The Mimic Men, by V.S. Naipaul

On the surface this is the memoir of a disgraced former colonial minister, Ralph Singh, exiled from the island country he briefly ruled and now living in a run-down hotel in London.  But perhaps it’s more accurate to think of this as the trellis upon which Naipaul has woven a much deeper, much more complex examination of colonialism, politics, race, society, culture, and human psychology.  

I’m struggling to figure out how to characterize a story in which much happens internally while very little actually occurs externally.  One insight that occurs early is that Naipaul has chosen his narrator well. Singh’s life story provides opportunities to explore so many complex issues – from his childhood spent navigating a chaos of adolescent, intellectual, religious, racial and class issues, to his brief career as a radical politician in which he explores the complex realities of colonialism and the emptiness and futility of revolutions that arise from anger and despair, to his “retirement” in exile, which provides the opportunity for exhaustive self-examination about identity.  Throughout the narrative, however, weaves at least one common theme: the extent to which a life spent mimicking the values & ambitions of others – other people, other cultures, other classes, other religions, other economies, other political systems – can ever be “true” or fulfilling.   Can identity ever be wholly organic, or do we inevitably define ourselves through the perceptions and expectations of race/class/society/gender we are born into?

In 250 short pages Naipaul packs an almost indescribable amount of observation and reflection, couched in language that borders on lyrical at times. Seriously, I was underlining passages almost every paragraph – beautifully turned phrases, dazzling flashes of insight, deftly observed universal truths.  Which makes for an intense intellectual experience, but possibly not riveting reading if your aim is entertainment or distraction.  So consider yourself warned: while this definitely isn’t something you’d want to take with you to the beach, it will amply reward readers who are willing to devote to it the time and reflection it deserves.


A Thousand Words - The Zen of Ice Skating

A man ice skating in a suit (1937).:

There's cool, and then there's "ice skating in a suit and fedora cool," which is a whole different order of magnitude of coolness.


Book Look - The Thrill of the Grass, by W.P. Kinsella

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Yes, the author is THAT W.P. Kinsella, the one who wrote the story on which the movie Field of Dreams was based. Which, you’d think, would make the rest of his fiction a little more popular and a lot easier to find. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be the case: I’ve spent hours scouring used book stores and the back stalls of Amazon in search of Kinsella’s canon. Why? Because as anyone lucky enough to have encountered the original version of “Shoeless Joe” in an anthology – or the author’s “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy” or “Box Socials,” for that matter - can attest, Field of Dreams wasn’t a fluke: W.P. Kinsella knows how to tell a great story. Stories of hope, stories of despair, stories of love, stories of neglect, funny stories, nostalgic stories, tragic stories … above all, stories filled with wonder and magic and – yes - baseball.

As in “The Last Pennant Before Armageddon,” in which a weary old baseball manager must choose between winning his first pennant or triggering the end of the world. As in “How I Got My Nickname,” in which a pimply, overweight teenage bookworm with a gift for hitting has to make the choice that will determine his destiny. As in “The Night Matty Mota Tied the Record,” in which Death appears to offer a baseball fan the option of dying in the place of a baseball phenom, thus allowing the baseball phenom to realize his full measure of greatness. As in “The Battery,” which features twin boys born to be baseball prodigies, prophecies, coups, kidnappings, cockatoos, bookies, bad trades, magical manifestations, mind-reading, and an actual wizard. As in “The Thrill of the Grass,” in which a silent swarm of baseball fans, animated by the single shared purpose, undertake a feat of prodigious baseball magic.

Nor are the other stories in this collection lacking in magic, though Kinsella summons it in its more familiar form – love: hopeful love (“Driving Towards the Moon,” in which true love blossoms between a weary housewife and a young baseball star), hopeless love (“Barefoot and Pregnant in Des Moines,” in which romantic love gradually fades into habit), love gone wrong (“Nursie,” in which a baseball player reflects on the disasterous remains of his high school romance), brotherly love (“Bud and Tom,” in which a dispute over baseball destroys the bond between two brothers), self-love (“The Firefighter,” in which selfishness dooms a family to ironic tragedy), doomed love (“The Baseball Spur,” in which we learn that while neither love nor baseball are forever, hope endures).

Given so many lovely tales to choose from, I suspect it would be hard for any two people to agree on a single favorite. But then, isn’t that one of the qualities that makes a book of short stories great? Make that doubly true when the theme is baseball and the author is a bit of a wizard himself.


Book Look - Hawksmoor, by Peter Ackroyd

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A couple of recommendations if you chance upon this review before attempting the book. (1) if you’ve picked this up because you love a good, literary murder mystery, you may wish to reconsider; though murders occur, and there’s a detective intent upon solving them, you’ll find almost every other traditional mystery trope – clues, motives, suspects, an investigation, a denoument – unsettlingly absent here. (2) Fully half the book is written utilizing 17th century literary conventions (complete with period-appropriate erratic spelling, punctuation, and grammar) – if this doesn’t appeal to you, you’ve another reason to move on. (3) Though I tend to avoid spoilers, in this case you may actually want to start off by reading one or more of the many literary essays devoted to this book, so that you don’t waste three quarters of the book (as I did) trying desperately to make sense of incidents that, it turns out, aren’t necessarily meant to make sense – at least not in any traditional, logical way.

For Hawksmoor is, according to people smarter than me, a work of “postmodern” literature – a deliberate effort on the part of Ackroyd, the novel’s erudite author, to pervert narrative conventions, genre, character development – even chronological time. In the process, he’s created an uneven tale consisting of two parallel narratives, one of them a great deal more fully-realized and engaging than the other.

The more engaging narrative, set in late 17th century London, tells the tale of Nicholas Dyer, an architect in charge of building a series of major churches throughout the city and also, secretly, a worshipper of ancient, fearful gods who, among other things, require that each of his churches be consecrated by a human sacrifice. His professional and philosophical rival is Sir Christopher Wren, a fellow architect who, in contrast, is a champion of the Age of Reason, intent upon displacing the old gods and setting new ones – science and logic - in their place. This juxtaposition allows Ackroyd to explore both these forces – and especially the opposition between them – at some length, resulting in a series of richly imagined, often disturbing scenes and set-pieces. (Seriously, some of the scenes are presented in the form of miniature plays – more postmodern experimentation, I presume, but it works.)

