There are certain lessons that come off so well that I can’t help writing about them. This is one of those. For several years I’ve used a zombie apocalypse theme (#ZombieApocalypseRoom207) to smash a few last-minute math lessons right before the Polite Pirates take their state-wide standardized assessment (PSSA). This theme is exciting and scary, kind of like the test that my third graders take for the first time in their public-education career.
I’ve made videos of some of our classroom characters expressing the need to understand perimeter and area, as well as capacity in order to motivate my class to learn these concepts. It has worked great! They practice plotting data into graphs and review all sorts of math ideas within a story line involving life and death survival from brain-hungry imaginary horrors. They love it!
This year, as April was winding down, I decided to round out the month of poetry by having the Polite Pirates analyze a couple of poems about zombies. I Googled “Zombie Poetry,” and found a few perfect candidates. One of them was written by Kenn Nesbitt, and can be found on Poetry4Kids.com.
“Our Teacher’s Not a Zombie” is a four-stanza rhyming poem (ABCB pattern) about a teacher who behaves like a zombie until she’s had her coffee. The poem compares the educator to a zombie, both her appearance and behavior. It worked out wonderfully to read and analyze this with my students, because I was modeling what they would do between this poem and another! We discussed the way the first three lines from each stanza are simple sentences. The last line of each stanza is a subordinate clause. We had a blast talking about people we know who embody the oxymoron “Living Dead” before drinking their caffeine elixir.
The second poem, “Java Zombie,” is a concrete poem. LIke the first, I found it through a simple Google search. It was created by John Ecko (2013), and is described as a tribute to the show “The Walking Dead.” The poet explains below the poem that he enjoys watching each new episode of the show when it comes out, but staying up late causes him to empathize with the zombies the next day more than he wishes. The content of this free-verse poem has to do with a single individual who mourns Mondays. He ingeniously describes himself as infected with exhaustion from sleep deprivation. Luckily, there is a cure. It’s the same medicine that the teacher from the first poem takes! Coffee.
I especially like the way John Ecko has the speaker of his poem hunger for sleep. He feeds, but not on brains. The speaker eats hours. I love the line, “Victim of the dawn.” My students and I talked about what dawn is and what it means in this poem. “How is this person victimized by the start of a new day?” I help my students explore the meaning of the text. “Who are the many mentioned as monsters of the mundane?” I question. “Do you think that the speaker of the poem like his or her job?” I wrote the answers to these questions and some additional notes on the board as we reread and discussed the poetry.
Typically, at this point I’d have the Polite Pirates (my students) compose a paragraph, sharing the similarities and differences about the two poems. This time, however, I threw them for a loop when I gave them all great big pieces of white paper and told them to draw a zombie. I explained that they ought to make it big; fill the paper; because we were going to write sentences around the outside of it. (They had done this before, so they knew what I was getting at.) We were going to make our own concrete poem, as we discuss a concrete poem! A few of them asked to draw mugs of coffee, instead. They argued that this was one of the main things that the two poems had in common. I was sold. “Yes! Definitely, draw coffee, as long as your sentences compare and contrast the two zombie poems.”
Some of the Polite Pirates watched Youtube videos to help them draw their zombies. Others drew their own unique creations. One girl drew a Mindcraft zombie. Another drew a girl being attacked by zombies. There were big mugs of coffee and small cups of java. Some had zombie hands holding them. One or two have zombie hands hanging from coffee cups. “Yuck!”
Before adding any color to their posters, the Polite Pirates had to first write sentences. Then they had to fine-tip-marker the writing. After that, they had to erase the pencil. Finally, it was time to color… “And, I don’t want to see any white!” They had to color every inch of their papers. “What if I want this part of my coffee cup to be white?” a student asked, pointing to a place that did look like it was supposed to be white. “Here is a white crayon,” I countered, passing a crayon to my student.
In the end, I have a bulletin board full of super cool zombie artwork, and the Polite Pirates practiced analyzing poetry. It was a great way to deepen my students’ understanding of metaphor and figurative language.
At the beginning of each school year I introduce a few fun games that encourage number sense and problem solving. Dominoes are great for mental math, recognizing patterns, and teaching multiples of five (Playification). Another favorite is Cribbage (First “How-To” on Cribbage).
Cribbage is a card game that has two parts. I’ve written about the first part, the one that requires players to analyze their hands and decide which cards to keep and which to place into a crib.
During Math Centers, I have students work in teams of two or three to figure out which four cards of a six-card hand will generate the most points. Every student is very attentive, because if a team misses any combinations that provide points, and a student from another team can articulate the potential point-producing combination, this other student gets to claim the points, virtually stealing points from one another. They love that!
After a little practice with this, I explain cutting the deck to provide a “Starter” card. This card gets placed face up on top of the reassembled deck and is also used for making point-producing combinations at the end of each round. The Starter is shared by every team and the crib. Now, when students decide which cards to “lay away” for the crib, they should keep in mind the idea of collecting those points later, if the crib is theirs, or potentially providing points for opponents. Students practice mental math and problem solving for a few more Math Centers.
Once my students are well-versed in how to choose the best cards to keep, it is time to learn how to actually “Play” the game. There are loads of rules to learn and remember, but what makes it fun is that nearly everything you do gets you points! When teaching the Play, be sure to peg points. The kids get super excited with each and every point.
The first thing I show students is how to hold their Hand. This is new to some nine-year-olds. They have to hold the cards they’ve kept because we place one down on the table or floor at a time, and you don’t want to get them mixed up.
Something unique to cribbage is that players (teams) will recollect their cards in order to calculate the points their hand is worth when Play is over. For this reason, have students place the cards that they are playing right in front of them; separate from other players/teams.
Next, I explain that, during Play, we add up a running tally of “Pips.” Pips are the symbols on the playing cards. A “Five of Hearts” has five pips or hearts on it. Each face card (Jack, Queen, and King) are worth ten pips in cribbage. An Ace is valued at only one pip in this game. It is very useful; Hang on to those! (Here is a very interesting blog explaining pips and the symbolism of cards.) As students place one of their cards face up on the table or floor, they don’t say the number on the card. They announce the new sum of all of the face up cards. So, if a King had already been played, and that player (team) voiced “Ten,” and then I play a Two, I will say “Twelve” out loud. If the next player (team) places a Three face up, they will say “Fifteen” out loud, keeping a running tab on the growing tally of pips.
The player or team that plays the Fifteen is rewarded Two Points on the cribbage board. You get points during Play whenever you form a combination of Fifteen, a pair, three or four of a kind, and/or a run. These point-producing combinations are similar to what students were looking for when deciding which cards to place in the crib and which to keep. But now, students are forming them with the help of their opponents’ cards.
Let’s say two Queens have been played. The player who placed the second Queen on the table or floor will be rewarded two points. If a third Queen gets played, the person (team) that played it will get six points, because it forms three pairs.
Similarly, when a run of three or more cards in consecutive ascending order are played in a row, the player (team) gets the number of points that represents the number of cards. In other words, if a Ten, then a Jack, and lastly a Queen were played in a row, the person (team) that played the Queen would get three points.
During “Play” the pips can never exceed 31. This is the magic number of cribbage play. As players are placing cards face up and voicing the running sum of pips, they are mindful of what cards they have left to play. The closest to 31, without going over, gets a point. If you can play a card to make the Play value exactly 31 pips, you get two points. As the Play gets close to 31, if a player (team) does not have any card to play that would keep the play under 31, they say “Go.” This is when the other team gets a point. That team must play any cards that they can, keeping the tally under 31. They can collect points from pairs, runs, and even score two points for making exactly 31.
