Learning Articles

You Can Become a Better Person (Day Seven: Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

P6290016It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you. -Randy Pausch

I make my living working with kids, and it’s my impression that most of them have little clue as to what they want to do with their lives, and that they find the very question terrifying.


Day Five: Read the textbook and work the problems. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Monday, January 5th, 2015

Easter April 4 2010 Met with M and H 013My mom deserves the credit for this one.

When I was a kid math was not my forte, and in eighth grade I was struggling and failing at algebra. So my mom went to the local bookstore and bought me a review book (picture the mid-1970’s version of Algebra for Dummies).


Day Two: Emotions affect reasoning. (Twelve Days of Wisdom)

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Pantheon & Pompidou Centre 2 18 2011 069People use words as weapons, to defend themselves. It is common for people to attack with anger when they are afraid and to become insulting when they are hurt or jealous.  -Dr. Shirley Glass

When we are anxious or angry we can’t think straight. This means we ought to avoid taking action or having heavy conversations while immersed in these mood states.

The emotions of fear and anger trigger our internal fight-or-flight mechanism, which sends epinephrine (adrenalin) gushing through our bloodstream. Our heart races, our blood pressure shoots up, our platelets ready themselves to clot in case we are injured…and our higher-level thinking skills shut down. After all, it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to run from a saber-toothed tiger.


Why Vocabulary and Facts Are So Important

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Getty Center July 17 2010 024How do you know all the words without looking at the back of the cards? 

A fifth grade student was amazed that I knew every word on the American Heritage Dictionary’s Top 100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know  list. She only recognized five.

I assured her that soon she would also know these words, because we were about to begin learning them now.The authors explain why knowing these words is so important:


Don’t Fall Off the Physics Bus!

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
Group 1 020My kids attended Indian Springs School in Birmingham, Alabama, where their wonderful physics teacher started off every school year with his infamous warning: Don’t fall off the physics bus!

He was playfully reminding students that physics is a cumulative subject, in which you’ve got to make sure and master the material all along the way.

If you don’t thoroughly understand and gain fluency in each chapter, especially the early ones, you won’t have built up the foundation of knowledge and skills needed to handle the later material. Month after month, chapter after chapter, that physics bus will keep on rolling down the physics road, and if you fall off you’ll have a heck of a time catching up with it.


How to Study: 5 Basic Practices for Academic Success

Friday, October 24th, 2014
Fall is the time when first-quarter grades come out, and many students would like to improve.

Fall is the time when first-quarter grades come out, and many students would like to improve.

Many students complain that they don’t know how to study, so I’ve compiled this short and sweet page of the basics.

Perhaps now, as the first grading quarter winds to a close, is a good time to read down this list and get back on track with these five essential good-student behaviors:
How to Study
Five Basic Practices for Academic Success

  1. Do all your homework, on time, every day. Teachers assign homework so as to give you the practice you need to learn and remember the material. The single most important thing you can do to understand better, remember more, and score higher grades is to always do all your homework thoroughly (even the “optional” stuff) and on time.


A Student Discovers The Joy of Reading

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

 

The original Winnie the Pooh and friends on display at the New York Public Library

The original Winnie the Pooh and friends on display at the New York Public Library

Dear Friends,

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with one of my older students. He was brimming over with enthusiasm for his senior-level College Reading class.

It’s really more a structured study period than a class, in which students come in every day and spend the entire 48-minute period silently reading a book of their choice. When they’re finished they write a brief summary of the book and then select another.

The whole point, of course, is to get college-bound seniors used to the discipline of sustained, focused reading. And this particular student was loving it!

As soon as he left I grabbed my notebook and jotted down everything I could remember of what he had said so I could share with you this glimpse into the head of an older, more mature student. (Read on, dear parents of tweens, and take heart!):


So I Got My Test Back; Now What?

Monday, September 1st, 2014

P9160353Dear Friends,

It’s such a shame that in our culture testing has such a bad name.

The dad of one of my students is a physician; he recalls that:

Medical school is all about being tested. We were constantly quizzing, taking tests, and flipping flash cards (each flash card is a tiny test). We were tested multiple times every day. All that testing made our minds sharp, plus it kept us aware of the areas we still needed to work on. It was a powerful way to learn.


The Back-to-School Fresh Start

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

P9160357Dear Friends,

Back-to-school time is the perfect time to start fresh routines and establish healthy habits. These are the ones parents and I have been talking about the most:

  • First of All, Plan for Adequate Sleep: Most kids don’t get enough sleep. Students learn better, feel better and behave better when they’re properly rested. Check with your pediatrician and find out how many hours of sleep your child ought to be logging per night (chances are good you’ll be shocked at the large number), and then set the appropriate bedtime and enforce it.
  • Limit Electronics: Computers and cellphones and anything else with a glowing screen (including TVs and video games) need to be turned off one hour before bedtime to allow the mind to calm down for good sleep (this applies to adults, too!). And do establish cellphone-free chunks of time during the afternoon and evening; students need to read, study and eat dinner in peace. Interestingly, parents have been telling me that their kids often seem relieved to be given breaks from the relentless social pressure and privacy invasion of social media. I also felt this from my SAT class; students seemed to like my rule of collecting their cellphones before class!
  • Establish the Reading Habit: Before the school year becomes super-hectic, build in the habit of quiet reading for 20-30 minutes before lights out.
  • Don’t Overschedule: Too many sports and extra-curricular activities aren’t fun; they’re stressful!

Tips for Test-Takers from “Thinking Fast and Slow”

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Redding. LSM, Wpt, etc for posts 074Dear Friends,

Have you ever felt like there were two people inside you vying for control?

I’m rereading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winning psychologist who studies reasoning and decision-making. Kahneman explains that our minds do contain two agents: A System One which makes quick, emotionally-based decisions, and a System Two which reasons slowly and deliberately.

The premise of Thinking Fast and Slow is that we’d all be better off if we learned awareness of these two systems so as to use the right system for the right purpose.

Most of the time, System One works just fine. It makes its decisions by applying heuristics (rules), which are stored in the brain innately or through prior experience. Because its answers are prepackaged, System One’s decisions are quick and feel easy and use little mental energy. System One works well in simple situations and on problems that are similar to ones that have been solved before.

But when situations are complex or novel, System Two ought to be hauled out. Many financial decisions (Should I buy this house?) and academic ones (What is the correct answer to this SAT question?) are properly the province of System Two. They ought to be reasoned out slowly and deliberately, with a vigilant eye out for mistakes and skipped steps and unfounded assumptions.

And yet, we all too often apply a System One-level decision to a System Two-level problem. That’s because “going by our gut” feels so pleasant and satisfying, whereas the application of meticulous mental effort is drudgery.

System Two thinking is physiologically uncomfortable. It burns more glucose (it literally consumes “mental energy,” which is why students should carry energy bar snacks to their standardized tests). Heart rate and blood pressure rise and pupils dilate. System Two work is a lot like running, and most of us would much rather walk:

“This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.” 

Always
Learning


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