That Good Old-Fashioned Reading Stuff

I’m just going to have to say, “Serial” had me on the edge of my seat, but I don’t ever see myself using something similar in my classroom.

This well-produced podcast, about an turn-of-the-century teenage murder case that crossed racial and ethnic boundaries, had me entranced for its entire hour-long pilot episode. And to hold my attention span for an hour, something’s gotta be pretty darn good because I’m from a generation that can’t wait three minutes for microwave mac and cheese to finish cooking.

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But seriously, who could wait that long for this ooey gooey goodness? (Photo CC by ?? no publisher given)

The shortened attention span of modern students is part of the reason that I may not end up using digital stories and podcasts in my classroom. In my college classes, I have observed many students who can’t sit down long enough to read a 30-page assignment, and their grades suffer because of this. I mean, not to brag, but 30 pages flies by for me, but I also grew up in a slightly different manner than a lot of my contemporaries. My family did not have cable TV growing up, so we either had the choice of watching PBS, reading, or going outside. (and trust me, the PBS option was only utilized when Sesame Street was on. I mean, what 3-year-old wants to watch some guy construct solid oak towel racks on “This Old House?”) I myself, not being an athletic youth, usually gravitated towards the reading option. I could spend all day curled up on my bed, reading the newest hot literature for children (“Dog House for Sale” was my ultimate favorite) and be perfectly content.

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The first book I taught myself to read. What a classic. (Photo CC from Amazon)

Many people from my generation that had cable TV and gaming systems and all that jazz did not spend their spare time reading. These children were bombarded with 30-second advertisements and nonstop audio and visual entertainment, and this problem is getting worse with every generation. A lot of people (unfortunately, myself included) can’t even leave the house without a tiny screen to stare at, keeping them updated on all the current gossip.

While I think that schools should modify themselves to fit how modern students learn, I also think that schools have the duty to challenge students, and to force them to slow down and look around every once in a while. While I found the “Serial” podcast to be super interesting, and the hour long run time would challenge kids to expand their attention span, the media format is handing all of the information to the listener, whereas with reading, the reader must actively engage in the information-gathering process. Reading, and other traditional forms of education, challenge a student to be an active participant in their learning, and I think this helps students process information better. Most of the time, I hardly remember what I hear, but have a photographic memory for what I have read.

I know that not all students learn best by reading, which is why I think I will use some forms of modern media in my classroom. Podcast series that talk about how science is utilized in the real world would be a great complement to my curriculum, and a digital story about what a student has learned would be a progressive and engaging final project. However, most of the time, I’m going to expect my students to do that good old-fashioned reading stuff.

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Books books books books. I love books. (Photo CC by Sunchild57 Photography)

My students may hate me for not modernizing course material, but they’ll thank me once they get to college and have to read 30-page assignments on a nightly basis. Or maybe they’ll still hate me. I honestly don’t care as long as those darn kids STAY OFF MY LAWN.

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And take your punk dog with you. (Photo CC)

These are a few of my favorite things (yoga and running)

Loving running as much as I do, it’s kind of a surprise that it’s taken me so long to write a blog about the benefits that yoga provides for runners.

Since I’ve started by yoga journey, I’ve made considerable improvements in my running ability, and have even PR’ed (gotten personal records) in a few races. Now, this may be due to that fact that I was like, super sick at the beginning of the year, and anything would be an improvement over how I was running at the time, but for the sake of this blog, let’s look at how yoga may have facilitated my running improvements.

The first, and pretty obvious, benefit that I’ve noticed from yoga is that I’m not so darn tight all the time. As I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts, I’m naturally about as flexible as a steel rod. Even the doctor comments on how inflexible I am during my physicals. Because of my inability to touch my toes, post-run periods can get pretty painful. If I go to bed after a hard workout without stretching or taking an ice bath, I’ll wake up in the morning and literally not be able to move.

Practicing yoga on a regular basis has done worlds for me to help me recover from runs. Yoga is a time for me to focus on what is sore and what hurts, and gently ease into the area to help flush the toxins from it. Since running is pretty much go, go, go all the time, yoga is a nice period of stop, stop, stop where I can do what feels right and take care of myself.

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These people are probably smiling because they’re excited to do yoga after they run. (Photo CC by Carolyn Coles)

Another benefit of yoga for runners is that it provides a means for increasing strength (upper body strength especially) without lifting weights. Like most runners, I have the upper body strength of a newborn kitten and no desire to lift heavy things and put them down again.

Yoga is a body weight exercise, and body weight exercises are arguably better for increasing overall fitness than lifting weights is. Body weight exercises, especially yoga, simultaneously increase strength, flexibility, cardiovascular health, and balance. Yoga won’t give you jacked arms, but will probably make a person’s overall strength index better than someone who only lifts. One of my favorite high school memories is this time I had to arm wrestle a mean girl who was on the volleyball team, who probably thought she would kick my butt because I didn’t do a whole lot of conventional lifting. But I did do yoga. So therefore, I smoked her.

