Thursday, April 30, 2015

OMG, What's Happening to English?

by Shalen Lowell
Spring 2015 Intern

If I said “LOL,” “OMG” or “BRB,” you’d know what I meant, right? How about “IYKWIM”?

Throughout the history of the English language, people have worried about the language changing and adapting. Paranoia began as early as the Norman Conquest of 1066, when William the Conqueror introduced Norman French into the language used by those in powerful positions in England. Ever since then, English has absorbed countless foreign loanwords into its vernacular. Among other considered “threats” to the integrity of the English language were abbreviations: the earliest use of IOU was in 1618, and nearly a century later came the shortening of such words as (rep)utation and (incog)nito. How’s that for stylish lingo?

Just as how words have evolved throughout the history of English through abbreviations, additions and modifications, our language continues to change with the rise of consumer technology and cultural integration. One of the most important recent inventions to affect this process is the cell phone with texting capabilities. Back when unlimited texting plans and smartphones with touchscreens weren’t as commonplace, users had to cram as many letters as they could into one message without the aid of a virtual keyboard; thus, texting abbreviations.

It’s no surprise that texting lingo making its way into more legitimate settings is accompanied by some backlash. Teachers are often concerned about their students incorporating it into formal writing assignments. There are claims that texting lingo in school occurs because students are just too lazy. But there’s also the truth that they are consistently writing what they know best; teens spend a lot of time texting. Students may not lack motivation; it may be that they simply need more guidance with the different forms of writing.

Speaking of texting, linguists have been studying an intriguing phenomenon: texting acronyms spoken aloud. I’m personally guilty of this trend: I tend to actually say “L-O-L” on occasion. I’m not the only one; sociolinguist Scott Kiesling has been studying similar instances when teens say, for example, “I-D-K” and “O-M-G,” just as they would write in text messages. Similarly, in a process called zero derivation, words like Facebook and Google are becoming verbs that can be conjugated: Facebooking and googling.

What does this mean? English is ever evolving and adapting to new cultures, technologies and a variety of influences. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) adds new words to its volumes every year, and google is now a recognized verb in the OED. Its everyday use in speech earned it not only entry into the OED halls, but also lowercase status due to its common usage—a status that both Styrofoam and Kleenex have yet to achieve.

Did You Know?

The first mobile phone call was made with “the brick,” a clunky prototype of the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, on April 3, 1973 by Motorola employee Martin Cooper. This model was over 14 inches long, including the antenna; the evolution of the phone has certainly come a long way in the last 40 years!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Solving the Puzzle of the Antikythera Mechanism

by Maria DiPasquale
Spring 2015 Intern

Did you know a device considered by scholars to be the world’s oldest analog computer was created over 2,000 years ago? The device is officially named the Antikythera (ante-kith-er-uh) Mechanism. It was retrieved from an ancient shipwreck discovered in 1901 off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera. The ship is believed to be a merchant vessel that met its end around 60 BCE while carrying a load of valuable cargo. Divers extracted a range of ancient treasure, including ceramic bowls and life-size statues, but the mysterious Antikythera Mechanism went unstudied for years. Recently, new discoveries have been made about the function of this device, causing scientists and historians to change the way we perceive ancient history.

Researchers have estimated that the Antikythera Mechanism was created around 205 BCE. The original find was a shoebox-sized chunk of bronze, but about 80 additional fragmented pieces have been discovered so far. Scientists believe the original technological device was housed in a wooden box and operated by a hand crank, and included more than 30 interlocking bronze gears and dials.

The device is currently being studied by the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP), an international academic research group dedicated to unlocking the device’s mysteries. The team consists of astronomers, mathematicians, physicists, historians and other experts. Since the project began, advanced technology has provided new answers. According to the team, “the Antikythera Mechanism is now understood to be dedicated to astronomical phenomena and operates as a complex mechanical ‘computer’ which tracks the cycles of the solar system.”

