Discipline

dis·ci·pline [dis-uh-plin] noun, verb

2. activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training
4. the rigor or training effect of experience, adversity, etc
http://dictionary.reference.com

The world is filled with amazing, explicable and inexplicable, events.  With science, you can dabble and play and discover and explore.  All the while, becoming more aware of the visible and invisible world around you.  Ideally, as we move through various science courses, becoming exposed to hurtling baby bottles, the glowing beauty of magnesium reacting in dry ice, test tubes of snails and elodea, and the fiery, brilliance of the Pillars of Creation, we develop more than a mastery of trivia.  The fact is our daily lives are interwoven with science when we cook, or drive, or simply breathe (or attempt to discern the real in the rhetoric of politics).

Science, though, is more than the flashy; there’s depth and breadth.  Science is comprised of disciplines.  It’s history is filled with trial and error, sustained effort, point and counter-point; it is filled with force of will.  I sometimes think this is lost in translation when I attempt to ooh and aah my students with this demo or that lab.  I become convinced of this when so many of them seek the easy answer simply to avoid using that mysterious bundle of electricity between their ears.

There are days I blame student apathy for this lack; this all too accurate Zits portrayal…

Other days, it seems more likely the flimsy facade of frustration.  (Pretty good alliteration, huh?  Mrs. Parsley would be pleased).  Sometimes the frustration is long-endured, but most of the time its the knee-jerk reaction to not getting something the first time; that classic riposte, “This is stupid.”

The ‘lack’ is not always effort or time spent studying.  More often, it is a lack of self-analysis, a lack of focus, a lack of efficacy.  Studying, like anything, can be done well or poorly.  Studying for long periods of time, reading the same passage in the book over and over, just doesn’t get it done.  Yet, so many students are stuck in this rut of studying for hours, carrying these habits to college, never recognizing the need to begin studying smarter.

Students need to learn to learn. Within discussions of study habits, the theme of procrastination is omnipresent.  This is the biggest cause of less being done.  It is also the easiest to fix.  Self-discipline plays a role, but it has more to do with recognizing that any project can be broken down into smaller parts; smaller tasks.  A basic of goal setting.  This is truly the realm of self-discipline: taking the time to break it down.  Once simplified, the tasks are do-able and harder to justify putting off.  Note taking is another change that often needs to be…adjusted.  Too many students want to write everything down; it’s too slow, there’s not enough time, there’s no processing.  Shorthand to the rescue.  Not my mom’s shorthand (though, that would have been really cool; the only symbol I use and teach to my students is ‘therefore’), but something personal.  Each student needs to develop a means of shortening words, using symbols as they can, to get the key points and not get bogged down in too many details.  Then there’s Cornell notes; the only way to take notes.  Now, I do like the summary at the bottom.  This is a fabulous self-assessment tool because if you can’t summarize the information into a few bullets (3-5 typical), you don’t get it.  It’s a forced processing of the concepts, but, it does lose some effectiveness if it’s put off.  Ideally, it should be done the same day the notes are taken.  As for the left-side division, it’s worthwhile when it’s used as a weekly self-quiz.  I’m less sold on the Cornell note thing being the only way.  If students process their notes daily and do self-quizzes weekly, a rigid structure of note taking is irrelevant.  Students are better off taking the effective components and putting their own spin on it.  My hope is that these little changes (plus a few more as needed by individuals, some out-rightly stolen from Cal Newport), will have a dramatic effect, letting them see first hand that studying does not have to be long and drawn out; helping them develop the perseverance and grit necessary to get through the tougher areas of any course.

When this happens, no, it doesn’t magically eliminate the drudgery, but it does give it context.  Science, and its history, are no longer a de facto result of happenstance.  The discipline of science is brought to the forefront; the ooh’s and aah’s become more than an appreciation of the moment.  They can become an appreciation of a field.

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