Clever Clip of the Week: What Teachers Make

Here at, we are talking about teachers and their influence.  Our colleague Pat, a fabulous teacher himself,  loves this video by Taylor Mali, and he occasionally reminds the rest of us to enjoy it anew. It may be a good tonic for any teacher with a case of the winter doldrums.  After all, if we aren’t experiencing pleasure in teaching, our students are unlikely to enjoy pleasure in learning.

So….what did YOU make today?



photoThe door of the cubby above my desk is cluttered with reminders of how I ought to/want to behave. (I need a LOT of reminders.)  One snippet consists of the acronym “COGPOW.”  Several months ago, Rev. Paige Williams, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church here in Hopkinsville, preached a sermon featuring those letters.  She related that an educator she knew used them as a tool to remember that everyone is a “Child of God, Person of Worth.”  Inspired, I made my own sign and taped it up with the rest of my mess, a constant reminder to treat every student, every advisee, every coworker, every colleague as someone entitled to respect and deserving of compassion.  Some days it’s easy.  Some days….and some people…make it more of a challenge.deskmess

Visitors to my office sometimes inquire about the meaning of the word, and I happily share the background.  Regardless of one’s religious feelings or lack thereof, it seems to me a good idea to keep in mind.  Yesterday one of my colleagues sent me an email with the subject line: “An EXCELLENT cogpow article.”  It included this link:

As I read the “The Lesson of Grace in Teaching: From Weakness to Wholeness, the Struggle and the Hope,” by Francis Su, I couldn’t help noticing how many of his ideas, all beautifully expressed, were similar to ones embraced by the authors of this blog.  Like Pat Riley, he feels that it’s important to learn the names of our students.  He discusses the importance of relationships with students and of being transparent about our own shortcomings.  He talks about finding ways to help all students, not just the A’s, feel as though they have met an achievable challenge and have received something of value from the struggle.  He’s singing our songs…or the songs we hope to learn… in a clear, eloquent voice.math yawp

pleasureteam note: We plan to feature a series of pieces about outstanding teachers.  If a teacher has been a role model for you or changed your life in some way, please consider sharing that story.  We would love to publish it so that others may learn from that example.

The Problem with Lotion

Winter is hard on old-lady hands.  Between washing dishes, scrubbing hands to ward off winter illnesses, and forgetting my gloves, my hands are dry and peeling, a fact brought literally into sharp focus when I glanced at the image projected by my Elmo during a demonstration in class.  Aack!  Get that woman some lotion!

hand cream

hand cream (Photo credit: janineomg)

The problem is, she already has lotion….jars and bottles and tubes of it, in her desk and her purse and her nightstand and her bathroom.  The lotion is everywhere but on her hands. Why is this so?

  • She’s too busy to put it on, or thinks she is.
  • She has trouble remembering to use it.
  • She is inconsistent in her application when she does remember it.
  • She thinks her hands are already beyond help.
  • She doesn’t like the format: too greasy, wrong fragrance, etc.
  • She’s tried lotions before with disappointing results.  Aren’t they all the same stuff?

This led me to consider my students.  I use a web-based learning program that has a dazzling array of tools to help students learn.  I also post potentially helpful tools on BlackBoard, provide links and mnemonics during class, and allot class time for active learning.  Still, some students struggle.  As with my lotion, the resources only work when they are actually used.  So why don’t students use them?

No surprises here: They’re too busy; they don’t remember what or where the tools are; they use them inconsistently; they feel they’re beyond help; they don’t like the format; they have tried other tools with disappointing results. What’s a teacher to do?MP900432728

I find the “Try it, you’ll like it” approach works best.  Not every student benefits from every resource, but there should be something on the plate that everyone likes.  I discovered a new tool on my web-based program this weekend, and I knew that students were preparing for a big exam Monday.  I sent a class email pointing the way to the game-like activity (it was quite challenging!), and soon received a reply from a student who found it to be just the ticket.

Lest we be too quick to chide our students for their reluctance to utilize all the resources they have, let’s do a bit of self-assessment.  Are we ever dismissive of potentially valuable strategies for the same reasons?  Do we fail to use the resources we already have in a consistent manner?

Now, to find some of that lotion….

Do you have a strategy to encourage students to use the resources that you provide?  Please share them with us.

Prezi: One Cool Tool

Prezi Logo

Step aside PowerPoint; there’s a new method for presenting lectures. Free to educators (and students), Prezi is an on-line program with distinct features that make learning pleasurable:

  1. It helps students see the big picture of the concept you’re teaching.
  2. It shows the relationship between the parts and the whole.
  3. It’s just fun to watch.

To see an example of a presentation I created for my English classes on sentence essentials, click here:

Picture 2

Afterwards, explore to learn more, set up your free account, and start creating. You’ll find several templates from which to choose and discover that you can easily import photos and easily embed YouTube videos, just as I did in this link.

pleasureteamnote: If you would like to see the pleasureteam prezi that led to the creation of this blog, click here.

Picture 5

Our favorite “how to” video for making prezis will appear when you click here and a great example by Ned Potter here.

Are We Lip-Syncing Our Classes?

During dinner last evening, the brouhaha over Beyonce’s alleged lip-syncing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” during Monday’s presidential inaugural ceremony provided some interesting conversation for my husband and me.  The first part of the conversation consisted of me trying to explain to him exactly who Beyonce is. She rarely appears on the hunting and sports shows that he favors.  (He will have a chance to see her during the NFL Super Bowl halftime show, but he usually restocks refreshments during that interlude.)

