Avoid the Flu, Save the Planet, and Raise Test Scores by Harnessing the Power of the Butterfly Effect

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This year especially, the flu is no joke. People aren't just missing school and work — they're dying. Most years, it's the very young, the elderly, and the immunocompromised who are most at risk. This year, it's become common to read of otherwise healthy twenty-somethings dying a few days after the onset of symptoms. If you work around children, you're on the front lines.  So do your part by learning this silly nursery rhyme. The life you save may be your own!  And as a bonus, this post will also help you raise test scores. No lie.  

 

Wash, Wash, Wash Your Hands...  

Last week, at my daughter's pediatrician office I learned a handy little nursery-rhyme:

(To the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat... sort of.)

"Wash, wash, wash your hands.
Wash them nice and clean.

Scrub them here.
Scrub them there.
Scrub them in between.

Wash, wash, wash, your hands.
Play our handy game.

Rub-a-dub, scrub and scrub —
Germs go down the drain HEY! 
Germs go down the drain HEY!"

The idea is simple. Children who hum this tune while washing their hands will wash more deliberately and for a longer time. As a result, they'll have cleaner hands, stay healthier, and prevent the transmission of flu and other illnesses. Also, the song works just as well for busy adults who rush through hand washing to get back to work.

So give it a try. Or write your own little ditty. The important thing is that you slow down and take deliberate action to wash your hands more thoroughly. Once you do, you'll notice that you've just spent quite a bit longer than usual washing your hands. That should make you a little uncomfortable and may be even a little embarrassed.

That's good. Lessons that haunt are lessons that stick.

The Butterfly Effect in Action  

All of this got me thinking about how tiny changes in perfunctory tasks that can lead to significantly improved results. Of course, the result of these tiny changes are not always good. We have Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart to thank for teaching us that in 2004's The Butterfly Effect, which earned 33% and 81% "freshness" ratings from critics and audiences respectively. (Apparently, 81% of audiences enjoy "overwrought and tasteless thrillers." Frankly, that seems low to me.)

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In the film, Evan Treborn (a scruffy Ashton Kutcher) discovers he can travel back in time in order to set things right. Despite Kutcher's efforts, things go awry. Treborn soon discovers that relatively minor changes to the past can result in major problems for the future.

Homer Simpson fought to avoid learning the same lesson in the hilarious short, Time and Punishment from The Simpson's Treehouse of Terror V (1994):

 

Lessons that haunt are lessons that stick. 

But if you prefer a (slightly) more thorough examination of The Butterfly Effect (not the movie), you could do worse than checking out the Butterfly Effect's Wikipedia page.

However, you should be warned that taking the time to read it may cause you to be late for something else, sending your entire future into chaos.       

What Does All of This Have to Do with Test Prep?
Great question. In a sense, test prep depends on a mechanism that's rather similar to the butterfly effect. The accumulation of tiny changes in the present result in massive changes to the student's future.  

Think about it. We don't make dramatic changes to our students' approach (e.g. "Try jogging in place while you take the test," or "Hold your breath as you read the passage," "Use calligraphy when answering grid-in math questions.").

Instead, we endeavor to create improved results in the future through subtle changes to the student's approach in the present. More on this later. It's worth the wait — trust!

Help Me Put the Butterfly Effect to Use.
Let's stick with the hand washing example for one more moment as I attempt to illustrate the power of the butterfly effect. It turns out that you can change the future just by changing how you think about a task.

While waiting for a delayed flight last Sunday in Austin, TX, I had occasion to use the restroom. After washing my hands, I grabbed the last two paper towels in the dispenser.

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At that moment, it occurred to me that I had ALWAYS grabbed three paper towels before I began to dry my hands. Doing so had always made sense because I ALWAYS used all three paper towels. Now, finding myself unexpectedly limited to just two paper towels, I suddenly paid close attention to how I used them. It was then that I realized that two paper towels are perfectly adequate for drying my hands. 

The process takes virtually the same amount of time but results in 33% less waste. This is a result that matters. 

The trick, it turns out, is to focus on the paper towels rather than focusing on your hands. If you focus on drying your hands with paper towels, you'll be tempted to grab a third or fourth paper towel immediately. However, if you focus on wetting the paper towels with your hands, you'll keep working with two until your hands are too dry to get the towels any wetter.

Changing your thinking: a seemingly insignificant change that can make a significant difference.   

That's a big deal when you multiply one paper towel by the number of times you wash your hands per year. And every time you share this insight with a friend, you potentially multiply the reduction in waste, which was caused by my realization, which was caused by my drinking a bit too much wine at an airport, which was caused by a delayed flight, which was caused by a faulty cockpit computer on flight 1460, LGB —> AUS, which may have been caused years ago by a distracted Foxconn factory worker on the other side of the planet, who assembled that cockpit computer while distracted by local weather reports of a cyclone, which was almost certainly caused by a single flap of a butterfly's wings a few months prior.

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fig. 1 monarch butterfly

 

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fig. 2 cyclone

 Note: I'm indulging the popular misconception of the Butterfly Effect, which wrongly holds that that incomprehensibly complex phenomena could theoretically be traced to singular, insular causes. For me, this notion is a tiny bit comforting but mostly just paralyzing. If you have thoughts on the Butterfly Effect or the popular misconceptions about it, please leave them in the comments below.     

Instantly Improve a Student's ACT or SAT Score. Guaranteed.
If you've read this far, you're probably interested in the whole Butterfly Effect analogy I've been teasing out. That, or you're putting off some important work you're dreading. Either way, I appreciate your taking the time to read this post in its entirety.

So great is my appreciation, that I'm going to dispense what I maintain is the single fastest method for improving a student's SAT or ACT score. I don't know that I'd guarantee instant results, but I've already written the headline so let's just go with it.

I'm being 100% serious here. The only way to instantly improve a student's test scores is to change the way the student thinks about the task of answering each test question. I'll explain.

Recall that deliberately focusing on wetting the paper towels rather than drying your hands instantly reduces waste. In the same way, approaching each test question by deliberately focusing on eliminating incorrect answers rather than identifying the correct answer reduces the frequency with which you'll choose incorrect answers.

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Identical students — let's call them Student A and Student B — taking identical SAT tests under identical testing conditions will produce dramatically different results if Student A approaches each test question by focusing on identifying correct answers while Student B approaches all the same problems problem by focusing on eliminating incorrect answers.

The difference may only be a few points per test section, but in the same way that a single flap of a butterfly's wing can produce a cyclone on the other side of the planet, so too can a single additional correct answer on a single test section dramatically alter the trajectory of a student's academic life and everything that follows. 

But what about your future?
Upgrading your test prep system can generate tremendous results for your company. One additional closed sale may lead to one additional happy customer. That happy customer may refer a client or two. They may provide the testimonials that help you land an account with a local high school. That account may pay for your new location. And the revenue from that location may help you finance the production of your spec script for Butterfly Effect 4: The Highly Effective Butterfly

But you'll never know if you don't give us a call at 628-400-7737 (PREP) or click below to learn more! 

Matt McCorkle