Friday, January 27, 2012

Oklahoma Educators Have a Lot to Learn

Oklahoma Educators Have a Lot to Learn

In 5,000 years, we have not changed how we teach school. We still have one teacher standing in front of a classroom, lecturing.

Think about that. In 5,000 years, empires and civilizations have risen and fallen. We have created the chariot, the automobile, the airplane, and shuttles that can take people into space. We have invented the printing press, movable type, typewriters, and computers. We invented alphabets, invented books, newspapers, and the Internet. We invented radio, television, and telephones. And now we can communicate by video on a telephone the size of a deck of cards.

But in 5,000 years, we have not found a newer, better way to teach. We still have one person lecturing to a group of 10, 30, 500 people, forcing everyone to learn the exact same material at the exact same pace.

Even though research has proven again and again that people have different learning styles, we have educated billions and billions of people for more than 50 centuries using the very same boring, unimaginative, tedious method as every other teacher. On. The. Planet.

It's not the teachers' fault. It's the job they're expected to do. It's how they were trained. But no one has really come up with anything new.

Until now.

Some pioneering teachers around the world are starting to break with tradition by allowing students to use smartphones (iPhones and Androids) and tablets (iPads and ebook readers) as a way to share information and educate students.

"This will encourage students to goof around," say opponents who still think a 5,000 year old teaching method is the only way to learn. "It will disrupt their education."

"We can't have kids using technology like this in the classroom. How do we know if they're paying attention?" say opponents, echoing statements from 35 years ago when they wanted to put a TV in my 4th grade classroom.

This problem may come to a head within the next five years, as more and more educational information is being put online, and can only be accessed by via laptops and wifi connections, tablets, or cell phones. There will come a time when there is so much good information that a teacher cannot be expected to teach it all, let alone know it all.

That time is not today. There are still schools that are cracking down on students who use their phones in the classroom. Whether they're texting, playing games, taking photos of a teacher taking a nap in class, watching videos, students are not allowed to—

Wait, what?

In Mustang, Oklahoma, a ninth grade student was suspended for taking a picture with his mobile phone of a substitute teacher taking a nap during class, according to a story from the KOCO website, Oklahoma City's ABC affiliate.

Needless to say, the principal's short-sightedness has some parents fairly upset.

"If anything, they should have been reprimanded for having a phone, but they probably took it to an extreme because they caught a teacher doing something they weren't supposed to be doing," said Steven Graulich, a parent, who is apparently a big fan of the word "they."

District officials refuse to discuss any details, but they did say they would take "appropriate follow-up action" against the substitute teacher. Officials also reiterated the rule that students are allowed to have a "telecommunication device" at school, but just are not allowed to use it during the school day.

(Leave it to a bureaucrat to say "telecommunication device" when the rest of the world says "phone.")

In other words, if the student instead had a digital camera, that would have been okay.

While this is a mild case of Zero Tolerance, I'm still surprised that the school would suspend a student for catching a teacher doing something that is even more against the rules.

It's like punishing a student for yelling in school when she warns everyone about a fire. Or for using the Heimlich maneuver to save another student, despite a strict "no hugging" policy.

Despite — or maybe because of — using the same teaching methods for the past 5,000 years, many school administrators have lost all common sense when it comes to dealing with certain situations. This is one of those situations. Rather than suspend the student, why not just remind him or her of the "no mobile phone" policy, and thank him for bringing a very serious matter to their attention?

Hopefully the national attention this story is getting will help the administration recognize its short-sightedness and they will actually learn from it. It could be one of the few times an educator learned something that didn't come from a classroom.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Writer

A Day in the Life of a Writer

By the time you read this, I will have returned from a writer's retreat to a small condo in a small Ohio town. I take these a couple times a year to focus on a particular writing project. No cable, no working TV, no wife or kids. Not even an Internet connection. The town is so small, there are only two coffee shops, and I don't know anyone there. In short, no distractions.

These writing weekends are where I get huge chunks of work done in a short amount of time. This time, I thought I would keep track to see how efficient I was with my time.

2:00 pm - Arrive at the condo. Set up the computer. No time like the present to start writing.

2:05 - I really hate to leave my bag packed up. Sure, no one will see me, so my clothes can stay wrinkly, but I've never liked it. I'd better unpack.

2:20 - I'll want a nap pretty soon, so I'd better make the bed.

2:22 - I wonder who created hospital corners. They're so efficient, and keep the bed so neat. I should look that up online.

2:23 - Oh yeah, no Internet. That's okay, I need to write anyway.

2:25 - What to write, what to write? Hmm. Maybe a writing exercise. I haven't done one of these since college. Let's see if I can remember how it goes.

3:17 - Whoo, that's a lot of writing. Two thousand words on what life would be like if gravity shut itself off for 10 seconds a day at random intervals. It's not what I'm supposed to be writing about, but it's a good start. Like warming up before a run.

3:18 - I'd better fill in my writer's diary. I want to see if I can find where my peak productivity times are.

3:19 - You know, that gravity piece was kind of interesting. I should polish it up so I can put it on my blog.

3:35 - I wonder how many people have visited my blog in the last 30 days. I should check.

3:36 - Dammit, no Internet!

3:37 - Ooh, the coffee shop down the road has wifi. I should go there. I always work better in a public place anyway.

3:45 - Nothing like a hot mocha to get the creative juices flowing.

3:48 - I should have gotten a biscotti.

3:53 - Better check my email.

3:54 - What's happening on Twitter?

3:55 - Ooh, another email.

3:56 - Ooh, another tweet.

3:57 - Ooh, another email.

