Believe it or not, there are kids who don’t love school, kids who don’t thrill to the sight of desks, pencils, and homework sheets, kids who aren’t made giddy by the scent of paste, old books, and whatever the cafeteria is cooking up for lunch. Believe it or not, there are kids who actively dislike all that and would prefer being anywhere else.
Thus a new program that aims to help students who struggle with the sights, smells, and routines of traditional classrooms. It’s called Beach School, and that’s what it is: school at the beach.
Lessons take place on the sand and in the water. Kids study biology by exploring tide pools. They learn physics by timing the speed of waves and calculating their length. Instead of gym, Beach School students climb on rocks or learn how to surf. Instead of uniforms, they come to class in wetsuits. Their teacher doubles as a lifeguard. Their assistant teacher is also a surfing instructor.
Sounds pretty good, no?
The beach in question graces an English town called Newquay, on the Cornish coast. Students between the ages of five and 16 attend once a week for six weeks. Some have learning differences or are neuroatypical. Others have troubled home lives. For whatever reasons, all have a hard time coping with a traditional school environment. Some have rebelled to the point that they’ve been in danger of being expelled.
The underlying issue, according to Joe Taylor, who founded the school, is that traditional classrooms, with their fairly rigid expectations for behavior, aren’t always a good fit for the kinds of kids who thrive at Beach School.
“They don’t want to be inside, they don’t want to be sat at a desk,” Taylor told The Times of London. “I think we sometimes confuse that with an unwillingness to learn.” These students, he continued, “get branded as naughty and it becomes a downward spiral. They do want to learn, they want to find out about stuff, they just don’t want to sit still while they’re doing it.”
The aim is to reignite these students’ passion for learning and give them a sense of accomplishment that will buoy them when they return to indoor classrooms. And it works: Beach School “graduates” do better than before by all sorts of measures when they’re back in regular school.
“Any educator that came in would see that we’ve got proper lesson plans,” Jason Wood, the teacher/lifeguard, told The Times. “It’s just that the sea and the ocean environment are our stimulation.” Even sand castle building is educational at Beach School, with kids replicating various castle and fort designs from English history. From Air Mail Pilot’s perspective, and maybe yours, that beats gluing school projects together with the usual tongue depressors. —Bruce Handy
AIR MAIL Pilot has always known that hugs are the best cure for a lousy day. A recent study proved us right—well, almost.
Researchers in Germany and the Netherlands found that morning hugs helped people cope with stress throughout the day. The twist? They only helped women.
To figure this out, scientists from Ruhr University Bochum, in Germany, and the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience tested 36 opposite-sex couples between the ages of 19 and 32. Half the couples hugged for 20 seconds before dipping their hands in a bucket of ice water for three minutes. The other half didn’t hug before doing so. Once time was up, the researchers took swabs of participants’ saliva to measure their stress hormone levels. (The fancy name for that hormone is cortisol.)
For women who got a big hug before the chilly ice bath, their stress hormones hardly increased—on average, it only rose by 1.5 percent. For women who didn’t get a hug, it shot up by 37 percent. Overall, researchers found that cortisol levels in women who got hugs was 29 percent lower than those who didn’t.
Researchers think this could be due to oxytocin, which is known as the “love hormone.” When you hug someone you care about, you release that chemical. Scientists hypothesize that it helps fight off stress hormones.
Unfortunately for the boys in the study, all of their stress levels—hug or no hug—increased after the ice bath. “We found no evidence that men benefited from a short-term embrace as a potential stress buffer,” explained the researchers, “and our results indicated that this effect is specific to women.”
Julian Packheiser, a researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and a senior author of the study, said the results were unexpected. He told CNN that the different responses could be biological—men and women have different touch receptors—or social—hugs and physical affection can be perceived as taboo for men, but not for women. “Just because we did not find the effect in men, [doesn’t mean] that it is not there,” he explained. “The effect could simply be smaller and was just undetected.”
One thing is certain: hugs definitely don’t make matters worse. —Clara Molot
Catching scallops is a pretty messy affair. Fishermen drag huge nets along the ocean floor to scoop them up. In the process, all sorts of animals and vegetation are captured and killed. These mistakes, called “incidental catch,” are thrown back overboard. Luckily, AIR MAIL Pilot has stumbled upon a promising new discovery.
A few years ago, marine scientist Dr. Rob Enever and his team at Fishtek Marine, an engineering company, wanted to make crab catching easier. They came up with “potlights,” pots outfitted with colored lights to lure in crustaceans. In 2019, the English fisherman Jon Ashworth tested out the gadget off the coast of Cromwell, Nottinghamshire. To his shock, the pots were filled to the brim—but with scallops! “Pretty much every pot that we hauled had scallops in them and yet every haul without lights had no scallops,” Ashworth told The Guardian. “It was conclusive, there and then.”
“It’s like a scallop disco,” Enver told the Guardian, “illuminate the trap and they come in.”
Since Ashworth tested the method, two teams of researchers—one at the University of York and one at University of Exeter—have looked further into the matter. In total, the two teams set out 1,886 pots, half with and half without lights. The 901 pots without lights only caught two scallops. The 985 pots with lights captured a whopping 518 scallops.
The strange discovery may come down to mollusks’ eyesight. “Scallops are famous for their good vision,” Dr. Vicky Sleight, a marine biologist at the University of Aberdeen, told the Guardian. The creatures can have as many as 200 eyes on their heads, which helps them distinguish between lightness and darkness.
While scientists aren’t exactly sure why scallops love the lights, Dr. Bryce Stewart, a marine ecologist at the University of York, has a few guesses. “Perhaps they prefer illuminated areas because they provide safety from predators or because it’s easier to find the plankton they eat,” he told the Guardian.
Next, the research team will test out even bigger lights. Surely the scallops won’t turn down another disco.—Elena Clavarino