One of the Best Assignments I Ever Got in College

In a development psychology course, the professor told us to find two things:

1) A newspaper article about a research study in child development.
2) The actual study itself (written up in an academic research journal).

We then had to do the following:
– Read both the newspaper article and the research paper.
– Evaluate the strengths and flaws of the study. (Some examples: How did the researchers select the sample, and was the sample size too small? How did the researchers define the concepts, phenomena, or behavior they were studying? What were the weaknesses in the statistical analyses?)
– Note discrepancies between the claims made in the study and the way the newspaper article reported these claims.

This was an eye-opening assignment. It helped show me the profound effects of study design and statistics on research findings. And how newspaper articles can misrepresent these findings, usually in the headline and opening paragraph of the article – the parts needed for grabbing attention through bold claims. Also, the parts people usually don’t read past.

I recommend this as an exercise in critical thinking. Research papers are often behind paywalls, but not always (sometimes, a professor will have a copy on their site). And if you’re already a college or graduate student, you may be able to access journal papers for free using school library privileges.

Another Great Site for Learning Math at Home

For online math learning, I usually recommend Khan Academy. But it’s good to find other resources too. I recently came across Schoolyourself.org, a great site that could be helpful to you or your kids for math studies.

Using the site is free. You don’t even need to log in to access the lessons, though logging in allows you to record your progress. (I haven’t yet set up an account, but I think there are also more opportunities to review material if you’re logged in.)

From what I’ve seen so far, here’s what I like about this site:

– The videos are interactive. During each lesson, the video stops at various points, and you’re asked to solve problems. This means you can’t just listen passively. You need to be able to show that you’re paying attention and can figure out what’s going on.

– The lessons check that you have the relevant background knowledge. For example, at the start of the video on raising numbers to a negative power, you’re tested with a question on dividing exponents and given a chance to review if you’ve forgotten.

– Basic math doesn’t get overlooked. For instance, the algebra unit includes videos on arithmetic principles. This is helpful to students who are starting algebra but may have forgotten certain rules about multiplying negative numbers, for instance.

One drawback to the site is that it’s a little “calculator-heavy” in its approach. If you want to study how to multiply or divide decimals by hand, you may need to look somewhere else for a review.

But overall it’s a useful site that I recommend as a supplement to your math studies.

Your Bullet Journal Doesn’t Have to Be Instagrammable

Why did it take me so long to try bullet journaling?

For a while, I’d heard about using bullet journals for scheduling, project planning, journaling, making lists, and jotting down notes and ideas. But I was hesitant to try it for three main reasons:

1) It seemed to be just a fad, and I’m wary about fads (this tendency sometimes helps me avoid something harmful or useless, but other times may keep me from trying something that could be helpful).
2) The examples of bullet journals that I came across online seemed super fancy and elaborate, full of gorgeous graphics, reflecting a skill with drawing that I don’t have.
3) A quick glance at the bullet journal method gave me the impression that it was confusing and cluttered.

Why did I finally decided to try using a bullet journal? Last October, I had finished using a regular planner and was searching for a better way to keep track of different tasks. After hearing yet another recommendation for the bullet journal method, I decided to revisit it.

This time, I gave the method a closer reading, and I tried it out with an old spiral notebook I already had at home.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, using a bullet journal:

– There’s no need for you to buy an official bullet journal. You can make use of an old notebook like this one:

bulletjournalnotfancy

– Your bullet journal requires no visual art, no artistic touches, unless you feel like adding some to it. (If you don’t want to draw something, you can paste in photos or cutouts from a magazine on certain pages.) Your approach to journaling can be minimalistic and entirely text-based if you want.

– You don’t need to make your journal worthy of an Instagram post, with fancy fonts and such, unless you really want to. Sometimes, people design their journal to make it look like a standard planner, which may interfere with its looser format and the more flexible way it’s meant to be used.

– Rather than being too cluttered, I’ve found the method of numbering pages and keeping a running table of contents (or index) helpful in finding what I need, including lists, notes, and fragments of fiction I’ve jotted down in between days.

– The instructions on the bullet journal website, linked to above, are a good starting point. As you use the journal, you can make modifications in how you organize or present the text in it (such as the way you highlight or prioritize certain tasks or set up weekly trackers). You can adapt its use to meet the specific demands of your life. It works well in tandem with other systems of organization, including project management software.

– I still find ways in which I can use the journal more effectively. This flexibility is one reason I like it.

Progress Washed Away During Lockdown

Along with the threat of the disease itself, one of the great challenges of the COVID-19 crisis is how it has washed away people’s progress in different areas.

– Savings eroded or gone.
– Businesses run to the ground.
– Carefully planned projects that need to be abandoned, maybe never to be picked up again.
– People who have just started to become healthier in some way, physically or mentally, only to find themselves slipping (or crashing).

One person I know who has social anxiety made some efforts in recent months to get out of the house more. She started attending meetings of some local groups that share her hobbies. Since the lockdown, she has been struggling in isolation, and the gains she made regarding her anxiety feel largely illusory, as if they happened to someone else.