Perhaps because these chapters are so rich, dark, and disturbing, the half of the narrative set in (more or less) modern-day London, featuring Det. Hawksmoor and his attempts to solve a series of murders at churches designed by Dyer, can’t help but pale in comparison. Dyer’s gradual descent into madness is satisfyingly convincing and creepy; Hawksmoors’, alas, is merely tedious.

Before too long you begin to notice that the two narratives are tied together by more than Dyer’s churches (which, by the way, are laid out in the form of a pentagon, along ancient “lay lines” of power); increasingly, incidents in the lives of Hawksmoor and Dyer parallel/intersect, the intent of which could be interpreted in any number of ways. My own interpretation is that Ackroyd means us to understand that the conflict between reason and chaos, though less visible beneath our 20th century veneer of reason, continues unabated, particularly at sites (like Dyer’s churches) where ancient evils have long festered and concentrated. This interpretation is supported, I believe, by the parallels that Ackroyd draws between his London of 1690 and his London of today – despite the passage of years, the two Londons are eerily similar, from the songs the urchins sing in the streets to the cries of the vendors selling their wares, from buildings perched uneasily upon the foundations of structures dating back to prehistory to the timeless cruelty and bullying of children, from streets still named after their ancient antecedents to the sad, desperate lives of the beggars, whores and madmen who exist at the fringes of humanity.

A provocative thesis, and when combined with Ackroyd’s gift for authentic period detail and eerie narrative, enough for me to recommend this as a worthwhile read, even if “postmodern” isn’t ordinarily my cup of tea.


Book Look - Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford

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Per the forward to this long bio, Milford’s the first to have been granted access to the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s private letters and journals, long held in keeping by her sister Norma. This helps explain why this narrative is so compelling: having access to the subject’s own journals and letters provides fascinating access to her internal as well as external life. However, this may also explain the frustrating limits of this narrative: basically, if an incident isn’t covered in the letters, it isn’t mentioned here – leading to a biography that feels weirdly limited and insular. Moreover, while letters and diary entries may be revealing, they’re not necessarily complete, and they’re not necessarily trustworthy. In this case, it’s necessary to remember that our subject, Millay, wasn’t just a poet – she was also an accomplished actress, an erratic diarist with a tendency to omit unpleasant events, and an expert manipulator (especially of men and older women) with a gift for self-delusion. At the end of 500 pages I guarantee you’ll know a lot more about Millay, her life, and her canon; just don’t expect to have gained much insight into the forces that likely played the greatest role in shaping her life and character, which (based on clues in this text) may have included abandonment issues, bipolar disorder, and childhood sexual trauma.

There’s way too much drama in Millay’s life to try to summarize here, from her oddly heartbreaking childhood to her wild, bohemian adulthood to her early death following increasingly dramatic hospitalizations and staggering drug use. What Milford seems intent upon us understanding is that, as worthy as Millay’s poetry may have been, her fame was also in large part indebted to her ability to create her own “cult of personality.” If it hadn’t been for the willingness of a succession of older women, dazzled by her talent and charm, to smooth her path to and through college; if it hadn’t been for a string of discarded lovers, enchanted by her beauty, intensity, and sexual precocity, to ensure her poems stayed constantly in the public eye; if it hadn’t been for her scores of fans, particularly “sexually liberated young women,” enthralled by her dramatic public readings, her risqué reputation, and her husky contralto voice, flocking to the stores to purchase her poetry – one wonders whether she would have become what she became: the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry and the “voice of her era.” For if F. Scott Fitzgerald can be said to have given the “Jazz Age” its voice, then Millay can surely be said to have written the libretto.

Which brings me to the quirks of Milford as a narrator. She has the oddest habit of introducing new characters without any preamble and minimal biographical information, making it very difficult to figure out which characters are “minor” and which “major.” It was frustrating to constantly have to double back to re-read character introductions when the characters suddenly reappeared, 100 pages later, without any helpful reference or context. Even the minimal biographical information she provides sometimes comes chapters after the characters have been introduced, long after it would have been useful to have. Another issue I had was with Milford’s apparent resolve to present information without endeavoring to interpret it. In general I’m grateful when biographers eshew psychobabble – but isn’t there also something a little unhelpful (if not irresponsible) about presenting two fairly significant clues that Millay was the victim of childhood sexual trauma at the hands of one (or more) of her mother’s lovers with as much detachment as she brings to reprinting Millay’s endless letters about fashion? About as far as Milford goes is to acknowledge that when Millay starts using baby talk in her letters to her family, it’s “a bad sign” – though she coyly declines suggest what it’s a bad sign of.

On the other hand, you could argue that this approach, at the least, provides ample fodder for book club discussion! Some of the questions my group wrestled with (and that I’m still wrestling with): What was the root cause of Vincent’s sexual precocity – was it a Jazz Age thing? A poet thing? A Greenwich Village/bohemian thing? A symptom of a childhood sexual trauma? A desperate cry for attention/love? How did regularly society react to her many affairs with women and married men – or, what explains their failure to react? Did the babying she received at the hands of her husband Eugin truly protect her from her mistakes, or merely enable her to continue making them? Were her many illnesses real or psychosomatic? When did she begin using morphine, and what role did it play in hastening her nervous breakdowns? Or do Millay’s alternating episodes of mania and depression provide evidence that she was struggling with bipolar disorder? What exactly were her true feelings towards the mother she outwardly adored, but who in fact abandoned her daughters for long periods of time and seems, throughout this narrative, much more interested in being Vincent’s BFF than protecting her from harm? And finally, the biggest question of all: after reading this 500 page biography, why are we all struggling with the feeling that this narrative omits almost as much valuable insight as it includes?


10 Most Important Species at Risk of Extinction - Organisms We Should Really, Really, Really be Worried About Losing

I think most scientists are now on board with the idea that we are in the midst of what is being called (not terribly cleverly) the "Sixth Extinction" - this being the sixth time in Earth's history that 75% or more of extant species are expected to go extinct - to disappear forever. The causes are myriad but have one thing in common - humans - which is why scientists have gone even further and now argue that we have entered an entirely new geologic era, dubbed (again, not terribly cleverly), the Anthropocene - literally, the Era of Humans.

Having said that, there's nothing new about the argument that's been raging for decades over the consequences of extinction. Naturalists tend to argue that the extinction of any species is a potential disaster as (they rightly point out) all organisms within an ecosystem are interdependent, which means that when something happens to any one organism, all the rest are impacted.  Think of this as a version of Ray Bradbury's "Butterfly Effect" - in an interdependent system, even the minutest factors can profoundly impact the operation of the systems to which they belong.  Others dispute this, however, pointing out that extinction serves a critical natural function -  to "weed out" species that are not well adapted to survive - an argument with solid Darwinian roots. They point out, for instance, that if it hadn't been for the mass extinction event that eliminated the dinosaurs, then mammals (including ourselves) might never have had a chance to emerge from their holes and assume dominance over the world.

