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OpenLearn Live: 8th September 2015

Updated Tuesday 8th September 2015

A mineral whose name is tricky to pronounce, bird migrations, action in Syria - and free learning through the day.

OpenLearn Live is an experiment in free learning across the day, from OpenLearn and beyond. We have a Twitter feed too, of course, @OpenLearnLive.

In a brief collection yesterday, we caught up with Napoleon and explored some internet slang

See the full collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's Posts


Bird migrations

A different type of migration now - the migration of birds. As autumn starts to creep into the Northern hemisphere, some of the great avian migrations will be getting under way. But how do we know what happens when thousands of birds take to the skies?

That's just one of the questions that our free course, Migration, sets out to answer:

In studying this unit it will have become apparent that migration involves a diversity of behaviours and physiological adaptations, many of which are far from being fully understood. Birds such as arctic terns, which have a mass of around 100 g and yet can travel an average of 70 900 km in a year, challenge current understanding. New technology is adding more and more information about these long-distance migrations and arctic terns have been fitted with lightweight geolocators that record data that enables their position to be calculated twice each day. The devices have a mass of just 1.9 g.

Information about rate of travel contributes to an understanding of the energetic costs of migration, but these are still difficult to calculate. However, a full cost–benefit analysis of migration as a strategy for a species could provide a lot of information about the selection pressures that drive the evolution of the behaviour.

The methods used by birds for navigation are becoming clearer, but the physiology of the senses and sensory processing needed to take advantage of natural cues is not well understood. Birds are a good study model, but migration and navigation are part of the life of many animals, and research on bird navigation will have a much wider impact and command a wider interest in biological science.In studying this unit it will have become apparent that migration involves a diversity of behaviours and physiological adaptations, many of which are far from being fully understood. Birds such as arctic terns, which have a mass of around 100 g and yet can travel an average of 70 900 km in a year, challenge current understanding. New technology is adding more and more information about these long-distance migrations and arctic terns have been fitted with lightweight geolocators that record data that enables their position to be calculated twice each day. The devices have a mass of just 1.9 g. Information about rate of travel contributes to an understanding of the energetic costs of migration, but these are still difficult to calculate. However, a full cost–benefit analysis of migration as a strategy for a species could provide a lot of information about the selection pressures that drive the evolution of the behaviour. The methods used by birds for navigation are becoming clearer, but the physiology of the senses and sensory processing needed to take advantage of natural cues is not well understood. Birds are a good study model, but migration and navigation are part of the life of many animals, and research on bird navigation will have a much wider impact and command a wider interest in biological science.

Try our free course Migration


More on the Humanitarian Crisis

The World Health Organisation has produced a question-and-answer guide to health issues related to the scale of migration Europe is currently receiving:

The health problems of refugees and migrants are similar to those of the rest of the population, although some groups may have a higher prevalence. The most frequent health problems of newly arrived migrants include accidental injuries, hypothermia, burns, cardiovascular events, pregnancy and delivery-related complications, diabetes and hypertension. Female migrants frequently face specific challenges, particularly in maternal, newborn and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and violence. The exposure of migrants to the risks associated with population movements – psychosocial disorders, reproductive health problems, higher newborn mortality, drug abuse, nutrition disorders, alcoholism and exposure to violence – increase their vulnerability to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The key issue with regard to NCDs is the interruption of care, due either to lack of access or to the decimation of health care systems and providers; displacement results in interruption of the continuous treatment that is crucial for chronic conditions. 

Vulnerable children are prone to acute infections such as respiratory infections and diarrhoea because of poor living conditions and deprivation during migration, and they require access to acute care. Lack of hygiene can lead to skin infections. Furthermore, the number of casualties and deaths among refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea has increased rapidly, with a reported 1867 people drowned or missing at sea in the first 6 months of 2015, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Read more at the WHO website

Meanwhile, Renos Papadopoulus goes behind the headlines to explore the problems of measuring the current crisis:

To begin with, Cameron continues to make an outdated distinction between “economic migrants” and “refugees fleeing conflict”. The implication is that the latter deserve help while the former should be sent back to where they came from.

This distinction fails to grasp the complexities of current situations. People need to flee unsustainable living conditions whether they are related to political factors or conflicts of a more fundamental nature. If this crisis has taught us anything, it should be that we need new definitions for what it means to be in need of international help.