At this point, all of the cards that have been played get turned over (facedown), so that they don’t confuse the players during the next Play. The player (team) who said “Go” during the last play starts off the new play.
Once all of the cards have been played, and a point was awarded to the player (team) who plays the “Last Card,” it is time for each player (team) to gather up all four of their cards and get points for their individual hands. (Here is a website to reference for points.)
This we do one team at a time. The dealer goes last. The crib is counted separately, and that is the very last thing to be tallied. It’s important to count in this order, because whoever reaches the end of the cribbage board first, regardless of how many points are in a hand, wins. In this way, you may not want to be the dealer if a tight game is nearing the end!
I hope this blog is helpful for learning how to teach cribbage to students. One of the many benefits of learning this game is the cross-generational play it opens up. It was one of the first games that I was able to play with the “grownups” during holiday celebrations and vacations. My dad told me about a league he played at his Senior Center in Massachusetts. One thing that he complained about was how fast those games were. It was too much pressure.
That being said, you might want to put timers on for students, in order to keep the game moving. Also, you could have a timer for the whole game; Whoever has the most points when the timer goes off wins! Have fun!
At the beginning of the new version of “Scarlet’s Superpower” four bullies are introduced. I’ve been laboring on what I want them to say. As it turns out, what they actually say out loud doesn’t matter, because Scarlet can’t hear them. It is the act of making fun of Scarlet that is important to the story. However, the reader will take in the message of these characters.
As I dream up this fictional scenario, I am thinking to myself; What do I want the reader to experience? My method of writing in first person, present- tense is designed to create maximum empathy. The reader ought to feel what Scarlet is feeling. Am I bullying my readers?
And, once again I am totally over-thinking my writing! Time to blog.
First of all, according to the Anti-Bullying Alliance (n.d.), bullying is defined as “The repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological. It can happen face-to-face or online.” Is it even possible for an author to bully their readers? Why would they read the texts?
This idea of an author “bullying” readers is thought-provoking to me. I can imagine this happening in some texts. The reader is hooked on a cool book. They have “become friends” with the characters, enjoy the scenery of the setting, and feel enmeshed with the problems of the protagonist, when all of a sudden, things go awry! All of a sudden your imagination is getting pummeled from all sides, and there is no escape. I have read books that stress me out. A person who has suffered trauma could be triggered.
Most people probably know what they are getting themselves into when picking up a book. I listen to a lot of the books that I consume, and go through them faster than I can research them. It’s common for me to find myself halfway through an audiobook before I decide to look up some information on it. This recently happened to me when I listened to “Where the Crawdads Sing.” I’m deep in the “Marshland” of North Carolina, surviving on a truly minimalistic existence of mollusks, when the author takes every last thread of hope away from me! Kye is left with an impossible situation.
This is an awesome book, and I highly recommend it. The plot kept me guessing all the way to the end, which I love! I look forward to reading this again someday and realizing how much the poetry keeps me and Kye afloat throughout the text. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about. Hints without spoilers.
Back to Scarlet’s book, though. I feel like one kid calling another kid a “baby” is a universal put down, and relatively painless.. Thus, I start off the bullying with a kid suggesting baby-like behavior, when in actuality he is just stating the fact that she is lying down in the room that has the youngest charges of the daycare. You can almost hear the cadence of his words, as though they were a chant, “Scarlet is sleeping with the babies.”
I give the kid braces to show his age. All of your grown up teeth have to grow in before you get braces. Perhaps he thinks he is older and more mature because he has braces.
I also have him spit the words so that you know that this kid, while stating a fact, is sharing it as a put down. He is “spitting” his message at Scarlet, whether she is able to feel it or not. I don’t particularly like the way the words work, though. I’ll most likely change or omit the “spitting,” even though I like the concept. I think I’d have to add another sentence to get the point across, and I don’t want the tiny text to be as cumbersome as this silly blog! Ha ha.
One thing that I think this scene gets across is that these four kids are real bullies. The fact that they are making fun of Scarlet on the other side of a glass door, where she can’t hear them, whether she had her coils on or not, makes it seem like this is not the first time that they have singled her out for ridicule. Also, does it fit the definition of bullying if no “intentional hurt” happens?
Here, I am faced with a serious dilemma. Scarlet HAS actually been the target of some unfriendly social situations this year. She has had difficulty making, keeping, and being friends. When Scarlet and I first came up with this idea of incorporating bullying as a theme of her story, there wasn’t even a hint of peer problems. Is our text beginning to touch true trauma, and will that be troubling?
The theme of the book is Scarlet’s overcoming obstacles and therefore becoming empowered through the acceptance of her limits. While my first text, written when Scarlet was in first grade, tackled the potential problem of Scarlet hating that she had to deal with her devices, and no one else did, this one could focus on social problems; Scarlet’s Superpower could morph from just “not hearing” to choosing to ignore. In this way, I am hoping to help my daughter, and readers everywhere, to find a power within them to look and live beyond the ridicule of others.
And now, I come to the word “dumb.” I chose this insult because it is so dumbignorant. Kids do not know the etymology of this word, but it wouldn’t hurt them to learn that words have histories. If you are still reading this, I assume you are educated enough to know that the word dumb means “unable to speak” (O’Conner & Kellerman, 2014).
I love playing with words, and that is what I am doing here. Rather than having the bullies bludgeon Scarlet’s character from a distance; something she can’t even feel; I have them discussing taunts. This is to paint the picture of peers plotting put downs. Especially, when I have one student explain that they were planning to use the term “dumb” to mock Scarlet, the idea of intentional hurt is clarified. The admittance of purposeful, targeted taunting seems to take the breath away from these bullies, because they, themselves are left “dumb” in the wake of it.
We think of bullies as people who pummel others with insults (words) and/or inflict physical harm on others. Prohibiting a person from being able to share can also be a form of bullying. Taking the power to communicate away from someone could be worse than labeling them something negative. It literally renders them powerless to affect their situation. When someone calls a target “dumb,” whether they use that exact word or not, are they really attempting to silence them? The bully is saying to those within earshot, “This person is not worth listening to.”
The irony of the bullies in my story muting themselves will not be understood by the youth the story is written for. Thus, I feel the need to explain it here. Scarlet is deaf, literally. She has devices that help her hear. When she has them on, she takes in every sound that hearing people experience. Not only has she taken her coils off to nap in this opening scene of this new version of the book, but she is separated from the bullies by a glass door. This is because the bullies do not understand that she can’t hear them, even if there were NO door. The reader does not GET this yet, either. It is explained later on.
The bullies are sharing insults with each other in mock bullying fashion, practicing what they might do if face to face with Scarlet. With the realization that insulting Scarlet on the other side of a glass door, where she can’t hear them (coils or not), it dawns on the bullies that their words haven’t even gone as far as falling on deaf ears! This transforms them, the powerful in numbers and insults, powerless. They have no voice without an ear to hear. They are the dummies.
Here is a taste of what is to come: Scarlet’s new improved superpower is to “Ignore the Ignorant.”
How do you celebrate multiple cultures simultaneously? Is it even appropriate to talk about religious holidays in a public-education classroom?
The Polite Pirates experienced a "cheese & meats from around the world" tasting, following our performance. --Many thanks to Dr. Deb Campbell for the amazing charcuterie.
