Too Old?

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Happy =belated= Bat-Day!

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This year was special not only because you could find bat-signals around various cities, but also because 2019 is the 80th anniversary of Batman!

Batman’s 80th birthday is also timely given recent news casting the upcoming movie’s Caped Crusader.

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That’s right. Robert Pattinson agreed to take on the role.  He’s best known as Edward from the Twilight films, although I’d argue his best work was Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Nevertheless, this news lets us revisit one of the best meme images ever:

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Some fans aren’t happy about Robert Pattinson’s casting, but that’s nothing new. It seems every Batman casting has its detractors, but things usually simmer down after a while. 

Interestingly, another actor’s name came up in the recent Batman casting.

Milo Ventimiglia, the gone-but-never-forgotten hunky dad Jack from NBC’s This is Us, had been interested in donning the cape and cowl. But at 42, he was considered “too old” for the part.

(Author’s Note #1: Robert Pattinson is currently 33.)

(Author’s Note #2: No Batman role in my future, either.)

For now, let’s avoid any discussion of “age discrimination” and turn our attention to TEACHING.

Can you get TOO OLD to teach?

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Let’s first look at the average teacher today. Below is a summary from a U.S. Department of Education study in 2017:

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Here is another summary of average teacher ages across the entire globe:

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How do you compare to these numbers?

Are you “above” or “below” average?

I’d argue that age has little to do with being “too old” to teach. Instead, the issue is a combination of a mental, emotional, and physical attributes.

I know some teachers who are qualified for retirement, but are still “young at heart.” They exude enthusiasm and energy in the classroom, becoming an inspirational example of learning for their students.

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On the other hand, some relatively young teachers already show signs of being tired and uninspired (and uninspiring).

What makes the difference?

We often want our students to be “lifelong learners,” and I’d say the key is to model the same attitude and habits ourselves.

For some, that may mean teaching the same subject for decades, earnest in learning more ideas and methods to enhance their teaching and students’ learning. For others, it may mean adding certifications, degrees, or more, along with potential career changes within the field of education or beyond.

Here are a few other resources to help teachers maintain a youthful enthusiasm for students and education:

Ways to Reclaim Your Joy in Teaching” (Edutopia)

The Teacher Self-Care Conference and The Educator’s Room’s Self-Care Resources

A Never-ending Quest

My favorite “old Batman” story is the Batman Beyond animated series, which features an elderly Bruce Wayne still fighting crime by mentoring a new futuristic (non)Caped Crusader:

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Of course if you want to know how old Batman really is, check out this meticulously researched article here.

It seems Batman would be too old to play himself in movies.

But no one is too old to learn or teach.

It doesn’t matter if you are

70 years old,

85 years old,

91 years old,

100 years old,

or even 102 years old!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Higher Faster Further

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Captain Marvel is the latest superhero box office smash, and it’s a must-see for fans of the 1990s and/or cats.

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I’m particularly fond of the movie’s motto: “Higher Further Faster,” which comes from a well-regarded comic book storyline by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez.

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The first thing that came to my mind was the single “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” mixed and remixed by French masters Daft Punk, which you can watch and listen to HERE(Readers prone to seizures – be wary.) 

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Added geek bonus: There’s an anime music video based on the entire Daft Punk album “Discovery.”

 

The other reason I like Captain Marvel’s catchphrase is its application to teachers. In fact, I have a couple of related slogans I like to use with educators:

The first line is wholly original:

The best teachers keep getting better.

The second one updates a well-worn teacher maxim about getting lesson ideas:

Beg, borrow, steal . . . and make it BETTER.*

*We could talk a lot more about “making it better,” but for now here are two articles with some ideas. (Even though both are science-focused, all teachers can apply some of these strategies to their respective subjects.) 

 

These two sayings deal with “lifelong learning.” We teachers must practice an attitude of ongoing learning and actions toward improvement, especially if we expect our students to do the same.

Here’s a neat blog article about lifelong learning, which also provides a nifty-keen visual aid.

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Although the above blog’s target audience is business owners and managers, teachers can still learn something for themselves and their students.

 

Speaking of students, a recent article at Education Week tells of a Des Moines high school’s professional development approach to include both teachers AND students.

