College-Searching? Here’s a Tool to Help


Which direction?

Whither shall I go?

Those searching for the perfect college often feel overwhelmed, but here’s a tool that can help bring clarity to the process: PossibilityU, which claims to help students “find the schools that fit – academically, socially, and financially.”

The site is free, and aims to put a vast amount of existing college data to practical use. You can read more about PossibilityU on the Chronicle of Higher Education, in a piece that was published earlier this year:

Netflix-Like Algorithm Drives New College-Finding Tool (Jonah Newman)

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To Ignite Interest in Chemistry: Online Periodic Table Resources


Periodic Table

Building excitement

Anyone struggling to learn the Periodic Table of the Elements in Chemistry class will appreciate these fantastic learning websites! (And even if you’re not a Chemistry student, your interest is liable to be sparked . . . )

This beautiful resource, Periodic, brings the elements to life with a sense of humor and “pictures, stories, and facts” – browse through the photographic examples for a pleasant and edifying journey:
[The site is the companion to a book, The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe (2009) by Prof. Theodore Gray.]

The Royal Society of Chemistry brings you this attractive Visual Elements Periodic Table site featuring podcasts and videos:

Los Alamos National Laboratory features a good basic-reference Periodic Table “for Elementary, Middle School, and High School Students”:

The Office of Science Education at the Jefferson Lab (Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility) also has a good learning site on the Periodic Table – scroll down the page for Elements games:

Image via / markmiller

7 Things to Do Your First Week of Class

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toy ducks

Put ’em in a row

The advent of the college term brings a flutter of activity and anticipation . . . but wait! Before you nestle down into your new routine, take a gander at this checklist and help yourself make sure the semester goes swimmingly:

  1. Buy all books and necessary e-supplements for class. This might seem obvious, but it’s important to have your materials in hand as soon as possible so you don’t fall behind in your assignments.
  2. Read the syllabus very carefully. Make note of your professor’s availability (office hours) and contact information; policies on attendance, late work, and computers or cell phones in class; and which projects will be assigned and when. The latter will help you to . . .
  3. Figure out how you’ll organize your time. I suggest using a calendar to record every assignment deadline right through the end of the semester. (See here for more on managing your time in college.)
  4. Figure out how you’ll organize your notes and study materials. Now is the time to purchase notebooks, binders, folders, and electronic storage. No one magic organization method will work for everyone, but I have observed, over the years, that my best students have been organized students. (See here for more on free organization and planning tools.)
  5. Form a technology “Plan B” in case your primary computer fails. Computers are not our friends, and many profs don’t accept late work. Thus you must have a plan in place for the last-minute crash, file corruption, or internet outage. Perhaps you have access to a roommate’s or family member’s computer; maybe you live on campus and may use a computer lab; perhaps a public library is nearby. In any case, plan your emergency computer backup plan NOW – before you get too far into the semester. I can’t stress this enough!
  6. Make note of resources your college offers, such as tutoring, organized study groups, library services, academic advising, counseling, and financial aid. These resources probably are easy to find on your college’s website; I suggest noting appropriate contact information and keeping it in a place you visit often. You may need to use those resources come mid-semester.
  7. Jump into the first week’s assignments right away! This is particularly important for online classes, in which students sometimes feel a lesser sense of urgency but in which deadlines tend to be frequent and intense. It’s a bad idea to be behind at the very beginning of class, so be sure to stay on top of your commitments.

Good luck and happy learning!

Image via / greyerbaby

Relaxation for Students

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nature and dog

Pause to enjoy your surroundings . . .

As we came out of a long Labor Day weekend, I reflected on the importance of rest and relaxation to a balanced, healthy individual. That includes the often-frazzled, sleep-deprived college student.

The fall semester’s just begun, but soon students everywhere will feel the pressure of an increasingly difficult workload, and they’ll seek outlets for their stress. Naturally, not all such outlets are healthy or advisable; and while I’m not a doctor, I do think it behooves students to keep, up their sleeves, a few healthy ways to relax . . .

*First, familiarize yourself with the campus counseling center in case you ever need it. I’ve referred to counselors a number of my own students who’ve told me, mid-semester, about hectic and stressful lives, traumatic situations and sudden personal loss. Students should keep in mind that generally they have access to professional help in these kinds of cases. Some colleges’ counseling centers may have companion websites, as well, addressing topics of concern.

