The Pope on Panhandling: Give Without Worry

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New Yorkers, if not city dwellers everywhere, might acknowledge a debt to Pope Francis this week. He has offered a concrete, permanently useful prescription for dealing with panhandlers.

It’s this: Give them the money, and don’t worry about it.

The pope’s advice, from an interview with a Milan magazine published just before the beginning of Lent, is startlingly simple. It’sscripturally sound, yet possibly confounding, even subversive.

Living in the city — especially in metropolises where homelessness is an unsolved, unending crisis — means that at some point in your day, or week, a person seeming (or claiming) to be homeless, or suffering with a disability, will ask you for help.

You probably already have a panhandler policy.

You keep walking, or not. You give, or not. Loose coins, a dollar, or just a shake of the head. Your rule may be blanket, or case-by-case.

If it’s case by case, that means you have your own on-the-spot, individualized benefits program, with a bit of means-testing, mental health and character assessment, and criminal-background check — to the extent that any of this is possible from a second or two of looking someone up and down.

Francis’ solution eliminates that effort. But it is by no means effortless.

Speaking to the magazine Scarp de’ Tenis, which means Tennis Shoes, a monthly for and about the homeless and marginalized, the pope said that giving something to someone in need is “always right.” (We’re helped here by the translation in an article from Catholic News Service.)

But what if someone uses the money for, say, a glass of wine? (A perfectly Milanese question.) His answer: If “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s O.K. Instead, ask yourself, what do youdo on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?” Another way to look at it, he said, is to recognize how you are the “luckier” one, with a home, a spouse and children, and then ask why your responsibility to help should be pushed onto someone else.

Then he posed a greater challenge. He said the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands.

The reason is to preserve dignity, to see another person not as a pathology or a social condition, but as a human, with a life whose value is equal to your own. This message runs through Francis’ preaching and writings, which always seem to turn on the practical and personal, often citing the people he met and served as a parish priest in Argentina.

His teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics has infuriated some conservative critics who accuse him, unfairly, of elevating compassion over doctrine. His recent statements on refugees and immigrants are the global version of his panhandler remarks — a rebuke aimed directly at the rich nations of Europe and at the United States.

America is in the middle of a raging argument over poor outcasts. The president speaks of building walls and repelling foreigners. That toxic mind-set can be opposed in Washington, but it can also be confronted on the sidewalk. You don’t know what that guy will do with your dollar. Maybe you’d disapprove of what he does. Maybe compassion is the right call.

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The four K–12 education tech trends emerging in 2017.

Meghan Bogardus Cortez outlined her top four K-12 education trends for 2017. Meghan is an associate editor with EdTech: Focus on K–12. She enjoys following all the ways technology is constantly changing our world.

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K–12 Google Chromebook sales surpassing 51 percent. President Obama declaring that computer science is for all. An explosion of augmented reality and virtual reality. In 2016, teachers, administrators and students truly were on the front lines of incredible tech innovation.

The good news is that all of this new technology didn’t deter educators from dabbling and experimenting with it. For example, last year teachers said they were more comfortable using technology than ever before. Twenty-four percent of teachers surveyed by Education Week even said they considered themselves to be “risk takers” in terms of tech use.

Here are four education technology issues that took center stage in 2016 and are sure to be trending in 2017:

1. Creating Future-Ready Networks for Future-Ready Students

Preparing students for the tech-based workforce proved to be an ongoing impetus for the future of K–12 education. However, this requires an influx of technology, such as the massive one-to-one Chromebook deployment for example.

A robust infrastructure — including strong wireless networks — is a requirement for supporting and sustaining any updates to education technology. Building a strong, scalable network is the first step to establishing a future-ready school. But schools should always be ready to change both their thinking and their networks for whatever the future brings.

Conversations schools are having now can not only impact the ‘now,’ but also are part of the future.

Another component of getting students ready for the future is making sure they are using tech as they might in the real world. GK thinks this is a huge reason to create a ubiquitous network. However, this can also be done with a shifting of the curriculum.

With Common Core Standards requiring that students employ technology and use devices with tremendous computing power, K–12 schools are getting even closer to recreating the working environments of the real world.

2. Embracing Computer Science Education for All Students

President Obama began 2016 by declaring computer science education to be a huge priority for U.S. schools looking to prepare students for the digital economy.

“In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by … offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one,” the president said in his 2016 State of the Union address.

This program began as a means to address the lack of diversity in many tech fields.

Less than 10 percent of computer scientists are African-American or Hispanic, and only 18 percent of women major in computer science at colleges and universities, the National Science Foundation reveals.

Some educators have embraced computational thinking — thinking like a computer and using concepts of computer science to solve problems — with and without technology in order to demystify the topic for the youngest of students. Tech tools like the Minecraft: Education Edition have also given students the benefit of learning engineering skills through play.

The concept of computational thinking was also embraced by The College Board when they created AP Computer Science Principles, a high school course designed make the topic accessible for more students than ever before. The course, which launched last fall, experienced the largest AP course launch ever, with over 25,000 students participating.

3. The Power of Personalized Learning Through Tech

Technology has also allowed more teachers to provide a personalized learning experience for their students, something that New Media Consortium identified as a growing factor in embracing ed tech.

GK’s Jigsaw virtual learning platform is similar the the one used at Arlington Public Schools in suburban Washington, D.C., The platform offers the ability to collect data and get live feedback from students and teachers has fueled more engagement because students are able to choose how they learn.

The platform is the perfect tool to allow each student to take charge of his or her learning experience. Additionally, more accountability has provided better learning outcomes. Technology allows teachers to be in multiple places at a time.

4. The Virtual Future of Immersive Education

Thanks to the explosion in popularity of Pokémon Go last summer, augmented reality and virtual reality have been huge buzzwords in the education world this year.

A survey found that an overwhelming 85 percent of teachers think VR is beneficial for their classrooms, but only 2 percent are currently using it. Inroads are being made as more tools come out — and make VR application a real possibility. GK is creating its first VR music book and curriculum this year.

Pass The Pasta Please

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Carbohydrates, such as pasta and breads produce insulin in the blood stream, which in turn makes a chemical called tryptophan, which in turn produces serotonin. Serotonin puts the breaks on stress and tension and produces a calming effect.

When you eat some pasta for example, it calms your nerves and your mind becomes more focused. To achieve this effect, however, don’t combine these foods with protein-laden ones, because the process will be blocked.

If this is the case why are we Italians so high strung? We eat pasta or pizza virtually everyday. Imagine if we don’t get our pasta or pizza fix.

Geek Heaven, Akihabara.

I certainly miss the technology and gadgets that I encountered each day in Japan, Especially now that I am manufacturing tablet devices for education.

With broadband connections ten times faster than the U.S. and 90 percent of the population owning mobile phones, it is not surprising that Japan has its own “Electronic Town.”
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Called Akihabara, it is the center of “otaku” or geek culture in Tokyo.

In this “geek heaven” it is possible to buy anything from spy cameras to underground computer games.

“Tokyo is the hot bed for new electronics in the whole world,” said Serkan Toto, Japanese correspondent for the Tech Crunch news blog. “Japan is a very advanced technology-wise, it’s a nation of early adopters.” Japan’s electric town is a covered market stockpiled with any and every kind of electrical component a dedicated geek could dream of.

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Radio Street is a must for the hackers and makers among Japan’s cadre of geeks who are seeking components to start or finish a DIY electrical project.

“You can come here and build to your heart’s content,” says technology consultant Steve Nagata, who is also known as the “King of Akihabara”.

For Mr. Nagata, Japan’s long-standing obsession with technology springs from a wish to understand what is behind lots of gadgets.

“It comes from a deep interest in things around them and wanting to find out how things work and know what each component does,” said Mr Nagata.

Akihabara hosts more than just component shops. Finished goods are on sale too. Those willing to rummage can find anything from old radio tubes to audio recorders, high-end surveillance equipment and the low end too, such as a tie with a built-in camera.

“This is a very big part of Akihabara, the surveillance equipment with every kind of camera from professional grade to little teeny cameras that you can stick into all sorts of different things,” said Mr. Nagata.

The equipment itself is legal but how you use it may definitely run afoul of certain restrictions”. “You really never do know when someone is watching you,” he added.

As might be expected Akihabara reflects the thriving underground, homemade software culture in Japan.

“This is a garage software industry for anyone from individuals to small clubs or a company that produce and sell unlicensed software,” said Mr. Nagata. “There are exact look-alikes to completely original software, this stuff is just as impressive as major console software.”

The products cost less than the titles from the major gaming brands but, said Mr. Nagata, making money is not the main aim for the folk behind the software.

“This is very much a labor of love, something that they do out of their affection towards a particular character or style of gaming,” said Mr. Nagata. “It’s their attempt to fill the world with something that they want to exist in it”

Have You Heard of the Five-Second Rule?

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Have you ever heard of the five-second rule, where you can pick up food that has fallen on the floor within five seconds and eat it without risk of illness? Do you follow it?

I do after living in Bangkok and eating at every street vendor in the city I guess either I have a death wish or I am immune to almost any bacteria…after all consider eating an M&M after hitting my floor in Atlanta versus eating fried grasshoppers on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok…which would have the higher health risk?

In 2003, a then science intern at the University of Illinois, Jillian Clarke, conducted a survey and found that slightly more than half of adult men and 70 percent of adult women knew about the five-second rule and many said they followed it. Clarke then conducted an experiment to find out if various food became contaminated with bacteria after just five seconds on the floor.

For performing this first test of the five-second rule, Clarke was awarded the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize in public health by the Annals of Improbable Research. Why didn’t I perform that test?

Clarke’s study inspired another research group at Clemson University to investigate several questions regarding the five-second rule: Does the type of contaminated surface affect the numbers of bacteria collected? How many bacteria does a food item collect in just five seconds? Does it collect more if it sits on the contaminated surface longer? Does it collect enough to make you sick?

To answer these questions, a Clemson team conducted several experiments of floor-to-food contamination. I won’t bore you with the details but they found that the type of contaminated surface affected the number of bacteria that the food slices took up, and the length of time that the food remained on the contaminated surface did affect the numbers of bacteria they absorbed.

Apparently, this amount of bacteria is potentially enough to cause illness in people; the infectious dose — the smallest number of bacteria that can actually cause illness — is as few as 10 for some Salmonellas.

But consider that Clarke, the original investigator, found that bacterial contamination was so low on the floor at the University of Illinois that it couldn’t be measured, unlike the levels of contamination that the Clemson group were using for their studies not to mention my living experiments in Bangkok.

So the likelihood that a cookie, quickly picked off the floor and consumed, can make you ill, is somewhat remote, but it is a factor worth considering if you are in an area where there could be significant levels of bacteria present like Soi 12 in Bangkok.

Teaching Young Kids a Second Language

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Remember high school? In Catholic school you had to choose either Latin or Spanish. I thought, “What in the world could I do with Latin?”  I was fortunate to take both and of course now in retrospect Spanish turned out to be very useful.

Today, enlightened school systems know better. Second languages are introduced in elementary school. Little kids do learn more easily than high school students.

But current research says to really do it right, start even earlier. Start when the child is learning a first language when kids have an astonishing ability to absorb. And in today’s complex world, a second language is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

We know now that studying a second language offers surprising benefits to children. There appear to demonstrate an improved ability to communicate, have better cognitive development, richer cultural awareness and, ultimately let’s face it, better job opportunities for those who know a second language.

Research suggests that from birth through age 10 is the best time to introduce new languages to a young child. The child will learn the language faster, retain it better and most often speak it with near-native pronunciation. Recent research indicates a young child up through age 5 can learn and process up to five languages!

Many parents deliberate over how to bring a new language into their little one’s life. Many experts agree the bilingual approach for the very young child is best. Teach the new language alongside the native language. It’s as easy as pointing to a cat and saying “cat” then following with “gato.”

This bilingual method provides continuing education in the child’s native tongue while acquiring skills in the new one. Language experts agree the strong sense of pride, higher self-esteem and long term retention are all reasons to introduce the new language with this bilingual/dual-language approach.

Both Time and Newsweek ran feature articles on the “window of opportunity” to learn a new language is between birth and age 10. The experts agree, the earlier the better. Don’t miss out on the prime time of your child’s development to provide your child with a lifetime of language skills. Remember to start early!