Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why quizzes are better than most study strategies

In the New York Times article, How Tests Make Us Smarter, author and professor Henry L. Roediger III discusses the idea that the best way to ensure learning occurs is by utilizing the principle of spaced repetition. 

Spaced repetition

Spaced repetition is the term used when you allow a period of time to lapse before reviewing new information.  For example, if you have to learn a new procedure at work, study the provided materials.  Wait a couple of days and study the materials again.  The next day, study it one more time.  Spacing out the input of information allows yours brain to integrate the information.

Quizzes better than highlighting

However, what this author discovered in his research, is that just reviewing material does not have the same effectiveness as being quizzed or tested on the material.  What he discovered is that "low-stakes" quizzes where students are quizzed but their grade is not affected, significantly impacted the students' recall of the information, even months later.

Surprisingly, researchers have also found that the most common study strategies - like underlining, highlighting, and rereading - create illusions of mastery but are largely wasted effort, because they do not involve practice in accessing or applying what the students know.

See One, Do One, Teach One

Quizzes and simulations require the recall of information differently than simply studying the materials.  An effective learning model is "see one, do one, teach one" where you first observe (learn) a concept, you apply the concept, and then you teach someone else how to do it.

[Testing] shouldn't be a white-knuckle finale to a semester's work, but the means by which students progress from the start of a semester to its finish ....

If you are a parent or a teacher, I encourage you to read this article and consider applying this principle of quizzed space repetition into your classroom or learning environment.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mental Jogging Book Review

After the reading the book My Voice Will Go With You, I became interested in one of the techniques - that of identifying multiple solutions to a problem.  Finding new ways or variations on old ways can be a challenge as many people get stuck in a rut.  It is easy to take the same route to work or follow the same set of activities in the morning.

Mental Jogging

Another book I learned about is Mental Jogging by Reid J. Daitzman.  The full title of the book is Mental Jogging:  365 Games to Enjoy, to Stimulate the Imagination, to Increase Ability to Solve Problems and Puzzles.  This book, published in 1980, is no longer in print.  However, it is available from booksellers via

As the title clearly states, the book features several exercises (one per day) to think about as you're commuting to work or taking a break.  The exercises could also be adapted for the group activities. 


I selected one exercise from each month for this list.

  1. Six or more ways to avoid spilling coffee while driving.
  2. Eight or more things you could do if you weren't watching television.
  3. Seven or more important news events of your parents' lifetime.
  4. Six or more non-dietary uses of cheese.
  5. Eight or more things we couldn't do if we didn't have fingernails.
  6. Six or more reasons why blind people ski.
  7. Six or more ways to look at yourself in the mirror.
  8. Eight or more words in any language spelled the same backwards as forwards.
  9. Seven or more characteristics of your ideal space monster.
  10. Six or more reasons why it should be legal to be married to more than one person at a time.
  11. Six or more new rules of basketball if there were two balls in play simultaneously.
  12. Eight or more reasons why some doctors charge more for the same services than other doctors.

Possible Answers

In addition to the exercise prompts, the author provided answers from groups that he interviewed.  For example, for the exercise "Seven or more reasons for not brushing your teeth," some answers given were:

  • It's boring.
  • May cause tennis elbow.
  • Someone told you false teeth are sexy.
  • You need the dime the tooth fairy will bring you.
  • You're allergic to water.

As you can see, possible answers can include those that are nonsensical or from the fantasy realm.  The idea is to stimulate your creative thinking.  In brainstorming, coming up any possible solution is the first step in refining the list to only include realistic, reasonable solutions.

Mental Calisthenics

Mental Jogging also includes twelve mental calisthenics (one for each month) that are more complex mental tasks.  The one below is from January.

Sit in a comfortable position, take three deep breaths, and exhale very slowly from you nostrils.  Close your eyes and imagine the color RED, then ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE, VIOLET.  Arrange the colors alphabetically, from left to right, in your mind.  Make them disappear one at a time.  Open your eyes.  Process with a Mental Jogging exercise.

