Saturday, August 16, 2014

Doubt it all you want, but they’re out there!

No one can tell me they don’t exist because I’ve seen them. I have communicated, though sometimes clumsily, with many of them.
They travel through space in a ship that is almost too large to imagine. Of course from far enough away—no shortage of that in the Universe—it can seem downright dinky.
Their spaceship is ellipsoidal.  It carries its own food, water, oxygen, and renewable resources.
“What kind of renewable resources?”
Plants, animals, stuff like that. This spaceship is so big that it even generates its own weather and has a delicate, self-contained atmosphere. They haven’t worked all the bugs out of the weather system; it’s killed some of them, but it works quite well most of the time.
As far as they know, there is no other source for water in space. If they don’t take care of their water, recycle and treat it properly, they’re up the creek. Same goes for their fragile atmosphere—it’s all that stands between them and disaster.
“Hold on! Recycled water? Please don’t tell me that—”
Yes… I know it sounds indelicate, but you have to understand they’re out there whizzing—no pun intended…well, maybe just a little—through space and they are unaware of any other source of water. So, the same water that comes out of them, and the animals they carry, eventually makes its way back into them.
“Good Lord! I hope they at least have a decent filtration system.”
They do. It’s quite remarkable, really. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.
Anyway, this spaceship also generates its own gravity.
“How do they do that?” 
Well, it spins about 1040 miles per hour, even as it travels at over 66,000 miles per hour—that’s 18.5 miles per second, 1110 miles per minute.
“Clever. How do you know so much about it?”
I was welcomed onboard and took a most mind-blowing trip with them.
“Welcomed? You weren’t abducted?”
Not at all. Don’t believe everything you read or hear about them. I was not exactly invited, understand, but welcomed nonetheless.
“I might like to try that.”
You don’t just hop on this thing. There is a lengthy acclimation/training period involved. I had to learn the most basic skills such as breathing and eating as they do. They taught me how to transport myself and how to interact like one of them. This may sound a little creepy, even farfetched, but the process begins by actually growing inside one of them.
Depends on how you look at it. Takes about 36 of their weeks.
My stay among them had to be a brief one. They told me that after about a hundred years it would become obvious that I had worn out my welcome. Indeed, after around fifty, I was already seeing signs of that.
At first, they thought I was cute. They seemed delighted when I learned something new. Then I was cheered on, even as I was sent off to fend for myself. I never lacked for entertaining company or engaging experiences. As the new wore off, so did their interest. After a while, outside of a few token gestures from those who were paid to offer them, they didn’t seem to really care one way or the other.
Fine by me. I was more than ready to get home.
Even amidst all the fun and refreshment to be had elsewhere, I’ll never forget my little side trip among the Humans.
“What’s the name of their starship?”
They call it Earth. Many of them believe they are the only ones out there.
“Of all the pretentious bullsh—”
I know.
“They really think—”
As best they can, yes.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How is A Bridge like A Squirrel?

I like thinking exercises that are effective and fun, and I found one back in 2001. Pam Blundell, Executive Director of Adult Education with the Oklahoma State Department of Education, told a group of us about forced analogies.
A forced analogy is when you take any two nouns and find things they have in common—something that’s true for both.
To get the ball rolling, Pam gave us these two nouns: marriage and a yellow, number 2 pencil.
I’m one of those off-the-scale Introverts. Typically, I have trouble coming up with a quick answer. Let me go somewhere quiet and think about and I’ll probably have a pretty good one later today or tomorrow.
All around me in that huge pit auditorium I could hear people writing their answers. I was getting nothing. Not wanting to appear dense to my colleagues, I started scribbling on my legal pad. I wrote, “You can bring a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead.” Not a bad line, but not what she was asking for, either.
After I heard some of the others’ responses, it started to click. What do marriage and a yellow, number 2 pencil have in common? How about the number 2? That works. And that metal band that holds the eraser to the wood part…and, well, see what you can come up with.
I’ve used the forced analogies exercise with a wide variety of folks, everything from single mothers in a GED class to college and university educators in conference sessions.
Forced analogies are an excellent brain exercise, a good way to warm up for any learning endeavor. Beyond that, I like them because

·       Students enjoy them. Even the most reluctant ones become intrigued and end up thinking in spite of themselves.

·       They level the playing field. I let the students choose the nouns, so I have no way of knowing what they’ll be, no way to prepare ahead of time.

·       They force me to be a little more like my Extrovert pals. (Just because we have a preferred learning style or an introverted personality, that’s no excuse not to exercise our weaker muscles.)

·       They’re fun.

So far, we have never been foiled. No matter what the two nouns, we’ve been able to find something they have in common—and I mean something beyond the cheap answers like “they’re both nouns” or “they both have letters in them.”
I have many favorite stories about forced analogies. If you have time, let me tell you one.
This one took place in Arkansas. I was facilitating a concurrent class at a local high school. (Concurrent means they get high school and college credit for the same class.)
These students were tenacious with the forced analogies. They refused to give up. One day, the two nouns they chose were Walmart and pebble.
I wrote the words on the board, as usual, and we all stared at them for a good long while. Tick…tick…tick… Damn. Nothing. I thought that for the first time ever we were stumped.
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s the students who come up with the best (sometimes only) responses. The reason this is one of my favorite stories is that this was one of those rare times when I saved it.
“I’ve got one.”
They stared at me like I’d just set fire to my moustache. (Is he crazy?) Arkansas?
“Think about it.”
They thought about it.
“Where is the Walmart world headquarters?”
Oh, okay. (Bentonville, AR.) So, where does the pebble fit in?
“What’s the Capitol of Arkansas?”
Ahhhh. Good one, Mr. Tom!    

(If you’d care to read more about forced analogies, click upon this: