What does this problem want me to do?


Solving problems in STEM courses often requires identifying the correct procedure for solving a problem. If, under the time pressure and stress of an exam, you jump right at a problem, you may choose the wrong procedure to solve it.


To train yourself to look before you leap, when working on problem sets, ask and answer the questions, “What does this problem want me to do? How will I give it what it wants?” for each problem.

Rashmi Kumar, Ed. D., STEM Specialist at the Weingarten Center, consistently teaches her undergraduate and medical students to ask these questions before they jump at the problem, so they are more likely to pair it with the right procedure:

What does this problem want me to do?


Define the goal of the problem

It might make the work a little more fun, and you will be faster and better at problem-procedure pairing on the midterm:

How will I give the problem what it wants?”

Identify the procedure that should be paired with the problem


Susana is about to solve a STEM problem. She asks herself,

What does this problem want me to do?

She answers,

Hmm, it wants me to calculate the torque at a perpendicular force.

Then she asks,

How will I give it what it wants?

And answers,

First I have to convert the units into the expected format. Next, I’ll need to identify the right equation. Then I’ll be ready solve the equation.

Simple and easy, right?

Practice it until it is an automatic habit and you will do it under pressure.

And for added fun, try saying “problem-procedure pairing” ten times fast!


By Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor


Spring Clean Your Academic Life


Image from UPenn Facilities website

While it might not feel like spring outside yet, it is definitely around the corner. Spring break is over, and this semester is already halfway complete. Before we become busy with spring social commitments, with enjoying the nice weather (it’s coming, I promise!), and with beginning to study for finals, this point in the semester can be a great time to do some academic spring cleaning.

Sound new to you? Often, we often only think of spring cleaning as a chore we complete with our dorms, houses, or apartments, but actually this can be a great point in the semester for taking time to reorganize your academic life. Spending a few hours clearing out old papers and organizing important files can help you feel recharged and ready to take on the rest of the semester.


Image from NewBridge Recovery

So turn on some music, open up the curtains to let some sunlight in, and get ready to get organized. Here are some suggestions for how to spring clean your academic life:

  • Take some time to go through your folders (or the paper crumpled at the bottom of your backpack).
    • Recycle the papers you don’t need anymore.
    • If papers will be useful or helpful later in the semester or in future classes, place them in a labeled folder.
  • Organize the files on your computer.
    • Make sure you have created file folders for each of your courses this semester. Sort your files accordingly. Make sure to add any downloaded files that will be useful.
    • Delete the computer files you no longer need.
    • If you are reading a lot of PDFs, make sure you are keeping them organized for easy reference when you are writing future essays. Tools like OneNote, Notability, or Zotero can be great for helping to keep PDFs organized.
  • Sort out your Inbox!
    • This task can be dreaded, but now can be a good time to take charge of your email if it’s gotten out of hand.
    • Delete unread or unneeded messages.
    • Place important emails in their applicable folders
    • Take yourself email chains that you don’t need or send them directly all an advertisement folder so they aren’t clogging up your main inbox.
  • Take stock of your books and textbooks.
    • If you’re like me and you have too many books, make sure you’ve made any returns to the library.
    • See if you can sell back any books on Amazon or another site.
    • Donate books you no longer need to on-campus donation sites or a local library.
  • Review your planner and/or schedule.
    • Make sure your spring commitments are updated.


Image from Waterford Technologies

What else do you do to recharge and reorganize during the spring? Let us know!

Remember, instructors at Weingarten are here to help with any of your academic needs! Call 215 – 573 – 9235 to make an appointment. Or, stop by Monday thru Friday from 12pm to 3pm and Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 4pm  to 7pm for walk-in appointments.