If you are looking for ways to increase your speed of thinking or the volume of ideas as solutions or creative approaches, I encourage to buy Mental Jogging and try some of these exercises. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Create Storyboards Using Post-it sticky notes

In my post on becoming a sticky note ninja, I shared different ways that you can brainstorm either individually or in groups using Post-it notes.  You can also use Post-it notes to create a storyboard for a video, story, or presentation.  A storyboard is a series of still images that depict the different scenes of a story.

Origin of Storyboards

Traditionally, storyboards have been used in the film industry to plan the different events in a plot, decide how best to film each scene, and plan what is required for each aspect of creating the movie.

Walt Disney is attributed as the creator of the use of storyboards.  Even before he created the Disney company, Walt used storyboards to rough out his animated, short cartoons.  By the time he created Snow White, his company was using storyboards to represent the complete, full-length movie.  By 1939, storyboards made the transition from animate to live action, and Gone With The Wind was the first live action film to utilize this technique.  Since then, most movies have relied on the storyboarding technique as a pre-production tool.

Business Presentations

More recently, storyboards have been used in the planning process for business presentations. The idea of using a visual space to plan presentations is extremely productive as it helps ensure that the presentation flows well.

The process is easy to integrate into your current workflow as it relates to presentation design.
  1. Print whatever slides you already have as 9 slides per page (PowerPoint) or 16 slides per page (Keynote).  This will print your slides at a size that is the same as a 1.5x2.0 inch Post-it note.  Thus, you can add extra notes to represent additional slides that may be needed.
  2. Tape all of the slides onto a whiteboard or other smooth surface (like a back of a door or a window).
  3. Re-arrange slides as needed while inserting Post-it notes.  
  4. Capture the new arrangement using your smart phone camera.
  5. Carefully pull-off the slides in order so that you can use the stack as a reference when working on your computer.  If you did the planning in your office, you may be able to view the whiteboard from your computer.

Below is the capture of my presentation which is available at and embedded below.

Apps for Storyboards

Should you choose to stay in the electronic realm for your planning, these apps will be helpful.  Both Keynote and PowerPoint are presentation apps that can let you rearrange slides in a slide sorter view.  This is not a comprehensive list of apps or online sites to create storyboards, but it does represent apps that I have experimented with.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pixar Storytelling Prompts

Pixar is an entertainment companies that focuses on high quality, full length animated movies using computer generated characters.  Pixar has a successful track record with hits such as Up, Toy Story, Cars, and Brave.

A quick search of "pixar storytelling rules" will return many pages that feature the 22 rules that Pixar uses to create a story. 

My favorite of these rules is one that focuses on the basic structure of the story.  The Pixar story formula is designed to quickly generate a story that can then be developed into a full length movie full of details and subplots.

The Pixar storytelling formula:

  1. Once upon a time there was ____. (character is introduced)
  2. Every day, ____. (the everyday, normal world is explored)
  3. One day, ____. (something happens to interrupt normality)
  4. Because of that, ____. (the character takes steps to restore normality)
  5. Because of that, ____. (instead, the character is drawn into more complexity)
  6. Until finally, ____. (the character conquers whatever he is battling and achieves success)

Star Wars

  1. Once upon a time there was a teenager living on a desert planet.
  2. Every day, he dreamed of adventured, but couldn't find this on the planet.
  3. One day, he discovered that a droid contained a secret message for someone else who lived on the planet.
  4. Because of that, he searched for that person whom he also discovered was of interest to the evil rulers of the empire.
  5. Because of that, the boy's aunt and uncle (with whom he lived) were killed and he was forced to leave the planet in order to save the empire.
  6. Until finally, he successfully destroyed the death star and saved the princess.

The Godfather

  1. Once upon a time there was a son of a mobster.
  2. Every day he dreamed of leaving the "family business" and becoming a successful businessman and politician.  This was his father's dream too.
  3. One day, the father was seriously injured as the result of an attempted assassination.  
  4. Because of that, the son felt compelled to retaliate on behalf of his father.
  5. Because of that, he was drawn in to the family business.
  6. Until finally, in order to assure the family's position within the mafia families, he eliminated all of his enemies and replaced his father as the godfather.

