If the U.S. “stinks” at math, what’s the fix?

Students cheering at MoMath's Second Annual Suffolk County Middle School Math Tournament  (Image MoMath)

Students cheering at MoMath’s Second Annual Suffolk County Middle School Math Tournament (Image: MoMath used by permission)

Earlier this week the most emailed story from the New York Times asked “Why do Americans stink at math?

It’s a worthwhile article, if long. But, in general terms, it’s true: America’s math skills need work.

Numbers that indicate mediocrity at best come from sources like the Programme for International Assessment, or PISA. Their 2012 assessment of math competency for 15 year-olds (in 65 countries) ranks Canada in 13th and the U.S. in 36th place.

The problem is fairly visible but solutions remain elusive.

Many fault how math is taught, including Glen Whitney, a key founder of the National Museum of Mathematics. Located in New York City, “MoMath” is the only one of its kind in North America - in contrast to Germany, which has several math museums. Other countries with math museums include Japan, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Japan and Hungary. (Of course, many museums and similar institutions in the U.S. include material that is very much related to math.)

Interviewed by Molly Petrilla for Smart Planet, Whitney expounded on ways math gets misunderstood, or improperly presented, in the U.S.:

In the roughly 2,000 hours of math instruction you get in traditional K-12 school, you get a non-representative view of what mathematics as a human enterprise is like. You learn that every problem has a specific method, and it’s just a matter of matching up the problem to the method. If you follow that recipe, you will get the one correct answer. There’s no sense of creativity or imagination or beauty or exploration. I think exploration is at the core of what mathematics is as an enterprise.

There’s also this impression that math is utterly linear. If you reach an obstacle — whether it’s something you find difficult or just don’t like — under the linear model of math, you’re done. You can’t proceed. Math must not be for you. That image is wrong. Mathematics is actually extremely bushy. There are so many different areas, and there’s no need for people to feel that if they don’t like one area, then they don’t like math at all.

In a separate NYT Op-ed, math teacher Jordan Ellenberg says a good place to start is to make engaging games out of various math concepts.

For all the excitement around using math creatively, some would counter that better grounding in plain old fundamentals can’t hurt either. As different generations are exposed to new math, newer math or (most recently) common core math, an immense source of frustration comes when parents cannot understand content well enough to help kids with homework. NCPR’s David Sommerstein blogged about this in 2012 — see if you can handle his daughter’s first grade math work.

Of course, complaints that the young leave school poorly educated are not confined to low math skills. This is part of the bigger problem of what should be taught, how does that happen best and who’s going to make any of that happen?

But sticking to math, do you see a problem? How would you fix it?

Ottawa exhibition of note: Gustave Doré

Special artists attain enough fame to draw crowds on their reputation alone. You know, ones like Picasso, Rembrandt, da Vinci or Monet. Others are also important, but just don’t have the right name recognition.

"Paul Gustave Dore" by Felix Nadar 1855-1859. Pretty dashing, eh? Portrait (detail): Public domain

“Paul Gustave Dore” by Felix Nadar 1855-1859. Quite the dashing figure!

Take Gustave Doré. Sure, some readers know his art, others even know who created it. But he’s just not that famous. Which seems a pity as Doré is : “…without doubt one of the most prodigious artists of the 19th century” according to the Museé d’Orsay:

As an illustrator, Doré set himself the challenge of the greatest texts (the Bible, Dante, Rabelais, Perrault, Cervantes, Milton, Shakespeare, Hugo, Balzac, Poe), which turned him into a real purveyor of European culture. He thus occupies a special place in contemporary collective imagination, from van Gogh to Terry Gilliam, not to mention his undoubted influence on comic books…

Why am I bringing him up? Because the big summer event for the National Gallery of Canada (right here in Ottawa) is a major showing of work by Doré. A North American exclusive, I might add.

Unfortunately, according to media reports, attendance hasn’t been all that great so far. CBC quotes National gallery spokeswoman Josée-Britanie Mallet as saying this exhibition has drawn raves. But: ”Until they see the artwork, they don’t know who Gustave Doré is.”

How often is an artist from centuries past credited – as Doré is – with influencing films and comic books? But wait, there’s more. Doré was the opposite of a one trick pony, the man did it all: drawing, painting, watercolor, engravings and sculpture. And talk about prolific, where did he find the time to create so much? According to a mini-bio from WikiArt:

He produced over 100,000 sketches in his lifetime, and lived to be 50 years old, averaging 6 sketches per day for each day he lived. By the time he died he had also earned over $2 million, living a life of affluence. Even though he was an untrained, self-taught artist, who never used a live model, and who could not sketch from nature, his work is considered some of the most important in the entire engraving art world.

