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Metaphorically speaking…

At one point my life, I self-applied the moniker “Queen of the Metaphors.” Perhaps my crown tarnished a tad due to adjusting verbiage to suit more concrete/sequential folks, including differentiating for students who may not understand the nuances of abstract thought. In other words, I was tired of people saying they needed a translator.

Metaphorical thinking and creating are pinnacles of new thought and ideas. Our ability to communicate precisely and clearly hinges on figurative language: it is a paradox. The more abstract one wordsmiths, the more concrete and accessible an idea may be. However, many don’t feel this way. They don’t see the necessity for poetry or art. Perhaps some feel as if they “should” like it, like a kale or IPAs. Has hating on metaphors become a trend, it’s cool to hate the “A” in STEAM?

In a 2013 Scientific American article titled, “In Defense of Metaphors in Scientific Writing” by Caleb A. Scharf, 

“The problem is that while a specific metaphor might work for some people, it won’t for others. This is especially true for scientists themselves, who sometimes lack a sense of humor, or even just common sense. I once wrote about a dying star as being ‘bloated and gouty’, as its outer atmosphere inflates and blows off to interstellar space. I rather liked this. ‘Gouty’ has always made me think of Willam Hogarth, or James Gillray, and their satirical drawings in the 18th century, filled with wonderfully appalling characters. It seemed like a good way to evoke the sense of an aged and, ah-hem, rather flatulent stellar object. But no, for at least one scientist this was all wrong. Stars, they pointed out, can’t possibly be gouty because they don’t produce uric acid…”


Come on, nerds. Get it together. Be cool.

If you want to be heard, speak in the language of poetry. Tell the story. Share the parable. Observe. Look. Speak.

“If you want to communicate facts or information, then stories are a powerful vessel to do so.”

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen from Catsnake on Vimeo.

What to do with this thought? What lesson plan to package, what standard to dissect?  Not sure. Since this idea of telling stories to share information is as old as the human voice, as old as instinctual, creatureliness* for survival, perhaps my gift is to allow the evocation of ideas.

I estimate there are about 1,000 ideas in this brief director’s showreel.

Edward L Dark Director Showreel from Catsnake on Vimeo.

Allow our young writers to follow an illuminated pathway to their own stories–add points of brilliant light, and also, don’t be afraid of the shadowy parts, giving them a chance to find ways to illuminate their journeys. Whether it’s math, science, history, physical education, band, language arts…whatever the course and content…stories connect us all.


Teach poetry in another content area

Have students share three things: a song, a poem, and a piece of artwork that’s connected. When framed this way, boys and girls alike had no issue in sharing. It took off the gender factor.

Challenge their thinking. Thank goodness one of my students spoke up and questioned the title of this piece, and then we had a great teachable moment in analyzing his real message:

Her initial reaction was that she would not listen to him because of the title of the video. The rest of the class shouted out, too, once they saw it, so I asked them to wait. Based on the other video we just watched, we shouldn’t assume anything but listen.

They were glad they did.

I think I’ll share this one, next:


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Spun out.


Water bottle flipping.



Candy wrappers.

Sunflower seeds.

Little pencils.

No pencil.

No paper.

Uncharged laptop.

No charger.

Lost charger.

Little skateboards.

Little paper footballs.


My list is incomplete. There is a legion of ways kids use other objects to distract or fidget with. And no wonder. Quite frankly, a day in the life of a 6-period middle school kid and teacher is physically demanding. Imagine running for a flight eight times a day: in the morning, between every class, 30 minutes for lunch, at the end of the day, trying to take care of biological needs and process learning. It’s go-go-go all day. I completely understand why the average student senses they “need” this, how those spinners seem to help with attention, but from my anecdotal observations, they hurt more than help, if only because they distract us, the teacher, from being effective.

If you want someone to “blame” for the spinners, it’s this man, Scott McCoskery. He had very good reason to create a spinner.  From an interview on NPR:

SCOTT MCCOSKERY: I had a long career in the IT world.

