Discovery of synchronous firefly population expected to draw more visitors to Watoga |

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West Virginians through the generations have marveled at the intermittent flashes of light that take place in the night skies of late spring and summer, as swarms of fireflies emerge from the ground to perform their annual bioluminescence-enhanced mating ritual.

While such displays can be spectacular, particularly if large populations of fireflies are involved, imagine viewing a light show created by thousands of lightning bugs all flashing at the same time, at the same intervals.

Such displays are created by synchronous fireflies, members of two or three of the 2,000 species of fireflies known to exist in North America. Until recently, synchronous fireflies could be found on public lands in the U.S. only in portions of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest, the Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area in east Tennessee, and South Carolina’s Congaree National Park.

As of this year, Watoga State Park in Pocahontas County has joined that list.

A now-retired Division of Natural Resources biologist happened to be visiting at Watoga during the 2019 firefly mating season and discovered what appeared to be a population of rare synchronous fireflies. She passed along information on the sighting, including the GPS coordinates for where it occurred, to Mack Frantz, State Zoologist for the DNR, who was organizing a study of firefly populations across West Virginia using data from citizen observations.

Not long after learning about the possible West Virginia synchronous firefly population, Frantz said, the Watoga State Park Foundation contacted him about their Dark Sky Initiative, a project aimed at having Watoga designated as the state’s first Dark Sky Park.

To qualify for the designation, a park must meet criteria established by the International Dark Sky Association. They include being able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye, having night sky brightness

A new fellowship program seeks to draw more Black students into space

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A woman excepts an award from a man in factory-style work clothes.
Enlarge / Patti Grace Smith was an important figure in the commercial space industry.

Alvin Drew remembers becoming entranced with airplanes a few months before his fifth birthday. In the fall of 1967, he went to the airport in Baltimore to see his father off on a business trip. In those simpler times, he recalls walking outside to watch the takeoff from a designated area on the runway.

Four-year-olds are into all things big and loud, and seeing an airplane come racing down the runway, popping a wheelie, and then taking off was just about the coolest thing he could imagine. His mom and grandmother, both educators, noted his interest and bought him model airplanes. This nurtured a budding interest in flying and later becoming an astronaut.

“They saw a smoldering fire of curiosity inside me,” Drew said. “They went out and threw as much gasoline on the fire as possible.”

Drew would go on to the Air Force Academy in 1984, where a mentor noted his interest in one day becoming an astronaut. The instructor said if Drew really wanted to fly into space, he needed to get good grades, flight experience, and an advanced degree. “He laid down a flagstone path to me for becoming an astronaut,” Drew said. “Many Black students, myself included, would not have known otherwise.”

In 2000, Drew was selected to become a NASA astronaut and flew into space twice on space shuttle missions, including the final flight of Discovery in 2011. Until Victor Glover launches on NASA’s Crew-1 mission later this month, Drew remains the last Black astronaut to have flown into space.

Drew shared this background to stress the importance of mentors. They helped nurture his interest in space and achieve a career in the aerospace industry. And it explains why he

Extraneous images draw attention from text, reducing comprehension in beginning readers — ScienceDaily

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Reading is the gateway for learning, but one-third of elementary school students in the United States do not read at grade level. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are exploring how the design of reading materials affects literacy development. They find that an overly busy page with extraneous images can draw the reader’s attention away from the text, resulting in lower understanding of content.

The results of the study are available in the September issue of the journal npj Science of Learning.

“Learning to read is hard work for many kids,” said Anna Fisher, associate professor of psychology and senior author on the paper.

The typical design of books for beginning readers often include engaging and colorful illustrations to help define the characters and setting of the story, offer context for the text and motivate young readers. Fisher and Cassondra Eng, a doctoral candidate in CMU’s Department of Psychology and first author on the paper, hypothesized that the extraneous images may draw the reader’s eyes away from the text and disrupt the focus necessary to understand the story.

The researchers sought to understand how to support young readers and optimize their experience as they become more fluent readers. In the study, 60 first- and second-grade students from the greater Pittsburgh area were asked to read from a commercially available book designed for reading practice in this age group. Half of the book consisted of the published design and the other half was streamlined, having removed the extraneous images. Each child read from the same book. The team used a portable eye-tracker to monitor the number of times the child’s gaze shifted away from the text to images on the page.

To develop the streamlined version of the book, the researchers had a group of adults identify relevant images to the text.