Article Summary: Schwartz & Bransford (1998) A Time for Telling (Constructivism)


Activating prior knowledge is a powerful instructional tool, but students do not always have relevant prior knowledge to activate. This paper tests a method for developing prior knowledge that prepares students to learn from lectures and explanations. On a more theoretical level, it examines when during instruction it is better to support students’ exploration and construction of knowledge and when it is better to provide direct instruction.

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Article Summary: Maton (2014) Legitimation Code Theory and Semantic Waves


To explain how semantic waves (based on the semantics dimension of Legitimation Code Theory) can help students to build upon prior knowledge, particularly everyday, practical knowledge, to develop new knowledge, particularly technical, disciplinary knowledge.

**I used ChatGPT to help write this summary. The text in italics is from ChatGPT with light editing. A description of my experience can be found in this post.

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Experience Co-Writing a Blog Post with ChatGPT

Like many people, I’m trying to find ways that generative AI can make my life easier. Though I don’t think ChatGPT would be a good tool for writing a research paper, at least beyond the first and last paragraphs, I wondered if it would be a good tool for more public-facing writing, like blog posts. So I co-wrote an article summary about Maton’s Legitimation Code Theory and Semantic Waves using ChatGPT. I didn’t ask it to summarize the paper, and instead, I asked it about the main concepts discussed in the paper.

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Wellness: Bad Stress: Pollution – Air, Food, Water, and Plastics

I used to be in the camp of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” However, one argument changed my mind — the pollution load of modern life far surpasses the context in which our bodies evolved. Pollution is all around us. This isn’t inherently bad because our bodies have an innate ability to detox, but reducing major sources of pollution in our lives can keep our detox systems from becoming overloaded. In addition, we might be better or worse at detoxing than others based on genes, lifestyle, and other stressors.

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Applying for NSF CAREER: CAREER-Specific Advice

Now that I’ve shared general advice for how to structure an NSF proposal and lessons I’ve learned from being an NSF reviewer, I’ll focus on advice specifically for the CAREER program. CAREER is viewed as a prestigious award, and based on my discussions with colleagues, this keeps many people from applying for it. In addition to all of the platitudes about “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” or “shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars,” there’s another great reason to write a CAREER proposal.

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Applying for NSF CAREER: Lessons Learned from NSF Reviewing

A major feature that makes applying for NSF funding unique is their use of external review panels. NSF reviews are conducted primarily by panels of external reviewers who don’t work at the NSF and have other full-time jobs. While these reviewers are representative of your scientific peers, they are a unique audience.

The average reader for a research paper…

  • chooses to read the paper
  • is an expert in the (sub)field of the paper
  • wants to learn something

The average reviewer on an NSF panel…

  • agrees to read it on top of their normal workload
  • is from a related field, but probably not an expert on your topic
  • wants to finish as quickly as possible while being fair
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Applying for NSF CAREER: Structure of an NSF Application

As an NSF CAREER recipient and frequent panelist for NSF reviews, I put together a presentation for my college about strategies for preparing a competitive NSF CAREER proposal. While I think my colleagues are the best, I also wanted to share these strategies more broadly for anyone who is interested in applying, especially those who might get less support from their institution. My experiences are primarily in the EDU (education) directorate with some experience in the CISE (computing) directorate, so some norms or recommendations might not apply globally. I’ll be making three posts: the structure of an NSF application including CAREER-specific criteria, lessons learned from being an NSF reviewer, and EDU-directorate-specific CAREER advice.

NSF CAREER is for early career folks, so this application might be your first NSF application or at least your first application as Principal Investigator (PI). The NSF application has …a lot of pieces, so I wanted to start by reviewing the application process generally, including CAREER-specific criteria, and strategies to complete each piece. Of course, the most comprehensive information will be found in the program solicitation and the PAPPG, but those documents can be intimidating without some advanced organizers.

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Article Summary: Feld et al. (2022) Writing Matters


To examine how the quality of writing in academic papers affects the perceived quality of work and publication rates.

Writing Quality in Academia

The low quality of academic writing is so ubiquitous that it has become a meme. While many academics feel frustrated while reading poorly written papers, this experience does not necessarily motivate us to produce well-written papers. After all, we have many skillsets to develop and demands on our time, and learning to write well involves copious practice and individualized feedback. Research has found that this investment does not necessarily result in higher scientific impact. Further, the ubiquity of low-quality papers shows that such papers are publishable, so it’s not obvious that improving our writing will provide us with tangible benefits. To determine the tangible benefits of investing in writing quality, this paper uses a highly controlled experiment to examine the effect that writing quality has on the perceived quality of work and recommendations for accepting a paper.

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Wellness: Good Stress: Discomfort and Doing Hard Things

Les Brown said it best when he said, “If you do what is easy, your life will be hard. However, if you do what is hard, your life will be easy.” He and many others have espoused the value of doing uncomfortable and hard things. Part of the value is physical, pushing our boundaries and expanding what feels comfortable to us. Another part of the value is psychological, showing ourselves that we are tough and that the anticipation of discomfort is often worse than the discomfort itself. The latter is where I have found the most value from practicing discomfort, reminding me of another great quote.

“I’ve experienced a great deal of pain and suffering in my life. Most of which never happened.”

Mark Twain
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Research Design: Improve Your Design Before Collecting Data

I’m about to share the secret sauce of designing rigorous and compelling research projects. I call it a secret sauce, but it’s actually a tool that I was taught as an undergrad research assistant in psychology. Thus, it’s just one of those skills I learned through apprenticeship rather than formal coursework. The tool is using your hypotheses to iteratively improve your research design.

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