Sunday, March 31, 2024

Lessons from sports psychology research

Scientists are probing the head games that influence athletic performance, from coaching to coping with pressure

Since the early years of this century, it has been commonplace for computerized analyses of athletic statistics to guide a baseball manager’s choice of pinch hitter, a football coach’s decision to punt or pass, or a basketball team’s debate over whether to trade a star player for a draft pick.

But many sports experts who actually watch the games know that the secret to success is not solely in computer databases, but also inside the players’ heads. So perhaps psychologists can offer as much insight into athletic achievement as statistics gurus do.

Sports psychology has, after all, been around a lot longer than computer analytics. Psychological studies of sports appeared as early as the late 19th century. During the 1970s and ’80s, sports psychology became a fertile research field. And within the last decade or so, sports psychology research has exploded, as scientists have explored the nuances of everything from the pursuit of perfection to the harms of abusive coaching.

“Sport pervades cultures, continents, and indeed many facets of daily life,” write Mark Beauchamp, Alan Kingstone and Nikos Ntoumanis, authors of an overview of sports psychology research in the 2023 Annual Review of Psychology.

Their review surveys findings from nearly 150 papers investigating various psychological influences on athletic performance and success. “This body of work sheds light on the diverse ways in which psychological processes contribute to athletic strivings,” the authors write. Such research has the potential not only to enhance athletic performance, they say, but also to provide insights into psychological influences on success in other realms, from education to the military. Psychological knowledge can aid competitive performance under pressure, help evaluate the benefit of pursuing perfection and assess the pluses and minuses of high self-confidence.

Confidence and choking

In sports, high self-confidence (technical term: elevated self-efficacy belief) is generally considered to be a plus. As baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan once said, “You have to have a lot of confidence to be successful in this game.” Many a baseball manager would agree that a batter who lacks confidence against a given pitcher is unlikely to get to first base.

Various studies suggest that self-talk can increase confidence, enhance focus, control emotions and initiate effective actions.

And in fact, a lot of psychological research actually supports that view, suggesting that encouraging self-confidence is a beneficial strategy. Yet while confident athletes do seem to perform better than those afflicted with self-doubt, some studies hint that for a given player, excessive confidence can be detrimental. Artificially inflated confidence, unchecked by honest feedback, may cause players to “fail to allocate sufficient resources based on their overestimated sense of their capabilities,” Beauchamp and colleagues write. In other words, overconfidence may result in underachievement.

Other work shows that high confidence is usually most useful in the most challenging situations (such as attempting a 60-yard field goal), while not helping as much for simpler tasks (like kicking an extra point).

Of course, the ease of kicking either a long field goal or an extra point depends a lot on the stress of the situation. With time running out and the game on the line, a routine play can become an anxiety-inducing trial by fire. Psychological research, Beauchamp and coauthors report, has clearly established that athletes often exhibit “impaired performance under pressure-invoking situations” (technical term: “choking”).

In general, stress impairs not only the guidance of movements but also perceptual ability and decision-making. On the other hand, it’s also true that certain elite athletes perform best under high stress. “There is also insightful evidence that some of the most successful performers actually seek out, and thrive on, anxiety-invoking contexts offered by high-pressure sport,” the authors note. Just ask Michael Jordan or LeBron James.

Many studies have investigated the psychological coping strategies that athletes use to maintain focus and ignore distractions in high-pressure situations. One popular method is a technique known as the “quiet eye.” A basketball player attempting a free throw is typically more likely to make it by maintaining “a longer and steadier gaze” at the basket before shooting, studies have demonstrated.

“In a recent systematic review of interventions designed to alleviate so-called choking, quiet-eye training was identified as being among the most effective approaches,” Beachamp and coauthors write.

Another common stress-coping method is “self-talk,” in which players utter instructional or motivational phrases to themselves in order to boost performance. Saying “I can do it” or “I feel good” can self-motivate a marathon runner, for example. Saying “eye on the ball” might help a baseball batter get a hit.

Researchers have found moderate benefits of self-talk strategies for both novices and experienced athletes, Beauchamp and colleagues report. Various studies suggest that self-talk can increase confidence, enhance focus, control emotions and initiate effective actions.

Moderate performance benefits have also been reported for other techniques for countering stress, such as biofeedback, and possibly meditation and relaxation training.

“It appears that stress regulation interventions represent a promising means of supporting athletes when confronted with performance-related stressors,” Beauchamp and coauthors conclude.

Pursuing athletic perfection

Of course, sports psychology encompasses many other issues besides influencing confidence and coping with pressure. Many athletes set a goal of attaining perfection, for example, but such striving can induce detrimental psychological pressures. One analysis found that athletes pursuing purely personal high standards generally achieved superior performance. But when perfectionism was motivated by fear of criticism from others, performance suffered.

Similarly, while some coaching strategies can aid a player’s performance, several studies have shown that abusive coaching can detract from performance, even for the rest of an athlete’s career.

Beauchamp and his collaborators conclude that a large suite of psychological factors and strategies can aid athletic success. And these factors may well be applicable to other areas of human endeavor where choking can impair performance (say, while performing brain surgery or flying a fighter jet).

But the authors also point out that researchers shouldn’t neglect the need to consider that in sports, performance is also affected by the adversarial nature of competition. A pitcher’s psychological strategies that are effective against most hitters might not fare so well against Shohei Ohtani, for instance.

Besides that, sports psychology studies (much like computer-based analytics) rely on statistics. As Adolphe Quetelet, a pioneer of social statistics, emphasized in the 19th century, statistics do not define any individual — average life expectancy cannot tell you when any given person will die. On the other hand, he noted, no single exceptional case invalidates the general conclusions from sound statistical analysis.

Sports are, in fact, all about the quest of the individual (or a team) to defeat the opposition. Success often requires defying the odds — which is why gambling on athletic events is such a big business. Sports consist of contests between the averages and the exceptions, and neither computer analytics nor psychological science can tell you in advance who is going to win. That’s why they play the games.


Many travel nurses opt for temporary assignments because of the autonomy and opportunities − not just the big boost in pay

Ivan Gan, University of Houston-Downtown

Travel nurses take short-term contracts that can require long commutes or temporarily living away from home. Time and again, they have to get used to new co-workers, new protocols and new workplaces.

