Managing The Brat: It’s All About Time

I opened my mailbox this morning to this “Moment of Happiness” sent by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project:

One lives in the naive notion that later there will be more room than in the entire past.”

              —Elias Canetti

The Brat

The Brat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sigh. Guilty as charged. The ever-growing self-help section of my personal library has several volumes disputing this fallacy. There’s Do It Now. And Overcoming Procrastination. And The Now Habit. And The Seven Habits of…..Well, you get the picture. I once owned a T-shirt emblazoned “MAÑANA DUCK,” featuring a waterfowl lounging in a hammock. It was a perfect depiction of my Inner Brat. Your brat may have a different name. Freud liked “id.” One of my running buddies said, “I just call mine the B______” (My mother won’t let me type that word.) Whatever we call him or her, many of us have a shadow self who sabotages the best-laid plans of our better angels.

The campus where I teach anatomy & physiology is located on a military base, and our terms are accelerated (compressed? squooshed?) into eight weeks to accommodate the very mobile population that we serve. Despite my warning that all the material in A&P “comes at ya fast,” and despite my students’ earnest intentions to keep up, the demon of time mismanagement conitnually threatens to claim victims. My own Inner Brat recognizes kindred spirits in students who believe that they can always catch up tomorrow. Since I have a few decades of practice in managing my own procrastination, I offer students a few strategies for managing theirs.

  • Just Do It. Clearly not original, but remarkably effective. It’s so tempting to defer doing what needs to be done until after *insert nonessential chore* is completed or until the moment of motivation arrives.  That moment never comes. Promise yourself that “I only have to do this for ten minutes.” Set the timer if need be; there’s one on that fancy phone. I’ve been using this bit of self-deception for the last eleven years to get myself to the gym, and I have yet to leave after ten minutes.  Why do I still have to promise The Brat that she can leave? I just do.
  • Shift work. I encourage my students to try a variation of the Pomodoro Technique. Set that handy timer that you used in the previous strategy for a predetermined interval of committed effort; then reward yourself with a few minutes of fun. The reward could be as simple as a brief stroll, reading a magazine article, or browsing the internet. I’ve been known to use household chores like unloading the dishwasher for my reward interval. (Yippee!) You can visit the Pomodoro website, which features nifty timers and strategies, by clicking here. Maybe this could be your first reward interval.
  • Eat the Elephant. You’ve heard it: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So many of my students lead complicated, stressful lives. Deployed spouses, blended and extended families, job demands—I really don’t know how they manage as well as they do. We’ve made it a practice to create and share ways to collect the crumbs of time that fall from life’s frantic buffet of activities. Flashcards are portable and can fill the time waiting for kids’ practices to end or waiting in line at WalMart or the pharmacy.
    DSC08119 Elephant eating

    DSC08119 Elephant eating (Photo credit: godutchbaby)

    They can also be put on a phone. One student whose morning toilette was apparently time-consuming plastered her bathroom mirror with sticky notes. Students listen to taped material as they drive, work out, or fold laundry. Students come to class early and stay late. I often arrive early in the morning to find a study group taking place outside my locked door. Once I introduce the strategy of finding crumbs of time, I enjoy hearing the strategies that my students share.

OK, now that I’ve offered my students some tips on managing their time, how do I help them to avoid procrastination? I build in a lot of accountability and time-sensitive work. Given my explanation of the the challenges they face, this might seem heartless, even draconian. But, as I remind them, goals are dreams with deadlines. And I am a deadline dispenser. I share with my class that in distance races, there are volunteers who run with signs marked with times, say, 4:15 for a marathon. If you want to finish in 4:15, you must stay with the runner who carries that sign, because they’ve made a commitment to cross the line on time. I carry a sign that says “8 WEEKS.” Here’s how I move my racers along:

  • POD.  Learning a bewildering array of military acronyms has been an interesting part of teaching on a military base. POD, for “plan of day,” has become one of my favorites. When we have a day with several planned activities or multiple important topics to cover, I post the POD on the board.  I start with quitting time at the bottom of the board and work upwards, allotting time for each topic or activity. The big clock over my head makes it clear to me and the class that we need to keep moving to finish what we need to do. Once students realize that the in-class activities are a big help in mastering the material, they police themselves. Everyone wants to get a turn at all the stations.
    Keep Production on Schedule - NARA - 534497

    Keep Production on Schedule – NARA – 534497 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Frequent assessments. I administer 11 short quizzes and 4 longer exams during the term. Despite initial displeasure with this practice, student after student has thanked me for “making me keep up” by holding them accountable on a regular basis.
  • Reading assignments. The online teaching platform that enhances my classes allows me to require completion of a short (less than 10 minutes) reading assignment before each new topic is introduced. This simple change has resulted in dramatically improved comprehension and discussion in class.
  • Homework assignments. Students complete a longer (30 minutes by national norms) assignment after each topic or portion of a larger topic. The teaching platform allows me to enhance these assignments with videos and labs, and I can add my own items when I like.
  • Required participation in class activities. I assign points every day for participation in lab, mock practical exams, and group learning activities.  If students don’t attend, they don’t get the points. The great majority of my students have perfect or near-perfect attendance.

There are probably hundreds of ways to help ourselves and our students manage time well and avoid procrastination.  How do you help make managing time an achievable challenge? I’d love to hear your strategies! Tomorrow I’ll share a tip for moving things along during group activities.


Tech Tuesday: Cropping in Office

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


When working with images in Microsoft Office, you may often wish to ‘trim’ an image.  This is called cropping and is a function available within all of the major Microsoft Office applications that allow the user to work with images.

In this case, simply find the cropping button (1), adjust the cropping handles (2), and then press Enter.

Cropping 1

It is important to note that any portion of the image cropped out is still retained in the document.  This can make for very large documents (especially PowerPoint presentations).  When you have finally finished cropping all desired images, you can delete the unseen portion.  To do this, first select any picture, and then use the  Compress Pictures Button.  This brings up the dialog box shown below.  You can select the desired options to reduce the size of your file.

Cropping 2

Sometimes the Mind of a Child Solves Complex Problems, Part II

B picThanks to my wife, Tandy, the photos in this installment are a good reconstruction of how things went with the LEGOs. First, I emptied the 40+ LEGOs onto the coffee table in front of the living room sofa and asked for a volunteer to choose and arrange some of them into a “message.”

A high school boy named A.J. Sanders took the male and female figurines and draped the skinny and ridged tire around them. When I asked, “What is the message?” he replied, “Love.”


These were the only three LEGOs he chose, and I couldn’t have been more surprised since I had no preconceived notion of what anyone might construct, and certainly this was a delightful surprise.

After expressing my wonderment and enjoyment, I said, “Are they just out there alone with no setting or anything around them? What can you add to this to fill it out a little more?” Quickly he put up a house around them with some the blue blocks in front. I asked, “What have we got here?” and he said, “It’s a house on the beach.” This was really fun.


I also asked A.J., “Are they going to live on love?”  She might say, “Baby, I love you, but I’ve got to have some food.” So David went to work, and soon another item appeared.

“What is that?” I asked, and he replied, “It’s a concession stand.” Oh my, this had gone better than I had ever imagined.


The connection to writing from there was easy. “We all have lots of thought in our heads swirling around, and it’s tempting to think that we have to get them in order mentally before writing any of them down. But what if dumping out the LEGOs onto the table was like cutting the top of your head off and letting thoughts spill out onto paper? It doesn’t matter if they look like a mess.”

Some people do feel more comfortable making outlines first, but one of my professors, Dr. Ann Hawkins, provided an awakening moment one day when she said. “I find out what I want to write about as I’m writing.” Later, one of my mentors at the college, Taylor Carlisle, introduced me to free-writing, and it has cured writer’s block countless times.

The beauty of starting with free-writing is that no has to see it until you are ready. Until then, you can make any kind of mess while you look for energy and images that spark the revision stage. The revision stage is an exciting time of playing with the free-writing until it’s time to more formally group thoughts into a flow and connect and polish them.

Freewriting. grapes, pen, notebook, progress....

Freewriting. grapes, pen, notebook, progress…. (Photo credit: juliejordanscott)

It can also be helpful often to get ideas from others as the “message” develops. Questions and observations can stimulate smoother, clearer communication with lively images. Then comes the self-editing, which is followed hopefully by proofreading from someone able to help with grammar improvement.