Again from the Musée d’Orsay, his talent encompassed completely different styles and genres:

Petit Chaperon Rouge/Little Red Riding-Hood "She was astonished to see how her grandmother looked"

Doré illustration for Petit Chaperon Rouge/Little Red Riding-Hood “She was astonished to see how her grandmother looked”

…from satire to history painting, delivering in turn, enormous canvases and more intimate paintings, flamboyant watercolours, virtuoso washes, incisive pen and ink drawings, engravings, fanciful illustrations, as well as Baroque, humorous, monumental and enigmatic sculptures.

Museum Deputy Director and Chief Curator Paul Lang describes Doré’s significance in this video.

One of the featured items for this event is  something called the Poem of the Vine: a four meter tall, 6,000 pound bronze sculpture that tells the story of the importance of wine, on loan from the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Here’s a video on the instillation of that in Ottawa:

Looking through his work I realized I’d seen some without knowing who it was by. (In contrast, Dale Hobson knew Doré the second I proposed this topic.)

One reason I recommend going, if possible, to exhibits like this one is how original art can be enormously better than reproductions. I attended the 2012 exhibit on van Gogh and found it nothing less than stunning. It’s well-known that van Gogh laid his oils on thick. But only by seeing it in person could I appreciate how much that texture added. Van Gogh’s paintings are multi-dimensional in a magical way, changing at every angle of viewing. And you just can’t “see” that online or in a book.

So, if you already know and like Doré, or if you want to take advantage of a good opportunity to expand your horizons, here’s a good chance to do all that.

Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination runs through Sept 14.

This is what an Adirondack wilderness rescue looks like

Trooper Mark Bender and his K-9 dog Mandin with 84-year-old Donald Combs. Photo: NYS Police

Trooper Mark Bender and his K-9 dog Mandin with 84-year-old Donald Combs. Photo: NYS Police

Many of us followed the events very closely a couple of weeks ago, as State Police, Forest Rangers, and local volunteer crews worked urgently to try to locate Donald Combs, an 84-year-old hiker missing in the southern Adirondacks.

Combs vanished in the Black River Wild Forest in Forestport in Herkimer County.  When he failed to return home, his family called 911.

Now State Police have released a photograph showing the moment when Combs was located by a trooper named Mark Bender and his K-9 dog Mandin.

“Mr. Combs was weak and dehydrated but he was alert and able to identify himself,” State Police say.  “He was air-lifted out of the dense brush and taken to St. Luke’s Memorial Hospital Center in Utica for treatment.”

The image is a powerful reminder of the work that these state and local rescue crews — including many volunteers — do when people go missing in the Adirondack North Country.  In this case, officials say crews searched an area that included roughly 2,000 acres of difficult terrain.

I also love that these K-9 units played such a big role in the search.  This from the State Police release:

Members from the New York State Police Canine Unit who assisted in the extensive search included Trooper Shaun Smith and his K9 Doyle, Trooper Kevin Conners and his Bloodhound Lynde, and Trooper Daniel Snyder with his K9 Dillon.  Special recognition also goes out to the Woodgate Fire Department, the Search and Rescue Federation and the many other volunteer organizations for this successful outcome.

Navigable waters in Canada – an update

Canoeing Algonquin Park two people sunset lake Canada Ontario. Photo: Acqumen Enterprises, Creative Commons.

Canoeing in Algonquin Park,  Ontario. Photo: Acqumen Enterprises, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Navigable waters” is an awkward mouthful. Not a very sexy topic to the average layperson. But for some landowners and paddlers, them’s fighting words.

Why? Because if a waterway is considered navigable, that comes with distinct rights to float, paddle or motor through, even if the surrounding land is privately owned.

Setting aside how that all works in law in the U.S., this post is meant to highlight a shift in Canadian policy on that issue.

According to a CBC exclusive of July 13, something called the Navigation Protection Act has replaced the older Navigable Waters Protection Act. (I know, they sound the same.)

CBC’s David McKie reports the newer measure (passed as part of an omnibus budget bill last year) will significantly reduce the number of waterways where development would be considered interference with navigation. According to the article, the change means…

The rest of the waterways, about 98 per cent of all rivers and lakes in Canada, now have no federal protection, which means an individual or group that depends on a waterway for recreation or livelihood would have to go to court to challenge a development it believes impedes navigation.

