Monday, March 14, 2011


Understanding almost any subject or discipline begins with building a foundation of basic terminology.  You can't think in new ways without new language.  Yikes, that means memorization.  

A lot of folks dread memorization tasks because they simply don't know how to do it in a quick, pain-free manner. Once students know the tricks of memorization, it's not that bad. The essential trick is to practice, practice, practice. That means every day, several times a day, if possible.However, this will only work if we can get our students to spend just a few minutes at a time practicing.

One of the easiest ways we can help students memorize terminology or other basic facts painlessly is to make and use flashcards. 

My friend Monica Hall-Woods (another "electronic professor") reminded me recently of a website called where students and professors can easily make a set of flashcards online (for FREE) and use it to quickly learn the basic terms or other facts needed in a course.  In fact, gives users several alternative methods for students to quiz themselves, including some fun, game-like activities.

The more practice sessions theyt do on, the more your students will almost effortlessly pick up the basic facts they need to learn before they can move on to higher-order thinking. helps them keep track of what they've studied and how they are doing.

They (or you) can also upload photos from . . . which means that you can take photos of your models, specimens, maps, locations, etc., with your smartphone, then upload the images into a set of flashcards!

Another great feature of is that your students can form study groups.  This allows one or more users to post and share sets of flashcards related to a particular topic. Or you can use it to share flashcards you've prepared with the students in your courses. also lets students use flashcard stacks that others have created.  (Warning: they need to be careful those they adopt are accurate before using them to study.)  Here's a stack of cards that I created simply by cutting and pasting a list I already had into the editor:

Try it!  Use different options for quizzing yourself and playing games. I think you'll have fun with it. Which is the point . . . the less pain, the more gain.  At least in this case.

A simpler variation of this service, but with less features, is Word Stash. With this service, professors can set up a "class" if they register a free "teacher account" then you can load in word lists for your students to practice.  You can either copy in the terms and definitions or you can create them in the system, opting to borrow existing definitions from their database for any or all of the terms.

I created a class called, you guessed it, The A&P Student . . . and loaded in a word list to show you how it works. Join this "class" to see how Word Stash works:

Password: theapstudent


Here are some other sites you may want to check out to help your students learn the language of your course quickly:
Kevin's New Terms study tip
Kevin's Flash Card video
 Have any more like this?  Share them with us by commenting!

[Some of this material was also used in my blog The A&P Student]

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The clicker commandment I always violate

I generally agree with the Clicker Commandments, those hard-and-fast rules for success when using clickers (student response systems).  But sometimes, the temptation to break this one is irresistible:

Thou shalt not use more than a few clicker questions per class session.

Like any good commandment, this one often must be followed if we are to stay on the path of righteousness.  But, like any good commandment, there are in fact times when it's best to break the rules.

A good example of my straying from this clicker commandment was previously discussed in the article  Practicing . . . some more in my blog Lion Tamers Guide to Teaching.  The point of that article was the need to practice basic facts frequently in order to become deeply familiar with them.  And I used the example of how I use clickers to provide rapid reviews of basic human anatomy structures in my Anatomy & Physiology course.

I set these up like a game show.  Without the fabulous prizes. Each item has a timer animation and the buzzer sounds after 10 seconds, and reveals the correct identification.  So polling is open for only ten seconds and students who have studied their anatomy are forced to recall it quickly . . . or get "buzzed."  Hmm, maybe a GONG would be more appropriate, eh?  Nah . . . do any of my students have a clue as to what the Gong Show was?!

This works great for facts that need to be memorized . . . if you have the time in class to practice with your students.  The class I use this in is my A&P Supplement course, which is specifically for reviewing and advising.  It's not the "main content" course, but an optional supplement students can take to get extra help in what is a rigorous, fact-filled course.

In my regular courses, I do stick with the notion that a few clicker questions scattered here and there is the best approach.  But for those "quick review" sessions, nothing beats the occasional rule-breaking, fast-paced "practice round" of important facts.