*Try exercise. Working out always seems to help let off steam. So many campuses are so lovely, I’d suggest starting with a nice walk. Then, consider taking a fitness class of your choice, or as the weather cools, take advantage of the gym.

*Unplug. A 2010 study at the University of Maryland found college students who “unplugged” from their gadgets for just 24 hours experienced significant anxiety. I don’t have trouble believing this, and I find it hard to see how such a so-called (or maybe bona fide) “addiction” is healthy. (Are addictions ever healthy?)

Scents of addiction aside, though, consider that your time spent, say, texting and checking Facebook may seem to be joyful; but time spent on those tasks is taken away from something else that probably needs to be done, such as studying – and that does end up causing stress.

So to unwind, “hang up,” so to speak. Take a walk sans headphones or cell phone; notice your surroundings; people have written very good poems on birds, you know, and that composition had to start with observation. Be present in the world beyond the world of the machine.

*Search for relaxation advice. You can find other ways to relax on the web – one place with good tips is the “Stress Help Center” from Or if you’re still in your unplugged mode, go to the library and check out a relevant book.

Image via / hotblack

LiveBinders a Cool Tool, Plus a Window to Worthy Web Reading

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The web is wild . . . see how some have tamed it

Yes, you can find most anything on the internet, but is it worthy, DIY learners, of your time and energy?

That’s a great question and parenthetically, one I think is best addressed by exploring the world of information literacy, in addition to using librarians’ advice and services whenever possible. But when you’re on the web, out there alone . . . you’ll see that some websites, produced as they are by anyone (or many anyones), are exciting by this same token: perhaps a bit of wild west, but containing some gems and waiting to teach you something worthwhile.

LiveBinders is one such site. A tool that allows anyone to create virtual three-ring binders and share them with others, it’s popular with educators. In fact, I’d heard about it several times at higher-ed conferences, in the context of how nifty it is to prepare LiveBinders specifically for your students. And apparently, many K-12 teachers use it and share their work, too, making the site potentially a fantastic resource for young students, tutors, and homeschooling parents.

Learners of all ages, as well, might take a look and get lost awhile: though the curators of the information within are many, and of course can be anyone at all, such a site is certainly one exciting window into what’s worthy of reading on the web.

What windows to good web reading have you found?

Image via / acrylicartist

Free & Creative Study Tools

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Newfangled study tools for learners of all ages

Web digs keep turning up these nifty e-tools we couldn’t have imagined back in the “Mesozoic” college era of 20 years ago. Below are a few such tools that lend themselves to creative study and brainstorming:
Some learn best by hearing the material: try this yourself for study and collaboration purposes.
A cartoon-building tool that could help you to cement people, places, and events into your brain (see related post).
A good basic tool if you find mind-maps helpful in brainstorming and organizing your thoughts.
Create slick-looking, colorful and collaborative mind-maps. See also this post on Glogster.
More slickness: create engaging, interactive presentations for your projects.

As with so much of cyberspace, it would be easy to get lost in the fun for fun’s sake; but if you have a specific study goal in mind and a little sense of time management, these can be effective and enjoyable little helpers.

Image via / Grafixar

Related articles

5 Free Organization & Planning Tools for Students


Is disorganization your downfall? Has an assignment deadline ever slipped your mind due to plannermessy personal files? If so, you probably realize that you’ll save yourself unnecessary time and grief by figuring out how to get those files in order. Fortunately, some nifty free tools on the web can help you become a better-organized student.

Check out these options:

1. If you like an old-fashioned paper planner, here’s a site that allows you to print calendar pages month by month; you also may create a customized calendar with space for notes, if you wish:

2.       Soshiku is a tool designed to help high school and college students keep track of assignments. It allows you to organize assignments by class, and it will send you an email or SMS when deadlines loom:

3.       Ta-da Lists allows you to create simple to-do lists for yourself or to share. This would be handy for keeping track of your weekly assignments or for working on a group project:

4.       Toodledo offers an expanded array of options for your to-do list, such as a scheduler tool, alarm reminders, and search and sort features. Again, you can choose to collaborate with others:

5.       Remember the Milk is a robust personal task-managing tool. It’s probably most appropriate if you’re seeking a more comprehensive organizer for your school, work, and personal activities:

Image via mrg. bz / ppdigital

Students: How to Remember What You Learned This Term


Student studying

Ah . . . final exams are over and you’re ready to close the book on subject X and relax. School’s out, after all, and you deserve a break.

