6-Hours per Week for Solving Problem Sets

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Take-Away:

For better grades and more intellectual growth, consider spending at least 6 hours across a week cracking your brain on your p-sets before the TA explains it all at recitation.

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The 6-Hour Minimum

  • Unfortunately, many students give up to soon on their problem sets before getting the answers at recitation.
  • By putting in sufficient hours trying to solve problems, you will be engaged in active learning of the concepts the professor has identified as key to the course.
  • For most students, 1-2 hours a week of this kind of active learning won’t cut it. Even 4-5 probably won’t.
  • 6 hours is a minimum that is also likely to fit with the other demands on your time.

So try 6 hours a week, in 60-90 minute chunks.

  • For example:
Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Relax! 11-12:30PM: 7-9:30PM: 7-9:30PM: 7-9:30PM: 10-11:00AM:
  Problem-solving Problem-Solving   Problem-Solving Problem-Solving Recitation

Why a Minimum of 6 Hours?

  • Some learning instructors recommend at least 6 hours a week to their students because, for many students, this represents an increase in time that substantially improves conceptual grasp of key course ideas.
  • The idea of improving your learning by spending more time on problems is consistent with a robust literature on expertise.1 The superiority of some performers over others is a predictable result of more hours on deliberate practice.1 This is true in athletic, musical, and intellectual pursuits. 1
  • Deliberate practice is working hard on difficult skills that are central to your area of mastery. 1
  • What fits the definition of deliberate practice better—working problems, or listening to answers?

What’s the point of working for 6 hours on problems I’m not solving?

  • The point is that you are still learning when working on the problem, even when you are not solving it!2

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But the TA will explain it clearly. Why not wait?

  • No doubt difficult concepts make more sense as or after they are explained. However, the instructor’s question will not be, “Do you understand these ideas as they are explained?”
  • The question will be, “When I give you a new and more complex problem than you’ve seen so far, can you solve it? Under time pressure?”
  • Can you confidently answer, “yes!”?
  • If you want to be more confident that you can answer “yes” to that question, try putting in six hours across a week on your p-sets before recitation. See if the conceptual learning you attain gives you reason for greater confidence.

But what if I don’t have 6 hours?

  • Then spend as many hours as you can before seeking help.  And maybe consult with a Learning Instructor to explore your use of time.

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References:

  1. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363.
  2. Richland, L. E., Kornell, N., & Kao, L. S. (2009). The pretesting effect: Do unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance learning? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 15(3), 243–257. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0016496

By WLRC Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor

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Welcome to Fall 2017-18 Penn Students!

As you begin or return to your journey as a PENN student in the Fall of the academic year 2017-18, you are asked to embrace the call of innovation. The Office of the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania has announced the Provost’s Academic Theme for the Year 2017-18 as the Year of Innovation:

Innovation is key to advancing knowledge; innovators build on historic foundations as they move forward with new discoveries. We often associate innovation with technology and scientific advancements, yet it exists in every aspect of our intellectual culture. 

At WLRC, we invite you to join us in reflecting upon the following guiding questions:

  • Who am I as a learner?
  • How do I learn optimally?
  • How do I learn differently?
  • What are my assets as learner?
  • What are my goals as learner?
  • What are my learning supports and resources?
  • What will I try anew in 2017-18?
  • What will I do differently?
  • How can I innovate my learning?
  • How will I kick off my learning trajectory this Fall?

To get you started, we have some ideas and resources to help you optimize and innovate your learning and sustain academic wellness:

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  • Above all, innovation is a central aspect of Penn’s history and identity: founded by Benjamin Franklin, one of history’s great innovators, Penn was designed from the outset to be different from other schools of its day and now includes innovation as a core principle of the Penn Compact 2020.

The 2017-18 Year of Innovation presents the opportunity for renewal. At WLRC, we welcome all new and returning students. We look forward to partnering with you at any juncture of your learning trajectory at PENN. Throughout, we uphold a spirit of innovation, renewal and learning wellness.

​Staff Writer: Min Kim Derry

Bigger Pictures: Make a Note

“I don’t know what I think until I’ve written about it.” ~  Various Attributions

Of all the things I talk about here at your learning center, the one I always feel a little bit guilty about is notetaking. I always feel like the subject is like a benignly neglected child in a big family, the kid who basically raises herself in a household that is far too stretched and busy to worry about someone who is more or less okay. That’s notetaking.