Once he understood that she is a really big-deal entertainer, and after I had filled him in on the highlights of her personal life, we moved on to debate whether or not a lip-sync qualifies as “phony.”  He opined that it was fine: “What difference does it make if she’s singing it at that moment or if she sang it in a studio?  It’s still her singing.”

I could see his point, and I brought up the Yoyo Ma cello recording necessitated by the weather at a previous inaugural.

But then I asked him: “Suppose you went to a Joe Cocker concert, and later found out that Joe wasn’t really singing….that he just lip-synced a CD that you already own?  Would that be OK?”  (My husband adores Joe Cocker and will perform kitchen karaoke of “Feelin’ Alright” at the slightest provocation.)

Joe Cocker performing at Gulfstream Park in Ha...

Joe Cocker performing at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, FL. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Well, no,” he responded.  “I guess that I would feel cheated.”

All this had me wondering if I sometimes “lip-sync” my classes.   Students have a right to an original performance, even if the material is the same as the last “show.”  If I’m doing my job the way that I want to, each class should have its own flavor, with illustrations, comments, even jokes that reflect the relationships that I have developed with my students and the relationships that they have with one another.  Even if today’s performance is not the perfectly mixed recording of my best-ever day, my students should feel that I am uniquely present with them, giving it my very best effort. The song may not be perfect, but it should be real.

Pleasures from the IdeaFestival

B picI took my third trip to the Idea Festival in Louisville. It’s hosted in late September or early October at the beautiful Performing Arts Center in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Here are a few snippets from some of the sessions I attended.

  1.  “The Finland Phenomenon” by Dr. Tony Wagner from the Harvard graduate school of education was about how Finland moved from bottom to top in world academic achievement by moving from individual achievement to collaboration, from expertise to problem solving, from penalizing failure to taking risks, from “Sit and get” to working to create solutions, and from reward and punishment to inner motivation.
    Lempäälä, Finland

    Lempäälä, Finland (Photo credit:

    This sounds too good to be true, but the concepts were about pulling things out of students and getting them curious, inventive, and exploratory.

  2.  “Shakespeare Behind Bars” is an amazingly successful vision that got launched by Shakespearean actor and director Curt Tofteland who went to Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in Lagrange, KY and began see huge rehabilitation advances in inmates who tried out for roles in rigorously performed plays.
    Shakespeare Behind Bars-13

    Shakespeare Behind Bars-13 (Photo credit: Inkyhack)

    By identifying with characters on stage, they get in touch with their own humanity, and some even are success stories now on the outside. One such man said, “By playing someone else, I became myself.”  Kurt also adds the hope that says, “You don’t have to become what it is that you did,” meaning that a person can see beyond an individual act of crime and find an identity that is not based on past actions.

  3. Jodie Wu told how 1.5 billion people live on less than $150 a month. Her program is that of “Frugal innovation.” For example she told how in Tanzania, maize had always been beaten with sticks. She helped design a device made by cutting up a bicycle and connecting it to a chair. The pedals then became the means of a new technology to beat out the maize. She helps people around the world come up with modestly priced technologies to increase efficiency but also disseminate them in an entrepreneurial way, giving indigenous people a way to start businesses in their areas.
  4. #photoadaymay  .15 love. Mental floss

    #photoadaymay .15 love. Mental floss (Photo credit: haleypc)

    The session by “Mental Floss” was fun because my office-mate, Dr. Karen Dougherty, has a son, Ethan, who is an editor for their magazine in NY. Founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur were there, and they interviewed three of their “Golden Lobe” award winners. One was Sejal Vallabh, an amazing female high school student who found a way to teach tennis to the blind. We watched a video, and the technique is based on sound. The ball is a bit bigger and makes a certain sound, and the players get 2-3 bounces before having to hit, and so they locate the ball by sound. Sejal exudes a special love and vision, and the interview was special.

pleasureteam note: The 2013 IdeaFestival is scheduled for September 24-27, 2013 in Louisville, KY.  Click here for more information.

Clever Clip(s) of the Week: Drawitknowit and Drawittoknowit

The first thing my students see on the screen at the front of my lab each day is an inspirational (at least, inspirational to me) quotation.  Some students groan; some grin; and a few even write the quotes down.  A favorite of mine is:

“One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it– you have no certainty until you try.”

—Sophocles, 5th c. B.C.

I may be adding a new quote:

“If you can’t draw it, you don’t know it.”  —William DeMeyer

The second quote was one that I happened across on the homepage of  While this site requires a subscription and is very discipline-specific, the clips below give you an idea of their strategy

Another clip, this one highly specific to the world of biochemistry, comes from a group of medical students at Detroit’s Wayne State University School of Medicine:

Of course, you probably aren’t teaching brain ventricles or amino acid structure.  But I’ll bet you’re teaching something that your students find difficult to organize or remember.  Regardless of your discipline, you can probably come up with a clever visual mnemonic that students can learn to draw and will remember forever….or at least until the exam.  And if you can’t devise such a drawing yourself, students in your class might come up with some great drawings if properly motivated.  Do I smell extra credit?

YouTube offers several sample videos from these clever folks that may inspire you to try your hand.