Racializing The Bird. And Creating an Organizational Culture of Happiness.

Whew.  The last 9x9x25 post of the semester.  What to write about?  So many topics, so few sentences.
So, I choose to briefly discuss two discoveries I made this week.

While browsing my phone, I discovered one could “emoji” the finger (aka, the bird).  But to my chagrin and perturbation, I saw that this crude symbol has also been racialized–that is, you can flip off someone on the internet in a variety of skin tones, which could take on a number of meanings, none of which could be good.  This is what my research turned up:

“The Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended emoji supports skin tone modifiers. A yellow (or other non-human) skin tone should be shown by default, unless an emoji modifier is applied.”
I share this not to be provocative (ok, maybe a little…but I got your attention!), but to draw attention that bigotry is alive and well, and unfortunately on the rise.  We–the human race–have found yet another way to denigrate each other, based on nothing other than the color of our skin (over which we have no personal control).  This discovery–and its potential to stir up hatred and turmoil, at both a group and personal level–truly saddens me. 😢

Continue Reading “Racializing The Bird. And Creating an Organizational Culture of Happiness.”

Failure to Read… What Am I Doing Wrong?


A few weeks ago, I expressed to one of my classes that I was concerned that they were not reading the material listed (by date) on the course syllabus, re-emphasizing that this was important information.  I also announced that within the next week or two, I was going to give an in class quiz on the reading assigned for that week.  “Like a good Boy or Girl Scout, BE PREPARED,” I admonished them.

Image result for students taking a test

    So two weeks later, I gave a quiz over the reading for that week.  The first question on the quiz was:

   I ___________ read Articles #12-14 on Poverty.”  
     a.  did
     b.  did not

There were three other short answer questions on the quiz, each on asking for the gist of the article.  I didn’t ask any “picky” questions, or any detailed “trick” questions.  All I wanted to know is if they’d read the articles and had a basic comprehension of the main ideas of each.  The reading totalled less than 25 pages.

Most of the class finished very quickly.  This worried me.  And when I graded the quiz right after class, my fears were confirmed.

100% of the class answered “b.” to the first question–not one student had read the articles.
Continue Reading “Failure to Read… What Am I Doing Wrong?”

To Canvas or Not To Canvas: A Rebellion Against Sameness (Part 4… the last one)

“What you’ve all been waiting for!” (I seriously doubt it, but I can indulge in this delusion.)

What do I do if I don’t use Canvas?  (I’m referring here to face-to-face courses, and some hybrids.  While you could apply some of these techniques to online teaching, obviously not all are applicable).

In nutshell, here it is:

1.  I use paper everything (almost).
Every assignment, every announcement, every handout… anything I would put on Canvas I give to students in paper format.  “Hard copy.”  Our print shop is great–timely and efficient (they even deliver close to my office!), so I can produce paper copies almost as efficiently as I can post stuff on Canvas.  This accomplished several things:  *I know my students actually SEE the assignments or materials.  *They can manage these things in a real, physical way (it seems to be slightly harder to ignore something on paper than in the Canvas shell).
Continue Reading “To Canvas or Not To Canvas: A Rebellion Against Sameness (Part 4… the last one)”

To Canvas or Not To Canvas: A Rebellion Against Sameness (Part 3)

I have made a choice.  My choice has been (drum roll, please) not to use Canvas in my classes.
Before you start throwing rocks, or report me to the TELS Police, let me explain.
The Feared TELS Police!!!
I have nothing against Canvas.  It has a lot of nice features.  And some of my choice involved the difficult decision to forgo some of those features, like the Gradebook and the ability to automatically email my classes in one fell swoop of my finger.

Continue Reading “To Canvas or Not To Canvas: A Rebellion Against Sameness (Part 3)”

To Canvas or Not to Canvas: A Rebellion Against Sameness (Part 2)

So, last week I tried to convince you that NOVELTY forms the basis of learning—if something is “new” we pay attention to it.  We can’t help it, that’s just the how the brain works!
But on the other hand routine, standardization, automation and sameness work well for us as teachers—it makes our professional lives a lot easier!  But it also may prove a disservice to our students.  It may metaphorically (or literally) put our students’ brains to sleep.
So what are we to do?


