Monthly Archives: May 2008

A New Cereal on the Bookshelf

I think I’d like to try this cereal. The box really sells the product. Too bad it doesn’t exist. It was made up by one of my students as part of an assignment. She did an excellent job on it.

The assignment was to create a cereal based on a book. The students needed to come up with a creative name for the cereal. They needed to include a free prize in the box that was related to the book. And a side panel had to deal with plot, characters, and the setting. It’s a creative way to make books come to life. And students don’t really think of it as a book report.

The Cereal Box Book Report also gave us a chance to discuss how products are marketed. We discussed the use of colour on the boxes, the choice of images and the prizes in the cereals that we all eat everyday. They came to realize that a lot of products are aimed directly at kids. I think for some of my students, it was an eye-opening experience.

I also like the fact that this one assignment can engage the kids and really touch on some key topics. Not only did we reinforce concepts that I had them in art this year, but we also branched off to cover some of the Health curriculum. We looked at the food labels for cereals and talked about what a healthy breakfast should look like.

This example is based on a book about a famous orchestra conductor who loses his baton. So I was able to use this project to tie into my music program. All in all, I can call this assignment a success. The kids did a really good job on it and I was able to cover a lot of material for quiet a few different subjects. I will have to do this assignment again next year.

We Can’t Be

“We can’t be characters in a story.”

Why Not?

“Because it would be a really boring story.”

That’s a good argument. And the only thing I have to say to that is that perhaps your story hasn’t been told yet. The exciting parts are yet to come. You see, every character in every story has what is called a back-story. The characters have a history that predates the story that they are in. They bring attitudes, habits, and traits based on this back-story. If characters didn’t have a back-story, we wouldn’t be able to explain why they act in certain ways in certain situations. In fact, a character can’t exist without some kind of back-story.

“Okay that’s all well and good, but what about free will?”

What do you mean?

“If we are characters in a story, then everything is spelled out for us and we therefore wouldn’t have free will. We couldn’t make any personal choices.”

If you believe in free will this sounds like a conundrum. If you don’t believe in free will, it’s an easy answer. Let’s just assume that free will does exist, which I wholeheartedly believe it does. I think we have to make choices in our lives everyday and that we do have the power to make any choice we feel fit to.

“But how could we do this if we are just a character?”

Easy. Ask any writer about the characters in their stories and they will speak of them as if they are actually living and breathing people. I know that I have had some amazing points in my writing where the characters have actually made some decisions that I wasn’t expecting. At some point in the writing of fiction, the characters seem to come alive and make their own choices. Sometimes the story goes a completely different direction that what the author originally intended.

Writers grope their way through a work and discover the story as they go along. Even writers who do extensive planning will have these moments of inspiration where the characters do exercise their own free will. It is something that we may never be able to explain or scientifically prove but it exists and millions of people can attest to this fact.

“Who writes the stories then?”

That’s a good question.

“Ah, I caught you, didn’t I?”

Actually no, you didn’t. I think that it’s possible that we write our own stories. We all have free will and therefore we create our stories based on our decisions.

“Okay, but someone had to write our back-story?”

Ah, good to see you’re following along. I have three theories on this one. First, there is one supreme writer who creates all the characters. The Earth is the setting for his story and all the characters on this planet contribute to the story in some way.

Second Theory. The writers exist in another space and time. Everything that exists in our world was written by an author in another plane of existence.

Third Theory. Our stories were created be someone on this earth. Not all stories need to be written down and published. Perhaps some of the stories never really leave the author’s mind. Imagination is a powerful tool that everyone can, and does tap into.

“Now that sounds ridiculous.”

This is where faith needs to come in. Anything that we study can never truly be fully realized. There will always be a mystery. But there is enough evidence and writing to suggest that story is the nature of reality.

“I don’t believe you.”

You of course are free to believe whatever you want. But I do have a few more eamples and arguments to present.

“Bring them on.”

I will. Shall we meet here again next week?

“Sounds good. I so look forward to our debates.”

Me too. Thanks.

I’m a Larissa Fan

I don’t remember the last time I was so excited for someone to win a game show. But I must admit that for the past six episodes I have been sitting on the edge of my seat and cheering. And all of this for a contestant on Jeopardy.

In the past, winners were only allowed to win 5 games and then they would be retired as a champion. This in itself is a hard feat. Jeopardy is an awfully tough game.

Only recently, the show changed its rules and allowed contestants to stay on the show as long as they could manage to keep winning. Ken Jennings went on a record-smashing run and was on the show for months. Since then, we’ve had some five-time champions but no one has really emerged as the next big Jeopardy star.

I hope I don’t jinx it by declaring that Larissa Kelly may just be the next big champion. Her six-day run has been very impressive. Last night she had some tough competition and I was actually sitting on the edge of my seat cheering her on. It was a close match and anyone’s game in Final Jeopardy.

