When Would I Ever Use This?

Building SkillsOne of the essential skills for any worker is being able to apply the knowledge previously gained in an educational venue, like our college, to a practical problem. In medical education, a student who’s at the top of the class when tested on didactic material may struggle to transfer that information to a clinical situation. All that hard-earned knowledge isn’t much use if you can’t apply it to a living person’s medical situation.

A few days ago, I emailed colleague Pat Riley, an expert in helping students transfer math skills to useful real-world applications. I had been struggling to help my students see the advantage of using logarithms to plot bacterial growth, so I turned to Pat for help. After graciously providing some great suggestions, he shared an example of using math skills in his own kitchen:

patsidea

For those of us who “don’t do math,” we offer this refresher on scatter plots from this site Math Is Fun.  A finished scatter plot might look something like this:

scattershot

By the way, Pat and I agree that the broccoli is yummy. Here’s a plug for the product:steamfresh-ranch-broccoli

 

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Keeping the Big View

Brian picWith any venture of importance comes an initial dream or vision. A big picture forms like wanting to be a teacher. Then comes getting an education in the dreamed of discipline.

That’s just the beginning. Once in the classroom, other contexts require attention as well. For example, there is the institution that a teacher becomes part of. It’s very different from being the lone tropical fish in a bowl on someone’s living room table. Our grandchildren once had a small exotic Betta fish named Nixon, and Nixon enjoyed a modest sized, glass tank, colorfully decked out. Nixon was it. However, in education, it’s a bigger world, with all of the politics, fundraising, and paperwork that go with an institution.Nixon 1

Then there are the difficult students. Some don’t show up, turn in assignments, or make themselves an active part of a course. They might entertain unrealistic hopes of salvaging success. My least favorite questions are, “Do you think I can catch up?” and “Can I still pass?” I generally only say that I can only go by what students turn in, adding a recommendation for withdrawal where that appears best.

Nixon 2As institutional, political, and classroom problems mount, being a teacher can make a teacher wish for a simpler life like Nixon’s. Such, however, is merely fantasy. What is important is keeping the big view. This is the rescue when particular irritations and vexations need to be shrunk, while the big view is enlarged even more. Then, the good times go on, and the not-so-good times—well, they take on a less consuming perspective.

How Do You Say?????

ReadingthuRsday-R2“Never make fun of someone if they mispronounce a word. It means they learned it by reading.” (Anonymous, posted by McKay Books – Nashville)

The quote reminds me of the various vocabularies we carry in our heads. We have a speaking vocabulary, a listening vocabulary, a reading vocabulary, and a writing vocabulary. In other words, we have words we can say and read and understand that we might not use in our writing (sometimes because we do not know how to spell a particular word). We have a listening vocabulary of words we understand but might not use a lot. Evidence of a listening vocabulary is really demonstrated in young children who can listen and understand words’ meanings without the ability to use the word in reading and writing or for that matter be able to say the word yet. We have a reading vocabulary which encompasses the words we know from sight and the words we can determine from context. Rarely are all these vocabularies at exactly the same place for most of us. minionwords

The interesting part about words is that once one encounters a new word while reading and is able to determine its meaning, then it seems the word is used a lot more than we thought in other contexts. For example, the first time I encountered the word verdant, I could figure out what it meant in the context of the story, but I was unsure how to pronounce it. A little while later, I heard someone use the word verdant and then I could put a meaning and a pronunciation together. My internal pronunciation was incorrect, so if I said the word aloud, my pronunciation would be incorrect.

Hello-My-Name-Is-Hard-to-Pronounce-400Readers spend a lot of time figuring out the meanings of words, and often just worry about the pronunciation when they need to go public with their reading. When a reader reads silently, there may be less concern about how to pronounce all the characters’ names correctly as well as all the other words. As long as the text is making sense, a few mispronunciations here or there does not impede progress very much. However as soon as a reader’s words become audible, then difficulties arise as one tries to comprehend and sound right all at the same time. For example, a student reading aloud in a class has an extra burden of proper pronunciation while trying to keep the meaning of words in his or her head. Anyone who has spent much time in a classroom with younger children remembers how some school children feel the need to pounce on classmates’ mispronunciations when classmates reads aloud. Unfortunately, all this “help” often leads to the reader making more mispronunciations which impedes comprehension and causes a lot of angst.Louisville_pronunciationguide

Students in college classes may also need some help with pronunciation while they grapple with unfamiliar words. As we teach our classes, spending a little extra time on pronunciation of key terms is helpful. In a few cases, students may ask “How do you say _____?” but usually most adult learners think everyone knows how to pronounce terms, so they do not ask. Timely help on instructors’ parts can put the proper pronunciation into a reader’s head; thus, adding another support for understanding.

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.

The Mysterious Love of Procrastination

Brian picProcrastination usually doesn’t show up with things we love but with things we don’t. An image comes to mind of a task that is too boring, too long, too difficult, too confusing, or too bothersome—at least that’s the perception.

If the task can be bumped off the to-do list, great. With assignments, that’s not likely. If anything, instructors would like to pack more into a course. They are in the field of their pleasure, and they would like to pass on to students the joy of the subject at hand.  procrastination1

How well I remember the mathematical truth, “The sense of foreboding increases proportionally to the delay of a task, until its exponential spike before an imminent due date.” Foreboding requires a lot of energy. Dread doesn’t come cheap.

procrastinationThen there is the scientific principle, “A task procrastinated upon increases in mass until it becomes unexplainably bigger than it really is.”

This all calls for a state of mind that has weighed up foreboding and increased mass and decided that pleasure is often defined by misery avoided. The amount of displeasure in getting started and knocking out the task is far less than the cumulative displeasure in procrastination.

It is even possible to stop thinking, “I am not enjoying this” and to just do a task, with the mind freed up for the task without having to click the like button or the dislike button. Suppose neither is particularly useful to consider.WWS-Procrastinate1

Of course we like or dislike lots of things. That will not change. However, the like-dislike paradigm does not have to receive so much attention. It can be starved. A person won’t die by not majoring on liking or disliking certain tasks.

The mysterious love of procrastination turns out to be more easily resolved that had been supposed. Life does have its unsolved mysteries, but procrastination need not remain one of them.procrastination-flowchart-2

I want to live in Mitford (just for a little while)

ReadingthuRsday-R2Anyone who knows just a little about me knows I love to read and mysteries are my favorite genre. However, now and then I like to read a “feel good” story. On my last trip to the library, Jan Karon’s novel about Mitford was available. In past years, I have found the Mitford novels to offer a certain amount of calming influence on some hectic days, so I gladly checked it out. The latest books is called Come Rain, Come Shine. I will admit these books are not considered classics, and many will find the plots simplistic, but for me it was the right book at the right time.mitfordbooks

There are 12 Mitford novels, and they feature Father Timothy Kavanagh and the fictional village of Mitford. The latest book is about a wedding between two young people, Lace and Dooley. In the midst of all the wedding preparations, small side stories emerge. While the plot is interesting, it is really the small passages throughout the book that describe love, human failings, longings, redemption, and faith. What saves the book from being sappy is that not everyone is perfect and not everything works out neatly. However, a happy ending that leaves the reader uplifted is a joyous occasion, and this book provides joy.

Peace (interior)Lately, we are plagued with less than civil political rhetoric and violence as we work through our democratic process to elect a president. This week evil was committed against innocent citizens in Brussels. I am not hiding my head in the sand, nor am I making these events seem unimportant. However, I needed just a few moments to “live” in a peaceful place where neighbors look after each other and lift each other up. So for me, the right book this week is about a small make-believe village with make-believe people who do make-believe things. Let us all strive to have a little “Mitford kindness.”

I am thankful to be American, and I stand with the people of Brussels.