What’s more, Cameron gave no detail whatsoever about his plan. The voting public may be pleased to hear his big numbers but no mention was made of what will actually happen when these 20,000 people arrive in the UK. A truly comprehensive approach would include specifics on the conditions of their reception and a plan for how they would be helped to integrate into their new homes.

Read Can you put a figure on the crisis?


The strike on Syria

Over on The Conversation, the University of Birmingham's Scott Lucas asks if the revelation of the drone strike on British nationals in Syria is a distraction:

Up until mid-afternoon on September 7, it was expected that British prime minister David Cameron would make headlines by announcing that the UK would finally take in a significant number of refugees from Syria’s conflict. What’s more, the chatter in London was that Cameron might try – more than two years after parliament blocked military intervention against the Assad regime – to get authorisation for British air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria.

However, Cameron had a surprise for MPs, the media, and Syria-watchers alike. While saying that Britain would accept 20,000 refugees over five years, his more dramatic announcement was that the Royal Air Force had carried out its first attack inside Syria – a drone strike on August 21, which killed three Islamic State fighters, including two British nationals.

The prime minister declared this an “act of self-defence” to stop terrorism on British soil. But the announcement raises an array of difficult questions.

Read: Cameron's Syria drone strike 'a distraction' at The Conversation

When do you intervene? What can one nation do? Try our Saving Setrus simulation to see how you'd perform as a Prime Minister

 


Chinese School: Reflections

If you enjoyed our recent BBC series Are Our Kids Tough Enough: Chinese School, you might like to know that Ms Yang from the series - Jun Yang-Williams - has written two articles for us on her experiences.

First, she compares the UK and PRC approaches to education:

My ten years teaching experience in British mainstream schools, and my six months working experience in a British Independent school have provided me with opportunities to witness the differences in teaching approach between the state and independent schools. It seems to me that the most distinctive difference between the two types of schools is the teaching approach. Unlike state schools where “student- centered” learning is the core practice of everyday teaching and learning, private schools seem to be more “teacher led”, with the support of “student centered” strategy. 

This kind of teaching approach, which I was accustomed to in China, is very similar to that of most Chinese schools. A typical Chinese school is run this way, at which teachers deliver knowledge to students who are motivated, committed and respectful. My recent visit to Chinese schools in Xi’an prior to my BBC filming was refreshing, and to some extent, mind blowing. The original purpose of this visit was to be more familiar with the current Chinese school system and to see if there are any changes since my leave 17 years ago.

And then she explains some of the additional challenges being part of a filmed experiment brought:

I taught a class of 50, whereas my English counterparts taught classes of 30. My class was mixed abilities and theirs were single ability sets, which was easier in terms of lesson planning and monitoring progression.

One Chinese teacher battle three English teachers:

In Bohunt School, science lessons are taught in separate subjects by separate specialists. This means Biology, Chemistry and Physics are taught by three different subject teachers, who have been working in the school for years. They are familiar with their students and positive relationships have been established. I, as a Chinese teacher who is specialised in Chemistry, have to come out of my comfort zone and to deliver all three subjects in Science to a group of 50 whom I have never met before.

Read: Chinese way of teaching

Read: An unheard voice from a Chinese teacher


Meet the minerals: Sugilite

This week, for our start-up segment, we're looking at some interesting and intriguing minerals. Yesterday, we started with optical calcite. Today, it's Sugilite.

Sugilite Creative commons image Icon Rob Lavinsky, irocks.com under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license

Not, sadly, the character from the Steven Universe. But then, as we all know, in the SU Sugilite is a fusion of Amethyst and Garnet; huge, and four-eyed. She needs no introduction.

We're focusing on the mineral today, or, to give it in chemical form, KNa2(Fe,Mn,Al)2Li3Si12O30.

It might be wise to describe it as a chemical formula, too, as its name causes some people problems. It's named for the man who discovered it in 1944 -  Ken-ichi Sugi. Because it's named after him the 'g' should be pronounced with a hard g - but many people assume it's meant to be a soft g.

If you're keen not to make a prononciation slip when talking to geologists, you could use the alternative name, lavulite.

The first discovery of Sugilite was in Japan; it's since been found in Canada, Italy, South Africa and Australia. It occurs with a range of colours from a browny-yellow through to a pale pink.

Inspired? Try our free course Minerals and the crystalline state 

 

 

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