Some movies to consider and perhaps brew coffee for

I'm not really a movie person. In general, they tend to be too long and I'm too tired because we won't start watching till after the kids go to bed, which means play won't even be pressed till around 8/8:30 and, well, with a bedtime around 9:30, it's a struggle.

Also, after watching a trailer and thinking, "Yes, that looks GREAT!" I forget about them and end up never watching them, or watching them too late. After everyone else has moved on.

I think I'm older than I think I am.

Anyway. Here are a few movies I'm either intrigued enough to stay up the extra hour or so for to give it a good hardy try, or I'm going to brew another pot of coffee for because, damn, it looks good and I have to watch it.

Make Coffee:  This is either going to be a knock-down, heart wrenching, artistically brilliant, beauty of a movie, or the complete opposite of that. And I'll be ticked because I'll have wasted good coffee. And I love my coffee.


Intrigued: This seems a bit darker than I normally like, but I'm a sucker for anything portraying brothers as bothers should be - loyal. And this one could be one of those. 


Make Coffee: When Owen Wilson plays characters that aren't Owen Wilson, often, they're pretty good. Throw in Julia Roberts and a kid being bullied for being different but overcoming and changing the school and surrounding community . . . coffee please. And some Kleenex.


Intrigued, with coffee on hold: Not because I don't think it will be a fully entertaining movie, in the shallowest sense of the world, but because racial movies make me nervous. Movies that attempt to tackle racial tension, especially when they bring light to a difficult and misunderstood moment in history, are golden. But movies that don't can be horrifically damaging.  So, I'm nervous. But also intrigued.


Intrigued:  Like movies that portray brothers as brothers should be, I'm also a sucker for any movie where old people figure out life, reconcile with family, and head into their final days with their heart at peace. This could be one of those. Or it could be super cheesy and drastically unrealistic. It might be best to watch this one on a Sunday afternoon so I can end the weekend well, either with a feel-good movie, or a great nap.


Make Two Pots of Coffee: Out of them all, this one seems to be the most sure-fire. To the point that I might not even need coffee for the movie, but for the hour or so afterwards where I'll want to sit and talk or think or write about how powerful and funny and beautiful it was. And then I'll watch it again with friends. And then again with family over Christmas or Thanksgiving. And then again, several years from now when I can quote it and laugh at it and cry with it, even before the scenes and lines come. I'm pretty stoked about this one.

If you have any suggestions, write them in the comments. I'd love to hear it! 

I look forward to talking about them, over coffee, preferably before 8:30pm. 


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Movies  :  Movie Clips



Critical Thinking does not mean criticizing. And it's time we separate the two.

Recently, and not so recently, I've been wrestling with the difference between critical thinking and criticism because, in and out of the classroom, the seem to have become synonymous. And they shouldn't be.

As in most cases, somebody has done a study on why this is, why we tend to criticize rather than encourage, and, as in most other cases, I disagree with the findings. 

Teresa Amiable, director of research for Harvard Business School, says we tend to focus on criticism because of hypercriticism and the idea that when we hear negative statements, we think they’re inherently more intelligent than positive ones (via).

Teresa began exploring hypercriticism back in the 1980s when "she took a group of 55 students, roughly half men, half women, and showed them excerpts from two book reviews printed in an issue of The New York Times. The same reviewer wrote both, but Amabile anonymized them and tweaked the language to produce two versions of each—one positive, one negative. Then she asked the students to evaluate the reviewer’s intelligence" (via).

For the excerpt that was negative, the students thought the author, “definitely smarter" and "more competent," but also “less warm and more cruel, not as nice."

“The brain," according to Prefessor Nass, "handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres," and "Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones" (via).

Negative emotions involve more thinking, and are processed more thoroughly, which is why they are regarded as higher levels of thinking. It's also why "almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail.”

Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University and co-author of “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” agrees. “Research" he argues, "over and over again shows this is a basic and wide-ranging principle of psychology," because “It’s in human nature, and there are even signs of it in animals." He did a lot of experimenting with rats and concluded that, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”

Although I resonate with much of Baumeister's findings, his research method also points to the fallibility of the solution. Namely, we're not rats. We're humans, and as such, we are able to reason, discern, and, through sincere analysis, change our habits, and our way of thinking. 

We are not creatures of instinct and survival alone. We are extremely complex, and fully human - we are set apart from the animal kingdom.

Yet, the findings are hard to refute, and I find myself nodding along to Professor Amabile's conclusions that "the negative effect of a setback at work on happiness was more than twice as strong as the positive effect of an event that signaled progress. And the power of a setback to increase frustration is over three times as strong as the power of progress to decrease frustration" (via).

Some theorists speculate this mindset, this way of thinking, is evolutionary and beneficial because in the ancestral environment, "focusing on bad news helped you survive" (via).

This is difficult to swallow because, even if it is true, that focusing on bad news helps us survive, I don't think it's what any of us want, to merely survive. We want us to thrive. And constantly pointing out someone's errors and where they could have improved, how they could have said something better, or how their actions (or inactions) were offensive doesn't help anyone to thrive and live and grow. It breaks down and destroys. It creates a culture of disappointment and fear.

A few months ago, while waiting in line to buy some baozi, I noticed the shirt of the woman standing behind me. It was all black with a simple white font that read, "If you reach out and touch the darkness, the darkness will touch you back." When we focus on bad news, when critical thinking becomes synonyms with criticism, we begin to not only reach out and touch the darkness, we embrace it, cling to it, and all to quickly we begin to drown in it - kicking, scratching, and fighting. Surviving.

What would happen if we focused on critical thinking yet pointed out the positives?  And I don't mean the "everyone is a hero" or "everyone deserves a trophy" sort of positives, because that isn't critical thinking. It's the complete opposite. That's why it's been so damaging to an entire generation.

To be a critical thinker means spending time with something, dissecting and analyzing something (or someone) and formulating an educated opinion of it (or them). Great movies are, "Critically acclaimed masterpieces" because they've been vetted and the movie critic can give clear and articulate reasons why they loved it, why it was brilliant, and why we, the audience, should spend our time with it. This is very different than the "A for effort" sort of mentality. It's critical and deeply analyzed, and although flawed, it still has plenty to celebrate.

But this also, I think, articulates the difference of positive and negative criticism. 

Think back to a time when someone gave you positive criticism, and then when someone gave you negative criticism. Then think of another time. And another.

I bet, if you think through these moments long enough, something like this will emerge.

Over the past ten years of teaching and public speaking, I've had a decent amount of responses from the student or audiences, and it's the negatives that have stuck with me over the months and years that follow, which isn't surprising. Negative experiences tend to do that. Recently, however,  I've begun to believe that negative experience carry more weight not simply because they're negative, but in how they are negative. They are more specific.

For example. Last fall, after giving a presentation entitled Stories Matter at the ACSI Teacher Conference, an elderly woman, who sat in the front row with a head of thinning white hair (she reminded me a lot of my grandmother), found me and said, "I loved it. It touched me here (she pointed to her head) and here (and pointed at her heart). Thank you." I was touched, and fully encouraged. But only for a short while because there was nothing specific about it. It was too generic. I know she meant well and truly it meant a lot that she sought me out to say something, but because there was nothing to grab hold of and use and grow on for the next time, it paled in comparison to the person who could articulate with rather acute specifics, where the presentation floundered. 

Whenever people criticize, most of the time, it's with specifics. They'll say, "When you said (something), I was offended" or "The way you did (this other thing), it was hurtful" and "When you act like (something else), it's immature. I've never had someone come in and say, "What you said or did was terrible. All of it. Just terrible." They come in with specifics. Things I can hold on to.