Lombard_scribeAcademic notetaking has been largely conscribed by one thing:  the lecture. And historically, this makes sense. Back in the mists of time, professors would intone and, well, profess, and students would scratch away, trying to get down every word. It wasn’t uncommon for “serious” students to learn how to take shorthand in order to get down every word.  This technique can be described as truly Mediaeval, with its roots planted firmly in the monastic scriptorium, where sacred text was read aloud while Brother Scribes took down copy. What a gig.

Academia has embraced a few technological advances since the Monastic era, most notably the slide deck. Ah, yes. PowerPoint. Our frenemy. No matter where you come down on the ubiquitous deployment of PowerPoint in the higher ed classroom, there is one undeniable plus: the mad rush to get down every word has been alleviated, at least somewhat. So long as the slides are made available, you don’t have to worry about copying out the entire slide during class. All you really have to worry about is what is said off slide.

But there is another part of notes that gets routinely neglected, and that is the notes you make to yourself, and if you don’t do that now, I’d encourage you to give it a go, especially if you are currently in the type of humanities or social science courses that require you to come up with your own paper topics. These notes capture what you think about the lecture topics or reading material. Think of these kinds of notes as the record of what you think.

And one more thing: these types of notes don’t have to be declarative. Solid questions arising from the reading material count as notes too.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Bigger Pictures: Keep It Classy, Quakers

“Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers”   ~  Sana, Weston & Cepeda

Is it even possible to run a spoiler alert before the title of an academic paper?  Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers.  Talk about ruining the ending.

In any case, I’m not planning to rehash the paper – I trust you can read that for yourself, and I hope you do.  What I am going to talk about is something far more basic.

So, first, a question:  how many times have you yourself watched another student “multitasking” during class?  I’m not talking about watching someone type lecture notes, I mean watching somebody respond to their email, update their Facebook status, check out 21 Adorable Child Stars Who Grew Up Sooo Ugly?

Okay, now how many times has that been you?

Yeah, I know.  But don’t worry.  It’ll be our secret.  Not that you and I keeping our mouths shut about these multitasking indiscretions matters, because someone else knows, too.  Do you know who that is?

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That’s right, your professor.  More than likely, your TA as well.  Don’t think for one minute that the person tasked with operating the front of the house is somehow clueless about what’s going on out there in the rest of the room.  They see.  They know.  Some of them even keep tabs.

But even that’s not the bigger issue here.  Sure, it is bad if you don’t get the full 10% for class participation.  That piece of the final grade might make the difference between a B+ or an A-, and I always advise students to never leave points on the table.  The bigger issue here is that “multitasking” during class is, quite simply, rude.  Your actions tell your teacher that what’s going on in the front of the room is far less interesting and of far less import than what’s going on in social media.  So don’t do it.  It’s not nice to passively insult these people.

Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Resources:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512002254

How to Make the Most of Office Hours

Office hours: It’s that thing listed underneath the professor’s contact information on the syllabus, the thing we all glance at to make a note of, but rarely take advantage of. Meeting a professor during their office hours can be intimidating, but if utilized correctly, it can be a goldmine of a resource. Here are just a few quick tips on how to make the most of your office hour sessions:

  1. (unless specifically asked to) Don’t go just to go. Set a purpose to your meeting. Be prepared to ask open ended questions or get clarification on a certain class topic while you’re in front of the professors. Make sure you aren’t asking the kinds of questions that could have been easily answered elsewhere; i.e. Google, a peer, the class syllabus, or the readings. office-hours

2. Do show up early. By arriving 5 minutes before office hours start, it’ll give you a better chance of meeting with the professor first. This way, you can make sure your questions are answered instead of having to wait around, looking for the best time to interrupt another student.

3. Do be honest. Don’t be coy if the professor is talking about something and you don’t quite understand. Admit to it and you’ll get an even better or different explanation. Also, don’t make excuses for your performance or go in attacking the professor. If there are issues academically, professionally, or personally occurring in your life, let you professor know. They are human too and they will understand and work with you to best accommodate or resolve the issue. montreal-que-february-3-2015-mcgill-university-profess

For more support on how to make the most of your office hours, come set an appointment with a learning instructor and we will work with you individually to prep you for a meeting with your professor!

