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La Sierra High PE Film Project
La Sierra High PE Film Project

This 1960s High School Gym Class Would Ruin You

La Sierra High PE Film Project
La Sierra High PE Film Project

“The program, in sum, not only builds physical fitness, but good Americans.” That’s how Look magazine summarized the physical education program of La Sierra High School in January 1962 [PDF]. If you’re wondering how a gym class got a major spread in a national publication—as well as an endorsement from President John F. Kennedy—take a look at this.

That’s a bunch of teenagers looking like they could rip a phone book in half. The PE curriculum at La Sierra in Carmichael, California was not so much famous as it was notorious: It frequently asked more of the students than of prospects entering the Naval Academy. Calisthenics (push-ups, pull-ups, suspended sit-ups) were done on a circuit during both a 12-minute warm up and 5 minutes of punishing, high-intensity exercise through an obstacle course. Coach Stan LeProtti, who initiated the program in 1957, even had custom equipment like peg boards and monkey bars built.

“Kids today are not built like that,” Doug Orchard, a filmmaker working on a documentary about LeProtti’s efforts, tells mental_floss. “It was the last great physical education program in the country.”

Students moved through the program based on a color scale: white shorts were for rookies, while red, blue, purple, and gold signaled serious ability. White shorts had to do a minimum of six pull-ups. Today, a Marine can pass a physical doing only three. Most boys, Orchard says, got to at least red. Getting to blue was a big deal; gold athletes were “crazy impressive.” Those who wanted a rare Navy Blue rank had to do 34 pull-ups and carry someone on their back for five miles. Only 19 students in the history of the school ever earned one.

“There were no injuries we’ve found,” Orchard says. “If you got the flu and were out a month, you had to re-test. The intensity and volume were crazy, but there was a progression. Their entire freshman year, they spent a long time just learning how to breathe correctly.”

The media attention surrounding La Sierra was so intense that by 1962, a health-conscious President Kennedy made an open plea for other schools to get involved, and more than 4000 signed up for the program, which eventually grew to include females. America’s youth may have been at its fittest—until the 1960s began to chip away at their resolve.

“There was a lot of resistance when Vietnam lagged on,” Orchard says. “People started showing up not dressed for PE as a form of protest.” By the time La Sierra closed its doors in 1983, LeProtti’s efforts had been mostly forgotten. But a few years ago, clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch phoned Ron Jones, a physical fitness historian, to ask about the workout footage he had uploaded.

It went viral. Now Jones and Orchard are hoping their film—due out in summer 2016—will help both lawmakers and educators to re-assess activity programs across the country. Currently, less than half of all high school students hit the gym for any reason, let alone exhibit the physical feats the kids of La Sierra were able to pull off.

“We have a shot of bringing back real physical education,” Orchard says. “These kids were doing things I’ve never seen anyone else do.”

All Images Courtesy of La Sierra High PE Film Project

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Why Reading Aloud Helps You Remember More Information
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If you're trying to commit something to memory, you shouldn't just read the same flashcard over and over. You should read it aloud, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

The research, published in the journal Memory, finds that the act of reading and speaking text aloud is a more effective way to remember information than reading it silently or just hearing it read aloud. The dual effect of both speaking and hearing helps encode the memory more strongly, the study reports. The new research builds on previous work on the so-called production effect by Waterloo psychologist Colin MacLeod, who is also one of the current paper's authors.  

The current study tested 95 college students over the course of two semesters, asking them to remember as many words as possible from a list of 160 nouns. At one session, they read a list of words into a microphone, then returned two weeks later for a follow-up. In some situations, the participants read the words presented to them aloud, while in others, they either heard their own recorded voice played back to them, heard recordings of others reading the words, or read the words silently to themselves. Afterward, they were tested to see how much they remembered from the list.

The participants remembered more words if they had read them aloud compared to all other conditions, even the one where people heard their own voices reading the words. However, hearing your own voice on its own does seem to have some effect: it was a better memory tool for participants than hearing someone else speak, perhaps because people are good at remembering things that involve them. (Or maybe, the researchers suggest, it's just because people find it so bizarre to hear their own recorded voice that it becomes a salient memory.)

The findings "suggest that production is memorable in part because it includes a distinctive, self-referential component," the researchers write. "This may well underlie why rehearsal is so valuable in learning and remembering: We do it ourselves, and we do it in our own voice. When it comes time to recover the information, we can use this distinctive component to help us to remember."

The message is loud and clear: If you want to remember, you should both read it and speak it aloud.

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The Brooklyn Public Library is Now Home to a Tiny Mollusk Museum
Courtesy of MICRO
Courtesy of MICRO

The Brooklyn Public Library is one of America’s largest public libraries—and now, its lobby is home to what’s being billed as the world’s smallest mollusk museum (and its first, no less). The vending machine-sized installation contains 15 different educational “displays,” all of which highlight fun facts about bivalves, snails, octopuses, and other soft-bodied creatures, according to The Washington Post.

Installed on November 10, the mollusk museum is the brainchild of Amanda Schochet, a computational ecologist, and media producer Charles Philipp. In 2016 they co-founded MICRO, a nonprofit organization that makes and distributes compact science museums.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

“Science museums are amazing,” the duo said in a video about their company, which is supported by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation. “There’s just not enough of them. They’re all in wealthier neighborhoods. It’s fundamentally important for everyone to have access. So we decided to reinvent the museum, taking everything that we love about museums and putting it inside a box that can go anywhere.”

The factory-made museums are designed in collaboration with scientists, and created using 3D printing techniques. They’re easily reproduced, and can be set up anywhere, including libraries, airports, or even the DMV.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The BPL’s Smallest Mollusk Museum is MICRO’s first public project. Why mollusks, you might ask? For one thing, they survive in every habitat on Earth, and have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Plus, a mollusk museum of any type—large or small—didn’t exist yet, as Schochet learned after she once misheard Philipp say he was going to the world’s “mollusk museum.” (He was instead going to the “smallest” one, located inside a Manhattan elevator shaft.)

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The Smallest Mollusk Museum is “packed with exhibits including miniature movie theaters, 3D-printed sculptures of octopus brains and leopard slug hugs, optical illusions showing visitors what it’s like to experience the world as mollusks, and a holographic mollusk aquarium,” Schochet tells Mental Floss. “We've identified nearly 100,000 species of mollusks, but there could be as many as 200,000—they’re all around us, all the time. Every one of them is a lens onto a bigger universe.”

Librarians have also joined in on the mollusk mania, prepping an accompanying series of books for kids and adults about the many creatures featured in the museum's exhibits.

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

MICRO's Smallest Mollusk Museum at the Brooklyn Public Library
Courtesy of MICRO

The Smallest Mollusk Museum will gradually circulate through several of the library system’s branches. Meanwhile, MICRO’s next public offering will be a second mollusk museum, which will open in the Ronald McDonald House in New York City in December 2017. Additional locations and projects—including a small physics museum called the Perpetual Motion Museum—will be announced soon.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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