We Are All Dots (CATALOG 10/29/2021)

Welcome to this “catalog” of what piqued my interest in recent days…

1.
We Are All Dots: A Big Plan for a Better World by Giancarlo Marci is one of my favorite kinds of books merging the simplest kind of illustrations with tight text with an important message.

2. What is your learning style? I share this video and survey with my students to help get down to the bottom of theirs.

3. Do you resonate with LinkedIn’s findings on stress levels?

4. Mind maps are an effective note-taking and study tool for students—and useful for grown-ups too!

5. Enjoy this massive collection of visual insights courtesy of Qaspire Consulting.

6. I love it when people think of an idea, then go full tilt with it—like these painted plates of last meals by Julie Green.

7. Lisa Congdon is one of my favorite artists—this Dieline article sums up her work and inspiration well. (And now I’m determined to collect all of those cool Method hand soaps by Lisa’s design!)

8. I’ve made two of these teardrop hanging baskets for storing keys, masks, gloves, etc.

9. ‘Tis the season to be grateful! Share your stories of gratitude with Chicken Soup for Soul for possible publication! (Don’t worry, the deadline for submission isn’t until January.)

10. Anchor provides an easy—and free—way to produce podcasts, even working hand in hand with WordPress to import blog content for conversion to voice. Why not, right? Watch for my podcast coming soon…

Have a link to share with me for a future catalog? Please comment below. Thanks for reading!

The Courage to Teach (CATALOG 10/22/21)

Every couple weeks, I assemble a “catalog” of news items, books, resources, ideas, etc., that recently piqued my interest. It’s also a pleasure to share my latest finds with you…

1. The premise of The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer is that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” My favorite book so far on education!

2. Leading commerce agency The Stable aims to prove that apprenticeship—not college—is a viable option for learning and success.

3. God bless Osheta Moore for her book Dear White Peacemakers, a model of grace and a calling to grit when it comes to addressing racism.

4. I now lead the Twin Cities chapter of Green Bag Lady. E-mail me if you’d like to cut fabric and/or sew reusable cloth bags to help save our planet from the senselessness of single-use plastic. Open to all ages and abilities—materials and instructions provided!

5. Texture, color, and a paint-by-number-like simplicity—such is the awesomeness of punch needle embroidery! (And cheap doormats can serve as a good base? It’s worth a try!) I’m going to start with this pattern from Wooly Loon.

6. I love yarn pumpkins—yes, I do. I love yarn pumpkins—how ’bout you?

7. I return to this ABDCE formula for writing short stories time and time again!

8. On honoring five promises: A blog post in memory of General Colin Powell and in support of America’s Promise Alliance.

9. On striking a chord: A blog post in tribute to my beloved chord organ and music-making as it should be.

10. Brain differences aren’t flaws—we are getting better at appreciating neurodiversity (this post is worth a read just for the graphic alone).

I’m always looking for cool links and stories about writing, learning, and other creative endeavors. Please send yours my way, and thanks for reading!

On Honoring FIVE PROMISES

General Colin Powell. I don’t think I’ve grieved a public figure as much as I have him. I was shocked and so saddened by the announcement of his passing yesterday.

Sure, he was a top military leader throughout the decades, but he really won my heart in the 1990s as the first founding chairman of America’s Promise Alliance (by the way, his wife, Alma Powell, fills that role today). At the time, I was involved with some public relations campaigns involving politics, as well as youth advocacy. Powell was making a significant mark in both areas and, in my mind, there’s something extra special about a tough-as-nails, intelligent man who has a soft spot for kids.

America’s Promise Alliance is still going strong and anchors its efforts in “five promises“—what we grown-ups can promise to give to kids today so they have a better chance of becoming successful adults in the future:

  • Caring adults
  • Safe places
  • A healthy start
  • Effective education
  • Opportunities to help others

I am especially intrigued by the organization’s “How Learning Happens” research series, which promotes learning as “a social, emotional, and cognitive process for each and every young person—a process that is affected by their identities, relationships, circumstances, and a host of other academic and non-academic factors.”

Even though I had some great “caring adults” and “safe places” in my life, I think my own education was sorely lacking. And if I could put my finger on why, it’s all about what “How Learning Happens” addresses. In short, opportunities for me to personalize the learning material were rare. I remember vividly the mere handful of times I delved into a subject using my own curiosity and creativity—in turn, I remember clearly what I did and what I learned. But multiple-choice tests and other methods for responding by rote were the default teaching technique of my school. In the end, very little of the advanced material, if any of it, “took.” I know for a fact this is one of the reasons I love teaching and tutoring middle-school students these days: I am learning—truly learning—right along with them.