So why would staff nurses quit their stable jobs to become travel nurses?

Well, for one, they get bigger paychecks. But U.S. nurses have other rationales besides making more money, according to a study I conducted.

To do this research, I interviewed 27 registered nurses based in different places.

Many of the people I interviewed disclosed that they left permanent positions to combat burnout. Although they welcomed the bump in pay, travel nursing also gave them the autonomy to decide when and where to work. That autonomy allowed them to pursue personal and professional interests that were meaningful to them, and it made some of the other hassles, such as long commutes, worth it.

On top of earning more money, travel nursing “gives you an opportunity to explore different areas,” said a nurse I’ll call Cynthia, because research rules require anonymity. “When you actually live there for three months, it gives you a chance to really immerse yourself in the area and really get to know not just the touristy stuff, but really hang out with the locals and really be exposed to that area.”

Other study participants said they enjoyed the novelty and educational opportunities.

“You don’t get bored or stuck in a routine,” Michelle said. “You’re always trying to learn new policies at the new hospital that you’re in, learning about the new doctors, nursing staff, new ways of doing things, where things are located. That helps keep me from feeling burned out so quickly.”

Said Patricia: “I want to see how other operating rooms across the country do things and how they do things differently. I do learn a lot of things going from place to place.”

Man in scrubs looks out the window with some trepidation in his eyes.
Travel nurses move around a lot but also find upsides to that mobility. Elaine Cromie/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Why it matters

A growing number of U.S. nurses were obtaining temporary assignments before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But travel nursing became much more widespread in 2020, when hospitals were scrambling to keep their staffing levels high enough as millions of Americans were becoming infected with the coronavirus, straining capacity in many communities.

While compensation varies widely, the median pay of registered nurses in 2022 was US$81,220, about 35% less than the $110,000 that registered nurses who traveled earned.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel nurses could earn an even bigger premium. Many were paid twice as much as staff nurses.

Once the number of Americans with severe symptoms fell, that premium declined too. But there are still over 1.7 million travel nurses in the U.S. Hiring them is one of the main ways that hospitals cope with a long-term shortage of nurses.

But nurses with permanent jobs can get aggravated by this arrangement when they learn how much more travel nurses earn for doing the same work, as I found through another research project.

What other research is being done

Research supports a widely reported trend: More Americans have temporary jobs and freelance employment than in the past.

While travel nurses can help hospitals, nursing homes and doctors’ offices meet staffing needs, there are signs that patients don’t always fare as well with their care.

And a Canadian study found that when hospitals let staff nurses work part time and offer other alternative arrangements, their retention rates may rise.

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.The Conversation

Ivan Gan, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, University of Houston-Downtown

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Get Creative with Easter Sweets

Kid-friendly crafts that bring loved ones together

Holiday hams and deviled eggs may take center stage at Easter gatherings, but edible crafts offer a reminder of the magic of the season that’s found in moments spent together. Simple recipes that call for a dose of creativity are perfect ways to bring the kids to the kitchen, made even easier when all that work leads to sweet treats.

While plastic eggs may have led to a decline in good, old-fashioned egg-dyeing, there are still fun ways to bring crafts back to Easter celebrations. Consider these Kids Krafty Easter Cake Pops, which call for little ones to help dip seasonal shapes in chocolate, use cake molds and more.

Children of virtually any age can relish in the joys of using cookie cutters and decorating Easter Sugar Cookies, all with a little supervision and short list of instructions. This version shows how to make the cookies and homemade icing so you can create any color you desire for maximum creativity.

Remember, these delicious crafts don’t have to be perfect – having fun and making memories that last a lifetime are what make Easter truly special.

Visit to find more Easter inspiration and recipes from “Cookin’ Savvy.”

Kids Krafty Easter Cake Pops

Recipe courtesy of "Cookin' Savvy"

  • 1 box cake mix
  • 1 can frosting
  • 1 bunny chocolate mold
  • 1 cakesicle mold
  • ice pop sticks
  • 1 bag white chocolate chips or melting chips
  • cake pop sticks
  • 1 bag orange melting chips
  • 2 tablespoons canola or coconut oil, divided
  • 1 bag green melting chips
  • pastel sprinkles
  • 1 piece hard foam (optional)
  • edible markers
  1. Bake cake according to package instructions and let cool completely.
  2. Crumble cake and mix with 1/2 can frosting until dough forms. Add more frosting, if needed. Using small cookie scoop, form dough into balls and set aside. Place dough in bunny molds then pop out and set aside with balls. Place dough in cakesicle mold, insert ice pop stick in each slot and freeze 5-10 minutes.
  3. Melt handful of white melting chips. Stick tip of each cake pop stick in chocolate then insert into every cake ball and bunny until each has one stick. Set aside to dry.
  4. Remove cakesicles from freezer and pop out of molds. In bowl, melt orange melts then mix in 1 tablespoon oil and transfer to cup. Dip cakesicles and scrape off excess using rim of cup. Place on parchment paper to dry.
  5. In bowl, melt green melts then place in zip-top or piping bag. Cut tip off bag, pipe carrot leaves onto piece of parchment paper and let dry.
  6. Melt remaining white melts and mix in remaining oil. Transfer to cup and dip ball-shaped cake pops and bunnies then tap stick on edge of cup to remove excess.
  7. Over separate bowl, sprinkle ball-shaped pops with pastel sprinkles. To keep ball shape, let dry by sticking in piece of hard foam. Bunnies can dry face side up on parchment paper. After bunnies are dry, use edible markers to make face and color in ears.
  8. When carrots and leaves are dry, remelt orange melts and place in piping or zip-top bag. Cut off tip and drizzle orange over carrots. Add small line of orange on each ice pop stick and place leaves on each stick. Let dry.