In 2008 researchers published findings in Nature revealing that the mechanism linked astronomical calendars to calendar systems that regulated ancient Greece, such as the Olympiad, used to predict the four-year cycle of the Olympic Games. The device also tracked a calendar specific to a region in northwest Greece—indicating a possible locale for its invention—based on dial inscriptions of months used in that specific calendar system. Some of the dials also calculated the positions of the sun and the moon, predicting solar and lunar eclipses.

More recent findings were published last year by Christián C. Carman of Argentina’s National University of Quilmes and James Evans of the University of Puget Sound in Washington, who estimated a more accurate origin date and found that the device’s technology is based not on ancient Greek trigonometry, but on borrowed Babylonian arithmetic. This discovery could completely change our perception of the evolution of mathematics and astronomy.

The AMRP team continues to work tirelessly to uncover the mystery of the Antikythera Mechanism. A new systematic exploration of the shipwreck began in the fall of 2013, and another is planned for 2015, with the potential of discovering more clues. Additionally, researchers are developing working replicas of the device to add to the many other solid models and virtual representations of how the mechanism presumably worked. We can’t wait to find out what the team discovers next!

Did You Know?

Kyniska, daughter of King Archidamos of Sparta, broke the tradition that forbade women from participating in the ancient Olympic Games. Kyniska’s chariot won the four-horse chariot race in 396 BCE. Since the horse’s owner, not its rider, was considered the winner, Kyniska was named the official victor—a first for women.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Let's eat Grandpa": Missed Grammar Mistakes

by Annemarie Tompsen
Spring 2015 Intern

Explaining the difference between eating your grandpa and asking him to eat with you can be tricky to distinguish without proper comma knowledge. Like any skill, grammar should be practiced to get better at it. Many students struggle to keep up with the demand of grammar in school; rules like subject-verb agreement, preposition placement and semicolon usage cause students to seek out aid.

As proven in the 2004 film I, Robot, computers can’t replace the experiential knowledge of humans. However, instead of learning the appropriate grammar rules, some students have been using grammar correction systems like and to catch their mistakes.

Each grammar correction service is relatively similar, providing services that are geared for general grammatical and plagiarism checking services. Students can upload their assignments and, for free—or, for more advanced versions, with a subscription—the submission is scanned for errors. For a student who’s not comfortable with grammar, this is an easy short-term solution, and many often rely on services like these to check their mistakes.

But what about poor Grandpa?

According to these programs, sentences like “Let’s eat Grandpa” are correct from a grammatical standpoint. The sentence follows necessary conventions, but the software can’t conceptualize the topic of what it is analyzing. In fact, it only understands the structure of the sentence. Unlike a human, the technology does not understand readability, meaning or context—all of which are very important in the writing process.

This doesn’t mean students shouldn’t use these programs. Grammarly, WhiteSmoke and their competitors help many users daily with their grammar, but the services of these programs are better used as a first defense. The software can be a useful tool for students as a first, fresh “set of eyes” for an assignment. But, most importantly, students should know how to look beyond the errors the software catches as well as to be able to verify the errors’ validity and understand the grammatical concepts behind them.

Dorothy Fuller and Reva Potter support the idea of using grammar correction software in the classroom. In their 2008 report [PDF link] for the National Council of Teachers of English, Fuller and Potter found that correction software could be utilized as a stepping-stone to initiate communication within the classroom. The report explains that “students became more familiar with the grammar checker, more confident in its uses and more cautious about its limitations.” It is by using these applications to point out simple errors that teachers can show students the necessary steps to prevent them. However, if students do not learn grammar rules beforehand and rely on software aids instead, then incorrect habits will follow the students into their professional careers. While the computer might not care that Grandpa was eaten, a future employer will.

Did You Know?