MALONE: This is Scott McCoskery, and as an IT guy in Seattle, he says he spent a lot of time on conference calls and in board meetings that he didn’t really need to attend.

MCCOSKERY: During those times, I often found myself clicking a pen, opening and closing a knife or…

MALONE: A knife in a board meeting, Scott?

MCCOSKERY: A small pocket knife. It was nothing too threatening.

MALONE: All right, all right.

Well, I guess we should be glad kids don’t flick switchblades in class.

One of my favorite education bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo comes out on the side of the spinners, telling teachers to ‘chill out.’ He also confesses to only seeing two out of his 130 high school students. Let that sink in. Two. One-hundred thirty. High. School. Not twenty to thirty a day out of 130 MIDDLE SCHOOL kids. All day, every day, most teachers in my building watch students who click on games sooner than the actual assignment. Kids who reach for a spinner versus a pen or pencil. I agree, we teachers do need to choose our battles. I know kids aren’t getting enough fresh air, time to eat, time to talk and play, and often I feel more like a jailer than an educator. And the inmates will do anything to keep from going insane, and I don’t blame them.

Health Buzz: Do Fidget Spinners Help With ADHD? This article has a balanced approach to them. Just, you know, in case you want to read a balanced approach versus my diatribe.

But I’m not battling spinners only: the onslaught of cell phone use, and if it’s not that, it’s talking. And then I’m told I need to have them engage in ‘accountable talk.’ What if you were told that in chunks of 55 minutes you had to only have ‘accountable’ conversations? I can only imagine how awful book club would be if we couldn’t chat, catch up, talk about kids, food, work, and then spend some time talking about the current book. The thing is–truly–students rebel all the time against this daily structure. If they didn’t they would go nuts. They don’t want extrinsic token-economy fluff, they want time. 

As I plan out the next few weeks, I’m going to build that time in. And parents–if you’re reading this — consider instead of a spinner a little sketchbook or some books they can use when testing is over, or they have some time:

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

The Total Brain Workout by Marcel Danesi

Here’s your earworm du jour. You’re welcome.


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An Ode for Earth Day: The Science of Storytelling

Our world is a story: we are the story of our world. We find patterns, we seek gods and goddess, and we desperately seek control. We destroy. We create. We mimic nature in those actions, coming close to apotheotic levels of transcendence.



Got a little carried away.

On any given day we reach those heights and dig in the vulgar mud. And because of who I am, and who we are, I am thinking it will be, and continue on, to be the storytellers who help us make sense of who and what we are, and where we live.

Here is a curated list of To Be Read books that may help me on this path:

Frankenstein — I am about halfway through the novel. Don’t judge. I’m sure you have a high school text or two you used the Cliff Notes for.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel

Where the Water Goes by David Owen

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman


Life After People


I am putting together more titles/media about this subject. What are some of your favorites?

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Series: Elements of Structure XI: The Video Personality

Note: Some strong language is used in this video, and may be offensive.

This may be the current medium of choice among young adults, and it’s one I thoroughly endorse in format. However, examining the draw of listening/watching, the speed of discourse, and the power of convincing others of a point of view when packaged visually can be dangerous.

In a recent opinion piece by Gretchen Kelly, This Is How White Supremacy Comes to Your Neighborhood, the advent of the video link recommendations and the toxic rabbit holes children, and adults, fall into, may be cause for alarm. It’s up to us to be mindful that most of what students are receiving are not from straight, constricted text, and the act of teaching and learning contextual information is more critical than ever. Videos are visual: Tomi Lahren is visually appealing to her viewers, but even that didn’t protect her from her base turning against her when they disagreed with her stance on one issue.

Ask your second students which videos offend them, and why. We’re in the midst of embroiled discussions about gender and race (and zombies) currently, and you may find out some very interesting things. Be prepared to keep an open mind.

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It’s not you. It’s not me, either. Let’s figure this out.

