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Giving Rural Kids Computers and Seeing What Happens

Sugata Mitra's TED Talk starts with these words: "There are places on Earth, in every country, where, for various reasons, good schools cannot be built and good teachers cannot or do not want to go...." From this jumping-off point, Indian education scientist Mitra shows us a variety of experiments in which he placed computers with internet access in contexts where kids could experiment with them on their own -- without teachers. "At the end of [the early experiments], we concluded that groups of children can learn to use computers sand the internet on their own, irrespective of who or where they were. At that point I became a little more ambitious, and decided to see -- what else could children do with a computer?"

This talk is frequently surprising and delightful, partly because Mitra's experimental design is delightful on its own (he tends to give kids a simple starting point and then, without much explanation, simply leaves for a few weeks). While it is not about replacing teachers with machines (despite what Arthur C. Clarke suggests during the talk), it's all about how kids can and do teach themselves about topics that interest them. It isn't always positive (there's an amusing bit around the six-minute mark about kids using the web to cheat on homework assignments), but it's certainly an impressive story and a worthy set of experiments. Particularly interesting is when Mitra attempts to figure out which topics must be taught with the aid of a teacher.

What Have You Taught Yourself?

After watching this talk, I'm reminded that in many cases, the computer skills I use daily are mostly self-taught. In many ways, I was like the kids in this experiment -- as a young kid, a computer showed up in my house (and to some extent in school and the library, though access was limited) and I was encouraged to play with it. From there came skills like touch typing (which I only truly learned when I got a job as typist), software development, graphic design, computer repair, and, I'll admit it, a fair number of games. How about you?

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Tulane University Offers Free Semester to Students Affected by Hurricane Maria
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As Puerto Rico continues to assess the damage left by Hurricane Maria last month, one American institution is offering displaced residents some long-term hope. Tulane University in New Orleans is waiving next semester’s tuition fees for students enrolled at Puerto Rican colleges prior to the storm, Forbes reports.

From now until November 1, students whose studies were disrupted by Maria can apply for one of the limited spots still open for Tulane’s spring semester. And while guests won’t be required to pay Tulane's fees, they will still be asked to pay tuition to their home universities as Puerto Rico rebuilds. Students from other islands recovering from this year’s hurricane season, like St. Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are also welcome to submit applications.

Tulane knows all too well the importance of community support in the wake of disaster. The campus was closed for all of the 2005 fall semester as New Orleans dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. During that time, schools around the world opened their doors to Tulane students who were displaced. The university wrote in a blog post, “It’s now our turn to pay it forward and assist students in need.”

Students looking to study as guests at Tulane this spring can fill out this form to apply.

[h/t Forbes]

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Pablo, a Groundbreaking New BBC Series, Teaches Kids About Autism
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BBC

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in 68 kids in the U.S., but there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding the nature of the condition and what it feels like to have it. As BuzzFeed reports, a new British children’s program aims to teach viewers about autism while showing kids on the spectrum characters and stories to which they can relate.

Pablo, which premiered on the BBC’s kids’ network CBeebies earlier this month, follows a 5-year-old boy as he navigates life with autism. The show uses two mediums: At the start of an episode, Pablo is played by a live actor and faces everyday scenarios, like feeling overstimulated by a noisy birthday party. When he’s working out the conflict in his head, Pablo is depicted as an animated doodle accompanied by animal friends like Noa the dinosaur and Llama the llama.

Each character illustrates a different facet of autism spectrum disorder: Noa loves problem-solving but has trouble reading facial expression, while Llama notices small details and likes repeating words she hears. On top of demonstrating the diversity of autism onscreen, the show depends on individuals with autism behind the scenes as well. Writers with autism contribute to the scripts and all of the characters are voiced by people with autism.

“It’s more than television,” the show’s creator Gráinne McGuinness said in a short documentary about the series. “It’s a movement that seeks to build awareness internationally about what it might be like to see the world from the perspective of someone with autism.”

Pablo can be watched in the UK on CBeebies or globally on the network's website.

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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