Students today might rely heavily on spell checkers, but they still love to spell! The amount of contestants enrolling in the National Spelling Bee has been on the rise since national television coverage on ESPN began in 1994. In the past, the contest has also been covered by popular networks like NBC, PBS and ABC.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Intern Spotlight: Meet Annemarie!

by Annemarie Tompsen
Spring 2015 Intern

As a young child, Dr. Seuss was my best friend. In the bright early mornings I would climb onto my fern-green couch and read. Surrounded by a pile of books and stuffed animals, I would read his rhythmic stories aloud. With my chest puffed out proudly, I spoke in the best adult voice I could muster. According to that little girl, I was going to be a teacher—but I also dreamed of storytelling. I wanted to create stories that could mold my dreams into something greater. I remember running my fingers over the pages of the Dr. Seuss books, but even then I weaved new stories of my own creation using the books’ characters.

When I got older, I found myself pursuing an English degree at Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut. Simply put, I was comfortable. The copious amounts of reading and writing were elements I enjoyed, but the sheer uncertainty of my path plagued me. I realized quickly that teaching was not what I wanted to do. Instead, I desired to explore the written word—specifically, my own.

Desperate to find my way, I got involved on campus. It wasn’t until I became the co-president of Breakwater, the college’s literary magazine, that I felt whole. I felt intensely drawn to the process of editing; although this was a small-scale magazine, I experienced publishing enough to make me hungry.

To feed that hunger, I moved to the Boston area to attend Emerson College’s Publishing and Writing graduate program. In only two semesters, I’ve learned more about the publishing industry than I could have ever hoped. My favorite task involved a project where I helped create the Percolator, an online magazine that targeted hip Bostonian coffee drinkers. Through this experience I was able to pursue my love for writing while also taking on the role of senior editor.

Naturally, after learning more about the publishing industry, I wanted to see how it worked firsthand. When I interviewed at Publishing Solutions Group, I knew this was where I could combine my interests and put them to great use. All in one setting, my love for editing, writing and learning could be combined. Through projects I have worked on and the process of blog writing, I have learned how to work through the drafting process, how PSG’s services are marketed and how to research for a variety of tasks. I look forward to a future career in publishing, and my story is just beginning!

Little-Known Facts about Annemarie

Many people have a personal item that they carry with them when they move, and Annemarie’s Keurig machine has loyally been with her for three moves. From home to college to Boston, this machine has been with her through thick and thin. Luckily, it still works, and Annemarie can continue to brew her average of two to three K-cups a day. Other precious packables include her Lord of the Rings book collection and her white marble horse bookends.

Annemarie is also a proud Norwegian-American and can be spotted sporting her Norwegian hat and scarf on many a cold occasion. She has visited her family in Norway, a group who is just as friendly and crazy as she is, and she plans to go back to visit soon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Money on the Mind? Introducing High School Entrepreneurship Class

by Maria DiPasquale
Spring 2015 Intern

Remember high school yearbook superlatives? Almost everyone had a classmate who, even if they weren’t voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” everyone knew would become a millionaire before the ten-year reunion. Mine was Ben Drucker, founder of, a fundraising platform. In high school, his business ventures were always being written about in our school newspaper. Wouldn’t it have been great if he could have learned about entrepreneurship in high school? With a new push to incorporate entrepreneurship into high school curricula, it is now possible for such students to develop an interest in becoming business leaders earlier in their education.

High school entrepreneurship courses teach students a myriad of important skills. They teach basic financial literacy and money management skills, targeted at managing business finances. These courses also include in-depth business lessons on networking, engaging with customers, writing a business plan, creating investments and managing time well. The main goal is to bridge the gap between a student’s interest and their ability to act on their ideas.

Entrepreneurial education at the high school level exists throughout the world, notably at African Leadership Academy near Johannesburg, South Africa. Students develop an original business idea that they apply throughout their education and learn many practical entrepreneurial skills to build, improve and maintain that business. According to Time’s Dayo Olopade, this “prepares them for a society that needs both hard skills and soft skills—not least working within and leading teams.”

The need for entrepreneurial skills is felt in the United States as well. Tricia Granata, executive director of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), says, “Many young people naturally have an entrepreneurial spirit . . . but what they don’t have are technical skills. We can teach them things to make sure that innate entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t get wasted.”

