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Trailhead and the Bronte Creek Project are semester-long community and environmental leadership programs for grade 10-12 students in the Halton Public and Catholic Boards in Ontario, Canada. Outdoor and experiential lessons guide students to become leaders who are balanced physically, emotionally, and academically.

There’s something magical about starting the school week outdoors. For adolescents who are still waking up from the weekend, a group game outdoors or a short story hike can be just what they need to get them going in the morning. At Trailhead and the Bronte Creek Project, starting class outdoors is something that we teachers strive for. I guarantee that it’s more engaging than deskwork, and it’s definitely more likely to get the students’ blood flowing than opening a textbook.

Outdoor Space Is Everywhere

While our program is lucky enough to have access to many acres of outdoor field and forest space, not all schools are. Many teachers work at schools located in the heart of the city, so it’s important to remember that you don’t need a forest to reap the benefits of the outdoors with your students. I’ve been a part of Take Me Outside Day — a Canadian initiative focused on getting students outside for part of their academic day — at a very urban high school in Toronto, Ontario, and it really was amazing to see educators from all subject areas using the outdoors to help convey their content.

So, Where to Start?

Maybe one day outdoors each semester is all that you’re up for, and hey, that’s a good place to start. For educators that want to expand the walls of their classrooms a little more, check out some of the projects and activities that create experiential, outdoor opportunities for the students in our health and physical education classes and our English classes.

Health and Physical Education

Snowshoeing in the Winter: It’s awesome if your school is lucky enough to have its own class set of snowshoes, but if not, consider seeking out local “outers clubs,” sports equipment rental stores, or conservation authorities to rent them for the day. If you have time and funding, make it a field trip, and get out to a natural space for a fantastic winter workout.

Sit-Spots: Part of our health and physical education curriculum focuses on mental health. Having students learn to unplug, de-stress, and calm down is hugely valuable in creating mental stability, and the outdoors is a perfect place in which to hone these skills. Take students outside and have them sit or lie in a space that’s just theirs (no cell phones, music, etc.). They might have a journal and a pencil, or they might just have 15 minutes to disconnect from their busy worlds. Either way, sit-spots are magical, and they can be done almost anywhere.

English

Outdoor Poetry: Taking students on a hike to collect phrases and words that describe the season and place is an active way to teach strong diction, and students can use their collected observations to form haiku poems afterwards.

Storytelling Improvisation: Wander around an outdoor space with your students. Have them find an object (leaf, rock, marking in the ground, etc.), and then allow them to build a one-minute story around it. This is great for teaching voice, pacing, and creative improvisation.

Children’s Festivals: As teachers, we actively seek out educational festivals and events for our students to participate in. We’ve partnered with our local conservation authority, and each year our students learn, practice, and teach workshops to younger students at the Halton Forest Festival. These are experiential, outdoor projects where our students develop their presentation skills in an authentic way.

Earthkeepers: Our students also lead full-day, experiential Earthkeepers ecology programs for grade four and five students. Visiting youngsters are guided through the forest for a day of learning about its magic, and our students gain first-hand leadership, adaptability, and group management experience. This program earns our students marks in every one of their courses.

Extra Effort = Extra Benefits

Teachers are busy people, and outdoor, experiential classes can take more time to organize and facilitate than indoor learning. That being said, the benefits make it worth the effort. Regular outdoor activity allows my students to be more focused on their indoor work, as they can burn off energy in positive, productive ways. It also allows students to form bonds with each other and with the planet. For me, these relationships alone make it worth the effort.

Moving Forward from Square One

You're reading Expansive Classrooms: Taking Learning Outside

Reinforce Algorithm: Taking Baby Steps In Reinforcement Learning

Introduction

Lets’ solve OpenAI’s Cartpole, Lunar Lander, and Pong environments with REINFORCE algorithm.

Reinforcement learning is arguably the coolest branch of artificial intelligence. It has already proven its prowess: stunning the world, beating the world champions in games of Chess, Go, and even DotA 2.