Environmental organizations consider this a step backwards.

“Before these changes, the federal government acted like a watchdog, guarding the public’s right to use all Canada’s navigable waterways and balancing the public’s interests against those of industry,” says Anna Johnston, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.

“The changes effectively cut the public loose, leaving Canadians to stand up for their rights on their own in David-vs-Goliath fights against industry and, depending on the case, against the government itself. Not only do the changes bring more uncertainty, but they also skew the fight.”

According to Canadian Press coverage by Heather Scoffield from 2013, much of the pressure for those changes came from pipeline industry interests. As quoted by the CP, NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said ”I never really knew where this call for change came from”. The changes did generate opposition at that time, but with a majority of votes, the Conservative budget containing those measures passed. In Leslie’s view:

“It was never in any documents, it was never an addendum to testimony or anything like that. And in some private meetings I’ve had with some industry reps, they too have expressed to me that they don’t know why the Navigable Waters Act changes were made.”

While Leslie said it’s perfectly acceptable for industry groups to present the government with lists of policy recommendations, “what’s not normal is that those changes are accepted holus-bolus, without any consultation.”

In some respects, this is old news in as much as the law in question passed last year. The current CBC article was prompted by briefing notes obtained by CBC news that say the changes will produce more court challenges ahead.

The Mike Duffy show!

Sen. Mike Duffy. Photo: mikeduffy.ca

Sen. Mike Duffy. Photo: mikeduffy.ca

Ah, political scandals! Some splash up noisily, like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Others slosh and churn, and slosh and churn…like (suspended) Canadian Senator Mike Duffy.

Most likely you’ve heard about the Ford hullabaloo, in which the mayor of boring old Canada’s biggest city becomes fodder for headlines and late night comedians as he wages a very public battle with substance abuse.

The Mike Duffy scandal doesn’t summarize as easily. It’s so big, so flamboyant that it rates full treatment, such as this “The Rise and Fall of Mike Duffy” feature by the CBC’s Fifth Estate, which is sort of like Canada’s “60 Minutes”.

The short version might go like this: scrappy little guy makes it big as a news media star, attains a long-held dream of becoming a high-profile Senator, only to suffer public humiliation and sharp party abandonment when questionable expense account claims become a national scandal.

Many political observers say the context of this scandal threatened to destabilize Canada’s current ruling government and can still hurt (defeat?) the Conservatives in the next federal election, currently slated for 2015. Especially now that Sen. Duffy has been formally charged with 31 offenses that include fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

As mentioned, Mike Duffy began life as a regular guy, from Prince Edward Island. He moved away and built a long upwardly-mobile career, including many years as a prominent member of the news media in Ottawa. He was eventually appointed to the Canadian Senate, to represent PEI. As Senator, Duffy traveled extensively, using his star power to raise money for his party.

The trouble came when pesky reporters wondered aloud if Sen. Duffy was legitimately entitled to standard expenses for housing, travel and such. (Hadn’t he been living and working in Ottawa for, well, decades?) While Sen. Duffy and his wife do own a cottage on PEI, and are using it this week, it wasn’t very hard to prove he lacked usual PEI residency documents, such as a provincial health card or driver’s license.

The Senate expense account issue snowballed into something so big it’s far from over yet. That scandal included other Senators too, but Sen. Duffy’s case has been the most explosive (so far).

Indeed, what some are calling the Tory’s biggest ethical challenge could end up becoming a “tipping point” for the general electorate, when this all goes to trial next September, according to National Post political columnist John Ivison. (Duffy has promised he won’t go down without a fight that could include revelations that many in high places would rather not discuss.)

Will sitting Prime Minister Stephen Harper have to testify under oath about how and why his then-chief of staff Nigel Wright wrote a check for $90,000 to Senator Duffy, to make him financially whole.  That remains to be seen. But the mere possibility makes the case even more significant. And then there’s the apparent head scratcher of how the recipient of a check for $90K can face bribery charges, when the person who signed the check has already dodged that legal bullet?

The Mayor Ford spectacle speaks to the personal saga of battling substance abuse issues and what to do if a city has no viable recall options while that plays out.

In contrast – since he says he’s done nothing wrong, nothing that others weren’t also doing – the Sen. Duffy scandal speaks to questions of a “business as usual” political culture.

Sen. Duffy may prove to be a rogue, a scapegoat, or both. But the whole mess does have many Canadian voters wondering: who is responsible for ethical standards in the federal government?

