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

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

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

Resolutions for a Fresh Start


“And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!

            And gie’s a hand o’ thine!

And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught

            For auld lang syne.”

~  Robert Burns

Have you ever wondered why, when the ball drops at midnight, nobody seems to know all the words to the song, other than the pressing question of whether or not the auld acquaintance should  be forgot, and that bit about the auld lang syne?  Well, now you know.  Above is the 5th verse (yes, really, there are five verses) in all of its Scots glory, which now allows you to feel better about New Year’s Eve, and which now allows me to type the phrase “right gude-willie waught” one more time and drive spell check into wiggly red underscore frenzy.

Go ahead:  sing the 5th verse.  You know the melody.  Give it spin.  I’ll wait here.

Fun, huh?

Anyway, now that we got the melody looping in your head for the rest of the day, let’s talk Resolutions.

The problem with most resolutions, especially those of the improving-my-academic-performance variety, is that our planning can be overly ambitious.  It’s like resolving to whip yourself into shape by adopting a plan where you work out three hours a day, seven days a week and, falling short of the lofty goal, abandon the initial resolution for yet another shameful period of slothful anti-health.  It’s supposed to be a resolution, not a guise for self-punishment.

If you’re looking to post better grades and/or learn more, start with small, simple strategies.  Let’s get back to basics:

  • Review your lecture notes after class within 24 hours. This needn’t require a massive amount of time; 20 to 30 minutes max.  Couldn’t get to the notes in 24 hours?  Don’t abandon the resolution, adjust the plan and get to them in 48.
  • Go to class.   Even if you think you don’t get anything out of lecture because A) I hate the professor  B) The lecture makes no sense and I just get more confused  C) Life is so much better in bed  –  lecture is still three hours a week with the course material.  At the very least, if you’re not replacing missed class time with study time, you’re falling further behind.
  • Read more, especially if it seems like you don’t read at all. I’m not saying read everything.  Remember the whip yourself into shape thing earlier?  Same principle.  Start with Power Point slides, or chapter summaries.  And don’t just read for the sake of reading, think about what you’re reading.
  • Come to Weingarten. Our friendly learning instructors know their way around all kinds of academics-related resolutions.  At least one of us knows what a right gude-willie waught is.

Now sing the fifth verse of Auld Lang Syne one more time.


Pete Kimchuk

Senior Learning Instructor