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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Schedule Your Semester to Ensure Success!

Perhaps you are a new undergraduate, professional, or graduate student at PENN, and you want to make sure you are starting off strong at the beginning of the semester. Or, maybe you are a returning student who wants to make this year better than the last. Whatever your status or motivation is, the Weingarten Learning Resources Center is here to help!

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One of the biggest ways that you can ensure success as a graduate or undergraduate student is to make sure that you are planning strategically for your long-term course requirements this semester. Some of our handy tools are our SEMESTER CALENDARS, which are available in BLUE for Undergraduate students and GREEN for Graduate students:

Even if you can’t stop in for a walk-in or full-hour appointment, make sure you stop by our offices to pick up one of our coveted semester long calendars!

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Helpful strategies for using Weingarten’s Semester Calendars:

  1. During these first two weeks of school, take time to review your syllabi. Using your syllabi, write in all the dates for your papers, projects, and exams on your large semester calendar. This large overview calendar should be reserved for big projects, papers, and exams (not everyday homework and class times). Even if you already use a calendar system like iCalendar or have a paper planner, it is important and helpful for you to write everything for the semester in one place. Having a visual outline of the semester will help you plan and make sure you are keeping up to date with your assignments and obligations.
  2. Next, fill in any personal obligations, celebrations, or events for this semester. If you have friends visiting, mark it on the calendar. Planning any trips or getaways? Make sure to put it on your calendar!
  3. Add in events like extra-curricular obligations, long-term work assignment due dates, campus performances, and athletic events to your calendar. Now, you should have an outline of everything you have coming up this semester.
  4. Now you can go to your personal planner and schedule out your assignments and worktime week by week. The long-term semester calendar is important, because it can help you avoid potential conflicts. For example, “I see that I have a book critique and presentation due at the end of October, but I am also going to be out of town two weekends in a row for personal obligations. Now, I know that when I am scheduling out my time during the first two weeks of October, I need to make time to complete the book review. I can’t push it off until right before it’s due because I will be out of town (and that isn’t a great way to get work done anyway). If I hadn’t taken the time to layout my semester, I might have missed that.” Here’s an example:

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We hope that this helps you start your semester off on the right foot!

If you have more questions about how to structure your time to ensure success, be sure to call the Weingarten Learning Resources Center to set up an appointment to meet with a Learning Instructor to help you develop a personalized plan. You can come in for a first-come, first-serve Walk-In Session or make an Individual 1-Hour Appointment with one of our Learning Consultants by calling (215) 573-9235. We’re conveniently located at Stouffer Commons, behind the Wawa on 38th and Spruce. Click here for Location and Hours.

Good luck this semester! Happy Studying!

 

By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Instructor at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center. “I just began my first year as a doctoral student in the Reading/Writing/Literacy program in the Graduate School of Education. Prior to returning to school here, I was a high school English teacher and instructional coach in Detroit, Michigan.

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

Time Management/Study & HW Strategy: The Tomato Method

With readings days fast approaching and finals week close behind, we are all struggling at the end of the semester to find motivation for this last push before the summer break. Ugh, why can’t it be here already? If you’re like me right now, who is so close to feeling burned out, finding the patience and determination to stay focused on small or large tasks seem daunting and unrealistic. One method that I have heard and used as a great strategy for those with short attention spans or low drive would include The Pomodoro Technique, also more simply and commonly known as The Tomato Method.

This time management technique was developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It’s super easy to implement and can increase productivity when doing tasks. Look at it this way: it’s like you have to run miles and miles to get to your destination, but with the Tomato Method, you accomplish this by doing many sprints with short breaks in between. That way you don’t just procrastinate and give up at the beginning of the line. There are tasks when we can just fly through them, but others times, its just such a drag. In a way, this technique is a lot like chunking your time and task. Check out this short 2 minute video that explains how to get started. Here is a quick summary on how to it all works: tumblr_nnjxvcPVbz1senxz2o1_1280

If you want to use some other websites or other apps on your tech besides a simple time keeper, here’s a list from LifeHacker.com that might be useful as well:

  • Marinara Timer (Web) is a webapp we’ve highlighted before that you can keep open in a pinned tab. You can select your timer alerts so you know when to take a break, or reconfigure the work times and break times to suit you. It’s remarkably flexible, and you don’t have to install anything.
  • Tomighty (Win/Mac/Linux) is a cross-platform desktop Pomodoro timer that you can fire and forget, following the traditional Pomodoro rules, or use to customize your own work and break periods.
  • Pomodorable (OS X) is a combination Pomodoro timer and to-do app. It offers more visual cues when your tasks are complete and what you have coming up next, and it integrates nicely with OS X’s Reminders app. Plus, you can estimate how many pomodoros you’ll need to complete a task, and then track your progress.
  • Simple Pomodoro (Android) is a free, open-source timer with a minimal aesthetic. Tap to start the timer and get to work, and take your breaks when your phone’s alarm goes off. You can’t do a lot of tweaking to the work and break periods, but you get notifications when to take your breaks and when to go back to work, and you can go back over your day to see how many Pomodoros you’ve accomplished over the day. It even integrates with Google Tasks.
  • Focus Timer (iOS) used to be calledPomodoroPro , and is a pretty feature-rich timer for iPhone and iPad. You can customize work and break durations, review your work history to see how your focus is improving, easily see how much time is left in your work session, and the app even offers a star-based rating system to keep you motivated. You can even customize the sounds, and hear the clock ticking when you lock your phone so you stay on task.

