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



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

Making It Stick!

What has Research about the Science of Successful Learning taught us about Making It Stick?


Brown, Roediger & McDaniel (2014) identified 6 Research-based Principles and Strategies for committing information to long-term memory and increasing the probability of retrieving it as applicable knowledge:

➔  (1) Rereading text and massed practice are ineffective
➔  (2) Active retrieval interrupts forgetting
➔  (3) Create a mental model for new knowledge that connects to larger context and prior knowledge

A conceptual approach to active information processing and retrieval helps interrupt forgetting and deepen your understanding. Conceptual Mapping helps you:

  1. Synthesize the big picture,
  2. Do a deep dive where you need to be more granular,
  3. Establish simple-complex relationships and hierarchies,
  4. Identify gaps, and
  5. Try a variety of Conceptual Mapping tools:
1. Concept Map Anywhere!

All you need is any blank “canvas”: scrap paper, notebook, white board, etc.

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2. Concept Map Online: Search for a Variety of Free and Subscription Software Apps


3. Try this Free Online Concept Mapping Tool by Google: Coggle


(Click icon above to watch introductory video)
➔  (4) Space out practice and interleave subjects

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There is a minimum of 3 levels of time management for the semester:

  1. Semester: Major Deadlines
  2. Week: Logistical
  3. Daily: Individual Tasks
Think strategically before, during and after coursework


  1. Office Hours: Professor and Teaching Assistant
  2. Sleep
  3. Meals and Snacks
  4. Breaks
  5. Self-Care Activities (e.g. exercise, therapy/counseling, health care, etc.)
  6. Extra-curricular, volunteer and social activities
➔  (5) Extract underlying principles that differentiate problem types to prepare for unfamiliar problems/situations
➔  (6) Try problems before being taught solution

As you prepare weekly problem sets for class, recitation or online submission, OR before you compare your sample prior exam answers, step back and take time to:

  • Evaluate and differentiate types of problem by concept categories.
Conceptual Problems
Algorithmic Problems

Make It Stick

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, WLRC Learning Instructor

Work-Life Balance: 4 Suggestions for Optimizing Your Personal Time!


Wow! Spring semester is here and charging forward at full speed!
(I don’t know about you, but for me the winter break flew by!)

Now, the spring semester has kicked off, Canvas sites have been published, syllabi collected, books ordered, first classes attended, preliminary assignments completed, and first projects and/or exams scheduled…


It’s time to balance the semester workload with time to relax and recharge on your own and with friends.

Maybe you have weekend plans or you’re already planning your spring break, or maybe your plans are to squeeze in watching some of your favorite shows on TV or Netflix in-between studying.


We here at Weingarten have four suggestions for how to make the most out of your personal time while on campus in order to remain as relaxed, refreshed, and rejuvenated in the spring semester as possible:

1. Read a book that you want to read!


Often, during the semester, the only reading students have time to do are the readings that are assigned for classes. Use your scheduled and dedicated study breaks to read a book you have been wanting to read. So many wonderful books were published this year, check out these lists for some suggestions:

2. Write a thank you note!

thank you

Stay connected and send a thank you note or an email to a professor, staff member, friend, or classmate who was a big help to you last semester. Your kind words of appreciation will mean more than you know.

3. Plan your spring semester strategically!


Take an afternoon to lay out important dates on your calendar and planner for the spring semester.

4. Form an exercise habit!


With each new semester, it’s the perfect time to start building a new habit! Do you have plans this semester to walk each day or to go to the gym or to do yoga or to meditate each week? Do these plans fall to the wayside when the semester get busy? Exercising regularly is one of the best things we can do for our mind and body, but it can be easy to push these commitments to the side when the semester gets busy.

It takes three weeks to form a new habit and make it stick! 
No matter what your plans are, we hope you optimize your personal time while maintaining your work-life balance!

By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor

Shhh!!! Super Secret Study Spot!

secret-1142327_960_720 In need of a new study spot? 
Bored of the same old?
Search no more! 