Wally wanted me to give the students a writing assignment to be reviewed by the Challenge House ambassadors, in this case, Ellen and Nate Ragsdale. Ellen is a writing enthusiast and loved the presentation, and she took a lot of journalism courses in college.

Since the students had received their blank, new journal notebooks at the beginning of the “Attitude, Training, and Teamwork” week with the instructions to jot down notes from various sessions, I suggested doing a 400 word free-writing on thoughts and observations that stuck in their minds from their notes and handouts, to be followed by a revision and then editing to emphasize initially the correcting of fragments into complete sentences.

The sighs and groans were politely manifold. Ha ha, teachers expect that.

Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 4.48.29 PMI haven’t heard back yet from Ellen, and it’s rare indeed to give a writing assignment that I don’t have to grade. Hopefully, despite any short term errors in how the assignment went down in the student journals, the concept of progressive stages in writing will connect to the happy halo of the LEGOs’ vignette.

The positive vibes for writing were also abundant since Wally is a vivid and clear writer himself; and he had invited, unbeknownst to me, our good friend, Dr. David Carter to observe. David just retired from a long career as a beloved speech professor at Hopkinsville Community College, and I bet his caller ID will be showing Wally’s name for some Challenge House projects.

This was a rich experience, and the LEGOs did it for me as well. Yep, I see more clearly now too.

pleasureteam note (from Karen): I’m visiting New York at the moment. I enjoyed Brian’s first installment of this story, and I had the privilege of previewing the post above.  As I was walking in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, I saw this poster in a storefront window. It certainly reminded me of Brian’s great idea to use LEGOs to help students get their feelings on paper.  To learn more about the exhibit and see some truly astonishing LEGO art, click here.

(The “Photos” section automatically changes to show different creations.)legoposter


Ending on an Up Note: Acceptance

My pal Kristy, knowing my fondness for my grandpug, sent this along to me and my son, Bogart’s owner. How can you not smile when you see it? It’s a good reminder that we want our students to feel that they’ve come to the right place when they enter our class for the first time.  I may project this as students enter on the first day of the upcoming term.


(The one in the middle is a dead ringer for our Bogart.)

Extra credit: While typing the phrase “dead ringer,” I realized I didn’t know the origin of that phrase.  Turns out it has nothing to do with pugs and everything to do with race horses…kind of embarrassing for a Kentucky girl. If you’d like to educate your friends and family, click here.

Video of the Week: “Oxidate It or Love It:

Here’s the video I mentioned in yesterday’s post. It was created by Tom Mcfadden at Stanford University. According to the Stanford News: “His latest video, entitled “Oxidate It Or Love It” explains how metabolism works while paying homage to “Hate It Or Love It” by 50 Cent/The Game and “On To The Next One” by Jay-Z.” (To see the report, click here.)

After my students complete all the activities to help them master cellular respiration, I show this video. I acknowledge that it’s probably nerd fare, but I hope my colleagues in the humanities and other non-science disciplines will enjoy it, too. You don’t actually have to understand the science to appreciate the production.

The followup comments have been interesting.  Students typically laugh and enjoy the film.  At most viewings, someone will notice a visual “pun” (like the pompoms in the shadowy “bridge” interlude and the twirling umbrella later on), and they always cheer the older professor. Every class has asked that I post a link to the video.

An intriguing pattern emerged in the students’ comments the day after the video.  Typically, I hear something like this from one or more students:

“Dr. D, I showed my husband (wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, kids, whatever) the video, and they thought it was OK, but they didn’t see why I was so excited about it.”

At first, I just replied with an “Oh, well” and a shrug.  Then I began asking students why they thought their buddies were less enthusiastic about the video. Usually, the students decide that their newly minted knowledge of cellular respiration allowed them to appreciate elements in the video that “lay” people would not feel a connection with.

This experience occurs at the end of the second week of class. I point out that the people who walked through the door of my lab only 2 weeks before are not the same people leaving that room today. The students begin to realize that they have acquired something of value, one of our prime components in learning pleasure. The video also includes surprise and humor, and allows the students to celebrate meeting an achievable challenge. They now experience the satisfaction of belonging to a group of human beings who have a clearer understanding of one of life’s amazing processes.

