A line of blue, hats of gold tassels, they filed in for endless minutes.

A crowd of black, a sea of faces, some talking, some looking.

I spotted him but his face was fixed upon a higher spot.

I looked in that direction and I saw…a family. 

I saw the wife that he supported when she fell. I saw the boy that was born while he was at school. I saw older siblings.

And I saw one little girl with brown waving hair waving madly at her father. I turned in time to see him mouth “I love you” to them.

Perhaps that little family thought they were the only ones that knew what it took for father to get to that stage, to that graduation.

No. I was part of that journey. But from the crowd of black, I treasured that moment with them. I saw.

Avatar Review

I went to Avatar on opening day. I’m still an opening day geek. Of course, the North Country is a little low on entertainment so there was not much competition for my time. I purposely avoided reading reviews and didn’t see many commercials. The reasons I went to see this movie are:
1. the name Avatar -I’m active in virtual reality and I have more than one avatar myself, not counting my digital presence overall
2. Sigourney Weaver (yeah, kick alien behind Sigourney! Love strong woman characters)
3. perhaps James Cameron (whom I don’t resent as much as the world seems to over that whole “I’m king of the world” thing).

So I bundled up against the single digit weather and headed out.

I thought the theater would be mostly empty. The last sci fi movie I saw (Star Trek) was just me and about a hald dozen other sci fi diehards. This time the theater was about 1/3 full– very good for my local area. Standing in line to buy tickets/popcorn/drink, people were buying a lot of food saying “Hey, it’s a Cameron film, we’ll be in there awhile.” Since I didn’t know what to expect, I got popcorn. When I have popcorn at a movie, it’s a signal that I don’t expect to pay full attention. Every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie is a popcorn movie in my book– well maybe except True Lies.

The sound in the theater was wincingly bad. This was a ‘regular’ showing, not 3-D. But the popcorn was soon put aside. It took me a few minutes to gather what the prologue was telling, but soon I was catching on: alien planet, hired soldiers, greedy company, passionate scientist, mysterious race.

The science of how a human connects with an avatar (in this case a grown soulless/mindless body) is not explained. It’s given the ‘hand wave’ approach. The viewer is seeing the story from the twin soldier’s perspective who knows about nothing about this effort, so we know little detail too. It’s OK though. Plenty of Star Trek never actually does explain the power conduits in the Enterprise, but I can accept that it speeds through space.

So the soldier – delighted with his avatar body – immediately gets lost and then befriended by the alien race. Intrigue, spying, friendship, and bonding all result. There is some nice ‘respect for the planet’ stuff in there. We were tantalizing close to a “the planet is a mind” idea with the trees, but the writers or editors held back. Humph. Despite a few dips in the story where I was feeling lost as to what this meant, the ending was actually pretty good. I was afraid that the concept of the ‘avatar’ as person or real would essentially ‘lose’ in this story, but it was written in as a win. The near final line of “I see you” is quite nice…a warm hearted coming of full circle for the characters.

Most compelling moment: When Sigourney Weaver screams “You murderer” at the head of the company, my heart lept in my chest.

Loved Sigourney Weaver’ character when, near death, she gets to arrive at a sacred place. She sees it and says “I need to take some samples”. Nice ode to the scientist. Just wish her character didn’t have to smoke. Really, she could have been passionate and smart and tough and just an all around expert without smoking.

A plus for this movie: obvioulsy the creative spirit of the film makers got to have a field day with the alien planet idea. The plants and animals are fairly TOP NOTCH creative. Kudos to that. If you like Fantasia, think of that..but in 2009 style.

All in all, I give the movie a “B“. I bet in 3-D and better sound, it is a feast. I’d say it is worth your $10 to see it in theater, but home theaters wow me now so if you want for home, you might want to only On Demand it, not buy it.

Interestingly, movie WAS set up for a sequel (big, bad company left due to being out numbered…will they be forever gone? Don’t think so.) The question is…will Cameron make enough from this one to pay for the next. Given that it will take years to make, he doesn’t have long to decide. Intially, I heard the opening weekend was more than the Titanic opening week…but then again, Titanic had the buzz of “you know what happened”.

Future conversation: would LOVE to know what the military contributed or thinks about this movie. Conceivably, the military probably would be the first to go this route (aka spies, Cylons, whathaveyou). The concept of a mercenary military engaged in this research seems…interesting.

STS-125 Atlantis and Hubble Solar Transit (200905130002HQ)


And older issues here: www.wgu.edu/wgu/studentnewsletter

This time of year, late December, my thoughts turn to one of my favorite Christmas characters, Hermey the Misfit Elf.

This blog post is dedicated to all of the online students out there who dream of being something MORE than what they are and find they are alone in their dreams.

I shall tell my story.

