Category Archives: Iowa State University

Sing to protect swallowing from Parkinson’s

Singing can significantly improve muscle activity associated with swallowing and respiratory control, research finds. The effects of Parkinson’s disease on these functions can lead to death.

Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, holds weekly music therapy classes for people with Parkinson’s disease. Her clients are even preparing for an upcoming music festival and concert, which highlight the clients’ musical talents, and celebrate the strength they have built through song.

“We’re not trying to make people better singers. We’re trying to work the muscles involved with swallowing and respiratory control, to make them work better and therefore protect against some of the complications of swallowing,” says Stegemöller.

Interest in the singing classes has exceeded what Stegemöller alone can manage, which is why she has created a DVD to train extension specialists.

“The goal is to expand this singing initiative,” Stegemöller says. “If the DVD is an effective training tool, we’d like to have as many classes as possible across the state.”

Musical pacifier teaches preemies how to eat

In addition to extending her outreach, Stegemöller is also building on her research. Through her initial study, she learned singing might provide other benefits related to stress, mood, and depression. Stegemöller and colleagues are conducting follow-up studies testing blood and cortisol levels to see if there is a measurable difference.

Results of Stegemöller’s initial study appear in the journals Disability and Rehabilitation and Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Source: Iowa State University

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There’s a good chance police won’t spot a terrorist

A new study shows the likelihood a police officer will identify someone concealing a gun or bomb is only slightly better than chance. And officers with more experience are even less accurate.

“We expect police officers to do something that is very difficult and challenging without giving them the tools they need to do the job.”

The findings don’t point to weaknesses in the officers’ abilities, says Dawn Sweet, an adjunct assistant professor of communication studies and psychology at Iowa State University. Rather, they highlight the need for better research and training.

“We expect police officers to do something that is very difficult and challenging without giving them the tools they need to do the job. The training officers receive is not research based, but based on anecdotes and cues that we don’t know to be reliable. There needs to be evidence these cues work, and we lack that evidence.”

Existing threat detection techniques aren’t working, researchers say. A recent report from the US Government Accountability Office found that indicators the Transportation Security Administration is using are ineffective at detecting airport security threats.

System uses Twitter to detect riots before police

There is no definitive cue of concealment, and officers can’t solely rely on behavioral cues because behaviors vary depending on the situation. For example, a person trying to sneak a can of beer into a football game will act differently than a person carrying a bomb in a backpack.

“We want investigators to identify those aberrant behaviors with the understanding that such behaviors may not automatically signal a threat,” says Christian Meissner, a professor of psychology. “Using strategic interview techniques, the officer can engage the person to better understand the situation.

“In many situations, simple elicitation would lead the officer or investigator to understand the root cause of the unusual behavior or anxiety.”

There is a link between nonverbal behaviors and cognitive function—our bodies give off subconscious signals when we are trying to conceal something. For example, if a man denies having a gun when asked by a police officer, his hand might touch or his eyes might look at the part his body where he is concealing the weapon.

“We don’t know that looking or touching are accurate, reliable predictors, but they’re ways our body may relieve the stress and tension of suppressing thoughts about what we’re trying to conceal,” Sweet says. “Because of our body’s inability to conceal truth for long periods of time, it’s going to leak out. Our body is an extraordinarily leaky communication channel.”

Throw them off their game

Researchers wondered if there are other ways to trigger those signals. For example, a woman trying to get a gun inside a courthouse will anticipate interactions or things that may happen as she goes through security. But what happens if her routine is interrupted?

“If someone is concealing something and you throw them off script, you may be able to induce what we call cognitive load—you burden them psychologically or cognitively,” Meissner says. “Then the question is, will we see more diagnostic cues—either behavioral or verbal—when someone engages them?”

For the study that appears in Law and Human Behavior, researchers recorded videos of three different scenarios to replicate behavior when a person is hiding a gun or an unstable device in a backpack and then recruited police officers to participate in the study. A group of college students participated as a control group. In all three scenarios, officers had a similar accuracy rate as the students.