(Although there are video tools for connecting with people, and these tools may be better than nothing, they aren’t a substitute for in-person interaction. I’ve found this to be the case myself. Also, video calls can be mentally draining – the Harvard Business Review offers some advice on how to deal with “Zoom fatigue.”)

To the heartbreak, frustration, or despair that may result from the COVID-19 crisis – including its social and financial effects – there are obviously no simple answers. It can be stressful enough if your daily schedule has changed or you had to cancel certain plans. But I’m thinking right now about people whose hold on the world may be made more fragile because of the crisis. People cut adrift, with relationships severed, major opportunities lost, and progress seemingly reversed.

One thing that may help (at least a little) is to provide yourself with written reminders – in a journal, for example – about who you are, what you have done, what you hope for, and how you promise to give yourself time to get through this day by day. When there’s a massive amount of stress in your life, it’s easy to lose sight of many things, to disregard yourself, and to forget your capabilities and potential. Your current emotions may be so terrible and overwhelming that you can’t think of how they’ll ever end, even though they won’t last forever. You may not be able to see how your current situation could ever improve, but you don’t have all the answers (even though discouragement or despair may offer you answers that seem definitive).

Reminding yourself of who you are can also help you remember the ways in which you’ve been healing and the ways you have met particular goals in the past. Even if you’re feeling lost now, you aren’t starting from absolutely nothing. You may be struggling with the types of problems that have dragged you down before, but you bring with you more wisdom from your previous experiences and some evidence of how things can improve – if not immediately, then one day. You’ve managed to do it before. Will it be harder the second (or third) time around? What will restarting look like? Are you trapped? Write down your thoughts, and keep your thoughts flexible. The answers may change over time. You don’t know for sure.

If you’re keeping a journal, and you don’t think you can write anything about yourself at the moment, then maybe just write today’s date. Then tomorrow’s date. Maybe a short line with each entry. I’ve done that on days when I didn’t think I could write more, and sometimes that’s how you mark the day and step forward into the next one.

Keeping a journal doesn’t put food on the table. It doesn’t magically restore a lost job or shattered career. But if it helps in any way – helps you fight off bouts of despair or cope with the feeling that your life is horribly unreal – it could be worth a try. In ways you aren’t able to picture clearly or even conceive of at the moment, you may be able to regain at least some of what you’ve lost or discover or create something new.

(It’s also worth mentioning that you can rant on paper if you need to. Some people sit for 10-15 minutes and write down their anxieties, their rage, their grief, and then tear the paper up into tiny bits and throw it away. This exercise could become an outlet for releasing some of what’s in you, removing and destroying it so it possibly has less of a hold on your mind.)

Coping With a Pandemic When You (Think You) Have No One

The COVID-19 crisis is marked by turmoil, grief, and anxiety for many people. Having others to rely on during this time can mean a world of difference in how you’re coping. But what if you’re alone? (Or truly feel yourself to be alone?)

There’s no one-size-fits-all advice for dealing with social isolation and related problems. Your age, health, job, and living arrangement are among the factors affecting what will work for you and what won’t. But I’m going to offer some potentially useful links here. If you have some suggestions of your own, please share.

The following links apply to people in the U.S., where I live. If you’re outside of the U.S., you can use these for ideas when looking for analogous services in your country.

What Does It Mean to Be a Warrior of the Increments?

In recent years, I’ve been encouraging myself to get into the mindset and habits of a Warrior of the Increments. (Putting it in caps makes it sound like an official title that’s going to stick, and I hope it does.) But what do I mean?

– A Warrior of the Increments places secondary importance on grand gestures and primary importance on the small tasks and day-to-day efforts that may not seem like much when looked at separately but that do amount to something much more over time.

– These smaller efforts help change bad habits and sustain better ones. They help you work towards goals and create conditions in which well-being, understanding, and success are more likely to be the outcomes.

– Generally, the most difficult battles you have in life are with spiritual inertia, self-destructive habits, the sluggishness of the mind, and the frailty of the body. Working on changes, bit by bit, is crucial.

– A Warrior of the Increments doesn’t think only in terms of all-or-nothing battles. Sometimes you are fighting alongside something, not merely against it. Other times, you’re settling down for diplomatic talks and negotiating a workable peace.

– A warrior of this kind is very much a “one foot in front of the other” type.

TwoSet Violin Is So Fun

Two classically trained violinists have been running a YouTube channel full of goofy, geeky humor, music games, and silly reviews, plus genuinely educational content about technique, styles of different composers and performers, etc.

The following are samples of the many videos on their channel (I’ve watched just a small fraction):

Continue reading “TwoSet Violin Is So Fun”

How to Keep Your Day Structured: Inspiration From Two Sources

If you’re currently working or studying from home and aren’t used to it, it may be difficult to adjust and to keep your days from collapsing into an undifferentiated mass of goo.

Someone forwarded me this video from It’s a Southern Thing (a lighthearted YouTube channel on living in the American South), and I’m offering it as the first source of “work from home inspiration”:

At roughly 1:15, you’ll find The Planner, who sets up his desk and writes a schedule on a whiteboard. When that part comes up, pause the video and check out how he’s organized his day. It’s a decent template for a day’s schedule, though obviously you’ll need to adapt it to your own set of obligations.

