To Floss or Not to Floss (teeth not dance)

Seriously, who smiles like this while flossing??

Flossing prevents gum disease. Or so we’re told.

Today the UK Daily Mail ran an article with this provocative headline: “Is flossing your teeth a waste of time?: Dentists nag us about it. Scientists insist it prevents heart disease. But now an expert says they’ve all got it wrong…” The article references a new book called Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye by U.S.-based doctor Ellie Phillips that argues flossing to prevent gum disease or tooth decay is a waste of time because few people do it correctly.

In theory flossing prevents gum disease, which is caused by plaque, by preventing plaque buildup around the gum line. OK, sounds logical. But what’s the point of following a practice that’s so hard to do effectively? Design Thinking would seek to identify the problem from various users’ points of view. Dentists want to reduce teeth-related disease. Patients/consumers want to avoid unnecessary disease and the pain of teeth cleaning. Consumers want concrete returns for their purchases and habits. Let’s face it — flossing ain’t fun. Nor is using mouthwash twice a day (which Phillips argues is also of limited efficacy). Maybe it’s time to design an alternative that’s easier AND more effective.

But I’d rather not wait. As someone whose mouth chemistry NOW leads to rapid plaque buildup such that cleanings can be excruciating, every six months I regret all the days I was disinclined to floss. So why don’t I floss?

Who knows? *shrug* Maybe I’ve weighed the daily inconvenience of flossing against one hour of pain every six months (plus the dental hygienist’s silent judgment of me for not flossing). Or maybe I’m unable to think rationally, to embrace the long-term benefit of a tiny daily habit. Or perhaps I’m engaging in “avoidance behavior.” I avoid flossing because it’s a daily reminder of how awful it is to go to the dentist. What a vicious cycle.

Or maybe I’m overthinking this. Well, what’s a blog for? 😉

Montessori Wisdom

A Montessori classroom

I ran across this article entitled, “11 Montessori-inspired phrases to teach young children how to respectfully disagree” from a mothering website, and wish to pass it on as good advice for adults, too, especially in the new normal of fractured civic discourse.

Here’s the basic list:

1. “What do you think about that?”

2. “Do you have a different opinion?”

3. “Would you like a turn to talk?”

4. “You can say ‘I have a different opinion about that.'”

5. “I hear that you disagree. How can you say that differently?”

6. “It sounds like we need a moderator.”

7. “Wow, you have a strong opinion about that.”

8. “I don’t think that’s right. I’m going to ask a question.”

9. “You didn’t want to play cars. What could you say to your friend?”

10. “Let’s play a game!”

11. “Let’s try the peace rose.”

Can you imagine if world leaders at the recent NATO Summit had used ANY of these phrases? It’s worth remembering that the “children are watching us” and they are the adults of the future. I’m grateful that my own children had a solid early education foundation in the Montessori Method. But it’s not too late for all of us to apply a little Montessori Wisdom.

Tis the season…

Seasonal Depression

I love the holiday season. But not every day nor every hour. Society creates such high expectations for happiness during this season that it can exacerbate completely normal and natural feelings of sadness.

Images surround us of shopping and gifts and happy people receiving things. Fortunately, we can also find at our fingertips a myriad of self-help articles, infographics, and helpline contacts. Just before Thanksgiving, The New York TImes published an article entitled,“Yes, It’s O.K. to be Sad During the Holidays.” One observation in particular struck me: “Social media is not real life. … The holidays can be basically one giant Instagram filter.” According to Dr Judith Orloff, some people “desperately want others to think they’re happy and O.K., so they overcompensate with beaming too much of a smile, being too bubbly or seeming inauthentically happy so the happiness doesn’t feel real.”

Just because I posted happy pix of our new car doesn’t diminish the migraine that struck in the middle of the night, or anxiety about health, work, or family, not to mention concerns about the environment or local, national, and global politics.

This article contains great strategies for understanding and coping with the “Christmas blues.” But the quickest self-help strategy by far is watching cat videos. Because science. Here’s Surprised Kitty from 2009, viewed almost 80 million times, and a January 2019 compilation audaciously titled, “Funniest Cat Videos of All Time.” You’re welcome!

Stories from the OC

StoryCorps mobile studio at Cadence Park in Irvine CA

I’ve been (perhaps) harping on StoryCorps, the NPR radio show and podcast this month, but ’tis the season. I’ve posted several times during the years about using the app for “The Great Thanksgiving Listen ” which I’ve assigned to my classes for a few years now. But this weekend I was fortunate to record an interview in the mobile booth at Cadence Park in Irvine, CA. I could have used the app, but making an official recording allows my interview to be catalogued and issued an actual ISBN number. I highly recommend that locals take advantage of this opportunity before the booth closes on December 31.

