From Kindergarten Math Geeks to Spring Break Economics: This Week's Curios

Every day of the year, CEO Justin Kitch writes a quirky fact, known as the Daily Curio, intended to tickle the brains of lifelong learners everywhere. This is a weekly digest.

Last week’s Curios covered kindergarten math geeks, dancing grannies, and the correlation between Nicolas Cage movies and drowning deaths.

Curio No. 976 | Teaching calculus in kindergarten?
Five-year-olds can learn calculus? Yes, according to a new math education philosophy. Pioneer curriculum designer Maria Droujkova is leading the movement to change how we teach math to children. She argues the “drill and kill” approach of skills that build on each other is destructive. We have been taught that first comes counting, then addition and subtraction, then multiplication/division, then fractions, algebra, geometry, etc. But Droujkova argues this progression has nothing to with how people think–or how math actually works. What’s worse, kids who fail at one level are not allowed to move on to “higher” ones… keep reading.

Curio No. 975 | Genie, a real life wild child
If you know the character Mowgli from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, growing up without human contact might seem adventurous. But when it happens in the real world, the results are much more disturbing. Such was the story of “Genie,” a “wild child” who was discovered in Los Angeles in 1970. When social welfare workers found her at age 13, she looked about 7 and was unable to speak or express herself. She was physically underdeveloped, had extremely poor motor skills, could barely focus her eyes, and had the mental abilities of a 13-month old. She understood fewer than 20 words. State psychologists initially believed she had severe brain deficiencies, until they uncovered her story… keep reading.

Curio No. 974 | Scientists prove lumberjacks are manlier
Feeling a little wimpy? Chop some wood. New research shows that chopping wood significantly increases testosterone levels in men. This isn’t exactly news for scientists–but the volume of testosterone generated by lumberjacking is. Testosterone is necessary for muscle mass and bone growth in both men and women. Men just need a lot more of it. The study, published in Evolution & Human Behavior, found that men experienced a 47% increase in testosterone during tree-cutting, compared with 30% when playing soccer… keep reading.

Curio No. 973 | The dancing grannies of China
Square dancing is a new fad? Where I grew up in Kansas, “square dancing” was a dying art form tied to our homesteading heritage. You couldn’t graduate from the sixth grade without learning how to do it. I’m not sure I’ve done it since. But square dancing is experiencing a renaissance in an unexpected location: China. Guǎngchǎng wǔ, or literally “public square dance,” has become the new low-impact exercise craze. Especially popular with women between 40 and 65, it’s estimated that over 100 million Chinese now practice public square dancing–hence the nickname “dancing grannies.” … keep reading.

Curio No. 972 | The woman who painted FDR’s last breath
On April 12, 1945, the portrait artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff met with then-US-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the third time. She had already made two small portraits of FDR as studies for her final painting. The artist initially refused to paint the President’s portrait, out of nervousness. But her friend (and former Roosevelt mistress) Lucy Rutherfurd pressured her into it. She had already painted portraits for the wealthiest families in America, including the Fords, Mellons, and Firestones. Still, this assignment was especially tricky given her subject’s seriously declining health. By the time Roosevelt began his fourth term in January of 1945, he was suffering from high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure… keep reading.

Curio No. 971 | The rites of spring break
Party on. In the US, most colleges give students a 1-2 week vacation in late March or early April. This “spring break” gives the students and faculty a nice break–but it also gives a select few destination towns an enormous influx of economic activity. John Laurie decided to write his dissertation for his PhD in economic development on this topic. Tersely titled Spring Break: The Economic, Socio-Cultural and Public Governance Impacts of College Students on Spring Break Host Locations, Laurie found some pretty amazing things. Each year, spring breakers inject $1 billion into tourist towns in Florida and Texas… keep reading.

Curio No. 970 | Correlations that create causation to laugh
Loyal Curio readers know I’m always on the lookout for research that finds crazy correlations. For example, Curio #949 linked black coffee drinkers and psychopaths. Of course, the scientific community knows that “correlation does not equal causation,” but the general public can be easily fooled. A Harvard law student decided to highlight this problem by creating a website called Spurious Correlations. It contains a tool for finding data correlations between completely unrelated things. For example, the divorce rate in Maine and the US consumption of margarine are 99.25% correlated… keep reading.

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