Resource List for Career Exploration

January 13th, 2012

How do you get high school students interested in a career in science? It all starts with exposure and image. Traditionally, high school is a time when realistic considerations of one’s future first come into play and related choices are made. Developmentally, the cognitive skills of these students are at an intersection where their current abilities, their sense of achievement and their thoughts about their future all come together. If they do not feel immediately successful at a task, they will often quit or move on to something else. Students at this level are busy establishing their identities, integrating the likes and dislikes of others, and weighing the relevance of outside influences. Ultimately, when they emerge from adolescence, they will be asked to make choices for their futures (e.g., choose a college and declare a major or enter the workforce). It is for this reason that it is so important to provide them with as much information about different job opportunities and exposure to careers in the STEM fields as possible. ATETV is one resource for this. Others include:

Career Cornerstone
The Sloan Career Cornerstone website provides some career information, profiles, video clips and advice on educational pathways to specific STEM Careers.

Careers in Welding
An American Welding Society and National Center for Welding Education & Training (Weld-Ed) web portal that profiles careers, offers fun facts and other information about welding, profiles companies and showcases videos.

Discover Engineering
From the site:”Engineering is not science. Engineers generally don’t “do” science. Science is about discovering the natural. Engineering is creating the artificial.” Tune in to the Discover Engineering Web site to learn what engineering is, read about various careers, try cool engineering activities and watch informational videos.

Dream It. Do It.
Dream It. Do It. is a nationwide effort supported by the National Association of Manufacturers, employers within the manufacturing economy and other groups around the country. Their Web-site offers a career toolkit and videos related to high-tech manufacturing jobs.

Engineer Girl
Aimed primarily at middle school girls, the Engineer Girl Web-site has profiles of women in engineering, discusses what classes should be taken in high school and explores engineering careers for women.

Engineer Your Life
The sister site to Engineer Girl, this site is a guide to engineering specifically geared to high school girls. This site is a place where they can go to read about their dream jobs and meet inspiring women.

Engineering K12 Center (American Society for Engineering Education)
eGFI is proudly brought to you by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). This group is committed to promoting and enhancing efforts to improve K-12 STEM and engineering education. On their site you can find out how to become an engineer, read through college information, and check out spotlights of people working in the field.

Gotta Have IT (National Center for Women & Information Technology)
NCWIT has multiple outreach campaigns and career information including Gotta Have IT is an all-in-one computing resource kit designed with educators’ needs in mind. A select set of high-quality posters, computing and IT careers information, digital media and more, the resource kit builds awareness and inspires interest in computing. Gotta Have IT is for all students, but is especially inclusive for girls.

I-SEEK Careers: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
I-SEEK is Minnesota’s career, education and job resource. Here you will find multiple ways to assess your skills and explore related careers, all the relevant information you will need on planning your education and tips on how to find a job.

Internet Science and Technology Fair
From October through February of each year, student teams apply technology to real-world problems when they participate in the ISTF. They form teams and complete online investigations in science, engineering, and other technical fields. Each team then gets the opportunity to work with a practicing scientist or engineer who acts as the team’s on-line technical advisor. The ultimate goal is that through this experience, the students will become more interested in science careers and understand the innovation process.

LifeWorks
An interactive career exploration web site for middle and high school students sponsored by the National Institutes of Health with information on more than 100 medical science and health careers by title, education required, interest area, or median salary. Alternatively, the “Career Finder” can be used to generate a customized list of careers especially suited for users’ skills and interests.

STEM Career
A brokering site that supports STEM advocates by providing information on STEM initiatives, student access, and career readiness.

STEM Career Depot

State-of-the-art career assessment and planning resources for everyone

Texas Instrument Student Zone
Texas Instrument offers STEM career resources for students to explore, STEM degrees, careers, courses, and projects.

The Fun Works
This project is a compilation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) career development information for middle school and early high school youth. The goal is to create a comprehensive career development resource that is inviting and engaging the diverse populations of middle and early high school students, that builds on their diverse interests, and draws them into a range of career exploration options and resources.

Virtual Skies
Produced by NASA for use in high schools and flight technology programs, Virtual Skies explores the worlds of aviation technology, air traffic management, and current research.