Say “bye bye procrastination!” with this technique. Try it out! Or come into Weingarten to try it out with a Learning Instructor.

Staff Writer: Victoria Singh Gill

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

Tech Tuesday: Apps for Group Work Collaboration (GroupMe, Slack, GoogleDocs)

You hate it, I hate it; yet everyone assigns it: group work.  Before the internet, group work consisted of wrangling everyone for their availability before finally getting together in person and just wasting away a full day when really, we know one or two people will finish the whole thing. Nowadays,  thankfully, we live in the 21st century and no longer have to be bogged down with that outdated and fully infuriating methods. With technological advancement, so many apps and programs are geared towards collaboration and can be carried out remotely according to one’s own pace. In this blog post, the commonly used ones such as GroupMe, Slack, and Google Docs/Slides are covered.

GroupMe: Owned by Microsoft, GroupMe is a mobile group messaging and photo sharing app. It’s free, works on every device, and is geared towards working with multiple groups. For example, people usually have a group chat for family, friends, coworkers, clubs, etc. Here, students can create a group chat and plan when, where, and if to meet. Or simply, discuss how to divide and conquer and then casually check in for any questions, comments, or concerns. Each group member gets to decide who they want to interact in the chat on their own. For more detailed steps on how to use GroupMe, click here. Screen shot 2015-01-12 at 1.43.24 PM

Slack: If you’re looking for a more professional and business feel, users tend to prefer Slack over GroupMe. Slack has a free version and is an app for all devices. What makes this more professional than GroupMe is that it has not only messaging capabilities but also voice, video calling, and file sharing. With that comes a search and archiving features too.  “Channels” are like chat rooms and where projects are discussed. For more info on how to use Slack, click here.

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Google Docs/Slides: Google Docs was created to compete with Microsoft Word and Google Slides was created to compete with Microsoft Powerpoint. What Google has on these programs is that it is all online and can be collaborative and worked on in real time. If you have a gmail account, you automatically have access to these programs as part of your Google Drive. They are free and online and just because you don’t have internet doesn’t mean you can’t stuff done either. You can see people make changes to the documents as they type it in (if you’re logged on at the same time) and also leave comments on the side for to update the team on your thoughts and feedback. Again, like the others, these tools are available across all devices. For more detailed support on Google Slides, click here and for Google Docs, click here.

 

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Google Docs Sample

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Google Slides Sample

For more one on one consultation on a current group project, paper, or presentation, feel free to come into Weingarten for support! How do you use these apps? Leave a comment below if you want!

Staff writer: Victoria Singh Gill

Making New Habits Stick

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January is the month of New Year’s resolutions and good intentions. Many of us strive to be a little bit better at something than we were before. Maybe we vow to be better at time management – to get and use a planner, to not procrastinate as much, or to start papers and projects early. The problem with resolutions, no matter how well intended, is that most of our behavior is based on unconscious habits. In order to really make a new habit stick or to change an old one, we have to make our behavior more conscious.

The brain likes to be efficient and thus repeated behaviors become automatic habits. This default towards efficiency means you can sail through your morning routine of showering and getting dressed on autopilot and still have brain capacity left over to think about your upcoming day. Bad habits are hard to break because we’ve stopped making conscious decisions about what we’re doing. We just automatically do it. For example, when our phone alarm goes off in the morning that noise serves as a cue to pick up the phone to turn off the alarm. If you, like me, then spend the next 30-40 minutes looking through your newsfeed, that is an automatic behavior triggered by the alarm. The reward for 30-40 minutes of scrolling is a sense of being informed about the day. Did anyone text overnight? What are the breaking news stories? I’m sure if I didn’t automatically scroll through my newsfeed every morning, I’d be out the door much earlier.

This cycle of cue, routine, and reward is what Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls the habit loop. Becoming consciously aware of these three elements can help you form new habits or change old ones. To form a new habit, first think of the benefits of changing your behavior. What is it that you want to start doing? What are the long-term pay offs? Then think of a cue that will capture your attention at the moment you are most likely to take action. A cue can take various forms. It can be something visual like seeing your planner on your desk or it can be an action like coming back to your room after a long day of classes. Then think of the reward you’ll get for doing the routine or behavior triggered by the cue. If seeing your planner on your desk triggers you to spend a few minutes prioritizing your tasks for the next day, the reward might be a sense of calm or a feeling of being in control. Eventually, you’ll start craving that sense of calm and control as soon as you see your planner and will automatically pick it up to organize your day.

To change a habit, keep your familiar cues and rewards but change your routine. For instance, for many of us, coming back home after a long day is often a cue to flop on the bed or couch and just relax “for a few minutes” before tackling something else. The reward is a feeling of relaxation. However, “just a few minutes” often expands into an hour or more and suddenly we wonder where all our time went. What if we kept the cue of coming home after a long day and the reward of relaxation but changed the routine? Other activities that aren’t such time sponges like taking a shower or making a cup of tea can be inserted into the habit loop and eventually make us more productive.

As this new semester gets underway, start paying attention to your cues and rewards to change your habits. Anticipate the rewards – a feeling of satisfaction after checking items off a to-do list, a smoothie after a workout – as these cravings will push you to get stuff done. Finally, believe that you can change your habits or make new ones stick. Because you can.

Staff Writer: Julianne Reynolds