The first experiment used videos of a man walking into a courthouse. Study participants had to determine if the man had a gun and were also asked to list indicators about the man’s behavior they used to make their decision. Overall, both groups performed greater than chance. However, participants had higher accuracy identifying when the man didn’t have a gun. The rate of accuracy was much lower when the man was concealing a weapon.

For the second experiment, participants watched several videos of three men walking through a crowd and were asked to decide if one of the men was concealing a device in his backpack. Again, overall accuracy in determining threat was greater than chance.

In 73 percent of the trials, participants correctly identified whether the group had a concealed object. However, when it came to identifying the person concealing the object, accuracy dropped to 44 percent.

In the final experiment, researchers told participants that one of the two men walking through a crowd was concealing a device but had to figure out which one. While overall results were the same, there was a perhaps surprising difference based on officer experience: Less experienced officers were more accurate.

Source: Iowa State University

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Why monarch butterfly estimates didn’t match

New research suggests that monarch butterflies’ moving away from farm fields once covered with milkweed explains a discrepancy between the decreasing population of the butterflies wintering in Mexico and American citizen scientists’ yearly census of the population, which have not shown the same decrease.

Researchers’ findings also bolster the view that loss of milkweed, the only plant on which monarchs will lay eggs, has forced monarch populations to fall.

monarch butterfly population chart
The graph notes the dramatic decrease in population of overwintering monarch butterflies in Mexico in recent years. New research provide an explanation for why censuses of monarchs in the US didn’t always note similar population decreases. (Credit: Monarch Watch/Iowa State)

Monarch butterfly populations have taken a nosedive over the last 20 years, according to researchers who monitor the number of butterflies that spend the winter in Mexico every year. But organizations of citizen scientists in the United States who conduct yearly censuses of monarchs in state parks and other locations in the summer have reported no consistent dip in the number of butterflies they see.

This discrepancy has led some to challenge the widely accepted belief that loss of milkweed on the US landscape has driven the decline of the species.

John Pleasants, an adjunct assistant professor in the ecology, evolution, and organismal biology department at Iowa State University, says long-term monitoring of butterflies and eggs on milkweed stems during the summer breeding season across the United States didn’t note the same decline as that documented in central Mexico, where all monarch butterflies migrate for the winter.

“These census findings, which didn’t see the same drop in population, cast doubt on the milkweed narrative,” Pleasants says. “It made people think maybe the problem isn’t with milkweed becoming harder to find. Instead, maybe there’s something going wrong as the monarchs migrate to Mexico.”

Pleasants set out to pinpoint the reason for the discrepancy and found that it results from the fact that monarch activity has shifted out of agricultural fields, where milkweeds were once common.

For example, roughly half of farm fields in Iowa used to have patches of milkweed, but the widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate has kept fields free of milkweed in recent years. That leaves monarchs with no choice but to concentrate in other areas with milkweed, Pleasants says. It is these other areas where summer censuses are conducted.

Monarch butterflies are up against multiple threats

“The census takers used to see only a small sliver of the total population,” he says. “Now, they’re seeing a higher proportion since the monarchs aren’t spending time in agricultural fields anymore.”

This increasing concentration effect masks the decline in population size, Pleasants says.

The study accounts for the change in the proportion of monarchs inside and outside of agricultural fields by looking at the change in the proportion of milkweeds in those two areas using historical milkweed abundance data gathered by agronomists. The summer census data are then corrected to account for the shifting proportions and thus reveal actual population size.

“Then we see with these corrected numbers that, yes, the population of monarchs in the United States is declining at the same rate as the overwintering population,” Pleasants says.

The finding supports previous studies suggesting that an increase in available milkweed could help the monarch population rebound. Such studies have led to efforts across the country to restore monarch habitat.

Milkweed in suburbs and cities could restore monarchs

Pleasants calls monarch butterflies an “iconic species.” He says the monarch butterfly’s distinct appearance and lifecycle, plus its unique migratory behavior, inspire people to undertake conservation efforts to reverse its decline.

“It’s a fascinating and awe-inspiring bit of biology,” he says.