Individual entrepreneurial courses have been implemented in American schools by the NFTE since its founding in 1987. Entrepreneurship training programs are offered for teachers who can learn and then bring the courses back to their schools. Students create their own business plans and then compete regionally for start-up money to invest in their business ventures.

Chante Goodwin took an entrepreneurship class while attending Suitland High School in Forestville, Maryland. She said the course caught the attention of many fellow business-minded classmates. “Suddenly, people in my other classes who sat in the back and didn’t care were sitting up and participating,” she explains. Goodwin went on to develop her idea for a computer repair company into a successful business called Your Way IT Solutions in Washington, DC, where it now services many government clients. Goodwin’s story shows how entrepreneurship classes can shape a student’s path. Providing the opportunity to learn business skills so early helps students realize that with hard work, they can succeed by building new businesses.

Did You Know?

A new generation of teenage entrepreneurs has found that good ideas, social media savvy and commitment to social awareness can create a recipe for success. Moziah Bridges, the 13-year-old owner of Mo’s Bows, donates bow ties to certain benefits and gives a portion of his funds to help kids going to summer camp. Madison Robinson, the 15-year-old founder of FishFlops, has donated over 20,000 flip-flops to children worldwide.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kids are Rising to the Occasion . . . on Hovercrafts

by Dakota Damschroder
Spring 2015 Intern

The year is finally 2015. Do you know what that means? By October, hoverboards are supposed to be available to the general public, at least according to the 1989 movie Back to the Future II. I've been looking forward to this year since first saw the movie, but I've been told time and again that it's impossible for various reasons, including the fact that you just can't create antigravity technology. But what about the hovercraft, a more attainable version of the hoverboard?

Impossible, right? Well, maybe not. After building a hovercraft for the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters, one of the hosts, Adam Savage, made one at home with his kids. Savage lays out a step-by-step procedure, making it seem pretty easy if you have plywood, a leaf blower and a shower curtain lying around. But he's still one of the Mythbusters guys—they can build anything—and so I was still doubtful. Are these possible for a normal person to build? And how do they even work?

As it turns out, even young kids can build hovercrafts. On the PBS kids' show DragonflyTV, Rachel and Sara, both around the age of ten, spend an episode experimenting with the best ways to optimize the hovercraft experiment. A typical hovercraft design has a sturdy fabric called a skirt attached to the bottom of a flat platform, usually a round piece of wood. A piece of equipment having a fan of some sort, such as a leaf blower, blows air between the skirt and the platform. Air slowly leaks from the skirt, which creates a cushion of air between the platform and the ground. Rachel and Sara played with the skirt to enhance the speed and navigation of their hovercraft. They found that a tighter skirt makes the air leak out faster than a baggier skirt, which actually makes the hovercraft slower and more difficult to maneuver.

It's not just TV stars making hovercrafts, though. In February, hundreds of kids attended the third annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Indiana. The purpose of the event was to encourage girls ages 3–13 to get excited about science and engineering. Attendees could go through a series of booths and learn how to create slime, work with 3D printing and, yes, make hovercrafts. This is just one of the many science-oriented fairs for kids that includes building hovercrafts as one of the activities. Not only are hovercrafts possible, but they're also easy and fun to make, which is much better than waiting around for Marty McFly's hoverboard.

Did You Know?
At the company Arx Pax, engineers have developed a technology that allows the board to magnetize the surface below it. The subsequent polarizing magnetic field forces the board to hover. However, the technology only works on aluminum or copper surfaces, meaning if we wanted to ride around everywhere like Marty McFly, we'd need new aluminum streets or copper sidewalks.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bringing Assistive Technologies into Special Education

by Annemarie Tompsen
Spring 2015 Intern

In classrooms across America, teachers are being confronted with challenges to accommodate all students. According to a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average primary education classroom has more than 21 students. In recent years, the aid of assistive technologies has been brought into the classroom to ensure that all students can keep the same pace—specifically, students with disabilities.

