Tuition, $250 per credit (up 5% from last year), Books, $100 (way overpriced for paperbacks), Time spent studying and squiritng blood out the eyeballs, way too much, Getting an A in Statistics – Priceless!! Yes, Dear Readers. I did indeed get an A. And please forgive a little shameless bragging here, but my score on the final was (drum roll, please) – 100%! The teacher wrote “Outstanding” across the top. A gold star and the circle would be complete, but he must have been out.

Mid semester I was soundly kicking myself for taking this class in the first place. It wasn’t required. But I have this little (LITTLE? my husband would say) competitive streak in me. My goal is to graduate summa cum laude. But it would mean a lot less to me if I just skated by with the easy classes. Of course, my husband pointed out – what EASY classes have you actually had? And, I had to admit none have actually been easy. But I needed something to really challenge me and go outside my comfort level to prove that I deserved a summa cum laude. I guess this puts that to rest. Of course, the summa is not in the locker yet. Four more classes and one seminar to go. Because I refuse to take out any student loans, that will be another year and a half. But, if I graduate in 2008, that will mark exactly 10 years since I went back to college.

Last weekend we went on the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train, courtesy of my boss. We had a great time:


And, in between Christmas knitting, I’ve been working on Icarus. I actually frogged what I had done so far. I’m not sure why I started on 1’s, but the fabric was too firm, so I restarted on size 2’s. Much better:


This is the last picture I’ll post of it for a while, but it just gets to be more of the same until you get to the very end.

Marguerite had requested a report on the other class I took this semester in which I trained a dog. If you’re not interested in dog training, you can check out now, but for the rest of you . . . . The class was titled “Principles of Learning” and was basically on operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a principle of behaviorism that proposes that just about any animal (human or otherwise) responds to a series of rewards and/or punishments. And the position of this class was that people and animals learn more quickly using a program of rewards. In other words, catch someone doing something right and reward them for it. This is basically how all the dolphins and whales at Sea World are trained. This is also the theory of “clicker” training with dogs. You start by conditioning the dog to associate the sound of the clicker (the secondary reinforcer) with a primary reinforcer – usually food. Hester was my subject and food is definitely a primary reinforcer for her.

I started by clicking and giving her a treat. At first she was terrified of the clicker – it’s quite loud. But it didn’t take very long for her to associate the click with food and the clicker became her new best friend. The class required that I teach Hester two new behaviors. The first trick I decided to teach her was to spin in a circle. Not particularly useful, I suppose, but I wanted her to do something that she doesn’t do naturally. To do this, I used a small piece of food (we used Cheerios) to encourage her to turn her head to the right (this is called luring). Then I clicked and rewarded. Over the course of the session, I shaped the behavior I wanted by luring her just a little further each time. Within two sessions she was spinning on commmand.

The second behavior for her to learn was to fetch. Hester would chase a toy, but refused to bring it back. She would run off into one of the bedrooms with it, or if we closed the doors, into the kitchen. This was where clicker training had an advantage over other methods. The dog associates the click with the rewarded behavior, so it’s easy to “mark” a particular behavior from a distance. As soon as she hears the click, she knows she’s done something right. So, I tossed the toy down the hall. She ran and got it and, just before she ran off into the bedroom, I clicked. She immediately dropped the toy and came for her treat. From there it was just a matter of requiring that she come a little bit further before I clicked. Before you know it, she was bringing the toy back to me.

So, all in all, I was quite successful in clicker training with Hester and I think I will use it to teach her some other tricks. However, although clicker trainers also use this method to teach a dog to heel, I think the standard method seems more logical to me. I don’t see any reason why you can’t combine them.

By the way, we didn’t necessarily have to train a dog. We could train any animal – the only condition was that it not be human and that it have a brain and a spinal cord. The writer of one of our textbooks actually trained a goldfish! And, although our assignment was to train an animal, there are many applications to humans as well. Behavior that is rewarded is more likely to be repeated. Look for opportunities to “catch” people doing the right thing. It certainly works with kids (and dogs!).

14 thoughts on “

  1. Nana, I volunteer Isobel to be trained this Christmas. She’s a wonderful baby, but teaching her to “heel” will be VERY useful, so I don’t have to chase after her all the time. 😀

  2. Congratulations! I knew you would do well and I’m glad there will be no more eyeball squirting around the Missouri Star household anymore! Have a great weekend!

  3. Huge congratulations! Your hard work really paid off. The world would be a better place if all students set goals like yours and worked with your determination.

  4. Congratulations on the well earned A! What a thrill to get that test back with the big 100%. Bet your teacher doesn’t see many of those.

    Thanks for the dog training story. I enjoyed every word. Even after decades of being dog mom, I’m still amazed at how smart they really are – especially when it involves a treat.

  5. Way to go on Stats! I’m a behavioral psychologist and can truly appreciate the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing those upper level psych classes – they are not a walk in the park! Principles of Learning was one of my favorites – I use this info daily at work as well as with my 4-legged children! This is my first time here – nice website.

  6. congrats! i did extra math in high school (i thought i was going to be an architect… go figure), and i wouldn’t dare do statistics. kudos to you, %100!!! i think that if i went to school again (unless i get a film directing/producing masters, which is still under consideration), i’d do stuff just for fun. like languages and some fun science like biology. my sister just started her biology/ecology degree and i have to admit i’m drooling.

  7. Congratulations!!!!What a nice photo! Now I can put a nice face with your name! I think the dog training you did was awesome. We’re still training our 7 yr old (doggie) to do new tricks & I agree, the gradual training methods are best. So what’s the next course going to be?

  8. Congratulations – and it is not bragging to talk among friends and family. Your accomplishments are simply wonderful, but I’m sure no one who knows you is at all surprised. Sharing such accomplishments can offer other encouragement – not that all will achieve what you have. Happy Holidays from the Wagners!

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