How Technology is advancing in Learning environments

Education is constantly evolving. Billed as one of the fastest growing tech markets in the UK,  our schools collectively spend more than £900 million a year on education technology, or edtech as it’s commonly dubbed. Neither does the sector show any sign of slowing down.

Curriculums change through the years, and with them the means of presenting their educational content to school pupils. We’ve already seen chalkboards exchanged for interactive whiteboards and projectors, and textbooks largely swapped out for laptops and computers. We’re all familiar with these developments, but ground-breaking progress continues to be made.

On October 16th, 2018, the BBC published a report on a parliamentary meeting that served as a landmark event for technology in education. Based at Middlesex University, a robot named Pepper sat down with MP’s to discuss the impact that robotics and artificial intelligence have had on education, and how things could move forward in the future. While all the questions and answers were predetermined, the main thrust of the conversation with Pepper was to encourage a blend of technology and human oversight, rather than replacing one with the other.

This merger focuses on viewing technology as something that is of service to teachers and pupils rather than something to be subservient to. An LSE study has already proven that banning smartphones in schools significantly improved results, but the question worth asking is; can technology be repurposed for education’s sake?

Though robotics and AI are being introduced to the learning environment, for now they largely handle the more administrative tasks in the schooling arena. For example, they’ll record test results or manage student data. That said, the robot Pepper facilitated duties in front line learning too, such as aiding special needs children with their numeracy development. Clearly, this edtech is all of enormous help to teachers, who have been notoriously overworked for years, resigning and even falling ill from the stress of their exploited roles.

An App called Kahoot! has also made waves amongst school pupils both in the UK and the US. It allows teachers to create their own digital games that their pupils can access through the app, enhancing their learning through a fun use of technology. The app had a recorded 50 million monthly users in June 2017, which shows just how quickly edtech can gain traction in popularity. Under teacher supervision, apps enable the learning experience to become exciting and interactive in a way that textbooks, unfortunately, can’t be.

To some degree, edtech allows children to have a more prominent hand in their education. It gives them greater agency in terms of not only what they learn, but how they learn it. Technology is something that young people are very familiar with, and that same familiarity can spur their engagement in the classroom. Edtech use means that learning becomes a less passive experience; pupils can now get involved using their screens, instead of listening to teachers monologue in ways they can’t fully comprehend.

In 2018 the BBC reported that over the last three years the number of children who are being homeschooled in the UK has risen by around 40%. It’s not hard to see why; for parents, ensuring their child’s schooling is top quality is vital, and home schooling is definitely worth consideration as the new school year starts. Whether you’re considering homeschooling for your little ones or terrible teens, choosing to self-teach offers the perfect method for many parents who seek a more hands-on approach in their children’s education. In the UK, as a parent you must ensure your child receives a full-time education from the age of 5, moving through Key Stages 1-3 and on to GCSE and potentially A-Level education.

So is homeschooling right for you? Whatever the age or abilities of your child(ren), learning from home presents many benefits. Let’s look at a few of these advantages, which may help you decide.

Avoid classroom distractions

Two of the main reasons influencing UK parents’ decision to choose homeschooling include protecting their children’s mental health and the ability to avoid exclusion. Being in a large classroom environment can present a number of challenges for children, including exposure to bullies, feelings of inadequacy from being around superior-performing peers and being singled out for being ‘different’ from other children. Many children may feel as if they simply don’t ‘fit in’. Home schooling offers a solution to avoid these situations and protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing.

One-to-one time

The chance to learn one-to-one rather than one-to-many offers many children the chance to feel fully involved and immersed in their own learning. This increases their chances of remaining engaged and interested in their studies. This also allows you, as a parent, to build a stronger bond with your child; to be able to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with them on these. It is attention that they may not get in a large classroom environment.

Go at their pace

Homeschooling allows your child to proceed through their education at their own pace rather than that of scheduled class. Every child is unique, with their own abilities, and these abilities may vary from subject to subject. If your child needs more help with Mathematics and less so with English, you can adjust their learning schedule accordingly.

No school run

This means more healthy sleeping patterns and time to study – you have the time to flex your child’s learning timetable around your lifestyle and circumstances. You can take holidays when you want, too. A definite win-win.

