News for Nerds - The Mathematical Edition

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  • Posted by: Dom Testa|
  • 3/29/2013 |
  • 10:00 am
News for Nerds - The Mathematical Edition

Welcome back to News for Nerds! This week we'll get an up-close look at a two-headed shark, we'll reveal the science of addictive video games, and we'll brew some beer. But first, here are your headlines.

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If you've got young kids in school, pay attention to this first story. Several new studies have shown that what children know about numbers as they start first grade seems to play a pretty big role in how they handle typical, everyday calculations later in life.

We're not just talking about the skills necessary to become an engineer or an accountant, either. The ability to calculate a tip, to anticipate change from a cashier, and other daily computations, tends to correlate strongly with something called 'number system knowledge' -- basically, the fundamental math skills that we learn early on, and which we build on throughout life.

One study involved a group of seventh-graders from Missouri. In it, the students who struggled with core math skills were the same ones who'd shown the least number sense as first-graders. In other words, according to one expert, "they're not catching up."

Some of these skills seem to be hard-wired, but there are external factors, too. In much the same way that preschoolers who learn the names of letters and who can identify the sound each letter makes are more likely to grow up to be strong readers, getting an early start with number system knowledge matters.

A few tips: Attach numbers to a noun rather than simply reciting them (as in, "Here are two crayons, three crayons, four crayons," etc.); discuss distance ("How many steps to the mailbox?"); and make a point to actively show children how math is a part of everyday life ("This recipe calls for two liters of milk, but we only have cups. Here's how we convert it.")

- from USA Today

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And now, we shall discuss the irritating (but less devastating) problem of earworms.

An earworm, as you probably know, is any song that gets stuck in your head for an extended period of time. At first you're just walking around humming it a little, but over time, you realize it's lodged inside your head pretty snugly. By the 500th time you catch yourself singing Suit and Tie or, God forbid, the Pina Colada Song, no solution seems too extreme.

Lucky for you, then, that the best trick for getting rid of that earworm is actually pretty simple -- and pretty cool.

Scientists at Western Washington University found that solving puzzles, especially word or number puzzles, is a pretty effective way to combat the problem. For example, they found that five-letter anagrams are particularly helpful. Sudoku can also work, but as with anagrams, it's important to pick something that isn't too easy or too difficult.

If you pick a task too simple, you're not really using enough cognitive space to drown out the white noise. Too tough, and your brain will not be engaged successfully, leaving room for that pesky tune to creep back in.

"It is like a Goldilocks effect," says the music psychologist who led the study. "It's can't be too easy and it can't be too hard, it has to be just right."

- from The Telegraph (UK)

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And here are a few other science stories that you might enjoy:

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That's all for now! I'll be back with more News for Nerds next week, but be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and to sign up for the free e-Newsletter so that you can properly get your nerd on every single month! And please send any juicy News for Nerds tips to me right here!

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