Category Archives: education

Toronto Student Wins NASA Contest, First for Canada

ric Yam, a student at Toronto’s Northern Secondary School has won the grand prize in a NASA Space Settlement Competition beating out more than 300 students across the globe.

Yam is the first Canadian in the 16 years that the NASA contest has run to take home the prize. His version of a Utopia tied with a team from Orissa, India.

The design that Yam came up with resembles a cylinder and could house 10,000 people and support 300 tourist in the world 2050.

Named after the Egyptian goth Thoth, Asten’s hotel would include a panoramic outer gallery with transparent walls for watching the earth, moon and stars.

The Toronto Star reports:

“The most challenging part was to combine all the different aspects – the technology that would work in space combined with a social design, a government system and life-support systems,” Yam said yesterday.

“He basically built a Utopia from scratch,” said math and physics teacher Gillian Evans, staff advisor on the project.

Yam also competed with a team from his school at the WindEng competition at the University of Guelph in April. The ‘Whale Warriors’ placed 14th among the 40 teams with their design of a 6-blade turbine.

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School Wins-California Supreme Court Sexual Discrimination Case

The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of a school that expelled two students because they were having a lesbian relationship.
The state’s highest court ruled in favor of California Lutheran High School‘s right to expel the young teenagers. The school according to the court was within their right to exclude students based on their sexual orientation because it is a private, religious organization.

The private school is a Christian institution that teaches its students the ‘unchanging will of God.’

The girls had sued the Riverside County school in 2005 using the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The Court’s ruling could open the doors for private schools to discriminate against students on any basis including sex and religion.

This goes against the California Safe School Coalition for public schools which states California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in California public schools.

Had the school been considered a business opened to the public their expelling students based on sexual orientation would be considered discrimination. That was the angle that the lawyers for the two female students suing the school went for.

In January the California’s 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that the school was not a business.

Both girls are now attending college.


Songwriters Workshop SongStudio Coming To Toronto In July

In July a week-long workshop for songwriters will take place in Toronto. SongStudio is the creation of Rik Emmett and Blair Packham two of Toronto’s best songwriters.
During the week students will be spending one-on-one time with faculty and having the chance to meet with some of the industry’s top names. The event will be held on the campus of Ryerson University. The workshop is for anyone who wishes to improve their songs and is for songwriters of all levels.

Blair Packham is the program director. He is in charge of designing and implementing content of the workshop. Packham has been writing songs since he was 17. He was part of Toronto’s The Jitters and recorded two albums for Capitol-EMI Music of Canada with the band. Since that time Packham has spent his time in the industry working behind the scenes with themes and scores for broadcasters such as TSN, Global Television, Discovery Channel, CBC Newsworld, TVO, CTV and others.

Since the 1990’s Packham has been involved with the Songwriters Association of Canada. An advocate for the rights and privileges of songwriters Packham has worked to foster more education for songwriters. He currently teaches songwriting at Humber College and Seneca College. He is also a co-host for the weekly Toronto music radio show ‘Rock Talk.’

Emmett and Packham have been running the event since 2005. Some of the alumni have gone on to release their own recordings, perform and tour. One special stand out is Justin Nozuka who was a nominee for Best New Artist at the 2007 Juno Awards.

The cost for the week is $750.

I had the opportunity to interview Blair about the workshop.

KJ: Why did you want to do SongStudio in the beginning?

Blair: Rik Emmett was teaching courses in the music business industry at Humber in 2005 and the facility approached him about doing a summer program. He asked me to work on it. It has run for the past four summers but the school wasn’t making money at it. This summer with the school’s blessing we’re running it ourselves as an independent program.

KJ:How many students are you planning on having this year?

Blair: We’re hoping to have roughly 50 students. That has been in the number range the past years. With 50 to 55 students we have the staff. If we get more students we will increase the staff and have to get more classroom space from Ryerson. Spots are open until the day before but after June 1 the cost does increase to $850. We’re expecting many returns. One of those who has been in the workshop for years saw me last night and said “I just go to hang out with so many friends and talented people.” And that is how we feel also, many of those who have been in the workshop in the past are now friends.

