The Pleasures of Thanksgiving

karenI’m posting late today because I’ve been busy doing what Americans do on this Thursday in November.  Most of us…around 88%…eat turkey today–ours has been submerged in my son’s special brine overnight and will hit the oven soon.  Fifty million of us watch the Macy’s Thanksgving Day Parade. We’ve checked that one off, too, with votes for favorite balloon going to Snoopy and Hello Kitty. As an anatomy nerd, the folks holding the ropes that tether the balloons always remind me of the papillary muscles and chordae tenineae of the heart’s AV valves.  I’m betting some of my students thought about that, too, since it’s an illustration that I always share.

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation

Thanksgiving may officially rank as America’s #2 favorite holiday, behind Christmas.  For me, it’s long been #1. Here at pleasureinlearning, we’re all about thinking about the things that bring us pleasure. Then we figure out how those same pleasures might be used to help our students learn. All of our “pleasures in learning” (see our sidebar) play a role in our family’s special day.

#1 Sensual pleasure

Talk about a dunk shot!  The apple pie in the oven smells great.  Mashed potatoes with gravy taste great. My family members’ faces look great, and the sound of their laughter and whooping as they watch football sounds great. And nothing feels better than a hug from a child too long absent from home.

photo 2#2 Surprise

This day always brings phone calls and messages from friends and loved ones that we’ve missed.  It’s frigid here today, and my daughter-in-law needed a hat for the Turkey Trot.  She’s a beautiful, fashion-forward girl, so I was surprised and delighted when she selected an “Uncle Buck” hat from the buffet of hats in our coat closet.

#3 Humor

See #2. As the day progresses, the family jokes and stories will fly. The kids will remind me of childhood debacles—most of which I caused—that I have long forgotten.

#4 Achievable challenge

Getting the feast to the table with every item at the proper temperature and in the right quantities always feels like a triumph, especially if I can manage lump-free gravy and unburned biscuits.

#5 Belonging to a group

Membership in the Dougherty family is my proudest credential.  Our Thanksgiving tradition includes joining several hundred other citizens of our little town for the annual Turkey Trot. This year’s route included a section of our new Rails-to-Trails pathway, an addition we’ve been anticipating for several years now. photo 1

#6 Owning something of value

See #5. The clan includes 2 corgis, a havanese,  a pug, and a newly adopted cat. You might correctly point out that they own us, and not the converse. Welcome to the family, Waffles!

#7 Autonomy

I’m planning on exercising my autonomy after dinner. I’ve been busy in the kitchen for two days (and let’s not forget three trips to the grocery), so I plan to rise from the table, pour myself a glass of wine, and head to the couch while the rest of the crew washes up.


Say It with Flowers—Thank You FTD!

anne In addition to being a teacher of psychology, I am also a licensed floral designer. One day during one of the brainstorming sessions (or just our general office chatter) my office mate brought up the idea of how teaching and helping students attain success is very similar to designing and making a floral arrangement. I always hate to admit that she is right, but she is quite often. What a unique twist on a skill that might have been overlooked!

When trying to think of just how to express an idea in flowers, I have to work with the flowers that I have on hand. Some are eye-catching, bright and sure to be unmistakable in the arrangement. However, you cannot make the arrangement with just those flowers alone. You need support flowers to enhance the value and completeness of the entire arrangement. Not all flowers are made to be shining stars.

Scholderer Otto The Flower Arrangement

Some students will be the flowers that will take center stage. They will stand out and largely set the mood for the class. Others will be nestled under them. Some will be difficult to use. They may have personalities, just like flowers, that are challenging, and you will find yourself wondering how in the heck can I ever make this work! You can and it will and it will turn out to be beautiful.

Bouquet 2

Bouquet 2 (Photo credit: Kaz Andrew)

Flowers need to be placed in the arrangement to make sure their beauty and function are shown to best advantage. Your students all have their own uniqueness and beauty. Sometimes it is difficult to know exactly where and how they will complete the arrangement, but they are all an integral part of your “class bouquet.” They have been given to you, so use them! Each one will bring something different, unusual and necessary to the table. It is your task to make sure that you display them to their full potential.

The most important component of making a flower arrangement is to make sure that the foundation of the arrangement – a.k.a. the floral foam or OASIS® that is used to hold the flowers – is covered and not obvious to the observer. The foundation of your class arrangement is your preparation for the class. You can insure that your finished product is one of beauty and function by making sure that you have made the right foundation, one that will support every one of your flowers for a long time.

Cover of "Happy Gilmore (Widescreen Speci...

Happy Gilmore has a wonderful theory about life that has been such an inspiration to me. When I face these situations, whether they be flowers or students, I just keep repeating –

You can DO IT!!!!!!

Tech Tuesday: KISS Series, Part 9

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


This article is part of a multi-part series aligned with the KISS principle.  If you missed the first few posts, take time to read the series from the beginning.

I’ve been looking over some of the posts in this series and it seems they are all related to keyboard combinations.  Perhaps the KISS acronym should be changed to Keyboards IS Super!  That doesn’t have quite the right ring.  Plus, Brian, our writer in residence, might kick me off of this blog.  Nevermind.  We’ll keep the acronym like it is.

Today I promise your keyboard won’t be involved one bit.  Ever find yourself working on a document that you want to send to a colleague?  The Microsoft Office programs have built in sending features, assuming you’re using Outlook (or, more technically, if the default email client on your computer is set up properly).  Just head over to the File menu of an open document.  There is a Share option (2013) or a Save & Send option (2010).  From there you can send the document as an attachment in its original form or as a PDF.

The only thing you have to use your keyboard for is to write up the email.  Is that cheating?

Click here to go to the next post in this series.