Fortunately Larissa won and maintained her champion status. She is the first female to win more than five games. I’m hoping that she can manage to stay on that first podium for quite some time. I can’t say exactly what it is. Maybe it’s the fact that there haven’t been any big winners in some time. Maybe it’s because I like to see someone play such a great game day after day. Whatever it is, I’m a Larissa fan and will be watching and cheering her on tonight.

I See the Finish Line but I Look Back

My fifth year of teaching is quickly coming to a close. I don’t want it to. It’s a strange feeling I’m having right now. In less than a month, the school year will be over. My classroom will be stripped bare and my students will move on.

On the last day of school I am usually overcome with a feeling I can’t really describe. I will often stay behind on that last day and not want to leave. Even though my students rush out the door, and the class really isn’t mine anymore. The room is an empty shell, waiting for a new school year. I guess I will call this feeling “the last day blues.”

The strange thing is this year I am anticipating these feelings. I can see the finish line and instead of being excited, I am looking back towards the starting line. I see how far I’ve come. My students are right with me too, which is great. We’ve had a wonderful year together.

I think teaching has a strong learning curve. I just figured out this profession this year. In a lot of ways it feels like this has been my first year as a teacher. I know what I am doing now.

It’s strange to think that it took me five years of on-the-job training to feel like I can actually do the job I’ve been doing all these years. But at the same time, it is a great feeling.

That’s not to say that I still don’t have a lot to learn. I learn everyday from my students. I hope they learn as much from me. I hope we all take with us the things we have learned this year to make next year even better. Right now, I’m not sure that is possible. It has been an excellent year.

A Visual Tour of My Run

I had the chance to visit a friend’s cottage on the weekend. It was nice. There weren’t any paved roads there and my friend told me that even the airport had a dirt runway. So I laced up my running shoes and did something I don’t normally do. I took my camera along on my run and snapped pictures along the way.

My friend doesn’t run so I went alone. He told me which way I should run and how to find the airstrip. So I set off, not knowing exactly where I was going but not too worried about it.

It was a beautiful run along mostly dirt roads and a few overgrown paths. It was amazingly quiet. It was nice to be away from the hubbub of the city.

This shot shows some new growth in the trees to the side.

This is the road that runs parallel to the local airstrip. It’s not used anymore but I ignored the sign and ran down it anyway.

As you can see this road has pretty much been reclaimed by nature. It’s all overgrown and barely resembles a road anymore.

I left the overgrown road and made my way to the runway. I laughed at the thought that I was actually running on a runway. It sounded like that was what it should be used for. I also timed my run so that I wouldn’t be there when anyone was trying to take-off or land. And if I heard a plane, I could always have retreated to the overgrown road anyway. Don’t worry, I was being safe.

You can see the lights that mark the start of the runway here.

You can see the pylons that have lights attached to the top of them and run down either side of the strip.

It was a pretty windy day. You can tell from how the windsock and flags are flying.

Two planes were sitting near the terminal. This is one of them.

I took a small service path back but came across this huge water hazard. I wasn’t expecting this at all.

I managed to make my way around it by climbing through and around the bush at one side of the path.

This was near the end of my loop. I was coming back into the community.

And that was pretty much my run. I actually ran it twice this weekend. Both times it took me around 32 minutes and my pace was pretty good. I know that it takes me roughly four minutes to run a kilometer so by my math it was roughly an 8-kilometer route.

That felt pretty cool to run through the quiet and calm nature of the north. And now I can tell everyone that I ran on a runway. I don’t think too many people can say they’ve done that.

Wisdom Hiding in the Art

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
– William Shakespeare “As You Like It” 2:7

This is an historic quotation from one of the most prolific writers of our time. Scholars hold it up as a great metaphor. But what if it goes beyond a metaphor? What if Shakespeare knew something about the nature of reality and the only way he could disseminate this knowledge was through his plays. He certainly reached a lot more people writing plays that he ever would have preaching, or writing philosophical theories.

I think that it is possible that Shakespeare used his plays to draw people in so that he could entertain them and also tell them something about the world in which in we live. His use of low humour shows that he wanted to reach regular people. And he certainly did that. His plays are timeless and still read five hundred years after the fact.

The legendary rapper Krs-One has admitted to using the same kind of technique. He is known as “The teacher” in hip-hop. He has some great messages in his songs. And he certainly reaches a lot of people but he doesn’t do it by preaching. He uses rap to draw people in that wouldn’t otherwise even want to hear his message. In fact, his first album cover has him holding a gun and even it’s title Criminal Minded drew in a certain audience. Krs-One then used the power of words to tell the truth as he saw it. And people listened and took it in, whether they care to admit it or not. He remains a popular artist twenty years later as well.

Some people might think it disrespectful to be talking about these two brilliant minds in the same breath. I don’t think it is. They both used the popular form of entertainment for their day to get a message across. The messages may be hidden in their art and people may not choose to take anything away from them other than a good play or a good song, but it is still there.

I might be accused of reading too much into the quote above. People will say that it is simply a metaphor and nothing more. They will argue up and down that we can’t just be characters in a story. It sounds implausible and it raises tonnes of questions and objections. And while that may be true, it doesn’t rule out my theory that we are all characters in a story.