I'm not sure where I fall on the spectrum, but as an environmental scientist I can tell you that not all extinctions are equal.  Some endangered species appear to have slipped into extinction without creating a noticeable ripple.  Other endangered species, however, such as the species noted below, seem at risk of causing not just ripples at their passing, but potential tsunamis.  We may not be able to reverse this coming Sixth Extinction, but I would argue that if we don't actively work to preserve the following 10 organisms, we foolishly risk placing ourselves on the endangered list.
  1. Bees.  Yes, they ruin BBQs and cause thousands of hospital admissions every year, but here's why we need to be very, very, very scared about recent reports of declining bee populations: without bees, many of the crops we depend on as food sources would be at huge risk of extinction. Bees don't just pollinate random flowers - they are also the primary pollinator of crops including: apples, mangoes, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, cashew, cucumber, avocados, apricots, cherries, plums, almonds, peaches, pears, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries. Bees are, hands down, the most efficient method ever invented for transferring pollen between plants, which is necessary to ensure the production of fruit and seeds. Without bees, farmers would have to invent new systems to perform this task which - guaranteed - would be hugely less efficient and hugely more expensive.  What's killing the bees? Well, scientists aren't 100% sure, but certain chemicals in fertilizers such as neonicotinoids appear to act as neurotoxins, gradually poisoning the hunters/gatherers. Pathogens and global warming may also play a role. Whatever the cause, this is one effect we can't afford to allow - not unless we're okay with the prospect of sky-high food prices and mass starvation among those who can't afford those prices.
  2. Bats.  Speaking of pollinators, can we take a moment to talk about another animal that gets a bad rap? Not only are bats second only to bees in importance as pollinators (see above if you don't think that's a worthy enough purpose in life), but the ones that don't feast on flower sap typically feast on insects, a favorite of which happens to be mosquitoes. Want to guess the identity of the most deadly creature on earth - the creature that's responsible for the most human deaths? It's not sharks, or bears, or even fleas - it's mosquitoes. Malaria, dog heartworm, dengue fever, yellow fever, encephalitis, West Nile virus, and now Zika are all carried by these biting nuisance. So, you have to ask yourself: can we really afford to stand by and allow bat populations to plummet due to an untreated fungus (white nose syndrome), just because they look like rats with wings and we're all totally creeped out that they might get tangled in our hair or possibly suck our blood?
  3. Wolves (also other top predators, such as sharks and bears). There's a common theme to many of the organisms on this list - animals with bad reputations. Which is not entirely coincidental - one could argue that it's easier to stand aside and allow an animal we loath to go extinct vs. species that are harmless and cuddly - like, say, panda bears. Farmers hate wolves because they eat lambs, calves, and chickens, which can hurt a farmer's bottom line. But here's why we need top predators likes wolves, bears, and sharks on this earth: because they transfigure the ecosystems to which they belong in profound ways that we are only beginning to understand. Doubters need only consult what happened when wolves were removed from Yellowstone Park and then, decades later, restored: biodiversity increased (rather than decreased, as was uniformly predicted), grasslands were transformed into forests, whole rivers changed their courses, When we mess with top predators, we impact every food chain they belong to, every ecosystems they interact with, every ecosystems that interacts with THOSE ecosystems. And now, let's consider the past record of outcomes when humans mess with nature - almost universally disastrous.  Should we really be messing with natural systems on this scale when we comprehend so humiliatingly little about the potential impacts?
  4. Prairie dogs (also pika).  Another so-called "pest" species that farmers have managed to hunt almost to extinction, in the belief that these tunneling creatures denature critical grazing land by eating all the grasses. Except, guess what? Once the population of these species began to plummet, weird things started to happen. Instead of recovering their health, grasslands actually became even LESS healthy.  Why? Turns out their tunnels were providing an essential function: draining floodwater from the flat grasslands which - otherwise - just sits there, drowning the grass. Oh, and their tunnels also facilitate the return of nutrients back into the soil, improving both the rate and abundance of plant growth.  Cattlemen may not like that cows and sheep eventually step into the holes, but the number of injured animals pales in comparison to the number of animals that will perish from hunger if we don't quickly restore the prairie dogs and pika to some semblence of their previous abundance.
  5. Tuna.  Fun fact: did you know tuna can reach up to 15ft long and 1500lbs? Fishermen would have to kill, like, 500 mackerel just to produce as much food. Want to guess how long the mackerel are going to be around if tuna go extinct and suddenly we're turning to mackeral to make up the difference? This may be fudging the facts a little (substitute other species for mackeral) - but the lesson learned remains the same: humans require feeding, and if you kill off the large species that provide lots of food, we're going to turn to smaller species - except that we're going to need to kill A LOT MORE of them. Think a chain of dominoes, except that each domino is a different species driven to extinction, all because we made the short-sighted mistake of tipping over that one domino at the top of the chain.
  6. Cod. At one time, there were so many cod in the Atlantic Ocean that the challenge for fishermen wasn't catching them, but restraining themselves from catching so many that their boats sank. As a result, cod has become our go-to fish for just about everything. Almost all breaded fish (as in "fish & chips," the staple of all British pubs) is made from cod; cod liver oil is also a fairly critical nutritional supplement. However, you can probably guess the rest of the story - cod have now been so overfished that survival of the entire species is in peril. I for one REALLY don't want to be the one to tell my British friends that their days of fish & chips are numbered.
  7. Shellfish. Fond of oysters, scallops, clams? Then I've got some bad news for you, because all these species are at risk of extinction thanks to the same man-made factors that are bringing us climate change - too much CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. You see, when you mix seawater with carbon dioxide (which settles into the water from the atmosphere and is then mixed into the water by wave action), you get carbonic acid, H2DO3, which is just as acidy as it sounds. Acidy enough to gradually dissolve away the protective shells of the shellfish noted above, as well as sea urchins and - SO much more scary - certain microscopic plankton that provide energy for practically every food chain in the ocean.  Seriously, Washington and Oregon, which used to provide up to 25% of the U.S. oyster supply, have had to shutter their entire oyster industry because the water off those shores has become so acidic, baby oysters no longer survive seeding.  And while doing without seafood may seem like little more than an inconvenience in a country like the U.S., where we have plenty of cows and pigs to make up any protein deficits, I assure you that this is a HUGE deal in island nations such as Japan, Indonesia and the Phillipines, that rely on seafood to feed their populations.
  8. Chestnut trees.  I'm using chestnut trees as a placeholder for all the tree species at risk of extinction, because it's hard to think of a single tree species that we humans aren't exploiting for some purpose - as wood, as charcoal, as a source of food, as a source of medicinal compounds.  The causes of extinction are multitudinous - invasive species, climate change, deforestation - but the results are universal: less food for humans and animals, less biodiversity (think of biodiversity as insurance against extreme natural disasters), and fewer resources to create jobs and fulfill basic needs.  Also, do we really want to live in a world where "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" is no longer a "thing"?
  9. Dolphins & porpoises (also gorillas & monkeys).  In most of the above cases, the argument for saving the organism has been food-based - either they themselves are an important food source, or they facilitate the survival of a food source.  In this instance, however, I'm going to go just a little bit PETA on y'all and argue that allowing the extinction of  one of the few other sentient species on earth is morally wrong: akin, one might argue, to genocide.  Though scientists may not yet fully comprehend the extent of their intelligence, few doubts remain that these species have achieved consciousness (look it up), which philosophers have long identified as the true measure of "human-ness."  For instance, scientists may quibble over whether Koko the gorilla truly understands 1000 words in ALS, but few now dispute that she demonstrates consciousness and language use equivalent to a small human child.  Seriously - for her last birthday, she requested (and received) a kitten to keep as a pet; tell me that's not adorable. Now think of that as farmers and fishermen continue to slaughter these creatures for meat, or simply for convenience. Or, as my notably more blunt husband would undoubtedly shout if he knew I was typing this, repeat after me: "Soylent Green is People! Soylent Green is People!"
  10. Coral reefs. In this case I'll be appealing to your stomach, your conscience, and your aesthetic sense. Because, seriously, is there anything more wonderous in nature than a thriving coral reef? The colors, the biodiversity (25% of all ocean species live in reefs), the intricately linked chains of interdependence! (Also, Nemo & Dory live there!)  Alas, climate change has already bleached 100s of miles of coral reef, with no end in sight.  Turns out coral are fragile creatures who can't handle even tiny changes in ocean pH (being caused by ocean acidification) or temperature (being caused by global warming).  A recent ABC News report cited estimates that 25% of coral reefs are already dead, and predicts that the rest could be gone within the next 20 years.  Grim news for the millions of people on earth who rely on coral reefs for food, who rely on reef tourism to generate money for food, or who's bucket lists include "dive the Great Barrier Reef."


