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See Inside Scientific American Volume 311, Issue 2

The Shadow Universe, the Science of Learning and Science in Action

Editor in Chief Mariette DiChristina introduces the August 2014 issue of Scientific American


Mariette DiChristina


Nick Higgins

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Could our universe have come into being as a three-dimensional shell around a four-dimensional black hole? In the current issue's cover story, “The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time,” authors Niayesh Afshordi, Robert B. Mann and Razieh Pourhasan suggest a revision to the idea that the universe originated from an infinitely dense point. It sounds fantastic, but the result is the outcome of calculations that use the mathematics of space and time. 

If humankind has invented a better tool than science to help us learn about the world (and universe) around us, I haven't heard of it. And if I may be meta for a moment, one of the things we can learn about is how we can best learn. How can we make teaching truly “scientific”—that is, efficacious? What really matters, and what is the evidence that can show us what works?

In “The Science of Learning,” Barbara Kantrowitz details new efforts, including hundreds of studies, to bring more rigorous science to American classrooms. The research is uncovering when our intuitions about education may be wrong. For instance, “tell and practice,” in which students first receive instruction and then conduct an exploratory activity, has been the rule because it has seemed like a sound idea. But the opposite actually is true: students absorb the information better if they try the activity first. Applying the findings of research to classrooms, however, has proved challenging.

The link between science and learning is one that Scientific American has sought to foster from its first issue, dated August 28, 1845: “As a family newspaper,” wrote founding editor Rufus Porter of his new weekly broadsheet, “it will convey more useful intelligence to children and young people, than five times its cost in school instruction.” Feel free to check our math.


 

Science in Action: And the Winner Is
On August 6 we will announce the winner of the $50,000 Scientific American Science in Action Award, which honors a project that can make a practical difference by addressing an environmental, health or resources challenge. The winning entry will be innovative, easy to put into action and reproducible in other communities. The third annual prize, open for students from ages 13 to 18, is part of the Google Science Fair competition, now in its fourth year; Scientific American is a founding partner. —M.D.

This article was originally published with the title "The Shadow Universe and Other Marvels."

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