Easter Sugar Cookies

Recipe courtesy of "Cookin' Savvy"


  • 1/3 cup meringue powder
  • 1/2 cup warm water, plus additional for thinning (optional), divided
  • 3 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1 bag (2 pounds) powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • assorted food coloring


  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 dash salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  1. To make icing: Mix meringue powder, 1/2 cup warm water, vanilla, powdered sugar and corn syrup. Separate into bowls and add food coloring; mix with water, as needed, to thin for piping.
  2. To make cookies: Heat oven to 350 F.
  3. Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg, vanilla, baking powder and salt. Mix in flour 1 cup at a time to form dough. Roll dough out to 1/4-1/2-inch thickness.
  4. Cut into shapes, place on baking sheet and freeze 10 minutes. Bake 8-12 minutes. Cool completely before icing.
  5. Place icing in zip-top or piping bags and cut off tips. Put cookies on parchment paper. Trace outline first then fill in middle. Use toothpicks to smooth out.
  6. Let dry 6 hours and finish decorating with different icing colors or edible markers.



Thursday, March 28, 2024

Walk Your Way to Better Health

A walk is not just good for your body, it’s also good for your soul. Physical activity, like walking, is one of the best ways to reduce stress and boost your mood. However, reports show walking rates are declining steadily in the United States.

On average, 1 out of every 4 U.S. adults sits for longer than eight hours each day, per research from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which can have negative consequences on physical and mental health. Regular exercise improves mood, boosts energy and can even help you sleep better. Staying active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy.

Consider this advice from the American Heart Association, which has worked for decades to promote policies and strategies that make it easier for communities to get and stay active. One example is National Walking Day on April 3, established by the organization to encourage people to move more throughout the day so they can feel, think, sleep and live better.

Indeed, adding more movement can benefit your body and mind in numerous ways, such as:

Lowering disease risk. Getting the recommended amount of physical activity (at least 150 minutes of moderate, 75 minutes of vigorous or a combination of those activities per week) is linked to lower risk of diseases, stronger bones and muscles, improved mental health and cognitive function and lower risk of depression, according to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.

Increasing sunlight exposure. Outdoor exercise is an easy way to get moving and take in the sunlight, which can improve mood, boost immunity and help you get some vitamin D. Spending time outdoors is a no-cost option and has been shown to reduce stress, promote a sense of belonging and improve mood.

Improving cognitive and mental function. Physical activity keeps your mind sharp now and later. Studies show higher fitness levels are linked to better attention, learning, working memory and problem solving. What’s more, a study published in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” shows people who get the recommended amount of physical activity are less likely to develop depression.

Living longer. Healthy life expectancy can be positively impacted by increasing activity. According to research published in the “American Journal of Epidemiology,” swapping just 30 minutes of sitting with low-intensity physical activity reduced risk of death by 17%.

Get moving to reduce your stress and step into better health. Learn more at

Get Inspired to Get Moving

A little creativity can go a long way to make your walk more fun. You might think of walking as a solo activity, but a companion makes it even more enjoyable. Ask colleagues, friends or family to join you.

A walk is a perfect excuse to take a break from a long day at your desk. If you work remotely, take a conference call on the go or plan your walk as a reward for completing a project.

Use your walk as a guilt-free opportunity to listen to a new audiobook or create a walking soundtrack of your favorite upbeat music.

Mix up your scenery. Taking new routes keeps your walks interesting and helps prevent boredom from traveling the same predictable path.

If you need an extra nudge to get moving, a pet may help you get fit. Dog parents are more likely to reach their fitness goals than those without canine companions. In fact, according to the “Journal of Physical Activity & Health,” dog parents are 34% more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking a week than non-dog owners. Pets can also help lower stress, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar and boost your overall happiness and well-being.

American Heart Association

Celebrate Spring with Brunch Favorites

Few things go together quite like fresh spring air, warm sunshine and a menu made up of delicious brunch bites. Whether you’re hosting a crowd or simply gathering your loved ones around the family table for quality time together, a menu of morning favorites can appease appetites of all kinds.

From sweet to savory and back again, you can turn your mid-morning meal into a full-blown feast with a menu made up of pleasing dishes such as this French Toast Casserole, which can serve as a make-ahead twist on the breakfast classic; customizable Breakfast Burritos that pack a protein punch; and a bite-sized treat like Double Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins for a sweet finishing touch to any brunch occasion.

Find more recipes to inspire your next brunch menu at

Warm Up with a Fresh Casserole

An exciting twist on a breakfast classic, it’s hard to beat this French Toast Casserole when putting together your brunch spread. Crisp on top while soft and moist in the middle, it comes fresh out of the oven with the aroma of maple syrup and pecans that will have the whole house eager for a bite. It’s easy enough to make fresh in the morning but can also be prepared the night before so all you have to do is add the topping and pop it in the oven.

French Toast Casserole

  • 1 loaf French bread (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened milk
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • maple syrup, for serving


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • confectioners' sugar, for dusting
  1. Grease 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place bread cubes in baking dish. In large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour mixture evenly over bread cubes.
  2. If making casserole ahead, cover baking dish and refrigerate overnight. If baking immediately, let stand 30 minutes at room temperature to allow bread to soak up egg mixture.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  4. To make topping: Drizzle casserole with melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar and pecans. Top with strawberries and blueberries.
  5. Cover and bake 35 minutes then uncover and bake 10-20 minutes, or until topping is browned and egg mixture has mostly set.
  6. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve with maple syrup.

Brunch with a Powerful Punch

When you’re craving something hearty and rich, switch up your brunch habits with wholesome and filling Breakfast Burritos. With protein to keep you full, veggies for a touch of added nutrition and hot sauce to pack a powerful punch of flavor in every bite, this hearty recipe will keep you full and bursting with energy until your next meal. Plus, they’re easy to make in a matter of minutes and totally customizable to accommodate every palate.

Breakfast Burritos

Servings: 4

  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • 4 flour tortillas
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup salsa
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • hot sauce (optional)
  1. In large skillet, heat canola oil over medium heat. Add red onion and red bell pepper; cook 8 minutes. Add black beans and red pepper flakes; cook 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer to dish.
  2. In medium bowl, whisk eggs and egg whites. Stir in cheese until combined. Heat large skillet over low heat, add egg mixture and scramble 3 minutes, or until cooked through.
  3. Spread sour cream over tortilla. Spread salsa over sour cream. Spoon 1/4 bean mixture over salsa. Spoon 1/4 scrambled eggs over bean mixture. Top with diced tomatoes and avocado. Drizzle with hot sauce, if desired. Roll-up burrito. Repeat three times with remaining ingredients and serve.