The 10 Type of People You Always Find on Volunteer Committees

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At this point in my life, I've served on enough committees to be a career politician. The following list is based on my extensive (and, I will confess, sometimes amused) observations:

  1. The Alphas. There's always that one person who assumes they should be in charge. This, by the way, has nothing to do with whether they're actually the most qualified/knowledgeable to assume a leadership role, but everything to do with personality - Alphas tend to be assured, confident extroverts who naturally assume that they are destined for leadership roles, regardless of qualification. If you're lucky, they're the pleasant, competent types who don't mind delegating. If you're unlucky, they're the acerbic, arrogant types who treat everyone else on the committee with condescension.
  2. The Betas.  As implied, the role of the Beta is to enthusiastically endorse all suggestions put forward by the Alpha. In the case of acerbic, arrogant Alphas, this person will often adopt the role of "Alpha interpreter," smoothing over any of the Alpha's rough edges, as in: "I think what Alpha meant to say was ...." 
  3. The Stealth Alphas. These are the people who actually get the work done. Stealth Alphas, often introverts or simply do-gooders, work quietly behind the scenes, unconcerned with garnering either attention or praise, who's just worried that the work gets done.  If they're very good at their job, they'll even manage to see to it that the Alpha gets all the credit for the success of the event.
  4. The Soloists.  The soloists are those committee members are willing to help out, but not if they have to work with anyone else. All they want is to be given a job and then to be left the hell alone. This isn't to imply that they're always unpleasant about it. On the contrary, they'll often phrase their preference as a favor, as in: "I know you're overwhelmed, so let me take care of this for you. Don't even worry about it." Actually, they're introverts or control-freaks who don't mind helping out but who don't want to have to deal with someone else's issues.
  5. The Overpromisers.  As the name implies, there's always at least one Overpromiser - those committee members who volunteer to do way more than they're ever actually going to be able to deliver. Sometimes you figure this out in time to avert disaster, sometimes you don't. 
  6. The Visionaries. The idealists of the group, Overreachers tend to focus on what could be rather than what probably should be.  They see possibilities rather than realities, which can go both ways: sometimes, they elevate the process by providing vision and inspiration; other times, their stubborn determination not to compromise on lesser solutions can bring things to a skidding halt.
  7. The Martha Stewarts. Unlike the Overreacher, the Martha Stewarts aren't necessarily worried about creating the best possible event - they're more concerned about crafting opportunities.  They're the perfect folks to put in charge of invitations, decorations, and/or catering.
  8. The Conciliators.  God bless Conciliators, for they always mean well, and often they are able to smooth over personality conflicts and disputes.  Only one thing is certain: no one will ever thank them for their efforts. 
  9. The Parliamentarians.  The opposite of Overreachers, Parliamentarians tend to be more concerned with process than outcome. They're there to ensure every motion is seconded, every word ends up in the minutes, and nothing gets decided without a quorum.  
  10. The Scars.  I've borrowed the name of the resentful villain of The Lion King, because Scars are nothing if not resentful. Often it's because (like Scar) their Alpha pretensions have been thwarted; other times, their resentment may arise from feeling underappreciated or misunderstood.  No matter what decisions are made, Scars dedicate themselves to explaining why they're misguided, ill-considered, and potential disastrous. Rarely, Scars have better ideas to offer; more often, they're much more interested in finding fault and tearing things down than rebuilding them.


Book Look - Pacific, by Simon Winchester

In this outing, Winchester has attempted a history of the Pacific Ocean – a vast undertaking, even given that he has limited himself to events since the end of WW1.  In the book’s lengthy introduction, he explains how he eventually settled on the approach he has taken, focusing on a different aspect of Pacific-related history in each chapter.  Much better, I think we can all agree, than a chronological account that would necessarily tangle hundreds of disparate story threads into an unintelligible knot.