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This is the look of victory I had on my face when I beat her. Only more feminine. (Photo CC by Hector Alejandro)

So yeah, this whole section kind of got off the topic of how yoga helps runners get stronger and got more on the topic of how I beat this girl that wasn’t nice to me at arm wrestling because I did yoga, yoga is still very, very, helpful to runners in increasing their body strength.

A tacit, but logical, benefit of yoga to runners is breath control. I mean, think about it. In yoga, learning to be mindful of the breath helps the yogi learn how to tolerate pain. Wouldn’t learning how to control the breath in running help a runner push through walls and run fast even when they’re hurting? (The answer, in case you don’t know, is yes). This is the number one improvement I’ve noticed in my running since I’ve been doing yoga. I’m constantly conscious of keeping my breath even and controlled, which helps my body regulate its oxygen usage in an efficient manner, which helps me run longer, faster.

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This person is probably smiling because she already ran, and now she’s doing yoga. (Photo CC by Matt Madd)

While doing yoga won’t really help a person get faster (the only way to get faster is by running more, faster), it can help with the little aspects of running that often get overlooked. It helps improve flexibility, strength, breath control, and just makes a person a little more chill and less tense all the time.

So the moral of the story is, I love yoga and running, and I want you to love yoga and running.

Namaste.

So… you like breadsticks?

We all know how it goes.

The setting: An awkward situation. Maybe it’s your great grandma’s 105th birthday party and the only people there have hearing aids and need to be screamed at in order to hear what you said. Or maybe you’re at the lunch table, and your friend convinces you to sit with someone you don’t know and then gets up to go get a napkin, leaving you with a stranger and absolutely nothing to say (so…. you like breadsticks?).

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A little known fact about Buddhist monks is that when they’re bored during meditation, they pull our their cell phones and play Candy Crush. (Photo CC by KX Studio)

Whatever the awkward situation is, the first thing 99% of us do is pull out our phones and check Facebook or Twitter or whatever, even if we literally checked it 3 seconds prior. I know I’m guilty of doing this, even when situations aren’t all that awkward. It’s like my brain needs to be stimulated 24/7, and anything short of engaging conversation isn’t enough to hold my full attention.

While I can’t blame anyone for pulling out a technological device when the conversation turns stagnant (I know I do), a mindful usage of technology it is not. While technology and social media and great tools and outlets for learning, most of us don’t usually use them in this manner. Most of us look up “20 Funniest Cat Videos” and “She fell off the Stairs… and You Won’t Believe what Happened Next!”

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Oh cats… always being funny. (Photo CC by Thank you for visiting my page.)

After perusing this week’s article about what happens when teens put away their phones for three days, I kind of have to admit that I’m a little bit too attached to my phone. I always have to have it within arm’s reach, if not literally touching my person. Anytime I can’t find it, I have a mini panic attack. And I mean, this is all reasonable. Phones are expensive and vital to life in today’s society. If I didn’t have my phone, I wouldn’t be able to receive my mother’s 1,500 daily texts (which I secretly enjoy) or keep up with my school e-mail account, which lets me know when class is cancelled (a vital thing to know).

However, I also do know the freeing feeling of being disconnected from this constant stream of information. When my high school went on a week-long service trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation, we were encouraged to put our phones away and focus on the service we were providing and the beauty of the land. And this was super awesome. Sure, I missed texting my boyfriend, but I garnered a lot of positive memories from the trip, memories I may not have had if I was plugged into my phone the whole week.

I think that key to the mindful use of technology is moderation. Just like the guy that gave up the internet for a year said, technology can be a burden, but it’s also a necessary tool to in today’s society. He missed out on spending time with his relatives and important news because of his disconnect from the rest of the world. In addition, they guy said that he didn’t really even do anything productive with the time he saved by not being on the internet, and instead played a lot of video games (which, I mean, technically can connect to the internet, so I’m like, cheater, but whatever).

The point is, technology itself is not inherently good or bad. It’s what we do with it that makes it a mindful tool or a time waster. By pulling out our phones every time a situation gets awkward, we may miss out on opportunities to get to know an interesting person or to learn more about a topic we’re passionate about. Learning to use technology in a mindful way is a vital life skill, as our senses are being constantly bombarded by media and advertising on the internet, and we need to know what is helpful and what is harmful. Most of all, practicing moderation in use of technology will help us learn to use moderation in other aspects of life, and moderation is one of the best pathways to a happy life.

