Tag Archives: Learning to learn course

Learning Course #9: Renaissance Learning and Unlocking Your Potential (week 4 lectures) #LH2L1

Here are the points I want to remember or be able to find again from the videos of the fourth week of the Learning course*

How to Become a Better Learner

  • The best gift that you can give your brain is Physical Exercise. 
  • Exercise helps new neurons survive.
  • Practice making perfect, but only when your brain is prepared. 
  • There are certain critical periods in the development of your brain.
  • The critical period for first language acquisition extends up to puberty. .
  • Learning, Planning, Language, these are the skills that make us human.
  • The prefrontal cortex is also involved in complex analysis in social behaviors, as well as decision making and planning.
  • It is the last part of the cortex to mature, so until this happens, there may be a little bit of zombie in you.

Introduction to week 4: Renaissance learning and unlocking your potential

  • Learning doesn’t progress logically, so that each day just adds an additional neat package to your knowledge shell. 
  • Sometimes you hit a wall in constructing your understanding.
  • Things that made sense before can suddenly seem confusing.
  • This type of knowledge collapse seems to occur when your mind is restructuring its understanding, building a more solid foundation.
  • Remember it takes time to assimilate your knowledge.

Create a lively visual metaphor or analogy

  • A metaphor is just a way of realizing that one thing is somehow similar to another. 
  • Simple ideas like one geography teacher’s description of Syria is shaped like a bowl of cereal, and Jordan as a Nike Air Jordan sneaker, can stick with a student for decades.
  • Metaphors and visualization, being able to see something in your mind’s eye, have been especially helpful not only in art and literature, but also in allowing the scientific and engineering world to make progress. 
  • In the 1800s for example, when chemists began to imagine and visualize the miniature world of molecules, dramatic progress began to be made.
  • Metaphors and models are often vitally important in giving a physical understanding of the central idea behind the process or concept you are trying to understand. 
  • Interestingly, metaphors and analogies are useful for getting people out of Einstellung that is, being blocked by thinking about a problem in the wrong way.

No need for genius envy

  • Connection between learning math and science and learning a sport.
  • In baseball, for example, you don’t learn how to hit in one day. Instead, your body perfects your swing from lots and lots of repetition over a period of years. One chunk instead of having to recall all the complex steps involved in hitting a ball.
  • In the same way, once you understand why you do something in math and science.
  • Remember, people learn by trying to make sense out of they perceive. They rarely learn anything complex simply by having someone else tell it to them. 
  • Chess masters, emergency room physicians, fighter pilots, and many other experts often have to make complex decisions rapidly.
  • They shut down their conscious system and instead rely on their well trained intuition, drawing on their deeply ingrained repertoire of chunks.
  • Being smarter often equates to having a larger working memory. 
  • If you’re one of those people who can’t hold a lot in mind at once, You may have to work harder sometimes or even much of the time to understand what’s going on. But once you get something chunked you can take that chunk and turn it outside in and inside round, putting it through creative paces even you didn’t think you were capable of. 
  • It is practice, particularly deliberate practice on the toughest aspects of the material that can help lift average brains into the realm of those with more natural gifts. Just as you can practice lifting weights and get bigger muscles over time, you can also practice certain mental patterns that deepen and enlarge in your mind.
  • The Imposter Syndrome : it’s a fluke when you happen to do well on a test, and then on the next test, for sure they, and your family and friends, are going to figure out how incompetent you really are. 
  • This feeling is so extraordinarily common that it even has a name.
  • If you suffer from these kinds of feelings of inadequacy just be aware that many others secretly share them.

Change your thoughts, change your life

  • Santiago Ramon y Cajal Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a born troublemaker, then won the Nobel Prize, but eventually became known as the Father of Modern Neuroscience Cajal was already in his early 20s when he began climbing from bad boy delinquency into the traditional study of medicine. This may explain why teenagers often have trouble controlling their impulsive behavior. The wiring between intention and the control areas of the brain isn’t completely formed.
  • It seems people can enhance the development of their neuronal circuits by practicing thoughts that use those neurons. 
  • Brilliant people can do exceptional work, just like anyone else they can also be careless and biased.
  • The key to success: perseverance: the virtue of the less brilliant, coupled with his flexible ability to change his mind and admit errors. 
  • Out on his own (out of school), Darwin was able to look with fresh eyes at the data he was collecting.
  • Approaching material with a goal of learning it on your own, can give you a unique path to mastery. 
  • There will always be those who criticize or attempt to undermine any effort or achievement you make. If you do well in your studies, the people around you can feel threatened.
  • On the other hand, if you flunk a test, you also may encounter critics who throw more barbs, saying you don’t have what it takes.
  • We’re often told that empathy is universally beneficial. But it’s not. It’s important to learn to switch on an occasional cool dispassion

The value of teamwork

  • Broad-perspective perceptual disorder of the right hemisphere. People can retain their intelligence. If they make a mistake in their calculations, concluding something nonsensical. It doesn’t bother them. There’s no big picture.
  • The right hemisphere helps us step back and put our work into big picture perspective.
  • Even subtle avoidance of some of our capabilities can have a surprisingly negative impact on our work.
  • If you go off track early on, it doesn’t matter if the rest of your work is correct. 
  • When you step back and recheck, you’re allowing for more interaction between the hemispheres, taking advantage of the special perspectives and abilities of each.
  • You must not fool yourself. And you are the easiest person to fool. 
  • One of the best ways to catch your blind spots and errors is to brainstorm and work with others who are also smartly focused on the topic.
  • Explaining to friends helps build your own understanding.
  • The importance of working with others doesn’t just relate to learning. It’s also important in career building.