With every chapter devoted to a different aspect of the history of the Pacific ocean, I suspect many readers will find this an uneven read: it’s hard to imagine a reader who’s equally as interested in the history of U.S. atomic testing (chapter 1) and the semiconductor revolution (chapter 2), the evolution of surfing (chapter 3) and little-known chapters of the Korean conflict (chapter 4), the fate of the RMS Queen Elizabeth (chapter 5) and supercyclones (chapter 6), wacky Emperial politics (Chapter 7) and undersea hot spots (chapter 8), the perils of climate change (chapter 9) and geopolitical squabbling over international waters (chapter 10). (All of the aforementioned topics, by the way, are foreshadowed in the book’s subtitle – “Silicon Chips and Surboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers” – so at least you can’t say you weren’t warned!)

Having said that, Winchester’s done his usual adept job of stuffing every chapter to the brim with obscure but entertaining bits of history, science, and politics – not entirely unexpected, given that obscure history is Winchester’s specialty.  (This is the same guy who wrote “The Professor and the Madman,” about a mental patient’s contributions to the first dictionary, and “The Map That Changed the World,” about an obscure naturalist who created the first geological map.)  I’m fairly knowledgeable when it comes to history and world events, but many of the tales recounted in these chapters were new to me – which, frankly, is why I keep reading his canon.  Some of Winchester’s anecdotes are, one could argue, deservedly obscure; many, however, provoke fascination, astonishment, enlightenment, and/or thoughtful reflection.

In summary, this book reminded me of why it’s important to read history.  Whether you bother to read that whole chapter on surfing or skip straight to the atomic testing, we should all be grateful there are historians like Winchester out there, working their hardest to remind us that: (1) what we learn in school is maybe 5% of what actually happened; (2) those who don’t take the time to learn from the mistakes of history inevitably repeat the same mistakes; and (3) every organism and system on Earth is intractably interrelated – pluck on one string, and the resonance of that action has the potential to shake the whole world. 


A Thousand Words - Seriously Angry Squirrels

TRUE MEN STORIES, August 1957. Cover painting by Wil Hulsey by SubtropicBob, via Flickr:

"Flying rodents ripped my flesh!"  Seriously, what do you have to do to a squirrel to provoke this kind of attack - forget to fill the bird feeder? Personally, I'd be more worried about those "Teen-Agers in Leather Jackets" - a title that takes me right back to reading E.F. Hinton's The Outsiders back in middle school. Attack of the Greasers!


100+ Tips for New Teachers

It's beginning to look a lot like Labor Day, so thought I'd post this list in honor of all the new teachers who are even now chewing their nails and writing impossibly brilliant lesson plans that will never succeed in the classroom.  Unlike most other lists you'll find on the internet, this one is only partially in earnest, because if you haven't already figured out how to laugh at the job, you need to start now!
  1. Take the free food. You’ve earned it.
  2. Go to the bathroom when you’ve got the chance
  3. Everything’s better with glitter
  4. The word “Uranus” never stops being funny
  5. Your classroom will never be the right temperature, no matter how many times you fiddle with the thermostat
  6. Fire drills will happen at the worst possible time
  7. Learn to eat lunch in 10 minutes or less
  8. The day your lesson plan goes disastrously wrong is the day your principal will choose to observe you
  9. Don’t blow all that money you’ll be earning on fast cars or high living
  10. The only thing more annoying than kids constantly sharpening their pencils is kids constantly running out of lead for their mechanical pencils
  11. Choose your battles
  12. Set realistic goals. “I will survive this day,” is an example of a realistic goal.
  13. Learn to say “no”
  14. The only thing worse than writing sub plans is writing sub plans after you’re already sick
  15. Learn to celebrate the small successes. Like fixing the copier without smearing toner all over your clothes
  16. Don’t even try to do this alone.  Find teachers/mentors who will help you
  17. Don’t reinvent the wheel
  18. It’s your classroom; that makes you the referee
  19. Back up your files; you never know when someone’s going to spill apple juice on your keyboard
  20. The first people you need to befriend are the office secretary, the custodians, and the librarian
  21. Avoid asking “are there any questions?” without adding “…about what we’ve been learning?” – unless you want to answer questions about poop
  22. Dogs no longer eat homework. Computers do
  23. There’s no tired like teacher tired
  24. Invest your savings now in companies that produce tissues, hand sanitizer, Sharpies, and aspirin
  25. Forget fashion; buy comfortable shoes
  26. Never wear anything that requires dry cleaning
  27. Teaching isn’t about the content you deliver, it’s all about how you deliver it
  28. Elaborately decorated classrooms and color coded supplies have not been proven to improve academic achievement
  29. Teacher supply stores are like candy stores. You may want it, but you really don’t need it.
  30. Lessons need to be engaging. Worksheets are not engaging. Relevant, authentic, active, project-based learning is engaging
  31. The students should be working harder than you
  32. Set high standards
  33. Teach growth mindset
  34. Praise the effort, not the product
  35. Empower your students to advocate for themselves
  36. Build in opportunities for imagination and creativity
  37.  Fair isn’t equal. “Smart” takes many forms.  Differentiate your content, processes, products, and timelines
  38. Buy yourself a really, really big water bottle. And a coffee holder with a lid
  39. Get the flu shot
  40. Take germ prevention seriously. (Yours, not so much theirs.)
  41. Encourage them to explore their passions
  42. First impressions count. Make sure your first day rocks
  43. Focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses
  44. Look for giftedness. Look for disabilities. Be proactive in taking action.
  45. You don’t have to grade everything. Seriously, you don’t
  46. Stay calm. The person who gets angry first, loses.
  47. Never let them see you sweat. Children are like wolves; they sense fear.
  48. Research-based best practices need to be backed by actual research. Otherwise they’re just educational fads. Know the difference
  49. Learn their names. Then use them. All the time
  50. Most of the time, they don’t actually need to go to their bathroom
  51. When everything else fails, take them to the library
  52. Be authoritative, not authoritarian
  53. They’re going to talk anyway; make it work for you
  54. Allow wait time.
  55. Be consistent
  56. Built trust
  57. Answer questions with questions; make them find their own answers
  58. Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want parents or your boss to see
  59. It’s about restorative justice, not punishment
  60. Never issue a threat you’re not prepared to enforce
  61. Work on your snow dance now so you’ll be ready for winter
  62. Overplan. Running out of lesson before the bell is like a lion tamer running out of meat before all the lions are fed.
  63. Don’t be that teacher that sends out communications to parents filled with spelling, punctuation and grammar errors
  64. CYA - document all parent and admin interactions.
  65. The best motivator is respect. If respect doesn’t work, try blue Jolly Ranchers
  66. Never humiliate a student. They’ll never trust you again
  67. Do first, ask permission later
  68. Be flexible. If you don’t learn to bend, be prepared to break
  69. Constantly assess for comprehension. Like, every 5 minutes.
  70. The problem probably isn’t the rules; it’s how you’re enforcing them
  71. Intrinsic motivation beats external motivation every time.
  72. Make parents your allies, not your enemies.
  73. Never email angry
  74. Look for the teachable moments.
  75. Create smooth traffic patterns through your classroom
  76. Establish consistent routines and procedures. Kids appreciate consistency
  77. Avoid negative energy
  78. Remember that being a mom/sister/wife/daughter comes first
  79. NEVER talk over student noise
  80. Plan a robust fart response protocol and have it ready to deploy
  81. The kids actually WANT to help you. Let them.
  82. Remember that most of them have the attention span of squirrel, and plan accordingly
  83. Master the art of the “side hug” – no one’s ever been sued for a side hug
  84.  Kids who are hungry, sleepy, or scared aren’t going to prioritize learning.
  85. Learn your acronyms
  86. Be compassionate: you don’t know what’s happening at home
  87. There will never be enough time. Prioritize
  88. Energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and curiosity are contagious
  89. Executive functioning skills need to be taught
  90. Crying is cathartic. Wine/beer is an acceptable alternative
  91. Disapprove of the behavior, never the kid
  92. Model the behaviours you want to see
  93. Apples often don’t fall far from trees, except when they do
  94. You can either laugh or cry. Laughing is a lot more fun
  95. The more they push, the more they’re hoping you’ll push back.
  96. The more they say they don’t need you, the more they do
  97. Get used to failure. The mistakes will help you grow.
  98.  It’s just a job. Don’t let it become an obsession.
  99. 99.         There’s always more to learn
  100. 100.      Fake it ‘til you make it
  101. You WILL get better