Here’s the bottom line:  We choose.  As harsh as it may sound, we choose our own ease and comfort, or we choose to prioritize student learning.  Ouch.  But this is what excellent teaching is all about.  I can be a mediocre or even a good teacher, or I can choose to strive to be an excellent teacher.  And the result of that choice is the kind of learning experienced by my students.

Continue Reading “To Canvas or Not to Canvas: A Rebellion Against Sameness (Part 2)”

To Canvas or Not To Canvas: A Rebellion Against Sameness (Part 1)

Sameness is the enemy of learning.  In fact, “sameness,” in the neuropsychological sense of the word, is the exact opposite of learning!
Before you go postal, please read on and let me explain.  We know that the only time the brain

registers anything is when there is change—change in movement, change in sound, change in lighting, change in odor, change in sensation, change in thought.  You get the idea.  The brain is the ultimate “change detection” machine.  Our perception is always the perception of something changing.

Continue Reading “To Canvas or Not To Canvas: A Rebellion Against Sameness (Part 1)”

Numbers. I wonder…


I teach statistics.  Have for years.  And not just any kind of stats.  I teach “social and behavioral statistics”–I’ve spent a good deal of my career trying to figure out how to measure and analyze the way people think, act, feel and learn–as individuals, in groups, societally, globally.
We can learn a lot from numbers.  But I wonder.  I wonder if we have gone “quantifiably crazy.”
I received one of those “freebie” books in my mailbox a few months ago.  You know, the book that the companies desperately HOPE will become your next text.  The titled intrigued me:
Everybody Lies:
Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are

Continue Reading “Numbers. I wonder…”

Thoughts from the Train

I am writing this blog somewhere between Barstow and Needles, CA while sitting in an Amtrak train. (I’m actually writing this on my phone, as the WiFi on the train doesn’t seem very reliable. ) I’ve spent the last four and a half days with the Prescott Student Leadership Team at the Circle of Change Leadership Conference at Cal State Dominguez Hills.  It’s been an incredibly wonderful and exhausting experience!

Nonetheless, Olympic size reflection, here we go!

1.  What did I learn?
   *That my colleagues have some really great thoughts (no surprise there).
   *That this kind of reflection is good for me!

2.  Was it tough?
   Yes and no.  Certainly making time to write was a challenge.  But once I got started, it seemed to flow.  For those passionate about teaching and learning, how could it not?

3.  Who inspired me?
   *The TELS team.  Thanks, Thatcher and Curtis!
   *My awesome co-bloggers!
   *My students.  They got excited about what I was writing and always had insightful input.
   *The Student Leadership Council, who each accepted the challenge to contribute a “student’s perspective” to this event.  I’m proud of you!

4.  How will I change based on my experiences of the last 9 weeks.
   *I have recommitted to be more reflective about my teaching–and my life in general.
   *I am recommitted to writing more–more of what I am passionate about.
   *I want to continue these important conversations, with a view to seeking the improvement of my/our instruction.

5.  What was frustrating or delightful?
   *Frustrating that I couldn’t find time to respond to ALL of the amazing posts!
   *Everything else was delightful!!  Let’s do it again next year!  Or even next semester!! 😆

The Joy of Teachers: Thriving on Our Collegiality

One of the best parts about teaching for me–especially here at Yavapai College–is the outstanding colleagues I get to teach along side.  But it’s more than that.

My colleagues are my friends.  We literally laugh and cry together over life’s jubilant suprises and horrendous curve balls.  And we play together!

Steve and Mark on the South Rim.
Steve riding on the Grand Canyon Greenbelt

Every year I’ve done the 9x9x25, it seems to coincide with some epic bicycle ride with my YC colleagues.  Curtis Kleinman and I rode from Prescott to Downtown Phoenix via Yarnell and Wickenburg one year–all 113 miles of it.  Another year we did the “Tour de Yavapai”–starting out at Chino Valley and riding to all our campuses–CTEC, Prescott, Prescott Valley, Verde Valley and Sedona:  85 miles and lots of ups and downs.

On this Veterans Day, Steve Doyle (Geography) and I headed up north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Outstanding weather (cool but sunny) greeted us as we cycled from the Visitors Center to Tusayan on paved bike paths winding their way through the ponderosa and pinion pine forest. Fortunately, we ended up at Wendy’s just in time for lunch!