He sets aside a specific block of time to work on a presentation. Maybe that’s his top work priority of the day, because it needs to get done soon. Usually, on any given day, you’ll have at least one thing that really needs attention more than others.

For other work, he’s set up a general work/catch-up category that may also wind up getting carved up into a few main tasks or maybe just serve as a flexible time to attend to whatever comes up. He also makes room for things like meals and exercise.

Consider how you’ll also take breaks within the times allotted for work tasks. For example, an hour of work can look like 25 minutes of work, a 10-minute break, then 25 more minutes. Even if you don’t get everything done within a certain time slot, at least you’ll have completed some of the work (as opposed to leaving it untouched and forgetting about it until the absolute last minute).

(Yes, this is supposed to just be a funny video, but I’m saying, you can get inspiration from anywhere. Also, I had a quick look through the channel, and found this other funny video portraying a southern fashion show that made me smile.)

The second source of scheduling inspiration I’m sharing with you comes from Khan Academy. Among their parental resources for kids learning at home, there are some schedule templates covering preK to 12th grade. These templates offer ideas for different activities throughout the day with time for play and rest too. You can adapt them for your kids or use them for ideas about how to structure your own day if you’re working and studying. (“Ideally run around and play outside. Have a snack” is potentially good advice for an adult, and may be useful if you have a yard or access to an uncrowded outdoor space.)

Deliberately Choosing Life, Every Day (A Response to a Hoagland Essay)

I’m writing this post for a reading challenge, Deal Me In (hosted at this blog). Though it’s difficult to write it at the moment, because of what’s going on with the pandemic and the serious economic problems we’re facing, I find blogging helpful, so I’m keeping at it in between various obligations.

Edward Hoagland’s essay, “Heaven and Nature,” deals with a topic people tend not to want to think about: suicide. His meditation on suicide encompasses everyone, including people who don’t – at least outwardly – appear to be troubled by anything.

Our faces are not molded as if joy were a preponderant experience. (Nor is a caribou’s or a thrush’s.) Our faces in repose look stoic and battered, and people of the sunniest temperament sometimes die utterly unstrung, doubting everything they have ever believed in or have done.

The bleak discussion of human nature is tempered somewhat by Hoagland’s matter-of-fact tone. And in the bleakness of this essay, there are some kernels of light.

He discusses what it takes to negotiate the cracks and fissures of the self and of life. Sometimes it’s a matter of not dwelling too much on misery. Love and prayer are other answers. However, he doesn’t present them as a quick fix. Meaning to say, if you pray, you need to work out, over time, what prayer means to you, what you believe in, what you think can sustain you. This may not be the same from one year to another, or one decade of your life to another. Similarly, with love – habits of love are key to making love a powerful force. You need to stay open to “new and sudden insights” and/or engage in a “long practice” of love. And this can mean love in different forms, not limited to a romantic relationship.

He also talks about the urge to achieve a unity with something larger, to transcend the self, and for nature itself to be wedded to Heaven. However, this unity is also something to grapple with, to sustain or work towards actively. There are no guarantees of complete freedom from harrowing doubt.

Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a self-help essay. It’s not an easy read either, and Hoagland isn’t doling out solutions (and especially not one-size-fits-all sorts of solutions). Reading this essay can be a challenge, and may not be for everyone in every frame of mind.

I think what helps sustain me is the belief in the meaning of life and holiness of life. Not to regard people as sentient sacks of meat or bags of water, as organic trash. Seeing the moments of life, day to day, as holy and meaningful requires active practice and choice, habits that you develop and that hopefully don’t become merely rote. It also involves some flexibility and adjustment over time. To not let yourself dry up spiritually is a matter of deliberate, consistent effort. And if you do dry up spiritually, to not proclaim that you’ve reached your end. Instead, to keep walking through that desert, experiencing the desert and finding meaning in it (which is not the same thing as finding happiness). And staying open to the possibility that the landscape will change or that you will find things in that desert that are still meaningful, wondrous even.

I write this as someone who’s religious. Religion itself is a regular practice, a deep grappling. It isn’t a source of pat answers, though the practice of it may become stale and crumble into clichés. Regardless of what religion you practice – or whether you even consider yourself religious – you need to find what it is that sustains you and then sustain it through repeated choice, through practices that you may need to alter as the years pass. What are your relationships with others, with the world, with what transcends you? If you don’t know, keep thinking about it. Keep searching, and be patient. Keep choosing life.

It’s interesting how an essay that deals with a grim topic can bring out a response that affirms life, but it had that effect on me, even with an awareness of the doubting, the fear, the darkness.

Note-Taking Skills Video: Cornell Method

To follow up on this list of educational websites, I’m going to recommend another one: Socratica, a YouTube channel that focuses primarily on math and science topics but also has some humanities videos and videos giving advice on study tips.

On the study tips playlist is one video I watched recently about the Cornell Method of taking notes:

A good thing about this video is that she gives an example of the note-taking method during a short chemistry lesson. This method encourages more than just re-reading notes. You’re expected to engage with them even more actively (by fixing errors and creating the cues and summary sections).