One of the ways I taught my students (The Polite Pirates) about various Winter Holidays and customs from around the world was by having them read plays. I’d construct the plays from the text of picture books. I’d have the Polite Pirates practice and perform the plays for their parents right before winter break. One of the plays is about Old Befana. It introduces an Italian tradition of getting stocking stuffers on January 6th (Epiphany) from a “Christmas witch.” There’s one about a family making Latkes to celebrate Hanukkah. Parents loved listening to their children pronounce the fancy French words from Margie Palatini & Richard Egielski’s “Three French Hens” that I turned into a play.
Many of the texts have wonderful themes. One of my all-time favorites is “The Christmas Piñata” by Jack Kent, a story about two pots who have very different uses. The “good pot” is made into a beautiful and useful watering can, while the other comes out of the kiln broken. This broken pot is sad that it can’t be as useful as the “good pot…” until one day it is made into the star of the Los Posadas parade in a Mexican village! This makes for a very powerful play whose theme, even the youngest children can interpret.
This year I decided to do something different, and it proved totally awesome! Rather than use an already existing book to make a play, I wrote my own. I wanted to have the Polite Pirates travel around the world to experience various cultures. Perhaps their pirate ship could magically become a flying vessel that skips from one continent to another. Then, the idea came to me… I would use my silly pirate captain to lead everyone all over time and space by appropriating the zany television legend, Doctor Who and his TARDIS. Instead of “Doctor Who,” however, it would be “Captain Who”.. and the idea for a time-jumping class of kids was born!
Of course Mr. Weimann has a smoke machine… And, of course we had to use it each time we jumped through time!
Instead of focusing on winter holidays, I decided to research the origins of the Christmas tree. I knew that the symbol of evergreen predated the dominant religion’s appropriation (Schroeder, 1992). I did not know that the use of branches, trees, wreathes, and plants to symbolize immortality stretched back to ancient Egypt and beyond (History.com Editors, 2021). The variety of places, cultures, and uses of evergreen over the face of the Earth and throughout time is staggering.
Rather than deciding which of the many facts to include in our classroom play all by my lonesome, I decided to include the Polite Pirates in the project. We practiced research by writing down open-ended questions. I wetted their appetites by giving them teasers like, “Did you know that Christmas trees were illegal at one time?” and “Some cultures don’t call them Christmas trees.” Then I had my students read the History.com article (2021) that started me down this rabbit hole.
After learning many interesting facts, the Polite Pirates and I decided on our favorites to include in our play. Each story would be a separate scene for our TARDIS-traveling pirate players to visit. They would explore one of the oldest cultures to use greenery as a symbol of life; ancient Egypt; with its mythology of the sun god becoming ill, and therefore reducing its daily dose of light. The god gets increasingly sick, until the Winter Solstice finds him lying in bed the longest of any day of the year! Egyptians would decorate with palm fronds to encourage Ra to awaken and feel better.
We also wanted to share the experience of getting in trouble for having Christmas trees. This happened during the puritan era of early Massachusetts. They believed it sacrilegious to make merriment on or near the day they celebrated Christ’s birth (December 25th).
How did Christmas trees come to be a favorite holiday decoration? It was a popular monarch who changed everything. And, it wasn’t a king. Queen Victoria was the evergreen tree trend-setter. She had married Prince Albert of Germany, and invited him to share some of his Christmas traditions with her. This little story was a nice way to show the Polite Pirates open-mindedness and acceptance, as well as cause and effect. It was a newspaper illustration that turned tree decorating into a national craze. A picture of the royals standing next to a 4 foot high tree decorated with glass ornaments from Germany and placed on top of a table was published in a local London newspaper in 1846. After that, Christmas trees were the rage in every English-influenced culture.
Finally, it’s always helpful to include something the students are extra fond of. Everyone wanted to know the story behind the German pickle that hides in the tree. Here was an opportunity to learn that research does not always yield neat answers. According to Alexandra Churchill (2021) of Martha Stewart.com, no one knows exactly where this tradition originated.
The Christmas Pickle
I made a scene at the end of our play that has a shop owner speaking with a pickle-eating worker, while a couple of patrons peruse the recently invented and imported German-made glass ornaments. This story encapsulates the way myths are born. In the play I even named the pickle-eater “LEGEND WRITER” to point out that this tradition stems from people simply making up the idea.
In several ways the process of researching mirrors the Scientific Method. After coming up with a question, looking for answers, and carefully observing information, recording what you learned, one must do something with what is found; The crux of it all is to publish your findings. The Polite Pirates are well-versed in writing paragraphs. Why not use what we learned to produce performance art? Of course that was the point all along, but I pointed out that our classroom’s winter holiday celebration play is actually a way of publishing or “making public” the information that we researched.
And so, without further ado, here is our play; the readers’ theater that the Polite Pirates performed for parents visiting the Willow Lane cafeteria on December 21st, which actually is the Winter Solstice! Feel free to use, adapt, and enjoy this play with your class. Perhaps you want to use this process to have your class make its own. Let me know how it goes.
SETTING: Behind 2 foot high pirate ship
PIRATE3: Land, Ho!
PIRATE4: More like “School, ho!”
PIRATE5: This DOES seem like a place of learning. But, what’s that tree, there?
PIRATE6: More like a place for eating to me. What are those called?
PIRATE3: cafe? Trattorie? (Italian for casual restaurant, pronounced “truh*tor*ee”)
PIRATE4: restaurant? Are we in Italy?
PIRATE5: eatery? I thought that this was Pennsylvania.
PIRATE6: No, no, no…
STUDENT11: (enters, wearing a Santa hat, and seeming to ecco PIRATE6) Ho, ho, ho…!
STUDENT12: (addressing the hat-wearer) If you want to play Santa in this performance, you’ll have to “Grow, grow, grow…”
STUDENT13: Not necessarily. That all depends on whether you want to portray the original “Saint Nicolas” or the modern, mythological…
PIRATE3: Students… HO! Never mind labeling the luncheonette! Here are patrons.
PIRATE4: (ignoring everything, and continuing with synonyms for cafeteria…) Not tratorrie. Osteria (Another Italian word, pronounced “oh*stir*eeee*ah”)
PIRATE5: These DO appear to be students. Let’s see if they can help us figure out where we are.
PIRATE6: (triumphant, and ignoring others) Cafeteria! That’s what it’s called.
(All of the students stumble to the ground in alarm.)
STUDENT11: (first to regain composure) Why hello there. Nice ship. Where do you sail?
PIRATE3: (In an overly loud, boisterous voice) Hello! We are the Polite Pirates, comrades of Captain…
PIRATE4: (Addressing PIRATE3, as much as the students) There is NO need to shout at them. (And then, polite speaking to the students…)
We, the (throwing the word “polite” over his shoulder, at PIRATE3) Polite Pirates are pleased to make your acquaintance.
STUDENT12: Yes, well, welcome to the cafeteria of Willow Lane.
STUDENT13: (over-emphasis the “who”) Who is your captain? From whom do you take orders?
PIRATE5: The captain comes and goes. He has invented… or found…
PIRATE6: Captain entered an old fashioned police box the other day, and we haven’t seen him since.
STUDENT11: (seemingly beginning to get frustrated…) Yes, but…
EVERYONE: Yeah! (Everyone enters the TARDIS. More smoke.)
SETTING: A Puritan village in 1649 New England
(Students and pirates observe the exchange between the police officer and puritan, without getting involved… Students speak amongst themselves over on the side.)
POLICE: (Hands a person a piece of paper) You must pay this fine to the local magistrate by the end of the week, or we will be forced to return and confiscate something of comparable value.
PURITAN: I don’t see what the problem is with hanging a little evergreen around my house. It is MY home.
POLICE: I don’t make the rules. I just enforce them. No decorating on or near December 25th. That’s the law.