Talking with Your Hands

Finger face with a question

Finger face with a question (Photo credit: Tsahi Levent-Levi)

In a recent post on Time Ideas entitled “The Secret Code of Learning: Our Bodies Can Reveal More of What We Know Than Our Verbal Lanuage,” learning guru Annie Murphy Paul discussed the benefits of using hand gestures to enhance learning. (To read the post, which is informative and entertaining, click here.) In the piece, she quotes Susan Goldin-Meadow, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago: “We change our minds by moving our hands.”

Lately here at PIL we’ve been thinking about kinesthetic learning (see links below), so this seemed like a natural extension. Speaking with gestures comes naturally to me, and I’ve developed a few tricks to help my students master complex topics using gestures of their own. Cellular respiration is a daunting concept for many of my students. There are 3 main phases, and each of them has a challenging name: glycolysis, Krebs (or citric acid) cycle, and the electron transport chain and oxidative phophorylation.  But the big idea—the main “happening” in each of those phases— is rather straightforward. Learning those phases with their signature events is a good start toward understanding the magic of cellular respiration, and it offers my students a valuable head start in medical microbiology and pharmacology.

Here’s how I begin: I stand in front of the class and ask, “Who knows what this is?” as I do this:

I ask how many people can sing the words, and, of course, almost all of them can. I ask if they would remember the words without the motions, and most think they wouldn’t. I ask their forbearance with the cheesiness that follows, explaining that this nonsense has seemed to help previous students.

Then I do this:

This motion helps them remember that glycolysis (literally: “split the sugar”) means that the 6-carbon glucose molecule is split into two 3-carbon pyruvates.

Next, I demonstrate this:

These motions remind my learners that each 3-carbon fragment first loses a carbon, leaving two carbons, which then begin a trip around the big Krebs cycle ferris wheel. By the end of the trip, the carbons are all gone. (You exhaled them as CO2, but that’s another story.) Students often have trouble remembering that the wheel has to spin twice for every glucose molecule that began the process, so having two hands–one at the end of each arm—is a helpful reminder.

Finally, I show them this:

This motion suggest the electrons traveling down the energy stairsteps of the electron transport chain, yielding the energy that finally makes ATP production possible.

English: A diagram of cellular respiration inc...

English: A diagram of cellular respiration including glycolysis, Krebs cycle, citric acid cycle, and the electron transport chain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clearly, there are many more details in the process. Still, being able to see the forest before we start cutting trees is valuable. All of the systems that we study later in the class and the following semester ultimately support this system, so I can remind my students of the steps later on, nudging them with the motions if they’re slow to recall. Students leave my class at the end of the term with a map to get them back on track if they find themselves a little fuzzy-headed about the process of cellular respiration.

We also do a tabletop exercise with poker-chip carbons and pony-bead electrons to add details to the big finger-play map.

When we finally think that we have cellular respiration down pat, I show them a music video that I’ll share tomorrow.

You could probably make some sort of finger play to help students learn and retain information, especially sequential or sorting concepts, in almost any discipline.  Does anyone else out there care to share?

Tech Tuesday: Screenshot/Screen Clipping “Old School” Method

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


I hope you’ve found a use for the Screenshot feature in Office and the Snipping Tool.  This is the last week in the series on taking screenshots.  I’m going to cover how to take a screenshot using the “old school” method.  This will work on any version of Windows.  The use case for this method is when you need to capture something in action.  For example, when you need to capture a menu open you can use this method.

First, find the Prt Sc (print screen) button on your keyboard.  Press it.  Nothing happens.  Now, open up Word or Paint or a similar program and paste.  The screenshot has been stored in your clipboard.  If you hold down the Alt key first, you will just capture the active window.  Once your screenshot is pasted, use the cropping functionality of the software to cut the image down to the desired size.  Not sure how to crop?  Stay tuned for next week’s Tech Tuesday!

One quick note: Some laptops don’t have a Prt Sc button that works automatically.  Instead, they will label another key with a subtext of Prt Sc.  Usually it is color coded the same color as the Fn.  If so, then you have to use the Fn key together with the Prt Sc key to get the same effect.  While you’re checking out the Fn key, look for any other cool things it might do for you.

Useful Links: