Archives for Learning from Experience

How To Begin Studying For Final Exams

The way to begin, is to begin. -Eleanor Roosevelt   The best students don't work harder; they work ahead. Often, students put off studying for final exams because the process seems overwhelming and they don't know where to start. The good news is that just getting going is what matters. There's no need to worry about studying in a certain order, studying material that then doesn't wind up on the exam, confusing yourself, or other such concerns.
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Unfortunately, Ignorance Feels Blissful: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

In my last post, I wrote about a student who couldn't tell whether or not he "knew" the material for a history exam. At least my student was knowledgeable enough to have doubts about his knowledge. Ironically, the truly clueless often don't wonder; they tend to be quite secure that they've got it knocked! Psychologists call this the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which ignorant people often have great confidence in their "knowledge," whereas better-informed people tend to doubt themselves. 
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The Surprising Key to Willpower

New Year's is the classic time to resolve to form new habits, but most of us then abandon our good intentions by mid-February, if not before. It turns out that our willpower comes, not from the sincerity of our resolve, but from the glucose level in our bloodstream.The brain runs on glucose. Even when not working hard, the brain consumes 25% of circulating glucose, even though it only takes up 3% of the body's weight. Decision-making is especially taxing, and the brain burns glucose like crazy when it's forced to make lots of fine-grained choices over an extended period of time.
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Habits Protect Students Against Decision Fatigue

In my habits class, we watched my very favorite TED talk, The Paradox of Choice. Barry Schwartz explains that much of the stress, anxiety and depression in our modern world stems from “ego depletion,” also called “decision fatigue.” [embed]http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice?language=en[/embed] Thanks in great part to our consumerist society (always trying to sell us yet another flavor of Cheerios), we are barraged by choices, and the human brain gets stressed every time it has to make a choice. We think of choice as a good thing, and of course to a certain extent it is! But, we live in a culture in which there is an enormous choice overload, which can be paralyzing and can lead to stress anxiety and depression.
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Notes From My Habits Class For Students

I just finished teaching Making and Breaking Habits, a class I designed for my local community college, targeted towards high school and college students.

We had such wonderful discussions, and at the end of each session I jotted down the notes from the board:

What are habits? Things we do a lot, without thinking, on auto-pilot.

Why do we need habits? Most of what we do is automatic. It would be a big problem if...
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Getting a Handle on Academic Anxiety

Do math tutors ever suffer math anxiety? Sometimes I feel anxious when I'm going to have to tutor a topic that is hard for me. (Yes, even tutors and teachers find certain topics difficult!) Here's how I cope: I begin reviewing well in advance. Cramming makes me even more anxious, so I start reviewing early, when the pressure is off. I use multiple sources. I like watching the videos on Khan Academy because I can just let them roll while I passively absorb some of the material. And I can watch as many times as I want (I "get" more with every viewing). I also read my textbook. Multiple explanations of the same material helps me understand it better. I go for understanding, not just rote learning. If I can really wrap my brain around this stuff and "own it," I'm going to feel much more confident than if I just learn to plug numbers into some formulas. I take breaks. This allows the material I just studied to sink in, and it gives me a chance to settle down and let my anxiety level come back to normal. I deal with my anxiety. When I feel anxiety rising, I stop studying and take some slow, deep breaths. Or I stretch, or take a walk to the mailbox. I take care of myself. I drink plenty of water, and I eat healthy foods to fuel my brain. Skipping meals can dull thinking and produce headaches, while sugary foods can cause energy spikes and crashes that make anxiety worse.
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