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Road Trippin’ Part 2: More from the Road

Note, all three signs in this picture are for the same place.
We considered eating here, but we weren’t particularly hungry just yet.
I know we’re not in Arkansas anymore, I told Fiance. It’s too flat!
Do we need to rename this town Freedom Lick?
Yes, I know these are different town names, but English Sulphur and French Lick just seem to go together. Also, check out those clouds!
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Road Trippin’ Part 1: Journey to Maryland

¬†Road Trippin’
Across the USA
On our way to Maryland
for Sam’s wedding day!

School is out, and summer vacation has begun. This year, I started vacation off right by taking a road trip with Fiance to St. Michael’s, Maryland for my cousin’s wedding. Being the amazing man he is, he drove the whole way. 

Our first trek of the journey took us through Missouri, where the road signs brought as great joy. Among them were a billboard with nothing but the phone number 777-7777, a billboard for a candy factory, literally every mile, and signs for Uranus. We did stop in Uranus, and yes, it turns out to be a tourist strip mall that exists to make butt jokes. A little disappointing, but we picked up the sexy men from Uranus charity calendar, so probably worth it. We also had banana ice cream, one of many ice cream stops on our journey.

Christmas with Daniel O’Donnell? Christmas? Really?
Do they know this is upside down?
We finally did figure out what the number was for…

My favorite signs, I unfortunately do not have pictures of. One was in the middle of nowhere and simply read, “Say no to drugs.” The other was for the “Nauti Inn,” which Fiance and I both took in very different directions.

Getting on the interstate, we thought for a second that we were about to hit a bus. But it turned out it was an RV. Someone is definitely on vacation.

We stopped for the first night in Lousiville, Kentucky, about nine hours away, and ate at the Sicilian because we made a vow to not eat at chain restuarants on this trip. The Sicilian was recommended by two different people, and it turned out to have gyro pizza. Have you ever had lamb on pizza? It’s delicious (unless, of course, you’re vegetarian, in which case… not so much.) Another thing I liked about Louisville? There are lots of messages written into the sidewalk. Like quotes and things, done very purposefully (sorry, no pictures.) Also, they have a Muhammed Ali Blvd.

With Fiance driving, it left me with lots of time to take pictures out of the window. Despite being a long drive, it was a beautiful one.

As we headed out of Missouri, the billboards got fewer and farther between, but I nevertheless saw signs for several interesting towns, including French Lick, Kentucky (Kentucky also has a town called Salt Lick. Go figure), Hurricane, West Virginia, and Midlorian, Maryland (No pictures of the last one, but we’re pretty sure the elves live there.)

Like any road trip, the closer we got to our destination, the further away it seemed. We finally made it over the bridge and across the Chesapeake Bay. But at 7:30pm on our second day, with another 45 minutes of driving left, we decided to find a place to eat. Some friendly locals recommended The Jetty, and we had our first fresh seafood meal of the journey! It was official. We were in Maryland at last.

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Why Teenagers Struggle with Metaphors

So, I saw this poster on similes and metaphors:

It has four sections: definition, purpose, quick memory tip, and examples. But here are the three examples for metaphor:

According to the poster’s own definition, a metaphor is “a comparison between two things that are nor alike and replaces the word with another word.”

Some examples I used when teaching my students are Shakespeare’s “Juliet is the sun.” Looking for something more familiar? Try Katy Perry’s “baby, you’re a firework.” And sure, while “the toast jumped out of the toaster” is an implied metaphor comparing toast to something that jumps–a frog, or a person, it’s not a good example for learning metaphor. And as for the others, what two different things are possibly being compared in “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse” or “I told you a million times to clean your room”? Nothing. Because they’re not metaphors. They’re hyperbole, which is totally different.

Today’s lesson? Students struggle with metaphor because people who are supposed to be teaching it don’t even know what it is. Oh, and Your Dictionary is a terrible resource. Don’t use it.

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Strong Female Protagonist: Lyra Belaqua

Aside from my students, I currently have no children of my own. But I do have a friend with two middle schoolers, for whom I occasionally get to play the role of the cool aunt. So I get to introduce them to things like tabletop games and books. And because they are both readers, and one of them loves, loves, loves fantasy the way I do, I felt a need to search for books she would like that featured the “strong female protagonist.” Because representation is important. And you know what I discovered? The list is surprisingly long. So today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite book series and the fabulous female at its center: Lyra Belaqua from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

If you’re thinking that you’ve never heard of this trilogy, chances are you’ve at least heard of one of the books. The three books in the series are The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and the Amber Spyglass, and Compass got its own movie adaptation in 2007. It also got a lot of hype for being controversial. The controversy is fairly legitimate, so I’m going to talk about that first.