A test checklist

  • Testing is itself an extraordinary powerful, learning experience.
  • If you compare how much you learn by spending one hour studying, versus one hour taking a test on that same material, you’ll retain and learn far more as a result of the hour you spent taking a test. 
  • A checklist, you can use to see whether your preparation for test taking is on target, developed by legendary educator Richard Felder.
  • The answer to the question, how should I prepare for the test, is do whatever it takes to be able to answer, yes.
  • Did you make a serious effort to understand the text?
  • Did you work with classmates on homework problems or at least check your solutions with others?
  • Did you attempt to outline every homework problem solution before working with classmates?
  • Did you participate actively in homework group discussions contributing ideas and asking questions?
  • Did you consult with the instructor or teaching assistants when you were having trouble with something?
  • Did you understand all your homework problem solutions when they were handed in?
  • Did you ask in class for explanations of homework problem solutions that weren’t clear to you?
  • If you had a study guide, did you carefully go through it before the test and convince yourself you could do everything on it?
  • Did you attempt to outline lots of problems solutions quickly without spending time on the Algebra in calculations?
  • Did you go over the study guide and problems with class mates and quiz one another?
  • If there was a review session before the test, did you attended and asked questions about anything you weren’t sure about?
  • Did you get a reasonable night sleep before the test?

Hard start – jump to easy

  • The classic way students are taught to approach tests is to tackle the easiest problems first. For many people it’s counterproductive.
  • Tough problems often need lots of time, meaning you’d want to start on them first thing on the test.
  • Difficult problems can also scream for the creative powers of the diffuse mode.
  • Start first with what appears to be the hardest problem. But steal yourself to pull away within the first minute or two, if you get stuck or you get a sense that you might not be on the right track. 
  • Starting hard loads the first most difficult problem in mind and then switches attention away from it.
  • The hard start jump to easy technique may make more efficient use of your brain by allowing different parts of the brain to work simultaneously on different thoughts.
  • The only trick with this approach is that you must have the self discipline to pull yourself off a problem once you find yourself stuck for a minute or two.

Final helpful hints for tests

  • If you’re a stressed out test taker: sweaty palms, a racing heart, a knot on the pit of your stomach. The story you tell yourself about why you’re stressed makes all the difference. 
  • If you shift your thinking from, this test has made me afraid, to this test has got me excited to do my best it can really improve your performance.
  • Momentarily turn your attention to your breathing. 
  • Movie to a deep breathing pattern in those final anxious moments before a test is handed out.
  • Cover up the answers to multiple choice questions and to try to recall the information.
  • Face your fears. Often, your worst fear is not to get the grade you need for your chosen career. Have a Plan B for the alternative career.
  • Study hard up until the day of the test and then let it go.
  • Good worry helps provide motivation and focus, while bad worry simply wastes energy. 
  • Don’t feel guilty if you can’t seem to get yourself to work too hard the day before a big examination.
  • Remember how your mind can trick you into thinking that what you’ve done is correct, even if it isn’t. Blink, shift your attention, and then double check your answers
  • In science classes, having your units of measurement match on each side of the equation can provide an important clue about whether what you’ve done is correct.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” course I am taking.

Learning Course #8: Procrastination and Memory (week 3 lectures) #LH2L1

Here are the points I want to remember or be able to find again from the videos of the third week of the Learning course*

Tackling procrastination – It’s easier, and more valuable, than you think

  • Understanding a little about the cognitive psychology of procrastination, just like understanding the chemistry of poison, can help us develop healthy preventatives.
  • By putting the same amount of time into your learning but spacing that learning out by starting earlier you’ll learn better.
  • You shouldn’t waste willpower on fending off procrastination except when absolutely necessary.
  • Procrastination can be a single monumentally important keystone bad habit
  • Procrastination shares features with addiction. It offers temporary excitement and relief from sometimes boring reality.
  • It’s easy to fool yourself for example into thinking that the best use of any given moment is.
  • Strategies for dealing with procrastination are simple. It’s just that sometimes they aren’t intuitively obvious.

Zombies everywhere

  • Habit is an energy saver for us. It allows us to free our mind for other types of activities. It saves energy.
  • Habits have four parts. 

1. The cue. This is the trigger that launches you into zombie mode. A cue by itself is neither helpful or harmful, it’s the routine. What we do in reaction to that cue, that’s what matters.
2. The routine. The habitual response your brain is used to falling into when it receives the cue.
3. The reward. Every habit develops and continues because it rewards us. It gives us an immediate little feeling of pleasure. Finding ways to reward good study habits is important for escaping procrastination.
4. The belief. Habits have power because of your belief in them. To change a habit, you’ll need to change your underlying belief.

Surf’s up: Process versus product

  • Use mental tools and tricks to inspire and motivate yourself.
  • It’s normal to start with a few negative feelings about beginning a learning session. It’s how you handle those feelings that matters. Quit wasting time and just get on with it, once you get going, you’ll feel better about it.
  • Focus on process not product. Process means, the flow of time and the habits and actions associate with that flow of time. 
  • Product is an outcome, for example a homework assignment that you need to finish.
  • To prevent procrastination you want to avoid concentrating on product.
  • Instead, your attention should be on building processes.
  • The product is what triggers the pain that causes you to procrastinate.
  • Who cares, whether you finish the homework or grasp the key concepts in any one session.
  • By focusing on process rather than product, you allow yourself to back away from judging yourself, am I getting closer to finishing? And instead you allow yourself to relax into the flow of the work.