So I’m determined to embrace the “Alliance” piece of America’s Promise Alliance by, well, becoming an ally. First things first, in memory of General Powell and his positive impact on me and the world, I’m going to make a donation. Then I’m going to join the Alliance and make true on keeping those five important promises in partnership with other parents, educators, world leaders, etc. As you and I continue to connect here, please help keep me accountable. Thanks for reading!

On Striking A CHORD

The Cool Tools podcast showcases all manner of inventions and resources that are tried, tested, and loved by a variety of people in a variety of roles. What does it take for tools to be cool? According to Cool Tools, they can be “old or new as long as they are wonderful.” During one of the podcast’s most recent programs, author and artist Austin Kleon sang the praises of his four favorite tools, including his family’s piano.

In an earlier blog post, Kleon describes a piano as “the most important piece of furniture in the house.” For Kleon, it’s something his son “could walk over to and play his feelings on.” Kleon’s homage to his piano reminded me of the affection I held for the most treasured possession of my childhood and tween years: a chord organ that I literally played into the ground. Yes, literally. My last memory of the organ involves duct tape holding up its collapsing legs.

A chord organ much like the one of my youth

Some might regard a chord organ as the lazy man’s accordion. No bellows to push in and pull out. Just twelve buttons on the lefthand side, each one marked to play a certain chord. Also, forget applying any kind of formal music theory when it comes to chord organs. Numbers appear over each key on the keyboard and match those appearing on the notes in special chord-organ music books.

The key word is “music”—chord organ enthusiasts still make music despite no technical training and some shortcuts. Indeed, I made music. I prided myself on my rousing rendition of “Camptown Races,” the smooth cascading melody of my version of “Theme from Ice Castles,” and all of the Christmas carols I pulled off when the season was right. An adult acquaintance who taught piano to other kids my age was convinced I was forming “bad habits” with my chord-organ playing. I took offense—for a moment. There was nothing that could hold me back from the joy of simply playing my heart out on that thing. Incorrect posture? Improper hand positions? Other supposed errors and inaccuracies? Whatever.

I write this as our daughter plunks away on the keyboard in the next room. An accomplished piano teacher sits by her side. But what we love most about this teacher is the way she just digs into fun and interesting songs, encourages experimentation, and extends a lot of grace. I never, not ever, have to ask our daughter to practice; in fact, “practice” isn’t even a word we use when it comes to her piano playing. In other words, it’s not something to be mastered—it’s something to appreciate as both a retreat and a platform, to “play” in the best and funnest sense of the word, to make her own. I pray it’s this kind of music-making that always strikes a chord with our daughter. I pray it becomes more true for other people, too.

Where There’s a Wall, There’s a Way (CATALOG 10/08/21)

Though StrengthsFinder 2.0 pegs one of my top strengths as Input, there is only one blog I read with any regularity: that of author and artist Austin Kleon. Its appeal? Once a week, Kleon sends his followers a top-ten list of creative and curious links from across the Web, including his own blog posts.

I don’t care to read much via any kind of electronic device (even though I produce my share of online content), so Kleon’s approach speaks to me. Full disclosure: I want to know a lot but, at the same time, to do as little as possible to get the gist. So my blog post this week pays homage to Austin Kleon and features my own “10 things I thought were worth sharing”:

1. The inspiration behind this week’s blog: Newsletters by Austin Kleon.

2. Where there’s a wall, there’s a way… Such was the motto of an artist who, during 130 days of the 2020 COVID lockdown, painted an awesome visual diary.

3. Crochet-alongs marry the challenge of an intricate pattern with the opportunity to bond as “happy hookers.” Beginning next week, designer Breann Mauldin prepares us for Christmas with a tree-skirt crochet-along.

4. A fascinating documentary on the Met Gala and the people who make it possible (and so pretty): “First Monday in May.”

5. …which led to my curiosity in Andre’ Leon Talley and his story: “The Gospel According to Andre’.”

6. What exactly is dyslexia? Groves Academy set me straight.

7. Again from Austin Kleon—and in light of this past week’s Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp outage—a reminder to “rewind your attention.”

8. Call it the HairClub for educators… With The Writing Revolution, I’m not only a better tutor—I’m a better writer.

9. Book: Freely and Lightly by Emily Lex, who pairs personal lessons on faith with everyday illustrations in watercolor.

10. Thanks to my artist pal T.B. Sojka, I learned about Sara Thurman’s Artists Rising Retreats—and dream about planning my own someday.

If you have a recommendation on something I should read, watch, wear, see, try, make, etc., please provide the link in the comments section below. Who knows, perhaps it will become part of my next “catalog.” Thanks for your input!