STUDENT11: What? People are not allowed to decorate for Christmas?
PURITAN: I bet the baby would have liked the wonderful, lively smell of evergreen. It would have covered up the foul smell of all of those barn animals.
STUDENT12: It sounds like they mostly like the smell.
POLICE: While I agree that your evergreen clippings DO smell rather pleasant, you know the law: No hanging of decorations on or around December 25th. This is a sacred day.
PURITAN: Officer, I am NOT (said with attitude) “pagan-izing” my home just by making it smell nice!
POLICE: Are you being obstinate, my puritan friend?
MARY: This must be the puritan era.
ZEUS: Around the 1650s…
STUDENT13: What if the puritan really does just want the place to smell nice?
STUDENT11: I have a pine freshener that I took from my parents’ car this morning on the way to school. (Tosses the pine tree air freshener to the puritan.)
PURITAN: What’s this? (Holds pine tree to nose and sniffs.) Oooooh, this is wonderful.
POLICE: What do you have there? Where did that come from? What kind of witchcraft is this?
PURITAN: It’s just a thin wafer of wood, scented like an entire forest of evergreen.
POLICE: Hmmm (smelling pine tree), that does smell rather nice. I’ll have to check on this.
PURITAN: It’s so tiny (whining), can’t I keep it?
POLICE: (still smelling the tree… over and over, clearly enjoying the fragrance) I’m going to need to keep this… (to himself) I could hang it above my head in the paddy wagon. If only mirrors were invented, I could hang it from a rearview mirror… (wanders off)
PURITAN: Hey! (disappointed and whining) I found it!
(Captain pulls students back into TARDIS. Smoke. Police and puritan disappear.)
CAPTAIN: What are you doing?! You can’t share technology and ideas from the future with people from the past!
MARY: I totally forgot; We might mess up the space-time continuum.
ZEUS: The whosie-whatsit?
CAPTAIN: If you go back in time and alter something, it could completely change the future; our time! We could cease to exist.
STUDENT11: Oh no! What have I done? Am I fading? I think I can see through my fingers.
STUDENT12: That’s because you have them spread out.
STUDENT11: (closes fingers) Oh, you are right.
STUDENT13: Where are we now?
ZEUS: And, when are we now… I mean what is “now”? Or, when is “now”?
MARY: We get it, Zeus. Come on, let’s find out.
(Mary leads group away from TARDIS, toward pyramids.)
SETTING: Yellow pyramids in background. People hold palm fronds and speak to each other. One has a cold and is sneezing.
EGYPTIAN14: (pointing) I think it looks better over there.
EGYPTIAN15: Yeah, but no one will smell it over there.
EGYPTIAN16: I don’t know how much smell palm fronds have, my Egyptian friend.
(Egyptian15 sneezes several times.)
EGYPTIAN14: We could put the fronds in water, if we arrange them in this vase. They might last longer.
(More sneezing by 15.)
EGYPTIAN16: Oh, for crying out loud! (Talking to 15) Can’t you take something for that?
EGYPTIAN15: I think I’m allergic to palm trees.
EGYPTIAN14: I don’t think that’s a thing. We live in Egypt. They are everywhere. You probably have a cold.
(Again, the students and pirates remain separate from the people from the past. Just observe the Egyptian conversation.)
PIRATE3: (speaking to the TARDIS travelers) So, we are in Egypt this time.
PIRATE4: Your powers of observation are impressive.
PIRATE5: That doesn’t sound very polite?
PIRATE4: You’re right. (turning apologetically to pirate3) And, you are right. I wonder what these Egyptians are doing with those palm fronds.
PIRATE6: It appears they are using them as decorations. I wonder if they are celebrating a holiday.
EGYPTIAN16: Why don’t we just get more fronds and put them on both sides of the house?
EGYPTIAN14: I like that. They can symbolize both, Ra rising and Ra setting.
EGYPTIAN15: (sneezes) Ra has forsaken me!
EGYPTIAN16: No, he has been experiencing the same thing you are.
EGYPTIAN14: Maybe he gave you his cold.
EGYPTIAN15: That would explain why it is so powerful (extra big sneeze)
EGYPTIAN16: But, now we turn the corner.
EGYPTIAN14: After today, Ra will return in strength.
EGYPTIAN15: I can’t wait for my strength to return.
EGYPTIAN16: This will be your darkest day.
CAPTAIN: I bet the Egyptians are celebrating the Winter Solstice.
MARY: The shortest day of the year.
ZEUS: Who is Ra? And, why is he sick.
CAPTAIN: Ra is the Egyptian sun god. They must be talking about his disappearance.
MARY: Because there is less and less daylight.
ZEUS: They think he got sick?
CAPTAIN: That would explain why he hasn’t been around as much.
MARY: And, after today, the daylight will begin to increase.
ZEUS: As in Ra is recovering…
SETTING: Palace in England
QUEEN: This is such a magical time of year, my dearest husband.
PRINCE: So true my queen. Might we decorate the palace to celebrate the season?
QUEEN: Tell me, your majesty. What traditions did you practice in your homeland of Germany?
PRINCE: My people erect trees in their homes and decorate them with fruits and nuts.
REPORTER: “Queen Victoria Goes Nuts for Trees!” Get your paper. Hot news for sale.
STUDENT11: What? That doesn’t sound right. Would they be able to print that kind of salacious news?
MARY: I don’t think so.
ZEUS: I’m pretty sure they would lose their head.
CAPTAIN: This is 1846, not the dark ages.
STUDENT12: Yeah, he said Queen Victoria, not the Red Queen.
STUDENT13: Did you think we were in “Alice in Wonderland,” or something?
PEASANT: I’d like to purchase one of those newspapers, please.
REPORTER: Sure. That’ll be two pence.
PEASANT: Here you go.
REPORTER: Thanks. Everyone loves Queen Victoria.
PEASANT: I know. With this illustration of her and Prince Albert standing with their family next to a decorated evergreen tree up on a table, I wouldn’t be surprised to find one in every house tomorrow.
REPORTER: I already got one! Apparently, they are the rage in Germany. The Queen asked the prince about his childhood traditions.
PEASANT: She honored his traditions. How classy.
REPORTER: Right? The people will be happy to decorate. Somber occasions are no fun.
PEASANT: No fun at all. (Looking closely at newspaper) What do they have hanging on the tree?
PRINCE: My people used to place apples and other fruit and nuts upon the tree to symbolize the harvest. Then they began adding marzipan cookies and more.
QUEEN: That sounds joyous! I think it would look even better with color.
PRINCE: In the future people will make strings of popcorn.
QUEEN: They could dye the popcorn with various bright colors. Then they could mix berries in to vary the texture…
PRINCE: In 1847 people began making glass ornaments.
QUEEN: Like these?
PRINCE: Yes, like these.
REPORTER: (announcing to crowd) Queen’s tree full of glass!
PEASANT: Ornaments; glass ornaments.
REPORTER: Just a technicality.
PEASANT: No, truthfully…
REPORTER: Just trying to sell some papers, my man.
PEASANT: (reading newspaper) It says here that the tree is only 4 feet tall and sits upon a table. Is that true?
REPORTER: How do I know? I can’t read!
PEASANT: Oh, sorry. Well, according to this article, the dime-store magnate, F.W. Woolworth from Pennsylvania will visit Germany in the 1880s, bring some glass ornaments back to America and then make a fortune importing more. This will begin a trend in American Christmas tree decorating that will grow from there.
REPORTER: That article says all of that?
PEASANT: No, but that DOES happen…
STUDENT11: How do they know about Woolworth, when this is only 1847? That doesn’t happen until 1880.