Harnessing your zombies to help you

  • You don’t want to do a full scale change of old habits. You just want to override parts of them and develop a few new ones.
  • Change your reaction to a cue. The only place you need to apply willpower is to change your reaction to the cue. 
  • To understand that, it helps to go back through the four components of habit and re-analyze them from the perspective of procrastination.
  • You can prevent the most cues by shutting off your cell phone or keeping yourself away from the internet and other distractions for brief periods of time.
  • The key to rewiring your old habit is to have a plan. Developing a new ritual can be helpful.
  • Your plan may not work perfectly at first, but just keep at it. Adjust the plan if necessary, and savor those victories when your plan works.
  • Don’t try to change everything at once
  • Why are you procrastinating? Can you substitute in emotional payoff, maybe a feeling of pride for accomplishing something, even if it’s small, a sense of satisfaction.
  • Can you win a small internal bet?
  • Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. It helps to add a new reward if you want to overcome your previous cravings.
  • Don’t feel bad if you find you have trouble getting into a flow state at first.
  • Also remember that the better you get at something, the more enjoyable it can become.
  • The most important part of changing your procrastination habit is the belief that you can do it. 
  • Belief that your new system works is what can get you through.

Juggling life and learning

  • Once a week write a brief weekly list of key tasks in a planner journal.
  • Write a daily list of the tasks that you can reasonably work on or accomplish the evening before. 
  • Why the evening before? Research has shown that this helps your subconscious to grapple with the tasks on the list so you can figure out how to accomplish them.
  • But once you make a task list, it frees working memory for problem solving.
  • Mixing other tasks up with your learning seems to make everything more enjoyable and keeps you from prolonged and unhealthy bouts of sitting.
  • Make notes in your planner journal about what works and what doesn’t.
  • Those who are committed to maintaining healthy leisure time along with their hard work, outperform those who doggedly pursue an endless treadmill. 
  • Try to squeeze a little break time in. 
  • Eat your frogs first in the morning. Try to work on a most important and most disliked task first.

Summing up procrastination

  • Keep a planner journal so you can easily track when you reach your goals and observe what does and doesn’t work.
  • Commit yourself to certain routines and tasks each day.
  • Write your planned tasks out the night before so your brain has time to dwell on your goals and help ensure success.
  • Arrange your work into a series of small challenges.
  • Always make sure you, and your zombies, get lots of rewards.
  • Take a few minutes to savor the feelings of happiness and triumph, which also gives your brain a chance to temporarily change modes.
  • Deliberately delay rewards until you’ve finished a task.
  • Watch for procrastination cues.
  • Try putting yourself in new surroundings with few procrastination cues, such as the quiet section of a library.
  • Gain trust in your new system.
  • You want to work hard during times of focused concentration and also to trust your system enough so that when it comes time to relax, you actually relax without feelings of guilt or worry.
  • Have back up plans for when you still procrastinate.
  • Eat your frogs first every day.

Diving deeper into memory

  • We have outstanding visual and spacial memory systems that can help form part of our long-term memory. If you were asked to look around a house you never visited before your mind would acquire and retain thousands of new pieces of information.
  • To begin tapping into your visual memory system try making a very memorable visual image representing one key item you want to remember. Part of the reason an image is so important to memory is that images connect directly to your right brain’s visual spacial centers.
  • The more neural hooks you can build by evoking the senses, the easier it will be for you to recall the concept and what it means.
  • The funnier and more evocative the images, the better. The idea should be memorable. 
  • Repetition’s important. Even when you make something memorable, repetition helps get that memorable item firmly lodged into long-term memory. Repeat sporadically over several days.
  • Index cards can often be helpful.
  • Handwriting helps you to more deeply encode, that is convert into neuro-memory structures what you are trying to learn.
  • Once you’ve given your flash cards a good try, put them away. Wait and take them out again, maybe before you go to sleep. 
  • Sleep is when your mind repeats patterns and pieces together solutions.
  • Great flash card systems like Anki have build in algorithms that repeat in scale ranging from days to months.
  • One of the best ways to remember people’s names, is to simply try to retrieve the people’s names from memory at increasing time intervals.

What is long term memory?

  • What would it be like if you couldn’t learn new things.
  • At the age of 27, HM had an operation for epilepsy that took out his hippocampus on both sides of his brain. HM could no longer remember new things. HM could learn other things, like a new motor skill, but he could not remember having learned it.
  • There are multiple memory systems for different types of learning.
  • HM could remember things from his childhood but he had trouble remembering things that had occurred in the years just before his operation, things that had not yet become fully consolidated. .
  • Memories are not fixed but living, breathing parts of your brain that are changing all of the time. 
  • reconsolidationWhenever you recall a memory, it changes, a process called, reconsolidation.
  • The green process of consolidation takes the brain state in active memory and stores it in long term memory by modifying synapses on the dendrites of neurons.
  • These long term memories can remain dormant for a long time until the memory is retrieved and reinstated, by the red process, in short term working memory.
  • The reinstated memory is in a new context, which can itself be transferred to long term memory, thereby, altering the old memory though reconsolidation.
  • Our memories are intertwined with each other. 
  • As we learn new things, our old memories also change. 
  • Like consolidation, reconsolidation also occurs during sleep.
  • This is why it is more effective to space learning over time, rather than mass learning all at once.

