National News

As Kiev Cites Progress, Opposing Convoys Head To Ukraine's East

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 12:09

There's been more heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine, with shelling in the region's major city of Donetsk and government forces reporting more success in their battles with separatists. Meanwhile, both Ukrainian and Russian aid convoys are heading toward the area, though it's unclear how the Russian trucks plan to enter Ukraine.

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Kurdish Province Struggles To Cope With Waves Of Iraqi Refugees

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 12:09

Farhad Atrushi, the governor of the Iraqi province of Duhok, joins Robert Siegel to speak about the refugees now flooding his predominantly Kurdish city.

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Obama Says Siege Of Mount Sinjar Is Broken, But Crisis Persists

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 12:09

U.S. military officials have decided that Mount Sinjar doesn't require immediate evacuation, but people across northern Iraq are still seeking refuge. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is meeting the man trying to replace him.

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Once-Thriving Heart Of The Eurozone Stagnates

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 12:09

The eurozone economy slowed to a crawl in the second quarter of 2014, according to reports released Thursday. The German economy actually contracted, and France stayed flat.

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Robin Williams Sober, In Early Stages Of Parkinson's, Widow Says

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 11:34

The late actor and comedian's wife, Susan Schneider, said his "sobriety was intact" and that he was in the early stages of the debilitating muscular disease when he took his life on Monday.

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Ski bums priced out of resort towns

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 10:21

Christen Johnson moved to Jackson,Wyoming, so she could spend as much time as possible on her snowboard. She's lived in Jackson off and on for the last two years, but she had to leave town recently. When I met her, she was living in Curtis Canyon, a free campsite a few miles outside of Jackson.

Johnson works in town as a cocktail waitress, but her home is an old Econoline van. She's always looking for a place, but her housing budget is $650 a month. Around here, that doesn't buy much.

"There are options that come up, but most of the time they are too expensive," she says.

Even if she found a place she could afford, she might not be able to keep it.

"I've had a lot friends move out of their places because the landlord wants to up rent now, because there is such a high need," Johnson says.

Struggling to find a room is pretty common in Western resort towns like Jackson, Sun Valley and Aspen. But lately, a stronger economy and the popularity of house sharing sites like Airbnb make finding a place almost impossible.

For seasonal workers like Johnson, that means a summer in Jackson is a summer outdoors. For local business owners, it means a whole lot of "help wanted" ads.

"Friday is usually our busiest day of the week," says Chris Hansen, owner of Caldera's Pizza in downtown Jackson. "And right now, every day is Friday."

Hansen is sort of the old model around here — he came west as a ski bum after college in the '90s and stuck around. He says when he needed to grow his staff over the summer, he used to rely on college kids. Lately, that's been difficult.

"Anytime somebody gets in touch with me who isn't here already I always ask them, 'Do you have housing right now?' If their answer is 'No,' I always say 'Come see me when you have housing,'" Hansen says.

This search for staff at Caldera's Pizza has taken Hansen all the way across the Atlantic to the countries of the former Soviet Union.

"A little tiny small country between Romania and Ukraine," is how Nina Maico describes Moldova, her home country, over the din of Caldera's.

Maico is one of Chris Hansen's top servers this summer. To be fair, she's a college student, too — that's why she was able to qualify for the J1 Visa program, which brings international college students to the U.S. to work for a season. Crucial in a place like this, J1 students' contracts almost always include housing as part of the deal.

Maico says she loves getting to work in the States, even if waiting tables here is a little different than in her home country.

"You don't even introduce yourself. 'Hi, what do you like? OK, bye.' Done. Here, you kind of have a dialogue, because its in your interest, you know? Otherwise you are not going to make money."

Robin Lerner helps oversee the J1 Visa Exchange Program at the State Department. She says the reason you usually see Eastern Europeans when you're checking out at the grocery store or grabbing a drink is because their summer break generally aligns with ours. Lerner says big resorts in towns like Jackson love the program.

"Any place where you have one season you are going to see such a need that it goes beyond what can be fulfilled by the local population," Lerner says.

Back at her campsite, Christen Johnson is packed up and ready for work. She says that car camping is good for now, but it isn't really a choice.

"If I just decide I don't want to do it anymore: tough luck, you know?," says Johnson with a shrug. "I don't really have another option other than leaving."

Johnson says she might not come back next year. That would leave one really great summer job open — if you can find a place to stay.

Do Not Fear This Giant Robot Swarm

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 10:14

Researchers created a swarm of 1,024 tiny robots to do their bidding. So far, the only job they're given is to arrange themselves into a shape. But future versions could perform all sorts of tasks.

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There's No Longer A Doubt About This Cutthroat Trout

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 09:56

After learning that they'd spent decades restocking Colorado's lakes and streams with the wrong fish, biologists are now ready to release the right one.

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Obama: U.S. To End Aid Drops In Iraq, But Airstrikes To Continue

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 09:38

The president says thousands of Yazidis had been rescued from Sinjar mountain in northwestern Iraq, thanks to the targeting of Islamic insurgents who threatened them.

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Obama Urges Healing, Peace In Ferguson, Mo.

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 09:18

The president said the Department of Justice is investigating the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen in the city, but said there's no excuse for violence against the police.

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New Scrabble Champ: Oregon Man, 24, Wins Title

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 08:58

In the final, Conrad Bassett–Bouchard of Portland used words including "florigen." Of the runner-up, the tournament head says, "He's going to be kicking himself for missing 'gramarye.' "

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Pakistan's Mixed Message: Celebrations Amid A Security Lockdown

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 08:24

The country's Independence Day was a study in contradictions. The effort to mark the occasion in the capital Islamabad kept bumping up against anxiety over protest marches against the government.

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Roundtable: The Past And Present Of 'Yellowface'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 08:10

Have more non-Asian actors, musicians and others been trying to don makeup or clothes in an attempt to look "Asian," or are we just better at noticing it? Three experts weigh in on the phenomenon.

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Roundtable: The Past And Present Of 'Yellowface'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 08:10

Have more non-Asian actors, musicians and others been trying to don makeup or clothes in an attempt to look "Asian," or are we just better at noticing it? Three experts weigh in on the phenomenon.

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Beneath These Masks Is An Artist Conflicted By Junk Food

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 07:05

James Ostrer slathered himself and a few friends with cream cheese and then piled candy, doughnuts and fries on top. As he photographed these human sculptures, he found a sort of catharsis.

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California could stay dry enough to make food pricier

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 07:00

In an ongoing drought that’s often described as epic, California’s legislature has approved a proposal to ask voters for more than $7 billion in water-infrastructure projects.

Among those who were pleased:  The California Farm Bureau. Much of California’s water goes to growing crops, and the state produces a big chunk of the nation’s fruit, veggies, and nuts.

The drought has been extremely tough on farmers, and the bad news is:  It’s probably reasonable to expect more of the same, over the very long term. Recent research shows that the last hundred years were probably the long-term equivalent of the rainy season.

“All of our water-management decisions in the West were made based on a really, really wet period, comparatively speaking, looking at the last thousand years of record,” says Richard Heim a meteorologist for the Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Climate change will amplify any natural drying-out. “It’s going to be hotter and drier in the western United States,” says Heim. “Bad.”

Given that, California agriculture might need a major re-think. “It’s not clear that  we should be growing these kind of crops— vegetables, nut trees, grapes— these kinds of very thirsty crops— in a region like California,” says Yusuke Kuwayama, an economist at Resources for the Future.

He thinks the long-term alternative is probably more-expensive broccoli.

California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger says: OK, but where else are you going to grow tomatoes in December? Nebraska? 

“Our Mediterranean climates are the richest growing regions in the world,” Wenger says. “And by definition, they have good soils, they have temperate climates, and they don’t have water. We have to bring water to them.”  

California currently imports a significant amount of water from the Colorado River.

An animation depicting the past six weeks of drought conditions in the United States. (Graphic courtesy of United States Drought Monitor.)

 

Wanted At Barneys New York: An 'Anti-Profiling Consultant'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 06:59

The high-end retailer settled a nine-month investigation by the New York state attorney general's office by agreeing to hire an independent expert on preventing racial profiling.

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How People In Ferguson See The Police in Ferguson

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 06:35

Some residents say that even before Ferguson police killed a teenager, they saw the police as a potential threat. Increasingly this week, they're seeing the police in military gear.

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Building a school with a future

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-14 05:48

If you've gone back to visit your old elementary or high school recently, you may have been surprised to find it’s still there.  And, it’s pretty much the way you left it — dark classrooms, narrow hallways.