MARY: I don’t know. Perhaps we are messing up the space-time continuum, doing all of this TARDIS traveling.
ZEUS: I don’t know, but I’m getting hungry. Do they have a Christmas pickle? That’s German, isn’t it?
CAPTAIN: I’ve heard the legend of the German Christmas pickle. I think it’s an ornament. Perhaps we could go to Germany next.
SETTING: Inside an old fashioned general store
STUDENT12: Are we in Germany?
PURITAN: There’s some lovely glass ornaments over here. (PURITAN & POLICE wander around the shop pretending to browse.)
SHOPOWNER: (in a “salesy” voice) Oh, yes! We just got those in from Germany last week. Hot off the furnace.
LEGENDWRITER: (eating a pickle, says to himself) Those were probably made months ago.
SHOPOWNER: (whispering to the LEGENDWRITER) Shhhh, we want them to think that our German glass ornaments are better than ever.
STUDENT13: These two seem a little shady.
LEGENDWRITER: Sure. Why don’t you just get ornaments that are unique and special? Something different. (Hold up a pine tree air freshener.) This one’s different…
SHOPOWNER: (scolding) Put that down! That is sacred. And what are you eating?
STUDENT11: Hey, that’s my air freshener!
STUDENT12: I don’t think we’re in Germany. They keep calling these glass ornaments “German.” If we were in Germany, they’d just be “ornaments.”
POLICE: (sort of complaining) We already have one of all of these.
SHOPOWNER: (complaining to the LEGENDWRITER) As if I have any say over what arrives from Germany. It’s the 1800s. It takes weeks to get a shipment of ornaments that have sailed across the Atlantic. It’s not like they can just fly them on over in the matter of hours. It’ll be another 200 years before Amazon takes every last bit of work out of shopping and shuts me down!
STUDENT11: That was a lot to unpack. Are we in the 1800s?
STUDENT12: I’m pretty sure we are.
(LEGENDWRITER is munching on a pickle louder and louder, drawing more and more attention to his actions.)
CAPTAIN: I wonder if the space-time continuum is fracturing.
STUDENT13: How would this shop owner know about Amazon?
ZEUS: Uh oh, we should probably head back to our time.
MARY: What did you say, Zeus? I can’t hear you over this guy munching on… What is that thing?
LEGENDWRITER: (answering everyone, but talking to the SHOPOWNER) This? Oh, it’s a pickle. I was hungry.
SHOPOWNER: Well, put it down! We have customers.
(LEGENDWRITER slyly sticks pickle on a shelf.)
PURITAN: (picking up the pickle) Hey, we don’t have one of these.
POLICE: That looks like a pickle.
SHOPOWNER: That’s not just any old pickle…
LEGENDWRITER: (mumbling to himself) Yeah, it’s my pickle. And, I’m still hungry.
SHOPOWNER: It’s a magical (draw the word out, making it sound mystical) pickle! (elbow the LEGENDWRITER)
LEGENDWRITER: Sure… It has magical powers (barely buying in to the silly sales pitch).
SHOPOWNER: With this pickle… Whoever finds this pickle (Look to the LEGENDWRITER for inspiration)
LEGENDWRITER: Okay, ok (sighing, and giving in). Look, (in a matter a fact voice; unimpressive) this pickle is to be hidden on the Christmas tree… Every Christmas tree… And, whoever finds it first… You know, when the tree is first revealed, or something, that person gets good luck for the year. Yeah, that’s it. (Clearly, this guy was making up this legend as he went.)
SHOPOWNER: (impressed with the story) Ooooh, that’s good.
PURITAN: What if it’s an adult who finds it every year. The kids would hate it. It’s just a pickle.
LEGENDWRITER: Right. Well, the adult who sees it should leave it where it lies. They’ll just know that they get good luck for the year… see? And, the first kid to find it gets to be the one to begin the gift opening.
POLICE: That will solve the problem of deciding which tyke begins the present mayhem.
STUDENT11: That’s what we do in my home.
STUDENT12: Is this really how the German Christmas pickle tradition began? I’ve heard that a Civil war hero was saved from starvation eating a pickle.
STUDENT13: I heard that Saint Nicholas saved two boys by sticking them in a pickle barrel.
SHOPOWNER: You should write down those rules. That was good.
LEGENDWRITER: Sure. Or, we could add to the rules, change them, make up new stories each year, building on the legend. Who knows? Perhaps it will become a tradition.
SHOPOWNER: It’ll help us sell more German glass ornaments, anyway.
CAPTAIN: Come on everyone, let’s return to the present.
ZEUS: Did someone say present.
MARY: Not the kind you open. It’s a homonym…
SETTING: Back on pirate ship, but the entire length of it has pine tree air fresheners all over it.
ZEUS: What is that funky smell?!!
STUDENT11: And, what is all over the pirate ship?
PIRATE: Are those pine trees?
MARY: It feels like my nose is being accosted by an entire evergreen forest!
EGYPTIAN14: What? We are just decorating for the annual pine tree air freshener party.
PEASANT: (slightly correcting the Egyptian) Polite Pirate Pine Tree Air Freshener Party.
REPORTER: When we celebrate the Winter Solstice with the smell of the everlasting…
QUEEN: Forever green…
PRINCE: Symbol of life…
POLICE: For our hemisphere may be cold and dark, now…
EGYPTIAN15: (small sneeze) With Ra… (sniffle) I mean the sun… hiding himself a large portion of the day…
EGYPTIAN16: But, today we turn the tide… Our day begins to grow… With the smell of these magical trees…
(Everyone turn and gaze at air fresheners, pointing, and “aaaahh-ing”)
ZEUS: Wait a minute, remember, Lea threw the air freshener at the puritan back in the 17th century.
MARY: The police officer took it.
STUDENT12: He must have kept it. He had mentioned attaching it to a paddy wagon, whatever that is.
STUDENT13: I think it is the equivalent of a 17th century police car.
PIRATE3: Perhaps, this is where the tradition of hanging air fresheners on rear view mirrors comes from!
PIRATE4: I don’t think that is really a tradition. It happens all year long.
PIRATE6: Yeah, without one, you wouldn’t want to step foot in my family’s car!
PIRATE5: Could we have altered the past when we left that marvelous feat of modern technology behind?
STUDENT12: (incredulous) A pine tree air freshener?
STUDENT13: Feat of technology? Really?
STUDENT11: They are pretty marvelous… And, sorry;)
NARRATOR — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m the narrator of this play. While the other characters are reading dialogue, my job is to fill you in on the “behind the scenes” information. Because we aren’t “acting” this out, and do not have a set with decorations and all, you will have to picture some of what I tell you in your heads. This is called “visualizing.”
MARY — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m a Polite Pirate, named Mary, in this play. I’m a Polite Pirate in real life, too. Polite pirates look like regular pirates, but we don’t steal anything. Also, we have extremely good manners.
ZEUS — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m a Polite Pirate in the play, as well. In the play my name is Zeus. The problem is that I think people will not like me if I act like my normal polite self. Wait until you see the silly stuff that I do, to try and look tough!
CAPTAIN — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m the Captain of the Polite Pirates in this play. I am very wise.
EVERYONE: So wise!
SAILOR1 — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I play a sailor in this play. I think that Zeus is funny.
SAILOR2 — Hi, my name is _____(name of reader), and I’m also a sailor in the play. I’m sad to say that my sailor friend and I end up making fun of Zeus a little. Find out what happens as you listen to…
EVERYONE: “Talk Like a Pirate… Or Else!”
