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Are "Learning Styles" Backed By Scientific Evidence?

When I was in sixth grade, a psychologist came into my English class and gave us a "learning styles" test. I was going to a magnet school at the time, a school that might today be lumped in the TAG category. I don't remember the specifics of the test, but I distinctly remember the outcome. As the psychologist stood in front of our class before the test, she said, roughly: "Most of you will be visual learners; the rest will be auditory. [Explanation of those learning styles, and how smart people can use them while studying and such.] Oh, and kinesthetic learners are good with their hands, so they're usually mechanics. None of you will fall into that category." Guess who the only kinesthetic learner in the class was? Yup, me! I was a very quiet, non-kinesthetic kid, so I was baffled (though I was a fairly good pianist). When I asked what I could do with this new learning style information, the psychologist shrugged and said, "Learn to type?" So I did.

In the years since, I often wondered about learning styles and whether I was an odd duck, being a kinesthetic learner who was also a writer and an extremely verbal person. For example, I would write (or later type) notes in class, but I never, ever went back to read them. There was a time in high school when I would "type" my notes on a nonexistent keyboard on my desk, since there was no way I could afford a laptop, and I wouldn't read the notes later anyway. It looked weird, but it worked. In college, when I finally had a laptop, I took notes using my blindingly fast typing ability (and was paid for this -- the university gave me a stipend for taking notes to be given to other students who could not take their own), but I never reviewed my own notes, since it didn't seem to matter; I either knew the material or I didn't. And typically, sitting through a class, I knew it. So perhaps there was something to the notion that the "kinesthetic" activity of typing the notes was what made me learn them. Or was it simply that I had convinced myself that this was the case, because at a formative moment, someone told me how my mind worked?

NPR has a good article (and audio piece) on the topic. It seems that some recent studies and surveys of existing studies apparently disprove the notion that learning styles are actually significant in terms of classroom teaching -- this doesn't mean that the learning styles don't exist (though there is apparently a lack of super-solid science on that too), but it may mean that tailoring lessons to a particular, single style may be a mistake. Here's a snippet:

We've all heard the theory that some students are visual learners, while others are auditory learners. And still other kids learn best when lessons involve movement.

But should teachers target instruction based on perceptions of students' strengths? Several psychologists say education could use some "evidence-based" teaching techniques, not unlike the way doctors try to use "evidence-based medicine."

Psychologist Dan Willingham at the University of Virginia, who studies how our brains learn, says teachers should not tailor instruction to different kinds of learners. He says we're on more equal footing than we may think when it comes to how our brains learn. And it's a mistake to assume students will respond and remember information better depending on how it's presented.

Read the rest and be sure to listen to the audio piece -- it's fascinating stuff, and sure to rile the many people who have based careers on learning style theories.

What Do You Think?

Are you a teacher, learner, or other person with an interest in learning styles? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Gregory H. Revera, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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Space
Study Suggests There's Water Beneath the Moon's Surface
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Gregory H. Revera, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Astronauts may not need to go far to find water outside Earth. As CNN reports, Brown University scientists Ralph E. Milliken and Shuai Li suspect there are significant amounts of water churning within the Moon’s interior.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, lean on the discovery of glass beads encased in the Moon’s volcanic rock deposits. As recently as 100 million years ago, the Earth’s moon was a hotbed of volcanic activity. Evidence of that volatile time can still be found in the ancient ash and volcanic rock that’s scattered across the surface.

Using satellite imagery, the researchers identified tiny water droplets preserved inside glass beads that formed in the volcanic deposits. While water makes up a small fraction of each bead, its presence suggests there’s significantly more of it making up the Moon’s mantle.

Milliken and Li aren't the first scientists to notice water in lunar rocks. In 2008, volcanic materials collected from the Moon during the Apollo missions of 1971 and 1972 were revealed to contain the same water-flecked glass beads that the Brown scientists made the basis of their recent study. They took their research further by analyzing images captured across the face of the Moon and quickly saw the Apollo rocks represented a larger trend. "The distribution of these water-rich deposits is the key thing," Milliken said in a press statement. "They're spread across the surface, which tells us that the water found in the Apollo samples isn't a one-off. Lunar pyroclastics seem to be universally water-rich, which suggests the same may be true of the mantle."

The study challenges what we know about the Moon's formation, which scientists think occurred when a planet-sized object slammed into the Earth 4.5 billion years ago. "The growing evidence for water inside the Moon suggests that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the Moon had completely solidified," Li said. "The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question."

The findings also hold exciting possibilities for the future of space travel. NASA scientists have already considered turning the Moon into a water station for astronauts on their way to Mars. If water on the celestial body is really as abundant as the evidence may suggest, figuring out how to access that resource will definitely be on NASA's agenda.

[h/t CNN]

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