Ending On an Up Note: When the Winners Come Back

Ah, Super Bowl week…the hype for the game itself is now exceeded by the anticipation of the commercials.  No longer do we have to wait for Sunday to see the ads, as many of them are released the week before. This year’s Budweiser spot is already getting a lot of play, and GoDaddy’s cruel imitation has been pulled. Last year’s Bud ad has won several awards and is consistently regarded as the best of 2014. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the extended version:


And we know a little about how that cowboy feels. There’s nothing better than having a former student drop by your office to share success and say thanks, is there? Makes my day every time.


So What Happens?

ReadingthuRsday-R2Recently, a college student told me she had not read a book “for fun” since she started college last year. I know this student joined several book discussion groups on campus, but she did not see this event as anything but academic since topics were related, although many times, very generally to an area of study. So “for fun” reading, at least to this one college student, is choosing a book without thinking about how it fits in with courses, careers, goals, and all those other things that go along with college life.Margaret_Atwood_-_I_read_for_pleasure

I know this student was a prolific reader when she was in elementary school, middle school, and high school. So what happens to readers when they go to college? Well, I think between the classes, the studying, the social life, the new responsibilities, the efforts to get to one end of campus from another, and all the other things associated with college, reading “for fun” just gets pushed to the background. So, reading for fun is something that waits for winter break or summer break.However, the problem with waiting until winter break or summer is students lose some real enjoyment time.

College, while for many an idyllic time, can also be a stressful time. Reading for enjoyment is a safe, inexpensive and convenient way to take a little break from the demands of college and lose oneself in someone else’s story for just a little while.
woman-reading-bookSo, I made a small suggestion of trying to fit a little bit of “fun reading” into the schedule every day. I suggested 15 minutes sometime during the day. I also suggested carrying the reading materials around to see if during the day, a few moments could be stolen with just a little print. My suggestions were not on a grand scale, and I strived for a coaxing attitude. I hope just a few pages of “fun reading” during the day makes for a more balanced day for my college student. I think it would be a shame if all that adventure and magic and drama from earlier years of reading did not continue while she is at college.

For all of us, spending just 15 minutes a day reading “for fun” is a great balance to our jobs, to our responsibilities, to taking care of our families, to figuring out our taxes, and to trying to get from point A to point B. Happy Reading!

Coping with Mr. Clown Box

karenI’ve been reading a few pages of The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control every evening, and the findings of Walter Mischel and his team regarding delayed gratification are interesting. After observing young children who manage to resist eating a tempting treat in order to be rewarded with two treats, Mischel wondered if “priming” the children before a truly irresistible temptation would influence their ability to resist. The devilish distraction was a machine called “Mr. Clown Box,” featuring brightly colored lights, loud sounds, two windows with rotating toy prizes, and a voice that nagged the children to engage with the machine. The kids were given a boring task to complete after the examiner left the room and were urged to keep at their work, ignoring the clown.

Some of the children were primed with an “if-then” strategy—something along the lines of “If Mr. Clown tries to get you to play with him, just tell him that you are working and can’t play.” Many of the children in this group devised their own strategies as well. The children in the primed group were nearly twice as persistent in their assigned task and accomplished twice as much as the group of children who were not offered a coping strategy.3803820057_636902535e_z

What does this suggest to a college teacher? After all, my students are adults who “should” have developed strategies for coping with distractions long ago. But did they? Their world offers temptations far more beguiling than Mr. Clown Box, including cell phones, TV, and their family and social lives.

Mischel stresses the efficacy of the “if-then” strategy for accomplishing tasks that require persistence, including dieting, smoking cessation, and completing academic work. A student might say, “When the clock strikes five, I’m going to study A&P for thirty minutes.” Or, “If the kids’ practice runs late, I’ll review my notes while I wait.”

f0304a3474c2979b7216b5692c36b6c7For those of us who have completed higher ed successfully, these behaviors may be automatic. These are the strategies that got us here. But some of our students may need a little help in learning to use the “if-then” model. Mischel’s work strongly suggests that a little influence goes a long way. Starting on the first day of class, and in the syllabus before that first class, we can offer a few “if-then” tricks:

  • “If you need to get to class on time, make sure you have your ID to get on post before pulling out of the driveway.”
  • “If you have children, think about what you will do if they get sick and can’t go to school.”
  • “If you have to miss class, make sure that you have exchanged phone or email contact with someone in the class so that you can find out what you missed.”
  • “If you have trouble grasping a concept in class, use the tools in the on-line platform to review.”

Whether we call it “priming” or “words to the wise” or good ol’ common sense, The Marshmallow Test offers hope that our small suggestions can make a difference in our students’ performance.



Classhack: My Favourite Scientist

headingAmazing how ideas follow us around until we are forced to pin them to the (virtual) page, isn’t it? Hubby and I recently saw and enjoyed The Imitation Game, based on the life of Alan Turing. Today, while reviewing the videos I plan to use in the genetics portion on my A&P class, I viewed “Gregor Mendel—My Favourite Scientist,” one of a series produced by Nottingham Trent University. Too many students completely lack any perspective on the history of science, which is often the juiciest part, so I try to introduce a bit of science history when I can. The My Favourite Scientist series is a great resource, providing brief videos by contemporary scientists (male AND female, too!) who describe their heroes with warmth, humor, and charmingly simple animations. Here’s the one on Gregor Mendel. Oh, how I envy her accent.

There are many more in the series, including Darwin, Semmelweiss (just for you, Beth!), Farrady, Einstein, Mr. Spock himself, and, yes,  Alan Turing.  You can find them all on YouTube or by visiting My Favourite Scientist.

Your Fingertips Are Alive

Brian picWriting has changed over the millennia. One of the many fascinations in the 1953 movie Robinson Crusoe is watching Robinson carefully write in his journal in cursive with a quill pen. Those were the days! The 1950s was the era of fountain pens that the user loaded from an ink well or jar. Technology then produced the cartridge fountain pen with the little plastic tube to insert into the pen. Operation commenced by closing the pen’s cartridge slot, which punctured the cartridge and fed the tip. Later, the ballpoint pen made fountain pens archaic except for purists.fountain_pen

The typewriter also advanced technologically, with the manual typewriter giving way to the electric one. Finally, the computer keyboard made writing more of a breeze, yet even in 2002 (and for a couple more years), students in English class wanted the option of handwriting assignments. However, as the computer became a fixture on the college campus, it was easier to assign typed papers. In 2005, the HCC Hopkinsville campus converted two rooms into computer labs, and the computer setting for writing classes soon took off.

Feel free to use this image just link to www.rentvine.comNo one needs convincing of the endless possibilities for composing, revising, and editing on the computer. Those pleasures are not the only ones though. The feel of a keyboard on the fingertips is a special pleasure. Going too long during the day without typing on a keyboard can make the fingertips begin to crave the contact, and one’s ears long to hear the clicking. At home, I even enjoy sitting back in a chair listening to my wife type. The clicking sound is mesmerizing.

I learned to type on a manual typewriter while deployed to the Western Pacific on the USS Samuel Gompers AD 37 in 1971-72. Actually it was hunt and peck, writing many long letters home to my wife even though that typewriter had keys hard to press down.remington-allnewportable01

Years later in 2000, when I went to graduate school at Austin Peay State University and the computer was already a staple there, I was walking down the hallway in Harned Hall and noticed that Dr. David Till’s door was open, so I dropped in for a visit. In his office was an old manual typewriter, and it surprised me to learn that it was not sitting out as an antique. He said, “I like the tactile pleasure of typing on it.”

finger-people-alone-smilingOur fingertips are loaded with nerve endings for sensory use and pleasure. While your brain is composing, and your eyes are watching your document, fingers pressing on keys new or old is a combination to relish.



Mind Over Marshmallows

karenWay back in March 2013, I posted “Are We the Cursed Experts?”  This highlighted our often unrecognized inability to remember what it’s like to NOT know what we know. After reading The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel, I’m convinced that the gap in expertise between students and instructors may not be confined to the knowledge bases of our disciplines.f0304a3474c2979b7216b5692c36b6c7

In The Marshmallow Test, Mischel reviews the now-famous series of experiments that revealed differences in how young children react when confronted with an agonizing choice: One treat now, or two treats if you can delay eating until the experimenter returns to the room. In the book, Mischel discusses many variations and observations of the test beyond what has been covered in TV news shows. Still, the central questions about the origins of the ability to delay gratification—and, critically, whether these can be learned or manipulated—are the focus of the book and Mischel’s life work. It’s a great read.

This video is a mashup of similar experiments:

Delaying gratification sounds inherently, ahem, UNpleasurable, and it often is. Still, a night spent studying instead of heading out for pizza and a movie can lead to the pleasure of crossing a stage with a diploma in your hand…and a pay stub in  your hand earned at a higher paying job….and a golf club or ticket to Paris in your hand because you invested well in a 401K as part of that great job.

marshmallow_testCould it be that we college teachers have so much expertise in delaying gratification that we don’t realize that many of our students haven’t developed this skill? Could that explain missing assignments, absences from class, and late submissions of required papers, not to mention unread required reading? If we don’t realize that they don’t have it, we can’t begin to help them get it.

The early marshmallow experiments indicated that some of us are born with greater abilities to resist temptations than others, but Mischel’s later work offers hope that environment (including our classrooms?) can have a great effect on the ability to persevere in the face of challenges.  We may highlight some coaching strategies in upcoming posts. For now, treat yourself to The Marshmallow Test.