NARRATOR: There was once an island that rescued several sailors who had survived a massive storm.
ZEUS: Where are we?
CAPTAIN: We are safe.
ZEUS: I asked, where we were; not how we were.
MARY: Are you questioning the captain?
ZEUS: No, that was a statement. I do declare, my statement was referring to our whereabouts, rather than our condition.
CAPTAIN: The storm has taken a toll on us. We have lost many crew members; We are weary and hungry; We have no shelter; This is a strange and foreign land; But, for the moment, we are safe.
ZEUS: You are right, Captain. I apologize for my ungrateful attitude.
CAPTAIN: Apology accepted. Now, lets make a fire and collect some food.
NARRATOR: These three polite pirates were not the only sailors surviving on the island. There were people from several different ships marooned on the same piece of land. And, yes, I did say “Polite” pirates… For this small remaining band of pirates was none other than Captain Iron Knee’s crew of Polite Pirates!
MARY: Zeus, I have collected this dry wood for a toasty fire.
ZEUS: Excellent! The captain will have to instruct us on how to begin the flame. He is so wise.
MARY: So wise.
NARRATOR: Captain Iron Knee was considered rather wise:)
ZEUS: Now, let’s gather some food.
NARRATOR: The fire was started and food was gathered. As the polite pirates ate, they looked around. They saw other surviving sailors who did not have a toasty warm fire. Not too far away were two sailors shivering on a log.
CAPTAIN: We should share some fire and food with those unfortunate souls.
ZEUS & Mary: Yes, mmm, definitely.
NARRATOR: As you can see, these pirates did not behave in the typical piraty way. However, they did look like other pirates, complete with eye patches, pirate hats, and even an iron knee. It doesn’t get much more piraty than an iron knee!
CAPTAIN: Why don’t one of you two go over there and offer some food and fire to our neighbors?
ZEUS: I will go.
NARRATOR: Zeus hesitated, though. He wondered what the neighboring survivors would think if they knew just how polite he and his friends were… Or, was it the fact that they looked like pirates but did not act or talk like pirates. Either way, rather than going over to the two shivering sailors and saying…
MARY: “Hello, I happened to notice that you have been struggling to begin a fire over here.”
NARRATOR: …He actually said… er, growled…
ZEUS: Ahoy!! Shiver me timbers! Dis be a fancy mess o’ sticks! Avast: me fire be yours if ye belay that shiverin’, get yerselves off the yardarm and fetch some (far less piraty voice) really really small sticks. I suggest the fine twigs of spruce trees. Those work quite well. (recomposing himself) SHOW A LEG! Let’s go!
NARRATOR: You can well imagine that the shivering sailors were as confused as they were cold after that display.
SAILOR 1: What on earth was that?
SAILOR 2: I do not know. (Thinks for a moment; then in a gruff, piraty voice) Yarr, I be not knowin’ what that be ‘bout!
(Both Sailors giggle.)
NARRATOR: Zeus did not walk upright, the way he usually did on his return to Captain Iron Knee and Mary. He was hunched over, dragged one leg, and swung his arms ferociously.
CAPTAIN: Zeus, did you offer those sailors some of our food and fire, as I asked you to?
ZEUS: I did tell them that they could have some of our fire.
MARY: How exactly did you communicate that idea?
ZEUS: (Hems and haws; then mumbles) I talked like a pirate.
CAPTAIN: That is what I thought.
ZEUS: (Making excuses) But, what if they don’t like us? What if they think we are weak or not scary?
MARY: What does being scary have to do with anything?
(Pause and look at sailors who are acting out piraty behavior)
SAILOR 1: Hoist the colors, hearties!
SAILOR 2: The Jolly Roger be missin’, cap’n!
SAILOR 1: Blimey, land lubbers be scrapin’ off with me hook if-wernt-‘tached-me-arm!
SAILOR 2: And ye may lay to that!
(Back to the polite pirates)
CAPTAIN: Now look at what you have done!
MARY: Were you trying to sound scary, the way pirates typically do?
ZEUS: (embarrassed) Maybe.
CAPTAIN: Why would you do that? That is not a way to make friends. If we are going to survive on this island peaceably it is important to make friends. We will need to cooperate.
MARY: (In an understanding, kind tone) Captain Iron Knee is correct. We may be pirates, but we are shipwrecked just like every other person on this island.
NARRATOR: Zeus thought about this, and felt badly. He walked back over to the sailors still giggling and trying to talk like pirates, themselves. Only, this time Zeus walked the way he normally would, tall, proud, with shoulders back, straight, and chin up; not swinging his arms, but carrying them like instruments for helping others.
ZEUS: (To the sailors who have been mocking him and pretending to be pirates) Excuse me, but earlier I came over here and behaved badly. I was afraid that you would not like me if I talked to you normally, so I tried talking like a pirate. The thing is… I am a pirate, but a rather polite one. I belong to an unusually mannerly group of pirates who share politeness with others. Actually, that is why I was sent over here, originally. We have food and fire that we would like to share with you if you are interested.
NARRATOR: This left the two sailors rather speechless.
SAILOR 1: Yarr! (Sailor2 nudges the first) …Uh, yes, yes, we would greatly appreciate some help with fire and food.
SAILOR 2: Thank you for coming back over here and explaining your behavior. We weren’t sure if you were a silly person, weird pirate, or shipwrecked savage.
ZEUS: My name is Zeus, and I am the chef on Captain Iron Knee’s ship.
(They get close enough for Mary to hear this.)
MARY: You were chef of the ship. Hello, I am Mary.
(Sailors shake hands all around.)
CAPTAIN: Pleased to make your acquaintance.
SAILOR 1: We would be grateful for your help.
SAILOR 2: We are freezing over here.
ZEUS: Rather than give you fire, why don’t the two of you join us.
MARY: Yes, we have enough food for all of us.
SAILOR 1: You really are polite pirates!
SAILOR 2: How do you become a polite pirate?
NARRATOR: And with that, the polite pirate crew grew once more.
I’d like to invite you to join the Willow Lane Chess Club kids for a game or two of chess. “But, I’m not good at chess,” you may say. This might sound weird, but you are exactly what we are looking for! The purpose of this event is for the Willow Lane Chess Club to show off its skills. We want to impress you with our knowledge of the game and ability playing it. The less you know of the game, the more impressed you will be when witnessing our skills. Also, as discussed in a previous blog, playing and losing to children is empowering (for them;).
This event is the very first of its kind. Grownups are being invited to join the chess club from an elementary school; these are 9 to 12 year olds; during their regularly scheduled last club meeting. We have been meeting every other Tuesday all year. Students have learned how to move the pieces, win the game with checkmate, use tactics like skewering, pinning, and forking, as well as practicing with game after game. Each club member has played nearly every other one, and it is time to put our skills to a new test.
Parents who attend will view not only their own child’s chess-playing ability, but that of their peers. The adult who is willing to sit down with a preteen and potentially lose at a strategic game like chess is a giant in humility and a god of empowerment. Students will become giant killers of fear, apprehension, and insecurity when they survive a chess match with people they view as all-powerful. Even if a child does not win, being able to play with dignity and hold one’s own against an adult will help raise a child up in their own perceived self-worth.
If you think that you are too good at chess to join us for this day of play, I have two things to say to you. 1. Let’s see. And, 2. Please share. First of all, we have some pretty competitive kiddos in our Willow Lane Chess Club. If you are game, come on down and show us your stuff. Perhaps you crush our top players. Good. That will teach them some humility and show them how much they have yet to learn. If they give you a run for your money, all the better. Growth through challenge is strength. Secondly, we would greatly benefit from experiencing high-quality play. You could show our students some playing techniques and strategy that will help them in the future. The model of your play will give them something to strive for.