In this article, I would be walking through a fairly rudimentary algorithm, and showing how even this can achieve a superhuman level of performance in certain games.

Reinforcement Learning deals with designing “Agents” that interacts with an “Environment” and learns by itself how to “solve” the environment by systematic trial and error. An environment could be a game like chess or racing, or it could even be a task like solving a maze or achieving an objective. The agent is the bot that performs the activity.

An agent receives “rewards” by interacting with the environment. The agent learns to perform the “actions” required to maximize the reward it receives from the environment. An environment is considered solved if the agent accumulates some predefined reward threshold. This nerd talk is how we teach bots to play superhuman chess or bipedal androids to walk.

REINFORCE Algorithm

REINFORCE belongs to a special class of Reinforcement Learning algorithms called Policy Gradient algorithms. A simple implementation of this algorithm would involve creating a Policy: a model that takes a state as input and generates the probability of taking an action as output. A policy is essentially a guide or cheat-sheet for the agent telling it what action to take at each state. The policy is then iterated on and tweaked slightly at each step until we get a policy that solves the environment.

The policy is usually a Neural Network that takes the state as input and generates a probability distribution across action space as output.

Policy: Example

The objective of the policy is to maximize the “Expected reward”.

Each policy generates the probability of taking an action in each station of the environment.

Policy 1 vs Policy 2 — Different Trajectories

The agent samples from these probabilities and selects an action to perform in the environment. At the end of an episode, we know the total rewards the agent can get if it follows that policy. We backpropagate the reward through the path the agent took to estimate the “Expected reward” at each state for a given policy.

Here the discounted reward is the sum of all the rewards the agent receives in that future discounted by a factor Gamma.

The discounted reward at any stage is the reward it receives at the next step + a discounted sum of all rewards the agent receives in the future.

The discounted factor is calculated for each state by back-propagating the rewards.

For the above equation this is how we calculate the Expected Reward:

As per the original implementation of the REINFORCE algorithm, the Expected reward is the sum of products of a log of probabilities and discounted rewards.

Algorithm steps

The steps involved in the implementation of REINFORCE would be as follows:

Initialize a Random Policy (a NN that takes the state as input and returns the probability of actions)

Use the policy to play N steps of the game — record action probabilities-from policy, reward-from environment, action — sampled by agent

Calculate the discounted reward for each step by backpropagation

Calculate expected reward G

Adjust weights of Policy (back-propagate error in NN) to increase G

Repeat from 2

Check out the implementation using Pytorch on my Github.

Demos

I have tested out the algorithm on Pong, CartPole, and Lunar Lander. It takes forever to train on Pong and Lunar Lander — over 96 hours of training each on a cloud GPU. There are several updates on this algorithm that can make it converge faster, which I haven’t discussed or implemented here. Checkout Actor-Critic models and Proximal Policy Optimization if interested in learning further.

CartPole

State:

Horizontal Position, Horizontal Velocity, Angle of the pole, Angular Velocity

Actions:

Push cart left, Push cart right

Random Policy Play:

Random Play- Total Reward 18

Agent Policy Trained with REINFORCE:

Trained Agent- Total Reward 434

Lunar Lander

State:

The state is an array of 8 vectors. I am not sure what they represent.

Actions:

0: Do nothing

1: Fire Left Engine

2: Fire Down Engine

3: Fire Right Engine

Agent Policy Trained with REINFORCE:

Pong

This was much harder to train. Trained on a GPU cloud server for days.

State: Image

Actions: Move Paddle Left, Move Paddle Right

Reinforcement Learning has progressed leaps and bounds beyond REINFORCE. My goal in this article was to 1. learn the basics of reinforcement learning and 2. show how powerful even such simple methods can be in solving complex problems. I would love to try these on some money-making “games” like stock trading … guess that’s the holy grail among data scientists.