Homeschooling offers many benefits over more traditional school classroom study. It’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of both options before making a decision to homeschool of course, and there are plenty of resources to do this, including the UK Government’s website, which can provide further advice.

Christopher Colombus’ legacy presents him as the great Italian explorer who discovered the New World. Venerated by Colombus Day and in history textbooks alike, their depictions of him as the hero of the New World paint a rather skewed picture of him and his explorations. The less romantic reality is that, with his famous voyage in 1492, Colombus didn’t just discover the New World, he forcibly took it.

Funded by the Spanish monarch, Colombus set out on an expedition on August 3rd, 1492, to find a Western route to India – a route he never actually found. On December 5th, 1492, he and his crew reached their third landfall of the trip, Hispaniola, or present-day Haiti.

When Colombus landed in Hispaniola, he was warmly welcomed by the indigenous Taino people, a subgroup of the Arawak people who were populous throughout the Caribbean. The Taino were a well-developed community with an established social system. They were farmers, navigators, artists, and above all, peaceful inhabitants of the New World – their world.

In every sense of the word, the Taino were an advanced society; they just weren’t advanced in Colombus’s sense of the word. They used farming techniques for crop cultivation, went hunting and fishing and were divided into two social classes under a chiefdom. They had clan laws, spoke an Arawakan language, and wrote in petroglyphs ( rock engravings ). Before Colombus’s arrival, they were a thriving agricultural society.

On his first voyage, Colombus agreed with Cacique Guacanagari, a leader of the Taino people, that he could leave some men on the island to establish a settlement. La Navidad, the first colony in the New World, was thus founded. But in a sign of things to come, the colony was quickly destroyed by the greed of the settlers, as violence ensued over the men taking gold and Taino women.

On Colombus’s second voyage in November 1493, he started to capitalise on the Taino’s generosity, and this time demanded paid tribute from them. Those that weren’t able to pay were brutally killed. He set up his second settlement, La Isabela, in 1494, where relations between the natives and the settlers quickly deteriorated. At the time, the slave trade was rampant, so many of the Taino were sent to Spain to be sold. They were forced into extreme working conditions on plantations and subject to European diseases, like Smallpox, to which they had no immunity.

Colombus took the Taino’s land and gold and dissolved their society. They lost all self-governance and became pawns to European invaders bringing warfare to their once peaceful land. The Taino society quickly became a shadow of its former self as it was aggressively wiped out by European expansion into the New World.

Colombus’s complete demolition of the Taino people only scratches the surface of the genocidal atrocities of the Age of Exploration, with various similarly advanced, even greater civilisations of the Americas all brought to ruin by it. Commemorating Colombus as an explorer of the New World fails to acknowledge the barbarism of his actions. Whilst he was undoubtably a skilled naval navigator, he was unable to navigate the new social and cultural institutions he found. Ultimately, instead of exploring and embracing the Taino people and their culture, he exploited it.

 

In a world where environmental issues including climate change and global warming are rarely out of the news, where population increases and the continued pursuit of fossil fuels create endless stress and strain on our planet, it’s understandable to see why Michael Palin once said that “geography students hold the key to the world’s problems.”

The prospects for geography students at university certainly hold promise for their future employability; a study of graduate unemployment rates six months after graduation by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit charity showed that geography, along with psychology graduates, were least likely to be unemployed.

Studying geography equips young people with a wide range of transferable skills which employers are keen to see: skills in numeracy, teamwork and project work gained through field trips, applied analytical and research skills and the ability to use a variety of computing applications. In an economically and environmentally challenged world, the diverse disciplines of ‘soft’ social sciences of human geography blend with the ‘hard’ sciences of physical geography, to give students a unique overview of the complexities facing our planet and its inhabitants. The subject brings an awareness of how to navigate socio-cultural differences required to address global issues and gain an understanding of natural disasters and their possible prevention.

We need our young people to pursue studies in geographical sciences and to carry their passions into the industry of the future.

This also means we require increased private and public sector investment in geographical science research and application; the creation of jobs which will improve the future for our planet and its inhabitants. If we consider natural disasters alone, specifically studies on storm and flood disasters, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the amount of incidents have risen by 7.4 percent annually in recent decades.