Bite-Sized Chocolate Delights

Flavorful French toast, filling breakfast burritos and favorite fruits make a feast to look forward to, but no brunch spread is complete without a chocolatey bite to cap off the meal. In fact, make it a double.

These Double Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins offer a combination of two kinds of rich chocolate complemented by the caramel notes of C&H Light Brown Sugar for an irresistible dessert in bite-sized form. Tiny, tasty treats are a perfect way to send guests off with one sweet final bite.

Visit to find more delectable dessert recipes.

Double Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

Muffin Batter:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 banana
  • 14 frozen strawberries
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line mini muffin pan with mini cupcake liners.
  2. In large mixing bowl, use whisk to combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add chocolate chips and stir to ensure chocolate chips are coated in flour mixture.
  3. In separate large mixing bowl, use wire whisk to whisk eggs and sugars until ingredients are combined and sugars are dissolved. Add sour cream, oil and milk. Whisk again to combine. If using espresso powder, add to vanilla then add to wet ingredients. Whisk vanilla espresso mixture into other liquid ingredients.
  4. Pour liquid ingredients on top of dry ingredients. Using rubber spatula, mix until just combined, being careful to not overmix. Batter should be thick and shiny.
  5. Using tablespoon or two spoons, spoon muffin batter into liners. Batter should be filled almost to top of each liner. Top each muffin with flaked sea salt before baking, if desired.
  6. Bake muffins on center rack 6 minutes. Rotate pan and bake 6 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in muffin comes out clean. Once muffins finish baking, place muffin pan on cooling rack to cool completely.



Schools can close summer learning gaps with these 4 strategies

Rhea Almeida, New York University

When it comes to summer learning, the benefits are well documented. Students who consistently attend well-planned, high-quality programs achieve higher scores on math and language arts testing. They also earn higher ratings from teachers on their social and emotional skills, research shows. Unfortunately, research also shows that students from low-income and minority backgrounds are less likely to attend – and benefit from – summer learning programs than their affluent and white peers.

Summer learning can play a crucial role in helping these students – and all kids – recover learning lost during the pandemic. The federal government has also acknowledged the importance of summer learning through its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER. The fund infused states with nearly US$190.5 billion, with 20% allocated to academic recovery, including summer programs.

So how can school districts capitalize on the crucial summer months and make learning more equitable?

In partnership with the Wallace Foundation and the District Summer Learning Network implemented by the nonprofit development organization FHI 360, our team at the Center for Policy, Research, and Evaluation at New York University is studying how districts implement high-quality summer programs with an eye toward equity. We analyzed 2022 summer planning documents from 26 districts and identified four strategies they’re using to make the programs more equitable.

1. Strategically target students

Of the summer learning plans we analyzed, we found that half prioritized students who need academic or behavioral support. Additionally, 42% mentioned English-language learners, and 35% mentioned students with disabilities.

Other distinct groups included low-income students, migrants, racial and ethnic minorities and gifted and talented students. Among districts that prioritized special groups, almost all of them included more than one group in their strategic outreach.

Which students get served in summer learning programs, and how they are served, has implications for equity. For instance, research has found that middle-income students often benefit more from summer learning programs than lower-income students.

This could be because high-quality programs tend to serve higher-income students, which raises concerns that summer learning programs may actually increase the summer gap if they are not targeted. High-quality programs that target lower-income students and other minority students can move the needle toward equity.

2. Reduce barriers to access

For students to access programs outside of the regular school day in an equitable way, simple accommodations, such as transportation, are key.

Several district summer learning plans we analyzed went above and beyond academics. They provided not just transportation but also free and nutritious meals, outreach material in different languages and extended day care services to support working families.

3. Design courses for specific student populations

Students learn best when they feel a sense of safety and belonging. By affirming and nurturing the unique identities of students, districts can make summer programming more equitable and accelerate learning. Research shows, for instance, that summer supports for English-language learners are key for their overall academic development.

Some districts tailored their programming to the individual interests and cultural needs of their students. For example, three districts – in both urban and rural communities – provided language classes for English-language learners, including adults.

Another district designed an arts program for students to explore and celebrate their culture. The program featured programming around ethnic and racial identities.

Despite a shortage of teacher applicants across the country, some districts also made efforts to hire teachers who are not only effective and well credentialed but also reflect the demographics of the student body they serve.

4. Engage families in planning and programming

Some districts held regular family education sessions to provide updates about student needs and progress. Some also engaged families by offering information sessions on topics such as immigration and health.

Programs that include the whole family or community are particularly helpful for racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse populations and families in rural areas, where young people have limited access to adults other than their caregivers.

When parents are included in the planning process, programs can be designed to better fit their schedules. This might mean districts offer full-day, six-week camps to support children throughout the summer while their parents work. This type of arrangement makes it more likely that kids will be able to attend summer programs – and stave off summer learning loss.

These four approaches help make summer learning programs more culturally responsive, accessible and inclusive. Over the next two years, our research will dive deeper into how districts strengthen equity-based practices and strategies to sustain them long term.The Conversation

Rhea Almeida, Research Project Manager, NYU Metro Center, New York University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The growing link between microbes, mood and mental health

New research suggests that to maintain a healthy brain, we should tend our gut microbiome. The best way to do that right now is not through pills and supplements, but better food.

It is increasingly well understood that the countless microbes in our guts help us to digest our food, to absorb and produce essential nutrients, and to prevent harmful organisms from settling in. Less intuitive — perhaps even outlandish — is the idea that those microbes may also affect our mood, our mental health and how we perform on cognitive tests. But there is mounting evidence that they do.

For nearly two decades, neuroscientist John Cryan of University College Cork in Ireland has been uncovering ways in which intestinal microbes affect the brain and behavior of humans and other animals. To his surprise, many of the effects he’s seen in rodents appear to be mirrored in our own species. Most remarkably, research by Cryan and others has shown that transplanting microbes from the guts of people with psychiatric disorders like depression to the guts of rodents can cause comparable symptoms in the animals.