The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: Iowa State University

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Tweaked plants grow less but handle drought

A group of proteins called WRKYs (pronounced ‘workies’) govern both stress response and growth in plants, report researchers. This makes the proteins of particular interest to plant breeders and crop growers eager for varieties that will withstand dry conditions.

“They are important regulators for the balance of drought response and growth,” says Yanhai Yin, a professor of genetics, development, and cell biology at Iowa State University. “They are very promising targets for plant breeding.”

Arabidopsis samples for WRKYs breeding
Several trials of Arabidopsis plants illustrate how knocking out WRKY genes leads to changes in growth rates and drought response. (Credit: Jiani Chen/Iowa State)

The paper describes how researchers in Yin’s lab managed to cross Arabidopsis plants in such a manner as to eliminate, or “knock out,” three different WRKYs genes, named for the several critical amino acids of which they’re composed. The resulting plants showed dramatically less growth than normal but were more drought tolerant. Arabidopsis is a small flowering plant often used as a model in experiments.

Much of Yin’s research has centered on a plant protein known as BES1, an important switch in plant genomes regulated by a plant steroid called brassinosteroid that influences thousands of other genes. Yin says WRKYs and BES1 work together to promote plant growth under normal conditions.

Plants can’t run from stress, but they can adapt

Previous studies have shown that WRKYs also help to govern bacterial response in plants as well.

Yin says his future studies will tease out how growth, drought tolerance, and bacterial response interact with one another. Such efforts could lead to crops with genetics better suited to withstand many of the most pressing challenges producers face.

As the paper hints, harnessing the versatility of WRKYs to breed more resilient crops would make rain gauges look primitive by comparison.

How plants slow their growth under stress

The paper appears in the journal Plant Cell. Additional contributors to the paper include Iowa State University and China Agricultural University.

Source: Iowa State University

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Program keeps more men from repeat domestic violence

A three-year study comparing domestic violence offenders who completed a new pilot program with those who completed a traditional program found that around 50 percent fewer participants reoffended and were arrested in the year after taking the new program.

Amie Zarling, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, worked with the Iowa Department of Corrections (DOC) to pilot her Achieving Change Through Values-Based Behavior program, or ACTV (pronounced “active”).

“This is a difficult population to treat. We know that existing interventions have little impact on violent behavior.”

For the study, Zarling and her colleagues looked at arrest rates for domestic assault and other violent and non-violent criminal charges. They found just 3.6 percent of offenders who completed ACTV were charged with domestic assault, compared with 7 percent of men completing the traditional program. It was a similar split for violent charges—5.2 percent ACTV versus 10.9 percent traditional.

Most states mandate that domestic violence offenders complete some type of batterer intervention program, but the success rates are often quite low.

“We’re encouraged by these initial results,” Zarling says. “This is a difficult population to treat. We know that existing interventions have little impact on violent behavior. The men often have little motivation to change when they start treatment, and many have a history of trauma, which complicates treatment.”

The study utilized DOC records for men enrolled in batterer intervention programs from January, 2011 to December, 2013. That included 1,353 men in ACTV and 3,707 men assigned to the existing program. Group assignments were not randomized, but followed DOC procedures for group selection based on scheduling and availability.

A different kind of program

No one likes being told what to do and the men in batterer programs are no different. That’s why Zarling put a strong emphasis on equalizing the relationship between program facilitators and participants by creating a non-judgmental and collaborative environment.

She says ACTV works with offenders to identify what they value in life—often their children—and use their own experience as a guide to making better choices and building a healthier relationship with their partner.

“We help offenders see they have a choice. If they choose not to come to treatment, they’re choosing to go to jail. They rarely choose jail and there’s a reason why. The reason is they value other things and so we try to harness that as motivation,” Zarling says.

“ACTV makes the participant an expert in their own life. It teaches them to solve their problems on their own as opposed to lecturing and advice giving.”

Zarling was a graduate student when she created ACTV with her then-major professor at the University of Iowa. Many of the differences between ACTV and the previous DOC program based on the Duluth Model, which emphasizes changing thoughts to change behavior, may seem subtle, but in practice are quite dramatic, Zarling says.

