From Spectator to Player on the Field

Brian picOne of my professors made a comment one day in class about football, saying, “At a football game you see 22 players on the field desperately in need of rest and 55,000 people in the stands desperately in need of exercise.” Our class had signed up to hear the famous lectures of this salty professor, but he let us know that we would not be spectators only, and his assignments proved that.SpectatorsImage

Though his lectures were stimulating, full of pith, and insightful, his assignments were designed to make students concentrate on all levels. They brought out the global picture of a text but also required noticing tiny details. The assignments were like an elaborate quilt; it gives up immediately what the main picture is, while at the same time including rich, small details without which the quilt would fail as a work of art.

1218_boston-marathon-2I notice passivity in some students who come to college. They got by previously by being “good listeners” and taking tests or doing worksheets. The premium for them has been intake of information and the ability to replicate it from memory. Intake and replication are vital to any profession, but eventually the practitioner learns to discover how to use information in difficult situations where the human component is present.

That is the sticky part—the human part. Humans defy neat categories, and so applying knowledge to them goes beyond our spectator days. We have to put our knowledge into play on the field and not in the stands.knowledgepic

It is true that every endeavor has its virtuosos whom we love to observe. Certainly it is a wonderful thing to study and celebrate the works of a master in any field. However, virtuosos are not a separate category of human. All humans live by giving their all to play at something and serve others. Everyone has a game to play, and to play well means a move from spectator to doer, which reminds me of a scripture, “Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).

Ending on an Up Note: Safety Tips

After I discussed lab safety, played a safety video, and asked students to sign a lab safety contract, my class asked, “Who would be dumb enough to do that stuff anyway?”

Who, indeed?


Thanks to Doug Savage at Savage Chickens–Cartoons on Sticky Notes for once again sharing his unique view of the world.

Enjoy your weekend…safely, of course.

A Fine Southern Lady

ReadingthuRsday-R2In 1974 – 1978 I had a part-time job at Clarksville’s Leaf-Chronicle. At that time, the Leaf-Chronicle made it a point to hire college students. It was a brilliant move on their part. The Leaf-Chronicle got some inexpensive people to work for them who were energetic even with full course loads. Working at The Leaf-Chronicle was a great job while attending college. The hours were flexible, there were opportunities to work at night and on weekends, plus a lot of fun and wonderful people worked at the Chronicle. vintagead

At that time, most of the advertising lay-out was done manually. I worked in the ad department, and I slowly learned how to follow an ad layout and create an ad. What is now done with publishing programs, we did by hand using strips of print we waxed, cut to the appropriate size, and placed carefully and evenly on blue lined paper. I was trained by Sonya Turner, who was fast and accurate in her work, clever with comment, and one of the most patient and fun-filled people I have ever met. To help Sonya with my training, various folks in the ad department helped me along. I have always felt I learned as much working at the Leaf Chronicle as I learned from my college classes. One of the persons that helped me learn about work ethic, kindness, and pride in my work was Mrs. Velma Crowell.

Crowell-Photo-360x480Mrs. Velma was a “fine Southern lady.” She took extra time to ask me about school, and she listened to my small worries about classes, balancing work and school, boyfriends, and life. She encouraged, and she chided a little if I let small things become big things. When I graduated from Austin Peay State University, she gave me two small books of poems. Those books have traveled with me through many moves, and they ultimately made their way pack to Clarksville in 2013 when I moved home after more than thirty years. Most of the poems can easily be found in other books, but when Mrs. Velma gave them to me I felt special. She knew I loved to read, and one day in passing, I told her about a poem I had read. I cannot remember the poem, but I remember the kindness of her patiently listening when I am sure she was tired.

