Tech Tuesday: Text Help with Read and Write

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Read and Write is a technology software recently introduced to our office by Amrou Ibrahim, our Assistive Technology Specialist. It’s an amazing application that can assist many students with their reading and writing needs. The tool offers support through various features, including highlighting texts, reading texts aloud, and utilizing talk-to-text features.

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Read and Write can be installed through a Google Chrome or Safari add-ons. Once it is installed, the application installs a toolbar that can be used with any tab in your web browser. Additionally, there is a desktop feature that can be downloaded so that Read and Write can be used offline as well.

This tool includes many different features which can benefit students here at Penn. Here are a few :

  • Text-to-speech features for selected passages or entire documents (works with emails, web browsers, PDFs, and more!)
    • While the text is read aloud, the associated words are highlighted on the screen. (This can help keep the reader focused)
  • Text and picture dictionaries to aid in students’ reading
  • A speech to text feature that can aid in students’ writing
  • A simplifying text features that gets rid of ads and other distracting features from web pages
  • Tools to highlight and underline while you are reading

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This is a great tool to try, especially because it is free! If you are interested in learning more about this tool or other technology that can be useful, call the Weingarten Learning Resources Center at (215) 573-9235 to make an appointment with Amrou or with one of our other learning instructors!

By Staff Writer: Kelcey Grogan, Learning Fellow and Learning Instructor

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How to Succeed at Long-Term Project Management Part 2: Self-Care

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Now that you’ve figured out date goals and to-do lists, let’s talk about focusing on wellness.

A large factor of being able to maintain a grueling work schedule is being able to balance that work with things that provide mental wellness and support.

With an intentional wellness plan carved out of a few moments each day, you will be more productive. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Start off the day with exercise

When working on a large project or paper, I find exercising for a few minutes each morning a valuable way to get both my mind and body moving. Head to Pottruck for a quick class or cardio session or do an exercise video from the comfort of your own home.

  1. Make lunch/dinner plans with friends

Everyone needs to eat. Use your meals as a social break time from doing work. Meet your friends at the dining hall for brunch at 11 a.m. on Saturday or at Chipotle at 6 p.m. on Tuesday for dinner. Plan to work for an hour or two before and after dinner. Socializing while eating will nourish your mind and body, and it will give you time to vent about this pesky project that you’re working on.

  1. Celebrate small accomplishments

After you complete a few steps on your to-do list, celebrate! I had a mini-celebration every time I finished a chapter of my dissertation. Whether it was taking a break to watch a movie or baking (and then enjoying) some cookies, a small celebration will motivate you to keep going.

  1. Maintain your sleep routine

Research shows that pulling an all-nighter one night and “making up for it over the weekend” doesn’t actually restore your body as well as a consistent sleep pattern can. Try to go to sleep and wake up at around the same time each day. I also recommend that you work a “wind down hour” into your nightly routine so that you have an hour or so to shut your brain down and focus on something relaxing before you try to sleep.

Rather than thinking of these breaks as distractions or time taken away from doing work, they will help you maintain productivity. Just remember: There is a light at the end of the tunnel. This semester will end, and you will get a break. There are only a few more weeks to go before you can return to Netflix binging and serious relaxing! For more tips on how to successfully complete your final papers and projects, please stop by the Weingarten Center to meet with any of our Learning Instructors. We would be happy to help!

By Staff Writer: Cassie Lo, Learning Instructor

Scheduling Self-Care: Reflections from Penn’s Teach-In 2018

Link to video: https://vimeo.com/255294916

Here at Weingarten we like to emphasize making time for students’ self-care. When we are taking care of ourselves, not only are we happier and healthier, but we also perform better academically and professionally.

One aspect of self-care that we often don’t focus on is challenging and stimulating our mind. This can be done through reading new books, learning a new skill, or attending a museum or art exhibit. This month, Penn’s Teach-In, demonstrated one way to think about stimulating your mind, learning new things, and making time for self-care .