10 Things That Would Make C-SPAN More Interesting

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Poor C-SPAN! Doomed to televise the dullest of all possible programming, our government in action. Here are some suggestions for livening things up, at least a little ....
  1. Add a bouncing ball over the closed captioning so that viewers can join in and testify along with the senators
  2. Force the senators to testify in iambic pentameter:  "Senator, I urge the need is great/ to keep the bases open in my state!/ While the Cold War may be history/ Putin's looking good for World War 3!"
  3. Fill all the empty chairs in the hearing rooms with virtual Pokemon
  4. Add play-by -play announcers and "color guys."  As the representatives speak, the announcers can be adding  via voiceover: "Senator Jones, as you may recall, won reelection by a narrow margin about six months ago; Larry, do you think his may be a play to shore up the Hispanic voters in his district?" and "Whoa! He's calling for a Committee of the Whole!  That's a gutsy move, but no less than we'd expect from a wily veteran like Sen. Thurston! Larry, what do you think the Republicans are going to do here?"
  5. Add organ music during the intervals, like baseball games
  6. Post a graphic behind the podium that tracks in real-time the truthfulness of each Senator's statements - one frowny face (for little white lies) up to five frowny faces (for whoppers)
  7. Add scrolling stats at the bottom of the screen for the convenience of people tracking how their Fantasy Senate Committees are faring
  8. Mail out bingo cards that contain, instead of numbers and letters, familiar political terms/phrases/hyperboles; examples might include "fiscally irresponsible," "soccer moms," "liberal media," "climate change conspiracy," and "Nazis". Views can then "play along" by marking off the words on their cards as they're used. The first to get five words in a row wins!
  9. Add commercials for erectile dysfunction products
  10. Add hourly balloon drops, because everyone loves a good balloon drop.

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Book Look - The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

If ever Ray Bradbury wrote love stories, I imagine this is exactly the sort of tale he would have written, full of magic and mystery and wonder – a little light on plot, but full of enchantment.

Imagine Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, except that our setting is Victorian England at the turn of the century and our star-crossed lovers are a pair of winsome young magicians who, alas, have been bound at birth (or near enough) by a magical pact that requires one of them to out-survive the other. Their battleground? Le Cirque des Reves, a “circus of dreams,” populated by tents housing wonders that the doomed young lovers create as tributes to their love: animated carousels, gravity-defying cloud mazes, animatronic menageries, wishing trees, gardens comprised entirely of ice, and other such enchanting (and enchanted) curiosities. 

The tale is populated by a cast of richly imagined characters, from our appealing lovers Marco and Celia to Chandresh Christophe Lefevre, the circus’s Willy Wonka-esque proprietor; from the inscrutable contortionist Tsukiko to the preternaturally perceptive architect Ethan Barris; from Prospero, Celia’s irascible, misanthropic magician father, to the uncanny twins Poppet and Widget. 

Rather than detracting from the story, the author’s deliberate decision not to explain of the tale’s metaphysical underpinnings adds to the enchantment of the tale, inviting us readers to cast away the constraints of reality and embrace the possibility of a world in which the magic of love is real. 

In real life, these types of tales never end well; fortunately for us, however, Morgenstern isn’t the sort of author to be bound by narrative convention, so instead we get a wholly lovely and – yes – magical ending, in which the lovers, despite all the obstacles and tragedies scattered in their path, create their own happily ever after and the circus lives on, appearing (one presumes) to those reveurs who continue to believe. 

(And speaking of happily ever after, is it just a happy coincidence that the author of this magically romantic confection shares a surname with S. Morgenstern, the legendary author of that other legendary romantic confection, The Princess Bride?)