How to get guns away from domestic violence offenders

The Duluth Model is based on the assumption that men’s violence against women is caused by sexist beliefs and the desire to have power and control over women. Zarling says ACTV takes a broader view on the causes of violence. Instead of teaching anger control or suppression techniques to fight against emotion, ACTV focuses on mindfulness and acceptance to make long-term, fundamental changes.

“Quick fixes are what got these men here in the first place,” Zarling says. “ACTV is more about planting the seed and letting men develop the skills over time. That may take the full six months of the program or even longer.”

Expanding the program

The Iowa Department of Corrections offers the 24-week ACTV program statewide, says Anne Brown, coordinator of domestic abuse programs. Brown says they are very pleased with the reduction in recidivism rates, as well as the response from facilitators and offenders.

“Facilitators have embraced the change in the treatment approach,” Brown says. “Offenders are much more willing to share experiences in group and are able to grasp the concepts and apply them to personal experiences.”

The Department of Corrections is piloting ACTV with female offenders as well, and Zarling is working with other states interested in implementing ACTV. However, she is cautious not to expand too quickly. She says ACTV is still in its infancy, and she wants to dedicate time for group observation and research to continue improving the program.

Domestic violence scars kids’ DNA

While encouraged by the results of this study, Zarling points to the number of men who do reoffend, or those who fail to complete the intervention program. She’s driven to make progress in those areas because of the potential consequences.

“A treatment failure has a pretty significant meaning. A treatment failure means a woman has been assaulted and her children may have witnessed that violence,” Zarling says. “That really motivates me because it means a treatment success is also significant. Success means a woman is not assaulted, and kids live in a violence-free home.”

Additional researchers are from Iowa State University and Stony Brook University.

Source: Iowa State University

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Images capture half-light, half-matter quasiparticles

Scientists have made the first real-space images of exciton-polaritons, which are a combination of light and matter.

The nano-image, explains Zhe Fei, shows the waves associated with one of these quasiparticles moving inside a semiconductor.

“These are waves just like water waves,” says Fei, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University and an associate of the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. “It’s like dropping a rock on the surface of water and seeing waves. But these waves are exciton-polaritons.”

Exciton-polaritons are a combination of light and matter. Like all quasiparticles, they’re created within a solid and have physical properties such as energy and momentum. In this study, they were launched by shining a laser on the sharp tip of a nano-imaging system aimed at a thin flake of molybdenum diselenide (MoSe2), a layered semiconductor that supports excitons.

Excitons can form when a semiconductor absorbs light. When excitons couple strongly with photons, they create exciton-polaritons.

This image shows how researchers launched and studied half-light, half-matter quasiparticles called exciton-polaritons. A laser from the top left shines on the sharp tip of a nano-imaging system aimed at a flat semiconductor. The red circles inside the semiconductor are the waves associated with the quasiparticles. (Credit: Zhe Fei/Iowa State)

Fei says past research projects have used spectroscopic studies to record exciton-polaritons as resonance peaks or dips in optical spectra. Until recent years, most studies have only observed the quasiparticles at extremely cold temperatures—down to about -450 degrees Fahrenheit.

But Fei and his research group worked at room temperature with the scanning near-field optical microscope in his campus lab to take nano-optical images of the quasiparticles.

“We are the first to show a picture of these quasiparticles and how they propagate, interfere, and emit,” Fei says.

Scientists are first to detect excitons in metals

The researchers, for example, measured a propagation length of more than 12 microns—12 millionths of a meter—for the exciton-polaritons at room temperature.

Fei says the creation of exciton-polaritons at room temperature and their propagation characteristics are significant for developing future applications for the quasiparticles. One day they could even be used to build nanophotonic circuits to replace electronic circuits for nanoscale energy or information transfer.

Fei says nanophotonic circuits with their large bandwidth could be up to 1 million times faster than current electrical circuits.

The researchers also learned that by changing the thickness of the MoSe2 semiconductor, they could manipulate the properties of the exciton-polaritons.