Creating meaningful groups and the memory palace technique

  • Another key to memorization it to create meaningful groups that simplify the material.
  • E.g.: Garlic, rose, hawthorn and mustard. The first letters abbreviate to GRHM, so all you need to do to remember is use the image of a graham cracker.
  • Many disciplines use memorable sentences to help students memorize concepts.
  • The first letter of each word in the sentence is also the first letter of each word in a list that needs to be memorized. 
  • The memory palace technique is a particularly powerful way of grouping things you want to remember. It involves calling to mind a familiar place. Like the layout of your house, and using it as a sort of a visual notepad where you can deposit the concept images that you want to remember. All you have to do is call to mind the place you’re familiar with.
  • The memory palace technique is useful for remembering unrelated items, such as a grocery list.
  • It takes a bit of time to conjure up a solid mental image.
  • But the more you do it, the quicker it becomes.
  • In using the mind this way, memorization can become an outstanding exercising creativity that simultaneously build neural hooks for even more creativity.
  • Memory tricks allow people to expand their working memory with easy access to long term memory.
  • You’ll also realize that as you begin to internalize key aspects of the material taking a little time to commit the most important points to memory you come to understand it much more deeply.

Summing up memory

  • Long term memory, which is like a storage warehouse. You need to practice and repeat in order to store items in long term memory so you can retrieve them more easily.
  • Practicing and repeating, all in one day, is a bad idea.
  • Working memory, which is like a poor blackboard that quickly fades. You can only hold about four items in your working memory.
  • When you master a technique or concept in some sense, it compacts the ideas so they can occupy less space in your working memory when you do bring them to mind.
  • This frees your mental thinking space so that it can more easily grapple with other ideas.
  • We have outstanding visual and spatial memory systems.
  • If you tap into those systems, it will help improve your memory.
  • To begin tapping into your visual memory system, try making a very memorable visual image representing one key item you want to remember.
  • Beyond merely seeing, try to feel, to hear and even to smell something you’re trying to remember.
  • The funnier and more evocative the image is, the better.
  • As always, repetition over several days is really helpful.
  • Another key to memorization is to create meaningful groups that simplify the material.
  • Try associating numbers with years or with systems you’re familiar with like running times.
  • Many disciplines use memorable sentences.
  • The memory palace technique, placing memorable images in a scene that’s familiar to you, allows you to dip into the strength of your visual memory system, providing a particularly powerful way of grouping things you want to remember.
  • By making meaningful groups and abbreviations, you can simplify and chunk what you’re trying to learn so you can more easily store it in memory.
  • And by memorizing material you understand, you can internalize the material in a profound way.

Interview with Dr. Robert Gamache, an award-winning bilingual scientist

  • I use a bilingual as an example of why students should study every subject every day.
  • If you study it every day, it’s just there in your brain and you don’t have to do a lot to recall information.
  • I think of it as like strumming a guitar. After you strum it, it resonates and it continues to, to resonate and send out the sound
  • I hardwired my brain to solve problems. Like learning an instrument. By practicing continuously, you can bring those, those parts of a melody to mind instantly, and, and play them and fit them together in new ways more easily, and that can be a very effective technique for learning.
  • My discovery was serendipitous. While eating dinner and conversation, suddenly the answer would just pop up in my mind.
  • Downtime can be very beneficial. The gears are always turning.

Interview with Dr. Norman Fortenberry – Learning at MIT

  • The key lesson in, in collegiate study, at least in engineering school, is you are part of a team. And if you don’t have a team, you find a team.
  • I didn’t suddenly become less smart once I got to MIT. There were some extremely bright people, but I was one of those bright people. And that I needed to build a community of support around me. I gave support. I received support.
  • The objective is to finish the class. Even in grad school, the objective is to get the degree. And you keep your eye focused on the prize, and you fight it out, and you get through.
  • Write it out by hand so that you’ve got the muscle memory, repeating it back to yourself. See it, say it, spell it, whatever.
  • As many input modes, you’ve got your auditory learners, your visual learners.
  • Multi-mode input is critical for learning.

Interview with Scott Young, a “Marco Polo” of learning

  • How do you avoid illusions of competence in learning?
  • Dive into a position where you might be wrong as soon as possible.
  • Do your best to do the problem sets without having the solutions at hand.
  • Test yourself as frequently as possible.
  • He want through meticulously, not only trying to understand everything that was in that paper, but of the papers it sourced.
  • The first rule is not to fool yourself, but you are the easiest person to fool.
  • Find simple analogies that are, are metaphors … looking through your mind for examples or stories or things that you are familiar with, and like, fitting a jigsaw piece into a puzzle
  • The most creative professors are always the ones who use these kinds of analogies. And the ones who are more pedantic, a little more by the book, often aren’t as creative about how they approach things.
  • If you’re not used to math, don’t take that as a sign that maybe you’re bad at math, but just that you need to put more time in.
  • If you are willing to be bit more adventurous, there’s literally almost no topic you can’t learn through this kind of structured, university-like format through the resources available online.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” course I am taking.

Learning Course #7: Readings from week 3-4 #LH2L1

The optional readings for week 3 & 4 of the Learning course* I am taking were interesting. Here is a set of quotes/highlights from them:

Benedict Carey, (May 19, 2014), Remembering, as an Extreme Sport,The New York Times

  • “We found that one of the biggest differences between memory athletes and the rest of us,…is in a cognitive ability that’s not a direct measure of memory at all but of attention.”
  • images accumulate during memorization, they tell an increasingly bizarre but memorable story.
  • Anyone can learn to construct a memory palace, researchers say, and with practice remember far more detail of a particular subject than before.
  • Once any given competition is over, the numbers or words or facts are gone.
  • The old one must be suppressed, so it doesn’t interfere with the new one. One term for that skill is “attentional control,”
  • memory champions are not only exceptional at remembering. They’re also experts at forgetting.