When we step away from the big, unknowable, terrifying forest of our day, fearing to tread into another emotional imbroglio, collegial drama, or poisonous-tipped toxic gossip, sometimes the right words come at the right time. At this time of the year especially: the testing season is about to begin, teachers are fatigued, repetitive and micro-managed meetings begin to dispirit versus inspire, it’s time to take a close look at the relationships we have and carry with our students and colleagues, and most importantly ourselves. How do we begin anew and maintain the positive energy and hope we and our students desperately seek?

The Unreachable Student:

Written by Ramy Mahmoud, Five Epiphanies for Reaching the Unreachable Student, his honest and humble approach to students’ needs gets about as authentic as one can be:

He’s not mad at me.

I honestly could not begin to list the multiple, highly disrespectful acts this learner has directed towards me in the few months we’ve known each other. He’s insulted the way I look, the way I dress, and even my family who’s pictures are on my desk. He’s screamed obscenities, called me names, and constantly walked away as I was trying to talk to him. In my early years, these actions would have absolutely crushed me. I would have either reacted by kicking him out of my class or breaking down in tears. I would have asked myself, “What did I do to deserve this?”

But I know that none of these outbursts are truly directed towards me. I simply represent every adult that has ever failed him in the past. His frustrations are simply a manifestation of everything he cannot control. The hand that he’s been so unfairly dealt brings with it a level of stress and frustration that, again, I cannot relate to. The need for confrontation has little to nothing to do with his opinion of me, but instead is a biological necessity to relieve the pressure that’s been building within the depths of his soul. As an adult who holds him to a certain level of standards, I place myself directly in the line of fire to this barrage every single day.

So, I’ve learned to forgive and forget. Depending on the severity of the outburst, whether it’s directed towards me or another student, or whether it places anyone’s safety in jeopardy, I’ve responded accordingly with required disciplinary measures. But, when I see him again, I treat him as if the incident didn’t happen. I make sure he understands that his past will never define him in my eyes- even the very recent past.

Brains, silly.

Most of our students have emotional trauma of one sort or another: it’s not to be dismissed, but nor is it to become fetishized.

Tapping into empathy is difficult, and takes profound emotional effort, and it can’t be a one-way relational direction. That may sound obvious, but consider the oxygen mask idea – in order to save others, you must first save yourself.

Brain research and demonstration provided by my amazing friend and colleague, Sharon Clarke.

Understanding how our brains work may be the first order of business for an adolescent brain.

Odd? Or ODD?

4 Tips for Teaching Students With ODD

The student who seems intent on the power struggle may have ODD or Oppositional Defiance Disorder. I am not a licensed mental health care provider, but we encounter many students suffering from trauma and other mental health care needs.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder, otherwise known as ODD, is a condition in which children regularly demonstrate anger, opposition, and defiance, especially toward those in authority.

These four tips will help any teacher, rookie or veteran, stay calm when encountering a child with ODD. Some students who’ve displayed this have had severe abuse/trauma events, and are doing everything they can to maintain control of their surroundings.

Be mindful with tip #2 about choices: choices can sometimes overwhelm, and when providing choice give agency and direction, but not overstimulate.

I feel you.

Though our staff has shared some of these, this one inspired me to think of a project:

16 children – 16 photos: Click the black background and switch on their reality

Idea: Have students use selfies, etc. and black out the background: have another background of their feelings, etc. or an I Am poem.

Thanks to @shfarnsworth for these ideas!

5 Videos to Cultivate Empathy in Students

Between our intent, our hearts, and our minds I am feeling rejuvenated with these amazing resources. When all else fails, I take off my ‘teacher’ mindset and just meditate and remember what it’s like to be in 8th grade. It can suck. Cringe-worthy awkward moments, others telling you to think about the world outside your own perspective, and fighting cognitive dissonance between what we know we need and want to do, and finding more emotional obstacles than climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen tanks: it’s tougher on them than it is on me. I don’t want to make it worse.

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