These effects may occur in several ways — through the vagus nerve connecting the gut to the brain, through the influence of gut bacteria on our immune systems, or by microbes synthesizing molecules that our nerve cells use to communicate. Cryan and coauthors summarize the science in a set of articles including “Man and the Microbiome: A New Theory of Everything?,” published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. Cryan told Knowable Magazine that even though it will take much more research to pin down the mechanisms and figure out how to apply the insights, there are some things we can do already.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

“Man and the Microbiome: A New Theory of Everything?” — with all due respect, isn’t that a wee bit ambitious?

That title is admittedly a bit overstated. But the point we are trying to make is that it isn’t really so odd that the microbiome is involved in everything, because the microbes were there first, and so our species has evolved in their presence. We have been able to show that growing up in a germ-free environment really affects the development of the mouse brain, for example, in a variety of ways.

Our immune system is also completely shaped by microbial signals. Via that route, inflammation in our gut can affect our mood and cause symptoms of sickness behavior that are quite similar to important aspects of depression and anxiety. Many psychiatric disorders are also known to be associated with various gastrointestinal issues, though cause and effect often aren’t clear yet. So if you study the body, including the brain, you ignore microbes at your own peril.

Most people are on board with the idea that gut microbes affect our health, but it may be more difficult to accept that they also influence how we feel and think. How did you convince yourself this was true?

I’m a stress neurobiologist, so I was trained in stress-related disorders like depression and anxiety, and my interest was really in using animal models of stress to look for novel therapeutic strategies.

When I moved to University College Cork in 2005, I met a clinical researcher, Ted Dinan, and we started working together to study irritable bowel syndrome, a very common disorder that is characterized by alterations in bowel habits and abdominal pain.

That was interesting to me, as it had become very clear that this is also a stress-related disorder. So we started working on an animal model called the maternal separation model, where rat pups are separated from their moms early in life and develop a stress-like syndrome when they grow up.

Siobhain O’Mahony, a graduate student at the time, also wanted to look at the microbiome, and I remember telling her, “No! Focus, focus!” But she went ahead anyway and found a signature of this early-life stress in the microbiome of adult rats. That was kind of a eureka moment for me.

The next part of the puzzle came when we showed that mice born in a germ-free environment have an exaggerated stress response when they grow up. So we’d already shown that stress was affecting the microbiome, and now we’d shown that the microbiome is regulating how a mouse responds to stress. It turned out that a very nice study from Japan had already shown this.

The third part of the puzzle for me was to ask whether we could alter the microbiome to alleviate some of the effects of stress. In 2011, we were able to show that a specific strain of the bacterium Lactobacillus, when given to normal, healthy mice in a stressful situation, was able to dampen down the stress response, and that the vagus nerve connecting the gut to the brain was required for that.

These three things together, from 2006 to 2011, really crystallized my interest in the link between the gut microbiome, brain and behavior. Since then, we’ve been on this magical journey to try and understand these discoveries, uncover the mechanisms and find how they translate to humans.

Can you explain what a depressed or anxious mouse looks like, and how you quantify that?

One way to look at fear is to quantify how often mice venture into wide open areas, which they normally avoid. If we give a mouse Valium or another anxiety-reducing drug, it will go out and explore and be carefree, not to say a bit reckless. Depression is often studied by looking at mice in a cylinder of water. They are good swimmers, but they don’t like swimming, so after a while, they’ll stop and adopt an immobile posture. Yet if you give them antidepressant drugs, they keep going.

These types of paradigms have shown their validity in studies of pharmacological agents used in human psychiatry, and so they’re ideal to explore whether microbiome manipulations have similar effects. This can be done by transplanting the microbes from a mouse model for a psychiatric disease to a healthy mouse to see whether that creates similar issues, or vice versa, to see if it can resolve them.

Following a similar logic, we have shown that the microbiome can be important in brain aging and cognitive decline. We took the microbiome from eight-week-old mice and gave it to 22-month-old animals — these are very old mice. And we were able to show wide-scale changes across the body — in the microbiome and the immune system, but also in the hippocampus, a brain structure involved in memory.

In the old animals that received the microbiome from young ones, the hippocampus looked completely rejuvenated in its chemical composition. They also performed significantly better in mazes designed to test their memory. This finding has now been replicated in two other labs, giving it further credence.

Such experiments are difficult if not impossible to do in people. How to make that jump?

One thing we can do is to transplant microbes from the guts of people with psychiatric disorders to rodents, to see if they cause comparable behaviors. This has now been done for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, social anxiety disorder and even Alzheimer’s disease. In one of our own studies, we transferred fecal microbiota from depressed patients to a rat model. This resulted in behavior reminiscent of that in rat models for depression, such as increased anxiety and an uninterest in rewards, in addition to inflammation.

In addition, we can see if bacterial strains we’ve identified as troublemakers in rodents also occur in people with psychiatric issues, and if strains that are beneficial in rodents can help humans as well.

What I’d really like to do is follow a large group of healthy people for a couple of years and track their mental and brain health as well as the changes in their microbiome, and regularly transplant their gut microbes into mice. This would give us a much better view on how this relationship evolves.

Do you think some of the probiotics available in stores today might be helpful, or not quite?

In my opinion, many so-called probiotics aren’t probiotics at all. Probiotics, per definition, are live microorganisms that, when taken in adequate amounts, can confer a health benefit. Most of what’s for sale in shops would never meet that criterion. To demonstrate that something confers a health benefit, you need clinical trials to show it is more effective than a placebo. That’s the first thing. Second, you have to show that the microbes are alive, and that they can survive the stomach acid.

There have been properly randomized controlled trials for some products. But for most products available over the counter today, such studies haven’t been done, because the regulatory authorities do not require them for probiotics as they would for medicines.

There’s a lot of snake oil out there. For most people, it’s probably harmless, but if you are immunosuppressed, it could be dangerous: Even beneficial bacteria can cause great harm if your immune system does not function properly.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are many promising findings, but this field is very much in its infancy. I’m much more enthusiastic right now about whole-food approaches that adjust people’s diets to include more fermented foods — a source of beneficial bacteria — and the fibers that many beneficial members of our microbiome need to survive. And this, everyone can already do.

Have you done any experiments that show such a diet can improve mental health?

We’ve just done a small study with what we call a psychobiotic diet. Kirsten Berding, a German dietician who did a post-doc in my group, took a group of people with bad diets who were stress-sensitive — namely, our student population — and put them on a one-month diet to really ramp up fermented foods and fibers to the benefit of the microbiome. What we showed was that the better individuals followed the diet, the greater the reduction in stress.