Shoulders of giants:

About The Author

Noufal kvs

Related

Inside Basis Vs. Outside Basis

Inside Basis vs. Outside Basis

Section 754

Written by

Tim Vipond

Published September 30, 2023

Updated June 13, 2023

Taxation of Partnerships (754)

Section 754 requires each partner to determine their adjusted basis in order to determine the exact tax liability of the partner. This determination is normally done at the end of the year and is vital to ascertaining the partner’s distributive share of profits or losses.

At the very core, the essential concept of partnership taxation is the fact that profits and loss flow through each partner present in the business, and each is responsible for these accounts. This means that the business will not be liable to pay income tax, but will still have to pay taxes according to the partnership basis which incorporates their share of profits. This is exactly why calculating each partner’s basis has become a prep course for any business entity that is operated by partners.

Inside Basis

Inside basis refers to the adjusted basis of each partnership asset, as determined from the partnership’s tax accounts. Inside basis usually comes from partner contributions, but may also come from purchases the partnership makes with partnership funds. This determines the partner’s tax basis according to the respective individual assets contributed to the operation of the business.

Outside Basis

Outside basis represents each partner’s basis in the partnership interest. Each partner “owns” a share of the partnership’s inside basis for all of its assets, and all partners should maintain a record of their respective outside bases.

Typically, when a partner contributes assets to a partnership, the basis carries over from the asset basis (inside basis) to the partnership interest basis (outside basis). Moreover, when a partner contributes property to the partnership, the partnership’s basis in the contributed property is equal to its fair market value (FMV). However, the outside basis of the partner increases only by the amount of the basis that the partner had in the property.

Whether earnings are retained in a partnership or distributed to partners has no effect on the taxation of those earnings, since the partners have to pay tax on the earnings whether they are distributed or not. Earnings are distributed to each partner’s capital account from which distributions are charged against. However, certain types of distributions and any distributions that exceed the partner’s basis may result in gains or losses that must be reported for the year in which they occur.

754 Adjustments to Basis

As a result of operations, the basis that a partner has in his or her partnership interest will fluctuate throughout the term of the partner’s ownership. The basis of a partner’s interest in the partnership will either increase or decrease according to the following:

Increasing basis of a partnership interest

Additional contributions to the partnership or other forms of acquisition (e.g., purchases)

The partner’s share of partnership taxable income, tax-exempt income

Depletion deductions in excess of the basis of the property subject to depletion

An increase in the partner’s share of partnership liabilities (including partnership liabilities assumed by the partner).

Decreasing partner’s basis

Distributions of money or other property from the partnership

The partner’s share of partnership losses and non-deductible, non-capitalized expenditures, including the partner’s share of disallowed partnership losses if such losses reduce the basis of partnership assets without a corresponding effect on its income

Additional Resources

Section 368

Type A Reorganization

Tax-Free Reorganization

See all accounting resources

Taking A Tech Time Out

Taking a Tech Time Out

My son is a biter. He’s a toddler, and he has a bad habit of biting the other children in his class. We have him at a Montessori pre-school, so instead of day care he has teachers and a principal, even though he’s not yet two years old. It’s a great experience for him, but every day or so we have to sign a form at the end of the day when we pick him up acknowledging the fact that he has bitten some other toddler.

The school is kind enough to keep things anonymous. They don’t tell us who he bit, and presumably they don’t tell the other parents which child bit theirs. Sometimes I pick him up and the form I have to sign says that another child bit him instead, and it’s gotten to the point where that’s a relief. At first my snarky attitude was that it’s better to be the biter than the one getting bitten; now I just hope it wasn’t my son doing the biting.

This is completely normal for children his age. Until kids are about three years old, his Principal tells us, biting is normal. It’s a way toddlers express themselves. Right now, it’s my son doing most of the biting in class, but in a few months, it could be another toddler going through a biting phase. By that point, my son might be slapping or grabbing or any other antisocial thing, but at least it won’t be biting.

