More Crazy Things People Say to Teachers (And How to Respond)

17 05 2013


Wasn’t a dish supposed to run away with a spoon or something?

29 04 2013


Practical English, Lesson #2

26 04 2013


The Great Gatsby Character Map

12 04 2013


The only 12 1/2 writing rules you’ll ever need

11 04 2013

26354_438383502912910_943248851_n The 10 Mistakes List

27 02 2013

This is a pretty darn good list of stylistic problems that are often seen in writing, especially at the more advanced levels. I hesitate to call them “mistakes;” they are definitely more along the lines of bad habits and things to look out for if you’re hoping to take your writing to the next level. Check it out!

– dEV

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…style guide


© Daniel Reisel,

Just about every writer unconsciously leans on a “crutch” word. Hillary Clinton’s repeated word is “eager” (can you believe it? the committee that wrote “Living History” should be ashamed). Cosmopolitan magazine editor Kate White uses “quickly” over a dozen times in “A Body To Die For.” Jack Kerouac’s crutch word in “On the Road” is “sad,” sometimes doubly so – “sad, sad.” Ann Packer’s in “The Dive from Clausen’s Pier” is “weird.”

Crutch words are usually unremarkable. That’s why they slip under editorial radar – they’re not even worth repeating, but there you have it, pop, pop, pop, up they come. Readers, however, notice them, get irked by them and are eventually distracted by them, and down goes your book, never to be opened again.

But even if the word is unusual, and even if you use it differently when you repeat it, don’t: Set a higher standard for yourself even if readers won’t notice. In Jennifer Egan’s “Look at me,” the core word – a good word, but because it’s good, you get *one* per book -is “abraded.” Here’s the problem:

“Victoria’s blue gaze abraded me with the texture of ground glass.” page 202
“…(metal trucks abrading the concrete)…” page 217
“…he relished the abrasion of her skepticism…” page 256
“…since his abrasion with Z …” page 272

The same goes for repeats of several words together – a phrase or sentence that may seem fresh at first, but, restated many times, draws attention from the author’s strengths. Sheldon Siegel nearly bludgeons us in his otherwise witty and articulate courtroom thriller, “Final Verdict” with a sentence construction that’s repeated throughout the book:

“His tone oozes self-righteousness when he says…” page 188
“His voice is barely audible when he says…” page 193
“His tone is unapologetic when he says…” page 199
“Rosie keeps her tone even when she says…” page 200
“His tone is even when he says…” page 205
“I switch to my lawyer voice when I say …” page 211
“He sounds like Grace when he says…” page 211

What a tragedy. I’m not saying all forms of this sentence should be lopped off. Lawyers find their rhythm in the courtroom by phrasing questions in the same or similar way. It’s just that you can’t do it too often on the page. After the third or fourth or 16th time, readers exclaim silently, “Where was the editor who shoulda caught this?” or “What was the author thinking?”

So if you are the author, don’t wait for the agent or house or even editorial consultant to catch this stuff *for* you. Attune your eye now. Vow to yourself, NO REPEATS.

And by the way, even deliberate repeats should always be questioned: “Here are the documents.” says one character. “If these are the documents, I’ll oppose you,” says another. A repeat like that just keeps us on the surface. Figure out a different word; or rewrite the exchange. Repeats rarely allow you to probe deeper.

“He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.”

Something is conveyed in this sentence, but who cares? The writing is so flat, it just dies on the page. You can’t fix it with a few replacement words – you have to give it depth, texture, character. Here’s another:

“Bob looked at the clock and wondered if he would have time to stop for gas before driving to school to pick up his son after band practice.” True, this could be important – his wife might have hired a private investigator to document Bob’s inability to pick up his son on time – and it could be that making the sentence bland invests it with more tension. (This is the editorial consultant giving you the benefit of the doubt.) Most of the time, though, a sentence like this acts as filler. It gets us from A to B, all right, but not if we go to the kitchen to make a sandwich and find something else to read when we sit down.

Flat writing is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite.

Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally – these and others are words that promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. They suck the meaning out of every sentence.

I defer to People Magazine for larding its articles with empty adverbs. A recent issue refers to an “incredibly popular, groundbreakingly racy sitcom.” That’s tough to say even when your lips aren’t moving.

In “Still Life with Crows,” Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child describe a mysterious row of corn in the middle of a field: “It was, in fact, the only row that actually opened onto the creek.” Here are two attempts at emphasis (“in fact,” “actually”), but they just junk up the sentence. Remove them both and the word “only” carries the burden of the sentence with efficiency and precision.

(When in doubt, try this mantra: Precise and spare; precise and spare; precise and spare.)

In dialogue, empty adverbs may sound appropriate, even authentic, but that’s because they’ve creeped into American conversation in a trendy way. If you’re not watchful, they’ll make your characters sound wordy, infantile and dated.

In Julia Glass’s “Three Junes,” a character named Stavros is a forthright and matter-of-fact guy who talks to his lover without pretense or affectation. But when he mentions an offbeat tourist souvenir, he says, “It’s absolutely wild. I love it.” Now he sounds fey, spoiled, superficial.. (Granted, “wild” nearly does him in; but “absolutely” is the killer.)

The word “actually” seems to emerge most frequently, I find. Ann Packer’s narrator recalls running in the rain with her boyfriend, “his hand clasping mine as if he could actually make me go fast.” Delete “actually” and the sentence is more powerful without it.

The same holds true when the protagonist named Miles hears some information in “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo. “Actually, Miles had no doubt of it,” we’re told. Well, if he had no doubt, remove “actually” – it’s cleaner, clearer that way. “Actually” mushes up sentence after sentence; it gets in the way every time. I now think it should *never* be used.

Another problem with empty adverbs: You can’t just stick them at the beginning of a sentence to introduce a general idea or wishful thinking, as in “Hopefully, the clock will run out.” Adverbs have to modify a verb or other adverb, and in this sentence, “run out” ain’t it.

Look at this hilarious clunker from “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown: “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino.”

Ack, “almost inconceivably” – that’s like being a little bit infertile! Hopefully, that “enormous albino” will ironically go back to actually flogging himself while incredibly saying his prayers continually.

(Full Story)

Wired: New Online Course Explores Gender Through Comic Books

25 01 2013

I’ve already signed up! This looks interesting, and it’s a free online course! Well, except for whatever textbooks you have to buy, but in this case I think that won’t be much of an issue for me!

– dEV

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xmen 1By Kelly KnoxJanuary 24, 2013 | 9:00 am

An online course to study comic books? Sign me up! No, seriously, I already signed up. This spring the Canvas Network is offering a massive open online course called Gender Through Comic Books, taught by Ball State University’s Christina Blanch. Aimed at students college-age and up, the course will explore gender roles in comics from DC Comics, Marvel, and more. The goal of the course is to take a detailed look at “how comic books can be used to explore questions of gender identity, stereotypes, and roles,” with comics luminaries like Mark Waid, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, and more providing their own input and insights.

I had the chance to ask the course instructor Christina Blanch about what students can expect in the course, and she revealed that the course will not only cover how men and women are portrayed in comics, but also discuss current comic book culture like the “fake geek girl” debate.

GeekMom: What inspired you to use comic books as a medium to explore gender roles?

Christina Blanch: I was taking a class on Women and Education for my doctorate. For the final project we had to write a paper and my professor, who is also my mentor and an amazing woman, encouraged me to step out of the lines and do something different. I had been researching Mort Weisinger and how he as editor changed the Superman Family books, focusing on Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, and I thought using comic books could be a way to approach teaching gender without the trepidation some students feel. So, I wrote a paper on how a class could be developed using comic books to teach gender.

One of the students in the class taught for Women and Gender Studies and thought that it would be a good class and suggested it to the department chair. Next thing I knew, they asked me to teach the class. And it was such a great class – the students were all engaged and simply amazing.

strangers-in-paradiseGM: Can you give any hints about topics you’ll be exploring in the course?

