Learning Articles

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.” 

Memory and Summer Math Review

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

 

It's easy to procrastinate in the summer.

It’s easy to procrastinate in the summer.

Dear Friends, Many students believe it’s best to leave their summer math review for the end of the summer; they fear that if they do the work too early they will have forgotten the material again by September. In fact, the best way to make learning stick is to work at it consistently and review all summer long. The brain is exposed to a barrage of information every day, so how does it decide what to keep and what to forget? One big marker is repetition. The brain receives most facts only once, and because those bits of information never show up again they don’t need to be remembered.


Reading Tips for Everyone

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Dear Friends,

Group 1 085

Some 60’s era references at The Black Hole Museum, Los Alamos, New Mexico

A young student of mine began reading a fun-looking (to me) book called Schooled; I smiled as soon as I saw the peace symbol and tie-dye cover.

Here’s the Amazon synopsis:”Capricorn Cap Anderson has been homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Rain. When Rain is injured in a fall, Cap is forced to attend the local middle school. Although he knows a lot about Zen Buddhism, nothing has prepared him for the politics of public school.”

But of course my fifth grade student was having trouble relating to the book because, unlike me, he knew nothing about flower children, communes or any of the other 60’s era references. He had read the first two chapters on his own and was totally confused and lost.


Priming the Brain’s Learning Pump

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

 

P6300072

This kitten is intrepid, capricious and vivacious.

Dear Friends,

Each summer I teach a low-cost SAT class at my local community college, and during each session I present various learning and study tips based on brain science. These are pointers that apply to ALL learners, of all ages!

We started with our study of the 100 Most Common SAT Vocabulary Words (which is a wonderful vocab list for ALL students grades 8-12 and beyond, not just those prepping for the SAT).

I wanted to demonstrate this powerful learning technique: 

Always preview and take time to wonder over and form questions about any new material, because your brain will begin to unconsciously prime itself to remember the answers.


 

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