Saturday, March 31, 2007

EduBlogger Event 07!

Hey guys, here is some more information about the EduBlogger Event going on right now. Note that if you are in the Eastern Time Zone, you have to add 3 hours from these times. So my post will appear at 5PM (not 11AM as I said before, apparently I was confused).

It´s all about new & revolutionary education concepts & ideas - meet speakers and attendees in the comment box for great conversations.

WHEN: Saturday, 03/31/07

WHERE: Steli Efti´s Supercool Blog

WHAT: New Post and Speaker Every Half Hour
First Session: 10am - 1pm Pacific Time (GMT -7hrs)
Second Session: 2pm - 5pm Pacific Time (GMT -7hrs)


10:00 - hj barraza on Decentralised Learning Services for Developing Countries

10:30 - Jon Bennett on Differentiation for Dummies

11:00 - Florence Meichel on New technology and knowledge accessibility

11:30 - Peter Haslam on The Need for Self-Directed Learning

12:00 - Liz Strauss on The Ergonomics of You

12:30 - Michael Beck on Long Term Memory / Human Computer Storage Techniques

- break -

02:00 - Joshua Hwang on Zen of Studying

02:30 - TONNET on Socialnetworking Phenomena & the Impact on Education

03:00 - Pat Aroune on Community of practice as a model for change in today's schools

03:30 - Steve Dembo on Is anonymity critical to the success of the edu blogosphere?

04:00 - Steli Efti on The 7 lessons we learned at school that could possibly ruin our lifes

04:30 - Tiara Shafiq with a bonus post

05:00 - Open discussion about education...

Bring a link to leave that shares something you know about education, learning & life!

Let´s Rock´N´Roll!

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

EduBlogger Event07?!

I am pleased to announce that yours truly, Joshua, will be taking part in a virtual education event, EduBlogger Event 07, this Saturday, March 31st. And of course, you are invited.

So the first question: What does this mean?

All day Saturday, people on the educational blogosphere (yeah, I said it) will be posting various topics for discussion at the Supercool School blog, and then there will be an online discussion in the comments section regarding the post.

Second question: Is this for real?

Hell yes! Check out the post on Steli Efti's site to get some more information. My post will come at 11AM Eastern time (2PM Pacific), and I'll be around to answer questions and discuss the "Zen of Studying".

I'd like to thank Steli Efti for hosting this event, and for inviting me to post. It's going to be a great one, so come check it out!

This Saturday! Be there! You don't even need pants!

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What this site is about

If this is your first time here or you'd just like some reminding, I'll give you the scoop on Learning, The Gravy Way.

This is a site where Danny and I (Joshua) try to offer students advice on how to achieve more academically and with greater ease and enjoyment. Once in a while, we may even have some tips or musings on life in general.

While Danny and I have differing writing styles, we hope that they complement each other: aiding others in divergent ways.

The best way to understand what this site is about, however, is to read it! So go for it. Don't worry, we'll be here.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Finding flow in your work

Yesturday, I had the pleasure of leading a discussion on 'how to live in the present moment' with some lovely ladies at a Goal-Oriented Living Club meeting (you will find this post on the club's website as well). This post covers the some salient points of the discussion (of those that I remembered or wrote down). And for your benefit has been slightly modified in order to make it more web- and reader-friendly.

Happiness is one of those goals for which everyone seeks. I've never yet met the person who does not genuinely want to be happy. However how are we to attain it? Often, it is said that one of the keys to happiness is living in the present moment. In fact, this teaching has roots that spread throughout time and religions. Two examples that are readily forthcoming are Zen Buddhism and Christianity.

The essence of Zen is to gain an appreciation for living moment-to-moment, to understand the "infinite moment". Koans, such as "what is the sound of one hand clapping?", are invoked in order to have one reflect deeply on these questions; this reflection becomes so deep that the meditator becomes fully engrossed in the moment, hopefully to reach enlightenment. More on meditation and Buddhism later.

The Beatitudes from the book of Matthew reveal a similar message:
"So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [...] Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Ideally, this sort of contentment would come as easily as breathing, would be as natural as growing; however, most of us are quickly distracted from the now by thoughts of the future and past. Yet surely there must be some way to tap into this power of the present moment.

This is where "flow" comes in.

(This term is not my own, reference available upon request, however it does describe what we will be dealing with for the next bit quite nicely.) Flow is what comes about when you are fully engaged in an activity: one that captures most, if not all, of your attention. Such examples include, playing/listening to music, exercising, doing crosswords, writing, cooking, dancing, meditating, the list goes on. Usually such an activity is enjoyable because it is challenging, while not being frustrating.