Kevin O’Brien, a seventh grader at Charlotte Wood Middle School in California, has benefitted from assistive technology by using an eye-gaze device created by Tobii Technology. With this device, people like Kevin can use their eyes to control a mouse pointer and select certain actions, enabling them to interact with others and actively participate in the learning process. Until recently, Kevin’s disability separated him from his peers by keeping him in another classroom where he had access to the device. With the help of a new wireless version, however, he has been able to join classmates without any restraints. Wendy Burkhardt, the assistive technology coordinator for the school district where Kevin attends school, explains: “Kevin can be far more involved in group activities. . . . This has increased his ability to be an independent member of the school and the community.”

But Kevin isn’t the only student who has benefited from the use of assistive technology. Special education has radically transformed over the past few years through devices such as tablets and smartphones that have universal functionality. More and more, technology has allowed students with special needs to have mobility they otherwise might never have had. Both student and teacher have become challenged to think outside the bounds of the traditional classroom and to approach assignments abstractly. In many cases, new technology allows students to complete tasks in a more creative way that also complies with a student’s academic needs. For example, a tablet can help students with dexterity issues turn a page or assist them in answering prompts with speech-to-text technology.

But what about activities like art or music?

Adam Goldberg, a music teacher in Queens, New York, uses assistive technology to include all of his students. Through different music apps on tablets, he has created the PS 177 Technology Band. Goldberg feels that these technologies allow a flexibility in the classroom that otherwise couldn’t be reached. Educators are unsure about what makes devices like the digital tablet appeal to students with disabilities, but some believe that it is the bright, big and clear visual cues that they provide. Furthermore, tablets allow the student to use an app easily—and all through the simple motion of tapping a button or speaking to the screen. Educators like Goldberg are moving toward using these assistive technologies to make their classrooms more integrative—one app at a time.

Did You Know?
There’s a wide range of education apps out there, featured in both Google Play and the Apple App Store. One of the most popular is the Let’s Create Pottery app. With only the swipe of a finger, you can mold, paint and craft your own 3D pottery.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Disney’s "Frozen": There’s a Reason It’s Irresistible

by Shalen Lowell
Spring 2015 Intern

Countless psychologists and Disney fanatics have studied the science and psychology behind Frozen’s success since its release in 2013. What about this film in particular makes it so irresistible to adults and kids alike?

Frozen is certainly one of the Disney movie giants: It’s the fifth-highest grossing film of all time, earning $1.2 billion worldwide, and it has won two Academy Awards, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. The film follows the three major factors of media success as put forth by Barry Litman, an economist at Michigan State: its content, scheduling (just in time for winter, released in November 2013) and marketing. The undeniable hype surrounding Frozen’s prerelease contributed to these factors, as well as its relatable nature and wide audience.

George Bizer of Union College in New York conducted a study aimed at college students to discover various reasons they found the film appealing. One prominent answer cropped up: Students identified with Elsa in that she is flawed. Some students interpreted Elsa’s struggles in the context of gender and sexual identity, while others saw a desire for social acceptance. The film also subverts stereotypes common in children’s films: Frozen’s focus is not Anna’s romantic relationship with Kristoff, but rather her sisterly love for Anna; the “Disney prince” Hans is evil; and Elsa’s magical power is hailed as good rather than bad. Frozen also passes the Bechdel test, a gauge for films that, for a passing score, requires at least two women who interact with each other and talk about something other than men.

Maryam Kia-Keating of the University of California Santa Barbara and Yalda T. Uhls of UCLA further review the science behind this attraction to Frozen. They write that Elsa’s seemingly uncontrollable powers frighten her, and her struggle to accept those powers is emotional. Similarly, children are often driven by their impulses and feelings. Children have also responded positively to Frozen’s sense of magical realism displayed in Elsa’s magic; children have active imaginations, and through these imaginings, they imbue their worlds with adventure and excitement. It doesn’t hurt either that Frozen’s token sing-along song, “Let It Go,” is both moving and catchy.

Journalist and filmmaker Bilge Ebiri picks up on these factors. He says that Frozen is popular because it captures the classic Disney spirit with an old-fashioned fairy-tale story, captivating visuals and witty songs. While nodding to classic Disney, the film also looks to breaking children’s film tropes by including two Disney princesses and defeating the magical villain cliché.

