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Learning to Write in Cursive Might Not Be as Important as Your Teachers Told You

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There is plenty of scientific evidence indicating that writing by hand is an important skill. Compared to typing, writing by hand seems to activate the brain in ways that help you process and remember information. Whether you need to learn cursive to access the full benefits of writing by hand, however, is another story.

KQED recently highlighted science writer Philip Ball’s dive into whether cursive is more beneficial for kids’ learning than printing at Nautilis. There’s no conclusive research to show that learning cursive is uniquely beneficial, Ball writes, quoting neuroscientist Karin Harman James, who studies early brain development. Ball continues:

"James cautions that the issue is difficult to study because it’s hard to find children whose educational situation differs only in the style of handwriting. What’s more, a lot of the ‘evidence’ that does get quoted is rather old and of questionable quality, and some of the findings are contradictory. Simply put, our real understanding of how children respond to different writing styles is surprisingly patchy and woefully inadequate."

There is some research that has found that cursive aids dyslexic students, in part because it doesn’t require taking the pencil off the paper as often, but other research shows that because cursive adds yet another layer of complexity to writing, kids can learn to write more quickly, and write more legibly and accurately, using manuscript.

With the lack of scientific consensus about whether one type of writing is superior for learning, it’s clear that school policies that require cursive are more about culture than research. Cursive is required as early as kindergarten in France, and in some U.S. states, students are required to proficiently write in cursive by a certain point in their elementary school career (fifth grade in Alabama, third grade in California).

Given how deeply parents and people who write education policy feel about cursive—"People talk about the decline of handwriting as if it’s proof of the decline of civilization," Anne Trubek, author of The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, recently wrote in The New York Times—it’s not likely to disappear from schools anytime soon.

[h/t KQED]

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The ‘Scully Effect’ Is Real: Female X-Files Fans More Likely to Go Into STEM
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FBI agent Dana Scully is more than just a role model for remaining professional when a colleague won't stop talking about his vast governmental conspiracy theories. The skeptical doctor played by Gillian Anderson on The X-Files helped inspire women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, according to a new report [PDF] from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which we spotted at Fast Company.

“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role,” the report explains. Previously, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the existence of a “Scully effect,” in which the measured TV scientist—with her detailed note-taking, evidence-based approach, and desire to autopsy everything—inspired women to seek out their own science careers. This report provides the hard data.

The Geena Davis Institute surveyed more than 2000 women in the U.S. above the age of 25, a significant portion of whom were viewers of The X-Files (68 percent) and women who had studied for or were in STEM careers (49 percent). While the survey didn’t ask women whether watching Dana Scully on The X-Files directly influenced their decision to be a scientist, the results hint that seeing a character like her on TV regularly did affect them. Women who watched more of the show were more likely to say they were interested in STEM, more likely to have studied a STEM field in college, and more likely to have worked in a STEM field after college.

While it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation there—women who are interested in science might just be more inclined to watch a sci-fi show like The X-Files than women who grow up to be historians—viewers also tended to say Scully gave them positive impressions of women in science. More than half of respondents who were familiar with Scully’s character said she increased their confidence in succeeding in a male-dominated profession. More than 60 percent of the respondents said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM. And when asked to describe her, they were most likely to say she was “smart” and “intelligent” before any other adjective.

STEM fields are still overwhelmingly male, and governments, nonprofits, schools, activists, and some tech companies have been pushing to make the field more diverse by recruiting and retaining more female talent. While the desire to become a doctor or an engineer isn’t the only thing keeping STEM a boy’s club, women also need more role models in the fields whose success and accomplishments they can look up to. Even if some of those role models are fictional.

Now that The X-Files has returned to Fox, perhaps Dana Scully will have an opportunity to shepherd a whole new generation of women into the sciences.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Yale's Insanely Popular Happiness Course Is Now Open to Everyone Online
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Yale University's happiest course is giving people yet another reason to smile. After breaking registration records, "Psychology and the Good Life" has been repurposed into a free online course anyone can take, Quartz reports.

Psychology professor Laurie Santos debuted the class in the 2018 spring semester, and it's officially the most popular course in the university's 317-year history. About 1200 students, or a quarter of Yale's undergraduate student body, are currently enrolled. Now that a free version of the course has launched on Coursera, the curriculum is about to reach even more learners.

The online "Science of Well-Being" class is led by Santos from her home. Throughout the course, students will learn about happiness from a psychological perspective, including misconceptions about happiness and activities that have been proven to boost life satisfaction. "The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice," the course description reads.

Each section comes with readings, video lessons, and a quiz, as well as the chance to connect and brainstorm with classmates. After passing the assignments, students come away from the six-week course with a certificate and hopefully a broader understanding of the factors that contribute to a happy life. You can visit the course page over at Coursera to enroll.

[h/t Quartz]

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