The study wasn’t perfectly blinded, because people knew what they were eating, but they didn’t know what they were eating it for. And this was just the beginning: We’re now doing a much longer study trying to really untangle this.

We’ve also done a small randomly controlled study with a polydextrose fiber that was shown to improve the performance of healthy volunteers on a range of cognitive tests.

Obviously, more work of this kind is necessary. But in this case, I don’t think we should wait for that. Think about the experiment where we’ve transplanted microbes from young to old mice, for example: I’m not advertising poop transplants for aging adults. What we’ve found is that the more diverse your diet, the more diverse your microbiome, and the better your health when you get old. If you look at the beige, bland food served in many nursing homes and hospitals today, that is not the kind of diet that helps people to maintain a healthy microbiome and therefore a healthy brain.

“Perhaps if you’re thinking of having a midlife crisis, forget about the motorbike and start growing vegetables.”


We’ve done a study in mice where we adjusted their diet to contain much more inulin, a fiber that we know supports the growth of beneficial bacterial strains, and found we could dampen down the neuroinflammation that is often associated with cognitive decline in aging. This fiber is present in our everyday diet — there is a lot of it in vegetables like leeks, artichokes and chicory. So perhaps if you’re thinking of having a midlife crisis, forget about the motorbike and start growing vegetables.

This is all in healthy patients. Do you think the diet might also help people with mental health issues?

I do, but we need to test it, of course. An earlier study of ours showed that students born by C-section, who missed out on some of the microbes that newborns acquire during vaginal birth, had an elevated immune and psychological response to both chronic and acute stress, in line with our findings in mice. It would be very interesting to test if a psychobiotic diet might benefit them.

As I said, many psychiatric disorders are also associated with inflammation and other problems in the gut. Of course, this relationship works both ways, and it’s not always clear to what extent the irregularities in the gut are the cause or the result of the mental issues — or whether it’s a bit of both. But if we can show a healthier microbiome can improve mental health, that would be great news.

This is what’s appealing about the microbiome: It’s probably more modifiable than the rest of our body. If we understand how it works, that might give people more options to improve their health, even if they didn’t have the best start, microbially speaking. That’s what we hope to achieve.

4 Emotionally Intelligent Phrases to Improve Your Workplace Relationships

by Leah Jackson

Illustration of woman balancing emotions on see-saw

Working on a college campus is arguably one of the biggest exercises in collaboration and teamwork. There are multiple stakeholders in every decision made on campus -- from students and parents to alumni to various departments (or even specific employees) who may be impacted. We don't operate in a vacuum. Collaboration is the name of the game, so it is no surprise that building relationships and exercising emotional intelligence (or EQ) play a key role in one's success in the higher ed workspace.

"Anyone in higher education will tell you that your ability to be successful in your role (regardless of the department or division) is related to your ability to build relationships and collaborate with your intercampus colleagues," confirms Eric Mochnacz of Red Clover, a strategic HR and change management consulting firm based in New Jersey.

In fact, some employers even interview for emotional intelligence, and according to a Lee Hecht Harrison Penna survey of 500 people managers, 75% said it is a determining factor in promotions and salary increases.

Mochnacz, who worked in university housing for 15 years at different levels (live-in and mid-level management), says "EQ is your ability to know your own emotions and manage them, understand the emotions of others, and use that knowledge to navigate relationships and inevitable campus politics."

Emotional intelligence isn't something you gain overnight, though. So, how can you boost your EQ, and what phrases frequently used by people with high EQ could you incorporate into your daily workplace interactions?

Tap into Your Natural Curiosity

The Cambridge Dictionary defines curiosity as "an eager desire to know or learn about something." This characteristic is a hallmark of emotional intelligence. Curiosity drives us to learn more about our own emotional responses and motivations, as well as seek information about that of others. Fostering your own sense of curiosity about what drives human behavior -- specifically your own and your colleagues' and boss's -- is a great place to start.

The next time a colleague responds in a way that is unexpected, consider their motivations or what they are possibly feeling. Inquire if you're unsure, so you can get a better understanding of their point of view. Knowing this can help you work through any conflicts and build a foundation for stronger collaboration in the future.

Take time to analyze your own responses as well -- did you have a knee-jerk reaction to something? If so, why? Was something particularly triggering to you? Seeking to understand your own emotional responses in the workplace can help you recognize trigger points and eventually better self-regulate in future situations.

4 Phrases Demonstrating High EQ to Start Using

So, what exactly does emotional intelligence look like in practice? It's about asking the right questions and then using the information you glean to respond effectively and kindly. Here are four emotionally intelligent phrases you can start incorporating into your daily interactions at work to lay the foundation for better relationships.

1. "What do you think?" or "How do you feel about this?"

Again, collaboration is key in the higher ed workspace. No matter how good you think your idea or solution might be, it can't be a one-sided conversation.

These questions, in particular, create a safe space, encouraging others to share their opinions and raise any concerns they may have. While they may seem like simple questions, they are some of the most important ones you can ask on a regular basis. Not every person is comfortable raising their voice without being prompted. You may be working with introverts, young professionals who may be afraid of 'rocking the boat,' or people who have been burned before by voicing a difference of opinion. Asking for feedback is a clear and direct way to show that you are truly open to collaboration and value your colleagues' opinions. Showing empathy for their thoughts and working to find solutions if they have concerns helps to build a foundation for more fruitful collaboration in the future.

"When it comes to others, your level of social awareness and social regulation plays a key part in building bonds across campus to drive mutual success," Mochnacz says. "Social awareness is your ability to read a room and social regulation is your ability to recognize the importance of the emotions around you and be able to facilitate understanding to build relationships and networks. Someone who is not developed in these areas will struggle to be successful on a college campus, but those environments tend to be incredibly collaborative."

2. "Let me see if I understand."

This phrase signals a desire to understand another person's point of view. Clarifying how a person feels ensures that you are avoiding assumptions, have a full picture of their concerns or feelings, and can address them effectively. Everyone wants to be understood, and taking the time to rephrase what you're hearing from them and confirming understanding shows that you're making an effort.