Even in spite of the economy the workshop is the deal of the century. The amount of talent that students have a chance to be with is just incredible.

KJ: Have you had a ‘wow’ moment during past workshops?

Blair: Oh my goodness! Over and over! One is when Justin Nozuka first attended the first year. We just were wowed by his voice and musical ability. His songwriting was okay but needed some work. The wow effect was even stronger though when he came back to visit and performed. He was and is just amazing.

Another wow moment was with a student named Christian Caldeira. He has an incredible voice. I haven’t seen him since but he was definitely a wow moment.

KJ: With everything that you are involved with how do you find the time to plan out the workshops?

Blair: We have a rough template of how the workshop will be. The first year was the most difficult because there was no template in place. But it is very time consuming. It’s hard for me to even find time to talk on the phone or watch TV. What’s the hardest for me is the lack of time to compose songs. That really hits me when I play a gig. I have though managed to steal some time and have written three new songs. I find that I have to steal time to do everything.

KJ: What is your advice to budding songwriters?

Blair: There is only one right reason to be a songwriter and that is because you love it. An artist is asked to do music they don’t like or write something they don’t want.

You need to remember why you write. It’s an act of communication not just for yourself but also for your audience. They are who come to hear you play, hopefully. You want to be able to connect your feelings to them. Simple things to remember are not to make your songs too long and have a memorable melody. But the most important is to remember that communication factor. You want people to listen so you have to give your audience a song that they can feel and connect with. Your song has to be responsive and be interesting.


Study Shows Facebook Users Have Lower GPAs

Using Facebook may not be the best thing for students according to a survey of college students. It seems that those on Facebook tend to have lower grades than those not on the social network.
The survey asked 219 Ohio State students only about Facebook leaving out other social networking sites. The study was comprised of 102 undergraduates and 117 graduates during the summer and fall quarters of 2008. There were 148 Facebook accounts among those in the study.

While the study can not link the use of the social network to dumbing down students it does question how students on the site use their non-classroom time.

Live Science reports:

“I’m just saying that there’s some kind of relationship there, and there’s many third variables that need to be studied,” said Aryn Karpinski, an education researcher at Ohio State University.

Aryn Karpinski, a doctoral student at Ohio State does not use Facebook herself.

The study found that those on Facebook had GPAs in the 3.0 to 3.5 range on average compared to 3.5 to 4.0 averages of non-users. Facebook users tended to study less than the other students by six to ten hours. And who uses Facebook the most in university? More science, technology, engineering, math and business majors are updating their profiles than those in the social sciences and the humanities.

The study showed that those who worked at jobs tended to be on Facebook less than those involved in other extracurricular activities.

Computer World reports:

“There may be other factors involved, such as personality traits, that link Facebook use and lower grades,” she added. “It may be that if it wasn’t for Facebook, some students would still find other ways to avoid studying and would still get lower grades. But perhaps the lower GPAs could actually be because students are spending too much time socializing online.”

More undergrads (85 percent) are on the social network than grad students (52 percent).

Karpinski was bemused that students rose to defend their online activities. She took pains to make sure that the survey did not have a positive nor a negative bias. While Karpinski says her research was not biased she was not surprised at the results. She is quoted by Time.com:

“Maybe [Facebook users] are just prone to distraction. Maybe they are just procrastinators,” Karpinski told TIME.com in a phone interview on Monday.

The research will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association on April 16.

The Canadian Press reports:

Katherine Giroux-Bougard, national chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, said the site has been a great tool in promoting activities on campus, and helps keep students engaged with issues they wouldn’t necessarily hear about elsewhere.