“We need to explore further the physics of exciton-polaritons and how these quasiparticles can be manipulated,” says Fei. That could lead to new devices such as polariton transistors, he says. And that could one day lead to breakthroughs in photonic and quantum technologies.

Fei’s team reports its findings in Nature Photonics. Coauthors are from Iowa State; the University of Washington; Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee; and the University of Washington.

Iowa State and the Ames Laboratory contributed funding to launch Fei’s research program. The W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles also partially supported the nano-optical imaging for the project.

Source: Iowa State University

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‘Competence’ gets kids past traumas like hurricanes

How children respond after mass traumatic events relates to their perceptions of competence—or how they view their ability to control a situation, new research suggests.

Researchers evaluated perceptions of competence and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in children and teens exposed to hurricanes Katrina and Gustav and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They found that children with higher levels of competence were overall more resilient and had fewer PTSD symptoms.

However, researchers found that competence and well-being declined for older youth, specifically between the ages of 8 to 12, following the oil spill. The findings do not explain why this is the case, says Carl Weems, professor and chair of human development and family studies at Iowa State University.

Weems and colleagues suspect older youth had a greater awareness, compared to younger children, of the oil spill’s impact on their family and community, which affected their well-being.

The damage from Hurricane Katrina was extensive and felt by everyone, regardless of age, says Weems, who lived in New Orleans at the time. Researchers characterized Hurricane Katrina as a traumatic event because it posed a direct threat to people’s lives. While the oil spill was devastating, it was different. Not as many lives were at risk and entire neighborhoods were not leveled as a result.

“The oil spill stress involved more family economic hardship. The impact was more subtle than Katrina,” Weems says. “That’s why we think we only saw an impact from the oil spill on older children because they understood what was happening to their family.”

In the paper, published in Applied Development Science, researchers explain that limited awareness of long-term consequences may have made it easier for younger children to rebound from the effect of the oil spill.

Age was not the only factor to influence PTSD symptoms. In the study, girls were more likely to have higher rates of PTSD symptoms following disasters. Weems says this highlights the importance of interventions to promote competence and well-being among girls.

No pros needed for children’s talk therapy?

Researchers analyzed data from youth in five parishes or counties in the Gulf Region directly affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, and the oil spill. More than 3,300 youth—55 percent girls—between the ages of 8 and 18 were included in the study. Researchers had access to youth screenings and data collected prior to and after all three disasters.

Perceptions of competence and well-being were assessed through questions about the participants’ relationships with their parents and friends, their ability to solve problems or respond in emergencies and control actions, as well as how they feel about life. Researchers used surveys to measure symptoms of PTSD, and hurricane and oil spill exposure.

Whether it is a terrorist attack, hurricane, tornado, or wildfire, a natural disaster can profoundly affect a community with little warning. Weems says understanding how children respond to these situations can help researchers build appropriate interventions. Helping children face their fears and develop coping mechanisms to deal with those fears can improve resiliency.

Facing their fears

In previous studies, Weems and his colleagues surprisingly found kids who experienced Katrina had stable PTSD before Gustav, but a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms after hurricane Gustav, which occurred three years later. Part of the reason why may be related to the successful evacuations and the fact few lives were lost during Gustav as a result, Weems says. In a way, Gustav made them face their fear.

Weems explains that cognitive behavior therapy is based on this principle of facing your fears through “exposure” to similar events or situations, and is an effective intervention for youth experiencing difficulty after trauma. It teaches youth that they have the competence to cope.

“We think Gustav may have provided a large scale, relatively more positive exposure for many, because people evacuated and the negative effects were less compared to Katrina. This helped children to develop a sense of competence and self-efficacy,” Weems says.

Do children inherit grit when parents survive trauma?

“When intervening after a disaster—whether it’s a hurricane or a tornado—you want to help kids actively cope and not avoid dealing with the situation or their feelings about it. By helping them develop their own sense of competence and well-being in dealing with bad things, you’ll develop more resilient children and prevent long-lasting problems.”