Compass, and the whole series, is controversial due to its portrayal of religion, specifically the Catholic church–which is shown as controlling and evil (and, on that note, so is God). In that sense, you could say that the book is not for the faint of heart. Pullman does not pull his punches when showing his dislike for religious institutions, and if you are religious, this element of the story may put a bad taste in your mouth. I have several friends who have read it, and in regards to those who are religious, some were bothered more than others. But those who were definitely had reason to be.

So why, if it’s so controversial, would it be my first recommendation. Let me paraphrase from an article I read when the film was first released: the main character is a young girl who is, to put it simply, awesome. And young girls should read about her. Because she’s a hero.

And an unconventional hero at that, and not in the least because she is a girl. The thing that Lyra is most notable for (and most talented at) is lying. Ironically, she is a natural at using the golden compass–an item that reveals the truth. Despite being a liar, she has child-like honor–viewing good and evil as black and white and embarking on a quest to save her friend who has disappeared. Along the way, she finds an adventure bigger than she could have imagined and learns about the many shades of gray that paint the morality of our world.

Though Pullman picks on religion, he also uses it to make his point–that good and evil are not black and white. The knowledge of this destroys innocence, but what is lost is a fair trade for free will. And the only way to properly build Heaven (whether you’re talking the literal afterlife or just making our world a better place) is through co-operation. If it is done through coercion and control, it is not true. While this may be harder to achieve, it is the better outcome.

If you’re not into the philosophical discussion, read the book the worldbuilding. In Lyra’s world, everyone has a deamon–an animal companion who embodies their soul. There are armored bears with a unique culture of their own, and if you get deep enough into the series, elephant-like creatures that use large nuts as wheels. Or read it because Pullman’s writing is simply beautiful. For example, while reading a scene in which Lyra must separate herself from her daemon, I truly felt like my soul was being ripped out. I had such a reaction that I felt a literal pain in my chest, which did not go away until I finished the scene (which, due to having to go to class, was several hours later.) Through Lyra, Pullman creates a story that is both epic fantasy and coming-of-age adventure. It is masterfully written, and girls who read it will relate to Lyra’s hopes and fears, as well as be inspired by her bravery. Because nothing should stop you from sailing around the world and befriending an armored bear (least of all your gender).

A note on the film adaptation: It has been some time since I compared the book and film versions of The Golden Compass. As I recall, the film, for the most part, tends to follow all the major parts of the book correctly, though it treads lightly over the religious aspects and it ends a few chapters too early. But seeing as neither The Subtle Knife nor the Amber Spyglass were ever adapted, perhaps that is for the best.

Posted in Good Ideas, Tabletop Teacher

Feeling the End of the Year

Making mondays manageable

It’s May. Which means that I have been frantically locating graduation cards and gifts for my handful of seniors, and that I have such a bad post-testing burnout that I am actually putting more energy into plans for next year than in finishing out this one. It also means that I am spending most of my prep hour watching TED talks on education. One of my favorites so far:

What really stood out to be about this was “the default answer is yes.” I thought about how this would apply in my classroom. My first thought was that my students would say, “can we just play on our phones today?” And this, of course, makes me cringe. Of course, who knows? Maybe that would actually work out. My second thought was that my students have learned just how much I like games. So many a day, they say, “Can we play a game today?” And often, I do say yes. What if I always said yes? Actually, that sounds like a great class. And it sounds like a class that both myself and my students would enjoy. And speaking of games… here’s another TED Talk.

What’s interesting about this guy is that his voice is the reverse of his educational journey. He sounds bored with himself until about halfway through.

So my goal for the end of the year? I’m going to be play testing a what I am calling an RPC–Role Playing Classroom, which I am running through a powerpoint slideshow.

From RPC 1.1
I playtested version 1.0 with a class a couple of weeks ago, and what I learned is that the story doesn’t have to be that different. They’re still students at a school. Only now they have superpowers. And there are ghosts.

I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Posted in Poetry, Tabletop Poetry (and Other Artforms)

30 in 30: DAY 30!

And the monkeys don’t like us.
They sit on the ladders to their windows
and yell that we’re taking their land.
They look down on us
like we don’t have enough fur for them,
but I don’t see how something so furry
could survive in all this heat.
We hear them in the night,
complaining about what the world is coming to,
with the likes of us moving in,
as if there isn’t enough room
in the rain forest for everyone,
as if there aren’t tree houses aplenty.
Mom says they just don’t like different.
And sure, there’s a human neighborhood
across the canopy,
but the schools here are better,
and we’ve got the right
to send our kids anywhere we choose.