Vocational Information Center- Manufacturing Career Guide

Explore careers in Manufacturing with the following links to job descriptions, which include information such as daily activities, skill requirements, salary and training required. To learn more about the Manufacturing Industry, follow the related links below the career descriptions section.

Women Tech World
“A national on-line home for women technicians to connect with each other.” For those interested, this site offers information about various technical careers, profiles of current professionals and FAQs for females interested in pursuing STEM careers.

You Can Be Anything
A video and lesson plan using the power of media to give young people, particularly girls and young women, a very positive impression of the career opportunities available in information technology (IT) and science-related fields where technology plays a major role.

Help Wanted: Industrial Maintenance Technicians

January 6th, 2012

maintenance technician

A recent New York Times article offers some hopeful economic news, reporting that “for the first time in many years, manufacturing stands out as an area of strength in the American economy.” According to a December 2011 report from the Institute for Supply Management, manufacturing grew at its fastest pace in six months, and as the New York Times story goes on to say, “When the Labor Department reports December employment numbers on Friday, it is expected that manufacturing companies will have added jobs in two consecutive years. Until last year, there had not been a single year when manufacturing employment rose since 1997.”

And that, in turn, is great news for industrial maintenance technicians – the people who literally keep things running in manufacturing.

Think about it: Without smooth-running machines, there would be no manufacturing industry. And without industrial maintenance technicians, there would be no guarantees that machines would run smoothly. Whether it’s repairing pumps, fine-tuning motors, or doing preventative maintenance on engines and conveyor belts, industrial maintenance technicians play key roles in helping manufacturers gain efficiency and control costs.

If you’re mechanically inclined and enjoy working on a wide variety of different projects or if you’ve ever been called a “jack of all trades,” this might be a career path to consider.

Here’s a look at what’s included in a few of the numerous industrial maintenance training programs available at community colleges around the country:

The Advanced Integrated Technology program that ATETV visited this week at Madisonville Community College in Kentucky offers a specialized Multi-Skilled Industrial Technician training option, leading to an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree. The program is designed to provide students with the skills and knowledge needed for jobs in both the manufacturing and industrial sectors, and provides training that will enable graduates to perform a variety of different tasks previously performed by a number of field-specific technicians.

At Minnesota’s Riverland Community College, the Industrial Maintenance & Mechanics program students receive training in the maintenance and repair of industrial equipment including operation of lathes, mills, drills and small tools used for machine repair. According to the school’s website, programs focus on hydraulics, pneumatics, piping, sheet metal, electrical, bearings and seals, blueprint reading, preventative/predictive maintenance, safety and welding.

At Kilgore College in Texas, the Industrial Maintenance Program offers associate of applied science degrees as well as certificates of completion for careers in the industrial workforce. Launched in August 2008 at the request of local industry, the program today offers training that will lead to careers in large manufacturing companies as well as industrial machinery and maintenance technology.

The Industrial Maintenance Technician Certificate Program at Ohio’s Sinclair Community College provides students with training and skills needed to install, maintain and troubleshoot modern industrial machinery. Based within the college’s Automation and Control Technology Department, the program teaches students to solve practical maintenance problems as well as providing instruction in reading and interpreting mechanical drawings and interpreting maintenance publications.

People Skills Are Crucial to Technical Careers

December 16th, 2011

handshake

This week’s episode on ATETV demonstrated that it takes more than just technical know-how to succeed in the Information Technology field – people skills are also crucial to success.

In fact, last week we talked about Convergence Technology, which brings together various platforms – video, audio, data – into single sophisticated networks. Well, it turns out that our super-connected technologies also depend on super-connected technicians – and for that, communication and interpersonal skills are key. As tech consultant Eric Berridge recently wrote in a ComputerWorld.com blog post, “In order to architect and manage the systems that connect employees across departments, management and customers, [IT staffers] are going to need an intimate knowledge of not just how an organization operates, but how people communicate.”

People who understand people possess several important qualities. Listening skills, for example, are key and a sign of an “active listener” is the ability to offer insightful follow-up questions. IT employees with good people skills also share a collaborative outlook and are able to work with other staffers to successfully solve problems. They can also guide “non-techies” in understanding complicated computer issues, presenting and explaining complex technological material using every-day conversational language.