Weems cautions against pushing children too far, but helping them face their fears in a safe way. He recommends cognitive behavior therapy for youth with more serious difficulties following a traumatic event or natural disaster.

Turn off the TV

Previous work by Weems and colleagues found that children watching Gustav-related TV coverage was associated with their PTSD symptoms post-Gustav. Subsequent analyses revealed the relationship between TV viewing and post-Gustav symptoms of PTSD was significant only for children who had high levels prior to the hurricane. Parents of children with anxiety disorders such as PTSD should recognize the potential effects of media, Weems says.

“Parents don’t necessarily need to keep their kids from watching the coverage, but it is best that they’re not glued to the TV,” he says. “Parents should limit viewing and process the information with their kids.”

Source: Iowa State University

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Victims of workplace bullying get terrible advice

Most advice that victims of workplace bullies get from friends, family, and coworkers is not helpful, but many report that they’d pass along similarly cliché advice to other victims, a new study suggests.

Targets of workplace bullying get plenty of advice from coworkers and family on how to respond to the situation and make it stop. While well intentioned, much of the advice victims receive is impractical or only makes their situation worse, says Stacy Tye-Williams, an assistant professor of communication studies and English at Iowa State University.

“If you haven’t experienced bullying, you don’t understand it and it is hard to imagine what you actually would do in the situation,” Tye-Williams says.

Still, that doesn’t stop people from offering advice. Friends and family do so because they want to be helpful, Tye-Williams says.

In a paper published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, Tye-Williams and a coauthor interviewed nearly 50 employees who were being bullied at the time or had been bullied in the past. The most common advice the employees received—quit your job.

A small percentage of victims were also told to “punch the bully” or to “quit making things up.”

Tye-Williams says quitting is an unreasonable option financially, but several targets of bullying felt they had done nothing wrong and should not have to leave a job they enjoy. They expressed a “sense of moral justification” and were willing to take the abuse, not to let the bully win. Choosing to suffer silently rarely improved the situation for the target, Tye-Williams says.

In the study, researchers shared the following response from a woman who had invested 20 years in her job and was the target of bullying.

“I’ve worked really, really hard, and why should I have to give up a job that I was good in because of…the unprofessional way that somebody else was behaving? I just didn’t feel it was fair,” the woman told researchers.

Researchers found some common themes among the advice victims received. These were the top five recommendations:

  • Quit or get out of the situation—27 percent
  • Ignore it or blow it off—23 percent
  • Fight or stand up to the bully—17 percent
  • Stay calm—10 percent
  • Report the bullying—10 percent

A small percentage of victims were also told to “punch the bully” or to “quit making things up.”

Passing it on

Many victims feared retaliation or further humiliation if they directly confronted the bully, and lacking a better option, they did nothing about the abuse. Despite the bad advice, most victims said they would tell others in their situation to do the same thing. This was initially puzzling to researchers, but Tye-Williams says it soon became clear that victims lacked insight into strategies that were helpful for dealing with workplace bullies.

How abusive bosses make themselves miserable

“Targets really felt stuck and didn’t know what to do about the bullying. They repeated the same advice even though they felt it would not have worked for them, or if they did follow the advice it made the situation worse,” Tye-Williams says. “It became clear how important it is to help targets understand alternative approaches to addressing bullying.”

Developing a method or model for responding to workplace bullying must start with an open dialogue, in which people can share what has worked for them and brainstorm creative or different solutions, Tye-Williams says.

An important start is to develop advice that is more useful, and disseminate stories in which targets successfully managed their situation. The best thing family members, friends, and colleagues can do is to simply listen without judgment to help targets work through available options, she says.

Don’t ignore emotion

Employees shared very emotional accounts of the bullying they suffered, and strongly reacted when coworkers or friends told them not to cry or get upset. Telling a victim to calm down or conceal their emotion minimizes the experience and is not helpful, Tye-Williams says. She describes it as “really strange advice” given how some of these people were treated.