A typical "cells and bells" school building. Hillel Academy in Tampa, FL, before renovation. (Prakash Nair)

But after a big slowdown during the recession, spending on new school construction — renovating old schools and building new ones — is slowly picking up again. It was more than $13 billion last year.

School Construction 101 | Create Infographics

Many newer schools are being designed with the latest technologies and teaching models in mind,  schools like the new Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep charter school in San Jose, California.

Bright blue, purple and orange paint cover the classroom walls. The design is clean. The spaces are open. Natural light streams into the building from skylights above. There’s open duct work. Throughout the school, there are small, private “breakout spaces” where kids can work with teachers or each other.

At the center of it all is a wide-open computer lab, about the size of four classrooms, with polished concrete floors. It’ll soon be full of 160 kids, each on their own laptop, working on their own lessons.

The computer lab at Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep in San Jose. (Adriene Hill/Marketplace)

“Individualized instruction for students is the right way to go,” said Laura Kozel, vice president of facilities at Rocketship, a network of elementary charter schools where computers are a part of every kids’ day. Kozel is in charge of making sure everything is ready in time for the hundreds of students from kindergarten through fourth grade, who’ll pour into the school next week. "You have to meet every child where they are at, and that’s really what this model is designed to do,” she said.

Kids learning on cutting edge technology raises two important questions. The first: How will a fragile computer ever survive a year with a kindergartner and a concrete floor?

And, second: How do you design a school that won’t be obsolete in 20 years, when no one has any idea what tech or teaching might look like in five?

“If we do a good job, it’s to give the teacher something that is going to be adaptable to however they want to teach,” said architect Michael Pinto, from NAC|Architecture, a firm that specializes in school design.

“The challenge is to both be specific to the things they want to do, but also preserve some generality, flexibility, that agility that adapts to new technologies, new philosophies of learning.”

In other words, the school of the future is a school that knows how to get out of the way.

Pinto shows me just such a place: Playa Vista Elementary School in Los Angeles.

Playground area at Playa Vista Elementary School. (Edmund Barr)

There are no docks to park your jetpack. Or cubbies for Google glasses.

Instead the three-year-old school is characterized by moveable partitions, open spaces and furniture that doesn’t screech across the floor when you rearrange it.

A multipurpose space, at Playa Vista Elementary, used as an event space and cafeteria, with automated roll-up doors to open up to the outside. (Edmund Barr)

Teacher Rachel Henry calls her classroom "amoebic."

“I’m a firm believer that children need change, and they can get bored easily just with their physical environment,” she said.  She changes the classroom setup about once a month.

Spaces at the school are built to transform into other spaces, in the simplest of ways. The architects made the outside walkways wider than usual so they can also be learning spaces.

There’s a bridge over the courtyard intended for dropping things over the side. In the school of the future, kids still wrap eggs in paper and cardboard and hope for the best.

All the flexibility is meant to encourage a new type of learning: Learning by doing. Learning with new technology. Learning that is collaborative, personalized. Learning that architect Prakash Nair said more traditional schools are no good at. 

Nair is the founding president of Fielding Nair International and the author of the forthcoming book “Blueprint for Tomorrow: Redesigning Schools for Student-Centered Learning.”

He calls traditional U.S. schools “cells and bells.”

“Kids are in a cell called a classroom for a certain period of time,” he said.  A bell goes off. “And then they go to another fairly identical cell.”

Nair says we currently have $2 trillion worth of “cells and bells” type school facilities around the country.

“If you look at the research about how we learn, it has nothing to do with being trapped in a room with people of the same age,” he said.

Nair imagines schools without big auditoriums, with cafes instead of large cafeterias.

He says schools with open, flexible space can cost less to build than traditional schools.

Remember those lockers at the beginning of the story? This is the same space, post-renovation. (Prakash Nair)

Old-school schools use about two-thirds of the space for learning. New-school schools, said Nair, use as much as 85 percent of the space.

The Rocketship school in San Jose cost about $10 million to build, compared to about $16 million for a traditional elementary school.

Around the country, teachers and architects are working toward the same goal: to be prepared for the stream of kids headed their way in a few days and a few decades from now.

The NPR Ed Mailbag: The Participation Trophy

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-14 05:18

Is it "killing our sense of competition" or "simply something to commemorate their time as part of a team"? Here are some of your many responses to our story on giving kids awards for participating.

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