Several lesson plans highlighted on ATECentral are designed to help students develop these important soft skills. The Interpersonal Effectiveness Curriculum, for example, was created with the field of Manufacturing Technology in mind, but can be applied to other technical fields as well. Developed at the University of Washington, the lesson plan aims to provide participants with an opportunity to hone their interpersonal skills through interactive exercises in a team setting, with the end goals of understanding teamwork (such as establishing ground rules or avoiding making assumptions) and building communication skills (including asking effective questions and giving effective directions.)

Another Lesson Plan, The Toothpick Factory Project consists of a simulation game that takes students through a series of interactive exercises in which they run a company, and rates their abilities in several soft-skill areas including listening, working in teams, leading, adapting and speaking. As The Toothpick Factory Project notes, soft skills benefit both employer and employee: While employers benefit from well-rounded, high-performance workers, employees are empowered and better positioned for promotions and other opportunities.

As ComputerWorld sums it up, “[Today’s IT employees] are going to have to make sure systems are in line and reporting to each other, and map the technology to business processes so that employees can….improve practices on a daily basis. They’ll need to do all this and more….within the context of human communication.”

A High-Demand Career for Our Hyper-Connected World

December 9th, 2011

It’s almost hard to remember, but not so long ago, technologies handled one medium or accomplished one or two tasks. For example, each type of entertainment medium had to be played on a specific device: Video was played on a television, using some type of video player, music was played on a compact disc player and video games were played through some type of console. In the same way, each type of communication media used its own technology for transmission: voice conversation by telephone, e-mail via computer, and so on.

But as everyone now knows, devices can now interact with lots of different formats. So while the primary purpose of the Xbox video game console is still to play video games, it can also play back video and music and connect to the Internet. And, of course, cell phones are used for far more than just making phone calls, also functioning as personal music players, digital cameras and text messaging systems.

Convergence Technology brings together these various communications – voice, video and data – into a single network and it’s indispensable in today’s uber-connected world. And that makes Convergence Technology specialists indispensable as well. According to ATE’s Convergence Technology Center skilled specialists in the areas of Convergence Technology and Home Technology Integration are in great demand to design, build, test, secure and troubleshoot communication infrastructure and devices for both home and business markets.

As Copeland Crisson told ATETV in this week’s Episode, “A lot of students have been exposed to a lot of the [different] technologies, but they’ve never been exposed to the point at which these technologies come together.” Training programs like the Convergence Technology Program at Collin College in Frisco, Texas offer both degrees and certificates to prepare students for the workforce and for professional certification exams.

What does a Convergence Technology program of study look like? It generally begins with the basics – courses in Network Fundamentals and Routing Protocols and Concepts, as well as College Algebra. But it soon expands to include training in classes such as Digital Home Technology Integration, Wireless Telephone Systems, Information Storage Management and Operating System Security, among others. Students are also exposed to plenty of hands-on applications and real-world problem solving to get a firsthand look at how technologies come together.

“The jobs in this area are very attractive, whether building a network, maintaining a network or troubleshooting a network,” Dell Computer’s Glenn Wintrech told ATETV. And while the constantly-changing field means that today’s jobs may be obsolete within a few years, there’s no question that a new crop of jobs will be on the horizon.

As Cisco’s Corey Kirkendoll puts it, “Everybody has a computer, everybody wants to be networked and connected, so there’s always an opportunity. We are positive that there will be more jobs available than we can fill.”

Stop Procrastinating!

December 2nd, 2011

One of the big challenges facing students as they transition from high school to college is how to manage their time and structure their days – and how to avoid the peril of procrastination.

According to PsychCentral.com most everyone procrastinates at some point. As the website notes , “We put things off, especially things that are boring, lengthy, drudgery or might challenge us in some unexpected or unforeseen way.” Need some help adjusting to a challenging college workload? We selected a few of PsychCentral’s “10 Tips for Getting It Done Today.”