Workplace snark is so tiring that we can’t hold back

“To me it would be abnormal for someone to be treated in this way and have no emotional reaction,” Tye-Williams says. “Telling victims to calm down does a lot of damage. When we’re talking about traumatic work experiences, it’s important to allow people to have a space to express their very normal emotions.”

Researchers found that some victims, when told to calm down, tended to shut down and stop talking about the abuse and suffer silently. That’s why it’s necessary to provide victims with a safe space to openly talk about the situation and feel that their voice is being heard, Tye-Williams says. Through this research, she found going to a supervisor or human resources manager did not guarantee victims were taken seriously and the problem would be corrected.

Tye-Williams says the lack of managerial response or resolution is another example of the complexity in handling workplace bullying. Part of the complexity is trying to develop a rational, logical response to what is often an irrational situation. In many cases, managers expected employees to resolve the situation on their own, which was not a reasonable expectation, she says.

“Management is not always good about helping people navigate a conflict to reach a resolution. They don’t want to get involved, they expect employees to figure it out or that it’ll blow over,” Tye-Williams says. “It’s not that managers don’t want to be helpful, they often just don’t know how to be helpful.”

Understanding that common pieces of advice to combat workplace bullying often don’t work may help managers, coworkers, family members, and friends move beyond “canned advice” and develop more appropriate alternatives to addressing bullying, she adds.

Source: Iowa State University

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Play Pokémon Go in class to learn communication skills?

Bringing games like Pokémon Go into the classroom may help students learn and practice multiple modes of communication, from writing to gestures, a new paper suggests.

The author of the paper, Emily Howell, is working with teachers to develop new ways to incorporate digital tools in the classroom. The focus of Howell’s work is two-fold—to give students equitable access to technology and help them build multimodal communication skills.

That means not only using technology to consume information or replace traditional classroom tools, but also experimenting with new forms of communication, says Howell, an assistant professor in Iowa State University’s School of Education.

“It’s not just giving students the technology and letting them play, it’s really guiding that interaction…”

Instead of having students read a book on a tablet or use the computer to type an assignment, they need to learn how to create and upload videos or build graphics and maps to convey their message.

Howell’s suggestion of having students play Pokémon Go to build these skills may seem a bit unconventional. However, after playing the smartphone game with her own children, she saw how it could help students with writing and research in ways that align with Common Core standards.

Howell says engaging students through Pokémon Go, a game many are already playing outside the classroom, also generates interest and connects students to their work.

“It is important to give students authentic choices that really have meaning in their lives,” Howell says. “We need to encourage them to develop questions, research the answers and then share that information in writing.”

For example, a common assignment is to have elementary students write an essay on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—a task students can easily explain, but not a genuine question many have, Howell says. Pokémon Go, like many video games, provides players with limited information or what Howell describes as “just in time learning.” As a result, players have questions about how to use certain tools or advance to the next level.

Playing the game with her own children, Howell watched their enthusiasm in researching and finding the answers to these questions. They were even more excited to share their knowledge with her and their grandmother, who was also playing the game.

Wii golf shows gaming can alter our real-world skills

In a paper published in the journal The Reading Teacher, Howell explains how teachers can have students identify questions about Pokémon Go, find the answers, and present their findings in different formats.

Beyond writing

Pokémon Go incorporates different modes of communication—gestures, visuals, and directions—which makes it a good fit for the classroom, Howell says. Players see the character on their phone, the character is integrated into a map, and the player controls catching the character. Pokémon Go illustrates the need to understand multimodal text, which reflects how we communicate with others, she says.

“We don’t just send a text or email; we have a live chat or video conferences. Anytime teachers can find something that students are already doing, and comes in multimodal form, they can harness that interest and teach students about the tool’s potential,” Howell says.

Expert says Pokémon Go has revived our ‘mundane phones’

Even more than conventional tools such as a paper and pen, teachers must provide a framework for using digital tools. Howell says students need to understand conventional literacy skills, but also learn how to upload files or design elements on a page that are not in a linear progression.

“It’s not just giving students the technology and letting them play, it’s really guiding that interaction so they can express meaning,” Howell says.