3. "I feel (X, Y, Z)…"

Recognizing your own emotions is key to building and maintaining effective relationships. Before you can ask someone else how they feel about something, it's important to be able to recognize your own emotions at any given point -- and be able to manage them.

"Do you know and understand your feelings, and can you articulate them effectively?," Mochnacz asks. "And can you regulate yourself so your emotions don't adversely impact others?"

Additionally, being open about your feelings can build trust and encourage others to speak up.

4. "How can I help you?"

This question is commonly asked by emotionally intelligent people because they have a knack for noticing others' emotions (or as Mochnacz says, they have social awareness). In this case, they may sense a colleague is feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Part of being a team is pitching in when and where you can. If you notice someone struggling, see if there's something you can do for them. Lending a hand is a great way to build bridges and strengthen your relationships across campus.

Final Words

These phrases aren't silver bullets by any means, but incorporating some of them into your daily interactions at work can have a tremendous impact on your relationships. They serve as powerful building blocks for better understanding your colleagues, collaborating with them in the future, and ultimately working together effectively to further your institution's mission.


This article is republished from HigherEdJobs® under a Creative Commons license. 

Excessively high rents are a major burden for immigrants in US cities

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Nashville is one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities and increasingly a destination for immigrants. Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Madhuri Sharma, University of Tennessee and Mikhail Samarin, University of Tennessee

Rents across the U.S. have climbed to staggering levels in recent years. Millions of renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities, a situation that housing experts call being cost burdened.

High rents affect almost all segments of the population but are an especially heavy burden for immigrants, particularly those who have not yet become U.S. citizens. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, play important roles in the U.S. economy. They often provide the cheapest labor in the riskiest of industries. Yet they are still not broadly accepted or supported in many U.S. cities.

We are geographers who study housing market issues, including racial-ethnic diversity and housing affordability. Our research on Nashville, which has emerged as an immigrant metropolis in the Southern U.S., suggests that foreign-born residents who are not yet citizens are far more burdened by high rents than other groups.

Many immigrant workers in Nashville spend more than 50% of their incomes on rent. This makes it hard for them to afford education and job training, healthy food, health care and other necessities that can help them participate as productive residents. Heavy rent burdens undermine their ability to have a higher standard of living and to be included in mainstream society.

As immigrants increasingly fan out across the U.S., we believe cities receiving new foreign-born residents should anticipate a growing need for affordable housing.

A 2022 study found that immigrant families in San Diego faced some of the highest rent burdens in the surrounding county.

Hard times for renters

The past 15 years have been challenging for renters across the country. In the 2008-09 recession, which was triggered by a collapse in the housing market, millions lost their homes to foreclosure and became renters. Tighter financing made it harder for others to buy homes. By 2015, almost 43 million households had been pushed into renting.

Today about 37% of U.S. homes are occupied by renters. By 2020, almost 46% of U.S. renters paid more than 30% of their household income toward rent. As of June 2021, the median monthly rent in the 50 largest U.S. cities was $1,575 – an 8.1% increase from June 2020.

The heaviest rent burdens fall disproportionately on minorities. Almost 46% of African American-led renter households are rent burdened, compared with 34% of white households.

The COVID-19 pandemic worsened housing insecurity for people of color because of longstanding racially targeted policies and widespread health and economic disparities. Renters of color faced higher cost burdens and eviction rates. In Nashville, this was especially true in Latino and Somali communities.

Why immigrant housing matters

Immigration is the main driver of population growth in the U.S., which is important for filling jobs and boosting tax revenues. After dipping because of pandemic-era restrictions in 2020-22, immigration to the U.S. started growing again, adding 1.1 million new residents in 2023.

Foreign-born residents make up 7.15% of the U.S. population today. Most of these immigrants are not citizens, although more than 878,000 people became citizens in 2023. The median length of time these new citizens spent in the U.S. before becoming naturalized was seven years.

Nashville is the largest metropolis in Tennessee and one of the fastest-growing immigrant gateways in the South. It is home to over 37% of Tennessee’s Latino population and has been a major destination for Latinos and other foreign-born residents since the early 2000s.

For our research, we used census data estimates for 2015-19 from the National Historical Geographic Information System covering metro Nashville’s 13 counties, which contain 372 census tracts. We found that Nashville’s most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods had the highest levels of rent burden.

This includes census tracts with high shares of foreign-born residents who are not yet citizens, especially if those residents are Black or Latino. Our analysis of the 37 census tracts (10% of the region’s total) with the largest shares of foreign-born residents who are not yet citizens shows that the average monthly rent paid by a household in these tracts was $1,306.20, compared with $1,288.70 metrowide.

In the 37 tracts with the largest shares of Latino residents and Black residents, we found that about 21% of households spent more than 50% of their household income on rent.

Our findings corroborate other scholarly analyses of Nashville’s Somali refugees, who tend to be clustered in communities that also house other diverse groups, including Egyptians and other African immigrants. In these areas, gentrification and urban renewal have forced several Black and Somali communities from ownership into renting.

We believe specific groups of foreign-born residents may either have been ineligible or didn’t know how to apply for government-funded housing and rental assistance programs and may have had to rent from predatory landlords as a result. Some Muslim immigrants also avoid applying for bank loans because of a concept in Islamic banking called ribā, which views charging interest on loans as unjust and exploitative.

More encouragingly, we found that tracts with newer housing stock, built since 2000, have relatively lower rent burdens even though those tracts are home to many Black and non-Asian minority residents. This suggests that newer development has an important role to play in mitigating rent, especially in suburban, relatively affordable locations. In the 37 census tracts with the most foreign-born residents who are not yet citizens, about 28% of the total housing stock was built in 2000 or later, compared with 23% across Nashville.

A row of men in hard hats, shoveling dirt.
Federal, state and city officials break ground in 2022 on a mixed-income residential development at Cayce Place, Nashville’s largest subsidized housing property. The city is replacing aging structures on the site, built between 1941 and 1954. Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, CC BY-ND

Easing rent burdens

One of the best ways to mitigate rent burdens is to build more housing and create affordable housing. However, communities sometimes oppose affordable housing projects and pro-development zoning because of fears of crime, traffic congestion or populations viewed as undesirable. Nashville is not immune to this syndrome.