CB: The first thing we will cover is what exactly gender is. People often times think it is synonymous with sex or is feminism in disguise. This class is about men and women and how we can learn about gender through its social construction, as politics, as a diffuse concept, and as a lived experience. Constructions of gender vary from culture to culture and change throughout time. In the class we will look at how gender is constructed and how the stereotypes of certain gender traits are perpetrated by the producers of cultural material. Masculinity and femininity have traits associated with them that are not equal with a person’s sex.

We will look at how women and men are represented in comic books and see how masculine or feminine they are.

With the recent “fake geek girl” debates, I also plan to talk about the comic book culture and who consumes the material.

And finally, we will look at the producers of the comics themselves through live interviews with some of the leading comic book writers and editors today. Using Google hangouts, we will interview writers such as Mark Waid, Scott Snyder, Gail Simone, Terry Moore, and Brian K. Vaughan. We will also get the editorial perspective from Marvel editors Steve Wacker and Sana Amanat. And through the miracle of technology, we will be able to randomly choose several students to be able to directly ask the interviewees questions. It should be an enlightening experience for the students.

GM: Will your course explore characters from both Marvel and DC Comics, as well as some of the smaller publishers?

CB: Yes! We are exploring a lot of different types of comic books. I wish we had more time, it’s only six weeks, so we could get more into autobiographical comic books, but time is so limited. We will read some Marvel and DC, like Captain Marvel and Batman, but will also be looking at books from smaller publishers that put out amazing books like Strangers in Paradise and Saga.

GM: Why did you choose to teach this course as a massive open online course (MOOC)?

CB: I really didn’t choose to do it as a MOOC. I was teaching the class last semester on campus and Ball State approached me and asked me if I would teach it as a MOOC. It’s been interesting working on ways to engage a large audience in the subject and still trying to keep the personal aspect. This will be my first time teaching a MOOC so it’s been a steep learning curve. I’m both excited and nervous, which I think is a good combination. I have a lot of great people at Ball State and the Canvas Network helping me with the technical aspects, so I think it will be amazing.

(Full Story with Video)

NBC News: A better pencil sharpener? Inventor dreams of erasing life’s annoyances

3 01 2013

A silent pencil sharpener? Name your price. Seriously.

This guy’s got a lot of neat gadget ideas that sound pretty practical to me!

– dEV

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Devin Coldewey , NBC News

Long lines at amusement parks. Traffic stalled at rush hour. Cycling uphill. To most of us, these are just minor problems we face in an otherwise comfortable existence. To Anwar Farooq, they are personal call-outs, challenges that he must answer with his own ingenuity. These days, the math teacher and habitual inventor is wrestling with the age-old problem of the pencil sharpener.

NBC News Logo“When I saw my students struggling with the regular pencil sharpener, I honestly knew that there must be an alternate approach, so I started thinking,” Farooq, who teaches at Maywood Academy, southeast of Los Angeles, told NBC News.

That’s not the first time Farooq “started thinking.”

His inventions, spanning 1986 to now, may seem whimsical at first, but on closer inspection are like early ancestors of devices in use today. There’s a bike where your pedaling is boosted by an air compressor, for instance. If you replace the air compressor with an electric motor, you get today’s battery-powered bikes.

There’s the Robocam, a remote-controlled camera platform that’s a precursor to telepresence robots and smartphone videoconferencing apps alike.

For those annoying amusement park or movie theater lines, Farooq proposes a chain of connected, moving chairs. You take a load off, enjoy the built-in entertainment system, and before long, it’s your turn to get up and enjoy the ride or show. He calls it Waiting Is Fun. It may seem far-fetched … until Disney goes and installs one in Tomorrowland.

The idea Farooq seems most proud of is the Rapid Commute. Cars traveling from the outskirts of a city drive right onto a high-speed train, as if they were boarding a ferry boat. The train then brings them to a central location downtown, where they disembark. Next month he will be presenting it to the Transportation Research Board, an off-shoot of the non-profit National Research Council, at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

And then there’s the Quick N Silent pencil sharpener.