3:58 - Ooh, another tweet. (This continues for another 20 minutes.)

4:18 - Okay, time to get some writing done.

4:19 - Writer's diary update

4:23 - I really need to clean out some of these folders. All these videos are clogging up my hard drive.

4:59 - Okay, NOW I'll get some writing-what?! The coffee shop closes at 5:00.

5:15 - Back to the condo. Down to some real writing.

5:16 - Writer's diary update.

5:18 - I'm hungry. There's nothing in the fridge. I'll go online and see if there's a pizza place nearby.

5:19 - Dammit, no Internet! I wonder if there's a phone book around here.

5:25 - Success!

5:30 - Good thing this is a small town. I don't know where any of these places are. I may have to drive around until I find one. I wonder if there is a map around here.

5:40 - No map. Wait, I have a map program on my cell phone.

5:42 - I could have looked up pizza places on my phone. Duh!

6:30 - Back home with a pizza. Nothing like a good pizza and a Coke to get the creative juices flowing.

7:00 - I'm tired. Maybe a quick nap on the couch.

7:02 - There's a DVD player. I'll fall asleep to a movie. That should recharge the batteries.

9:13 - Man, I love Die Hard! I never even fell asleep. That's okay. A good solid three hours of work, and then I'll go to bed.

9:14 - This couch is so comfortable.

10:02 - Must have fallen asleep. I needed that. Okay, NOW I'll get some writing done.

10:05 - Where's my outline? Shoot, did I leave my outline at home? Maybe I can get someone to email it to me.

10:06 - Dammit, no Internet! I don't even know what I'm supposed to write about. The coffee shop doesn't open until 9:00 tomorrow.

10:07 - What else can you watch after Die Hard except Die Hard 2? I'll get my outline emailed tomorrow, and I promise I'll write all day.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My NEW book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.

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Friday, January 06, 2012

The 2012 Amazingly Ginormous List of Banned Words

The 2012 Amazingly Ginormous List of Banned Words

At the start of every new year, Lake Superior State University (LSSU) releases its list of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Useleness. And I pounce on that list for my first column of the year, like a divorce lawyer on a Kardashian marriage.

This is the list of words LSSU would like to see removed from everyday usage this year. This is their 37th annual list, and it is filled with all kinds of amazing nominations that will have amazingly amazing repercussions on our amazing langauge. It's just amazing.

First on LSSU's list?


Apparently, a lot of people hate this word, because it got the most nominations of any word on the list. There's even a Facebook page called "Overuse of the Word Amazing."

One "amazing" nominator, Gregory of California, said, "although I am extremely happy to no longer hear the word 'awesome' used incorrectly and way too often, it appears to me it is quickly being replaced with 'amazing.'"

I take issue with that. I have proudly continued to use "awesome" incorrectly and "way too" often. I'm actually getting a little tired of "way too" as some kind of hipster substitution for "really," but I was never asked.

But I'm not that impressed with amazing anymore either. Maybe I'm getting old, maybe I'm getting boring, but I don't find too many amazing things amazing anymore. I find things are cool, great, and occasionally awesome, but still not amazing.

Keeping in the vein of "really really big" things being struck from use, "ginormous" made the list, mostly because it sounds stupid.

"This word is just a made-up combination of two words. Either word is sufficient, but the comination just sounds ridiculous," said Jason of Maine.

What's surprising about this word is that it's actually over 60 years old. A quick check of the dictionary shows that this word can be traced back to at least 1948 when people started combining "giant" and "enormous" to express a word for something so amazingly huge, they needed two words to describe it.

What I do find amazing, and oh so glorious, is that "baby bump" finally made the list. I was so pleased to see it on there, because I have hated that word with a white hot passion ever since I saw it in a British newspaper more than seven years ago.

I especially hate "baby bump" because it makes it sound like pregnancy is some cutesy fashion statement, like six inch wedge heels or carrying a lunchbox for a purse.

To be fair, I have also hated the terms "preggers," "carrying," and "WE'RE pregnant." I especially hate preggers. It's such an '80s mom thing to say, and I hate the way the word feels in my mouth, like I'm eating a frozen pine cone.

And the whole "WE'RE pregnant" thing? Dude, YOU are not anything. Your wife is pregnant. You're just standing there staying the same size, while she carries your child around, inside that ginormous baby bump.

On second thought, those words were banned, so I retract that whole "ginormous baby bump" thing. That, and my sister-in-law has been "carrying" for eight months, and I'll get a lot of "blowback" if she thinks I'm calling her ginormous.

Except "blowback" is now banned, which is awesome. Blowback has become the new "pushback," which I've also hated for years. Pushback was the word for "negative feedback" or "people saying they don't like that stupid decision you just made." But blowback was somehow bigger, more dramatic, and so overused that LSSU gleefully blew it up.

I do understand that pregnancy and parenthood are a "shared sacrifice," but that doesn't mean you can say "we're pregnant." Also, you can't say "shared sacrifice," since LSSU axed that word as well.

"Shared sacrific," says Scott from Michigan, is "usually used by a politician who wants other people to share in the sacrifice so he/she doesn't have to." In this case, it's overused, since every politician is trying to blame all the others for the banks' mismanagement and poor government spending in the last five years.

In the past, I have been resistant to many of LSSU's nominees to their Banned Words list. But this year, there are words that I absolutely hate, and I hope that people everywhere will realize these linguistic abominations need to be retired from our collective vocabulary. And I hope that you will do your part in helping me to end these dialectical deformities.

I would like to "thank you in advance" for your efforts.

Except they banned that one too.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My NEW book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.

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