But I have had people praise that way. "Thank you," or "You did a really good job, really good" and things of this nature, which is great and I truly do believe they mean well - and it's far better than saying nothing at all. But it leaves me with nothing to hold on to. And when the rain and winds come, I need something strong and concrete to grab hold of. Otherwise, I kick and scratch and scream and try to survive. 

Being critical thinkers does not mean we have to be criticizers. But it does mean we have to work hard at changing the way we think. Finding why we disagree or how we're offended has become too easy - its' second nature. But is also touches the darkness. Critically encouraging someone, with detailed and concrete specifics, offers light in a dark world . . . or when all other lights go out (does anyone else having running Lord of the Rings quotes forever in their head?). 

Teresa Amiable says we tend to focus on criticism because of hypercriticism and the idea that when we hear negative statements, we think they’re inherently more intelligent than positive ones. I think it's time we holistically disagree with this statement.

We're not rats. We're not animals. We're deeply complex and intelligent humans who can critically analyze situations, make predictions, and act based on intelligence, not instinct. And our goal is not mere to survive, but to thrive.



For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Humanity  :  On Living





"Four Seasons" : A short story, by Vivaldi

"I have one word for you: story." - Hans Zimmer

Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" isn't new to anyone, even if they've never consciously listened to it - because it's everywhere, as the following clip says. But the detailed beauty in "Four Seasons" is astounding, especially for someone like me, an infant in the understanding of classical music. 

Previously, I understood "Four Seasons" as more of creating-a-mood sort of listen, not a detailed story with specifics in mind. But now that I see it, I can hear it, and this 42 minutes of storytelling is about as good as any short story I've ever read.

Here are some interesting facts about the piece:

  • In 1725, The Four Seasons was published in a set of twelve concerti entitled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Test of Harmony and Invention).
  • Vivaldi wanted the music to portray the events and emotions of the seasons, dividing the piece into concertos representing spring, summer, autumn and winter. Now known as “program music”, The Four Seasons was arguably the first piece to focus on this style, doing so in strong, illustrative detail.
  • The music is an interpretation of 4 sonnets, whilst it is not specifically stated that Vivaldi wrote these sonnets as well, it is widely believed that he did because the words and music are so entwined.
  • King Louis XV became very fond of the spring concerto, ordering it to be performed on numerous occasions.
  • It has been debated often, but a recording of violinist Alfredo Campoli performing during a French radio broadcast in 1939 is widely considered to be the first recording of the piece.
  • Extracts from the Four Seasons have appeared numerous times in popular culture. It can be heard in popular television shows such as The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory and Grey’s Anatomy as well as films such as Halloween II, What Lies Beneath and A View to Kill (via).


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Fanfare for the Common Man  :  Music  




Do I Hand In My Homework or Publish for the World?

When students participate in out-of-class learning, teachers should recognize the advantages

By Alan November


Fifteen years ago, a student I never taught forever changed my perspective on how students perceive authentic teaching and learning. This was one of the more auspicious turning points of my career, and the experience continues to challenge and inspire my thinking to this day. 

My daughter Jessy, who was 11 at the time, was enamored with a phenomenon called “fan fiction.” Fan fiction encourages young fans of various genres of literature to write chapters and publish work in the style of their favorite authors. On, authors are able to share their writing with the world, and readers can leave comments on the work that is posted to the site. As they make their pieces public, writers are actively learning from other aspiring writers. Notably, the site originated before MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter altered the face of online social interaction. 

At the time, the Harry Potter series was all the rage, and Jessy quite literally could not get enough of it. As was the case for many young readers, she felt J. K. Rowling simply could not pump out books fast enough to satisfy her. Having to wait an entire year to experience more of Harry’s adventures was torturous. So she got her Harry Potter fix by reading work published to as did thousands of young people aspiring to write in the style of the world-famous author. Jessy read the site voraciously, leaving thoughtful comments and feedback for many of the authors. She even developed many favorites on the site and returned frequently to check out their work. 