And even if you happen to be stuck at a lunch table with somebody you don’t know, asking them if they like breadsticks instead of plugging into your phone could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

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I like breadsticks. (Photo CC by Kelly Garbato)

Don’t talk to strangers (unless TDC tells you to, then it’s okay) a.k.a., TDC Day 29

Strangers. They can be scary and mysterious, or sweet and friendly. I’ve had my share of both types of interactions, but thankfully, my most recent stranger interaction was fairly pleasant.

Setting: Maverick gas station in Alliance, NE.

Characters: Myself and a group of what appeared to be Alliance Middle School students.

Now, my perception of these strangers was already colored, thanks to the fact that they looked/acted/smelled like middle schoolers (ah, the days when kids knew how to use copious amounts of Axe body spray, but, strangely enough, not Axe deodorant).

However, as I was standing in line behind one of the girls, who waiting to pay at the register, she said, totally out of the blue, “Hey, I like your shoes!”

Now, my shoes were pretty sweet Minnetonka slip-ons that look like something an eighties soccer mom would wear, so it’s not a surprise that a random stranger complimented their stylishness. But this kindness, coming from a junior high kid? Most unusual.

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These kids are probably going through the typical, “It’s not a phase mom! It’s who I am!” phase that most kids go through in junior high. (Photo CC by Louisa Billeter)

Obviously, I told her I liked her shoes too, because a compliment for a compliment, plus they were pretty cool sparkly boat shoes.

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Basically what my shoes look like. Pretty sweet, huh? (Photo from Birkenstock website)

This interaction will live on in my mind as the time that a middle schooler was pleasant and not snarly, and, if I end up teaching middle school, I will remember this girl and try to treat all of my students as if they had just complimented my shoes.

Pranayama: No, it’s not a music festival

Even though the Pranayama is not a music festival, I totally thought it was when I first started doing yoga.

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Now THIS is actually a music festival. (Photo CC by Johnathan Piccolo)

The truth is a little less exciting. The Pranayama is simply the branch of yoga that has to do with the breath, and using the breath to power the asanas (poses). However boring this may sound, there’s no way to practice yoga without mindfulness of the Pranayama.

A common misconception about yoga is that the asanas are the driving force behind the practice, and that an advanced yogi has mastered all of his or her inversions and crazy yoga binds simply through training of the body. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The driving force behind yoga is the breath, and using the breath to train the mind to tolerate, and eventually accept, discomfort. It’s the breath that gives the body the ability to transition from one pose to another, and it’s the breath that allows the body to find the will to hold difficult poses for long periods of time. Basically, the body is a car and the breath is gas, and, as we all know, the car is nothing without gas to power it.

This week’s yoga practice reinforced the significance of yogic breathing for me. Since we’ve had like three weeks off from doing our independent learning project, I was a little bit rusty on hitting some of my yoga poses (seriously, its crazy how inflexible I got after just three weeks). But the second I sat down to focus on my breath, all of my physical shortcomings melted away, and I was once again able to get into the yogic state of mind.

There’s nothing more refreshing for me that sitting down and practicing Victorious Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) before I begin the twisty and turny aspects of my yoga session. Victorious Breath involved taking a deep breath in, and, as one breathes out, either constricting one’s throat to create a smaller passageway for air to exit the body or just breathing out forcefully with the mouth open. Either form of Victorious Breath creates a little sound as one breathes out, a sound that, for some reason, is extremely relaxing and centering. Maintaining Victorious Breath throughout an entire practice can prove to be difficult sometimes, but helps clear the mind and rejuvenate the spirit in ways that regular breathing just can’t touch upon.

A little Victorious Breath practice with my girl, Adrienne. (video from YouTube)

The Pranayama is one of the least appreciated branches of yoga in the Westernized version of the practice, probably because us Americans want everything NOW. We don’t want to train to be yogis, and undergo all the trials that becoming a yogi entails; we want to do Headstand and Crow and all those other crazy, master poses NOW. This mentality is dangerous to the person practicing yoga, because forcing oneself into these asanas without using breath to ease into them can result in pulled muscles and an overall negative perspective on yoga. If we as a nation learned to take things a little slower and undergo all the processes necessary to master something, we would be healthier, happier, and probably not get into as many wars (but that is besides the point).

So, while the Pranayama is not an exciting music festival, it’s an integral and rewarding aspect of yoga that should be practiced by anyone attempting the activity. If you want a music festival, go check out Lollapalloza or something. (Is that even still a thing? It makes me feel old to know that I’m not up-to-date on the cool music festivals anymore. Nor was I ever, but still.)

Namaste.

PS. This week I did days 19-22 of Yoga with Adrienne. Go check her out, she’s pretty rad.

Digital activism blog that ends up being a rant about the Keystone Pipeline (sorry I’m a hippie)

I’m at a precarious age in my life.

On one hand, I’m young enough to hold a passionate world view, and to desire to defend what I believe in.