Mrs. Velma Crowell passed away on March 12, 2016. I had assumed she had passed long ago, so I was very upset with myself for not looking her up when I returned to Clarksville. I always thought of her as a senior citizen, but she had to be in her late 40’s (much younger than I am now) when I began working at the Chronicle. Mrs. Velma lived 90 years, and she worked 24 of those years at the Leaf- Chronicle when newspapers were a little more locally driven and less syndicated, and the work was a little more labor intensive. When I learned of her death and posted on the Facebook page dedicated to Leaf-Chronicle past and present employees, the outpouring of gratitude for having the opportunity to know her and work with her was heartwarming. My friend Denny said she gave him a Cross pen when he graduated. I think she saw something in both of us because each of us has made a life’s work based on words.mentor

I regret not telling her in person how special she was to me. In her honor I am taking this time to remind all of how important small encouragements are to a college student who is trying to find that balance between work and school and life. RIP and thank you, Mrs. Velma.

Overcoming Inertia

Brian picI do the grocery shopping in our house. It’s been that way for years—a combination of two things: my wife hates it, and I like going, once I get going.

However, a second inertia occurred several years back when I regularly went to Aldi and to Kroger, with a list for each. Aldi offers great savings on a short but significant list of food items consumed at our house.  However, that meant two stores in one outing—an extra stop, parking twice, and checking out twice. It became easier to buy everything at Kroger, rationalizing that paying for convenience can be worth cart full

My officemate, Anne Stahl, loves Aldi, and praises the bargains there. I would agree but had settled into my Kroger-only ways. Never underestimate, however, the slow and steady influence of what friends are enthusiastic about. Anne wasn’t trying to recruit me to Aldi; it’s just that she enjoyed mentioning items on sale and the dishes that she cooked with them, and I have enjoyed many of those leftovers that she has brought to the office for Karen and me.

A couple of weeks ago, I unexpectedly found the idea of a trip to Aldi appealing for savings on a few items. Once in there, things escalated, and since then, the cart has gotten fuller and the list longer on bargains for familiar foods around our house. Aldi and Kroger are both back to where they were a few years ago.

aldi-discount-grocersAldi keeps its prices down in two ways. A customer puts a quarter into a cart to separate it from its row, and then gets the quarter back by attaching the cart back to its row after loading the car. Then too, the customer can buy bags, but mostly, customers use discard boxes from the store to pack their own groceries.

An unexpected pleasantry also occurred at Aldi. A female employee with a huge pallet of items to stock was in the middle of the store when I asked where the canned nuts were. She could have said, “You walked right by them when you came into the store.” Instead, she enthusiastically took me over to them. I felt like an idiot, but she never implied that.

Later, I was hunting salsa, and she walked me over to it. Not only that, she on her own explained about the different salsas, to which I said, “You should be in sales.” It is inspiring when people go beyond expectations in small duties.Motivationl-quotes

This return of Aldi all began with thinking about habits. Life is full of habits, getting started with one or trying to break one. Often, success hinges on overcoming inertia. It is useful to weigh time expended and the value of that extra time when deciding on whether to shop at only one store or two. In this case, a revived memory of some really good savings led to the return to Aldi, plus my wife compliments me when I tell her the savings on this or that item, and what husband doesn’t like that?


When Text Becomes Difficult, Read Aloud (Just a Little)

ReadingthuRsday-R2We begin our early reading by reading aloud. The process of making sounds from a series of letters into words that are understood is a great accomplishment. By reading aloud, young children can be coached into proper pronunciation. Children are often placed in reading groups by perceived abilities, and reading aloud in a group, rather large or small, is not always a pleasant experience. Miscues in reading are audible, and often struggling readers are helped so much, they just give up.