Share your work

To make the assignment even more authentic, Howell suggests giving students an outlet to share their work with people outside of the classroom. Many school districts create secure, online platforms where students can share work with family and friends and receive feedback. Knowing that others will view their work helps students develop writing styles for different audiences, not just their teacher, Howell says.

“It makes the assignment more authentic and helps with motivation and understanding the purpose for writing,” she says. “It has academic as well as social benefits.”

The Center for Educational Transformation at the University of Northern Iowa supported the work.

Source: Iowa State University

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This star is like ‘time travel’ to our early solar system

Thanks to key observations made with the assistance of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft, astronomers confirm that a recently discovered star, called epsilon Eridani, mirrors our own solar system in a number of ways—only much earlier in its history.

The SOFIA aircraft, a 747 loaded with a 2.5-meter telescope in the back, was just beginning the second half of an overnight mission on January 28, 2015. It turned north for a flight all the way to western Oregon, then back home to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California. Along the way, pilots steered the plane to aim the telescope at a nearby star.

Massimo Marengo and other astronomers were on board to observe the mission and collect infrared data about the star.

Called epsilon Eridani, it’s about 10 light years away from the sun. It’s similar to our sun, but one-fifth the age. And astronomers believe it can tell them a lot about the development of our solar system.

“…the closest we have to a time machine, revealing a glimpse of Earth’s ancient past by observing the present of a nearby young sun…”

Marengo, associate professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University, and other astronomers have been studying the star and its planetary system since 2004. In a 2009 scientific paper, the astronomers used data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to describe the star’s disk of fine dust and debris left over from the formation of planets and the collisions of asteroids and comets. They reported the disk contained separate belts of asteroids, similar to the asteroid and Kuiper belts of our solar system.

Subsequent studies by other astronomers questioned that finding.

The new paper, available online in The Astronomical Journal, uses SOFIA and Spitzer data to confirm there are separate inner and outer disk structures. The astronomers report further studies will have to determine if the inner disk includes one or two debris belts.

Marengo says the findings are important because they confirm epsilon Eridani is a good model of the early days of our solar system and can provide hints at how our solar system evolved.

“This star hosts a planetary system currently undergoing the same cataclysmic processes that happened to the solar system in its youth, at the time in which the moon gained most of its craters, Earth acquired the water in its oceans, and the conditions favorable for life on our planet were set,” Marengo writes in a summary of the project.

This ‘young Jupiter’ is 100 light years away

A major contributor to the new findings was data taken during that January 2015 flight of SOFIA. Marengo joined Su on the cold and noisy flight at 45,000 feet, above nearly all of the atmospheric water vapor that absorbs the infrared light that astronomers need to see planets and planetary debris.

NASA's SOFIA aircraft on the runway
NASA’s SOFIA aircraft before a 2015 flight to observe a nearby star. (Credit: Massimo Marengo/Iowa State University)

Determining the structure of the disk was a complex effort that took several years and detailed computer modeling. The astronomers had to separate the faint emission of the disk from the much brighter light coming from the star.

“But we can now say with great confidence that there is a separation between the star’s inner and outer belts,” Marengo says. “There is a gap most likely created by planets. We haven’t detected them yet, but I would be surprised if they are not there. Seeing them will require using the next-generation instrumentation, perhaps NASA’s 6.5-meter James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in October 2018.”

That’s a lot of time and attention on one nearby star and its debris disk. But Marengo says it really is taking astronomers back in time.

“The prize at the end of this road is to understand the true structure of epsilon Eridani’s out-of-this-world disk, and its interactions with the cohort of planets likely inhabiting its system,” Marengo writes in a newsletter story about the project.

‘Baby pics’ offer peek at infant solar system

“SOFIA, by its unique ability of capturing infrared light in the dry stratospheric sky, is the closest we have to a time machine, revealing a glimpse of Earth’s ancient past by observing the present of a nearby young sun.”

Kate Su, an associate astronomer at the University of Arizona and the university’s Steward Observatory, is the paper’s lead author.

Source: Iowa State University

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