Beyond marshmallows – resisting Mr. Clown Box!

Kip and the Mischel book

Kip and the Mischel book

The first time I recall hearing about the “marshmallow test” was on an episode of “This American Life”, in 2012 (“Back to School”),  featuring Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed“.  It was an interesting episode, discussing challenges in the American school system, particularly with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. And the marshmallow test experiments prompt a vivid image – a small child is presented with the option of having a single marshmallow right away, or waiting for up to 20 minutes, and being given two marshmallows. Longitudinal studies on a cohort of young children who were participants in this research revealed that those who were able to show restraint and self-control performed better in a wide range of ways in later life: improved SAT scores, higher education levels, better ability to maintain close relationships, etc. (Oh, and there were some brain differences indicated by an experiment involving fMRI, for what that’s worth.)

While fascinating, the research was also a bit depressing to me. I picture myself as one of the kids who would have gobbled down the marshmallow right away. And much of what I have heard regarding the marshmallow test seems to have been focusing on the predictive nature of the experiments, revealing the capacity for self-regulation that impacts many aspects of our lives. And if you’re one of the kids who lacks that self-regulation? Doomed to a life of poor, impulsive choices, apparently.

Another podcast, Invisibilia, changed my perspective on this.  “The Personality Myth” episode explored the dynamic nature of personality. One of the experts interviewed was Walter Mischel, the psychologist who conducted the marshmallow test experiments. In the episode, he discussed something about the experiments that wasn’t usually mentioned when people described them – the fact that children could be taught strategies to help them resist the immediate temptation in favour of the delayed reward.

That’s much more uplifting than thinking that your destiny is set, and can be predicted by your ability as a preschooler to resist a treat.

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Conference season!

I haven’t written a blog post in a long time. Often, the regular academic year is pretty hectic, so I’m less likely in general to post here, but the past few months have been … unusual. (Like I have to point that out!) It’s been tough for me to justify taking the time and effort to write about teaching and learning stuff lately, as  these topics seem almost frivolous, given unfolding world events. (As a Canadian living in the US, I’m still concerned about the current political and societal situation, and I may talk about that more later, but that’s another post … maybe.) However, life goes on, and as we get into conference season, it’s time to think (and talk!) about things beyond day-to-day teaching (and other concerns).

The Windsor-Oakland Teaching and Learning conference is always a great start to conference season for me, running early in May. This year, I was particularly impressed by the keynote from Peter Felten (@pfeltenNC): “Valuing Teaching: What Matters Most“.  This led me to read the most recent book that he co-authored, The Undergraduate Experience (Jossey-Bass, 2016 – Indigo Chapters link). Like his keynote, the book is rich in providing clear information, backed up by evidence, with illustrative examples of positive change at various universities. I’ve read a few books centred on change in undergraduate education, which I’ve typically found to include advice that may not be realistic for my own school, or not feasible for someone to act upon who is not in upper administration. I actually felt like the Felten et al. book provided elements where I may be able to make a difference (beyond my regular goal of teaching and advising as well as I can, in my current position).

oCUBE 2016 group photo

oCUBE 2016 group photo – could you find a more friendly group?

The annual oCUBE May UnConference is coming up very soon! This is the eighth one, and I’m happy to see that our grass-roots community of practise is still going strong. We are a group of individuals across various institutions, in a number of different roles, all interested in improving Biology education. (It started as an Ontario group, but we now have members from other provinces, and even in the USA!) The UnConference format seems to work very well for the kinds of discussions our group has, and having some new and different members contributing, along with a mixture of original and new members means that we get different perspectives and a diversity of interests and experience in our sessions. Our meeting location at Shamrock Lodge (near Port Carling, ON) is a lovely retreat away from our respective cities … and I personally think that the blueberry pancakes promote creativity and well-being! (The Shamrock Lodge folks treat us  – and FEED us – very well.)

The annual conference for the Canadian Society of Microbiologists (CSM) is in June, in Waterloo, ON. The conference program looks great, and I’m excited to see Ed Yong (@EdYong209) and Jack Gilbert (@gilbertjacka) speak again. (Unabashed fangirl here!!!) Even more exciting, for me, is that we are holding our third pre-conference CSM FOME (Forum On Microbiology Education) workshop on June 20! Our keynote facilitator, Karen Smith (@DrMyth115), is a great microbiology educator and communicator, and our planning committee was faced with a challenge we had not faced in the previous two years – we have more workshop/presentation proposals than we can actually fit in our allotted time. CSM FOME co-chair Josie Libertucci (@Jos_Tucci) and I are thrilled to see how many people have registered for the workshop so far, and are looking forward to seeing this section grow in the CSM in future. (P.S. Is it rude to bring my copy of “I Contain Multitudes” to ask Ed Yong to sign it? What about getting a selfie with Ed and Jack?)

We also have the Western Conference on Science Education (WCSE) in July this summer (July 5-7). One of my favourite conferences, it runs every other year at Western University in London, ON, attracting high-quality workshops/presentations/posters, and opportunities to interact with highly engaged educators throughout the conference both in and out of conference activities. Early Registration for 2017 is still open at reduced rates until Friday, May 26th.  If you’ve been to WCSE before, you can once again save $50 on your registration if you find a Newb (WCSE newbie!) to bring along (and if you’ve never been to WCSE, being a “Newb” with a previous WCSE-attendee will save you $50, too!).

It’s going to be a busy summer, and that’s a good antidote to some of the other stuff going on in the world right now. What are you looking forward to over the next few months?