We rode back into the Park (it was free to all visitors on Veteran’s Day!), and took the turnoff through Mather Campgrounds to Grand Canyon Village.  Winding our way through train depot, El Tovar Hotel and the Bright Angel Trailhead, we intersected Hermit Road and headed west.

Park entrance on the bike trail from Tusayan

Hermit Road is closed to vehicles except for the Grand Canyon busses.  So the road was (more or less) ours for the taking.  We stopped at all the viewpoints, including the Powell Memorial.  The air was clear and the rock colors appeared especially red.  We spied the might Colorado River and its rapids a mile below us.

About 2.5 miles from the end of the road, the Rim Trail is paved and open to bikers.  We weaved our way up and down and around (avoiding right turns that could have put us at the bottom of this grand ravine!), finally arriving at Hermit’s Rest.  The “hermit” (he really wasn’t) was a Canadian gentleman who helped set up an “upscale” resort (canvas tents and cots, with dining service provided) at Hermit’s Camp, a half day’s trip down into the Canyon.  He and his partners set up this experience to avoid the “tolls” charged on the Bright Angel Trail in the early 1900s.  When the Grand Canyon became a National Park, the Bright Angel Trail was then open to all, and Hermit’s Camp fell on hard times.  The ruins are still visible from the Rim.  The                                                                        “rest” at the top of the Canyon remains.

After munching down energy and chocolate bars, washing them down with Gatorade, we headed back east toward Steve’s car.  As we re-entered the Village, we paralled a truck guiding a herd of about 20 elk (including a half dozen young calves) away from the populated area.  We also witnessed a couple of deer crossing the rode right in front of us.

Steve’s “Map My Ride” app said we burned almost 2,000 calories, climbed almost 1,800 feet during the day, and covered 34 beautiful miles.  We ended the day pleasantly exhausted.

YC means lots of things–great teaching, inspiring relationship with students, service to the community.  But it’s also a fertile ground for life long friendships.  For this, I will be ever grateful.

Steve Doyle and Mark Shelley at Hermit’s Rest, South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

How Silent Phones Disconnect Us

“What phones do to in-person conversation is a problem.  Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on the table (even if turned off) changes what people talk about.  If we think we might be interrupted, we keep conversations light, on topics of little controversy or consequence.” *

So what happens when students have their phones sitting out when class is going on?

One could surmise that a similar dynamic occurs as does in the conversations the researchers above studied.  The presence of a cell phone on the desk anticipates an interruption.  The phone owner’s attention is split between what is going on in class and what might be going to happen on the phone. This is the phenomenon of “continous partial attention,” the practice of which uses up most of our focal energy in switching from object (phone) to object (classroom).

But what about the people around, who don’t have their phones out?  They, too, we’ve discovered, are practicing continous partial attention.  And what’s more, there seems to be a decrease in the connection everyone around feels to the class and to each other:

          “Conversations with phones on the landscape block empathetic connection.  If
           two peple are speaking and there is a phone an a nearby desk, each feels less
           connected than when there is no phone present.”*

What does that mean for the learning that takes place in our classrooms when cell phones are in view?

The implication of the research is that students are less focused on what is going on (even if they are not actually on their phones), and that students feel less connection with each other and the instructor. My experience in the classroom is that this is indeed the case.  There is something powerful about even the potential of a desireable interruption.  Our “always on, always with us” technology makes this temptation even more ubiquitous.  “We are not as strong as technology’s pull,” a student told Turkle.  “Phones exert a seductive undertow,” she concludes.*

It’s really not Draconian to ask student to turn OFF their phones AND put them out of sight.  In preparation for this blog, I asked a number of students about this practice.  Overwhelming their response sounded like this:  “If you tell us to put our phones away ‘just because you said so’ or ‘this is my rule,’ we kind of resent it.  But if you explain to us that phones, even when we can see them, could cause us to miss out on something, we get it.  That’s cool.”

Students are not unaware of the cell’s seductive allure.  And most of them really want to be “fully present.”  They appreciate our intervention.

Turkle concludes, “Even a silent phone disconnects us.”* (emphasis in original)

* Sherry Turkle, in Reclaiming Conversation, p. 21, 31.