10 Steps to Make Summer School Not Suck

Summer is here, but you still find yourself in school. Maybe you didn’t pass a class that is required for graduation. Or maybe you want to take a class because your schedule during the school year is full. Whatever the reason is for taking a summer school class, sitting in a classroom for two hours every day for a few weeks isn’t your idea of fun. However, it doesn’t have to be so bad. Here are ten steps to make summer school not suck.

1. Have a friend sign up

Having a friend sign up makes summer school more bearable. Your friend is going to be by your side and make things easier. You can also do homework and study for tests together.

2. Ask for breaks

During the normal school day, your classes don’t last much longer than 70-80 minutes. However, summer school classes tend to be longer — most last about two hours. If you’re having trouble sitting for that long, ask the teacher for at least one break. This gives you time to get up and move around, since it’s not good to be sitting down for so long.

3. Ask if the class can go outside

Summer is usually more laid back than during the school year so ask if the teacher will take you outside. What better way to learn Shakespeare or science or whatever the subject than outside under a tree.

4. Engage yourself in the learning

Doing homework and studying for tests is hard enough during the regular school year. Think about how hard it is during the summer. You spend two hours in class, but then have homework to do, a research paper to write, or a test to study for. Do the homework and study every night so you don’t get behind.

5. Be respectful to the teacher

Your summer school teacher may be someone you don’t know, who doesn’t want to be there any more than you do. After all, summer is a time for him or her to be away from school as well. But teachers sometimes work part-time jobs in the summer to help pay bills or to earn extra money. Respecting and getting along with the teacher goes a long way and makes class more fun.

6. Get your sleep

While summer is the time for you to stay up late watching movies or hanging out with friends, you still need your sleep. You can’t sleep in class, or you won’t do well. Going to bed at a decent time will help lead to your success.

7. Take care of yourself

If you got up late and hurried to class or didn’t feel like eating breakfast, ask if bringing a snack or, at least, a bottle of water is allowed. Eating and drinking helps us stay awake when we’re bored. If you get dehydrated, you get sleepy and have trouble paying attention in class.

8. Be on time

During the school year, you are expected to be on time. If you’re late, you get a tardy and too many tardies add up to you not earning your credit for summer school. You certainly don’t want to lose the credit if you have almost made it to the end of summer school.

9. Stay positive

No matter how bad summer school really is, remember to stay positive. Doing some of things suggested above will help with that. Ask your teacher and see what he will allow you to do.

10. Remember why you are there

No matter the reason as to why you are there in summer school, the important things to remember are to do well, respect the teacher and his rules, and earn your credit. You don’t want to waste your summer.


Teen Usage: Instagram vs. Facebook

Is Instagram the most popular social media app among 12-17 year-old teens? Or is Facebook still on top? Statistics vary on how many teens use each platform. CBS News stated 76% of teens use the app compared to 45% on Facebook. A Pew Research report said only 52% of teens use Instagram versus the 71% who use Facebook.

The Pew Research shows wealthier teens, or those whose parents make over $75,000, use Instagram 23% more than those teens under $30,000 at 7%. Facebook is the preferred social media among the lower income teens at 49% versus 37% for upper income teens. Girls are on Instagram more than boys, 61% versus 44%.

Instagram is more popular than Facebook among wealthy teens

Instagram began as strictly a photo sharing app, but its popularity with teens has made the app more of a social network. Teens use hashtags along with their photos and videos to gain more followers. Because of Instagram, data usage has tripled among teens. As the app has become more popular, Instagram has begun to spread to younger children. One of Instagram’s rules is that a person must be thirteen to have a profile. However, children younger than thirteen are still creating profiles, showing that younger children are becoming drawn into the social media platform.

Hashtags help with SEO, or search engine optimization. Because many teens think it’s best to have more followers than those they are following, they seek to find new followers by showing off their photos to more people. The use of hashtags makes photos and videos available for everyone to see. The more hashtags posted alongside the photos and videos, the more likely it is that new people will see those photos. Having more followers seems to appeal to teens because it makes them look more popular among their peers.
So is Instagram or Facebook more popular among the 12-17-year old teens? Do teens really use hashtags to gain followers?  How do teens know which is the most popular social media among their age group? They can conduct their own survey and draw their own conclusions.

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The Science of Why We Love Bad Lip Reading Videos

Bad Lip Reading 
Bad Lip Reading is a hilarious YouTube channel that produces videos with false dialogue dubbed over popular movies, television, sports, and news segments.  They make us crack up because the dialogue they use has the most random, ridiculous plot lines, but when you look at the characters, their mouths move pretty much close enough so that you could believe it’s what they’re actually saying. The experience of seeing and hearing these videos, and believing them, compared to what we know about the source material, makes us chortle heartily.