Altogether, this film was a hit, not only because it captured the magic and spirit of a true Disney film, but also because its focus is forward-looking in both visuals and content.

Did You Know?

Disney has a habit of hiding its characters in movies other than the ones in which the characters feature as stars. For example, in Aladdin, the Genie briefly changes his head to look like Pinocchio, Monsters Inc.’s Sully features as a Celtic wood carving in the witch’s hut in Brave, and The Lion King’s Scar appears as a lion skin in Hercules. These are only a few of the Easter egg appearances that Disney characters make within movies; there are many others.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Intern Spotlight: Meet Dakota!

by Dakota Damschroder
Spring 2015 Intern

I was raised by a writer mother and an accountant father, who equally encouraged me and my sister in both reading and math. Instead of becoming conglomerates of the two subjects, however, my sister developed into a mathematical genius, while I was gifted with a strong ability in writing. I’ve known from the young age of six that I take mostly after my mother. I still have hidden on a closet shelf the incredibly short and incomprehensible “novels” I wrote in elementary school about a group of girls who become spies and battle evil. (It’s complete coincidence the characters resemble me and my friends.)

My biggest dream is to one day become a published author. I’ve learned from my mother that being a published author usually comes with an asterisk—by which I mean that it can be very hard to work solely as a writer, simply because it often doesn’t bring in enough money to pay the bills. I’ve known from almost the time I decided that I wanted to be a writer that I would also need a contingency plan, a job that wouldn’t leave me fulfilling the oh-so-romantic broke author lifestyle.

When it came time to pick a college, I decided on Emerson College because of the Writing, Literature & Publishing program. I’d always been drawn to publishing; while I was never entirely sure what the industry entailed, I knew I could use many of the same skills I use in my writing, such as copyediting. As a sophomore, I haven’t yet had the ability to take many classes in my major, which makes me that much more grateful for the opportunity to intern at PSG. I’ve been able to get deep insight into the publishing world and all of the work that goes into a specific project. I’ve been able to develop useful skills, such as fact-checking and concise writing. More than anything, I’ve learned—even from my limited exposure—just how much I truly do enjoy copyediting.

This point in my life is the time for me to explore, take chances and play with all of the possibilities ahead of me. I don’t care if it sounds cheesy: I can’t wait for all of the opportunities to come.

Little Known Facts about Dakota

After years of rejecting her parents’ favorite pastime, Dakota gave into the lure of football and became a hearty Cleveland Browns fan (from her father’s side) and a New England Patriots fan (from her mother’s side). Her friends rarely watch a game with her, as football exposes the dirty-mouthed rage monster that is kept hidden beneath her quiet, well-read exterior. Not only does Dakota love to watch the sport, but she also loves reading about the politics of the NFL and the analyses of current events. As a result, she is not ruling out a potential career in sports journalism.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Math Teachers Innovating through Real-World Applications

by Shalen Lowell
Spring 2015 Intern

Real-world applications are improving the teaching of mathematics across the United States. During the 2013–2014 school year, a research study was conducted that tested more innovative ways to increase student engagement in mathematics. The University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab and 100Kin10 selected the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and Mathalicious—both winners of the 100Kin10 Research Design Competition—to be their partners in this yearlong study. One of the sponsors of this contest, 100Kin10, is a network of educational partners designed to provide US classrooms with 100,000 well-equipped STEM teachers by 2021. The initiative aims to integrate real-world problem solving into K–12 education by providing students with a variety of skills in the STEM subjects, even for those who not pursuing mathematics at a college level.

As a result of their win, both partners worked with math teachers to improve instruction of mathematics Common Core State Standards; each partner used $100,000 in funds to aid the educational study. This work and the results of the study could influence implementation of the new standards in the near future.