  1. Complete small tasks quickly rather than postponing them. The sense of accomplishment you get from successfully finishing the small assignment will help encourage you to take on larger and more complicated tasks.
  2. When you get to the larger, more complex tasks, break them down into smaller, more manageable parts. If you’re writing a lengthy paper, for example, compose just one section at a time. As PsychCentral points out, by breaking things into more digestible parts, you’re setting smaller, more realistic milestones. For example, writing a paper might have 5 or 6 milestones: selecting a topic; researching the topic; organizing notes into a paper outline; writing a rough draft; asking a friend to review what you’ve written; writing a final draft. Set a due date for each of these separate tasks to help stay on track and work backwards from your due date so that you’ll know where you stand each day and each week.
  3. Identify your best time of day to do your work– everyone has a “peak performance” time, whether it’s early morning, mid-day or later at night. Then start with the assignments that are the most boring and/or challenging. You’ll have more energy for the tougher tasks when you’re feeling refreshed.
  4. Treat school as if it were a job, and aim to accomplish your assignments and tasks within a set time frame, just as you would in the workplace.
  5. Stay organized. Keep all school-related materials organized and in one place and use some type of system for each class to keep track of the syllabus, class notes, handouts, etc. Locate a space in your home or room where you will keep all school-related items – notebooks, textbooks, research articles, equipment, etc. and create a way to keep track of all paper, whether it’s a 3-ring binder or file folders stored collectively in a single file box.

If you’re prone to procrastination, a daily to-do list, whether on paper or on an electronic device, can help you stay on track. At the start of every day, review the full day’s list of tasks, and also look at what lies ahead for the rest of the week. Be sure to keep your to-do list updated, crossing off the tasks that are completed and adding new things that need to be finished. Check out some of the many time management apps that are available, such as My Homework.

Remember, there’s no time like the present. “You will be no better motivated in the future than you are right now, at this very moment,” notes PsychCentral. Don’t wait to start an assignment until you’re “in the right mood – sometimes you have to do something even when you don’t feel like it, just to get it done.

Check out PsychCentral for more ideas to help you get organized and manage your time. And to learn about other apps that can make college life easier, check out these selections from the editors of Businessweek.com.

IT Certifications Help Employees Stand Out In a Crowded Marketplace

November 21st, 2011

Computer networks are integral to business and demand for employees in the field of Information Technology is expected to increase as firms continue to invest in new technologies. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook employment of computer network, systems and database administrators is expected to grow by as much as 30 percent by 2018 – much faster than the average for other occupations.

Want to stand out from the competition when pursuing an IT position? Look to certifications. “The job market today is highly competitive even in higher demand areas like information technology and networking,” says ATETV Advisor Gordon Snyder, Director of the National Center for Information and Communications Technologies at Springfield (MA) Technical Community College. “An effective way to distinguish yourself from others is to earn certifications in computers and networking, in combination with a degree. These certifications compliment academic work, showing a potential employer your knowledge, skills, ability and ambition.”

Certifications are offered through product vendors, computer associations and other training institutions, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics today, many employers regard certifications as the industry standard – and may even require employees to be certified. Certifications are also important for advancement.

We asked Gordon Snyder to recommend certifications that can help employees launch their IT careers – and advance their careers. Here are three he suggested, two entry-level and one advanced.

A+ Certification (entry level)

The A+ certification is globally recognized as the mark of a skilled entry-level technician and is a mandatory hiring requirement for a variety of entry-level IT jobs. An A+ certification demonstrates that an employee has acquired entry-level skills in the essential IT domains: hardware and PC repair, software and operating systems, network administration, information security and desktop troubleshooting. A+ certified technicians also develop customer service and communications skills to help in their day-to-day interactions with both technical and non-technical employees.

What skills that are measured by A+ certification?

• Understanding the fundamentals of computer technology, networking and IT security;
• Understanding of the operating system functionality and troubleshooting methods;
• Ability to identify hardware, peripheral, networking and security components;
• Ability to categorize various types of storage devices and backup media;
• Ability to explain the types and features of motherboard components; knowledge of how to perform proper computer safety procedures and best practices;
• Possession of practical interpersonal communication skills;
• Ability to install, configure, upgrade and maintain PC workstations, the Windows operating system and SOHO networks;
• Ability to install and configure input devices, such as mouse, keyboard, biometric devices and touch screens;
• And ability to use a variety of troubleshooting techniques and tools to effectively resolve PC, OS and network connectivity issues.

What jobs are available for candidates with this certification? An A+ certification can help job-seekers who are looking at positions as an IT Support Specialist, a Help Desk Technician, a Desktop support Specialist, a position in PC and Hardware Repair, or a Field Service Technician.