University of California Los Angeles, (June 4, 2014), “Poor health, lifestyle factors linked to memory complaints, even among younger adults,” Medical Press.

  • risk factors [depression, lower education levels, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking] increased the likelihood of self-perceived memory complaints across all adult age groups.
  • Depression, low levels of education, physical inactivity and high blood pressure increased the likelihood of memory complaints in younger adults (ages 18–39), middle-aged adults (40–59) and older adults (60–99), the researchers found. Depression was the strongest single risk factor for memory complaints in all age groups.
  • For younger adults, stress may play more of a role, and the ubiquity of technology

Graham, Paul. “Good and Bad Procrastination.” (Link broken, see in Google cache)

  • you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I’d argue, is good procrastination.
  • [“absent-minded professors”] put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff. What’s “small stuff?” Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary.
  • Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.
  • Real work needs two things errands don’t: big chunks of time, and the right mood.
  • forcing someone to perform errands synchronously is bound to limit their productivity
  • Errands are so effective at killing great projects that a lot of people use them for that purpose.
  • The most dangerous form of procrastination is unacknowledged type-B procrastination, because it doesn’t feel like procrastination. You’re “getting things done.”
  • What’s the best thing you could be working on, and why aren’t you?
  • Another reason people don’t work on big projects is, ironically, fear of wasting time.

Carlin Flora, Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are, Anchor, 2013.

  • friendfluence-book-coverJust as the role of friends is expanding in our culture, Friendfluence explores their powerful and often under-appreciated influence on our personalities, habits, physical health, and even our chances of success in life. In this fascinating book, packed with the latest research findings, Carlin Flora traces friendship from its evolutionary roots to its starring role in childhood and adolescence to its subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) impact on adults—both positive and negative, online and offline. Told with warmth as well as rigor, Friendfluence not only illuminates and interprets the science of friendship but will help you reflect thoughtfully on your social history and wisely navigate your present and future friendships.

Pam Belluck, (January 20, 2011). “To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test.” The New York Times.

  • Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.
  • students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.
  • learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge
  • The students who took the recall tests may “recognize some gaps in their knowledge,” … and they might revisit the ideas in the back of their mind or the front of their mind.”
  • “The struggle [of recall] helps you learn, but it makes you feel like you’re not learning,… “You feel like: ‘I don’t know it that well. This is hard and I’m having trouble coming up with this information.’ ” By contrast when rereading texts and possibly even drawing diagrams, “you say: ‘Oh, this is easier. I read this already.’ ”
  • “More testing isn’t necessarily better,” …“Some tests are just not learning opportunities. We need a different kind of testing than we currently have.”

Harvard Health Publications, (May 2009) “Take a Deep Breath,” Harvard Medical School.

  • Proper breathing goes by many names. You may have heard it called diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, or belly breathing. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and you will notice that your lower belly rises. The ability to breathe so deeply and powerfully is not limited to a select few. This skill is inborn but often lies dormant. Reawakening it allows you to tap one of your body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms.
  • Our culture often rewards us for stifling strong emotions. ..Unconsciously, you hold your breath or breathe irregularly.
    Body image affects breathing, too. A “washboard” stomach

Justin Reich, (March 30, 2014). “Big Data MOOC Research Breakthrough: Learning Activities Lead to Achievement,” Ed Tech Researcher.

  • students who do stuff also do more stuff, and they do stuff better
  • there is a correlation between the number of minutes a student spends on Khan Academy and test scores. This isn’t casual evidence
  • kids who do more math stuff on Khan Academy, do better on math tests.
  • students who did stuff were more likely to pass the class
  • learners who complete activities are more likely to complete the course than peers who completed no activities
  • those who took many actions in the course were more likely to earn a certificate than those who took few actions
  • Reich’s Law of Doing Stuff: students who do stuff in a MOOC or other online learning environment will, on average, do more stuff than those who don’t do stuff, and students who do stuff will perform better on stuff than those who don’t do stuff.

University of Utah Health Care Office of Public Affairs. “Researchers Debunk Myth of ‘Right-Brain’ and ‘Left-Brain’ Personality Traits.” Science Daily (2013).

  • Neuroscientists now assert that there is no evidence within brain imaging that indicates some people are right-brained or left-brained. For years in popular culture, the terms left-brained and right-brained have come to refer to personality types, with an assumption that some people use the right side of their brain more, while some use the left side more. Researchers have debunked that myth through identifying specific networks in the left and right brain that process lateralized functions.

Felder, Richard M. “Memo to Students Who Have Been Disappointed with Their Test Grades.” Chemical Engineering Education 33, no. 2 (1999): 136-37.

  • The more “Yes” responses you recorded, the better your preparation for the test.
    1. Did you make a serious effort to understand the text? (Just hunting for relevant worked-out examples doesn’t count.)
    2. Did you work with classmates on homework problems, or at least check your solutions with others?
    3. Did you attempt to outline every homework problem solution before working with classmates?
    4. Did you participate actively in homework group discussions (contributing ideas, asking questions)?
    5. Did you consult with the instructor or teaching assistants when you were having trouble with something?
    6. Did you understand ALL of your homework problem solutions when they were handed in?
    7. Did you ask in class for explanations of homework problem solutions that weren’t clear to you?
    8. If you had a study guide, did you carefully go through it before the test and convince yourself that you could do everything on it?
    9. Did you attempt to outline lots of problem solutions quickly, without spending time on the algebra and calculations?
    10. Did you go over the study guide and problems with classmates and quiz one another?
    11. If there was a review session before the test, did you attend it and ask questions about anything you weren’t sure about?
    12. Did you get a reasonable night’s sleep before the test? (If your answer is no, your answers to 1- 11 may not matter.)