When my daughter showed me the site and how she was using it, I was blown away. Here were young authors participating in one of the most genuine teaching and learning experiences I had encountered. Students were practicing their writing skills while publishing to a global audience that gave meaningful, in-the-moment feedback. Talk about continuous, authentic assessment. This site quickly became a subject of my presentations at schools across the country. 

I was discussing the work of one of Jessy’s favorite authors on at a private middle school when a student in the audience raised her hand. This was her work. Entirely coincidentally, one of my daughter’s favorite fan fiction authors was sitting 10 feet away. Shocked (and feeling a bit embarrassed to be presenting the work of someone in the room!), I instinctively called her up to speak about her work and experience on the site. This young author had around 12 stories posted on the site, and you could clearly see her development as a writer across her portfolio of work. She captivated the audience, and when she finished, students were lining up to ask her how they could create their own account on the site. She was an absolute rock star. 

After all of the students had filed out of the auditorium, the student’s English teacher approached me. His words remain imprinted in my memory: “That was an inappropriate acknowledgement of that student. She used to be a great student, but recently she has not been completing assignments and has shown indifference in class. You made her look like a world-class writer.” I was stunned by the teacher’s observation, but also by the teacher’s claim that the same student who wrote and spoke so beautifully could be struggling in her English class. 

That night, at a dinner event held at the school, I had an opportunity to pull the student aside to ask about the inconsistency. When I asked her why she was so motivated to write online yet not finish her homework assignments, she explained matter-of-factly, “Every day when I wake up I have an important decision to make. Do I write for my teacher or publish to the world? I prefer to publish to the world.” As the British would say, I was gobsmacked. 

This response has enormous implications for how educators structure learning experiences for students. Although this student may seem exceptional, countless students yearn for an audience that values their work beyond a grade. They seek learning communities that support their growth and share their passion. Above all, they value authenticity and purpose in their work. 

The story highlights the virtues of shifting the focus from an audience of one (the teacher) to a more global audience. The teacher’s response to my commendation of his student reflects the fears of many who resist this sort of shift. For this particular teacher, the student’s activity on the fan fiction website represented a loss of control and a distraction from the learning environment he sought to establish in his classroom. Being fixated on the student’s recent negative behaviors, he failed to see the ways in which he could leverage this online tool to motivate his student to achieve both in the classroom and beyond. 

Thankfully, many teachers are working to provide a global audience for their students, understanding that such outreach can be key to investing them in lifelong learning. When students see that others value their work, they are more likely to invest time and effort into the assignment and more inclined to act on feedback that will improve their products.  

It is incumbent upon us as educators to continue to craft meaningful, rigorous assignments that students believe are worth sharing with the world. With the rise of modern social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, in addition to a wide array of blogging software, students have more opportunities than ever to publish their work to the world. As this story illustrates, students are already doing this—the challenge is for teachers to take advantage of these online tools to build learning communities that are inspiring and valued by students. 

One of my most re-tweeted lines over the years has been, “Stop saying ‘Hand it in,’ start saying ‘Publish it.’” This paradigm shift from an audience of one to an audience of the world will inspire more students to achieve their potential, while instilling a lifelong passion for genuine learning. 

Alan November is an international leader in education technology. He was named one of the United States’ 15 most influential thinkers of the decade by Tech and Learning magazine. Alan has worked with schools and universities in 40 countries to improve learning through innovative practice.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Creativity  :  Do schools kill creativity?  :  Smartest Kids in the World



Classes with Sorkin and Zimmer are what you'd expect.

"The worst crime you can commit is telling the audience something they already know."


Dialogue should sound like music. 

I like these. They're simple, and I'm pretty jacked on hearing more (no, this isn't a commercial and no one is paying me to write this, unfortunately). Several times, over the past few weeks, adds for MastersClass has crept onto my computer screen, and just yesterday, I finally bit on it.