Network+ Certification (entry level)

Another certification that demonstrates competence as an entry-level network professional and provides an IT professional’s expertise in managing, maintaining, troubleshooting, installing and configuring basic computer networks. Network certification is the gateway to numerous career credentials and a key step toward a career in networking and telecommunications.

Which skills are covered in Network+ certification?

• Management and troubleshooting a basic network infrastructure
• Installation, operation and configuration of a wired or wireless network
• Ability to identify and explain common networking protocols and parts
• Ability to identify and troubleshoot performance and connectivity issues
• Ability to install, configure and differentiate between common network devices
• Ability to describe networking technologies and basic network design principles
• Acquisition of the knowledge to adhere to wiring standards and utilize network testing tools

CCNA Certification (Advanced)

The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is an advanced certification to enable employees in the IT field to broaden their skill sets in the management and optimization of network systems. CCNA is globally recognized as the mark of a competent and qualified network technician and can be an important step forward toward a career in network administration or network engineering.
CCNA shows employers that workers have gained abilities in the installation, configuration, operation and troubleshooting of routed and switched networks. CCNA-certified professionals also have the abilities to make connections to remote sites via a WAN (wide-area network, a network of computers within a very large area such as a state or country), can deal with basic network security threats and can understand fundamental wireless networking concepts and terminology.

For more information on IT certifications and the IT field, check out the following resources:
IT Career Finder
PC World Magazine
ICT Center, Springfield Technical Community College

How Community Colleges Help Build the Workforce

November 4th, 2011

Last week, ATE held its annual Principal Investigators Conference in Washington DC, titled “Overcoming Barriers and Boundaries.” As part of the program, Keynote speaker Kumar Garg, of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy focused on efforts that the Obama administration is taking in its support of community colleges, recognizing the important role they play in helping American students prepare for jobs requiring scientific and technological skills.

More than 6 million students are enrolled in community colleges, providing students with several important advantages – affordable tuition, flexible course schedules and convenient locations, among other things. Community colleges are of particular value to students who are older, who are working, or who need remedial classes. Furthermore, community colleges actively work with businesses and industry to tailor their programs to meet current economic needs, such as health information technology, advanced manufacturing or green jobs.

Last spring, for example, the President announced a major expansion of the Skills for America’s Future program, an industry-led initiative to improve industry partnerships with community colleges and build a nationwide network to maximize workforce development strategies, job training programs and job placements.

The specific goals of the program aim to train about 500,000 workers in 30 states over the next five years – and at the same time, spur economic growth and lower the nation’s unemployment rate. The initiative also aims to develop a manufacturing skills certification program, that would establish a universally accepted credential, and to win adoption of the program at 200 community colleges.

“Last year, we launched Skills for America’s Future to bring together companies and community colleges around a simple idea: making it easier for workers to gain new skills that will make America more competitive in the global economy,” according to a quote from President Obama in a White House press release.

Learn about more ways that community college programs and how they are preparing students for careers in the scientific and technological arenas at the website of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Informational Interviews: The Inside Scoop

October 21st, 2011

Interview

If you watched this week’s ATETV episode which profiled Cisco Systems and introduced the position of Demonstration Engineer, you may have found yourself interested in the industry and the job. Would that type of company be a good fit for you? Is that type of position compatible with your skills and personality? What is the job like on a day-to-day basis?

One way to get answers to those questions is by meeting and talking with the people who work at the company to get their insights into what their jobs are really like. It’s known as an Informational Interview.

The term was originally used by Richard Bolles, the author of What Color Is Your Parachute? It’s a great way to explore career options and get a better idea of the types of companies and positions that best fit your interests, skills and personality.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the purpose of an informational interview is not to get a job – it’s to learn about a job from someone who is already working in that career. The typical informational interview lasts 20 to 30 minutes.

The following tips from the Occupational Outlook Quarterly can help you get started.

Decide what jobs you want to learn about. If you’re starting from scratch, you might want to talk with a guidance counselor or career counselor, who can help you clarify your interests, skills and goals. You can also browse through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook which provides detailed descriptions of various jobs, work environments and salary ranges.

