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Picking Up That 100-Pound Pencil: Students and Cognitive Miserliness

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

P8020099Dear Friends,

I’ve so often wondered why so many students haaaate writing down their math steps, insisting instead on trying to do the work in their heads or on their calculators. Perhaps they feel as if writing is slowing them down, or maybe they dislike the scratchy feel of pencil on paper. (Whenever I’ve asked, kids invariably say “I don’t know).

Meanwhile, kids who don’t write out their math steps, skip copying down formulas and refuse to draw and label diagrams, make a lot more mistakes and also tend to be way more confused. They’ll stare at a problem and then give up, without ever making a mark on paper.


Do You Think I Know This Stuff?

Friday, January 31st, 2014
Snow Day Jan 12 2011 003

A Snow Day

One day, I was reviewing with a high school student for a final exam in history. It was rough going; the material was detailed and complex and this young man’s grasp of both the facts and the concepts was poor.

We plowed on for two solid hours, and then he turned to me and floored me with this question: “OK, now, do you think I know this stuff?”

Truly, isn’t that a remarkable thing to ask? This young man couldn’t tell for himself whether or not the hard mental work he had just done had resulted in “knowing.”

But what, indeed, does “knowing” feel like? How do any of us know whether or not we know?


12 Days of Self-Awareness

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

PC250048I love science, especially psychology. Nothing fascinates me more than to discover yet another fact about how the human mind works. I’ve found that the more I learn about my own mind, the more at peace I feel about who I am and what my life is all about.

 This year I’ve selected another twelve excellent TED talks, each one exploring some surprising, counter-intuitive aspect of our human minds and natures. Our amazing brains often wind up being too clever for our own good, creating illusions and misconceptions that make life a lot harder than it has to be.


Learning to Make Your Holidays Wonderful!

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

PC210242I was a psychology major in college, and I love finding out everything about how our minds work. Of course I study education and learning, but I also read all I can get my hands on about human behavior and emotions. Why do we do what we do?…and how can we do better and be happier?

Lots of people figure that psychology isn’t a “real” science, or that it’s just “common sense.” But, within the past few decades psychology has joined forces with fields including neuroscience, medicine and economics to produce tons of data-based, factual information, much of which is extremely helpful, even life-changing, not to mention counter-intuitive and even wacky.


Is Your Student “Pumped Up,” or “Deflated”?

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

PTown New Years Weekend 2011 027Last week I wrote about the demonstrably positive effects of longer-term studying. Kids who begin studying several days before a test and who study consistently and to the point of mastery get high grades.

This seems like a no-brainer, right? So why don’t more kids do it?

One reason is that fear and anxiety hamper people’s ability to think straight and organize themselves. (We talk a lot about executive function issues in kids, but these are problems all people of all ages experience)

As part of his research with couples, John Gottman attached heart monitors to his subjects, and he discovered that when people become emotionally agitated, their systems “flood” with adrenaline and their heart rates elevate. A heart rate above 95 beats per minute signals that a person’s listening, planning and reasoning skills have broken down.


For Better Grades and Scores, Students Need This Kind of Practice

Friday, November 15th, 2013
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.

When I teach my SAT class, I begin by administering to my new students two sections of a practice test out of the Official SAT Guide.

Invariably, some student informs me, “I’ve done this test already.” Many kids come to my class having already purchased the SAT Guide and done some practice on their own.

“Do it again,” I tell them, and I find that, not only do these kids NOT score perfectly the second time around, their scores are indistinguishable from those of the rest of the class; if they hadn’t told me they had done these sections before, nothing in their scores would have tipped me off.


Helping Your Student Face Test-Prep Fear

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

P9160358I’ve been a test-prep coach for decades, tutoring students for the SSAT, ISEE, SAT, and ACT, and of course I’m very comfortable with the material by now.

Last month, my own daughter was getting ready to take the LSAT (the law school entrance exam), so I tried a few practice LSAT sections myself…and, guess what?

I found them stunningly, amazingly difficult! And, I made TONS of mistakes!

For example, on my first reading passage, I answered the eight questions, and got SIX of them wrong!!! 

This was an excellent experience for me, because I felt something I’ve lost touch with: I felt a sinking, dizzying fear of this difficult material.


The Connection Between Attention, Memory and Learning

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
P1010013My son, Matt, uses this simple trick to keep track of his cell phone: Whenever he puts it down, he taps it three times; the tapping focuses his attention just long enough for the location of his phone to register in his memory.
Meanwhile, I spend way too many frantic minutes searching for my phone, my calculator, my car keys, my gym bag…and bemoaning my “terrible memory.”

For Students (And All of Us!) The First Priority Must Be Sleep

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Versailles #1 2 16 2011 020In a Pentagon brainstorming session, Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum described her approach to life in one word: Prioritize.

You gotta love her method:

  • “A”
  • “B”
  • “C”
  • “Discard ‘C’”

(Martin Seligman’s wonderful book, Flourish, is full of these kinds of nuggets.)

Research keeps pouring out about the importance of sleep. Inadequate sleep is implicated in anxiety, depression, other emotional disorders, attention issues, unhealthy weight gain and poor cognition.

And sleep is essential to learning, because the material we learn during the day needs to be processed during sleep. All that studying is counter-productive if students are staying up too late to then “sleep on it” and let the information sink in.

This is the most hectic, fragmented, high-pressure time of the school year, and I know we all feel pulled in a million directions. But Mother Nature doesn’t care about all our ambitions; she still insists that the #1 Priority must be sleep.

Here are a few suggestions for making enough sleep happen:

  • Get homework done immediately upon arriving home. Don’t take a break first; just dive right in and plow through and save the break for evening.
  • Look for small bits of time during the day to get started on studying; even those two minutes before class begins can be used to begin reading an assignment, thinking about a paper topic, start a math problem (you need not finish it right then and there), etc.
  • No electronics in the bedroom. Keep them downstairs.
  • Set a bedtime that allows at least 8 hours of sleep (and really really really it ought to be 9+ hours for students), then reverse-engineer the day to make sleep the top priority. Some favorite activities simply will not fit into the daily schedule; save them for summer.
  • No glowing screens after 10 PM (or whatever is one hour before bedtime). The light from computers, TVs and smart phones disrupts sleep.
  • Review flash cards, vocab words, etc, before bed: You’ll wake up remembering them better!
  • Read something relaxing and/or boring in bed before you go to sleep.
  • Record your favorite shows and look forward to watching them this summer. DO NOT watch exciting TV …

12 Days of Happiness

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

I purposely waited until December 26 to make this post, figuring that this week between Christmas and New Years might be the perfect time to present my little gift to you.

I love TED talks; I watch them often, I show them in my classes, and I routinely share them with loved ones and students.

There are a number of TED talks that have, without exaggeration, profoundly and permanently changed my own life for the better.


 

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