You can read more at https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/03/13/these-students-are-doing-pd-with-their.html, and here is a noteworthy quote from the article:

Students may not use the technical language teachers employ when commenting on lesson plans, but “you’ll hear patterns of what’s considered best practices for engaging students.”

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Teachers, what are you doing to get better?

Maybe you don’t have a formal joint student-teacher professional development program. But hopefully you listen to your students and pay attention to their ideas, gaining insight into your own instruction.

There are plenty of other ways to get better – professional conferences, publications, workshops, graduate classes, and other traditional methods. Or seek out improvement through personal endeavors like a hobby, travel, and relationships with your family and friends.

The summer season is soon approaching, which is a terrific time to recharge and refresh. It’s also a time to review your performance and refocus efforts on getting better.

What workshop or class or trip will YOU take to improve over this summer?

I’m sure you’ll find time between superhero blockbusters to get better, higher, further, faster, stronger . . .

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Flashy Teachers

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We’ve been a little light on blog posts lately, but for good reasons!

Over the past year, I’ve been busy writing a few other projects. The first one is coming out in February 2019:

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My contribution to this book is only one chapter – “Impulsive Students, Speedster Teachers, and Education in the 1990s” – and here’s a preview:

In 1994, DC Comics presented a potential poster child for 1990s adolescence: Bart Allen, a.k.a. Impulse—a time-displaced teen speedster from the future with a short attention span, entertainment-first obsession, disregard for adult instruction, and a habit of leaping-before-looking. This chapter focuses on mentors Impulse encounters along the way—namely Wally West and Max Mercury.

To frame my analysis of Bart’s teachers, I applied the 1998 text Approaches to Teaching by Fenstermacher and Soltis.  And, of course, I used content from over two dozen different comic books. Here are a few examples:

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Wally West (The Flash) is similar to an “executive teacher,” hastening with curriculum, outcome-oriented lessons, and direct instruction for his student Bart.  Taken too far, this teaching can overwhelm the student, even one with super-speed. And the results can backfire . . .

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In contrast to Wally, Max Mercury is more like a “therapist teacher,” also called a “fostering” or “facilitator” teacher by Fenstermacher and Soltis.  But I doubt the authors envisioned a “therapist teacher” doing things like these . . .

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As a “therapist teacher,” Max focuses his attention not only on Bart’s skills, but also on the teenager’s personal development — making friends, making decisions, experiencing effects of relationships and choices. Cultivating personal development means not always giving students an answer, even when they beg for it at super-speed:

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Other times, a therapist teacher simply tells the student the honest truth, helping them refocus on the important goals:

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What kind of teacher are you most like? Both approaches have strengths, some more advantageous in one situation or another.

Learn more when the book comes out February 2019.  You can find it HERE and HERE.

In the meantime, we’ll revisit some of these topics here on this blog – hopefully sooner rather than later!

 

Stark Talking

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Nerds love to debate superhero superlatives. Who’s the strongest? Who’s the fastest? Who’s the most powerful?

Thanks to @reddit_user_1948, now we know which Avenger is the most talkative:

Iron Man a.k.a. Tony Stark.

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These results are based on comparing dialogue from the six original Avengers in the Marvel movies, summarized below:

spoken lines chart

 

Dialogue in the classroom is another topic of extensive study. In such research, teachers are like Tony Stark in that they dominate the spoken word.

One of the most well-known researchers in classroom interactions is Ned Flanders.

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(No, not this Ned Flanders.)

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Flanders found that 70% of classroom time is talk, and 70% of this time is teacher talk (1970). He also reported that teachers of high-achieving students talked less (55% of the time) than teachers working with low-achieving students (80% of the time).

No mention of cause and/or effect here, but one could also consider the advice of Harry and Rosemary Wong (First Days of School), who note that those who are “doing” more are the ones who are learning more. In this case, it stands to reason that classrooms with higher rates of student talk (on task) would result in greater student learning.

Instead of Tony Stark/Iron Man, perhaps teachers should look to less vocal heroes like Hawkeye, the archer Avenger. Following Hawkeye’s example, teachers can use fewer words with more precision.