35+ Cards that Hallmark Needs to Add to Its Inventory

Try as they might, Hallmark just can't seem to keep up with the real world.  Following is a list of sentiments unaccountably lacking from their current catalog. (Yes, I realize some of these are in poor taste. That's what you get for visiting strangers' sites on the internet.)
  1. Celebrating your 1 millionth steps on FitBit!  Because that's a major life milestone, right? Why else would you be wearing one of those ugly things around your wrist 24/7?
  2. Condolences on the end of your favorite television show/series.  Seriously, guys - everything's going to be okay! Believe it or not, people used to live full, meaningful lives without Firefly, Arrested Development, Lost, or Parks & Recreation.
  3. Condolences on your new career in teaching/education.  In this era of sorry teacher salaries, school privatization, and standardized testing, sending a card is really the least you can do.
  4. Condolences on your political party's choice of Presidential candidate.  The genius of this card is that is should market equally well to members of all political persuasions!
  5. Congratulations on your status change from "it's complicated" to "in a relationship"!  Because it's safe to assume that if someone's bothering to update their status on Facebook, they're actually vain enough to believe that there are folks out there who care.
  6. Congratulations on being born white!  Because, increasingly, belonging to any other race or culture in the United States is becoming politically problematical.
  7. Congratulations on buying a hybrid/electric car!  Not saying buying a hybrid isn't laudible ... I just wish they'd SHUT UP about it, so that the rest of us wouldn't be so tempted to send ironic cards.
  8. Congratulations on deciding not to vaccinate your child! (sold as a pack of 5: other cards include "Sympathies on your smallpox diagnosis" "So sorry to hear about you have rubella" "May your measles be measly," and "Oh no, it's polio!")
  9. Congratulations on not killing your kid (even though they clearly deserved it).  They should sell these in packs of a dozen each.
  10. Congratulations on surviving another day!  Because sometimes surviving another day is worthy of congratulations
  11. Congratulations on the acquisition of your latest assault weapon!  Hope those squirrels and rabbits appreciate the firepower!
  12. Congratulations on the success of your viral video!  Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame; hope to God that this isn't all life has in store for you!
  13. Congratulations on winning your fantasy sports league!  You mom must be so proud of you!
  14. Congratulations on your awesome video game victory!  All those those hours indoors, missing out on real life; all those cheetoes and Big Gulps - SO worth it!
  15. Congratulations on your social media following!  Finally, a little validation and respect for those 100 "likes" you earned for your last duckface selfie on Instagram, or finally reaching 20,000 followers on Pinterest!
  16. Congratulations on your baby sleeping through the night!  Ask any parent when their child started sleeping through the night and see can't tell you to the week and hour.  Now tell me, isn't that the defining test of a major life milestone, and therefore deserving of some sort of validation?
  17. Congratulations on your i-doption!  A card for all those pathetic souls who wait in line at Apple stores so they can be the first to buy the latest i-toy.
  18. Congratulations on your latest weight loss!  Because let's get real here - it's not your first diet, and we all know it's not going to be your last. You think we've all forgotten that gloating before/after thing you posted to Facebook last year after you did the Mediterranean Diet? Or the one you posted two years ago after you did the Paleo Diet? Or the one you posted three years ago after you did the Atkins?
  19. Congratulations on your superior child!  For all those parents who just can't stop boasting about their child's GPA, their athletic accomplishments, or their numerous college acceptances.  I guarantee they will not even suspect ironic intentions.
  20. Enjoy your new part time job with no benefits!  A greeting for the new economy.
  21. Happy Conqueror's Day!   Intended to replace traditional Thanksgiving and Columbus Day greetings.
  22. Your black life matters to me!  Forget cards with black Santa Clauses ... here's Hallmark's chance to prove their bi-racial chops!
  23. Happy fanzing!  For those fanboys and girls in your life who seem perfectly content existing in their little fan bubbles.
  24. Happy foreclosure/bankrupcy!  Turn that frowny face upside-downy-face!  
  25. Happy pet anniversary day!  Now that we've tacitly accepted that we're supposed to treat pets like humans, hasn't the time come to start keeping track of anniversaries? 1st year=paper (homework, for destroying); 2nd yr=cotton (a cute/humiliating pet costume); 5th yr=wood (dog chew toy or scratching post); 10th yr=aluminum (collar tag); 15th yr=china (matching engraved food and water bowls)
  26. Happy Valentines Day from your pet!  I can picture them now, full of awful puns and signed with paw prints - because everyone knows animals love puns.
  27. Hoping you don't get kidnapped on your upcoming international vacation!  It's one of those things everyone THINKS, but no one ever says.
  28. So, you're glucose intolerant!  Welcome to the hippest disability since autism!  Come for the soy milkshakes, stay for the whole grain cupcakes! 
  29. Sorry about the whole climate change thing.  The perfect card for that family that just lost their home due to rising sea levels, drought, or the latest superstorm. 
  30. Sympathies on the death of your cellphone/tablet.  Seriously, people, stop mourning your devices like they're people!  Your contact list is automatically BACKED UP!
  31. Sympathies on the death of your favorite Game of Thrones character.  The way the show is going, you may want to buy more than one.
  32. Sympathies on the embarassingly bad performance of your sports team this past season.  It's a sensitive subject, but I trust the empathetic folks at Hallmark to strike just the right tone. 
  33. Sympathies on the loooong wait between now and the next season of your favorite show/the next volume of your favorite series.  What's the use of living in a world full of instant gratification when television producers and authors still have the gall to make us wait for the next installment of the stories we love?
  34. Thank you for putting up with my child! If you're the parent of a middle school student, you should be sending these to EVERY teacher, EVERY year.
  35. Wishing you a safe and uneventful prison term!  What do you give the Wall Street executive that has everything - including a jail sentence for illegal trading? 
  36. Wishing you well in your career as an internet celebrity!  Good luck with that!
  37. Wishing your pet a speedy recovery!  Because Spot and Fluffy are sure to be moved and heartened by your prayers and best wishes.


A Thousand Words - The Brighton Swimming Club, 1863

Brighton Swimming Club, 1863:

In honor of summer, I offer this photo of the Brighton Swimming Club, circa 1863.  So many questions! For instance: What's keeping those swimsuits up - drawstrings? Why are these guys so pale - is there no sunlight at Brighton? Is that rocky expanse they're standing on supposed to be a beach? Are British gentlemen naturally born without chest hair, or do they shave it? What's up with the top hats - especially the stovetop that guy in the middle is sporting? What's up with the guy in the front, who appears to be assuming a "praying mantis" yoga pose? And finally, how can I go about arranging a date with that startlingly dashing fellow at the middle top?


Increasing Engagement in the Classroom: A List of Specific Activities and Strategies

For reasons researchers can't quite pinpoint but that may have something to do with video games, instant gratification, food additives, helicopter parents, cell phones, standardized testing, and/or a universal sense of entitlement - teaching methods that used to be effective in the past aren't successfully capturing the attention of 21st century students. Just go to any economically/culturally/sociologically diverse community and visit a random middle school classroom.  Can't guarantee what you'll find, but I can tell you what you won't find: rows of docile, focused, self-directed students enthusiastically filling in worksheets.