In engaging in activities that evoke flow, we hope to get in touch with the same awareness of now that monks engage in while meditating. Though it may not seem like it initially, there are concrete gains to be had from meditaion.

You may recall that there was scientific convention in 2003 where the Dalai Lama advocated (as he still does) the benefits of meditation and scientific inquiry into the same. Of course, research was done as well:

Last year Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin and a conference presenter, used an fMRI machine to map the brain of monk Matthieu Ricard.

While Ricard, a monk with over 30 years' experience in contemplative practice, engaged in what Buddhists call compassion meditation, Davidson measured the activity in his brain. The pictures showed excessive activity in the left prefrontal cortex (just inside the forehead) of Ricard's brain.

Generally people with happy temperaments exhibit a high ratio of activity in the left prefrontal cortex, an area associated with happiness, joy and enthusiasm. Those who are prone to anxiety, fear and depression exhibit a higher ratio of activity in the right prefrontal cortex.

But the degree to which the left side of Ricard's brain lit up far surpassed 150 other subjects Davidson had measured. No one knows whether Ricard might have exhibited the same results before he became a monk. But given that his readings were off the chart for happiness, Richardson believes that studying the minds of meditating monks can help us learn how meditation can mold our brains to develop happier and less-afflicted temperaments.

(Source: Wired)

What am I getting at here? Our "flow" is one form of meditation that will allow us to access this type of happiness. Flow may allow us to rewire our brains for a higher basal level of happiness.

Before I jump into how we may make use of flow, as a side note I'd like to ask: Do goals push people from this present moment happiness by striving for a non-existent future?

I would say no. Although goals are set for a future point in time, your goals should enrich your present moment. In thinking about them and in the process of accomplishing them, you can more easily practice that flow. In a way, the goals mediate your entry into these present-moment-enriching activities. Further, your thoughts regarding your goals should enrich you right now; goals are not valuable if they only fulfill you once they are accomplished.

As a personal example, one of my goals is to have a beautifully crafted essay to submit to a philosophy magazine here at Queen's University (by March 31). My pleasure will not only come about once I have completed this work, this essay engages me whenever I write or even think about it: this goal enriches my now.

It sounds so appealing for those activities that we do for recreation. Is there a way to get this flow into our work? To put a spin on that: Can we make our flow times more productive?


In the same way that we have found something within engaging activities to flow with, it is possible to find this type of attribute in our work. It is in the framing of the topic, or how we look at it.

Back to my philosophy essay example, some may view the essay as work, something to be dreaded over and to be procrastinated upon. However, the creativity that is allowed to me, the challenge that it brings, does not allow me to think of this essay in a negative light.

In a similar way, we may bring a fresh perspective to our work. It is possible to find something within your math project, history essay, biochemistry textbook, to engage you.

Ah, I can already hear the scoffing even across the vast expanse of the internet. Hold on for a second.

This comes a lot more smoothly once you open your mind to it. So you are asking: "how can I find flow in a subject as boring as biochemistry/history/whatever?" Maybe it will not come from the material itself, but from the process of reading and reviewing. In focusing purely on your text, you are bringing yourself to a different level of awareness. During a different activity, say playing music, try to notice how you feel while in that flow state then bring it to your work. It is something you have to experience to understand.

Another tip to help you get into this flow state (with work or with anything): Remember that all work you do is productive. Don't worry about doing a perfect job right away.

Initially, do what you want, when you can, how you can. Don't worry about not completing enough or every little thing. In thinking about all these other things you are detracting from the essence of what you are doing, you are losing the flow.

Just get in there. You can work about perfection later. If you have given yourself enough time you can tweak things afterwards: edit the introduction, review a section, practice measures 17-24, etc. And you will have enough time.

Why am I so confident that you will have enough time? Usually you don't have enough time because you delay on starting it. Why do you delay? Generally, because you are worried you will (a) not do a perfect job or (b) you hate it. If you start with small expectations and by doing the parts you like initially, you will start to get into it ("the appetite comes with eating"), and you will do much more than you thought possible, even while enjoying it!

So try it! Seriously. This mentality is tremendously productive and fulfilling. If you have some questions or comments about it, feel free to email me or comment below and we can jive.

(One of the comments that I received before this post was that I didn't elaborate on how one can integrate this flow theory into practice. I tried doing that in this post; yet if you feel that it is still lacking, email me and I'll see what I can do. I find in most posts like these - mine and other's - that showing it's practice is the part that always needs the most elaboration.)

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Karl Iagnemma: Roboticist and Novelist

In an earlier life, and still now to a large extent, I have been guilty of compartmentalizing people based on their field of study or work. If someone is in the liberal arts, they must only be good at writing. If someone is in the sciences, they must only be good at memorization and analytical thinking. If someone is in drama, they aren't good at anything. Ouch! I'm just playing around.

While I've been learning that more and more people, maybe all people, are rich wells of varied abilities, I am still amazed at those people who can perform superbly in areas that greatly differ. My professor of the philosophy of medicine is not just an expert on this subject, but is also a hematologist.

In another clip from PBS's program, NOVA, MIT roboticist and acclaimed fiction novelist Karl Iagnemma (yanYEMma) is profiled. (The clip is about 10 minutes long and is viewable in a variety of formats.)

One of the amazing things to me is that he is not just a mediocre roboticist and novelist. He is outstanding in both fields. I won't ruin it all for you, but his book is quite popular and he is working in collaboration with NASA on a robot to go on Mars.

This profile is particularly encouraging because many people - myself included - have a desire to excel in more than just their field of study. Karl Iagnemma shows us that such a goal is definately attainable. We do not always have to be boxed in by our studies.

On a level closer to home, although our school work can be time-consuming, we should try to delve into our other interests. This isn't just to expand one's area of expertise, which is awesome too, but also to keep us sane and happy. In becoming engrossed in tasks that we enjoy doing, we get in touch with that pure present-moment happiness that we easily pass over.

It is a very zen idea, but I'm saving that for the next post. ;)

For now, go watch the video of the profile of Karl Iagnemma. It's quite inspiring.

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Forgotten Genius

Firstly, I'd like to apologize for my long absence. Due to schoolwork, job searching and a lot of other assorted goodness, I have been neglecting my other duties such as updating this website. For this, I am sorry. However, I would like to say that I will be updating more often now, even through the exam season. The next stint of updates will be directed towards informing you about specific topics in science that have piqued my interest. Hopefully, they will do the same for you.

Although this is quite late for Black History Month, I would like to draw your attention to noted chemist Percy Julian. Recently, NOVA, PBS's documentary-style science program, aired a documentary regarding his life, struggles and discoveries. Through the wonders of this internet age, we may easily (and freely) enjoy it online:

Forgotten Genius

It is quite compelling and inspiring to watch. Julian's story has it all: tension, explosions, perseverance, discovery, racism, money and more.

Here's a very brief summary: Julian grew up in the post-reconstructionist South of the United States; this was a time and place where racism abounded, even lynchings were regular. This documentary outlines his struggles to education and rise within the world of chemical synthesis. Throughout, race issues play a key role.

Why should you care about Percy Julian on a scientific basis?

Significance of Julian's work:

first to synthesize physostigmine: used to treat glaucoma among other things
first to efficiently synthesize progesterone (on an industrial scale): used in birth control pills
played key role in industrializing synthesis of cortisone: used to treat rheumatoid arthritis

Aside from the science aspects of this documentary, I found it notable how Julian's parents placed such a great importance of education. Almost to the extent of it bringing a type of liberation. In one way it did: it brought him prestige and opportunities that may have never come to a Black man of his day. Personally, I believe that education is the greatest investment one can make in their lives; in themselves or in others.

Of course there is the flip-side, had Julian been white or in a different place and time we would most likely have held the top scientific posts around the country.

The program later deals with the inequality in the sciences for Black people today. Although I will neither make any bold statements about why this may be nor will I play the blame game. I will point out that there is a large discrepancy between the proportion of Black scientists (at the Baccalaureate and Graduate levels) and the proportion of Blacks in the general population.

While we are pointing things out, there is also an underrepresentation of women in the sciences. As to why this may be is just as contentious as to the Black underrepresentation.

I must say that my unwillingness to take a stance on such issues is not because I have no stance, but because (a) I don't think this is the place for such arguments and (b) there are many, many facets to these issues that need further investigation. However, with that said, if you really want to have a discussion about this, there is a lovely place to comment below this post, and my inbox is always open.

If you enjoyed these learning tips and motivational strategies, maybe you'll enjoy the other posts. Please bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) or check out the archive/categories to the right. Better yet, tell a friend! (Click the envelope below this.)

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