The cost of housing has been a heated topic in the Nashville region since the mid-2010s. A 2023 Urban Institute report recommended creating more affordable housing in Nashville by promoting partnerships among academic, faith-based and health care institutions that own land that could be developed for housing. And the Metropolitan Council for the Nashville region plans to substantially revamp building codes to promote new housing construction.

However, critics argue that the council gives too much weight to anti-development arguments. And there is little discussion of specific ways to help groups that are ineligible for benefits and assistance that are available to U.S. citizens.

A crowded meeting room with speakers clustered at a podium.
Members of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition celebrate on March 26, 2019, after the defeat of a state bill that would have barred most landlords from renting housing to people in the U.S. illegally. AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise

A priority for cities

Our research shows that creating more rental opportunities can help reduce rent burdens for all. We see great potential to take this research further through community-based investigations of local nuances that may add to rent burdens, especially factors and processes that can’t be adequately captured in quantitative data analysis. Many local actors have important roles to play, including elected officials and local nonprofits and community organizations that work to promote rights for immigrants and refugees.

Given the important role that immigrants play in filling jobs and contributing to local economies, we believe that helping them afford housing is a smart strategy, especially for growth-oriented cities.

Madhuri Sharma, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Tennessee and Mikhail Samarin, Lecturer in Geography and Sustainability, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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An eclipse for everyone – how visually impaired students can ‘get a feel for’ eclipses

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A solar eclipse approaching totality. AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File
Cassandra Runyon, College of Charleston and David Hurd, Pennsylvania Western University

Many people in the U.S. will have an opportunity to witness nearly four minutes of a total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, 2024, as it moves from southern Texas to Maine. But in the U.S., over 7 million people are blind or visually impaired and may not be able to experience an eclipse the traditional way.

Of course they, like those with sight, will feel colder as the Sun’s light is shaded, and will hear the songs and sounds of birds and insects change as the light dims and brightens. But much of an eclipse is visual.

We are a planetary scientist and an astronomer who, with funding and support from NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, have created and published a set of tactile graphics, or graphics with raised and textured elements, on the 2024 total solar eclipse.

The guide, called “Getting a Feel for Eclipses,” illustrates the paths of the 2017 total, 2023 annular and 2024 total solar eclipses. In a total eclipse, the Moon fully blocks the Sun from Earth view, while during an annular eclipse, a narrow ring of sunlight can be seen encircling the Moon.

The tactile graphics and associated online content detail the specific alignment of the Earth, Moon and Sun under which eclipses occur.

To date, we have distributed almost 11,000 copies of this book to schools for the blind, state and local libraries, the Library of Congress and more.

A map of the US with three curved lines stretching across, indicating the eclipses of 2024, 2023 and 2017.
‘The Getting A Feel for Eclipses’ guide helps blind and visually impaired people learn about the eclipse. NASA SSERVI

Why publish a tactile book on eclipses?

NASA has lots of explanatory material that helps people visualize and understand rare phenomena like eclipses. But for people with visual impairments, maps and images don’t help. For tactile readers, their sense of touch is their vision. That’s where this guide and our other tactile books come in.

Over 65,000 students in the U.S. are blind or visually impaired. After working with several of our students who are totally blind, we wanted to find out how to make events like eclipses as powerful for these students as they are for us. We also wanted to help our students visualize and understand the concept of an eclipse.

These aims resulted in the three tactile graphics, which are physical sheets with textures and raised surfaces that can be interpreted through touch, as well as online content.

The first tactile graphic models the alignment of the Earth, Moon and Sun. The second illustrates the phases of an eclipse as the Moon moves in between the Earth and Sun to full totality, and then out of the way. The third includes a map of the continental U.S. that illustrates the paths of three eclipses: the Aug. 21, 2017, total eclipse, the Oct. 14, 2023, annular eclipse and the Apr. 8, 2024, total eclipse. We used different textures to illustrate these concepts.

Each book includes a QR code on the front cover, outlined by a raised square boundary. The code links to an online guide that leads the user through the content behind the graphics while also providing background information. With the online content, users may opt to print the information in large font or have it read to them by a device.

Although initially created to assist visually impaired audiences, these books are still helpful resources for those with sight. Some students can see but might learn better when able to explore the tactile parts of the guide while listening to the audio. Often it’s helpful for students to get the same information presented in different styles, with options to read or have the content information read to them.

A sheet of paper with raised textures labeled Sun, Umbra, Moon and Totality, with three students touching the textures.
Students at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine explore tactiles 1 and 2. Florida School for the Deaf and Blind

How are the books made?

We hand-make each book starting by identifying which science concepts the user will likely want to know, and which illustrations can support those concepts.

Once identified, the next step is to create a tactile master, or model, which has one or more raised textures that help to define the science concepts. We pick a set of unique textures to use on the master to signify different items, so the Sun feels different than the Earth. This way, the textures of the graphics become part of the story being shared.

For example, in a model of the Sun’s surface, we use Spanish moss to create the dynamic texture of the Sun. In past projects, we’ve used textures like doll hair, sand and differently textured cardboard to illustrate planet features, instruments on spacecraft, fine surface features and more. Then, we add Braille labels for figure titles, key features and specific notes.

A circle filled with moss.
The tactile master – Spanish moss – used for the Sun. Cassandra Runyon

Once we’ve finished making the masters and laying out each page, a small family print shop – McCarty Printing in Erie, Pennsylvania – prints the page titles and key feature labels on Brailon, a type of plastic paper.

Once printed, we place the masters and the Brailon sheets on a thermoform Machine, which heats up the sheets and creates a vacuum that forms the final tactile graphics. Then, we return the pages to McCarty Printing for binding.

Viewing and experiencing the eclipse

Like fully sighted people, people with partial vision should avoid looking directly at the Sun. Instead, everyone should use eclipse glasses. If you don’t have eclipse glasses, you can use an indirect viewing method such as a colander or pinhole projector.

As the eclipse approaches totality, take time to enjoy your surroundings, feel the changes in temperature and light, and note how the animals around you react to the remarkable event using another of your senses – sound.

Cassandra Runyon, Professor of Geology & Environmental Geosciences, College of Charleston and David Hurd, Professor of Geosciences, Pennsylvania Western University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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