I hear you — but wait! By pausing to take just one more end-of-semester step, you can create a very helpful reference for yourself. Save this information and it’s quite likely you’ll be able to use it in studying for future classes, in compiling your résumé or portfolio, and perhaps even in writing requests for recommendation letters or scholarship applications.

Best of all, this end-of-term activity is fairly easy to do while classes are still fresh in your head:

For each class you had, compile a one-page summary of what you learned.

A few guidelines:

*if you have a course syllabus, start there. A syllabus typically lists the course objectives and a list of units and assignments, so you can use this information as an outline.

*whether or not you have a syllabus, go through your textbook and class notes unit by unit. Look for major concepts and lessons, taking note of what particularly challenged you and what particularly stood out for you in any way.

*make note of any special projects you did: perhaps a major research paper or oral presentation, for instance. Any such projects serve to build your skills (e.g., in writing, research, or verbal communication).

*you might include a brief reflection, as well: what did you practice repeatedly in the class? How do you think you improved? What were your major mistakes and frustrations? How might you build upon your progress in the future?

While these one-page summaries do indeed have practical applications, remember they are primarily for your own benefit (most likely, you’ll be the only one ever to see them). But the activity of processing your recent learning is worthwhile in any case; and considering that you already devoted hard work and time to learn, you owe it to yourself to “save” your academic memories in an efficient, organized way.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Best (Students) Never Rest?

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Sleeping with Bo

Sweet Slumber. (Image by Joi via Flickr)

This week, many students move out of a festive Thanksgiving weekend into an intense knuckle-down study season; after all, final exams loom in December.

Studying hard certainly is not unhealthy, and in fact I rather encourage it (as would your teachers and profs). Heed this advice, though: try to get proper rest into your study schedule. That’s not always easy at the college level, as anyone with a college degree can tell you. But it turns out all-nighters aided by massive doses of caffeine are not too good for you . . . so know when to say “when” and go to bed.

Before you do, check out this interesting recent commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education about why students need more sleep. Its author, a professor at Brown University, directs studies in a sleep-research lab, and her advice bears repeating: “College students should sleep more.”

“Forget A’s, B’s, and C’s—What Students Need Is More Zzzz’s,” by Mary A. Carskadon, 11/20/11.

Also see here for a related piece on this blog: “Better Sleep, Better Student?

Daydream Believers Reap Benefits

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Cloud whisps

Wandering Aimlessly? (Image by turtlemom4bacon via Flickr)

I’ve had the good fortune to know a number of talented creative professionals (such as professors, artists, graphic designers, and writers), and we’ve discussed how our best ideas seem to materialize when we’re absentmindedly strolling in the park or taking a shower. In other words, we’ve noticed that we’ve often had these little flashes of insight when we’re not trying to think about anything in particular.

Jonah Lehrer’s recent article “The Importance of Mind-Wandering,” published in Wired Science Blog The Frontal Cortex, discusses this idea. First, note our natural mental tendency is to daydream; in fact, according to a recent psychological study cited in the article, our mind is wandering almost half of our waking hours! So, fellow learners, now that you know it’s not just you whose mind drifts, read on to put yourself in a position to reap from your wanderings, and to observe some general advice concerning daydreams, boredom, focus, and creativity.

1. Yes, you do need to focus at certain times. I don’t think this article or related studies are meant to convey that it’s always appropriate to “space.” You realize you should be fully attentive when you’re using knives in the kitchen, for instance, and during occasions such as classroom lectures or business meetings. If someone is imparting information you need to know, of course, common sense dictates that you need to focus then.

2. This could be tough, given what I understand of media addiction in young people: don’t feel the urge to fill your “empty” moments immediately with something like texting. It’s okay to be bored, and such boredom can actually lead to great insight and creativity . . .

3. . . . That is, if you become conscious of the insight. Lehrer notes “letting the mind drift off is the easy part,” but it’s important to reap the benefits of mind-wandering by being aware enough to recognize the insights you’ve had.

In fact, if you take a creative writing class, you’re likely to be encouraged to keep a small notebook for those random moments when inspiration strikes. A creative person is constantly attuned to the little things in everyday life that some may tend to overlook; but those who successfully receive a flash of inspiration and do something productive with it are those who are aware of, and able to capture, that inspiration.

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