This and that…

July 23, 2015

I have been thinking a lot about notebooks and organization…

One of the reasons that therehas been such a big gap between my posts, is because I was ill for an extended period of time. As a result of that illness,I have some limitations particularly around keyboarding and handwriting  so I do a lot of dictation. The other thing that has changed for me is that many of the things that I used to keep in hardcopy, simple things like phone messages and grocery lists, I now keep electronically. I have become enamored of a program called Evernote. I am a total convert.

Evernote is an online set of notebooks. An analogy that I often use with students is to think of it as a set of three ring notebooks that you can carry around on your phone.  I am not a particularly organized person by nature, but Evernote has helped me to remember many of the things that age and my innate mental chaos would normally allow me to forget.  I have been talking with classes and groups about Evernote this year. I have enjoyed the give-and-take with student users about how they use it, and the  brainstorming about how they will use it in the future. We even have an instructor who has asked that all of her classes open accounts. I am looking forward to seeing what use they make of it.  A wealth of information about the program is available here:

This is the beginning of the semester, and so this is the time that students are establishing the way that they will go forward. The habits that they set in place now and the tools that they begin to use are more likely to stay with them than those they begin to use later in the semester. Having regular habits for managing all of their stuff is critical at the college level. My big themes around organization have always been that whatever system they decide to use should always be:

  1. First of all consistent. Most students have a great deal that they have to remember, particularly here at VTC where we are primarily STEM programs.  They carry very high credit loads, do a lot of reading, and generally speaking have a lot of work to get through each week. If they have a different organizational system for each class, they just complicate their lives so unnecessarily.
  2. Second, the system should be expandable. A first-time freshman has absolutely no idea how much stuff they are going to need to keep organized. I have been here for 10 years, and I had two children come out of high school and go through college. I have seen very well prepared students, and very poorly prepared statements. The one thing that they have in common, is that none of them have a clue about how much stuff there really is. It is important for their organizational system to be expandable so that they have a way to fit in all of those bits and pieces that they may lose track of in a logical way.
  3. The third thing that I think it’s really important is that the system has to be flexible. A flexible system, regardless of whether it is pencil and paper or electronic, allows you to accommodate the vagaries of different situations without throwing your entire organizational strategy out the window. Too many times, we become entranced with elaborate organizational schemes that look like they have the answer to all of our issues, only to find out that the schemas itself is more work than it is worth. A simple system, one that suits the work that you were doing, and allows you to make adjustments, is the best.

I used to talk with students about three ring notebooks as a model for an organizational system. They are a flexible place to capture the details of student life, they are expandable, they can be organized in a consistent fashion across all sorts of coursework.  Electronic workhorse applications like Evernote can serve the same purpose, with the added benefit of being extremely portable. After all, we all carry a phone…


February 27, 2015

I am addicted to TED Talks…and the wonders of access.

Filed under: Uncategorized — learningspecialist @ 3:49 pm

It can be a major distraction, but they are so enlightening. I have been diligently advocating that our faculty and administration recognize/acknowledge/act on having all our materials accessible. It is a task worthy of Sisyphus given the administrative changes and financial challenges the college has absorbed in recent months. However…I sent this out to faculty and Senior Leadership this morning. One more tactful volley 🙂


November 21, 2013

Sometimes someone else just says it better…

Filed under: Uncategorized — learningspecialist @ 8:30 pm

A well-written look at a common topic of conversation during academic counseling sessions…

The semester is coming to an end, and so projects are due and finals are coming and a lot of what I am speaking with students about is how they can get themselves organized to get it all done, along with how they got themselves into this mess in the first place. I am a bit of a procrastinator myself, especially for things that land on my desk late in the day. I try very hard to organize my life so that I don’t feel pressured by impending deadlines. Sometimes it works (actually most times it works but I have had a lot of years to practice) and other times the instant gratification monkey just takes over… Enjoy!

October 4, 2013


Filed under: education,Support Services,Uncategorized — learningspecialist @ 8:04 pm

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Søren Kierkegaard

I am perplexed that more people do not  find the time to reflect on the work that they do. It is essential to me as a professional and a person to regularly d review what I have done and the direction that I seem to be heading. I am often my harshest critic and I am seldom the person who shares my accomplishments with others.

This has been a demanding semester so far. The work that I do is often frustrating. The bulk of my time is spent with students who are most at risk, whose gains are very slow and whose challenges are very great. They are frequently unprepared for college, though they want it badly. I rarely get to spend time with the other half of the world, who find school a joy. It is one of the things that I miss about more mainstream teaching-that balance in perspective. On the other hand, there are some students in whom I have invested a significant amount of time and it seems to be paying off. They are moving forward,  taking control in a positive way. I am proud to have been a part of that process and I delight in seeing them grow.