Fewer Subs- Polk County Florida Looking To Cut School Costs

Polk County students in Florida may see some important people in their classrooms instead of the regular substitute teacher.
In an effort to save money school officials are thinking about using district employees who are not educators instead of coughing up $80 for a sub.

This plan would save the school board about $50,000 of the budget if each of the 620 employees who are qualified to teach fill in one day out of the year.

Principals are also being given the option to spilt up classes and move students elsewhere when a teacher is ill.

Each school has their own substitute budget. The size of the budget depends on the number of students registered there.

There isn’t a shortage of people wanting to be substitute teachers. Since last July the county has had 2,252 applications. Once the county has a list of 1,250 substitute teachers they stop hiring each year. To be a substitute teacher in Polk County one has to be 18 years old and have at least 30 hours of college credit.

If the new plan of using available employees as resource teachers passes there will be a smaller substitute teacher hiring this coming year.


Lakeland, Florida Middle School Student Tasered

A student at a Florida school was Tasered and arrested on a charge of battery on a law officer. The thirteen-year-old girl physically resisted the school’s resource officer’s attempts to take her to the school office.
The Southwest Middle School student was shot with a Taser by the school official Lori Edwards in an effort to control the girl.

The Lakeland Ledger reports:

“(Young) is not a normal sized 13 year old child,” Edwards wrote in a report. “She is 5’4 weighing 185 pounds and very strong.”

The Lakeland, Florida youth has been charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer.

The Lakeland Police Department says that Edwards followed department policy in the manner she handled the incident.


Pawnee Elementary School Introduces The ‘Walking School Bus’

special to digital journal:

A new program at Pawnee Elementary School in Overland Park, Kansas is getting kids outside and walking with the ‘Walking School Bus’ program. The school’s principal explains why it’s a good idea.
The ‘Walking School Bus’ program is part of a national effort to get kids exercising and fight childhood obesity. Adult volunteers walk the children to and from school. The volunteers are called “bus drivers.”

There are now 10 walking buses at the school and 28 children and 18 adult volunteers are signed up for the program.

The program is being funded with $25,000 in grants. The Kansas Department of Transportation has given $15,000 of that grant money. Part of the Safe Routes to School, the walking school bus is a national effort begun by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Last year, the city was given the grant money for the program and searched for the right school to start a pilot program. Pawnee Elementary School was chosen, in part because of the short distances that children had to travel and because the school itself does not have school bus service. They approached the school’s principal to ask for his participation last year. For whatever reason it was put on hold until this year. In an interview with this Digital Journalist, first-year Principal Justin Green said that he was approached this year and thought it was a wonderful idea.

Green then worked with the coordinator hired by the Safe Routes To School, Janice Bode. Ms. Bode oversees the program while Green does promotion within the school setting and provides the kids. Green and Bode took time to plan the start of the program making sure that there were enough adult volunteers to cover the children. By using morning announcements and PTA meetings that goal was met and on Monday complete with a clown on stilts the ‘walking school bus’ program was underway.

In 1969 it was very rare that a child would be suffering childhood obesity. That is not the case in today’s world. The childhood obesity rate has risen times higher than the 5 per cent figure in 1969.

Forty years ago almost half of all students used their legs to get to school. In 2008 only 16 per cent of students were still walking to school. It’s not just the kids fault today though. Parents have legitimate fears for allowing their children to make their way to school on their own. Traffic, crime, weather conditions and bullies are some of the concerns along with the sheer distance that some kids have to travel.

88 per cent of Pawnee Elementary students live within a 15 minute walk to school. Most parents though drive their kids to and from school. That has created problems with traffic, car exhausts and parking.

With five to 10 children on board the adult volunteers walk the children to school and back home again at the end of the school day. Green said he hopes the program grows but it will take more parents volunteering their time to do so.

“I think this program is great for the kids,” he said. “They can make friends while walking to school safely. Everyone is a winner with the program.”

Green also said because of the program there will be fewer cars on the roads, making it much safer for the children to walk to and from school.