Archives for January, 2011


Should Struggling Students Reduce Their Schedules?

Many students and parents face this decision now, at the beginning of the second semester:

The student signed up for too many classes first semester
or the classes were harder than expected
or extra-curricular activities or jobs or personal issues entered in.

And so:

Grades were lower than desired
and/or the workload was stressful and felt overwhelming.

I recognize that every situation is different, but here's my general advice:
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Emotions and Feelings

Bad Moods, Good Moods

I arrived in the city Friday afternoon, in an especially good mood, and as I stood on the street corner waiting for the light to change, I detected a delightful, festive fragrance.

Heaps of discarded Christmas trees lay on the curb.

In New York City the sanitation workers have been so busy plowing snow they're behind on picking up the garbage.  The trees had been out there a while, and had been snowed on and rained on several times, dampened enough to release what was left of their Christmassy scent.
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Emotions and Feelings

Bad Days, Good Days

I'm having a "good" day today.

What, exactly, does that mean?

I feel rested and relaxed
I feel safe and secure
I feel "on top of things"

I had a relatively "bad" day yesterday.

I felt pressured and disorganized
I felt insecure
I felt nervous
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The Rewards of Learning Boring, Hard Stuff

I wrote about how most important subject matter is tedious and difficult, especially at the beginning. Kids complain that they don't see the relevance, don't see why they need to learn this stuff!

Colleen responded with some nice perspective:
At age 28 I finally think I understand why it is important to absorb and incorporate all of the information that is available... I would hear my professor talk about cells, intersitual fluid, membranes, transport systems, etc… In my job, at a hospital, I see it applied....Trig for example and sin and cosine. I look at the heart monitor… It has taken me a while to realize this but I can’t get enough.
There's also a lot of satisfaction in learning difficult things for their own sake. It's fun to feel my mind grasp hold of some piece of learning, like a tire slipping on ice and then finding traction.
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Emotions and Feelings

The Need for Defiance

We went to The Whitney Museum of American Art this afternoon; we dutifully stood in line and bought our tickets, which had little yellow peel-off proof-of-paid-admission squares on the bottom. A guard at the exhibit entrance had the job of reminding everybody, over and over and over, to wear your stickers.

Along with taking in the Edward Hopper exhibit (future blog fodder), I appreciated the creative ways in which several people had complied with the order to wear your sticker!

Instead of sticking the little yellow tag on his lapel, one guy had his on his upper arm, like a military decoration. Another guy had reached back and slapped his onto his left shoulder blade.

And then there was the woman wearing hers in the middle of her forehead.

Look, they were all saying I'm wearing my sticker! way!
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Why (Really) Do We Have to Learn This Stuff?

I wrote about what kids really mean when they complain Why do I have to learn this stuff?

J Morgan replied:
For me at school, it meant, "I really can't stand this topic and I can't see a bit enough benefit to justify suffering through it," as well as finding it difficult.
I mostly agree with J Morgan, but I hasten to add that, unfortunately, lots of extremely important subject matter is very, very hard and not much fun.
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Emotions and Feelings

Stressed Students and This Common Math Mistake

The most common math error I see is the "dropped" negative sign.

The problem calls for a -3, and the kid copies down a 3. Or they calculate an answer of -14 but they only write down the 14.

I expect to see this when kids are first learning algebra; I attribute it to the heightened demands on their attention that all those new algebra rules impose. The negative signs are like cell phones or car keys; little but important things that get left behind in the shuffle.
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Emotions and Feelings

Why Do We Have to Learn This Stuff?

Students ask me this all the time, usually in reference to some especially tedious math lesson.

And for years and years I worked hard to come up with sound explanations for WHY we need algebra, WHY chemistry is important, etc, etc...

Kids would listen and then look dissatisfied.

One day the lightbulb went on for me: I'm answering the wrong question!
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Emotions and Feelings

Stress That Creeps Up Little By Little

Whew, I'm finally home!...I left for a tutoring assignment this morning amid a few pretty little flurries, but by the time I was headed back home I was fighting my way through a pretty intense snowstorm.

And I had to stop at the vet's to pick up Nika; otherwise she'd be stuck there for the whole weekend.

The gist of this tale is: I left this morning on my usual half-hour commute...and it took me FOUR HOURS to get back home. Four nerve-racking, slip-sliding, highway-closed, side roads-jammed, white-knuckled hours.
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