Not that we need to be reminded, of course. In 2014, the UK suffered its worst rainfall in at least 248 years. Thousands of homes across the country were flooded, culminating in an estimated more than £1.1bn of damage. This could be the start of things to come – with the Met Office predicting that global warming could mean heavy summer downpours are five times more likely by the end of the century. Perhaps now, more than ever, our planet pleads – invest in geography.

I am a complete book worm. I love reading, delving into new worlds, learning new things and improving my vocabulary. In my opinion, you should too! Here are some reasons why…

In my first years of studying I took an English course to improve my language skills. It was a nice surprise then, when I found out two of the books we had to read were already on my own ‘to read’ list! I thought this was wonderful because not only was I able to study and understand the language of these books, but got to enjoy the course in many more ways. It didn’t feel like work, which is always the dream!

So, what are the benefits of reading, and can I convince more of you to do it?

  • Reading reduces stress

I have a rule that every night I do my best to read a few chapters before going to bed. Since doing so I have had much longer and deeper sleep and find I am more productive throughout the day.  Reading helps you forget your worries as you focus on the story. After a few chapters, things will seem much less stressful than they did before. The article linked below adds more to the case.

 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/5070874/Reading-can-help-reduce-stress.html

  • You will learn new things

I have just finished reading Deborah Harkness’ vampire trilogy and could not believe how many facts and so much history one author packed into such them! It’s amazing what you can discover when you pick up a book and start reading. You could even find an interest in something you’d never heard of before.

  • Your memory will improve

One of the best things about reading is it can improve your memory no matter what your age. It has also been linked to longevity, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and just keeping your memory sharper than it would be without. So why wouldn’t you want to read? The link below has more about this.

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/how-reduce-your-risk-dementia 

  • It can fuel your creativity

Sometimes you can feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with a particular essay. This may mean you need a break, but rather than watching some TV, I find that picking up a book unrelated to your course can give your mind a better chance to relax and think more clearly. It’s a great way to press pause and will often help us to go back and break that wall.

  • You’ll find your focus improving

Ever been sat on the sofa or propped up in bed with a good book, glanced over at the clock and realised a few hours have passed since you sat down? Well that is a sure sign your focus is working and a great indication that you’re relaxing too. When reading you are focusing on all the words, the story, turning pages and thinking ahead, which is a lot of multitasking, meaning your focus is automatically improved!

The next time you’re undecided whether to pick something off the shelf to read, then, I recommend you don’t hesitate!

 

 

The celebrated explorer, navigator and cartographer James Cook was born on October 27th, 1728 in the village of Marton, near Middlesbrough. He was from a large farming family, and helped out at home until he was 16. He then took an apprenticeship with a shopkeeper, but never settled, and soon swapped to another apprenticeship, this time working on coal ships. James loved the work, and in 1752 he passed the exams which would eventually enable him to help command a ship.

The Mariner’s Museum records how Cook, “…completed his three-year apprenticeship in April 1750, then went on to volunteer for the Royal Navy. He would soon have the opportunity to explore and learn more about seafaring. He was assigned to serve on the HMS Eagle where he was quickly promoted to the position of captain’s mate due to his experience and skills. In 1757, he was transferred to the Pembroke and sent to Nova Scotia, Canada, to fight in the Seven Years’ War.” During this war, Cook’s skills as a surveyor and cartographer were put to great use and led him to plan many attacks.

In 1760, Cook helped map the entire coast of Newfoundland. Once again, his exceptional mapping skills brought him attention, particularly that of the Royal Society and Admiralty, who would use his maps for voyages for the next 200 years.

On 30th July, 1768, Cook set off on his first great expedition, aboard the Endeavour, with a crew of 84. Amongst them were several scientists, their mission being to record the journey on new maps and explore as many unknown lands as possible.

In 1769 the Endeavour reached South America. Proceeding further, the crew set up a research base in Tahiti, which they named Fort Venus. One of Cook’s most renowned achievements occurred on June 3rd that year, when the transit of that planet was observed and recorded.