More Storied Thursdays to Come.

If It Weren’t For…

My life has been shaped by seemingly small things. I have often pondered all the “If it weren’t for…” moments in my life.

For example, I love being a teacher. It’s a great job and it feels like I was meant to be one. The strange thing is that I never would’ve become a teacher if it weren’t for…

Boy Scouts

I was involved in Scouts for most of my life and moved up through the ranks as a youth member. One year, I went to sign up for Rovers but no one else did. My friends from the previous year had all moved away for university. I had no such plans.

I stood around at registration night trying to figure out what to do. I could go to another group in a different part of the city to continue. I seriously thought about doing that. As I was waiting around hoping someone else might sign up so that I wouldn’t have to move groups, it turned out that one of the leaders wouldn’t be returning. The group committee chairman was very nervous because they were signing up kids to a program that had no leader.

I didn’t have to think very long. I had never really thought about being a leader before that moment. I was young, but old enough to lead a group. I had been in the organization my whole life and had known the chairman for the past ten years. So I told him I would like to lead the group. He supported me.

I lead the group for about two years before my uncle got married.

My new aunt

One day, I was talking to my new aunt, who just happened to be a teacher. We were trading stories about her kids and I was telling her about my scout group. It was a nice conversation. We had so much in common. And then came the one small comment.

My aunt said, “You know what? You’d make a really good teacher.”

I had never thought about being a teacher before that comment. But after she said it, it echoed in my brain. A light went off and I knew what I wanted to do. It felt right. I now had a career path.

My Epiphany

So that’s how two seemingly small things helped to shape my life and give me my career. This isn’t the only “If it weren’t for…” moment in my life either. It seems to me like things happen for a reason. It’s one of the reasons why I believe that in this life there are no small things.

Never Think PT 2

So I was reading a collection of essays last week and I highlighted this passage.

“Never think of taking a book with you. The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself to even think while you walk. But divert your attention by the objects surrounding you. Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very far . . . .”

I immediately thought about the act of running. Instead of a book, I thought of the music player and headphones that I often see runners sporting. I have never understood the need to have music with you on a run. I think that running is beautiful and that it is a great time to relax the mind.

If Thomas Jefferson had been a runner in the modern world, the quote very likely would have read, “The object of running is to relax the mind. You should never think of bringing any music with you. There is plenty of music surrounding you, if only you pay attention.”

And of course, that’s pretty much how I read that original quote. It’s amazing how we bring our own experiences and understandings into what we read. But I don’t think I’ve stretched his original idea much. Running and walking are very similar activities. I know that going for a run is a great way to clear my mind.

I often come back from a run with a fresh perspective on something. Running can give me good ideas for my writing, or a solution to problem I had in the classroom. It can give me creative ideas. And often, I’m not sure where the ideas come from because I try not to think and just enjoy the run.

So I might not be able to turn off my thinking completely, but sometimes I find myself totally in the moment. Those times are amazing. The beauty of nature and the landscape around me when I run is better than any music I could bring with me. It’s beautiful.

That’s why I don’t understand why people shut the world off around them but blaring music into their ears. I think running should be free of MP3 players. I think it is the best possible exercise because anyone can do it with little or no money involved. And it definitely relaxes the mind. That is, if you can allow yourself to “Never Think.”

– original quotation comes from Jefferson, Thomas, Develop an Honest Heart. in Constructing a Life Philosophy: Opposing Viewpoints, 2002.

Never Think

As you know, I like to collect quotations. Often when I am reading, I stop at a passage that speaks to me and underline it. If it’s a library book, I keep a paper bookmark where I can write down something short and simple so that when I finish the book, I can go back and record the quote in my computer Commonplace Book file.

I have been sharing my collection daily over at Thoughtful Cacophony. I hope you’ve had a chance to visit my sister blog. It’s coming along nicely.

Over the past few weeks, I have been toggling back and forth between a novel and a couple works of non-fiction. One of the books was a collection of essays from a variety of authors. The book was entitled Constructing a Life Philosophy.

This what my paper bookmark looked like after I had finished reading

pg 43 “Life’s Purpose” quote
pg 181 3rd P. “Never Think…” – blog about running w/o music
pg 205 2nd P. “I would like to say that man should live for loving, for understanding, and for creating.”
pg 206 2nd P. “True Love…”
pg 209 1st & Last P

I find that I can make little notes like this as I read and it doesn’t take away from my reading. I used to just read a book without pausing to take any notes and then I tried to go back and find a thought that stuck with me. I’d often lose it or be unable to find it again with just a cursory search. I would then have to reread the entire book or just move on. Often I did the latter and never recorded that tidbit of wisdom.

I like this system I have developed. I get to enjoy a book and take notes as I go. When I am done with it, I then comb through the book and collect my favourite passages. Sometimes these even inspire a blog post. The first passage I took from this book has already inspired a post and the second passage made me immediately think of another one. You can see my thought process there, and tomorrow you will see that blog post, “Never Think Pt 2.” Stay tuned.