For every one of my degrees, I’m sad to say, I had no family support.  While working on my online Master’s Degree and discovering that I really liked working online, that I could imagine this being a career, I was working at a job that was…not for me, to put it mildly.  I was just like Hermey at the beginning of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Hermey was an elf at the North Pole.  And he did not like to make toys.  Now this was a complete impossibility in the Workshop because all elves made toys!  But Hermey wanted to be a dentist.  He dreamed of it.  And on his breaks (and perhaps during work hours) he read his Dentistry book. He was fascinated by molars and bicuspids.  No one understood Hermey and he didn’t understand them.  Why can’t an elf be a dentist?

In a way, I was a elf who dreamed of being a dentist.  And indeed, I did suffer the scorns of my bosses and some coworkers and sadly, some family members.  I was told ‘what’s wrong with your job’ or you are too young to imagine bigger things for yourself and that college is too expensive.

But after 8 hours of work on a computer, I put my purse strap over my shoulder, walk down the steps of my workplace, and head home to 3 more hours of computer work at night.  Because I KNEW I could be something better.  I knew I had more to give to the world.

So Hermey– who saves the day don’t cha know in Rudolph— did get his dream.  And I achieved mine.

Most particularly, I write this post because my heart goes out to my students when their family does not support them.  Promises made way back at your Orientation to college seem to never materialize or disappear just as end of term approaches.  I do sympathize as I hear it in your voice or read it in your emails. However, I know you can be successful without family support– it is possible.  It does mean

  • suffering more heartaches,
  • saying no to family requests when you’d rather say yes,
  • tucking your college books in the car to read at  work lunch breaks,
  • and staying up late to do a task paper because  when you had energy earlier, you were doing the dishes and putting the kids to bed.

Success can still be yours. Keep working on your dream.  Join me with the Misfits.
We’re a couple of misfits
We’re a couple of misfits
What’s the matter with misfits
That’s where we fit in!

Online schools ask for a minimum commitment of 15-20 hours a week for success.  I entirely believe in that.  Students that struggle to do the minimum each semester/term are probably barely reaching 10 hours a week.  Students that do rapturously well….completing BAs in 15, 17, 18 months and MAs in 18 months (still considered very impressive) have 2 things strongly in their favor coming in the door:

1. They arrive with competency.  Many students think they do have competency…but alas, how many of us really can explain the minority rights/majority rule concept–with references and in APA Style– off the top of our heads?

2. They spend WAY more than 15 hours a week on this.  Those 15-18 month BA students are spending a minimum of 30-40 hours a week on college. Yup, it is their ‘job’– usually, they don’t have an another job.

So if one does NOT arrive with competency and one does NOT have 40 hours a week, what is the true secret of success? Put in the time and you will find that you will accelerate.  But where does the time come from?

I want to share my own experience as one (of thousands) that worked full time, had a family, and went to online school full time.  University of Phoenix (UOP) has a different format than other colleges…but the time commitment of 15 hours a week…is the same.

At UOP online, master’s degree courses were 6 weeks long. Each week started on Thursday and thus all weekly assignments (3 minimum posts to message boards, 1 individual paper, 1 team paper) were all due on Wednesday.  [Hence the server crashes on Wednesdays brings UOP to its knees.]  So there is no ability to procrastinate and wait until the end of term; I was required to meet weekly goals.  Here was the schedule that ended up working for me.  I achieved my Master’s Degree in 17 months this way:

Day Time Commitment Time total
Thursday 7-10 p.m. 3 hours
Friday none Friday-itis
Saturday 6 – 11 a.m. 5 hours
Sunday 4-5 p.m. 1 hour
Monday 7-10 p.m. 3 hours
Tuesday None Nova night
Wednesday 7-10 p.m. 3 hours
15 hours per week

My favorite parts of this plan are where it met the needs of me and my family:

1. Fridays– I had Fridayitis BIG TIME. I would not even turn on my home computer on Fridays. I went out to movies, had dinner, had a few drinks…basically ANYTHING but college.  What’s college?

2. Saturday ‘trick’– I’d get up at the same time as normal for work…and sneak over to my home computer and work uninterrupted for 5 hours before hubby (NOT a morning person) started wandering around the house at 11 a.m.  Brilliant!  5 hours of uninterrupted work and my family never missed me!  No sleeping in for 17 months of Saturdays  in trade for a Master’s Degree.  Hmm….WORTH IT to me!

3. Rest of weekend off with family– yes, yes, yes. HBT = human being time

4. One hour Sunday to organize– more time for me if the Dolphins were playing! This was because I’d be at the home computer and have to only yell an occasional YAY or DARN depending the noises coming out the living room.

5. Tuesday night = NOVA on PBS.  I love NOVA — it is my science ‘fix’ each week.

So I’m not suggesting my way is the right way.  But I’m suggesting that finding 15 hours a week can be done.  I had to strategic decisions of when to NOT be available for my family– and they had to play along.  Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights I was in my home office (spare bedroom) with the following rule:

  • If the door is closed, no one disturbs me unless active fire is burning.
  • If the door is cracked open, you may disturb me but it better be for a darn good reason.

I hope you have guidelines for your family, I hope they know you are in college, I hope they support you like they promised when you enrolled.  For Christmas this year, it might be good to sit down with your family and revisit those commitments.

Interesting discussion from the NY Times.  I’m most intrigued by the international comments about college systems in Europe and China.

Welcome to WGU!  I am glad you have joined us.  WGU is different from any other kind of university out there.  (Yes, VERY different even if you have taken online coursework before.)

New WGU students often find that some of the study styles they used in high school or in other colleges do not work as well here.    They find that they have to look into the study skills tool box and try out some study tricks. I entirely advocate that approach.  But rather than just try different study techniques willy-nilly, I advocate you start with the study style that best matches your learning style.

We already know there are LOTS of different study styles out there:

  1. Read the textbook.
  2. Write notes based on all the headings, subheadings and vocabulary words in a chapter.
  3. Create and use flashcards.
  4. Create question and answer notes– writing hypothetical questions on a vertical half of a notebook page and writing the ‘answer’ to the question on the other half of the page.
  5. Watching videos.
  6. Listening to your iPod.
  7. Getting a study partner and going over what you don’t understand…or going over everything.
  8. Take as many quizzes as you can get your hands on.
  9. Sleep with the book under your pillow and pray and hope.

OK, so some of the ones I listed are better (and worse) than others.  Would it surprize you to know that #1, read the textbook, is actually one of the poorest in terms of efficiency?  I’d put it right above #9 as worst study skill on this list.  Don’t get me wrong.  Reading and memorization are the FOUNDATION of learning.  But it really is terribly inefficient.

And you’ve come to WGU not to waste time (time away from your family) but to speed up time.  So let’s get cracking!

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite topic. YOU! Yes, you are your own favorite topic.  Err… at least initially, it is the one you are *for sure* interested in.  We’ll get to Biology in a bit.

Knowing who you are and how you learn will fill your tool box with the tools you’ll need during your time at WGU.  ALSO, learning more about learning styles will help you as a teacher.  You’ll be able to KNOW that everyone learns a little differently from everyone else.  AND you’ll have plenty of ideas for differentiaion of instruction (meaning = instruction ideas to suit ALL of the students in YOUR future classroom).

So, start by taking a Myers-Briggs Type Inventory.  There are actually many varieties of this personality test out there now, but here is a free one online: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp

You should take note of linking your personality type to enhancing your learning.  You might want to write notes to yourself of study tricks to try because I will ask you later for some of those ideas.

So WGU is unlike any university you’ve ever attended and your study skills are quite likely going to be quite different that what you imagined.  Yes, WGU will seriously encroach upon your bon-bon eating time (that’s what I call that mysterious free time–that was not actually free– you had before WGU).  But if you are effecent in your learning, you can minimize your time at WGU, graduate faster, and be off to help your students learn too.  WIN WIN.

Coming soon:  Learning and Study Skills is NOT the entire 21st century classroom  Technology skills are critical too.  Interesting article here:


The mantra of many years of colds and flu lead us to ‘eat some chicken soup‘.  I’m a big believer in that.  Despite having strong vegetarian tendencies, I keep a few cans of chicken soup in my pantry at all times.  I particularly love chicken soup served with Bisquick biscuit sticks.  Those are basically Bisquick biscuits baked in a pool of melted butter, sprinkled with celery seed (my addition).

But OK, back to chicken soup.  So researchers have studied (and originally here) the curative powers of chicken soup.  They’ve discovered that it is a liquid and liquids, of course, help when we are sick because they help clear the bad nasty uglies from our bodies.  They’ve discovered it has salt– which is something we crave and again, salt begets more liquids…again good for us.  And there is the requisite chicken (protein) and noodles (carbs) and a few misc carrots and celery– all that seem meal-ish…especially if we really can’t muster up anything more fancy than opening a can, mixing with water and 3 minutes of microwave time.  There is some deeper neutrophil research too but that’s too obtuse for my taste in this argument.

But alas– I think we’ve missed the boat on chicken soup and I wonder if the researchers have checked THIS idea out (and if they haven’t, dibs!).

Given: no decent self-respecting soup can start without some boiling down of bones. Yup, I admit it. In all my vegetarian, animal-friendly, hug my pet-ness, bones make the soup.

Given: Bones are the place of the creation of part of the immune system (white blood cells, red blood cells).

Given: It is known that colds and flu come from AVIAN (bird) viruses because between birds and humans, there are similar antigens– keys, if you will, to unlock our cells to the avian viruses. (Love this video here from NOVA Science Now)

Therefore: good chicken soup comes from the boiling of chicken bones wherein lies the chicken immune system ‘starters’ (stem cells?).  We eat said cells– or cell parts– or even fragments– and we actually FEEL better from the very bird colds and flu that we suffer.

I see this connection!  Do you?