Pencil sharpeners are, in fact, one of the few classroom technologies that have not experienced a radical redesign in the past century. The most common type of institutional sharpener, the hand-cranked type you can still see mounted to a wall or the teacher’s table in classrooms all over the world, was introduced in 1904.

Sure, electric versions have been introduced, but the cylindrical mills rotating in “planetary” fashion within are still dominant — despite the inconsistency of their results.

Nevertheless, when Farooq wrestled with how to modernize the pencil sharpener, he didn’t look to some laser that could hone the tip of a pencil with micron-level precision. Instead, he found inspiration in the distant past.

“I remembered that people carried pocket knives and they just used those to sharpen pencils quietly and efficiently.”

He set to work on the new machine based on the same principles.

(Full Story)

HuffPo: Using Music in the Classroom to Educate, Engage and Promote Understanding

3 12 2012

I hate his examples and taste in music, but I love his ideas! I’m hoping to try some of the out myself in the future!

– dEV

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Using Music in the Classroom to Educate, Engage and Promote Understanding

Host, educator, historian, and student mentor

Posted: 11/08/2012 12:31 am

The song “Gone” by ‘N Sync stops me in my tracks and nearly brings me to tears; this is not because it’s a horrible song but because, whenever I hear it, I am reminded of the night my college girlfriend and I broke up for the 15th time. (It was for the best that time.) I’m not sharing this for sympathy, or because I’m still bitter towards her (she’s an amazing person). My point is to share what we all know: We are emotionally connected to music — particularly specific songs. We all have songs that remind us of people, places, events, good times and bad times and that bring back memories that have long been repressed or even forgotten. These songs define our lives and we all have this personal and emotional playlist that I call the “Soundtrack of Our Lives.”

We all have this soundtrack, and the choices of songs are never finalized until we are dead. Music is the one constant to which everyone is attached, and that everyone understands. We may disagree about which musicians are good or bad or which generation’s songs are better (every generation thinks their generation’s music is the best). But we all can agree that, without music, life would be silent and sadder than the saddest Adele song (if that’s even possible). Recently, my dear friend Rachel Nichols (a Columbia University graduate), who is one of the most talented actresses and brilliant people I know, surprised my students at school one day. After they regained consciousness (they were extremely excited), Rachel fielded many questions. One question in particular made me smile, a student asked “How do you mentally and emotionally prepare yourself for your differing roles?” Rachel went on to say that if a scene requires intense emotion, she will think of losing a loved one (like Rachel, the thought of losing my parents chokes me up instantly), and that she has various playlists she has made, consisting of different songs that will generate different emotions and mindsets. This just solidified something of which I was already aware: that she is brilliant as well as a beautiful person. My students have requested that she substitutes for me when I’m absent and a few of my male students want her to replace me entirely (I would too if I were them).

Educators have been using music to effectively educate for as long as there has been music. Many of us were fortunate to have those unconventional and edgy teachers (mine were Mr. Caliguire and Mr. “Weez,” and I can’t thank them enough), who played the iconic protest songs from the anti-war movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and then we analyzed and discussed the lyrics. This was one of my favorite activities and it helped me understand the nation and its differing political views better than any textbook or lecture ever could. This, however, is not the method of using music in the classroom to which I am referring. The method of using music that I will be discussing can be applied to all subject areas and used to engage all learners.

There is a reason why we can remember song lyrics for our entire lives, but we forget the lecture or notes our teachers discussed an hour later. I am not going to get into the psychological reasoning behind memory or mnemonics. I am discussing the aspect of using and creating soundtracks for people, places, events and even themes across nearly every area of study. As a film and TV writer (as well as educator), I have found myself, not only focusing on writing scripts with engaging characters, but also trying to find songs that would help create more dramatic effects for specific scenes which would eventually be added to their soundtracks. I wondered: If music is so personal to each of us and everyone listens to some form of music, why can’t I utilize music and songs to engage my students? This would help them understand specific historical topics and, at the same time, help them comprehend and retain that information — every educator’s ultimate goal.