Sue Barry, Fixing My Gaze, Basic Books, 2009.

  • Sue Barry, Fixing My Gaze, Basic Books, 2009.Barry had been cross-eyed and stereoblind since early infancy. After half a century of perceiving her surroundings as flat and compressed, on that day she was seeing Manhattan in stereo depth for the first time in her life. As a neuroscientist, she understood just how extraordinary this transformation was, not only for herself but for the scientific understanding of the human brain. Scientists have long believed that the brain is malleable only during a “critical period” in early childhood. According to this theory, Barry’s brain had organized itself when she was a baby to avoid double vision – and there was no way to rewire it as an adult. But Barry found an optometrist who prescribed a little-known program of vision therapy; after intensive training, Barry was ultimately able to accomplish what other scientists and even she herself had once considered impossible.

Magic Eye, Inc., Magic Eye: A New Bag of Tricks, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1995. See also the website at http://www.magiceye.com/.


  • an authoritative source of information about the brain and nervous system for the public.
  • The brain is the most complex biological structure in the known universe. It is a topic rich with exciting new discoveries, continuing profound unknowns, and critical implications for individuals, families, and societies.

App: Breathe2Relax, by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology

  • Breathe2Relax is a portable stress management tool. Breathe2Relax is a hands-on diaphragmatic breathing exercise. Breathing exercises have been documented to decrease the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ (stress) response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management.Breathe2Relax can be used as a stand-alone stress reduction tool, or can be used in tandem with clinical care directed by a healthcare worker.
  • Capitalizing on touch-screen technology, a user can record their stress level on a ‘visual analogue scale’ by simply swiping a small bar to the left or to the right. Breathe2Relax uses state-of-the-art graphics, animation, narration, and videos to deliver a sophisticated, immersive experience for the user.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” course I am taking.

Learning Course #6: Readings from week 2 #LH2L1

The optional readings for week 1 of the Learning course* I am taking were interesting. Here is a set of quotes/highlights from them:

Robin Scott, “The 30 Second Habit That Can Have a Big Impact On Your Life,” Feb 18, 2014, The Huffington Post.  This is actually a wonderful article on chunking!

  • Immediately after every lecture, meeting, or any significant experience, take 30 seconds?–?no more, no less?–?to write down the most important points. If you always do just this, said his grandfather, and even if you only do this, with no other revision, you will be okay.
  • It’s not note taking
  • It’s hard work
  • Detail is a trap
  • You must act quickly
  • You learn to listen better, and ask better questions
  • You’re able to help others more
  • It gets easier and more valuable

Richard Wiseman, “Be lucky – it’s an easy skill to learn,” The Telegraph, Jan 9, 2003.  Yes, Lady Luck DOES favor some–and for a reason!

  • Those who think they’re unlucky should change their outlook and discover how to generate good fortune
  • Although unlucky people have almost no insight into the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behaviour are responsible for much of their fortune.
  • Take the case of chance opportunities. Lucky people consistently encounter such opportunities, whereas unlucky people do not
  • Personality tests revealed that unlucky people are generally much more tense than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts people’s ability to notice the unexpected.
  • Unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else
  • Lucky people generate good fortune via four basic principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good

The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working MemoryDavid Glenn,Divided Attention,” February 28, 2010, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

  • Illusion of competence is one of the things that worry scholars who study attention, cognition, and the classroom
  • “Heavy multitaskers are often extremely confident in their abilities,” says Clifford I. Nass, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. “But there’s evidence that those people are actually worse at multitasking than most people.”
  • whether attention is generated by conscious effort or is an unwilled effect of outside forces. The consensus today is that there are overlapping but neurologically distinct systems: one of controlled attention, which you use to push yourself to read another page of Faulkner, and one of stimulus-driven attention, which kicks in when someone shatters a glass behind you.
  • In a famous paper in 1956, George A. Miller suggested that humans’ working-memory capacity is limited to roughly seven units
  • Informational bottleneck has been recognized as a profound constraint on human cognition.  Two ways to manage its effects. One is to “chunk” information…The second method …is to manage attention so that unwanted stimuli do not crowd the working memory.
  • The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory
  • Variability in working-memory capacity accounts for about half the variability in novel reasoning and reading comprehension.
  • People with strong working-memory capacities don’t have a larger nightclub in their brains. They just have better bouncers working the velvet rope outside
  • Information that is encoded in declarative memory is more flexible—that is, people are more likely to be able to draw analogies and extrapolate from it.

Steve Mensing, Dunning-Kruger Effect: When Distorted Self-Perception and Illusions of Competence Trick Entertainers, Politicians, and Cities,” Nov 26, 2013, Rowan Free Press.

  • The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the extreme bias that some untalented and unskilled persons suffer from when they rate their ability at a much higher level than it actually is.
  • For a given skill, incompetent people will:
    • Tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
    • Tend to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
    • Fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
    • Recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.

Errol Morris, “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 1),” June 20, 2010, The New York Times, Opinionator.

Maria Konnikova, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades,” June 2, 2014, The New York Times.

  • Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters – but how.
  • The messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable. That variability may itself be a learning tool.
  • Cursive writing may train self-control ability in a way that other modes of writing do not, and some researchers argue that it may even be a path to treating dyslexia

Carl Zimmer, “This is Your Brain on Writing,” June 20, 2014, The New York Times.