At home, he bites us, but for different reasons. At school, it’s always because he wants something he can’t have. Another child gets tossed a ball and my son wants it, so he bites them. He tries to take away another kid’s toy and they won’t let him, so he bites. At home, it’s happy biting. He’ll be laughing and playing, and all of a sudden he comes in for a chomp. It’s like he wants to give a hug and a kiss, but suddenly his teeth take over and I’ve got a toddler gnawing on my face. It’s adorable, and not painful. But clearly this is all part of a pattern and we have to figure out how to stop it.

We met with the Principal and his teachers, and we all agreed that he’s biting because he’s having trouble expressing himself. He’s at a fascinating state with his language ability. His babbling means something now. When he wants a banana, he says: “na na.” When I ask if he’s ready to go to school, he says “t-cool.” When he wants a pack of raisins, he says: “na na.” I know, we’re still working on it.

Most interesting is that he understands far more than he can say himself. If I ask him to close the door, he’ll do that, whether we’re leaving the car, the house or the back yard gate. I can ask if he wants something, and he’ll shake his head if he doesn’t, even if he can’t see the thing in front of him. This morning I asked if he wanted to go to school, and apparently he did not.

So, what’s the remedy for the biting problem? Well, there’s a lot that we can do, but the best thing for the long term would be to help him develop his language skills so he feels less frustrated expressing himself. If he can talk more, he’ll bite less.

I know this is a tech column. I promise, I’m getting there now.

The New York Times ran a story about parents who are distracted by technology, mostly phones. It’s a strange paradox. On the one hand, spending time reading email or playing on my tablet would certainly be time I’m not talking to my son. As the Times points out, “parents who supply a language-rich environment for their children help them develop a wide vocabulary”. I have only a few hours a day to spend with my son while he’s awake and I’m not working. If I’m distracted by my gadgets during that time, I’m not talking to him, and his vocabulary is not growing as fast.

The Times directly links vocabulary to socioeconomic status. Rich people talk to their kids more. Parents on welfare talk to their kids less. In the study the Times quotes, there’s a discrepancy of 1,600 words per hour between the high income and low income groups. How many words does my son lose out on when I’m distracted?

The current generation is consumed with technology to the point that it’s an integral part of their social and personal lives. I think my son’s generation might see some rebellion against that idea. When I became a parent, I started thinking about all the ways I could eliminate technology from my life. From the day my son was born, it was more than a year before I had time to turn on my Xbox again and sit down for a proper fragging session. Over the past year or so, I’ve also become more conscious about not texting or checking my phone while I’m driving. I don’t take calls in restaurants, because I’m either entertaining my son or I’m alone with my wife, and we don’t get enough alone time for me to divert my attention.

The cell phone started creeping back into my family time because my son is now old enough that we don’t have to stand over him every minute. He can entertain himself, and while he does, I check email. I read Twitter or my RSS feeds. But now that will stop.

I’m not a moralist who says all technology is bad and we need to give it all up and go live in the woods. That might be nice for a week or so, but in general I think our lives are much better with technology. But I think that if we are losing anything, it’s the ability and desire to sit face to face with another person and interact. Facebook lets us feel like we’re in touch with our friends even when we haven’t actually been in touch. Our mobile devices let us feel like we can stay in touch with the world, giving us a false sense that we can divide our attention among the people in front of us, and the people beyond the screen.

There is a middle ground to walk with technology, and I have to keep checking myself to make sure I’m walking it properly. If not, my technology might come back to bite me. And if it doesn’t, my son sure will.

[Image credit cplbasilisk]

Vials Labeled ‘Smallpox’ Found At Merck Facility Outside Philadelphia

When vials labeled ‘smallpox’ were found in Pennsylvania in November 2023, shock waves spread through the medical community and the world. Merck is the pharmaceutical company outside Philadelphia that found the containers. As many as 15 vials were found. The label ‘smallpox’ occurred on 5 of the vials. The remaining 10 vials had the label’ vaccinia.’ All the vials appeared intact and not tampered with.