One of the contest winners, Mathalicious, creates middle and high school math lessons about real topics to foster critical and global thinking. Its part of the study included control and treatment groups of teachers, each allowed a different level of access to Mathalicious’s professional support; results were measured using student feedback as well as teachers’ reactions. An example of the company’s approach can be found in its "Domino Effect" lesson, which utilizes students’ understanding of linear equations to calculate the actual base price for a Domino’s pizza and how much each additional topping costs. Another lesson, called “Out of Left Field,” uses quadratic functions to determine which major league ballpark is the hardest to hit a home run in.

CSULB, the other contest winner, managed the second component of the study. Its team focused on Lesson Study, a process in which a group of teachers collaborate, plan and critique any given lesson. This assessment took place near the Long Beach campus in a school district with a high population of English language learners (ELLs). CSULB’s goal was to bolster the Lesson Study process for grades 2 through 5 and tailor it to the diverse school district. CSULB also needed the process to correspond to the mathematics Common Core State Standards.

Dr. Beverly L. Young, assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs at CSU, let PSG know that this part of the study “was completed and demonstrated promising results of the Lesson Study research.” Dr. Young assured us that the results of these studies are forthcoming and are expected to be published this spring.

Did You Know?

Della Pietra High School offers an Applied Math Program at Stony Brook University. The semester-long program allows students to study different types of applied mathematics such as game theory and computer modeling. This program is a part of the Long Island Mathematics Circle, and its purpose is to bring professors and students together to explore new topics and research avenues in applied mathematics.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Music and Audiobooks: Pediatric Pain Relievers?

by Dakota Damschroder
Spring 2015 Intern

We plebeians have known for years about the happiness that specific things can give us. There’s the comfort of a home-cooked meal just like mother made after a long, tiring day; the contentment of rereading a favorite novel while wrapped in a blanket on a cold day; the pumped-up adrenaline that hits after listening to a favorite song on repeat. We figured all of this out long ago, and now it seems as if science has finally caught up with us.

This past January, research from Northwestern Medicine and Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago found startling evidence that listening to music or audiobooks after surgery can significantly reduce a child’s pain. The study, conducted in 2010, separated 54 pediatric postoperative patients from ages 9–14 into three different groups to test the theory. The first group selected a playlist from a list of music that included genres ranging from pop to classical to country. The second group chose an audiobook from a list of options that included The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland. Both groups listened to their choices for 30 minutes at a time. A third group—the control group—spent 30 minutes in silence.

After the therapy, patients were shown a pain scale, indicated by pictures of faces with different expressions, and then asked to report their pain by pointing to somewhere on the scale. Overall, there was a distinct reduction of pain for all of those receiving the therapy, whereas there was minimal or no reduction for those in the control group. This is awesome—but how did it happen?

What audiotherapy does is quite simple: It distracts patients from the pain. In more scientific terms, it subverts a secondary pathway that lies in the prefrontal cortex of the brain; the pathway is involved with pain memory.

Santhanam Suresh and his daughter Sunitha Suresh, two of the three researchers in charge of the study, were extremely pleased with the results, especially as it meant audiotherapy could potentially become another alternative to the powerful painkillers usually given after surgeries. What they were surprised to find was that audiobooks were just as effective as music in this pain reduction. While everyone loves a good book, and the same principle of distraction through sound applies, music is catchier and more distinctly distracting. However, although it may have been unexpected, it makes complete sense. Some parents of the participants reported that audiobooks were able to calm their children down and allow them to sleep. Does that seem familiar? Sounds like the exact reason why many parents read their children stories at night to get them to sleep.

As of right now, this is the only study specifically on audiotherapy to treat postoperative pain, but the implications are far-reaching. If it works this well on children, could it also work for adults? For pain in general? Try it out; next time you stub your toe, listen to some music. It just might help.

Did You Know?

In addition to the potential use for postoperative pediatric pain management, various sound therapies have been used elsewhere in medicine. Sound therapies have been developed to help improve the symptoms of children with disabilities such as autism, ADD and Down syndrome. The treatment can help improve hearing, focus and general processing abilities. This can potentially help the children in school and with social interactions.