If you are a sensory-modal, visual learner, and/or share a love for the arts,  you will love our newest Super Secret Study spot: UPENN-ICA

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Location: 118 South 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

Phone: (215) 898-7108

Museum Hours: 

Elixir Coffee Bar: 

Admission: FREE for ALL


As soon as you walk into the ICA-UPENN, you will notice the essential Elixir Coffee Bar to your left:


Grab your favorite caffeine fuel or otherwise, gourmet pastry, and head up the stairs to your left alongside the mega glass walls to the museum’s mezzanine:


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Your long-awaited soft-landing will be a brightly-lit mezzanine area flooded in natural light from two adjacent walls:

Depending on the configuration of the space, you may find different types of table set-ups, but typically, you will have the option of at least 3 small tables with chairs on all sides, enough to support 1 person to a group of 3-4 people:



When the weather is nice outside, you can head out to the Tuttleman Terrace, and enjoy the elements:

Studying + Sunbathing = Bliss!

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So next time you find yourself needing a little pick-me-up, try a change of scenery…


  • Galleries are currently closed for installation, but the Elixir Coffee Bar and Mezzanine remain open regular hours.
  • Winter Opening Celebration: February 2, 2018.
  • Winter Exhibit:
Cary Leibowitz: Museum Show

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So grab your FREE ICA-UPENN Museum Membership, and enjoy your Super Secret Study Spot!

Secret Concept

Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Instructor

Tech Tuesday – The iPad Pro Pencil

If you already have an iPad Pro, the iPad pencil is a must! If you are planning on saving up for an iPad Pro, then make sure to save up for the iPad pencil too. Priced at $99, the pencil is a great addition to the iPad. It makes studying and taking notes so much easier. If you are already using apps like OneNote, EverNote, or Notability to help with your studies, the iPad pencil syncs easily to work with these applications.

kelcey tech


Annotating: Annotating and writing notes on PDFs is made much easier with the iPad Pencil. It is a much more natural feel, cleaner and easier to read than writing with your finger on the iPad screen.  This is one of my favorite ways to use the iPad pencil. I am someone who needs to write on what I read. Using the iPad Pencil allows me to still take great notes, while keeping all the PDFs organized by class (and saving a lot of paper!).

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Notetaking: With the iPad Pencil, the iPad becomes like a travelling notebook. It is much easier and more natural to take handwritten notes during classes or in other settings. These handwritten notes on your screen can transfer easily to other devices with apps like OneNote and Endnote.

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Drawing: This is one of the wonders of the iPad Pencil. Drawing and making figures on the iPad is taken to a whole new level with the iPad Pencil. This can also be useful for studying. Now you can create mind maps and concept maps right on your iPad.

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  • The pencil only works with the iPad Pro.
  • It’s $99.
Let us know if you have any other suggestions for tech products to review!

Note: This blogpost is not an ad. In our Tech Tuesday posts, we highlight technology that we think would be useful and helpful for students.


By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor

Super-Secret Study Spots: Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center Edition


I know what you’re thinking. Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center is not a secret study spot. I’m here to let you in on a little VP secret: there are two new spaces within our beloved library that opened this fall. The hours for these new rooms are the same as most of the rest of VP:

  • Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to midnight
  • Friday 8:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
  • Saturday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
  • Sunday 10 a.m. – midnight

Read on to find out more about these great new spaces!

Moelis Family Grand Reading Room (first floor)

  • Noise level: Silent
  • Perks: The swivel recliners in the front of the room are perfect for study breaks.
    • This room truly is grand. A beautiful cloth tapestry lines one wall, with floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding the other sides of the room.
    • This room also features plush blue chairs at every table to make your study time a comfortable experience.
  • The Moelis Family Grand Reading Room is sound-proof and totally silent. If you’re looking for a space to really buckle down and focus, this is your spot.

The Class of 1937 Memorial Reading Room (fifth floor)

  • Noise level: Quiet
  • Perks: Comfortable seating in front, study carrels in back. Perfect for any occasion!
  • The Class of 1937 Memorial Reading room is now a card-access room designed to meet the needs of graduate students.
  • This newly redesigned room features space for both independent and group study, and there is a lactation room available as well.
  • In addition to the new features, this room is also home of football memorabilia from the class of ’37. The glass display case features three footballs and several uniforms that give a feel for what live at Penn was like 80 years ago.

Class of 37

While you’re over at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center checking out the new spaces, don’t forget about our other favorite VP spots including:

Each separate space at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center has different advantages, so make sure to check them all out to decide which one works best for you.

Staff Writer: Cassie Lo, WLRC Learning Instructor