They left Tahiti in August, and sailed blindly for several weeks. It wasn’t until October 6th that land was sighted again, when Endeavour reached the country we now know as New Zealand. Cook named its first feature Poverty Bay. On all his travels, Cook tried to mix with the local populations and collect plant and animal life. In Poverty Bay, however, the native population was unfriendly, so he decided to sail south along the coast. As he did so, Cook noted many of the separate islands that cluster around New Zealand, and he named most; from Bare Island to Cape Turnagain. When the Endeavour turned around to reface the northernmost tip of the island, Cook realised that New Zealand itself was made up of two large separate islands.

In April 1770, Cook spotted the coastline of Australia. He landed in Botany Bay near modern day Sydney, before exploring the area. Then began the long journey back to England, via Batavia in Indonesia, before they finally returned to London in July 1771. A full chart of this first expedition is pictured above.

In 1772, Cook was promoted to full Captain and given command of two ships, the Resolution and Adventure, tasked to look for the Southern Continent. His explorations continued until he was 50, when his interest in the lives of native populations led to his downfall.

Captain Cook’s final voyage took place on board the HMS Resolution, and now he became the first sailor to land a ship on the Hawaiian Islands. This visit was initially successful, and Cook left the island with much information, before heading to America. A few months later he returned to Hawaii – but he’d outstayed his welcome. The local population had tired of him interfering in their way of life and at Kealakekua Bay, while trying to negotiate repairs to his boats, on 14th February, 1779, a fight broke out and he was killed.

James Cook is the first British ship commander to circumnavigate the globe in a lone ship. He is also the first British commander to prevent the outbreak of scurvy by regulating his crew’s diet, by serving them citrus fruit. He charted many regions and recorded many European islands and coastlines for the first time. Cook also provided new information about the Pacific Ocean and its islands. Further, he met with and recorded information about their various peoples. Again, none were previously known at the time.

While his methods would be seen as intrusive today, Cook was a man of his time, and his skill at surveying unexplored lands and seas can’t be denied. The long term importance of Captain Cook’s discoveries, coupled with his fearlessness to do so, have meant that we continue to commemorate his achievements today. A NASA space shuttle is even named Endeavour, after his first ship.

In the Northern Hemisphere the longest day of the year falls on 21st June. This day is often referred to as the Summer Solstice or Midsummer’s Day. But why is this day so much longer than average?

As the Earth rotates on its axis, parts of the world move closer to the sun, while the rest moves farther away. It is this tilt which brings it nearer to the Sun that is force behind the solstice. On 21st June the Earth’s axis tilts 23 degrees at the same time as the Sun reaches its highest point of altitude. The result is that, with the exception of the Polar Regions, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the longest period of daylight hours of the year on that day.

In the UK and Europe the longest day is usually 21st June, but due to the curvature of the Earth, the highest altitude of the Sun occurs on a different day in a few locations over the tropics. In areas where the sun is directly overhead (within both the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn) there are two different ‘longest’ days. This is because the Sun crosses directly once on the day before the solstice and once on the day after.

Occasionally the summer solstice falls on June 22nd in Europe; although it is very rare. The last time this happened was 1975 and the next time will be in 2203. This occasional variation of a day, or a few days as you get nearer the equator, is because the earth orbits the sun in an ellipse and not a circle (or sphere), and its orbital speed varies slightly during the year.
The Winter Solstice, or the shortest day, which occurs on the 21st December in the Northern hemisphere, works in the opposite way. The Earth is orbiting at its furthest point from the Sun, and so we experience long periods of dark skies and therefore a shorter day.

The longest day traditionally marks the first day of summer in the UK, just as the 21st December heralds the start of Winter. However, just because the Summer Solstice is the longest day, it does not guarantee that it will be the hottest, or even warm. Traditionally the Summer Solstice has been a time to celebrate the planting and harvesting of crops. This ancient idea is still celebrated by some to this day; most famously commemorated in England by the Druid communities who gather near Stonehenge to watch the sun rise over the Heel Stone.

Many of you who are doing exams this year will be revising or starting to think about revising. As a tutor, I am often asked, “What should I revise?” The answer is, unfortunately, everything that you have covered in the course. No one except the exam writers know what is going to be in the exams in any single year, so always make sure that you cover everything.

Barnaby Lenon, an ex-headmaster at Harrow, has recently written in a blog that GCSE students should revise their course at least three times. The same applies for A level students, but officially there is no magic number given as to how many times you should do so. Usually, however, it will be more than once. Some lucky people, the exceptions, can read something once and it will “go in”, but more will have to go through the course over and over again for it to sink it. We are all different, and this is the main point with revising – what works for one person will not work for another.

With all this in mind, there are some tips below. Remember, some will work for you, some won’t.

• Find a good place to work. Some of you will like quiet, others will like some noise. We all work best in certain places. Some students may like to work in a library, others in their room, others in a coffee shop. Find a place that works well for you and stick to it.

• What time works best for you? Some people work better early in the morning, others in the afternoon, others late at night. Again, stick to what works for you. If you are a night owl, it’s pointless to try and force yourself to get up early and study – it just won’t work as well. Use your strengths and find the best time to suit you.

• Avoid distractions. There are so many distractions today: mobile phones, television, emails and so on. It can make it hard to study. If you are reading this now but also looking at your social media feed on your phone, for example, it’s doubtful all you are reading will go in. So avoid such distractions if you can. Turn off your phone. Turn off your emails. If you find it hard to do this, give yourself a time limit, “I will revise for one hour, then spend five minutes looking at my phone.”

• With the above point also in mind, some students find it hard to sit down and study for long periods. Others prefer it. Again, you should do what suits you best. If you do find it hard to sit for long periods, give yourself a reward. One student I worked with played volleyball at national level. He found it very hard to sit down for long periods and study. Consequently he was doing hardly any revision. We came up with a plan. He would revise for 50 minutes, then go outside and play with a ball or go for a jog for ten minutes. Then he would revise for 50 minutes again and so on. This worked well for him. You may find a similar reward works for you, looking at your phone, going for a walk, making a cup of tea, watching TV, phoning a friend and so on. Decide on your time limit and give yourself a reward.

• Aim to study for no more than two and a half hours without taking a break. You are probably not revising as well as you would if you carry on revising after that time.

• Making and reading notes and using flashcards can all work well for some students. Others can make recordings of their notes and listen back to them when they are going for a walk or even when they are sleeping at night – Mind maps and memory palaces can also be useful when revising. Again, find a method that works well for you and stick to it.

• If you are reading something and it isn’t sinking in or you don’t understand it. Try a few of the following techniques…
o Read it out loud. When you do this, sometimes it seems to make more sense.
o Try and explain it to someone else – You may find that you know far more than you think you do when you explain it to another person.
o Read it in another way. There are a lot of resources online today, so if you don’t understand your notes or textbook, look online and find another explanation.

• Making a revision timetable for when you intend to revise your subject is also useful. You may be revising for more than one subject, so work out when you are going to study and make a plan for each subject.

• Practice exam papers and old TMAs under “exam conditions.”

• Try to take off a day a week. You decide which day. Take some time off from all that studying.

• Try to start revising as soon as you can. The earlier you start to revise, the more revision you will do.

Remember, you have revised before. You know what has worked well for you and what didn’t. So if you have a good way of revising, stick to it. But if your way hasn’t worked so well, why not try another option from those listed above? There is also of course a lot of advice out there online and in books. The best way to revise is the way that works for YOU! So find your best method and stick to it.

Finally, though success in them is all about your hard work and revision, I am still going to wish you this – Good luck with your exams!

We’re in winter now, and some of us may be feeling the chill. But it could be worse. It has been worse. And it will be worse again…

Throughout Earth’s 4.5 billion years, there have been five big ice ages, some of which lasted hundreds of millions of years. The most recent major ice age occurred in the Pleistocene period, about 2.6 million years ago, and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. Researchers are still trying to understand how often these periods of deep winter happen and how soon we can expect another one.

Across various periods of time, a quarter of our planet’s history has been held in the grip of a major ice event.. In between these ice ages, there have also been many smaller ice ages called glacials, and therefore some warmer periods, called inter-glacials.

The last mini ice age, which scientists call the Maunder Minimum, plunged the northern hemisphere into a series of bitterly cold winters between 1645 and 1715. It was caused by incredibly low solar activity. During the Maunder Minimum, the River Thames froze solid. The ice was so thick that the people of London could walk or skate from one side to the other without needing a bridge (as depicted above). However, although the winters were much colder than average, they were not life-threatening as they would have been in a ‘big’ ice age; If the citizens of the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth century could survive the extreme cold without any form of central heating, then the next mini ice age will not be deadly for the human race.

It is a steady, severe drop in levels of sunshine that brings on a mini ices age. Solar expert Piers Corbyn, of forecasting group WeatherAction, warned that the Earth faces another mini ice age. “We are now in a decline of solar activity… This can cause a shift in the jet-stream, making it move further south and as a result it turns very cold in temperate latitudes including Europe, Britain and North America. We are anticipating temperatures to drop leading to ocean water freezing and ice drifts washing up around the coasts in Europe – we expect the next mini ice age.”

Corbyn and his colleagues have predicted that between now and 2020, the decrease in sun spots will continue. This fall in temperature will trigger the next Solar Minimum, which scientists think could last approximately 15 years. Work by the UK’s Met Office goes on to report however, that the effect of this mini ice age will be offset by an increase in global warming. This means that, rather than being faced with rivers that are frozen from top to bottom, and harsh temperatures that will keep us huddled around the fire, we will merely have to face winters that are much colder than we have become used to- so don’t rush out and buy those ice skates just yet.

At the present time, one of the worst storms in American history, Tropical Storm Harvey (seen below at full strength), is laying waste to east Texas. It also generated the worst hurricane to hit Texas in fifty years and is  causing unprecedented flooding in the city of Houston. The neighbouring state of Louisiana is also beginning to feel its effects. Harvey, which made first landfall as a category 4 hurricane, has brought flash floods and extreme winds across the land; claiming lives, destroying the environment, and damaging the long term economy. Tropical storms can include hurricanes as was originally the case here, or cyclones and typhoons, or a combination of all three. With them comes heavy rainfall, mudslides, and floods.

As tropical storms need intense heat in which to form, they only occur either just to the north or south of the equator, where the sea temperatures can reach up to 27ºC. Generating where the air above a warm sea rises, it is this combination of temperature between the water and the sky that causes the sort of atmospheric low pressure which can spark a tropical storm.

When superheated air rises, it begins to spin, forming the eye of a forthcoming storm. Once that air has risen it cools rapidly, condensing into massive clouds. Compacted air within these clouds creates areas of intense low pressure. In turn, that low pressure sucks at the air around it, creating incredibly strong winds. Only when the storm blows inland, where the air and ground cover are cooler still, do these major weather events begin to blow themselves out.

To make storm weather data easier to track and record accurately for future meteorologists and historians, tropical storms are given names. These names are alphabetical and alternate between male and female. It means that the next tropical storm in America will be given a female name beginning with the letter ‘I’.

Due to the erratic nature of the air pressure near the equator, it is very difficult to accurately predict the path a tropical storm will take. This means that evacuating people and livestock from a threatened area is not easy. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, over 1,800 people died and 300,000 homes were destroyed before the area could be completely evacuated.

The social impact on an area hit by a tropical storm can often be major and long term. Power is often cut, with vast populations being left without electricity for many weeks, if not months after the storm has passed. Homes have to be abandoned and many will be destroyed entirely. Mass migration from the affected area leaves entire communities temporarily, or permanently, homeless. Neither is it certain that affected communities will return entirely. In fact it is more probable that a significant number will not. It is estimated that around 50,000 of the population left or did not return to New Orleans after Katrina. What will happen to Houston remains to be seen.

As well as homes, businesses, towns, farms and power stations are all vulnerable to destruction. The looting of abandoned homes and shops can also come from criminal and desperate locals alike. On a national level, resources such as petrol can’t be taken safely into a hurricane hot spot, which means fuel prices rise, as does the cost of food and clean water. Houston will be a prime example, as it produces a great quantity of the oil America runs on, let alone exports. Tourists also stop coming to the area, and as most places on the equator rely heavily on tourists from countries with cooler climates, the economic impact can be extreme. An industrial city like Houston might not feel this, but New Orleans certainly did.

If a tropical storm burns itself out quickly, then the environmental, social and economic costs can be quickly mitigated. When storms of the ferocity of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey hit, however, the costs are far higher- and can take decades to overcome.

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