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What parents need to know about children's brains on music

Music and the brain

Sandra Oshiro/KPCC

Daniel Gomez of the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra plays for the audience at a Crawford Family Forum event Sunday on music and the brain.

Music and the brain

Sandra Oshiro/KPCC

Members of the Boyle Heights Community Youth Orchestra perform at KPCC's event on music and the brain on Sunday at the Crawford Family Forum.

Music and the brain

Sandra Oshiro/KPCC

KPCC education reporter Mary Plummer moderates a panel on music and the brain in the Crawford Family Forum on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015.

If you learned how to play a recorder or ukelele in school, you may have built up brain functions that boosted your ability to do better in school, especially if you kept up with practice.

Latest neuroscience studies by noted researcher Nina Kraus of Northwestern University suggest learning a musical instrument helps children boost their auditory processing, meaning they get better at things like communication and literacy skills. 

It was only after two years, however, that the benefits of practicing became clear in a recent study, Kraus said at KPCC's "Music and the Brain" event at the Crawford Family Forum Sunday. 

Her research on music and the brain suggests children achieve big gains if they are actively learning to play an instrument, and not just listening to music.

Kraus' study of students at Los Angeles' Harmony Project, a nonprofit that provides music education to low-income youth, found the benefits didn't come immediately for students who practiced in class five days a week.


Biden's push for free community college tuition gets lukewarm response

Biden Community College

AP/Jae C. Hong

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a roundtable discussion held at West Los Angeles College in Culver City, California.

Vice President Joe Biden visited West Los Angeles College Friday to stump for the Obama administration's free community college tuition proposal, but some of the feedback he got suggests the idea may be missing its mark in California.

Biden sat down with students, college administrators, and elected officials to promote the idea of expanding college access by offering two years' tuition to qualified students.

He said 12 years of education isn’t enough for students to get a good job, or to improve the country's competitiveness. "Any country that out educates us will out compete us," he said. 

But Stephanie Jara, who is studying to become a dental hygienist, was skeptical that the tuition proposal would have broad impact.

"Some people will benefit from it," she said. "I’m not sure that everybody needs it, but I think for the people who can’t afford it, the people who live day-by-day that, you know, have minimum wage jobs — it’s going to help those people."


Getty Museum offers new arts ed teaching tools

Travel Destination: Western USA

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The Getty Museum and Teaching Channel have created videos for educators on using art to teach Common Core standards.

The J. Paul Getty Museum has produced a new video series aimed at helping educators work the arts into their teaching based on new standards known as the Common Core.

The 19 videos, released as a free online resource this week, were produced in partnership with the nonprofit website Teaching Channel.

RELATED: What are your questions about the Common Core?

“Arts integration is a powerful tool for student learning, and we’re committed to providing teachers with the resources they need to integrate the arts into the Common Core curriculum,” said Elizabeth Escamilla, Getty's acting assistant director for education, in a written statement. 

Students and teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District and Hawthorne School District are featured in the videos, which offer tips on melding the arts with language arts and other topics.


5 tips for creating tomorrow’s engineers

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 1

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Clara, a student in the six to 18-month-old class at Caltech's Children's Center, plays by dropping balls down a tube on Wednesday morning, Jan. 21. The school has made engineering a focus in curriculum.

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 2

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Kendall Simmonds III, 5, works on an electrical engineering activity on Wednesday morning, Jan. 21. Simmonds is building a doorbell using a circuit kit.

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 3

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Children work to power a set of LED lights using a circuit kit on Wednesday morning, Jan. 21 at the Children's Center at Caltech. The school incorporate engineering principles with all activities, including free play and story time.

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 4

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A circuit kit is one of several activities that pre-kindergarten kids can choose from in lead teacher Veronica Dayag's classroom.

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 5

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Lead teacher Veronica Dayag works with 5-year-old Ariana Housseini, right, on a maze enclosed in a ball. The balls involve problem-solving and coordination skills, Dayag says.

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 6

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Pre-kindergarten students are challenged to build airplanes on Wednesday morning, Jan. 21, at Caltech's Children's Center in Pasadena. The curriculum at the school focuses on the principles of building, including balance and stability.

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 7

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Four-year-old Annika Greer, left, builds an airplane using clothespins and popsicle sticks during an engineering-based activity on Wednesday morning, Jan. 21 at the Children's Center at Caltech.

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 8

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Pre-kindergarteners at Caltech's Children's Center are encouraged to take part in a challenge to build a toy airplane without using glue.

Caltech Children's Center Engineering - 9

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

A teacher works with 3-year-old Max Hamlin to better stabilize a block tower on Wednesday morning, Jan. 21, at The Children's Center at Caltech.

Problem: There’s a not-too-secret challenge in the field of engineering — it lacks diversity.

Solution: Begin engineering education early in a child’s life, like soon after birth.

Don’t scoff. Think about how neglected the "E" as in engineering is inside the now-popular educational push for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. How many schools do you know where kids take engineering classes as they do with science and math?

Turns out there's at least one — The Children's Center at Caltech, where infants, toddlers and preschools are getting an engineering-based education.

If you have dreams of an engineering career for your young child, follow these five tips:

1. Understand what engineering really is

“Engineering is about problem-solving,” says Gregory Washington, dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Engineering, and it's about making something, said Monica Dolan, early educator at The Children's Center: "You’re coming up with the ideas, the blueprints.”


Southland community colleges picked to offer bachelor's degrees

Courtesy of California Community Colleges

Lef to right, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris, San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance Carroll, California Community Colleges Board of Governors President Geoffrey Baum, and Senator Marty Block discuss the new four-year degree programs.

Eight Southern California community college campuses will each start offering a four-year bachelor's degree for the first time, many starting as soon as fall 2016.

The board of governors of the California Community Colleges on Tuesday picked 15 campuses to develop the new bachelor’s degree programs. The board's approval is the first step in a program approved by state legislators last year to offer degrees for in-demand careers to more Californians.

“These colleges are embarking on a new mission for the California Community Colleges that will expand opportunities in public higher education,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris. “Students will have a range of programs from which to choose to earn high quality, affordable and in-demand degrees. California employers win, too, as they will have improved access to highly qualified candidates in these fields.”