There are others whose journey is still very, very long. I ache for them and for their families.

The institution that I work at is under the same pressure that all postsecondary institutions labor under… Costs continue to go up. The pool of available students continues to shrink.   We have a relatively new senior staff who seem to be having a difficult time finding their footing and faculty that becomes progressively more frustrated while they wait for that to happen. Money is tight, as it is everywhere. It is occasionally difficult to maintain a positive outlook even though I love this job and I love the school.

As I reflect on the last five weeks, particularly in my personal writing, I see that I have let some things go on a personal level and as a member of the campus community. I could excuse myself by saying I was busy (and I have been) but that does not make it right. I am a member of this community, it has been good to me, and my individual contribution is important.

We  all do well to look back at ourselves periodically,  personally and professionally. It is too easy to slog along from day-to-day and forget how far we have come and where we need to go. Got a minute?

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.


September 25, 2013

Thinking outside the box…Richie Parker

Filed under: Uncategorized — learningspecialist @ 2:27 pm

A truly wonderful story.

September 16, 2013


Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Uncategorized — learningspecialist @ 5:06 pm

Today’s post is more of a share about a topic that has caused me much anguish over the course of my life and yet has been intimately intertwined with it. I speak of course of Math… I grew up with an engineer, I am married to a person who is the chief administrator at an engineering firm, my son is an engineer, and I work at a technical college. I cannot escape. If I had someone like this as an instructor when I was in school, I might feel very differently about the topic… I even looked up the Julia Set.

Have a good week!

January 23, 2009

It is an amazing week to be a teacher…

Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Technology,Uncategorized,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 4:35 pm

Tuesday’s inauguration of President Obama left me with a positive buzz that is bubbling like champagne. It is a remarkable thing.  For the first time in months, I feel as though things really could move in a different and better direction.

I am finishing the new book by Thomas Friedman called Hot, Flat and Crowded.  I read it for a course, on the heels of finishing Charles Van Doren’s  book A History of Knowledge, so I was really primed for the energy in the inaugural address.  I had a class (Freshman Orientation for students who begin college in the spring semester)  at 4:00 that afternoon, and I was so pumped that I tossed my lesson plans- an introduction to the Master Notebook, for a conversation about what it all means. My poor students must have thought I had gone completely over the edge, but they were very patient 🙂 And it was completely worthwhile.

I began by articulating the issues we face as Friedman has done: decreasing biodiversity, energy poverty, the need for and supply of readily available power, climate change and petro-dictatorship. I posed a question (Harry if you read this I am aware that I was shamefully ripping off the question in the syllabus- I gave you credit in class:))-

What do schools need to do to prepare students to live in this world and find solutions that will allow us to continue to meet the needs of our planet and populations in a reasonable way? What do YOU as engineering students need to be taught? What do our rising high school and elementary students need to know?

We wrote individual reflections, and then shared those reflections in small groups.  When some coherence had been established, the smaller groups reported back to the large group.

One group talked extensively about making more efficient use of our waste. They ranged from recycling to methane and garbage burning with scrubbers and caps to incentivising the whole process through grants and tax breaks.  Another group focused on economic literacy and understanding history- not just on a personal level but the whole concept of supply and demand and the impact of economy on culture and an awareness of what has gone before. They also discussed relevance- and felt pretty strongly that our current system does not of a good job of  helping students see the relevance of what they are taught to what they might be doing later.  Algebra took a big hit here as did the current iteration of technical education- which was particularly interesting because this was an older group (one Australian student, one Iraq veteran and one student in his mid twenties, all in engineering programs). The last group also focused on literacy- but technological literacy. They felt that in a flat world,being unable to mediate the technology is unacceptable.  The education system needs to catch up if we are to prepare people capable of creative problem solving.

For students from wildly diverse backgrounds, ages and levels of experience, in their first semester of school,  with minimal preparation, their insight was amazing. I left class completely charged.  Days like this are why I became a teacher.

December 5, 2008

Diversity and Inclusion…

Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Support Services,Uncategorized,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 4:23 pm

I am going to take a short break from Ruby Paine and the issues around poverty and educational performance to share the videos we have been posting on the Academic Support Services website celebrating the diversity of the human condition in honor of Inclusive Schools week. Enjoy!


Get Back Up!

This is just inspirational…


Clever, amusing and thought- provoking…

September 22, 2008

What gets in the way…

Filed under: education,Post-secondary,Support Services,Uncategorized,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 2:23 pm

I have been thinking a lot about poverty and it’s relationship to education this summer. Now, granted, much of that is because of the work I am doing in grad school, but even so…the connection between poverty and educational performance is, well, significant would be understating it a bit.  I work at a small technical college. We have about 1600 students altogether, scattered at various sites around the state. We have an active TRiO program serving just over 200 students altogether.  Many of our students are first generation college students, and many of them are low income. Many of our students are both- which poses a unique set of challenges relative to college success. Over the next few weeks, I am going to ponder some of those challenges. This week, a look at some data- taken straight from the Census Bureau via the revised edition of A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne.