Adirondack Challenge pits Cuomo against legislators, state officials

The 2013 Adirondack Challenge. Photo: Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office, via Flickr

The 2013 Adirondack Challenge. Photo: Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, via Flickr

Are you ready to raft? I said, ARE YOU READY TO RAFT?

Sorry. Anyway, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has just now announced details of this year’s Adirondack Challenge, a daylong event to be held this Sunday to promote Adirondack tourism. You might remember last year’s challenge, when Cuomo faced off against then-NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

So here below are the details. Anyone want to bet on who’s going to pop his or her team’s raft? Or who’s an expert rafter? North Country Sen. Betty Little will be captaining the NYS Senate Republican Conference rafting team!

As part of the Challenge, Governor Cuomo will be participating in whitewater rafting Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, and numerous state and local officials and tourism industry representatives.

“The Adirondack Challenge is about highlighting the beauty and recreational opportunities available to visitors of the region, and New York’s second annual challenge will showcase everything the Adirondack’s has to offer like never before,” Governor Cuomo said. “Last year we set the bar high with a Challenge that drew a variety of tourism industry representatives, business leaders, and elected officials, and this year we are going even further.”

Governor Cuomo’s whitewater rafting team will include Sandra Lee and his daughters.

Additional rafts competing in this year’s Challenge include:

  • · New York State Assembly Democratic Conference, captained by Speaker Sheldon Silver
    · New York State Senate Republican Conference, captained by Senator Betty Little
    · New York State Senate Independent Democratic Conference, captained by Leader Jeff Klein
    · New York State Senate Democratic Conference, captained by Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins
    · Onondaga County, captained by County Executive Joanie Mahoney
    · City of Albany, captained by Mayor Kathy Sheehan
    · Western New York, captained by WNY Regional Council Co-Chair Howard Zemsky and Mayor Paul Dyster from Niagara Falls

In addition to whitewater rafting, the 2014 Adirondack Challenge offers participants the opportunity to go golfing, hiking, fishing, paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking, or take part on an Adirondack motorcycle ride. A Taste NY reception is also being held to highlight the many world-class food and beverage products that are made by local vendors.

Other participants in this year’s challenge include:

  • · New York State Senators Hugh Farley, Diane Savino, David Valesky, Michael Gianaris, and Patty Ritchie
    · New York State Assembly Members J. Gary Pretlow, Keith Wright, Marc Butler, Michael Cusick, Donna Lupardo, Kenneth Zebrowski, Addie Russell, Sam Roberts, Patricia Fahy, Angelo Santabarbara, Michaelle Solages, Daniel Stec, and Maritza Davila
    · Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas
    · Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber
    · Franklin County Board of Supervisors Chairman D. Billy Jones
    · St. Lawrence County Legislature Chairman Jonathan Putney
    · Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen
    · Larry Schwartz, Secretary to the Governor
    · ESD President and CEO Kenneth Adams
    · Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey
    · DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens
    · OGS Commissioner RoAnn Destito
    · SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher
    · SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran
    · SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling
    · Clarkson University President and Regional Council Co-Chair Tony Collins
    · Tourism Advisory Council Members Cristyne Nicholas, Thomas Mulroy, and John Ernst
    · Adirondack Park Agency Chair Lani Ulrich
    · NYS Canals Corp. Director Brian Stratton
    · Parole Board Chairwoman Tina Stanford
    · Division of Veterans Affairs Director Col. Eric Hesse
    · Acting Director of the NYS Office for the Aging Corinda Crossdale
    · Acting Commissioner of the Department of Human Rights Helen Foster
    · Mohawk Vally Regional Council Co-Chair Lawrence T. Gilroy
    · NYS AFL-CIO Director of Government Affairs Suzy Ballantyne
    · Buffalo Building & Construction Trades Council President Paul Brown
    · Business Council of NYS President & CEO Heather Bricetti
    · Olympians Chris Mazdzer and Andrew Weibrecht

In 2012 alone, tourism in the Adirondacks Region generated $1.24 billion in direct spending and $152 million in state and local taxes. This economic sector was integral to the region, attributing for 13,890 jobs, 17.9 percent of all employment in the region, and $332 million in labor income.


A new way to control invasives in the Adirondacks?

Zebra mussel cluster. Photo: D. Jude, Univ. of Michigan, via  NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Zebra mussel cluster. Photo: D. Jude, Univ. of Michigan, via
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

This summer, Paul Smith’s College and the East Shore Schroon Lake Association are working on a program aiming to control the spread of aquatic invasive species. Researchers are trying to see how effective it is to flush a boat’s water-holding compartment of remnant water in preventing the spread of zebra-mussel larvae and other microscopic aquatic invasive species.

“Boats that are not properly drained and dried prior to use are a major risk for spreading various [Aquatic Invasives, or AIs] from water body to water body,” State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said in a press release. He said that the pilot program would evaluate the practicality and boater acceptance of flushing these water-holding compartments prior to launching.

New regulations require that boats be drained of water and that the boat, trailer, and associated equipment be cleaned of all visible plant and animal substances before launching from or leaving DEC land where vessels can head into the water. Boat-launch stewards at DEC boat launches on Cranberry Lake, Second Pond, Great Sacandaga Lake and Schroon Lake are asking boaters to flush the bilge, livewells, and baitwells if they contain remnant water from a prior boating trip.

Boats whose hulls are infested with zebra mussels will be directed to a boat-cleaning facility or marine repair shop that offers those services. The stewards will also evaluate various kinds of spray equipment that can be used at boat launches that don’t have electric and water services. They will also assess the receptivity of boaters to the program.

“Our ultimate goal is to develop a simple and effective methodology that boaters can follow that provides the desired protection from the spread of AIS but at the same time does not unduly burden boaters or overly restrict boating,” said Martens. He hopes this will be available at other boat-launch facilities in the future.

Eric Holmlund, director of the Adirondack Watershed Initiative Stewardship Program, said he hopes some version of this new procedure will be both effective and efficient in removing small-bodied organisms, and will be relatively convenient for boating parties. “Most importantly, we hope it spreads the message to boat owners that even small amounts of water carried in livewells, bilge areas and motors present a risk of spreading aquatic invasive species, which can cause costly ecological disruption.”

Flushing out water-holding compartments complements the boat-inspection program now conducted by four “highly motivated” lake stewards of the East Shore Schroon Lake Association, said their spokesperson Rich Nawrot. He said that those stewards are available seven days a week at the Horicon boat launch.

Additionally, zebra-mussel researcher Dr. David Wong of SUNY Oneonta is contributing to the effort by looking into other effective ways a boat owner can remove remnants of water and plant matter, like using car-wash facilities as well as salt and potassium chloride solutions.



Local students and teachers build roller coasters at Clarkson

Roller Coaster at Dorney Park, Allentown, PA. Photo: hounddiggity, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Roller Coaster at Dorney Park, Allentown, PA. Photo: hounddiggity, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Have you ever been on a roller coaster and wondered how it works? Have you ever thought about what goes into designing and constructing a roller coaster?

This week, local students and teachers are getting that opportunity, as Clarkson University hosts its 9th annual Roller Coaster Camp, sponsored by the the school’s IMPETUS (Integrated Math and Physics for Entry into Undergraduate STEM disciplines) Program, as an attempt to introduce students to the logistics of roller coaster technology. Pretty cool, right?

According to a press release from Clarkson, campers will spend the week gaining skills applicable to any 21st century profession, including problem solving, teamwork and computer literacy. Students will be organized into “companies” and tasked with designing an original model of a roller coaster–with hopes that it’s actually going to function.

On Thursday, campers also get to take a day-trip to Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George, where they will research and collect data on real-life, highly-functioning roller coaster, which will teach participants how to both collect and analyze data.

Also at Six Flags, students will get to meet and hear from real-life roller coaster engineer Frank Hardick, who designed many of the rides at the amusement park, including the reconstruction of the wooden roller coaster, The Comet. And of course they’ll get to ride a roller coaster as well.

The camp will finish with an award ceremony where students will have the opportunity to showcase their roller coaster designs.


Comic con comes to Massena!

The latest effort from Watertown-based comic book artist Ed Yancey, who'll be appearing at the Upstate Comic Con. Image via Upstate Comic Con's Facebook page

The latest effort from Watertown-based comic book artist Ed Yancey, who’ll be appearing at the Upstate Comic Con. Image via Upstate Comic Con’s Facebook page

Comic lovers, avid collectors and Magic enthusiasts, rejoice! The first annual Upstate Comic Con is coming to Massena! The convention is slated to take place on August 2 at the VFW on West Hatfield Street. Organizer Elijah Winfrey said he hopes to make it an annual event.

Winfrey told The Daily Courier-Observer that 15 percent of the admission ticket sales and 100 percent of raffle ticket sales will go to the Massena Boys and Girls Club. He wants to offer support as the club looks to open its doors on a part-time basis in September.