By: Kelcey Grogan, Weingarten Learning Instructor and Learning Fellow

The Problem-Solving Sandwich



When you go to do your homework (reading & problem-set)…
  1. Start with a homework problem first, not the reading.
  2. Read only if you need to. Read only what you need.
  3. Then get back to the problem and solve it.
Read-Then-Solve: A Bad Idea

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Unfortunately, many students do their homework using the read-then-solve strategy—they read the entire assigned reading, then start on the problem set.  This may make for reading more than you need and likely zoning out while you’re reading. Read-then-solve is often wasteful and boring. You may ask, “But don’t I need to understand the concepts first?” I ask in reply, “Do you read-then-solve in real life?”

The Problem-Solving Sandwich – What You Do in Real Life

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In this “real world” scenario, suppose you are writing a report on a Word document, and run into trouble with the formatting. Say it is a problem with making bulleted lists in Word. You have a problem you intend to solve. Here are two strategies you can use. Which is best?

Strategy 1: Read-Then-Solve
  1. Read an entire chapter on formatting in Microsoft Word
  2. Attempt to solve the bulleting problem
Strategy 2: Use the Problem-Solving Sandwich
  1. Attempt to solve the problem with what you know. For example, you might right-click and see if any of the options make sense.
  2. If can’t figure it out, THEN search for a solution to your specific problem. For example, you might google “how to make bullets in word for mac 2011”
  3. As soon as you have what you think you need from whatever reading you find, get back to the Word doc and solve the problem.
It’s a sandwich—see?
Benefit 1: The Problem-Solving Sandwich is More Efficient

Let’s see how the problem-solving sandwich can save you time. Compare Kim and Susana, both in a class involving problem sets, in this toy example.

Kim uses the read-then-solve strategy:

On Monday, from 4-6pm, she completes the assigned reading. The next day she works on the problem set, also from 4-6pm. Thus, her schedule looks like this:

4:00 PM read SOLVE
  read SOLVE
4:30 PM read SOLVE
  read SOLVE
5:00 PM read SOLVE
  read SOLVE
5:30 PM read SOLVE
  read SOLVE

Remember, this is just a toy example! You will likely want to put in a 6-hour minimum; see previous blog post with that title.

Susana uses the problem-solving sandwich strategy:

She works the same days, but not the same amount of time.

  read SOLVE
4:30 PM SOLVE read
  read SOLVE
5:30 PM

As you can see, Susana stopped half an hour earlier than Kim on both days, saving herself an hour. Does this mean she has less mastery of the concepts? Will she do less well on the exam?

Who has greater command of the key ideas?

When I show this to students in my workshops, they generally think that Kim and Susana have equal control of the topic, that is,

But Susana had an hour more to have fun!

Why could she learn as much in less time? First, she only read when she couldn’t solve the problem on her own so she cut straight to the stuff relevant to her specific question with a strong motivation to get the info and get out—her brain was on the hunt.

Benefit 2: The Problem-Solving Sandwich is More Engaging

What do I mean by your brain being “on the hunt”? When you read-as-needed only, your goal is to find a specific answer to a critical question—you’re giving your brain a question mark: “?” J

But when you read-then-solve, your goal is to “get through the chapter.” You’re giving your brain a period: “.” L

Which is more fun? Ready to Try It? So if you have been using the read-then-solve strategy, try out the problem-solving sandwich strategy. If you have any ?s about how to do it, feel free to come chat with a learning instructor—we’re happy to help!

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 To your better learning!

Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor


Exam Analysis

Often, students spend all their time studying and preparing for exams before they take a test. Did you know though that some of the most important studying and preparation comes after you take exams?

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One of the best ways to prepare for future exams and to ensure that you understand course material is to analyze your exam after you take it! This ensures that you are thinking critically about your learning and preparing the best way possible for your next exam.

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When you receive your test back from your instructor, first examine the questions you answered correctly.

Think about:

  • How did you study for this information?
  • Why did you get this question right?
  • What can you learn from it?

Use this information to help you prepare for your next exam. Identify what strategies worked for you when you were preparing for this test, and be sure to use them again.

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Next, look at the questions you answered incorrectly.