  • The researchers, led by Martin Lotze of the University of Greifswald in Germany, observed a broad network of regions in the brain working together as people produced their stories. But there were notable differences between the two groups of subjects. The inner workings of the professionally trained writers in the bunch, the scientists argue, showed some similarities to people who are skilled at other complex actions, like music or sports.
  • When we first start learning a skill — be it playing a piano or playing basketball — we use a lot of conscious effort. With practice, those actions become more automatic. The caudate nucleus and nearby regions start to coordinate the brain’s activity as this shift happens.
  • The very nature of creativity can make it different from one person to the next, and so it can be hard to see what different writers have in common. Dr. Pinker speculated that Marcel Proust might have activated the taste-perceiving regions of his brain when he recalled the flavor of a cookie. But another writer might rely more on sounds to evoke a time and place.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Memories of errors foster faster learning,” August 14, 2014, Science Daily.  Yes, mistakes really do help you learn!

  • Using a deceptively simple set of experiments, researchers have learned why people learn an identical or similar task faster the second, third and subsequent time around. The reason: They are aided not only by memories of how to perform the task, but also by memories of the errors made the first time.

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” course I am taking.

Learning Course #5: Chunking, Illusions of competence, Motivation, Library of Chunks, Overlearning #LH2L1

Here are the points I want to remember or be able to find again from the videos of the second week of the Learning course*

What is a chunk?

  • Chunking is the mental leap that helps you unite bits of information together through meaning.
  • Memorizing a fact without understanding or context doesn’t help you understand
  • When you’re focusing your attention on something it’s almost as if you have an octopus. The octopus of attention that slips it’s tentacles through those four slots of working memory
  • Focusing your attention to connect parts of the brain to tie together ideas is an important part of the focused mode of learning.
  • Chunks are pieces of information, neuroscientifically speaking, through bound together through meaning or use.
  • Your neurons fire and wire together in a shimmering mental loop cementing the relationship in your mind between the sound mama and your mother’s smiling face.
  • One of the first steps towards gaining expertise in academic topics is to create conceptual chunks, mental leaps that unite scattered bits of information through meaning.
  • Focused practice and repetition, the creation of strong memory traces, helps you to create chunks.
  • The path to expertise is built little by little, small chunks can become larger, and all of the expertise serves to underpin more creative interpretations as you gradually become a master of the material.

How to form a chunk

  • First listen or watch.
  • Getting an initial sense of the pattern you want to master for yourself is similar for most subjects or skills.
  • You grasp and master various bits and pieces of the skills you need.
  • You’re creating little neural mini chunks, that you can then gradually knit together into larger numeral chunks.
  • The best chunks are the ones that are so well ingrained, that you don’t even have to conscientiously think about
  • Chunking in the subject of history  is quite different from chunking in chemistry or in karate.
  • The first step on chunking is simply to focus your undivided attention on the information you want to chunk.
  • The second step in chunking is to understand the basic idea you’re trying to chunk
  • Can you create a chunk if you don’t understand? Yes, but it’s often a useless chunk.
  • Don’t confuse the “aha” of a breakthrough in understanding with solid expertise.
  • The third step to chunking is gaining context, so you can see not just how, but also when to use this chunk.
  • learning takes place in two ways.
  • There’s a bottom up chunking process, where practicing repetition can help you both build and strengthen each chunk, so you can easily access it whenever you need to. And there’s also a top down big picture process that allows you to see what you’re learning and where it fits in.
  • Context is where bottom up and top down learning meet.
  • Learn the major concepts or points first: the key parts of a good instructor or book chapter’s outline, flow charts, tables, or concept maps.
  • Once you have this done, fill in the details.

Illusions of competence

  • After you’ve read the material, simply look away, and see what you can recall from the material you’ve just read. In the same amount of time, by simply practising and recalling the material students learned far more and at a much deeper level than they did using any other approach.
  • The retrieval process itself enhances deep learning, and helps us to begin forming chunks.
  • If you’re trying to build connections between chunks, before the basic chunks are embedded in the brain, [concept mapping, drawing diagrams that show the relationship between the concepts] doesn’t work as well.
  • The only time rereading text seems to be effective, is if you let time pass between the rereading
  • Merely glancing at a solution and thinking you truly know it yourself is one of the most common illusions of competence in learning.
  • [Highlighting,] making lots of motions with your hand can fool you into thinking you’ve placed the concept in your brain.
  • Words or notes in a margin that synthesize key concepts are a very good idea.
  • Mistakes are very valuable to make in your little self tests before high stakes real tests.

What motivates you?

  • Acetylcholine neurons form neuromodulatory connections to the cortex that are particularly important for focused learning, leading to new long term memory.
  • Our motivation is controlled by a particular chemical substance called Dopamine. Dopamine is released from these neurons, when received an unexpected reward. This can motivate you to do something that may not be rewarding right now but will lead to a much better reward in the future.
  • It can lead to craving and dependence, which can hijack your free will and can motivate actions that are harmful to you. Loss of Dopamine neurons leads to a lack of motivation. Severe loss of Dopamine neurons causes resting tremor, slowness, rigidity, this is called Parkinson’s disease.
  • Serotonin is a third diffused neuromaginatroy system that strongly affects your social life. Prozac, which is prescribed for clinical depression, raises the level of Serotonin activity. The level of Serotonin is also closely linked to risk taking behavior. Inmates in jail for violent crimes have some of the lowest levels of serotonin activity in society.
  • Emotions were once thought to be separate from cognition but recent research has shown that emotions are intertwined with perception and attention and interact with learning and memory.
  • If you want to learn more about Acetylcholine, Dopamine, and Serotonin, look them on brainfacts.org.