I'm glad I did. Even though I'm not paying for a single class - not yet, anyway.

Just browsing through the trailers and teasers is enough for now, because that don't cast a thing! And there's plenty of small nuggets in each of the forty second-ish clips. Like this one, from my one of my favorite film score producers, Hans Zimmer:

Music is a conversation, and anyone can have it, we just need to break through the myth that tells us otherwise. Pretty brilliant, Mr. Zimmer. Pretty brilliant.

Masterclass has classes on singing, cooking, writing, stand up comedy, architecture, sports, and many, many others. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

And if you decide to order a class, let me know. I'd love to hear about it.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Pixar's FREE classes  :  9 TED talks from writers  :  Vonnegut's greatest writing advice




Mr. Rogers wore a lot of sweaters. He did some other stuff too.

Using data from The Neighborhood Archive, Owen Phillips charted the color of every sweater Mister Rogers wore on his PBS television program from 1979 to 2001 (via).

Some sweaters were worn once and then never again, like the neon blue cardigan Rogers wore in episode 1497. Others, like his harvest gold sweaters, were part of Rogers’ regular rotation and then disappeared. And then there were the unusual batch of black and olive green sweaters Rogers wore exclusively while filming the “Dress-Up” episodes in 1991.

His mother knit the sweaters . . . I'm gonna let that sink in for a bit. His mother. knit. ALL of his sweaters! Because that's how she loved people, by making them sweaters. “I guess that’s the best thing about things. They remind you of people.” Good GOD he's good.

To enjoy more of Mr. Rogers' brilliance, you can watch them on Amazon Prime.

I recommend closing your eyes for the ten seconds when Fred Rogers says, "I'll watch the time."

I did: Eric Beard, Eric Trauger, Mr. and Mrs. Hampstra, Paul and Dorothy Keisling, Mr. Paladino, Diane Larson, Grandpa and Grandma Miller, and in younger years, my parents. 

And of course, Mr. Rogers.  


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  On Living  :  Humanity



2Cellos and some pretty beautiful soundtracks

Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser of 2CELLOS performed an incredible cover of the song “May It Be” from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with the London Symphony Orchestra. The mesmerizing track is from 2CELLOS‘ new album, Score, which is now available to purchase from Amazon (via).

The music is amazing. The video is . . . eh. When I closed my eyes, I enjoyed it much more.

I'm a soundtrack guy, especially powerful, world changing soundtracks. Now We Are Free is another one 2Cellos covers beautifully, even a clean cello is a poor replacement for the woman singing in the background.


For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Music  :  Movies without Soundtracks  :  Lord of the Rings



Cultural Intelligence

There is growing research and discussion about a new(er) intelligence: CQ

"Cultural intelligence (CQ) is the capability to relate and work effectively in culturally diverse situations. It goes beyond existing notions of cultural sensitivity and awareness to highlight a theoretically-based set of capabilities needed to successfully and respectfully accomplish your objectives in culturally diverse settings" (via). 

"Awareness is the first step, but it’s not enough. A culturally intelligent individual is not only aware but can also effectively work and relate with people and projects across different cultural contexts" (via).

Awareness is a first step, but being aware and doing nothing about it is almost worse. Because then it's blatant disrespect. What I like about these little blurbs though is that they doesn't say we have to agree on anything to be culturally aware. But we do need to be respectful and work hard at finding ways to relate - by embracing the cognitive friction. Which also means we need to be consciously looking beyond the single story

Stereotypes aren't untrue, they're simply incomplete. For all of us. Being culturally sensitive allows for stories that go beyond the superficial and offensive - that build walls. Rather, it allows for stories that builds bridges and opens doors.


You can take a CQ test here. It's okay. It's one of those tests where you know what you should say, so you say it, because nobody wants a bad score, but the questions are worth thinking about. Especially the last question.

I think this guy would score very, very . . . very low.

For more on . . .

-N- Stuff  :  Diversity  :  Stereotypes