            Identify why you answered incorrectly:

  • Was it a content mistake? Meaning:
    • You never saw the information.
    • You didn’t study the information.
    • You studied the information but learned it incorrectly.
    • You studied the information but could not recall.
      • From these content areas, see if you can identify if your mistakes were coming from the same section.
      • Do you need to go back and review a chapter section?
      • Would it be helpful for you to review this with the professor, a TA, or a tutor?
  • Was your error in the application of the material? Meaning:
    • You studied and recalled the basic information but could not apply it to higher order thinking problems.
  • Did your error have to do with how you approached the tests? Meaning:
    • Did you misread or misinterpret a test question?
    • Were you too impulsive or overconfident on certain tests questions?
    • Was it test fatigue?
    • Was your pacing off for the test? Were you running out of time?

Use this information to help you adjust your studying for the next exam.

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Make an appointment with a learning instructor at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center for more help on how to make the most of your exam analysis. Here is a link on our exam analysis appointment protocol. We are happy to help you think more critically about your class, about what you learned, and about how to prepare for your next exam!

Blog adapted from resources prepared by Dr. Ryan Miller, Executive Director of the WLRC.

By: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor

Tech-Tuesday – Meditation and Mindfulness Apps

Shining a spotlight on different technology services and applications that may be helpful for students, faculty, and staff here in the Penn Community!


It appears that mindfulness has become the hot new buzzword on campuses and on various blog sites across the country. This is with good reason! Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve general health, reduce stress, improve immunity, and boost recovery. For college students, practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce overall stress, reduce depressive symptoms, enhance focus, and improve overall grades (Ackerman, 2017).


While many of us may want to incorporate mindfulness practices into our daily lives, it can be difficult to make time in our schedule to read a book on mindfulness or to attend a meditation class. Luckily, there are a few apps that make it simpler to incorporate mindfulness into our daily routines! This blog will highlight two different applications that have helped me incorporate meditation and mindfulness into my weekly routine.


  1. Headspace (www.headspace.com)

The first is app is called Headspace (www.headspace.com), and it has become quite popular. Headspace is great because it takes you through the meditation process if you are unfamiliar or new to the practice. The app has a beginner 10-day meditation guide that can be a great place to start! Each day leads you through a 10-minute meditation practice. It even incorporates tracking into the app to motivate you to stick with keeping mindfulness as a part of your daily routine.  The app is initially free to download, and then will take you through its app to purchase different meditation exercises.


   2.  Stop, Breathe, & Think (www.stopbreathethink.com)

Stop, Breathe, & Think (www.stopbreathethink.com) is another great app to help you practice meditation and mindfulness (Full disclosure – this is the app I love and use most often). The app has short guided meditations, starting at just two minutes, that help you make time to breathe and check in with yourself throughout your hectic day. The app helps you learn how to meditate. You can then choose from a variety of sessions depending on what you need each day. The sessions include titles such as: Breathe, Gain Resilience, Connect with Your Body, Be Kind, Sleep, and Chill. (I highly recommend the Falling Asleep meditation in the Sleep session. It really helps me unwind at the end of the day, and has even helped me conquer some of my insomnia). While some parts of the app are free, other sessions require you to pay; however, 10% of the revenue go towards the nonprofit Tools for Peace, which helps at-risk youth experience the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Knowing this, you can feel good about taking care of yourself while knowing you are helping to pay the gift of mindfulness forward!

These are just two of the many apps out there to help us practice self-care. What apps do you use? Do you have any you recommend?

This blog was based on information from the following sites:





By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, WLRC Learning Instructor

Reflections on DATA

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As a society, we put great value on DATA. As students, academics, scholars, researchers, practitioners and inquirers, we are often in the pursuit of, if not, immersed in DATA. Each Discipline, from Medical and the Health Sciences, to Engineering, Computer Science and Business, Sociology and Social Policy, to Education and many others, we seek to identify, collect, connect and correlate, analyze, triangulate and interpret data in meaningful and impactful ways.

All the while, we adhere to the highest standards of integrity, validity and reliability. Institutionally, we evaluate and scrutinize our methodological processes through rigorous review processes, internal review boards, internal and external audits and certifications, etc.