The value of a library of chunks

  • What people do to enhance their knowledge and gain expertise is to gradually build the number of chunks in their mind.
  • Valuable bits of information, they can piece together in new and creative ways.
  • The bigger and more well practiced your chunked mental library, whatever the subject you’re learning, the more easily you’ll be able to solve problems and figure out solutions.
  • When you grasp one chunk, you’ll find that that chunk can be related in surprising ways to similar chunks, not only in that field, but also in very different fields. This idea is called transfer.
  • A chunk is a way of compressing information much more compactly.
  • If you have a library of concepts and solutions internalized as chunked patterns, you can think of it as a collection or a library of neural patterns.
  • In building a chunked library, you’re training your brain to recognize not only a specific concept, but different types and classes of concepts
  • Law of serendipity: Lady luck favors the one who tries. Focus on whatever section you’re studying.

Overlearning, choking, Einstellung, and interleaving

  • Once you’ve got the basic idea down during a session, continuing to hammer away at it during the same session doesn’t strengthen the kinds of long term memory connections you want to have strengthened. Focusing on one technique is a little like learning carpentry by only practicing with a hammer.
  • Repeating something you already know perfectly well is easy. It can also bring the illusion of competence.
  • You want to balance your studies by deliberately focusing on what you find more difficult. This focusing on the more difficult material is called deliberate practice.
  • Einstellung (means installation) – an idea you already have in mind or a neural pattern you’ve already developed and strengthened, may prevent a better idea or solution from being found.
  • You have to unlearn you erroneous older ideas or approaches even while you’re learning new ones.
  • The best way to learn that is by practicing jumping back and forth between problems or situations that require different techniques or strategies, this is called interleaving.
  • Although practice and repetition is important in helping build solid neural patterns to draw on, it’s interleaving that starts building flexibility and creativity.
  • When you interleave between several subjects or disciplines, you can easily, more easily make interesting new connections between chunks in the different fields, which can enhance your creativity even further.
  • Science progresses one funeral at a time, as people entrenched in the old way of looking at things die off.

Interview with Dr. Robert Bilder on creativity and problem-solving

  • Leadership is the ability to disguise panic.
  • When you experience some discomfort you’re actually accomplishing some kind of change.
  • Personality characteristics: OCEAN stands for openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticisim – relate to degree of creative achievement
  • Correlation with agreeableness is negative: people who are less agreeable or more disagreeable tend to show higher creative achievement.
  • I like to go back and forth between those two kinds of approaches [verbal versus visual learning styles]

* This blog entry is part of my series on the “Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects” course I am taking.

Learning Course #4: Assignment 1: “Reflective Essay about a Learning Challenge” #LH2L1

This assignment should be about 1 page (single-spaced) long–there are five parts:

  1. Briefly describe your current learning situation and goal (College sophomore aiming for a degree in language? High school student unsure of your future major but enjoying math and physics? Retired, in your mid-sixties and exploring the idea of learning something completely new?)
  2. Briefly describe the learning aim that is of importance to you (it may be passing a particular class, excelling in a particular degree program, or something outside school, such as mastering culinary expertise).
  3. Describe your biggest mental challenges in achieving your learning aim
  4. Outline existing research or learning techniques from this course that are relevant to your challenges.
  5. Propose how you will apply research findings or learning techniques to help you overcome your challenges.

I am working (more than) full time. As having amassed 3 BAs and an MA shows that I like studying in an institutional setting. Since my last degree most of my learning was situational.

My goal is to develop my technical skills to be able to provide what my clients need, my business skills to manage my own small business and communication skills to be more effective in my interactions with people. I also like to take course that provide me with a certificate of some sort to enhance my credibility in the field of my work.

Balancing client work, professional development, health, personal interests (writing, music) and other responsibilities (i.e. family) is the most challenging task. Within the realm of learning there are two challenges: how to keep abreast of being informed of technology that is relevant to my future work and how to become an expert in the technology that I need to use right now. The most difficult part of the latter is the large number of details and concept I have to keep in mind when learning coding or working on a project. And fighting of distractions from social media channels and the bottomless pit of the internet in general.

Three learning techniques that can be relevant to me

  1. Procrastination–the Pomodoro technique. – This technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing only on the topic at hand without being distracted.
  2. Gobet, F., and G. Clarkson. “Chunks in Expert Memory: Evidence for the Magical Number Four… or Is It Two?“. Memory 12, no. 6 (2004): 732-47. – Breaking down tasks or issues to no more than four chunks and then building up to larger chunks of four or less is more effective than long lists.
  3. Bilalic, M., McLeod, P., & Gobet, F. (2008). Why good thoughts block better ones: The mechanism of the pernicious Einstellung (set) effect. Cognition, 108(3), 652-661. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.05.005 – Proven ways of solving problems may block thinking about new problems with new, fresh eyes.

I will apply the Pomodoro method (with all it steps of setting a timer, focusing and reward at end) for challenging tasks) on a daily basis. I believe that this can counteract with my issues of being easily distracted.

Instead of making long lists I will try to break down issues into four or less chunk and attack them one by one. Then I can build up a deeper understanding of the big picture.

When getting stuck in solving a problem, I will take a brief walk or exercise (which is another idea research suggested) and then attempt to solve with a fresh eye, not using a method I am too familiar with.