As a result, teachers are perpetually seeking new, novels ways to capture the attention of their students and motivate them to become active participants in their learning. We've even gone so far as figuring out a name for our objective: "engagement." Unfortunately, once you get beyond the word, guidance becomes frustratingly vague and murky. Just how are we supposed to implement tips such as "create opportunities for active learning," "create a safe environment," and "instill a growth mindset"?

For my own purposes I've begun maintaining a list of more specific strategies, which I'm sharing below.  Please feel free to offer suggestions for additions or clarifications!
  1. Stimulate their curiosity
    1. Capture their attention through the use of a interesting questions or puzzling phenomenon (ex: Is it possible for a child to inherit none of their mom's DNA?; Does geography start wars?; Can a book change the course of history?)
    2. Shift emphasis from delivering content to forcing students to construct their own knowledge (ex: Create a working circuit and then challenge students to figure out which way the energy is flowing and why; Give kids the ingredients for photosynthesis & make them figure out how it works)
    3. Incentivize students to ask questions (ex: Maintain a parking lot for student questions & encourage students to look up the answers; Use warmups where you show a picture - two animals fighting, a political cartoon, etc. - and challenge kids to invent as many questions as they can think about it)
  2. Make it authentic.  First ask yourself - why do they need to learn this? Then create experiences that will allow them to master the content through real-world activities
    1. Have them read/interact with authentic materials - federal agency websites, newspaper/blog articles, etc. (ex: Students cut/paste articles and add their own reflections; Webquests that require students to visit primary sources)
    2. Allow them to experience using the skills/concepts/knowledge (SCKs) in an authentic context (job) (ex: Model U.N., project based learning, problem based learning, graded conversations)
    3. Relate the skills/knowledge/concepts to current affairs (ex: In the coming election, which candidates have the most in common with Federalists? What substances does the Olympic committee ban & why - how exactly do they enhance performance?)
    4. Involve other content areas through cross-curricular projects (ex: Students create cell organelle pictures in art; Students study adaptation in both science and history; Students turn their favorite stories/novels into plays; Students map their own PE data in math class)
  3. Make it relevant/personal. Ask yourself, why should kids care about this? How does this skill/content/knowledge relate to their personal lives
    1. Work in references to pop culture (ex: introduce elements of poetry by analyzing the lyrics of popular songs; Teach graphing by comparing the sales of pop artist albums or sports team stats; ID the Latin root words/suffixes used to form the names of people/spells in the Harry Potter series; Have students create a playlist of songs that represent a specific literary character; Have students locate examples of each type of literary conflict in current movies)
    2. Incorporate people/materials that validate all ages, genders and cultures (ex: Read literature representing other countries; Include female speakers/mentors; Expose students to teens who are writers/inventors/business owners; Use students who were born in other countries to educate their classmates about different ecosystems)
    3. Allow students to choose activities that are a fit for their interests & learning strengths (ex: Offer assessment choices differentiated by individual preferences/intelligences; Build in time for students to engage in STEM or work on passion projects)
    4. Involve family (or animals) (ex: Use parents as mentors; Have students read books aloud to shelter animals)
  4. Make it meaningful. Appeal to their sense of sympathy/empathy & build engagement by giving them a chance to make a difference in their school, family or community
    1. Inspire them. (ex: Expose them to TEDTalks; Expose them to peers who are making a difference in the world)
    2. Let them teach others (ex: Encourage them to tutor/mentor other students; Let them help create assignments)
    3. Find opportunities for them to engage in meaningful public service (ex: Make their own PSAs; Plant a bee garden; Run for SCA; Spread the word about climate change through flyers written in their native language)
  5. Make it social
    1. Teach discourse strategies that enable rich, meaningful academic conversations (ex: Sentence starters, turn-taking structures)
    2. Create opportunities for students to interact in academically meaningful activities (ex: Kagan strategies)
    3. Let them to argue! Give students opportunities to appropriately express their ideas & opinions. (ex: Socratic seminars, philosophical chairs, debates.)
  6. Make it safe
    1. Foster a sense of competence by differentiating SCKs so that everyone experiences an equal amount of challenge  (ex: Leveled texts, speech-to-text tech/text-to-speech tech, differentiated homework/assignments/products)
    2. Create an environment in which students feel safe exploring, expressing themselves, and failing (ex: Teach growth mindset; Teach mindfulness)
    3. Provide constant feedback so kids know they're on the right track (ex: Build opportunities for constant feedback into longer projects)
    4. Establish & consistently reinforce rules (ex: Restorative justice; Involve students in developing your classroom management strategies)
  7. Make it fun!
    1. Add games (ex: Board games, sports-based games, on-line games)
    2. Add mild competition (ex: Who was the most important president - pick one and create a project that will convince us; Which Chesapeake Bay organism deserves to win "Bay Critter of the Year"?)
    3. Add role-playing (ex: Re-enact historical debates; Dress as a literary character and tell the class about yourself)
    4. Add humor (ex: Use memes to reinforce class rules & teach key concepts; Have students create their own political cartoons; Don't be afraid to use puns and corny jokes in your instruction!)
  8. Make it hands on
    1. Incorporate hands-on activities (ex: Experiments, manipulatives, models/simulations)
    2. Incorporate music, art, movement, and performance (ex: Use songs to help students memorize key concepts; Have students dramatize important scientific discoveries)
  9. Make it flexible/self-directed.  Offer so-called "voice and choice"
    1. "Flip" your classroom (ex: Students learn content at home, then work on projects at school)
    2. Build in opportunities for students to influence/control what they learn (content), how they learn (process) and how they demonstrate their learning (assessment) (ex: Offer menus)
    3. Make differentiation accessible and "invisible" (ex: Allow students easy access to computers with speech-to-text, text-to-speech, etc.)
  10. Make it metacognitive
    1. Teach students how to reflect on their own learning (ex: Have them analyze their own learning & Force them to draw their own conclusions rather than providing them; Incorporate deliberate, structured reflection after each activity)
  11. Make it interactive/multimedia
    1. Offer instruction utilizing a rich mix of media (ex: Audio + visual + kinesthetic)
    2. Utilize interactive technologies (ex: Clicker systems, smart boards, QR codes that link to resources; phone-based apps and games like Kahoot) 
    3. Utilize the mighty power of the internet! (ex: Webquests, online games & simulations)
    4. Allow students to demonstrate their knowledge through multimedia apps (ex: Allow them to create Wixie presentations, movies, podcasts, interactive timelines, etc.)