My experience was both more and less than I anticipated. My daughter and I had a lovely conversation that went in unexpected directions in which we shared memories, insights, and previously unheard reflections. On the other hand, we barely scratched the surface of potential areas of deeper dialogue. The typical limit of 45 minutes felt artificially rushed. But it whet my appetite for doing it again with other family members.

I had a taste of the potential power of StoryCorps interviews during my recent college reunion at Stanford. My co-chairs, especially Markita Cooper-Blackwood, supported a StoryCorps-like experience for classmates to share a few minutes of solo reflections about their Stanford years or their lives since then as well as conversations with one or more classmates. Many of these stories were incredibly profound, others light and funny, and all were heartfelt.

Sharing stories and listening to one another fosters empathy and understanding. What a wonderful formula for improving our inter-generational and inter-cultural relationships as well as our greater society.

Blurring Boundaries

Turkey Christmas Tree Ornament

‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house … the Christmas decorations had been hung by the chimney with care for at least a week. At my neighborhood mall, the “holiday” lights were up even before Halloween. This image of a turkey and a pumpkin as a Christmas ornament perfectly captures that unfortunate overlapping of seasons.

The public display is all for marketing, of course. It’s the same strategy that has turned “Black Friday” sales into “entire month of November” sales. Now, I’m just as prone as any consumer to being seduced by a bargain (my Instant Pot from Amazon is almost exactly two years old), but I’m dismayed at the blurring of boundaries of the celebrations themselves.

To me, Halloween is the cosplayer’s favorite holiday (next to the Masquerade on Saturday night at Comic-Con). Unless one is costumed as a Christmas tree (as I was in my first year of teaching, including working strings of lights), people should be free from even a hint of the December festivities. The November 1 Day of the Dead commemorations also deserve our full attention. Not this year, I guess. 😦 I think retailers were spooked by the relatively late Thanksgiving that shortened the number of shopping days before Christmas. So they overcompensated by moving up Black Friday, the traditional start of the shopping season, and virtually ignoring Thanksgiving altogether.

I also love Thanksgiving (I’ll save discussion of revisiting the Pilgrim narrative for another post.) It represents family and food and relaxing (not shopping) together over a long weekend. My school site has deemed Thanksgiving a break from homework, but procrastinating seniors will undoubtedly polishing their University of California applications. My favorite special meal is roast turkey with all the fixings, followed by leftovers for days. I’m not so devoted to the desserts, though, but I love me some dark meat, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. And I take the most pleasure in cooking it in my own kitchen.

Sadly, I feel that this year the spirit of Thanksgiving has been lost in the hype of bargain hunting for Christmas. And, thus, so has the spiritual meaning of Christmas been swallowed up in commercialism. I’m not feeling the solemnity or joy any less; it’s just that all the ads are more shrill.

I guess my message is to savor the Thanksgiving spirit to its fullest. Let’s begin the Christmas season next Monday (which happens to be Cyber Monday).

“Never Surrender”

Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary

I saw this tonight! I’m a long-time (20 years!) fan of the precious gem of a film called Galaxy Quest, and this anniversary documentary was the perfect celebration.

The documentary answers this question: What do The Godfather and Galaxy Quest have in common? Answer: Renowned master of stage and screen David Mamet considers them both “perfect” movies.

While it was not a box office smash in 1999, Galaxy Quest has attained cult status as the best Star Trek movie. Not only does it capture the tone and message of ST:TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series), but it also pays homage to the fandom and its relationship to the franchise.

That’s it — a short post tonight. Find this movie and watch it!

Fibonacci Day

Fibonacci in nature

Fibonacci Day is 11/23. And any of us who are still around may experience 11/23/58. I’m a word nerd, but I love numbers, too. I wish I’d known about this commemoration earlier in my life. It’s so much cooler than May the Fourth.

The Fibonacci Sequence is the series of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … in which the next number is found by adding up the two numbers before it. Making squares with these widths creates a lovely spiral that recurs throughout nature, from the center of a sunflower to the swirl of stars in a galaxy. One of my favorites is romanesco broccoli — looks beautiful and tastes yummy.

The Fibonacci Spiral is named after the 12th century Italian mathematician credited, perhaps wrongly, with “discovering” it when it had been documented much earlier. The sequence is closely tied to the Golden Ratio, another amazing pattern that appears in nature and in the most pleasing of human creations.

In my own life I have used the Fibonacci sequence when selecting and designing knitting patterns. I love the idea of connecting my interest to a concept so universal and long-lasting in our universe. The sequence even manifests in literature. Which brings it full circle to this word nerd.