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Penn’s Teach-In occurred on campus from March 18th – March 22nd. The theme for this year’s event was The Production, Dissemination, and Use of Knowledge. There were 32 events over 5 days in 16 different venues across campus. All events were free and open to the public. Different faculty from across Penn came together to discuss different topics including discussions around sexual harassment, purposes of a Penn education, teaching race, vaccine denial, the future of technology, thinking about evolution, and a Bioethics film festival. Check out their schedule of events here:

http://www.upenn.edu/teachin/index.html#schedule

These are just some of the captivating and stimulating events that were addressed by our Penn Professors. Moral of the story?

Take this time to learn something new that is perhaps out of your comfort zone.

While we know everyone is busy with academic, professional, social, and extra-curricular commitments, don’t forget to take advantage of the many wonderful programs (that are often free) happening on Penn’s campus. These programs can be an enriching addition to your undergraduate or graduate experience here at Penn.

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Photo from the International Collegiate Science Journal

By: Kelcey Grogan, Weingarten Learning Fellow and Learning Instructor

How to Succeed at Long Term Project Management Part One: Goal-Setting

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I submitted my dissertation earlier this month. A dissertation is essentially a book that takes years of writing and researching to complete. Now that I can look back and reflect on the process, I want to share some tips that really helped me get through the longest project of my life. In this post, I’ll talk about specific strategies for setting goals and sticking to deadlines. Check back next week for part two of this series, where I will cover the self-care initiatives I pursued while writing in order to stay well while completing my dissertation. If you have a final paper or project looming in the not-so-distant future, read on to see how you can create a plan for success!

  1. Identify the due date.

Most, if not all, of your big projects will have a definitive due date. If there is not one, create a due date for yourself that fits best in with your other final exams, projects and papers. We have 2018 – April-May Calendar available at the Weingarten Center to help organize all of your final obligations. See when your busy times are, and plan around them. If you have all set dates for your exams, papers and projects, write them in now so that you can begin preparing in advance.

  1. Work backwards to plan intermediate due dates.

Some of you may have intermediate dates included in your final project description (i.e. Writing Seminar Portfolio). For everyone else, creating intermediate due dates along the way for small steps is a great way to keep chipping away at a larger project. Once you’ve identified the due date, work backwards from that date to today’s date and create a to-do list. We have Long Project Planning Sheet (pictured below) available at the Weingarten Center to help you plan things out, but you can also do this on an app (such as Wunderlist) or on a regular piece of paper.

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  1. Create manageable goals for small chunks of time.

Once you begin creating a to-do list, break your project up into a series of very small steps in order to be successful. For example, the first task on my to-do list is always to re-familiarize myself with the prompt or task. Reread the assignment description, and then check that off your list! You’re already making progress. After that, your steps should never take more than 1-2 hours to complete, and you should take a break in-between. If you’re writing a paper, break the paper up into sections (introduction, argument 1, conclusion, etc.) and make each section a different task.

  1. Find an accountability partner.

Speaking your goals aloud to someone else will make you more likely to complete them. Once I set my intermediate deadlines, I shared them with everyone from my friends and classmates to my dissertation advisor. That way, when the deadline neared, I knew I had to turn something in because others were expecting drafts. Find someone in your class, a friend or roommate who you can check in with periodically. Make an appointment at the Weingarten Center or the Marks Family Writing Center and bring a section of your paper there. Check in with your professor during office hours so you can share your progress.

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Long-term projects and papers can sometimes feel like isolating, daunting tasks, but if you involve others and make the project more manageable through smaller deadlines, you’ll definitely be successful. Good luck!

By Staff Writer: Cassie Lo, Learning Instructor

What does this problem want me to do?

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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.

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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?

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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?”

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Identify the procedure that should be paired with the problem

Imagine…

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!

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By Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor

Spring Clean Your Academic Life

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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.

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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.

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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

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Take-away:

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.
PART 1: WHAT IS THE PROBLEM-SOLVING SANDWICH?
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?
PART 2: WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?
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:

READ-THEN-SOLVE
  KIM
TIME MONDAY TUESDAY
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.

PROBLEM-SOLVING SANDWICH
  SUSANA
TIME MONDAY TUESDAY
4:00 PM SOLVE SOLVE
  read SOLVE
4:30 PM SOLVE read
  SOLVE SOLVE
5:00 PM SOLVE SOLVE
  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?
  • SUSANA > KIM
  • SUSANA < KIM
  • SUSANA = KIM

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

  • SUSANA = KIM
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