Decide who to interview. Once you’ve closed in on the job or jobs you’d like to explore, it’s time to identify individuals to interview. Keep in mind that, as much as possible, you’d like to talk with people who are actually working in the positions (rather than human resources representatives) and try to talk with people who have positions at about the same level as what you would have if you were to enter the profession. (So, if you would expect to start with an entry-level position, try to talk with someone who also has an entry-level position.)

Make the connection. The best and easiest way is to get the names of people to interview is to check with people you already know – you’d be surprised how many connections you might have. Family members, friends, teachers or previous coworkers may themselves have worked in the position you want to explore, or may know someone who you can talk with. Other good sources might be high-school or college alumni offices, which often keep records of their graduates’ employment. Professional associations often maintain membership directories and might be able to help put you in contact with a member who you could talk with. For example, IEEE, is a professional organization for the advancement of technology, and a resource for a wide range of engineering positions. Finally, check out trade magazines or newsletters; they often profile employees or describe activities of various members – who might be potential interview subjects.

Reach out. This is the part of the process that many people find most difficult – it’s not easy to ask for career help, especially if you don’t know the person. But, again, you might be surprised at how many people are willing to help students and career changers explore new occupations. If a family member or mutual friend or acquaintance has a contact, you might ask if he or she would make the initial request on your behalf. Then once he’s put things in motion, you can follow up with a call or e-mail to set up a time and date to meet.

If you don’t have a personal connection, a written request is a good way to go. Check out this article in the Occupational Outlook Quarterly for samples of notes and e-mails to use when requesting an informational interview.

Do your homework. Even though your “interview” is for background only, it’s important to be prepared. Knowing something about the organization will help you ask better questions and will demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm. (Furthermore, you never know if your meeting might lead to a real job interview somewhere down the road – so you’ll want to leave a good impression.) Check out the company’s website for background. If they produce an annual report, you might want to check that out and also see what trade publications have to say about the company.

Develop your questions.
This is the most critical part of the interview. Now that you’ve secured someone’s time, you need to make sure that you’ve come prepared with a list of questions that really help you learn about the position and the industry. Keep in mind that your meeting will likely last about 30 minutes – according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Quarterly a good rule of thumb is to prepare about 10 questions.

Questions generally fall into four general categories: The job itself (What kinds of tasks do you do on a typical day? What do you like best about your work? Do you work independently or as part of a team?); Questions about working conditions (What hours do you work? Does this position require travel?): Questions about training (How did you find this job? How did you prepare for this career?); and Questions about other careers and contacts (Can you suggest anyone else I could speak with for background information?)

Be professional. Although an informational interview is more casual than a real job interview, it’s still important to look professional and make a good impression. Dress well – a good rule of thumb is to dress the way the person interviewing you will be dressed. Be prompt and arrive on time.

Listen carefully. Remember, that you are leading the interview. Though you might open the conversation with a thank-you and brief mention of your goals and interests, your primary purpose is to hear what the other person has to say. Take notes throughout the conversation, and try to stay on track to ensure that your most important questions are answered. Because you are the interviewer, it’s up to you to keep an eye on the time. Besides thanking your interviewee at the end, be sure to ask if there are other people that he or she suggest you speak with.

Be sure to follow up. After the interview, be sure to express your appreciation by writing and sending a thank-you note or e-mail within a few days, the sooner, the better.

Make good use of the information you receive. Once you’ve finished, go back and think about what you learned from the interview. What did you like about the job/company? What did you dislike? What was your impression of the work environment? Do you think you could be happy in this position/organization? Try not to base all of your information on a single source; if possible, arrange to conduct a few different interviews to learn about a particular occupation, and try to confirm information with multiple sources. You may discover that your dream job isn’t what you thought, and the Informational Interview may have provided you with the opportunity to change course. Or, you may find that the industry/career is exactly what you’d hoped it would be – and that the Informational Interview has given you a head start for your real job search!

How to Get the Most Out of Your Study Time

October 16th, 2011

homework

Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a regimented homework schedule. Set clear boundaries.

Those are some of the “tried-and-true” recommendations for studying, but they may not be best for everyone. As the New York Times has reported, “In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.”

Here are four of the techniques that NY Times psychology writer Benedict Carey gleaned from this recent educational research into study habits – you might be surprised at what he found.