Starting at 4 p.m., organizers have lined up some outdoor activities designed to lead up to the actual convention. Weather permitting, BD Entertainment will be outside with inflatables and Rapidz Ice Cream will be selling ice cream cones. “In bigger cities, they do a Comic Con every year, they focus on comic books and things of that nature. Up here we’re talking about comic books. We’ll have lots of comics,” Winfrey said.

In addition to vendors selling items, they’ll also be showing two Batman fan films, “The Batman Chronicles” and “Joker Rising,” and will have a panel discussion by Brother’s in Awesome Studios, a North Country video game company.

Other activities slated for the evening include a “Magic the Gathering” tournament, a Pokemon tournament, an art contest, face painting and photography available by Vandal Films for everyone who dresses up as their favorite superhero.

Winfrey runs a group called the North Country Acting Society, which he said is trying to create a filming industry in the North Country. The group is trying to schedule three events each year (including this comic con) along with an award show and a film festival.

General admission tickets are $10 per person and are available at Star Tech Computers, 260 East Orvis St., Massena, and I Got Game, 205 Ford St., Ogdensburg. Tickets will also be sold at the door until 7:30 p.m. the day of the convention. Tickets and the event are cash only.

VIP tickets, which will not be sold at the door, are $20. The VIP package includes one hour early access to the event, 10 free raffle tickets, a “hot pass” to be first in every autograph line, front row seating at every panel and a limited edition “Upstate Comic Con” poster.

For more information, check out Upstate Comic Con on Facebook.

Old or young: don’t just sit there!

We all need more of this: Surfing Sand Bay ahead of the storm as the winds off Lake Ontario move down river. NCPR Photo of the Day by: John Sherman, Barneveld, NY

More of us need to go outside and play! (NCPR photo of the day by John Sherman, Barneveld, NY: Surfing Sand Bay ahead of the storm as the winds off Lake Ontario move down river.)

Summer is in full flush, with so many things to do. But, whatever the season, more and more research suggests everybody needs to get up off the couch!  (Or at least move around while rooting for Argentina or Germany on the big screen.)

When it comes to good health, there’s the importance of diet – which has been summed up pretty succinctly by Michael Pollan with this advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”

We’ve all been told to get regular exercise because being sedentary has many negative health consequences. But there’s growing evidence that basic activity levels (what you do when not out jogging) play into this picture too.

“Sitting is bad for you” is one message that made the rounds lately. Actually, a whole lot of headlines went straight for the fear factor, saying excessive sitting will kill you. (Dale Hobson weighs in on which of those risks he’s willing to take in this Listening Post from 2013.)

Those who study facts and trends are warning that the next generation is on track to reverse a steady increase in life expectancy by leading shorter, less-healthy lives than their parents did. The consequences of that – in terms of lost productivity, higher health care costs and plain old human misery – are pretty profound.

A July 9 post by Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times health blog “Well” calls attention to new studies that young people (kids!) are just not getting enough physical action for basic fitness either:

For the past few decades, accumulating data and anecdotal evidence have shown that children in the United States are becoming more sedentary. Less than a third of young people ages 12 to 18 are said to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity for their age group, which would be about an hour a day of exercise.

Instead, epidemiological studies suggest, physical activity among American youngsters peaks before age 10, and perhaps as early as 2, and begins a steady and accelerating decline after that. By some reports, children typically spend eight to 10 hours a day in front of a television or computer screen, with their screen time rising in summer, when school doesn’t interfere.

Figure 4. Percentage of youth aged 12–15 who had adequate levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, by sex and survey period: United States, 1999–2004 and 2012

Figure 4. Percentage of youth aged 12–15 who had adequate levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, by sex and survey period: United States, 1999–2004 and 2012. (My comment: Note the downward trend in only a decade’s time.)

Physical activity perhaps peaking by age 2?!?! Yikes!

Supporting data come from a National Center for Health Statistics Data brief from May of this year “Cardiorespriratory Fitness Levels Among U.S. Youth Aged 12-15 Years: Untied States, 1999-2004 and 2012″.

The comments on that NYT post are wide-ranging in observations, comparisons and suggestions. Readers (presumably older) mention how common it used to be to do things like walk to school, engage in unsupervised play and do physical work around the house or family business. Technology, screen time, de-funding of P.E. in schools and plain old bad parenting all come up for a good deal of criticism too.

Perhaps this is less of an issue in our region, where the hard work of farming is still common and so much wilderness is close enough to enjoy.

But since technology isn’t going away, we may need to do more – collectively and individually – to keep from from dying of inactivity.