Sticker Shock

My MacBook Pro case stickers

My MacBook Pro case proudly showcases my most meaningful recent stickers. Each has special significance, having been obtained from edtech providers, from edtech friends who have their own “brands,” or from events I’ve attended. My own “brand” is “Make good stuff and SHARE!” I didn’t attend the EdTechTeam Hawaii Summit, but Sandra Chow, left me the awesome sticker when she used my classroom for an Irvine Summit.

The only two non-edtech sticker exceptions are, near the middle top, my comfort animal Baymax from Big Hero 6, which is one of my favorite movies, and, at the far right top, the smiley balloon from Brad Montague’s A Balloon’s Story.

I’m proudest of three in the middle. The #DEN18 light bulb was designed collaboratively by my Copenhagen cohort of Google Certified Innovators just over a year ago. The circle with blue waves and the adjacent pin-shaped sticker of planet Earth are early exclusives from #cagti17, the Google Geo Teachers Institute at the mothership in the summer of 2017.

The most recent, however, at the bottom right, is a riff on the Google Innovators’ light bulb to represent “passing the torch” to the most recent GCI cohort from the ones before it. Kudos to Andy Lowe for designing, and Josh Harris for spearheading distribution of, the sticker. (Apologies if I’m missing a credit. Let me know and I’ll edit this.)

Nothing profound here. I just received Pass the Torch stickers from Josh, and was excited to add one to my computer case. I have several more, which will soon adorn my metal water bottle, my Lesson Plan book (Ditch That Textbook), and my personal Levenger Agenda Notebook. I love stickers. Apparently, I’m 9. 🙂

Stop the Bleed

My school site held a first aid training recently, on the heels of the latest school shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA. It focused on stopping bleeding and was direct, memorable, practical, hands-on, and engaging — one of the best health trainings I’ve ever had. CPR training is crucial, of course, but that training is longer and more complicated. Restarting a heart is serious business. Traumatic injuries are more common, however, and the top cause of preventable death in traumatic injuries is bleeding.

Traumatic injury can occur from falls, work- or home-related accidents, car accidents, and (sadly, tragically, more and more common) gunshot wounds from mass shootings. In fact, the “Stop the Bleed” initiative was born of the discovery after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, CT, that the victims died of severe bleeding. Controlling that bleeding could probably have kept them from going into shock until emergency help arrived on the scene. If hemorrhaging doesn’t stop, a person can die within 5 minutes.

The website contains a myriad of free, reproducible resources like this short illustrated brochure that lays out the ABC’s of Bleeding.

A — Alert. Call 9-1-1.

B — Bleeding. Find the bleeding injury.

C — Compress. Apply pressure by (1) covering the wound with a cloth and pressing down OR (2) using a tourniquet OR (3) packing/stuffing the wound with gauze and pressing down.

That’s it. There are more details, of course, but in a traumatic injury situation, even under severe emotional stress, it’s not too hard to remember ABC.

I hate that such training is so important in schools now because of the frequency of mass shootings. I pray that these shootings have ended with Saugus HS. But I know my country. That won’t happen soon, and it will never happen without a 180-degree reversal of gun policy and enforcement.

Sorry for the downer of a post. Here’s a cuddly cat-in-my-lap picture in apology.

My pal Midnight

The Great Thanksgiving Listen 2019

NPR’s StoryCorps

It’s again time for the annual national homework assignment called “The Great Thanksgiving Listen.” StoryCorps founder Dave Isay used his TED prize to develop an app to help regular folks conduct StoryCorps interviews anywhere and upload them instantly to where those recorded in the mobile booth are archived: the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. He charged teachers with encouraging students to take advantage of Thanksgiving weekend to record interviews with elderly relatives, just as he advocated honoring veterans with interviews on Veterans’ Day, and celebrating couples with sharing their stories around Valentine’s Day, and gifting anyone with an interview on their birthday.

For those unfamiliar with StoryCorps, I commend you to and your local NPR station. In about 30 minute episodes, the show features 5 to 10-minute excerpts from longer interviews of all kinds of people, including solo individuals sharing reminiscences of loved ones. The show has been the source of many “driveway moments” where I couldn’t leave my car until I finished listening to the end of the show. Happily, StoryCorps is now available as a podcast which I can listen to at any time, not just during my commute.

To make StoryCorps engaging to students, NPR has created animations of the most popular stories and collected them along with other resources for using StoryCorps in the classroom. These resources have increased exponentially since introduction of the app in 2015. I’ve been fortunate to have participated with my students every year since then, and have even received great swag for sharing my experiences with StoryCorps organizers.

In today’s digital world, we have many quick images and videos of those close to us and even access to those of strangers. But rarely are they as intentional or profound as StoryCorps interviews. Teachers, parents, partners, co-workers, friends, siblings, relatives across generations — please check out the StoryCorps app and record each other’s stories as soon as possible. Other than helping one another face-to-face, there’s no better way to develop empathy in today’s society than by sharing our stories.