It’s How a Story is Told

BrianThe 2004 movie Troy is Hollywood’s version of the Trojan War. A student chose it for her film paper and brought her draft to me to discuss. In it, a big chunk gave a plot recap of what started the war, and it read like a flavorless encyclopedia version—where personality is forbidden but information is accurate, even if lukewarm. She hadn’t copied from anything; she was simply giving the background.

The problem was this: the medium was missing. In this case the medium includes Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger, along with costuming, drama, and music. Films take a story and amplify it through all the senses, which is why the Oscars award so many avenues of communication.

Cover of "Troy - The Director's Cut [Blu-...

The student had experienced all this without becoming a medium herself for telling how the film tells the story. Almost everything got lost in translation. The progression ideally runs like this:

  1. the bare story
  2. how the film tells the story
  3. how the student analyzes how the film tells it.

This could sound unfair. How can someone replicate in writing what a film is able to do? The film has its own magic with its actors, including Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger in this case, along with its script, and the way Hollywood heightens action with drama, realistic sets, and music to charge the mood of each scene.

watching the movie

Watching the movie

However, a film’s magic can penetrate the psyche of a viewer, igniting it with enough impact on the senses to translate the experience into imaginative writing. By this, the reader connects both with the film and the person writing about it. The film is vastly different from what writing can capture, but that is not the point.

The point is a new medium—the writer—who takes from the film and creates new images and sounds in the reader’s imagination, keeping the story alive by means of descriptive writing about the film.

It’s a process: the film projects upon the viewer; then the viewer projects in writing upon the reader, creating a new text that is a combination of the film and the viewer. This is the most pleasurable part of reading film papers, getting to see the film though the medium of the student.

2011: What I Saw

2011: What I Saw

This is far greater than the encyclopedic facts of the story. It is the challenge of the film to become an expansive and powerful text of the story, which in turn challenges the writer to become the same in writing.

Getting the student to see this role is energizing and clarifies plot recap versus discerning how a medium works in communicating a story.

Ending on an Up Note: Raison d’Être

Lifting of the Human Spirit,2001,36x54 ,Oil on...

Lifting of the Human Spirit,2001,36×54 ,Oil on Linen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite a rigidly enforced “No Whining” policy in my classes, my assignments are sometimes met with audible groaning. I feel like the Grinch. But my students know that I stand ready to help them as they struggle. I know that if we do our job well, many people I’ll never meet will benefit from what my students are learning.  The students meet a challenge, I have a reason to get up in the morning, and people who need help in the future all benefit.  Win/Win/Win.

“No one is useless in the world who lightens the burden of others.” —Charles Dickens

Super Site of the Week: Education Portal

edportalWhen I lecture to my classes, I sometimes realize that I’m droning on too long without a break. Other times, I run out of alternate ways to explain challenging or abstract concepts. And sometimes, I just want to emphasize an important idea without repeating myself. Videos can be a good solution for these problems, but searching for the perfect flick can leave me feeling like Goldilocks.  The clip must be not too long, not too simple, not too complex, and definitely not too boring.

Education Portal offers a sizable but manageable library of videos for each of the 187 courses offered on its site. I checked out the “Biology 105: Anatomy & Physiology” course, looking for videos that would be useful in the two topics that I covered in my classes today. The section on the skeletal system featured videos for each portion of the skeleton, and each lesson clocked in at about three minutes. Anne found several promising clips for her introductory and developmental psychology courses. I hope to get Brian’s take on the composition course tomorrow.

To see a listing of courses that might offer helpful videos for your courses, click here. Short is good. Relevant is better. Free is fabulous.

“Enjoy yourself. (That’s an Order.)”

karen“I’ve got to hang up or they’ll shoot me!”  The friend on the other end of the phone just laughs when I say that, because she knows that it means I’m approaching the gate here at the military base where I teach for our college. (Yes, I know I shouldn’t be on the phone….just another of my many bad habits…trying to quit, I promise.) The morning ritual at the gate sometimes involves getting out of the car to display the contents of my trunk. Occasionally, I may be asked to open all the doors and the trunk, then step aside after presenting my credentials.  On one really exciting morning, a canine officer gave my car a thorough sniff, casting apologetic looks in my direction all the while.

Military Working Dogs  search vehicles at 401s...

Military Working Dogs search vehicles at 401st AFSB August 25 (Photo credit: 401st_AFSB)

However, most mornings I simply hand over my ID card, and a shockingly young MP (does he even shave yet?) waves me on with a brisk greeting: “Have a good day, Ma’am,” or “Have a blessed day, Ma’am,” or “Air Assault!”  I never know the proper reply for that last one. I just smile and say a quick prayer for the mama sitting far away who misses and worries about that young face.

Earlier this week, the MP on duty offered a new twist that I loved. “Enjoy yourself, Ma’am!”

Ha!  Has he been reading our little blog? I’ve been driving onto this base every morning for  six years, and no one has ever urged me to enjoy myself. My day took a decided turn for the better from that moment on. That started me wondering. If an exhortation from a gun-toting soldier made such a difference in my day, could I influence my students in the same way? After all, if the leader of the classroom doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself, students aren’t likely to have a lot of fun either. Perhaps I should issue a deliberate invitation/order.

“Enjoy yourselves!”

heart model

heart model (Photo credit: zen)

Keeping that in mind, I bounced into my A&P II class and announced, “Today we are going to master the anatomy of the heart and learn how it pumps blood to the lungs and the body. This is always fun for students, and you will leave today really knowing something that you can use for the rest of your careers.  Let’s grab these big heart models and get down to work.”

And so we did. And so they learned. And so we all enjoyed ourselves.

I hope to drive through that MP’s checkpoint more often.