On the other hand, I’m old enough to know that whatever I do, I probably won’t make a major difference in the world.

Darn life experience, makes me more practical.

However, after reading about digital activism this week, I’ve been impressed to see how many people let the fact that they probably won’t make a difference stop them, and guess what? These people have actually made major differences in their own lives and the lives of others.

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Digital activism: sort of like this, but sort of not. (Photo CC by Eyesplash)

I remember hearing about the Arab Spring a few years ago, and not quite understanding what that term meant. I was all like, whoa it’s winter here… how can it be spring in the Middle East? After perusing the 6 activist functions of technology, I have a better understanding of, and a better appreciation for, what these Arab youth accomplished through their own tenacity, with a little help from social media. Because of these youth, the whole world was able to recognize the plights that these Arabs faced, and to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. In this case, digital activism was successful in shaping public opinion by providing us Westerners with information about a revolution that we may not have been familiar with otherwise.

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Powerful imagery from the Arab Spring. (Photo CC by D.I.Y. Music)

While not all young online activists are attempting to overthrow an oppressive regime, some are attempting to inspire themselves and others to reach their dreams. The teen activist I studied was Astronaut Abby, a high school student who wants to be the first person to walk on Mars. The old part of me says, “Keep dreaming sista,” but the young part of me says, “You go girl!” While Abby may never reach Mars, she isn’t letting the fear of failure stopping her from pursuing her passion (a lesson I could learn a thing or two from). And you know what they say, shoot for Mars, because if you miss, you’ll land among the stars (or something like that).

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Astronaut Abby: What a BAUS. (Photo courtesy of AARP blog)

Recently, anger about the proposed route and ecological effects of the Keystone Pipeline has set a fire in me, and made me think about being in activist in some way. Sometimes, I feel silly about this anger. After all, the pipeline will provide us with an abundance of jobs and cheap, domestic oil, two things our nations so desperately needs. However, while I’m still young and I don’t have to worry about spending a lot of money on gas or finding a job, I can afford to be a bit of a hippie and think about the longstanding ecological impact and injustices of  projects such as the Keystone Pipeline.keystonemap

Map of the proposed pipeline and its proposed extension (sorry it’s small, I couldn’t find anything better that I could add to my blog). Notice how the extension literally RUNS LIKE, RIGHT BY MY HOMETOWN. (Photo courtesy of Friends of the Environment)

For starters, the proposed route for the pipeline runs straight across the Oglala Aquifer, the main water source for oh, I don’t know, THE ENTIRE MIDDLE OF THE NATION, a place that I consider my forever home. Obviously, I would not be happy if the pipe sprung a leak, and no matter how much the engineers working on this project ensure that this will NEVER happen, yeah, it’ll probably happen. (Remember when they said that the Titanic was unsinkable?) Another aspect of the pipeline that I find to be unjust is that its route breaks the Treaty of Fort Laramie (only the millionth time our nation has broken this treaty, but still). This treaty provided Great Plains Native Americans with tracts of land that could not be tampered with by the government unless, of course, the government found a reason that they might want that land (that last part wasn’t exactly part of the original treaty, but seems to be a corollary that has been used on numerous occasions). We all feel bad about how unfairly early settlers treated the Native Americans, and I think most of us would take it back if we could, but the only way we can make up for the wrongdoings of our ancestors is by not making the same mistakes. Apparently, this sentiment is not shared by the pipeline route planners.

The last, and (In my opinion) most important, grievance I have with the Keystone Pipeline is the fact that really, it’s not necessary (at least as I see it). The purpose of the pipeline is to transport tar sands from Alaskan oil fields to Texas oil refineries in a cheap and effective way. Now, I won’t get started on the ecological impact of these refineries, but my question is, why so far? Why not build refineries nearer the source of the energy? Why build a precarious and somewhat ridiculous pipeline across much of the nation?

Oh yeah, because this would cost more money. And heavens forbid that a big oil company spend some cash to think about all of us little people living in the heart of the nation, in the place they’re planning on spoiling with a big pipe.

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If I can’t convince you to care about the Keystone Pipeline with my words, maybe a picture of the Nebraska Sandhills, which is part of the proposed route for the pipeline, will. Imagine this, but with a huge pipe leaking tar sand dominating it. (Photo courtesy of Alan R. Smith)

Alright, enough hippie talk here. I guess this is my form of starting my digital activism. I don’t know if I’ll have any effect on the reality of the Keystone Pipeline (probably not), and I most likely don’t have my facts completely right and someone will set my straight and I’ll just end up looking like a doof (probably). But still, I did what I could to inform the public about my views, views that I think are shared by a lot of us Nebraskans (not all, but some), and I followed my dreams of being a tree-hugging, granola crunching hippie.

And hey, I may be old enough to know better than to post my opinions on the internet, but I’m young enough to not care.