With the simple goal of showing off our skills, this ought to be a fun afternoon of gaming. Adults will be able to play a few kids. The winners of matches will NOT be recorded. This is NOT a tournament where only a few players sift to the top of a pyramid. Rather, it is going to be an hour of playing a FIFTEEN-HUNDRED-year-old game, minus the stress of game clocks, notation, or elimination. Even if you don’t know how to play at all, come and learn. If you have well-behaved children you are responsible for, bring them. They may be inspired. Don’t let anything hold you back from this extraordinary event.
Mark May 24th down on your calendars. Sign up on signup genius. Invite other grownups. And, prepare to be wowed by the students of Willow Lane.
Have you ever felt super good after experiencing an extra grueling workout or after finishing something really difficult? This is natural and normal. The human body has a way of protecting itself from feeling pain; It releases what some call a “Happy Hormone” that tricks the mind, so that the body can heal in peace. This hormone release is known as endorphins (Myers, 2021).
I like to run in the morning for a couple of reasons. One is that it is when I have time. Running while my daughter and wife are sleeping means I’m not using up time that would be spent with them. Also, my wife and daughter aren’t the only ones sleeping at the hours I run. There are far fewer people pounding the pavement when the sun is just barely hinting over the horizon than later in the day. In other words, I can run in peace, with much less crowded park paths.
The other day I was running at a nice clip, and I was feeling pretty good about it, when a guy called to me from a jeep. He asked me where the “Water Park” was. I stopped to tell him to turn right at the light. I was about to explain more, but he told me that this was enough information. It actually was, since there are signs, and his destination was right around the corner.
As he drove off, I was left with curious thoughts and feelings. It is rare for someone to release you from helping them. Most people would sit there and take in all of the directions I would be willing to give. Another interesting realization was that I didn’t feel annoyed about this interruption hurting my pace or disrupting my run. I use an app to measure my pace, and I enjoy keeping pretty close tabs on how I am doing. A recent goal has been to run at a slightly faster pace. Stopping to talk to someone would hurt my overall average!
The overwhelming feeling that I experienced was one of giddy elation at simply helping someone. It was so strong that I videotaped myself sharing a hypothesis about these emotions. I wondered if, in addition to exercising, there were other times and ways to get endorphins.
Lots of runners are familiar with a “runners high” after a run. This high feeling helps the exerciser (It doesn’t have to be running; Any form of physical activity or exertion will work) NOT feel the pain that their muscles will experience. It is the body’s way of self-repair.
When I helped the traveler find his way, I had stopped what I was doing. My pace was suffering. I was not using my time for me. My focus was being distracted. My goals were getting harder to meet. In short, I was experiencing, albeit minor, psychological pain. But then, afterward, I felt awesome, having helped someone.
My scientific question: Could helping people cause endorphins to be released?
From just a tiny bit of research the answer seems to be, yes, helping others can cause real, physical, good feelings (Myers, 2021).
I highly recommend that everyone conduct many science experiments of helping others. How does it feel? Journal about it to collect data and observe trends.
Also, share with me not only what you discover from your own personal research, but any articles that support (or deny) this claim. I’d like to dig deeper into the physical benefits a person acquires from helping others.
“Being kind” isn’t just a nice thing to do. It actually benefits your self. So, be kind for #selfcare.
Goals are helpful. Without them we can wander around aimlessly. But, how much gets missed? How many wonderful lessons get left behind and ignored due to our mission of meeting goals? I experienced this earlier in the week in a fun and silly way.
A couple of years ago I came across a group of people who posted selfie videos on Twitter. It caught my attention. The videos had some things in common. Each one was recorded directly or very soon after a workout or run. They were short. (Twitter only allows 2 minute videos.) Each tweet contained the hashtag #RunAndRant. And, there was usually a weekly theme or word that everyone “ranted” (discussed).
Most of the people who participated in this running and ranting activity had something to do with education. If the topics weren’t specifically teacher-related, many of the rants were. The videos were fun to watch, and it was awesome to connect with people through discussion in the comments under the tweets.
In addition to communicating with others, I was inspired to get out there and run, myself! I had wanted to for years, and the time had finally arrived.
The weekly topic would be decided by Monday night or Tuesday morning. Then participants (Not everyone ran; Some swam, many walked, and there were weight-lifters, too!) would make short selfies that contained whatever thoughts they came up with during their workouts. People tagged known #RunAndRant “members” and friends, and there would be a nice cachet of videos to watch and comment on within 24 hours.
I want to thank Mark Ryan for pioneering this fun activity and organizing this group. I’m not positive if he literally started this, but he was the point person, as far as I know, for initiating topics and connecting like-minded people. Thank you. This activity is why I am regularly running right now:)
Goals Gone Awry
Okay, fine, but why is this blog titled “Goals Gone Awry”? you may be wondering. Let me explain.
During my run an interesting idea popped into my mind that I wanted to share with the “Run And Rant” team. Just as I had many times before, I kicked it around in my head as I pounded the pavement. The idea grew and deepened. I was excited to share it via selfie on social media.
Here’s the thing, though: I told myself, Let’s wait until I’m at a better location to record my thoughts; a place that is quieter. When I got to that place, I found that my train of thought had jumped the rails. My rant ended up being more true to definition, a rambling mess of thoughts. I laughed at myself as I recorded it and posted it anyway. Perhaps someone could get something out of it, I thought. (This is the one shared at the top of this blog;)
A few days later I was running my favorite loop when I came to a section of road that was a little bumpy. It had been treated with “loose gravel,” a coating of tar and aggregate that preserves the roadway and provides skid-resistance (Kent County Road Commission FAQ, n.d.). This jogged my memory. I remembered my unrecorded rant.
But, then I got to thinking about WHY my thoughts had evaporated like the morning fog. My goal of waiting until I had reached a particular place on my run made me lose the lesson. If I hadn’t set that goal, if I’d recorded my original thoughts when I had them, I could have captured a more coherent idea.
This time I put my run on pause and began recording immediately. Now, I got my initial idea in the recording, plus this concept of goals potentially holding us back.
If you watch the video, you will see that there is a lot of traffic zooming by me. You can’t see it, but I’m coming to a busy intersection that I will have to cross. Smack dab in the middle of the rant my running app starts announcing my stats! Nuts! Needless to say this recording is far from ideal.
All of these details are why I had waited to rant during the previous run.
Have you ever had a goal ruin your lesson? Are there ever times when goals get in the way of progress? When is it okay to let go of a goal? Perhaps it is okay to run with a thought or lesson that didn’t have an established goal.
I’d love to hear about times goals have gone awry for you. What have you found helpful for getting the most out of life and learning?
With schools attempting to be as safe as possible, field trips are being conducted via Zoom meetings. My students, The Polite Pirates, experienced one of these the other day.
We had the opportunity to hear a gentleman from a local historical society narrate a slideshow about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). This person made MLK come to life by sharing many details about his childhood and behind-the-scenes facts from the Civil Rights Movement. I had my students taking notes, while listening.
Part of taking notes was writing down questions. In the end, while the Zoom was still muted, I told my students to choose one open-ended question that they wished to ask the expert. They were to circle it on their papers. I walked around and looked at the questions. A few had already been answered within the presentation. Perhaps the student missed the answer and wanted clarification. Several had to do with MLK’s death.
I chose the two questions that I thought would further the understanding of what kind of person MLK had been. They were both able to ask their questions.