Alas, at some point, most children read less aloud in schools and they move to reading silently. Some children have difficulty making this transition, so they begin to subvocalize as they read. For people who work with students’ reading skills, it is acceptable practice to discourage readers from subvocalizing because it may slow a reader down. If a reader goes too slowly, in many cases, comprehension is lost because it takes the reader so long to get through a passage.readaloud1

So, we encourage students to read aloud when they are learning to read, then we discourage them from subvocalizing, and then often we ask them to read aloud again in their content classes. So reading aloud does not completely go away from students’ daily school days because in order to cover as content, many teachers use reading aloud as a tool to move through material. Many of us can remember reading aloud in school. The technique called Round Robin reading is a staple in many content classrooms. Everyone takes a turn reading a paragraph or two aloud. Good readers briskly move through their paragraphs; challenged readers stumble through theirs. Few listen because they are either counting to see what will be their paragraph, or they just zone out at the monotony of classmates’ words. Teachers hope when students at least hear the information, some will sink into brains.

Talking_lipsSo reading aloud in academic settings is not always a great thing in many students’ minds. So when I recommend reading aloud when the text becomes difficult, it seems counterintuitive. However, there is something about slowing down just a little to read a sentence aloud that seems to help readers grasp the information they are reading. I quickly tell students they will not read everything aloud, but reading about a very important concept here and there is useful.

The great thing about being an adult reader is one may read aloud, one may read silently, one may subvocalize, or one may do whatever it takes to read and understand. Adults have control over their reading. In other words, adult learners can figure out what works for them. The great thing about an adult reader is he or she has choice.cute-reading Adult readers can choose to listen to my advice about reading aloud when the text gets difficult, or they may just nod their heads politely and do whatever works for them. Reading is a personal thing, and while a reader might ask for advice about how to read something or may ask for a recommendation for a good book to read, the reader ultimately decides how to proceed.
Note: Next week is Spring Break….yeah. I am making a decision to read something wonderful!

Getting a Hand from Pop Culture

Karen3A great pleasure in learning afforded by my 23-minute drive to work is listening to Terry Gross of WHYY’s Fresh Air interview a wide variety of people on all sorts of topics. Earlier this week, she spoke with Adam McKay, who received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film The Big Short.

The film details the collapse of the housing bubble and the ensuing consequences for the global economy….scintillating stuff, right? McKay and his collaborators devised an innovative way to deliver wonky information to their audience. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

GROSS: So you have some cutaways for popular personalities, not that I’m necessarily familiar with all of them (laughter) like actors Margot Robbie, and Chef Anthony Bourdain and actress and singer Selena Gomez. Explain some of the more complicated things. And they’re just, like, cutaways where, like, Anthony Bourdain’s in the kitchen and Margot Robbie is in a bubble bath. How did you come up with the idea to do cutaways like that and to find, like, the comedy – the comic way for them to explain it?the-big-short-1-556x300

MCKAY: You know, it came about from, really, the – what I think once again is the central question of the movie, which is why did these people see it and we didn’t when the numbers were so obvious if you looked at them? So one of the answers we started talking about was just this kind of white noise pop culture that America has a lot of. I mean, the rest of the world has it, too. So we started talking about the idea of, like, we want to represent that pop culture in the movie. We don’t just want the movie to be in offices with Wall Street guys talking. We want to see what America is thinking. And then off of that thought I had the idea of, like, well, what would happen if pop culture actually gave us usable information? Like, what would happen if Kim Kardashian every time she was on camera explained the LIBOR rate scandal? You know, what would happen if any time you’re watching a red carpet for an award show and everyone comes down in their gown, you know, each person, you know, talks about climate change statistics…
(emphasis mine)

If an award-winning filmmaker can do this, why can’t we? In fact, I do it all the time…just yesterday in fact.

Here’s what my students needed to grasp about the thirst mechanism: When your serum osmolality rises above 300 milliosmoles, osmoreceptors in your hypothalamus (part of your diencephalon), trigger the desire to drink.

What this means in plain English: If you eat something salty, or lose too much water, your brain realizes that your blood is too salty, and you want something to drink.

How to make this more accessible and memorable? Get a little help from Seinfeld!

If you’re not sure how to find a good clip for your concepts, just collar any culture-savvy young person of your acquaintance, offer them the “plain English” version of the idea, and ask them for suggestions. Works every time, and I now have a pretty spectacular collection of clips stored in my YouTube account.