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Like well-aimed arrows, teachers could use purposeful questions and prompts to engage students, assess understanding, and guide discussion.

We’ve discussed questions before (such as here), and unfortunately, good questions don’t always come easily.

Additional research has found that of the 80,000 or so questions teachers ask annually, 80% of them are low level, requiring simple student responses without much thought (Gall, 1984; Watson and Young, 1986).

Like the Flanders research, some of these studies on teacher questioning are several decades old (“classic”). Effective teaching is timeless, however.

Likewise, several classroom habits still linger. For instance, I’ve studied pre-service teachers’ questioning (Bergman, 2013) and found classroom patterns similar to the past. Here’s a sample of those results:

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No matter how much you talk in the classroom, be sure to make it count. Be intentional in your speech with planned questions and responses to engage students in thoughtful learning.

At the same time, be thoughtful in your own teacher talk. Be flexible and nimble, too, ready to “ad lib” when necessary.

After all, one of Tony Stark’s most memorable movie lines was improvised. Maybe you remember this ending to the very first Iron Man film:

 

Here’s the “behind-the-scenes” story of this famous line, which was instrumental in shaping the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consider how teachers’ words in the classroom can be equally impactful toward student learning and interest.

Adding some humor helps, too.

 

Batman and/or Robin

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If you pay attention to sports, you may know about basketball super-star LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If you don’t pay attention to sports, here’s a recap of “King James” highlights:

 

After recent struggles with player morale, LeBron’s Cavaliers team underwent a massive personnel shift, trading away 6 of their current players and 2 future draft picks in exchange for 4 new players and 1 different draft pick. To put this into context, these changes involved 3 separate deals with 4 different teams, resulting in a turnover of nearly half the entire Cavaliers team.

Teams typically don’t make changes this big so late in a season, but since the trades Cleveland has handily won two games against tough teams. Now, many experts have already pegged the Cavaliers as the “team to beat” in their conference.

One of the new Cavaliers players, George Hill, recently assessed his team this way:

“We have one of the best players in the history of the game, I’m sure he’s going to dictate the tempo and things like that. We just got to do our job, be the best role players we can possibly be. He’s the Batman, and we got to be all Robins. We got to figure it out.”

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What about all of us teachers?  Are you Batman? Or are you a Robin? I would argue that teachers should be BOTH.

First, you are Batman.

Consider how you can mentor and guide a younger teacher also working in the crusade for education. You can provide lesson ideas, management suggestions, and an exemplary model of a caring and competent professional educator.

Need some ideas on how you can be a Batman for other teachers?   Take a look at these articles (and excerpts) about being a teacher leader and mentor:

Becoming a teacher leader” (Edutopia.org) — “[T]ry all the opportunities presented, listen up for colleagues who are nudging you along, and don’t be afraid to take risks — that’s what it’s all about.”

Leading change from the classroom: Teachers as leaders” (American Institutes for Research) — “Today, leadership roles have begun to emerge and promise real opportunities for teachers to impact educational change-without necessarily leaving the classroom. Teachers are now serving as research colleagues, working as advisor-mentors to new teachers, and facilitating professional development activities as master teachers.”

Eight qualities of a great teacher mentor” (Education Week) — “Great mentors push your thinking and help you grow in new ways. They alert you to new teaching methods and provide tips for how to handle various situations throughout the year. Most importantly, though, these “tips” are often posed as questions. Questions require new teachers to discover and learn for themselves.”

So in some ways, being a teacher is like being Batman. (Just don’t let it go to your head–and eat a Snickers when necessary.)

 

You are also a Robin.

As an exemplary teacher, hopefully you are also modeling the commendable habits of a lifelong learner. You are supportive, a sounding board, eager to help, and even provide corny jokes when the opportunity arises.

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The neat thing about Robin is that there are multiple versions. Each individual has his or her own personality, backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, and more.

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In fact, DC Comics featured a whole host of “Robins” in the yearlong series We Are Robin. As explained by series writer Lee Bermejo in a USA Todaarticle, “Maybe there could possibly be many of these kids out there on the streets who have different talents and different capabilities that could be useful to Batman.”