Get a change of scenery. While it may seem like staying in one place will help you to concentrate, researchers have found that alternating the rooms where you are studying can actually help you retain more information. “If you move around and study the same material in several places, [your brain] may be forming multiple associations,” writes Carey. This, he says, helps anchor the new information so that it’s easier to remember when you need it.

Alternate the content you are studying. Just as in physical exercise, “cross training” is also good for your brain. While a fitness trainer might suggest you alternate strength training, speed training and drills, you could adapt this idea to studying. Researchers examined math students who studied repeated examples of one equation before moving on to the next equation, and compared them to students who studied “mixed problem sets,” which included examples of four different types of equations grouped together. They found that the students who had used the “mixed set” study method retained more information when tested the following day.

As University of South Florida researcher Dr. Doug Rohrer told the NY Times, “When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem. That’s like riding a bike with training wheels.” He adds that with “mixed practice,” each problem is distinct from the last one, which means that students need to learn how to choose the appropriate procedure, just as they would have to do on a test.

Avoid the urge to cram. Staying up all night to study for a test might help you pass an exam, but it won’t help you remember the material later on. As Carey notes, it’s like trying to cram too much, too quickly into a cheap suitcase – while it may stay intact for a little while, the contents inevitably fall out.

You’ll get more out of your studies if you pack your “brain suitcase” slowly and carefully. An hour of study one night, an hour over the weekend, another study session the following week will help you better retain the information – and keep the suitcase packed for your whole trip. And don’t forget the importance of sleep. Research has consistently shown that a good night’s rest helps the brain consolidate and process new information.

Lesson Plans: Real World Math

October 6th, 2011

real world math

The economists are telling us that now may be the time to buy a house. According to a report this week in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, mortgage rates are the lowest on record. Real estate specialists tell us that there are lots of properties available. It’s a buyer’s market.

But why are we writing about this here? Because, like so many other real-life activities, becoming a homeowner involves a lot of math. Just listen to this sentence from the Bloomberg BusinessWeek article: “Buying a $300,000 home at current rates means a monthly mortgage bill of about $1,158, assuming a 20 percent down payment. Delaying a purchase until next year would put the tab higher, at $1,186, based on the MBA forecast for prices and rates. That amounts to an $18,000 difference over a 30-year mortgage for those who wait.”

As we’ve learned time and again from the educators, employers and employees featured on ATETV, math is critical for just about every technical skill and vocation. But there’s no question that math and algebra, in particular, have a lot of practical applications beyond the classroom and the workplace.

Think you’ll never use algebra in real life? We turned to ATE Central and found the following algebra lesson plans. They sound pretty valuable in today’s real estate market.

How Much Does This House Really Cost? Buying a house is likely to be the single largest financial purchase a person ever makes. And unless you’re in the enviable – and unlikely — position that enables you to pay the entire cost upfront, you’ll have to get a mortgage. Check out this lesson plan from the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education to learn how mortgages are calculated and to better understand what the costs of a property will be over the course of 30 years. Using a hypothetical mortgage amount, students enter their geographic living areas on a financial website to determine current mortgage interest rates (from dozens of nearby lending institutions).

Students then calculate the monthly mortgage payment using a given formulation, a scientific or graphing calculator and online interest rates and calculate the total amount paid for the house at the end of a 30-year mortgage, with interest included. They also compare results with the same mortgage calculated over 10, 15 or 20 years.

Okay, so students have taken out their hypothetical mortgages. But what if they’d like to pay those hypothetical loans off early? The Extra House Payments Effect lesson plan gives students a first-hand look at how financial institutions make use of monthly mortgage payments and describes mortgage amortization formulas. (The plan also explains the effect of making extra principal payments each month on both the length of the loan and the amount of interest to be paid – important lessons for everyone!)

Finally, new student “homeowners” can turn their attention to their lawns and landscaping. The Do I Have to Mow the Whole Thing? lesson plan helps students calculate dimensions for a garden of constant area, introducing them to the idea of inverse variation.

Check out ATE Central and the Real World Learning Objects Resource Library for more real-life lesson plans, including Cell Phone Algebra (in which students compare cell phone plans), Logarithms and Car Payments and Algebra for Athletes.