  1. In the United States in 2006, the poverty rate for all individuals was 12.3% For children under the age of 18, the poverty rate was 17.4% and for children under the age of 5, 20.4% (Us Census Bureau 2007). At Vermont Tech, close to 25% of our student population is eligible for Pell Grant funding- which means they meet the low income guidelines.
  2. There were 7.7 million poor families (9.8%) in 2006, up from 6.4 million (6.7%) in 2000 (US Census Bureau 2007)
  3. The foreign born population in the United States has increased 57% since1990 to a total of 30 million. In 2000, one out of every five children under the age of 18 was estimated to have at least one foreign born parent. Immigrant children are twice as likely to be poor as native born children. Among children whose parents work full time, immigrant children are at greater risk of living in poverty than native born children. (National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University, 2002)
  4. Regardless of race or ethnicity, poor children are much more likely than non-poor children to suffer developmental delay and damage, to drop out of high school, and to give birth during the teen years. (Miranda 1991)
  5. Poverty prone children are more likely to be in single parent families( Einbinder, 1993) Median female wages in the United States at all levels of educational attainment are 30-50% lower than male wages at the same level of attainment. (TSII Manual, 1995, based on US Census data, 1993)
  6. Poor inner-city youths are seven times more likely to be the victims of child abuse and neglect than are children of high social and economic status. (Renchler 1993)
  7. Poverty is caused by interrelated factors: parental employment status and earnings, family structure, and parental education.  (Five Million Children, 1992)
  8. Children under the age of five remain particularly vulnerable to poverty. In 2006, children under five living in families with a female householder and no husband experienced a poverty rate of 53.7%, more than five times the rate for children in married-couple families. (US Census Bureau, 2007)
  9. the United States child poverty rate is substantially higher than- often two to three times higher- than that of other major western industrialized nations.
  10. In 2006, the following racial percentages and numbers of poor children were reported:
    United States Number of Children in Poverty in 2006 Percentage of Children in Poverty
    All Races 12,896,000 17.6%
    Caucasian 7,908,000 14.1%
    Hispanic* 4,072,000 26.9%
    African American 3,777,000 33.4%
    Asian American 360,000 12.2%
    Native American 194,000 31.9%

    *Hispanics may be of any race

    **Native American numbers from 2000 Decennial Census (not counted in 2006)

    Source: US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics

This is a lot of information to digest- and you may wonder why child poverty numbers matter in a college setting. They matter because these are our students. These are the students, who, if they get to us here in our rural ivory tower, are to be applauded and supported so that they can stay with us. Poverty is an insidious thing and the culture of poverty is hard to leave behind. The only sure way out is want and education. If they get to us, they have the desire. We can help with the rest- but we need to understand the challenge.

Take care all!


November 1, 2007


Filed under: education,Study skills,Support Services,Technology,Uncategorized,Vermont Tech — learningspecialist @ 6:34 pm

I was going to write about access stuff today and I may yet, but since yesterday was Halloween- one of my favorite times of year in my neighborhood- and the spirit of freebies is still upon me, I will share a couple of well recommended sites for downloading free software. the first one is called Game Giveaway of the Day

It has only recently started back up and has a nice list of games- mostly puzzle games now- with several that are suitable for younger children. The download process was simple and I now have a full featured demo version of a game called Arxon. I am sure I will enjoy it – if only for a little while.

There is a companion to this site called Giveaway of the Day that offers more utilitarian software choices- some of which are quite complex. There is a link to this site on the sidebar.

Antoher great resource is Software for Starving Students which give the downloader a CD full of great stuff- OpenOffice, Foxfire, some software deveoted to study skills like flashcards and a host of others. What is nice about it is that all these great programs are in one place- with links to the original site so you can see what you are getting. If you want to see the list of what is available you need to go to the Frequently Asked Questions Page. You don’t even have to be a student to appreciate some of the things the developers have gathered together. It is very cool.

Speaking of study tools, I came across another flashcard program, the Study Stack.   This is an online flashcard program, but it has much more! You register- it is free- and enter the data you need to memorize. Once you have done that, you can access that data through flashcards, a hangman game, a crossword puzzle…you can even have it sent to your cell phone so that you can practice in those odd moments between class or while you are waiting from someone.

Freebies are fun to find and share…let me know how you like these and if you have any others!


Next Page »

Blog at