March Madness!

anneOnce again there is a buzz around college campuses – bracketology. Number 1 seed vs. Number 16 seed; who will advance who will no;, and who is the Cinderella team? Sound all too familiar? Well, if you are a sports fan, it should. President Obama just completed his bracket choices. Las Vegas is buzzing with making odds on each and every team. It is mayhem for about 4 weeks.

In my house there is a 3’ X 4’ poster of the NCAA men’s tournament brackets. With great care, it is updated daily after each and every game result. This will be displayed until the end of the tournament. One big exception:  if “our” team wins the tournament, it will stay up well into the summer – bragging rights, you know! Presidential+NCAA+Bracket+2016

Coaches plan strategies, work long hours designing plays, schedule specific teams to play and work hour upon hour in practice gyms from October until March in preparation for this event. Player’s shortcomings are tweaked down to the tiniest detail. The end result is focused on being as close to perfect as you can be. Everyone watches ESPN Selection Sunday to see who is in and who is out, whom each team will play, and where they will be going. Then it’s GAME ON!

caliperiIt dawned on me that this sounds similar to what happens at our college. At the beginning of the term you receive your team. Some are going to be NBA draft picks, and some need to be worked with to get them off the bench and onto the playing floor Some of the team (bless their hearts) will sit on the bench the entire season.

Planning strategies for classes and practice sessions are meticulously designed.  Working tirelessly for long hours becomes what you do. What can be done in class to make sure all of the players are getting the correct training? Your time frame is a short – 4 and one-half months (eight weeks at Fort Campbell!). In that short time students are expected to develop a knowledge base of the subject matter and prove to be proficient in the material. Each and every class is getting that student ready to participate in the “big dance”. lesson-plans-and-aims

As a coach, what is your game plan? The success of these players depends on what you provide in the way of educational material. You are taking your experience, knowledge and expertise, just as coaches do, and helping them to become successful. Think about it.


Keep It Simple, Part 3

anneMy colleague teaches Anatomy and Physiology. She does an amazing job at being able to present the material in a succinct and extremely clear manner. I wish I had had her for my bout with this subject! Is it easy for the students because of her clarifications? Heck, no! Easy has no place in A and P. She has spent and continues to spend countless hours in planning and dissecting the text to create simple (notice I didn’t use the word easy here) ways of explaining the material and stressing to students that you must learn the basics before you can understand the complexity of future information. Nothing must or should be assumed here!

Let’s imagine, for example, a hospital where infection rates are high. There are five basic procedures which all doctors (should) know that will inhibit an infection. You could say that they are basically “no brainers”. However, most doctors fail to use one of these procedures because they are caught up in the hoopla of new, cutting edge practices, treatments or procedures.hand_washing Did they forget the tried and true, or did they think that the new and improved mouse trap would outperform the simple method? Remember we are talking about simplicity here. Could the doctors be in the same situation as the football coaches I described in a previous post, failing to realize that simple, well-known procedures are directly linked to results?

Switching gears, I owned a flower shoppe at one point in my life. Around April girls would come in and be in a panic about getting the right bouquet in the right color – la ta da ta da. For those who don’t know the significance of this time of year for high school girls, it’s PROM SEASON!!!! These are two dreaded words no florist ever wants to have to deal with. The prom girls wanted the biggest, the most unusual, the most expensive, and the newest technique – and so on and so on. You get the picture. 220px-Wrist_corsagesIt was virtually impossible to convince these flower fashion divas that the prettiest and most sophisticated bouquet was always the simplest. Heavens, no! When I would say “less is more,” they would just look at me as though I had no clue. I laugh now remembering one who one had “no clue”! You know, looking back on those days, the prettiest bouquet I ever made was a softball-sized bunch of purple violets in a little silver holder. I still get compliments on that one.

Think again about the phrase “less is more”. Why don’t we use this philosophy more in our classrooms? Presentation of a gift in a plain brown wrapper doesn’t devalue the importance of its contents. Hope your bouquet is a pretty little bunch of violets.

K.I.S.S., Part Two


“That’s been one of my mantras—focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to make your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”—Steve Jobs

I am not going to focus on Steve Jobs or Apple Computer in this post, but I did find a great deal of profundity in his statement about simplicity. My office mate and I were talking this morning about simplicity—how when you get to the core of your discipline and the workings of it, how elegantly simple the concepts are. We also observed that  the process of making information simple is considerably more difficult and at times daunting than unloading volumes of information on our students.befuddled

In teaching psychology, I cover a theory dealing with Gestalt psychology. For clarification, Gestalt psychology breaks down the theory explaining perception. Along with Kohler and Koffka , Max Wertheimer emphasized the significance of higher order thinking skills in the context of Behaviorism. The focus of their theory was on “grouping” information to achieve a clearer understanding of the information. There are four basic principles to their theory of learning. Among these principles is the concept of “simplicity.” Who knew?

Let’s take, for example, a football game. Yes, I said a football game. You, as a coach, have lost roughly half of your games this season. Each week you scour the internet (does this sound familiar?) to find new, complex plays and offensive schemes to improve player performance. Upon presentation of this fool-proof method, you find your players dazed and confused. Really? Yes, you overlooked that they had never mastered the last set of plays. The coaches are bewildered. What’s the solution? How can we fix this? Maybe it’s the offensive line that is having the most trouble. These guys aren’t having trouble with the plays but with the basic footwork and body positions to create successful blocking. Why hadn’t they noticed the absence of the simple skills?

keep it simple signLearning fundamentals can be “game changing” for most of your players, too.  An old cliché comes to mind that goes “you can’t see the forest for the trees”. When, as an educator, you focus on learning the basics, you will find that out of the ashes rises a Phoenix!

In your game to deliver the winning discipline, are you 1st and goal, or have you been sacked three times during this possession? Make sure you are an effective quarterback. Keep it simple. Address those fundamentals. Point out the forest.

If you can bear another take on this subject, I will continue with “Part Three” after the holiday break.

KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid

anneOh, the memories!

Yes, I know! Kiss was a rock band that began their road to fame in the mid to late 70s. They were renowned for their face paint and stage outfits. Their performances touted elaborate displays of fire breathing, blood spitting, smoking guitars, shooting rockets, levitating drums and pyrotechnics. WOW! Who doesn’t remember those shows? kiss

Now that I am finished with “memory lane,” it’s time to focus on another KISS that focuses on teaching. “Keep It Simple Stupid” (KISS) is often seen in print. What does it actually mean, and how can one use it in the educational arena?

I reminisce by going back to a simpler life I had growing up on a farm in rural Kentucky. “Simple” then did not equate to easy, but it did mean that I found pleasure in everyday things. (Notice that one of our premises for learning is also “pleasure”? How clever of us!) The pleasure in learning team is completely sold on the idea that pleasurable classroom practices are essential for learning. “Simple” in the classroom does not mean easy, but it does require that we make that environment fun or pleasurable.

woman-computer-drawing1I have been working for about an hour-and-a-half this morning to gather statistics and information for my psychology class to help drive home a point about caregiving, with a special emphasis on the father’s role in this daunting task. Okay, so I have all of this wonderful information. Will it serve the purpose I had in mind, or will only serve as a vessel for confusion?

Hmm, I may have to reconsider this. Am I really making this simple, or am I causing a derailment of the concept in general? I am by nature an “informavor.” I will spend hours sifting through information sites to help me understand a certain concept. “Google” is my middle name. How do I feel after this marathon search? Well, to be perfectly honest, I sometimes think, “Why did I do all of this? I know very little more now that when I started. All I do know is that my head is now spinning!”

Does your idea of teaching or learning revolve around making sure that students are bombarded with every morsel of information you can provide? Would it be a better learning environment if you were to specify the main facts in the subject and use simple examples to drive those points home?Einstein-simple-quote I ask this because one of my students last week referred to my stories. From some of my earlier posts, you know that I have a reputation for telling stories. The student said that no matter how many times I chase down a rabbit hole in my lecture, the examples always make the information clear.
Maybe we need to look for those obvious rabbit holes. Happy hunting!

How Many Licks Does It Take?

anneHow many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Pop?

This commercial which aired several years ago addresses one of the most important questions of mankind! How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Well, according to the wise old owl – three!tootsie-pop-owl

Students are a lot like the old owl. They get in a hurry to get to the center and don’t take the necessary licks to get from classes what they need to be successful. My office mate and I often notice how some students create study groups, come to class early to review, and complete extra work in order to understand the material. Clearly, these are the ones who make the most licks.

taketimeWho else may fall into the trap of too few licks? Instructors! Are you an instructor who takes three licks to find yourself at the center, or do you take many licks before you arrive there? It takes time to provide extra review materials, discuss problematic areas in student engagement, and review points which could be difficult. Maybe you find yourself asking the question, “What else can I do?”

In preparation for the upcoming semester maybe we should take advice from the makers of Tootsie Pops rather than the old owl. Taking the time to create environments of learning can require that both students and instructors take a few more licks to get to the center of our classes.

Be Careful What You Ask For – You Just Might Get It!

anneI have always been uneasy about asking for specific things because of the underlying notion that maybe I shouldn’t ask for something. What if I ask and get told “NO!”? I may also ask if I really need what I am asking for. I could come up with a very long laundry list of reasons why I shouldn’t ask for something. Usually when this occurs, I just don’t ask and hope for the best.

When I need honest answers to get information, why not ask those who might know best? I was scheduled to meet with a group of high school students at one of the local schools to give them information about furthering their educational plans. Of course there were the main targets for discussion: classes that may be in your future, study habits, specific curriculum for different educational programs, and what types of employment will be available. These students will always ask about salary, how long will they have to go to school, and what kinds of grades will they will need to make.ThoughtfulGuyBlackSS

What are some things that students should be aware of before they start their post-high school education? Hmm, I found that I was not completely sure about these things. I knew what I thought they should know, but were these points accurate?
For help, I turned to the most knowledgeable group I know – my students. I was quite excited when they began to generate a list of “do’s and don’ts” to tell these rising college students. Below are the responses I received from my classes, which consist of community college freshmen and sophomores. I hope you find them informative as well.

Thinking About College?
Here Are A Few Things You Should Know:

1. You are not a special “snowflake”.
2. Have your kids first!
3. You have to work for what you get.
4. If you’re not serious – WAIT!
5. Soft skills are important.
6. Regardless of what you think – you don’t know everything!Success-is-a-Choice
7. You are now responsible for you.
8. Read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.
9. Read Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown.
10. Ask questions sooner than later!
11. Do not get behind.
12. Take care of business.
13. Late is NO LONGER acceptable!
14. Research scholarship opportunities.
15. Make sure your school is regionally or nationally accredited.
16. Budgeting your time is as important as budgeting your money.
17. Be independent.
18. Research your schools.
19. It’s okay to change your mind or major.
This list was generated by college freshmen and sophomores from Hopkinsville Community College 2015.

If You’re Inside the Jar, You Can’t Read the Label

anneThis is the week for Thanksgiving, a time for reflecting on the things and people we are thankful for. Some will enjoy families and LOTS of food (sensual pleasure). UGH – I remember one Thanksgiving I had to literally lie down after the feeding frenzy in order to breathe (humor). I thought I was going to just die right there!

Now, getting back on track. Some will travel to the homes of people they love and who love them (belonging to a group) and some will attend to those who are not as fortunate as others. However you spend this day, you are in the process of giving thanks and receiving thanks for all the things you do.charliebrown

How many times have we ever pondered this question: “I wonder if my boss or teacher is thankful for the effort I put forth every day at my job or in school?”

Yeah, that has crossed my mind several times throughout my career, and I venture to say that it has crossed yours also. How good does it feel to have that bit of validation come from a co-worker or teacher? Great, doesn’t it?

wrong-way-go-backOur school has initiated a program called Starfish. In this program, we can raise “flags” for poor student performance in class, etc. but they can also receive “kudos” for all the progress they are making. One day I realized that I spend much more time recording “flags” than “kudos.” It also seemed that in my emails all I ever received from Starfish were messages identifying students who were on the brink of failing or those with laundry lists of performance issues. It seems as though calling attention to a student’s need to step up their game or quit playing (surprise) is more effective than praising a student for rising to the challenges of class and being successful. I have my doubts about that one!

Returning to the title of this post, we are inside that jar. We cannot read the label to know just exactly what is in that jar, can we? A simple kudo:

  • “Job well done.”
  • “This was a hard lesson to master. Wow, you did so well!”
  • “I knew you could do this.”
  • “You are a very dedicated student.”

These comments highlight the pleasures of achievable challenge and autonomy and could tend to counteract some of those “flags” our students get so often. If we don’t read that label to our students or co-workers, they may never know what’s inside the jar!Good-job
Give those thank yous, praise those good performances, and pass out those stickers! Remember how that smiley face on your kindergarten paper (owning something of value) made you feel… and how you felt when you didn’t get one? That feeling is still there even in our adulthood.
To all of you, have a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving. You are all amazing at what you do!!