A researcher was busy cleaning a freezer when the vials were seen. The investigation by the FBI and CDC swung into action. A lockdown was imposed on the Merck facility which was later withdrawn. The vials were secured. CDC did say that no exposure to the vial’s contents had happened, and the worker wore gloves and a face mask too. Risky exposure is ruled out.

Learning bitter lessons from the covid pandemic

The vials were found when the covid pandemic was at its height. Naturally, fears dramatically increased though the agencies concerned would obviously try to hush up controversies. The truth is that there was no need to panic. The vials contained no variola virus, but only the virus used to make the vaccine, called vaccinia. The labels needed to be corrected. That named smallpox without mentioning that it was the vaccinia virus intended for the variola vaccine. If the 15 vials contained the vaccine, why did five vials mention smallpox?

Legitimate smallpox virus storage sites

WHO designated two sites for storing the smallpox virus for research purposes, meaning the virus had no reason to be in Philadelphia. Though eradicated, the smallpox virus has not entirely vanished from the earth. Preserving the virus for research is necessary in case another outbreak happens. Vaccines will then be required at short notice. Keeping the sample is thus a necessity though the fears of bioterrorism do arise. The 2 WHO sites are Atlanta, Georgia, and Koltsovo, Russia.

Is it safe to store samples of the virus? Amidst the controversy of possible leaks and outbreaks is the concern for the future. WHO authorized 2medical labs to keep the virus amidst tight bio-security procedures. They are in a CDC site in Georgia, USA, and the State Centre for Research on Virology and Biotechnology in Koltsovo, Russia. The virus is found at these two sites. How it was located in Pennsylvania is a mystery. It did appear quite sinister initially amidst the Covid-19 nightmarish grip on humanity. Smallpox had similarly held up in many countries where death spread like wildfire. Mercifully, those days are gone through a spark of danger remains.

Deadly smallpox is now eradicated

Although no effective treatment exists, vaccines prevent smallpox. Edward Jenner developed the first-ever smallpox vaccine in 1796. WHO announced in 1980, so much later, that successful international cooperation had eradicated smallpox. Further vaccines against smallpox are no longer administered to the public. According to some estimates, it is believed that 300 million people have died of smallpox since the beginning of the twentieth century. By the time intensive vaccination could spread, 15 million people got infected yearly, and 5 million died. The last known natural case of smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977.

Points to ponder

Though not generally known and certainly not in media headlines, smallpox has occasionally made the news. The Merck discovery was not the first such finding.

In Bethesda, Maryland, in 2014, something similar happened when six vials with the label ‘variola’ were found. Labs of the National Institutes of Health were being cleaned. What happened to these vials? CDC destroyed them in 2024, as observed by WHO.

In a lab accident in 1978 in Birmingham, England, a small outbreak happened, and one person died. After the Somalia case in 1977, this was the last known case of smallpox. The WHO announcement of eradication came soon after in 1980.

A Word about Merck

The company believes in providing an infrastructure for research to flower and dedicating science to health. Providing excellent tools and services, they encourage experimentation and the development of innovative products. Merck has made its presence felt in 66 countries with 60,000 workers and 130 distribution centers. Maintaining 60 manufacturing sites for pharmaceutical products, Merck is a great success story.

Research, pharmaceutical development, and manufacturing have kept Merck busy across conventional and modern spectrums. Working globally with a vision for a better future for humanity, Merck has yet to explore any path. Originating in Germany, Merck has embraced the world.

The war against smallpox continues

Smallpox has not entirely disappeared though officially been eradicated. Preparedness is essential in case of another outbreak that seems unlikely.

On September 24, 2023, FDA approved the Jynneos vaccine to prevent smallpox and monkeypox. It is meant for adults 18 and older at risk of the disease. If required, the vaccine will be available in the USA.

On November 15, 2023, FDA developed guidelines for drug manufacturers interested in treating or preventing smallpox infection.