Whether or not our practices are directly or indirectly related to data generation, processes, manipulation and/or management, our lives are increasingly enveloped in DATA, and currently, BIG DATA, mediated by technological advances.

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While there is substantive information, including literature, instruction, training and professional communities that serve the missions of quantitative and qualitative methods of research inquiry, it is worth reflecting and engaging with some enduring and universal questions about humanizing and democratizing research:

What is the [Symbolic or Material] VALUE of [Researcher/Practitioner] Data?
Who does Research ultimately Benefit?
  • Whose interests does it serve?
  • What purpose(s) does it fulfill, for whom and why?
  • What are the restrictive parameters (e.g. temporal or contextual, etc.) particular to the affordances and limitations of the collected data that would curtail or caution the generalizability or universality of the research findings?
  • What other outcomes or consequences can be anticipated or identified/acknowledged beyond/outside the scope of the research question/study?
  • What are the cross-disciplinary implications of the study (e.g. social, economic, political, religious, etc.)
What are some of the issues of Access in Site and Participant Selection?
  • Whose stories/agendas are studied/told, why, and how? Which stories/agendas are foregrounded, and which are subjugated? Whose stories/agendas are omitted?
  • Which participants does research seek to reach by elicitation, and why? Is there an avenue/process for participants/communities to reach research opportunities? Is there reciprocity and multilateralness, or is research unilateral?
  • Can participants self-select into or except out of research without direct or indirect consequences? What are the local implications of designing indeterminacy into the site and/or participant selection process – at the local and macro levels?
  • How are power disparities conceptualized, balanced or mitigated? How is power directly or indirectly coded or recognized into the research process and findings report?

So, the next time you engage with your research project and reflect upon your conceptualizations, site and participant selection, data sources and rules of engagement, and interactional methods, consider the other side of RIGOR, tipping the balance towards humanization, democratizing engagement and ambivalence.

Only a very intentional, many times, alternative approach to scientific research, can balance by counteracting the historical scientification, neutralization, objectification and exotified subjectivity of individual, community and complex categorical lived realities that are far from neutral, but politically imposed.

For more information about intersecting RESEARCH with their SOCIAL CONTEXTS, consider the following literature:

  • Erickson and Gutierrez (2002). Culture, Rigor, and Science in Educational ResearchEducational Researcher. 31:8. 21-24.
  • Lather and Moss (2005). Introduction: Implications of Scientific Research in Education Report for Qualitative InquiryTeachers College Record. 107:1. 1-3.
  • Zembylas and Schutz, Eds. (2016) Methodological Advances in Research on Emotion and Education. Switzerland:Springer International Publishing.

By WLRC Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Instructor

Positive Psychology – Volunteer!


Taking time to volunteer

can help improve your mental health & wellbeing!


Positive Psychology strategies and techniques have shown to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Increase happiness
  • Correlate with increased college achievement 

It is important to approach volunteering in college differently than how we approached community service in high school or simply for the purpose of strengthening our resumes or applications:

  • It is about taking time out of our busy lives to offer our time, skills, or experience to help an organization on Penn’s campus or within the broader Philadelphia community.

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In terms of Positive Psychology, volunteering has been shown to improve people’s emotional wellbeing. 

Here are 3 suggestions for how to get involved here at Penn:
  1. Find volunteer opportunities! Here is a link to the Netter Center on Penn’s campus which works to establish partnerships with the broader Philadelphia community: https://www.nettercenter.upenn.edu/


  1. Check out ABCS courses at Penn. “ABCS students and faculty work with West Philadelphia public schools, communities of faith, and community organizations to help solve critical campus and community problems in a variety of areas such as the environment, health, arts, and education.” https://www.nettercenter.upenn.edu/what-we-do/courses
  2. Check out Penn’s Civic House: https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/civichouse/

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Have you found other ways to meaningfully engage with different organizations here on campus or within the Philadelphia community? Let us know!

By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor