I’ve just come back from a very interesting lecture by Barbara Oakley – a great way to spend the last hour of the teaching term. Prof Oakley (but I will be familiar and refer to her as Barbara) runs a MOOC on Learning How to Learn, and she very kindly condensed several of the things she teaches in the MOOC in an hour. The timing was excellent, as I spent the term teaching a new module and really wondering how I could make my teaching more effective. Her first topic was about focussed mind vs diffuse mind. I found this very useful as (I confess) I am not very good at keeping focussed, and my mind wanders quite a bit. I’ve always thought of this as a terrible trait, and thought the secret to be more effective was to tame that unfocussed mind. But Barbara made a very good point which is that it is in the transition between the two phases that a lot of creativity happens, and a good aspect to train is not just stay focussed for a long time but to capture that moment after relaxation, when good ideas might come to mind. I can see this happening, but one of my problems is that at that time I don’t capture the ideas or the outcome of creative thought, and miss out. I am glad she talked about the Pomodoro technique, which I have used effectively a couple of years back but unfortunately let slide. For those who don’t know, it is a method of work where one stays focussed for a period of time, say 25 minutes, using a timer and then one relaxes and on purpose one tries *not* to concentrate for a short time – say 5 minutes, and then start the next pomodoro. The mental state is that in those 25 minutes, the goal is not necessarily to complete the task, and get stressed if it doesn’t get done, but instead get in the zone, and focus just on the problem. And this zone involves *not* looking at a clock all the time to see if the chunk of time or pomodoro is done, hence the use of the timer which lets one know that the pomodoro period is over. In fact, I use(d) http://www.tomato.es/. I think it is time to use it again. A few other practical techniques she mentioned: the importance of practice (“makes perfect”). This is a very useful way to entrench the material being learned. Interleave the exercises and activities of various “chapters” rather than stick to one at a time, jump from one topic to the next, though of course make sure to practice well enough with a topic before doing the interleaving. Using of Flashcards and tests again as a way to learn more effectively. And something called Chunking, which I didn’t understand very well but which I might try to understand and then edit this post to explain a bit when I do. And finally, two very practical and healthy tips: the importance of physical exercise and sleep, not only for well-being but also as steps in deep learning. Will I do the MOOC? I am tempted, but I have started several MOOCs in the past and never stuck to them. But maybe, considering that teaching term is over and I have some flexibility in my time for the next few weeks. But definitely time to dust the Pomodoro timer.