Monthly Archives: September 2013

6 Lies about K12 Education in America

I thought this was an interesting read, especially “Lie 3” after our class discussion over the last couple of weeks. Just wanted to post it in case anyone else was interested.


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Mindful Learning

Upon reading an excerpt from Ellen Langer’s The Power of Mindful Learning, I was exposed to an interesting concept. Could learning “the basics” until they become almost habitual be a bad thing for students? Langer’s main idea was that rather than answering our students’ questions or teaching them the material, we should provide them with the freedom to ask questions, make hypotheses, and wonder about the world.

At the end of the chapter, Langer used an example of a study book for a test where they essentially changed the text from a statement of fact to a conditional phrase. Basically, they changed the wording from something like this:

Municipal bonds are issued by…”

To this:

In most cases, municipal bonds are issued by…”

Based on the research study that she cited, it seems as though the simple re-wording into conditional formatting gave students the freedom to ask questions, make hypotheses, and wonder because they appeared to perform better on creative applications of the text when tested. So that makes me wonder, could rewording our textbooks allow room for mindful learning? It’s a pretty extreme application, but what if all it took to increase critical thinking levels for our students was to just change our wording when we teach them? How do you think motivation plays into the concept of mindful thinking?

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3rd Time’s a Charm (and the 1st and 2nd…)

One of the things I heard repeatedly when I decided to attend Virginia Tech is that there are a lot of really cool outdoorsy things to do around here. While I haven’t really been an “outdoorsy” type person in the past, thanks to some key figures in my life, and some fun trail runs, I’ve begun to embrace the wonders of the outdoors. People like…

Bekah (right) and me

Bekah (right) and me

Bekah is one of my dearest friends from my last couple of years at Mississippi State. She is one of the few people in the world who could on a whim say “Missie, let’s do a trail run! Want to go 10 miles?” and make it sound like a good idea. Then, while on the run (my first trail run ever) I completely wiped out – face down on the ground – 5 miles away from all civilization and she said in the most chipper voice imaginable “Well it’s not really a trail run unless you fall down”. I’m fairly sure that there are only about 2 people in the world that could get away with saying anything at that point in time, but she’s one of them.

Heather (right) as we prepare to depart again Eric (left) on an exploratory mission

The pictures above are my cousins Eric and Heather Watts (they’re married). As far as convincing me to do some crazy trail runs, Heather comes in a close second to Bekah. Heather’s like one of the most hardcore people that I know, and one fateful December day, she said “You should fly out to Washington and do the Badger Mountain Challenge!” Further description from her explained that it’s a 50K trail run across 3 small mountains with a cumulative elevation gain of approximately 6,000 ft. And for some reason, knowing all of that, I signed up. The picture with Heather (top) shows me gearing up at about Mile 22 before we headed off to finish the race. I did finish the race, but not without a lot of help from Eric and Heather.

So far, my “outdoor adventures” have been kind of extreme for the novice that I am. Now that I’m in a place with a lot of trails and hiking and things that are a little bit easier, I’ve tried to take advantage of that. For some reason though, everyone seems to want to go to the same place – the Cascades.

About a 66' drop

The Cascades

Now I can totally understand why people always want to go there, because they’re lovely. They’re about 66′ tall, so they’re a lot bigger than they seem in that picture. If a person was to stand in front of the falls, the person would look like just a tiny little dot. It’s just under a 2 mile hike to the falls for a 4 mile round trip excursion. I’ve gone three times with 3 different groups and every time I never fail to be impressed with the grandeur. One day I’m hoping to actually swim in the water, but for now it is just too cold! I’ve also seen a picture of the falls totally frozen over – I will definitely try to see what that’s like!

HFES Group

This is a picture of the group that went yesterday. Marc, Ari, me, and Ninja (from left to right) made the trek as an excursion with Virginia Tech’s chapter of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. It was a fun trip and I can’t wait to go again…or if I’m really crazy, maybe I will check out another hike in the area!


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“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”

6 years ago tomorrow, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University gave a lecture that managed to inspire literally millions of people. This talk was titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” or more commonly “The Last Lecture”. If you haven’t seen it, you can find it on CMU’s website:

While the background story that goes along with the lecture is gripping in itself, Randy Pausch does an excellent job of incorporating digital media into his presentation to keep it light-hearted, engaging, informative, and enjoyable. I recently re-watched the presentation out of nostalgia, but as I watched, I continued to be amazed at how seamlessly Pausch incorporated videos and other audience interaction into a simple lecture. More importantly, in less than an hour and a half, Pausch was able to do what every professor should strive for. He was inspiring. He inspired me.