A girl from my class asked, “What types of texts did MLK like to read?” I loved this question because it focused on what I want my students to develop: A love of reading. Also, it focuses on MLK becoming who he was through reading.
The other question made my heart stop when I read it: “Why did MLK like to write?” I couldn’t wait for the expert to persuade my students that writing is a powerful tool that could move mountains.
Both of my students’ questions were asked and the answers were wonderful. What struck me was how many students focused on MLK’s death. They wanted to know who killed him, how old was he when he died, where did he die, what was the date, could you stay at the hotel where MLK was assassinated???? The person from the historical society, when asked one of these, did a good job honoring the questions that were asked, while bringing focus and attention back to MLK’s life and accomplishments.
I’ve been thinking about this idea of “Assassination Obsession” ever since the Zoom virtual field trip a few days ago. Some thoughts have risen to the surface. First of all, there is the never-ending news of mass shootings and gun violence in our media. I wonder how much mental space this consumes in our youth. Then, there are the video games: “Among Us” and “Fortnite” are the two biggest ones I hear about on a daily basis.
I have to confess that I haven’t played either of these games. From what I understand, “Among Us” is all about solving a murder mystery. This seems pretty classic. It appears to model the classic game of Clue. The thing is I played Clue when I was young. It was one of many board (bored) games that I enjoyed. I definitely did not talk about it with my friends, and there was no way we planned to join up at one another’s houses (today it would be Zooms and group realtime games online) to play it.
I am not one to preach against video games or poo poo all violent games or movies, but this experience of witnessing how consuming the topic of assassination was has caused me to wonder what could be done to help students grow healthy perspectives and thoughts. First of all, teachers could redirect thinking the way the expert during my class’s virtual field trip did. “Yes, MLK was assassinated, but that was a tragic, horrible end to an amazing life. Let’s explore and learn about the magnificent things MLK accomplished and inspired, instead of focusing on who or what ended it.”
What ideas do you have? Have you witnessed this obsession, also? What have you done, if anything, to combat the “Assassination Obsession”? Pointers?
I recently read an article from The Atlantic about a change in the way companies market to kids. When I was growing up, a hundred years ago, kids watched cartoons on TV. Every few minutes there would be an interruption in the program. This break from the animated story I’d been watching was filled with videos showing toys, food, and places that kids simply HAD to buy, eat, and visit! These videos are called commercials.
Commercials were made by companies that wanted to sell something. They were designed to convince kids that it was worth spending money on what they had to offer. How did they do this?
When I was around 12 years old, I bought a Pogoball. I used money that I had earned on my own, delivering newspapers, to buy this toy. Even over 30 years after this experience, I can still remember the feeling of I have to get one of those Pogoballs! I don’t think anyone would have been able to persuade me that it wasn’t a good idea. I learned a valuable lesson the day I handed my hard-earned cash over to purchase this person-propelling bounce toy: “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”
I got the Pogoball toy home and used an air pump to blow up the ball that fitted inside a hard plastic ring. I stepped on the ring, squeezing the top of the ball with my feet. I leaned forward and jumped… The Pogoball stayed tucked between my feet. I landed, the bottom of the Pogoball squishing on my driveway, and the air pressure within the flexible plastic pushed me up… A precious-little-bit.
I was successfully bouncing, jumping, and… NOT having fun. Rather than propelling me into the air, the toy just squished and pushed. In order to get into the air, I had to jump up. The higher I jumped, the more the Pogoball squished, but it never pushed enough to be considered helpful. After a disappointing afternoon of trying many experiments on various surfaces, jumping styles, and tricks, I placed the Pogoball in the garage, never to be touched again. The money I spent on that toy was gone and hadn’t bought me anything beyond the lesson, don’t be fooled by jingles, acting, and repetition.
Jingles are catchy short songs that stick in your head. Commercials in the olden days depended on these to mesmerize people. You’d find yourself humming a jingle when riding your bike. You might mention this to a friend, and then the both of you would sing the song together, laughing at how corny it sounded. Later that same day, the both of you would be munching on whatever that jingle was advertising! It is like you were hypnotized into spending money on that product.
One of the reasons jingles get stuck in your head is that you hear them so often. Companies make sure that kids see and hear commercials many times. I remember complaining about seeing the same commercial every single commercial break when I was a kid, only to then go out and buy the very thing advertised in that annoying announcement! Did I spend money on the product in hopes to stop the commercials? If so, it didn’t work!
Commercials from long ago were recorded in studios with elaborate sets, lights, and high-paid actors. These short videos cost companies tons of money to make. But, the price was an investment, because the better the commercial, the more influential the message, the more products would be sold. In other words, although a company would spend a lot to make a commercial, if it were good enough, the business would reep a lot of sales that would produce a great deal of revenue or profit.
The actors who were featured in the Pogoball commercial had me completely fooled. When I saw the smiles on their faces and all of the many places Pogoballs could be used, I thought that this must be an amazing toy with limitless possibilities for fun. This was a lie. Once I got the Pogoball home and working, I saw that it was actually boring. The actors were paid to pretend that using a Pogoball was mind-blowing fun.
Nowadays, many families have quit cable. Kids don’t have to look at the clock to see when their favorite shows are on. They can login to Amazon, Disney Plus, and Youtube to watch their shows whenever they want. No more commercials… Right? Sort of.
According to the article, “Toy Commercials Are Being Replaced By Something More Nefarious (sneaky, evil, criminal),” the persuasive marketing to children has morphed from a jingle-ridden, actor-driven, hypnosis-inducing commercial aired during breaks in a child’s program, to the program itself (Fetters, 2020). Companies that sell stuffed animals stopped making commercials and began making whole shows. When I read this, I remembered the tons of PJ Mask toys my wife and I bought for our daughter. Scarlet didn’t see one commercial for these toys.
The article mentions one other way that kids are targeted by companies: YouTubers. How many kids nowadays say that they want to be a YouTuber when they grow up? What is this? Who is a YouTuber? One of many answers is that a YouTuber is someone who makes videos that are published on YouTube for profit. The important idea here is that the people videotaping themselves opening toys and products in their bedrooms and homes are getting paid. They are not “high-paid” celebrity actors, like in olden days, but they are actors, nonetheless. They have an incentive to persuade you to buy the product that they are pushing.
In other words, companies are convincing regular, everyday consumers to act like they are providing an honest review of a product. These Youtubers seem like they are truthfully sharing what they have personally experienced, but they don’t tell the viewer that they were paid to do this. It is a sneaky way to make commercials; Make them seem like they are not commercials at all… No more jingles, No big-name actors, No fancy sets or elaborate narratives… Just regular Joes sharing their honest opinion, right?
Don’t be fooled! Trust the advice, opinions, and stories of people you know over watching a YouTube video. Go ahead and watch your favorite shows on your convenient streaming apps, but know that these are working at getting you to buy stuffed animals, toys, apparel, and more. Commercials used to be convincing. They worked at persuading a specific audience to spend money. Today’s marketing is more covert than compelling.
One of the many cartoons that I enjoyed watching when I was a kid was “G.I. Joe.” (I’m sure that this show was geared towards helping sell the action figures by the same name… I had spent lots of money on those!) At the end of every episode there was a little lesson, teaching smart behavior to kids. After the moral was explained, a catch phrase was used: “Knowing is half the battle.”
While the new ways businesses market to people may not be criminal, it is good to at least know what is going on. Then you can make wise decisions with your funds. A show is not just a show if it is trying to get you to buy stuff. And, now that you know that, half the battle is won; The battle for your bank account. Good luck.