Verbal Communication
Thinkprogress recently published an article about this topic, and we are also excited about the science behind why we love these videos. Our brains translate the sounds and visuals we take in, via our senses, into what we call verbal communication. Language recognition is different, depending on what language you speak or are fluent in. Our brains often make up for a lack of perfect pronunciation, or something misheard, by filling in the gaps, and using logic to conclude what the intended message was. Verbal communication is something called multimodal, using two or more senses to interpret information.

McGurk Effect
A really good way to see this process in action is by seeing the McGurk Effect.  You can see it in the video below by AsapSCIENCE. In it, the man repeats “bar, bar, bar.” When paired with an image of a man clearly mouthing a “bar” sound, that’s what you hear. But when an image of the man clearly mouthing a “far” sound is shown instead, what you hear changes to “far, far, far.” The key is, the sound never changes.  If you close your eyes, it goes back to “bar.” So, your brain concludes what the sound must be, based on what your eyes are perceiving through lip reading. But, it’s also tricking you, because the sound never changes even though the visual does.

Creating Logic by Believing What We See and Hear
Our brains indeed learn better when combining visual and auditory information, and it’s used to this sensory experience every day of our lives.  So, when we see something that doesn’t quite make sense, our natural processes fill in the gaps in the attempt to create logical meaning. With the Bad Lip Reading videos, what’s happening is your brain wants the visual and the auditory signals to match up, because that’s what we would normally predict, and it wants to use all the information available.  But the visuals aren’t crisp enough to completely disagree with the audio. The images don’t quite match what we’re hearing, but our brains just go with it. The creators of these videos aren’t using random words either. They are matching words that are close to the way the subjects’ mouths are moving to make the original words.

Origins of the Bad Lip Reader
In an interview with the Washington Post in 2011, the anonymous figure behind Bad Lip Reading said that he started by trying to lip-read a video of a talk radio host mouthing words to himself. “My brain kept coming up with completely random, strange interpretations. They were mainly random word combinations like “Bacon Hobbit” and “Moose potion, poke me” — things like that. So I grabbed my microphone and recorded these phrases into the computer, and when I played that back in sync with the video, it really looked like the guy was saying it,” he said. One of the reasons lip reading is so hard to do, for anyone attempting it, like the hard of hearing,  is that so much of sound production occurs inside our mouths. One lip movement may correspond to a number of sounds, posing a serious challenge. The Bad Lip Reading creator  is actually a decently good lip reader, he’s finding really well-matching words, just the wrong ones.

Priming and Activating in Communication
Yet, even despite the inherent ridiculousness of the sentences, the video has a sort of logic. This is because of the way we pick which words we’re going to use next.  Priming is what we do when engaged in conversation, preparing to hear a set of words that match with the content of the discussion. If the topic at the moment is hair, we’re likely to keep talking about hair, so we “activate” words related to hair and make them easier to produce. So, the creators of these videos are not only manipulating the way our brains process language, but also the way we communicate, and our natural tendencies to predict, assume, prime, and interpret. Bingo! I mean, Peephole! Ugh, what I’m saying is, Bravo!


Breakthrough Starshot: Exploring the Infinite Abyss

Stephen Hawking - 4/12/16

Stephen Hawking is a cosmologist, professor, theoretical physicist and one of the greatest living scientific legends.  He, along with Yuri Milner, an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and physicist, as well as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame, announced the Breakthrough Starshot initiative in April of 2016.

According to the website, Breakthrough Starshot is a “$100 million research and engineering program aiming to demonstrate proof of concept for a new technology, enabling ultra-light unmanned space flight at 20% of the speed of light; and to lay the foundations for a flyby mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation.”

Let’s break this down to understand what manner of science fiction we’re dealing with here.


Alpha Centauri

Alpha Centauri is our neighboring star system that is located four light years away. With current rocket propulsion technology – our current abilities to drive or push a rocket forward – it would take hundreds of millennia to reach it.



The Speed of Light

In the past fifteen years, fast technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed.  The speed of light is 671 million miles per hour. According to the statement from Breakthrough Starshot, the program would push miniature space probes to speeds up to 100 million miles per hour, roughly 20% the speed of light.

The program would include a light beamer – basically a number of high powered lasers – located on earth, that would push nanocrafts to their top speeds.



Nanocrafts you say?

These are gram-scale robotic spacecrafts comprising two main parts:  

  • A “StarChip”, which is a wafer sized component carrying cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation and communication equipment, and constituting a fully functional space probe.
  • The “LightSail” is a meter-scale sail that is no more than a few hundred atoms thick and at gram-scale mass.

So, you could picture little wafer sized components surrounded by what look like sails, that lasers from earth push to speeds of 100 million miles per hour.  Crazy, right?



Moore’s Law

The scientists explain that a few technological advances are making this invention possible.  First is the idea of Moore’s Law, which is the observation made by Gordon E. Moore in 1975, that explains that the number of transistors in dense integrated circuits will double approximately every two years. Basically, technology will only get smaller.  We’ve seen evidence of this over the decades and this observation has proved true every two years up to about 2013.  Its still a viable prediction for scientists to work with, but the rate at at which technology is advancing is indeed slowing down. Not dramatically, but it may perhaps change to every 3 or 4 years that we see a shift in scale of technological advances.  




The second advancement in technology that is making nanocrafts a possibility are the advances in nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is science, engineering, and technology conducted at the nano-scale, which is about 1 to 100 nano-meters. Nano-science and nanotechnology are the study and application of extremely small things and can be used across all the other science fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering. These advances are becoming more and more a reality.



Interstellar Space

Once the nanocrafts reach Alpha Centauri in a few decades, they would then beam home images of possible planets and analysis of magnetic fields. Along its journey, the nanocrafts could supply worlds of information about asteroids it crosses and solar system exploration. While Breakthrough Starshot is not the first project to explore the idea of interstellar space travel, it far outweighs any previous attempt in terms of funding. In 2011 the US research agency DARPA and NASA provided $500,000 to seed the “100 Year Starship Project”. That doesn’t quite compare with the $10 million that has been allocated to Breakthrough Starshot.


Path to the stars

The research and engineering phase is expected to last a number of years. Following that, development of the ultimate mission to Alpha Centauri would require a budget comparable to the largest current scientific experiments. Once it is assembled and the technology matures, the cost of each launch is projected to fall to a few hundred thousand dollars.



I’m in, so when do we get the popcorn ready?

One of the great things about this initiative, aside from actually reaching interstellar space with a camera ready to send images to earth, is how the very development of this program is inviting the public to chime in with opinions and suggestions.  The team is essentially crowd-sourcing solutions to the number of engineering and logistical challenges that remain before this is a reality.  Transparency is important to the Breakthrough Starshot team, which is a great move, in my opinion. In about 25 years, we can finally microwave that popcorn as we await images of possible earth like planets from Alpha Centauri.

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The Ethics and Moral Dilemma of Superheroes

Essentially, the question for every superhero is whether the ends justify the means.


Both Batman and Superman refuse to kill their enemies, thus allowing them to cause even more havoc in the future. Batman pushes away those who care about him the most, Superman hides his true identity by lying to his friends and loved ones. Superheroes face a slew of ethical dilemmas, not the least of which is the fact that most of them are vigilantes—breaking the law even while saving the day.

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We often view comic book stories as simple cases of hero vs. villain, but such a perspective takes for granted the idea that superheroes are the good guys. In fact, moral virtue is a complicated concept, and what doing the right thing means depends on your perspective. There are nonetheless two main schools of thought on what makes an action right or wrong:  deontology, which categorizes actions as good or bad in themselves, and consequentialism, which classifies each action based on its results. Essentially, the question for every superhero is whether the ends justify the means.

There was quite a bit of controversy around the amount of destruction caused by Superman in the film Man of Steel. Many felt such destruction could have been avoided, and it was also left unclear how many people perished as a result of his battle with Zodd, whose death also left people questioning Superman’s moral foundation. This issue will probably inform the plot of the upcoming film Batman v Superman where Batman will question Superman’s regard for human life.

Superman destruction



Take Oliver Queen on Arrow, for example. He starts out as brutal vigilante who kills his enemies without hesitation. His mission is to avenge his father by taking out the criminals who had plunged Starling City into lawlessness. After the death of his best friend, Oliver decides to rededicate himself to saving the city, but he believes that in order to do so, he must become a hero called the Arrow and give up killing.


On the show, this shift is presented as a positive decision, but is it really? He no longer murders people, but many of the criminals he puts away end up escaping and hurting more people. Is it more important for the Arrow to provide a positive example or for the villains to be stopped permanently?

Oliver himself realizes the shortcomings of his no-kill rule: when faced with a choice between allowing a villain to harm one of his loved ones and killing the culprit, Oliver invariably chooses to compromise his principles in the name of protecting his family and friends. This inconsistency reflects the tricky questions superheroes face as well was the difficulty of putting ethical principles into practice.

What do you think? Should superheroes strive to do the right thing or focus on protecting innocents no matter the cost? Or should they try to find a balance between the two?

What a Drag! Vernon Davis Exhibits His Force on Sports Science

The goal of this lesson is to introduce the scientific terms force, acceleration, mass, jerk, and friction using a Sports Science video, which features NFL superstar tight end Vernon Davis.

This lesson works toward fulfilling the following 9th and 10th Grade reading standards for literacy in science and technical subjects, which are outlined in the Common Core State Standards: Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9-10 texts and topics.

Mario Explains Wave Physics

The classic video game character Mario shows that he has brains as well as brawn as he educates his fans about wave physics. This lesson is a great way to introduce or review different topics in a wave physics unit.

Understanding Shakespearean Archetypes through Modern Day Rom-Coms

In this lesson, students will demonstrate their understanding of Shakespearean archetypes by applying them to modern day romantic comedies. They will learn about the traditional five act structure of and commonly used “stock characters” in Shakespeare’s comedies. They will then identify similar plot points and stock characters in a modern romantic comedy.