You can also use this technique for a nonfiction story.


  1. Once upon a time there was a group of people who were forced to become slaves for the ruling class.
  2. Every day, they dream of freedom, which was actually prophesied by a patriarch in the past.
  3. One day, to avoid being killed by soldiers who were order to kill all newborn males, a mother hid her baby in a small basket in the river.
  4. Because of that, the princess of the country found the boy, fell in love with him, and adopted him as her own son.  Even though he was now a prince, he still remembered the pain felt by his own people.
  5. Because of that, he killed a man who was attacking one of his own people.  He had to leave the country and stayed away for 40 years.  It was here that he received divine instruction to return to the country.
  6. Until finally, he oversaw several supernatural events and freed his people from oppression.

Finally, this storytelling formula can also be used when making the case for a business process change.

What Happens When You Assume

  1. Once upon a time there was a company where all the employees worked on computers.
  2. Every day, they confidently stored their files on network (cloud) drives so that their files would be protected in the event their computers crashed.
  3. One day, a computer in the server room experienced an electrical failure which generated sufficient smoke to trigger the sprinkler system, which effectively put out the fire, but also damaged the equipment.
  4. Because of that, the IT professionals discovered that that the automatic backup routines had been failing mid-way through all of the employee data.  They always assumed that the routines were working.
  5. Because of that, several employees lost business data that could not be recovered, because it was never actually backed up.
  6. Until finally, IT redesigned is server configuration to provide offsite storage and verification that backup routines were actually running.

Whether you are telling a bedtime story, writing a novel, or developing a business presentation, I encourage you to try this storytelling formula.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Unpacking my Android tablet

A couple of posts ago I discussed the differences between the Google Android and Apple iOS models.  One of the advantages of Google's model is that the software can be used by a number of manufacturers, resulting in inexpensive products.

I purchased a Q8 7-inch tablet with 8GB of memory and 800x480 pixels.  The price was $39.95, but I discovered that I had a PayPal credit for $9.95, thus my total out-of-pocket price was $30.00.  As a bonus I received a stylus (valued at $3.00).

There was no name brand on the box - anywhere!  However, the tablet was packaged well.  The battery was only partially charged, so the first step was allowing the battery to charge to 100%.  The battery charges fast on this particular tablet.  One feature I like about Android is that you can see which apps are contributing to battery usage.  I discovered, for example, that Facebook was continually updated and utilizing 40% of the battery since the previous charge.

My Q8 is about the size of the iPad Mini (approximately 5x7 inches).  I don't have an iPad Mini, but will sneak my Q8 into an Apple store and try to get a picture comparing the sizes.

If you are looking for an inexpensive tablet, either as a second screen or as a starter tablet for your children, definitely consider this one.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review - How To Be Like Walt

Walt Disney is the famous name behind Mickey Mouse, Disney Land, Disney World, and namesake of the Disney company, which includes the ABC and ESPN networks, movie studios, and real estate throughout the world.  When people win a professional sporting event, they often exclaim, "I'm going to Disney World!"

How To Be Like Walt was written by Pat Williams with Jim Denney.  The authors interviewed a variety of people who knew and worked with Walt Disney.  Additionally, the authors reviewed a significant amount of archival material.  While the book is a biography of Walt Disney, the authors gleaned lessons from each of the major milestones in Walt Disney's life.  

Walt was an incredibly driven and creative individual.  He pioneered animation techniques still used today.  Beyond simple animation, he envisioned a time when people would watch full-length animated movies, not just a short cartoon.  This was completely unheard of when Walt started in the animation business.

Early Disney Animated Shorts

Below are two animated shorts created by Walt Disney.  Although known as the creator of Mickey Mouse, Walt created Oswald the Rabbit at an earlier time in his career.

The Disney Approach

Like all of us, his approach and decisions were often based - at least in part - on his personal life experiences. Born in a family with a father who frequently tried and failed at various jobs, Walt was not afraid to start again when a business venture failed.  When Walt was animating Oswald the Rabbit, he became mired in a bad financial deal.  As a result, he vowed to never work for someone else again.  Hence the Disney company was born.

Walt's creativity expanded beyond simple animation and entertainment.  He sought to use entertainment as a vehicle for knowledge.  Thus, early on he envisioned the Epcot City of Tomorrow and used his influence and creativity for educational purposes.

Man in Space

In 1955, after discussing space travel with Wernher Von Braun, one of the architects of Hitler's and subsequently the United States' missile programs, Walt created a movie entitled Man in Space.  This presentation of space travel to the moon was influential in President John F. Kennedy's declared mission to put a man on the moon by 1970. 

Lessons from the book

The authors of How To Be Like Walt devote the end of each chapter to a life lesson drawn from the chapter.  Unlike many books that simply state an obvious lesson at the end of the narrative, these lessons are illustrated by numerous additional examples from Walt's life.  Additionally, there are usually several specific character traits listed to support each lesson.  The lessons are:

  1. Live the adventure.
  2. Be a salesman.
  3. Dare to do the impossible.
  4. Unleash your imagination.
  5. Become an animated leader.
  6. Take a risk!
  7. Deal with loss.
  8. Plus every experience ("plus" was Walt's word for continual quality improvement).
  9. Be a person of stick-to-it-ivity.
  10. Become a sponge for ideas.
  11. Ask yourself "How about tomorrow?"
  12. Live for the next generation.
  13. Build complimentary partnerships.
  14. Stay focused!
  15. Accept your mortality.
  16. Make family your top priority.
  17. Be the person God made you to be.

If you are interested in examples of creativity, inspiration for life, motivation for success, or simply enjoy a good story, I encourage you to read How To Be Like Walt.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My Cheap Android Tablet

When I was in 8th grade I took a computer class.  The nature of topics covered in elementary computer classes varies from generation to generation as technological innovation keeps advancing.  My computer class was in 1984, so we had limited technology - compared to today - and used BASIC programming language.

Recently I met one of my classmates from 8th grade.  He told me that back in 8th grade, I pointed to all the computers and said, "One day, you'll have a device in your pocket that is able to do a lot more than these computers."  I wish I had pursued that dream, because I'd be a billionaire today. 

The tablet - between the laptop and the phone

The best working definition of a tablet that I've seen is from Walmart:
Tablet PCs are compact, ultra-portable entertainment devices that let you read email, surf the internet, read eBooks, view photos, play games, listen to music and watch video files. Most tablets are based on a smaller operating system, which allows you to purchase and download additional applications from supported stores. 

 The vast majority of tablet computers, or tablets, either use the Apple's iOS operating software or Google's Android software.  The approaches of the two companies is completely different and the result has been a transformation of how we approach portable computing.

Apple only uses the iOS operating system in its own devices.  At the time of this writing those include the various models of iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, and iPad Mini tablets.  The advantage of this closed system is that the quality of software is more consistent and higher.  Additionally, because Apple manufactures its own products, the products are usually more technologically advanced with better cameras, touch surfaces, and so on.

Google has licensed Android so that anyone can use it with a device.  While the standard software works the same on any Android Device, the price can vary based on the quality of materials used to manufacture the tablet products.  Lower-priced tablets can be expected to have fewer features such as a high-resolution camera, storage space, or stronger case.

Cheap tablets

Not too long ago I received an e-mail from Walmart listing a variety of tablets in the $70 range.  I was intrigued and performed some online searches for Android tablets.  I was surprised to find tablets as low as $30.  I purchased one, which I will be describing in a future post.  Below are the results from two companies, T-mart (where I purchased my tablet) and Amazon.

For the price of dinner out for a family, you can own a tablet.  This has a lot of potential because now this technology can be available to almost anyone. 

I will be sharing my experience with my $30 tablet and comparing it with my higher-functioning iPad tablet.  For me, learning about the Android tablet is new, and each software approaches tasks differently.  Additionally, I expect that there will be a difference in the capabilities of my new tablet when compared to the iPad. 

Note:  I am an affiliate for Tmart, so if you purchase from there, I will earn a small commission.