It’s the first time that I have watched the lecture (or read the book) in about 5 years, and watching it now, I realize that this man managed to teach me life lessons while also slightly changing the course of my life. I’m now working in Human Factors and my area of interest is Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), a field that definitely intersects with what Pausch discussed in his lecture. I didn’t realize it immediately after watching it, but what he showed in that presentation actually did influence me to be more interested in HCI and related fields. Even now, watching his lecture makes me excited to keep studying and to eventually work in my field.

Have you seen “The Last Lecture”? What were your thoughts on it? Have you watched another presentation that you found to be enriching, exciting, and enlightening?


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A very wise woman once said (in The Sound of Music’s beloved “Do-Re-Mi”) “Let’s start at the very beginning./ A very good place to start.” It’s so simple but it makes so much sense. So, what is the beginning for me? What stars aligned to bring me to this place in this moment writing this blog post (while simultaneously watching the a marathon of the masterpiece that is How I Met Your Mother)? It can really be boiled down to one book and three people.

I have always loved to read and I cannot remember a time when Cheaper by the Dozen wasn’t easily in my top five favorite books. Cheaper by the Dozen tells the story of how Frank and Lillian Gilbreth raised their 12 children. Though they are well known for their contributions to Industrial Engineering (IE), the book details their home life and how they incorporated engineering principles into everyday activities. From Frank’s doing a time study on the childrens’ tonsillectomies to requiring every child to fill out a daily work chart, some of the basic principles and jargon of the IE curriculum are seamlessly incorporated into an extremely entertaining book. (Really, it’s funny. You will laugh out loud and it would make me very happy if you would read it.) I’ve read Cheaper by the Dozen more times than I can count, and a common theme runs through the entire story. While Lillian was a pioneer in the field of human factors and scientific management, she still managed to balance her personal life with her work engagements. She had her PhD in psychology at a time when it was extremely uncommon for a female and was frequently called upon to share her expert opinion at engineering conferences to a primarily male audience. With all of the acclaim that she received as an expert in her field, her children instead remembered her as someone who “raised twelve only children” – giving each of them the time and attention to feel as though they were the most important person in the world. She managed to have an extremely successful career while keeping her family first. So there you have it…the book and the first person that helped to bring me to where I am now.

lgilbrethLillian Moller Gilbreth, taken in 1921
Rutgers University Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives

The second influential person is not so surprising when you really think about it. She’s one of the few people that has literally known me for my entire life. She fought with me over books from when we were wee little things and one time accidentally hit me in the head with a swing, but I still love her. You might have used your excellent deductive reasoning skills to figure out that this woman is my sister. Her name is Josie and she’s pretty cool.

On her wedding day

On her wedding day

We’re about equally photogenic, so I decided to go with an accurate picture of the two of us. Well one day in the fall of 2003, Josie had already decided on attending Mississippi State University, but she was deciding on a major. She stumbled upon the Industrial and Systems Engineering tent and the rest is history. In the fall of 2004, she began her freshman year at MSU in ISE and she went on to be extremely successful in the program. Over the next 2 years, she decided that since she knew me better than pretty much anyone else in the world, she also knew what would be the best major for me. I don’t think she had to work too hard, but she did play a key role in causing me to enroll in the ISE department.

Then she convinced me to run a marathon. Ouch. But thanks for the motivation 🙂

After the marathon...everything hurt at this point.

After the marathon…everything hurt at this point.


She also did one more thing that kind of changed the course of my future. In my freshman year at MSU, my sister tipped me off to the fact that one of her professors was looking for some undergraduate students to help with research. What she did was introduce me to the third person I mentioned…

Dr. B and her daughter, Josie, and Scott

Dr. B and her daughter, Josie, and Scott

Dr. Kari Babski-Reeves, or Dr. B, is the professor who needed undergraduate researchers. She’s the one sitting down in the picture.  (Scott is my brother in law and he is the one standing up…He’s just awesome so I wanted to mention him.) Dr. B played an extremely important role in my life over the 6 years that I spent at MSU working on my BS and then my MS. She gave me my first job that I actually enjoyed and introduced me to the wonderful world of Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE). In addition to being well known in her field, she mentored me and let me rant in her office for more hours than I can count. Prior to teaching at MSU, she was a professor at Virginia Tech. She put Tech on my radar as a possible school for further education but didn’t hold it against me when I needed to take a break from HFE and took a job in supply chain instead. When I realized that perhaps supply chain wasn’t the best fit for me, she still helped me to apply to graduate schools at the last minute.

Dr. B with me

Dr. B with me

So Lillian Gilbreth, Josie, Dr. B, and Cheaper by the Dozen combined all in some way contributed to me being here now. Each one of them has a special place in my heart and I’m so glad that they have played a role in my life. They’ve helped to bring me to this new beginning.

Now let’s see where it takes me next!

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