On June 4, 2023, FDA approved Tembexa to treat smallpox. WHO declared in 1980 that smallpox is eradicated, but fears remain that variola could be used as a bioweapon.

On May 18, 2023, FDA approved Tecovirimat as an IV medication to manage smallpox. While the oral drug received approval in 2023, the IV version is meant for those who cannot swallow the oral medication.

The greatest weapon against the variola virus that causes smallpox is the vaccine that has worked successfully on a massive scale globally. It is a powerful success story, similar to the war against the covid pandemic. Hopefully, covid will be eradicated too, like smallpox. Meanwhile, fears remain about the possible intentional release of the smallpox virus as a form of biological warfare. It is a very terrible thought.

Digital Industries Taking Off Right Now

These industries are on huge demand

There is no doubt that the digital age has taken off in a big way, and there are now more opportunities than ever before for those looking to enter into the digital industry. Whether you’re interested in web development, programming, or graphic design, there are plenty of exciting career paths waiting for you. So if you’re looking for an industry that is constantly growing and evolving, look no further than the digital world. Thanks to new technologies and platforms emerging all the time, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to your career prospects in this field. So if you’re ready to take your career to new heights, check out some of the great digital jobs available right now!  

Programming Graphic design

It’s not just web developers who are in demand in the digital world –

Software development

Web development is another highly sought-after skill in the digital world. As a web developer, you could be responsible for building and maintaining websites, creating online applications, or developing software. If you’re interested in becoming a web developer, plenty of great online resources are available to help you get started. Start by checking out Codecademy, Code School, and chúng tôi and then look for jobs in companies that need web developers.  

Gaming & gambling

Casino sites like

App development 

There is no doubt that the digital age has taken off in a big way, and there are now more opportunities than ever before for those looking to enter into the digital industry. Whether you’re interested in web development, programming, or graphic design, there are plenty of exciting career paths waiting for you. So if you’re looking for an industry that is constantly growing and evolving, look no further than the digital world. Thanks to new technologies and platforms emerging all the time, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to your career prospects in this field. So if you’re ready to take your career to new heights, check out some of the great digital jobs available right now! Programming is one of the most in-demand skills in the digital world, and there are plenty of exciting career opportunities for those with the right qualifications. If you’re interested in learning how to code, plenty of great online resources are available to help you get started. Once you’ve acquired some coding skills, you can start looking for jobs in companies that need programmers. Stack Overflow, The Muse, and Tech Talent South are great places to begin your search.It’s not just web developers who are in demand in the digital world – graphic designers are also highly sought-after. If you have a creative eye for design, many different types of jobs are available for you in the digital sphere. You could work for a branding agency, design websites, and apps, or create marketing materials for companies. There are also plenty of opportunities for freelance graphic designers, so if you’re interested in starting your own business, this could be the perfect industry for chúng tôi development is another highly sought-after skill in the digital world. As a web developer, you could be responsible for building and maintaining websites, creating online applications, or developing software. If you’re interested in becoming a web developer, plenty of great online resources are available to help you get started. Start by checking out Codecademy, Code School, and chúng tôi and then look for jobs in companies that need web developers.Casino sites like chúng tôi have gotten really popular over recent years. As have video games. If you’re passionate about video games and online gaming, there are plenty of opportunities for you to break into the digital world. Whether you want to work as a game designer, program games for mobile platforms, or create virtual reality experiences, plenty of exciting career paths are available in the gaming chúng tôi over two billion active app users, there is a huge demand for app developers . As an app developer, you could be responsible for developing and designing apps for a variety of different platforms, including iOS, Android, and Windows. If you’re interested in becoming an app developer, plenty of online resources are available to help you get started. So, if you’re looking for an exciting and ever-changing industry, the digital world is definitely the place for you. With so many different career paths available, there’s something for everyone. What are you waiting for? Start building your digital career today! There are plenty of companies hiring right now, so if you’re looking for your next step in your digital career, check out some of these opportunities.

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