focus hardThe fine folks over at the Northwest Educational Technology Consortium have assembled an arsenal of research-based strategies that help students focus. I’ll use their suggestions as a jumping off point, showing you how to apply the techniques to your own studies.

First up…

Thematic Instruction

Students learn better from thematic, interdisciplinary instruction — themes are a way of understanding new concepts and provide mental organizing schemes. -Northwest Education Technology Consortium

Quick! Memorize this list of numbers.


For most of us, that can be a time-consuming and boooooring task. But what if memorizing this number would give you Huge-grinrock-hard buns and a winning smile. It won’t; but what if? What if I also told you that you probably already know this number…

12-4-7-24 – 12 months a year. 4 weeks per month. 7 days per week. 24 hours a day.

3.1415 – Pi to the 4th decimal.

867-5309 – Jenny’s number from the one-hit wonder of the same name by Tommy Tutone.

Once you know where the numbers come from, memorizing it is redonkulously simple.

The point? Having a way to organize information being learned and having a reason to learn it REALLY helps. Unfortunately, our classes may only have a passing relevance to our world, or any other for that matter.

Better teachers know that students tend to sit up and take notice when the topic at hand is related to the real world, and they can do that with a theme. They might teach percents, for example, by having students act out a mock restaurant in class where they have to calculate all the tips or they may demonstrate decision trees by applying them to winning at Blackjack. Better teachers can tie the topic at hand to something his or her students will find engaging.

Unfortunately, your Russian History prof probably doesn’t try too hard to relate Peter the Great’s struggles with the Streltsy to your future career as a trophy wife (yes, Janice, I’m thinking of you). That means it’s up to you, the student, to find the relevance of each topic and then to relate it to your interests. Good news! You are a human (I generously assume despite no real proof), which means your brain rocks at finding links where none exist. In fact, the battle is half over once you [hidepost]begin to actively try and construct such links.

Example 1: Perhaps you are studying the rock cycle and how igneous rocks (which are formed when magma cools and hardens) can–through weathering, erosion, and deposition–eventually become sedimentary rocks. And frankly, you could care less. Unless a rock is on a gold band around your finger and big enough to have it’s own satellites, you ain’t interested (yes, Janice, still you). So relate it back to catching the Big Fish–your sugar daddy. Although his will power and ability to resist your wishes may currently be as hard as granite (an igneous rock), you can slowly wear away that resolve and wed him (W.E.D. = weathering, erosion, and deposition). Then you can build him back, layer by layer, into the man you want him to be. He’ll still be a rock, but a more manageable rock, such as sandstone; the kind of stone that can be carved with an artful whine.

Example 2:. Maybe you’re currently banging your battered bean against that most diabolical soporific, FRESHMAN ENGLISH. What, in the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, does “denouement” have to do with the street value of Earl Grey in Beijing. (FYI, denouement is when all the troubles in a story get sorted out. It’s the part where Scooby Doo pulls the mask off the WereEchidna and it turns out to be kind old Mister Kindold. And then that smug Velma explains all the clues. “And I would have gotten away with it if not for you meddling kids.”)

Howzabout tying denouement to your current eCrack of choice, FaceBook. Maybe FaceBook should add a denouement button to each of your friend’s profile pages. You click it and you find out how the story gets wrapped up. Elsie P., your atheist, tree-hugger friend, ends up joining a religious cult and finally dies from oak wilt. And Angus, who constantly updates his profile with things like, “eating TACOS. Nom. Nom. Nom.” and “Finished now :(” becomes the first person to go to prison for “Felonious Annoyance”. We started off with denouement and look! we’re already at irony.

Hint: it helps to think like a six-year old. Let your mind roam. Redeeeekulous is good! The important thing isn’t the final product. Even if you can’t figure out a way to link Boyle’s Law to your favorite Ze Frank mind mug, just trying will get you careening down the comprehension super highway.[/hidepost]




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