue tinge to objects or having difficulty telling the difference between the colors blue and green.” Also, “An erection that won’t go away”

“Babies born to mothers who have taken [this drug] in the latter half of pregnancy have reported complications, including difficulties with breathing, turning blue, floppiness, stiffness, irritability or constant crying.”

From Mental Floss

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Back in December 2006, I wrote that Dore needed to create a public forum to discuss their treatment.

By creating a public space that anyone can post to, Dore is saying to the world that they don’t need to sell the product because it is so good it sells itself. Those scientists and others who attack Dore for bad science or for being overly commercial will have to explain why so many customers are writing about how it helped them. By placing everything in the public domain, by allowing potential customers to decide for themselves, Dore could do away with his sales people, saving Dore hundreds of thousands a year, allowing him to reduce his prices and making the Dore Program even more popular.

In June, Dore launched a forum to do just this. Looking in on it today I can see that in the ten weeks since its launched, 29 people have posts 101 messages. This isn’t very many for a company with 25+ treatment centers around the world and a product that on other ADHD / Dyslexia forums, the very mention of it can produce 100’s of comments.

So what is wrong with the forums?

The front page is disaster. Rather than being about Dore its about the software running the forums. This is insane. Its like opening a brand new shop and leaving the windows full of adverts for the shop-fitters. This is going to confuse and put off first time visitors to the website and the forum cannot afford to do that because its getting so few visitors.

How do I know its getting few visitors? Because there are no links to the forums from anywhere, let alone Dore’s own websites. There is no link from Dore’s UK site, Dore’s Australian site, Dore’s US site or it’s New Zealand site. All these websites have ‘News’ sections and the launch of a public Dore forum is the perfect material to go in them. On top of that, on the front page of every single Dore site there should be link in big letters saying ‘Find out what people on the programme are saying in the Dore Talk forums’. Finally Dore should get in touch with blogs that cover ADHD and dyslexia. There are quite a number out there and many would link to the forums.

All these links will drive people to the forums and that will go a long way to making the forums what they need to be but it takes more that lots of visitors to make it a success. Over time, forums develop a sense of community and make them a place people visit to find out information but stay because they enjoy the company. You cannot create or buy a community spirit like that but you can encourage it. Dore staff should be posting something new everyday. Hints for getting the exercises done, success stories, personal observations from having watched 100’s of people do the programme. The forum has to look alive to entice people to stay.

It is early days for the forum but their future looks dim if Dore cannot get its act together enough to link its own websites to the forums.

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Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby videos may reduce infants vocabulary according to new research

Over the last few years there has been an explosion of educational videos for very young infants (3 months+) such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby. However there has been little or no evidence of their effectiveness or any benefit for the millions of dollars parents are spending on these videos and toys.

In the first study on whether Baby Einstein videos work, Dr Frederick Zimmerman, examined the vocabularies of infants that watched baby training videos and compared them to infants that did not watch the videos. For every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants understood an average of six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them. Six to eight words doesn’t sound like very much but in children under 16 months of age that is a large percentage of their vocabulary.

This research is part of a much large project that is examining the effects of TV on young children’s involving over 1,000 families in the Minnesota and Washington areas. The researchers where surprised at the results showing Baby Einstein reduces vocabulary.

“The results surprised us, but they make sense. There are only a fixed number of hours that young babies are awake and alert. If the ‘alert time’ is spent in front of DVDs and TV instead of with people speaking in ‘parentese’ – that melodic speech we use with little ones – the babies are not getting the same linguistic experience,” said Meltzoff, who is the chair in psychology at the University of Washington.

In contrast to the Baby Einstein videos, babies whose parents read them books or told then stories had slightly better langauge skills. Whereas parents talking or reading to their children involves a range of language skills, the researchers believe the baby DVDs and videos tend to have little dialogue, short scenes, disconnected pictures and shows linguistically indescribable images such as a lava lamp.

Is it time to throw away all those Baby Einstein videos and toys? Well maybe. The research needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Firstly the actual study has not been published and all that is available is a press release from the university. Close examinations of the actual results or the methods used in the study may cast doubts over the research. Secondly, the makers of these products would say the videos are tools to stimulate interaction between parent and child. It must be suspected that many parents simply place their infant in front of the TV and expect the video to entertain and educate the baby all by itself.

Once the study has been scrutinized and further work done on the subject, then we may be able to say for sure if Baby Einstein videos make a positive or negative effect on a child’s development. As the researchers themselves put it:

“We don’t know for sure that baby DVDs and videos are harmful, but the best policy is safety first. Parents should limit their exposure as much as possible,” said Zimmerman. “Over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they do in school. So parents need to spend as much time monitoring TV and other media viewing as they do in monitoring their children’s school activities.”

Source: Baby DVDs, videos may hinder, not help, infants’ language development