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Likewise, teachers can fulfill the supportive, helpful, humor role in many ways and at many times. This includes having a “mentee attitude” throughout your career. Lifelong learning means there’s always more to learn. (The best teachers always strive to get better.)

Here’s a neat article at WeAreTeachers.com about “How to be (or find) a truly great teaching mentor,” and it includes a section titled “How to make the most of your mentor,” including the following strategies:

“Ask specific questions . . . The more specific your questions, the more helpful your mentor can be.”

“Know when to say ‘I don’t know’ . . . The point of mentoring is to improve, so resist the temptation to say everything is fine when it’s not.”

 

Teachers, are you more Batman or more Robin at this point in your career?

Online quizzes are everywhere, and you can find an “Are you Batman or Robin?” quiz right here to find that answer.

Even better, here’s a “What kind of educator are you?” quiz (from ASCD), which includes 3 book recommendations based on your responses.

Full disclosure: I took both quizzes and found out I’m “The Nurturing Nightwing.”

Learn more about yourself and reflect on your profession, personality, and current position. Then go out and be a great teammate, sidekick, teacher, and superhero.

 

 

 

Who needs friends?

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The new Avengers: Infinity War trailer came out and is already setting records, as you can read in this Forbes article.

Here is a quick breakdown of the trailer’s impact, courtesy of Fizziology:

Putting Captain America’s beard aside, I’d say the most exciting element of the trailer is NOT the big battles or bad guys.  Sure, we get Thanos and multiple fights. But the BEST part is seeing how all these heroes work with each other.  

Just take a look at the “screen cap” attached to the official trailer’s YouTube video:

It’s Bucky!  Black (Blonde?) Widow!  Cap (and his beard)! Hulk! War Machine! Falcon! Black Panther and a whole bunch of Wakandans!

The last time movie-goers saw most of these characters, they were arguing and battling each other. But all it takes to make amends is a world-conquering villain. That’s friendship for ya.

If you’ve paid attention to recent superhero movies, the theme of FRIENDS appears quite often.

 

No, not THAT theme . . . apologies . . .

We mean REAL friends.  To remove the “ear-worm” song from above, take a closer look at the following trailers of current movies.

Start with Thor: Ragnarok . . .

Thor’s “friend from work” comment at the 1:20 mark is one of the best lines in the entire film.  

friend from work

(Fun fact – there’s a neat story about the origin of that line, which came from an unlikely source. Read more here.)

 

Or check out this Justice League trailer and listen around 1:50 for Barry Allen/Flash’s awkward “I need friends” admittance to Bruce Wayne.

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Everyone needs friends, and that includes TEACHERS.

Unfortunately, teaching can quickly become an “isolated profession,” and you can read more about this “Lone Ranger” phenomenon in an article by The Atlantic HERE.

A growing research field focuses on teacher collaboration and how to help educators work together.  Some people consider teacher collaboration as the “missing link” in successful school reform.

Here is a summary of one study about “High-quality collaboration” and its benefits to teachers and students.  There’s a useful section in the article called “What this means for practitioners,” and if you’re in a hurry, here’s one excerpt from the summary:

School and teacher factors influence the quality and type of collaboration. Teachers in elementary schools, more so than in secondary schools, collaborated more frequently about instruction. Higher-quality collaboration is more common among female teachers than male teachers, particularly about instructional strategies, curriculum, and assessment.

 

Another study of middle school teachers found positive results from “professional learning communities” (PLCs) consisting of same-subject, same-grade teacher teams.  However, overall effectiveness depended on a lot of factors: “leadership and organizational practices, the substantive details of PLC activity meetings, the nature of conversations in PLC activities, and the development of community among PLC teams.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that last statement about influential factors for successful collaborations. This is the challenge of teacher teamwork.

You can’t force friendship, and you can’t coerce teachers to collaborate. As these studies show, effective collaboration requires meaningful application and multiple nuances to result in teacher buy-in and worthwhile work.

As with most interpersonal relationships, the process is delicate and sometimes messy. Just consider how well superheroes get along (or not) throughout their long history.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping each other get along and collaborate.  Even so, here are three resources (and highlights) that could help.

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“7 Reasons Why You Need a Teacher Friend” (Tame the Classroom)

#1: You need someone to tell you “no” 

When you have a bad idea, like giving students stupid awards, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Heck, no!”  When you’re thinking about writing a parent a nice-nasty reply to a note and you let your teacher friend proof it, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Nope, edit this so you won’t get fired.”

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“Teacher Collaboration: Matching Complimentary Strengths” (Edutopia)

Virtual Collaboration: Share Work Products on a Common Drive

By sharing work products on Google Drive . . . teachers know what their colleagues outside of their collaboration group are doing. They also know how they’re doing it. This enables them to replicate and/or get ideas from each other.

Even without meeting in person, they have instant access to work products, like:

  • Unit plans
  • Lesson plans
  • Curriculum maps

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“Making the Most Out of Teacher Collaboration” (Edutopia)

Personal Steps to Effective Collaboration

If I had it to do again, this is what I would do to get the most out of my formal and informal collaborations with other teachers:

  • Build relationships
  • Observe the best
  • Ask questions
  • Share
  • Come prepared

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The above ideas are not as “scholarly” as the research studies shared earlier. But they can still provide useful steps.  At the least, none of these education offerings require a world-conquering villain.  Be thankful for that!

 

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Worlds Collide

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The next BIG superhero movie coming to theaters is The LEGO Batman Movie!

In a promotional stunt, LEGO Batman appeared alongside LEGO superheroes from DC Comics’s CW television shows, which you can check out below:

What makes this video clip special is it is the first time DC superheroes from the CW TV channel (Green Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, The Atom) have merged with a DC superhero from the movies (Batman).

“Big deal?” you think?

Actually there’s been a lot of chatter among fans, critics, and industry reporters about the pros, cons, and possibilities of merging film and TV-based superheroes.  These are characters that come from the same comic book universe, but are featured in separate media outlets–theatrical, broadcast television, or streaming.

DC, for example, has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman dedicated to film, along with other heavy hitters from the Justice League (Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash).  This gets problematic, however, since The Flash also stars in his own television show on the CW (as do Green Arrow and Supergirl, who has also met a TV version of Superman).

The Last Children of Krypton

Confused?  You’re not the only one, and some people argue these two “universes” should stay separate (see here and here).  Others think there could be a way to have a crossover of sorts between TV and Film (read more here).

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More intermingling makes sense for Marvel superheroes, since theoretically, many of these characters actually DO live in a single universe shared between the movies (Avengers, etc.) and television shows (Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, Daredevil, Luke Cage, etc.).

Some people claim Marvel could and should have film and TV shows cross over.  Others point out that such an event would still be a monumental and unwanted task.  And that’s not even dealing with different Marvel heroes contracted out to different movie studios (e.g. X-Men/Fantastic Four with 20th Century Fox, although Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman said he’s happy to meet the Avengers sometime).

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Sorry, Wolverine.  No shirt, no crossover.

While not requiring millions of dollars, the habit of teachers collaborating can also seem like a difficult ordeal.  But it’s worth it, with research finding higher student achievement in schools with higher levels of teacher collaboration.

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We’ve talked before about teachers getting along with other teachers and here’s another resource with useful teacher collaboration ideas, including virtual tools, co-planning, scheduling, and more.

And let’s take a closer look at teachers from different universes (i.e. different grade levels).

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The Teacher Channel’s blog “Tchers’ Voice” shares commentary on learning from teachers of different grades.  The blog post is called “Pathway to Collaboration,” and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Challenge yourself to find new ways to team up and learn with colleagues in your building, district, and beyond.

Sadly, there’s not much else out there about cross-grade teacher collaboration, although someone did do a doctoral dissertation on this topic.  (If you need a little light reading, you can find the entire 418-page document here.)

I’ll conclude with examples of insight gained and projects accomplished when my world collided with those of other teachers.

  • A fourth grade teacher who showed me all kinds of management techniques and student jobs that I could also apply in my high school classroom.
  • A middle school science teacher who collaborated with me to successfully submit a grant for highway safety physics curriculum.
  • A business teacher who modeled practical classroom procedures for high school seniors, giving flexibility and freedom to young adults weeks away from graduating.
  • And several more colleagues, mentors, current and former students co-presenting and co-publishing academic work.

No movies or television projects yet, but maybe someday.