Staff writer: Victoria Gill

White Board: a study strategy

Final examinations are here and you’ve already read books, notes, and class lectures slides. But how much did you actually retain? What other ways can you study? A great strategy to test your knowledge would be to do a white board activity. This includes having a white board or simply a blank sheet of paper, and writing at the top or the center the main ideas or topics you are to be tested on, then writing down every single piece of information or knowledge you have on the topic. Doing this activity forces you to dig deep, to come face to face with what you do know and more importantly, what you don’t know.

Here is a sample suggestion on how to chunk your studying while implementing this activity:

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Let’s say you take a week to study per subject. On the first day of said studying, you can just focus on re-reading notes, lectures, books, and skimming for main ideas. Day 2, you can take active notes on all the reviewing. Day 3 can be focused on trying out practice problems on certain topics you’re weak in and applying the knowledge you’ve learned. On Day 4 you could do the white board activity, and make notes of what you still need to learn and follow that up with Day 5 of actually filling in the gaps of knowledge by reviewing again and doing problems/questions in that needed area.

Happy Studying! Come into Weingarten for more learning or studying strategies!

Staff Writer: Victoria Gill

Notes from a Long-Time Student: StayFocusd

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In a previous post I talked about the app SelfControl. The Learning Instructors at Weingarten and I love SelfControl. The only downside to the app is that it is only available for iOS users. However, there are other great apps that work for both Mac and Windows powered computers that serve the purposes of, and may even surpass, SelfControl. One of these innovations is StayFocusd, a Google Chrome add-on that promotes productivity by limiting the amount of time you spend on distracting sites. Ranked at 4.5 stars by 4,048 users as of this week, StayFocusd is a promising feature for anyone looking to–you guessed it– stay focused.

So, how exactly does StayFocusd increase your productivity? In a nutshell, StayFocusd allows you to set usage time caps–weekly and daily–for specific sites. As you can see from the image below, the “Max Time Allowed” function of the program allows you to set a cap for the time you’re allowed to browse the sites you’ve indicated on your Blocked Sites list. This is a great feature for those of us that would like to continue to be social, on social media, for example but would rather not spend any more than 20 minutes per day.

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StayFocusd doesn’t only allow you to limit your time on sites on a daily basis, it also allows you to pre-program those settings for different days of the week. Say you don’t have class on Thursdays and want to allow yourself a little more virtual social time, simply unclick Thursday from your “Active Days.” Now, your blocked site settings will apply every day of the week, except Thursdays.
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If that’s not enough to keep you focused, you can try to limit the time frame during which your pre-allotted time on the sites is available for use with the “Active Hours” function. This function is super easy to set up and is precise up to the minute.

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If you find that your settings are still not quite working the way you’d like them to and you need to stay away from additional sites for even longer periods of time you can use “The Nuclear Option.” This function sounds a lot more intimidating than it is in reality. Independent of your “Active Hours” and “Active Days” settings, The Nuclear Option will block/allow the sites you indicate for a specific amount of time. Once you click “NUCKE ‘EM!” there is no going back, until your timer runs out. This is a great function because you are also able to schedule these blocks/allowances ahead of time.

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Now, all of these functions are great but what if you absolutely have to go back to one of the sites that you’ve blocked? You can request a challenge! Challenges essentially ask you to complete a more or less tedious task in order to change your settings. Below is an example of what you may be asked to complete.

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Perhaps the only downside to StayFocusd is that it is directly linked to Google Chrome. However, this partnership also makes the add-on very accessible; the logo shows up on your browser and is easily available for changes. To test out StayFocusd, I used it to schedule my virtual time online throughout the week, and it worked seamlessly.

Add-ons and apps like StayFocusd and SelfControl are great at promoting efficiency and productivity throughout the school year. However, remember that the internet is only one source of distractions. Be conscious of where you are working, when, with whom, and your study habits. If you would like to discuss how these features can work for you schedule an appointment with a Learning Instructor at Weingarten.

Staff Writer: Erica Saldívar García