After doing so, the results and responses from my students were overwhelming. In a time where educators and education experts are struggling to find ways to engage all learners and differentiation has become a choice method to most districts, I was able to engage, educate, differentiate and increase understanding and retention by simply using something to which we are all already attached. Before I even begin to use songs in my soundtrack activity, I start the year off by having my students create the soundtracks of their lives. Additionally, each student must then describe why each particular song has a personal and sentimental meaning and has earned a place on the soundtrack of his/her life. This introduces students to our emotional attachment to music but also helps them learn a little about themselves. I, of course, share some of the songs on the soundtrack of my life; I play “Gone” and even “The Scientist” by Coldplay, and explain how these songs would lead me to tears. We all share a good laugh and I humanize myself (which is necessary for a comfortable and effective classroom environment). Then, they understand the purpose of the activity and are prepared to use it in class throughout the year.

Since I am a history teacher, I am going to provide a few examples of how to successfully and effectively use songs and soundtracks in class. First, in order to create any soundtrack, students must know some basic information about the person, place or event for which they will be creating a soundtrack. So, prior to the activity, I introduce and the basic information surrounding the topic. For example, when we discuss the Reformation, we cover the basic concepts: causes and effects, major figures, events and dates. Once the students have a basic understanding, they then create a soundtrack for the event and have to list 10 songs, with a brief description of why each song would appear on the soundtrack to the Reformation. In the past, they have listed songs such as “In the End” by Linkin Park (which is a great example of the Humanist movement), and “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West (which can relate to the Protestant movement and the questioning of the Catholic church). I am always impressed by my students’ song choices and the variations of songs, artists and genres. The fact that a student can take a song that is completely unrelated to a specific event, and make it relative is a clear example of understanding and long lasting knowledge. I had a student, who had graduated five years earlier, visit the high school during his college break and the first words out of his mouth were, “Mr. Ferroni, do you know that every time I hear “Move B****” by Ludacris I think of Manifest Destiny, and can recite all the major facts and events of it?” I could only smile in response.

The last example I am going to provide is for a historical figure. For example, let’s say that I ask students to provide a soundtrack or playlist for Christopher Columbus. Students would then list songs that would appear on Christopher Columbus’ iPod playlist (if he had an iPod, of course), and briefly describe why each song would likely be on it. For Columbus’ playlist, you may find everything from “Gold Digger” by Kanye West to “Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed, or even “A Whole New World” by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle.

As I mentioned, this activity can be extremely effective is many subject areas. An English teacher can have students create a soundtrack for a play or book they are reviewing, or ask students to create a playlist and list songs that would likely be on Macbeth‘s, and even Romeo and Juliet‘s playlist; a creative writing teacher can have students find and discuss lyrics to their favorite songs; an art teacher can have students pick a song and draw or paint an image that they feel best represents the premise and emotion in the song. Finally, a science teacher can have students create soundtracks for specific topics of study, or even songs that would likely be on the playlist of a famous scientist. The options are endless, and even I have yet to scratch the surface of all the ways music and songs can be used in the classroom.

(Full Story)


Girls + Engineering = Goldie Blox!

24 11 2012

This is a pretty awesome idea!

About a month ago, my daughter came home from preschool and declared that she didn’t like Ninja Turtles, since they were for boys. My wife and I looked at each other with a shared expression that said, “Let’s put an end to this crap right now.” We explained to Cordelia that she could like whatever she wanted to like, and there was no such thing as “for boys” and “for girls” when it came to what she was interested in, and especially what kind of toys she wanted to play with.

I’m all for toys that show girls that they can do whatever they want to do, and they can be whatever they want to be. Goldie Blox looks like a great product, and while it’ll be a while before either of my girls are at the age where something like this would interest them, I’m glad that someone’s producing a toy for girls that doesn’t involve brushing hair or changing dresses.

Cool stuff!

– dEV

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