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.)