Remembering to Make Time for Nothing

As some of you may recall, I use Remember the Milk to track my tasks. For years I have used it for work and blogging tasks. A while back I added “health” to the tag mix. I schedule in exercise and meditation time which gets emailed to me in reminders multiple times a day. That’s right, I am remembering to tend to my health. It’s far more valuable than dairy anyway. People make time for tasks every day. How many people make time for nothing?(…)
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This post was published first as Remembering to Make Time for Nothing on Damien at the Speed of Life.

Teacher as Coach

star-badgeBefore I start talking about a sports analogy, let me inform you I am not a big sports fan. I ran x-country and track in high school. I learned the value of a each back then. Having said that, I do not watch organized sports much in the year. Okay, now that I hopefully have avoiding alienating those who don’t like sports, I want to talk to you about the teacher as “coach,” and expert on student motivation. We have a group of kids we are to “model” the lessons for and then foster their ability to do it as independent practice. I sometimes forget about my role coaching kids. For over 13 years I have set clear goals for my class and we have worked tirelessly to achieve them. Sometimes my class meets the goals, sometimes they fall short. Every year they have a goal and I coach them toward it. One year we were shooting for a percentage of proficient kids in the class. We ended up missing the goal but scoring highest in the district for my grade level. That was extremely gratifying to me professionally. So much so that I set higher goals for the next year’s kids. That didn’t work out quite as well. I saw my kids getting burned out when I’d say I wanted 20 students advanced on a test and we ended up with 18 for example. The “proficient only” ones sort of got ignored.(…)
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This post was published first as Teacher as Coach on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Teacher as Coach

star-badgeBefore I start talking about a sports analogy, let me inform you I am not a big sports fan. I ran x-country and track in high school. I learned the value of a each back then. Having said that, I do not watch organized sports much in the year. Okay, now that I hopefully have avoiding alienating those who don’t like sports, I want to talk to you about the teacher as “coach,” and expert on student motivation. We have a group of kids we are to “model” the lessons for and then foster their ability to do it as independent practice. I sometimes forget about my role coaching kids. For over 13 years I have set clear goals for my class and we have worked tirelessly to achieve them. Sometimes my class meets the goals, sometimes they fall short. Every year they have a goal and I coach them toward it. One year we were shooting for a percentage of proficient kids in the class. We ended up missing the goal but scoring highest in the district for my grade level. That was extremely gratifying to me professionally. So much so that I set higher goals for the next year’s kids. That didn’t work out quite as well. I saw my kids getting burned out when I’d say I wanted 20 students advanced on a test and we ended up with 18 for example. The “proficient only” ones sort of got ignored.(…)
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This post was published first as Teacher as Coach on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Puppet Communication

Puppet Communication in Upper ElementaryCommunication should be of the utmost importance to a teacher. She/he should consider all tools at her/his disposal to get the point across to kids. All the planning and research in the world can’t be used unless the teacher knows how to communicate it to students. Direct communication like speaking to a class or one-to-one has it’s place of course as probably the most important and effective mode of transporting knowledge from teacher to student. Still, indirect or implicit communication can have a stronger impact in select situations. For example, when teaching social rules of the classroom, a skit or puppet show may be more effective than a lecture. The stuents can see themselves and their peers in the puppet and not feel self-conscious or defensive about the content. Sometimes, even having the kids make brown bag puppets or other type and then allowing them to speak through the puppet.

(…)
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This post was published first as Puppet Communication on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

The Adventure and the Way Home

imageThe adventure and the way home is different for every person. Even your wife can’t really know the way. She has hers and that’s all she needs to worry about. As I sit in Starbucks blogging away with a Misto at my side and Neil Young melting the room with his harmonica, I think this is pretty close to mine. Years ago when I started working I remember when going into a busy season my boss told us we needed to know what makes us calm and happy because the business was going to stress us all out. He was telling us to find a way home and remember the way. When we know what relaxes and energizes us, we can default back to it when we need to. It can be a restaurant, a piece of music, a calm picturesque place. In the Summer, my way home is the beach. The only rub is that it’s far and that makes it hard to be spontaneous.(…)
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This post was published first as The Adventure and the Way Home on Damien at the Speed of Life.

Seize Training Opportunities

Professional Development - Seize OpportunitiesNo matter how bad the economy gets, educational institutions offer trainings of one sort or another. These can prove invaluable to your journey in the classroom so seize them whenever you can. Get on mailing lists of educational publishers, sometimes they will offer a free seminar for their product. Subscribe to RSS feeds of blogs that offer training courses. These can be on anything in education from behavioral management to holistic therapy techniques. I know the latter sounds “out there” but we should all be open to new ideas if we ever going to transform education. You can also seek out trainings in your area and then inquire to your supervisor about getting funded to attend. Most districts and schools are very into professional development, they want to develop the talent they have within. To them, it is an investment. To you it equals mastery, wisdom, and clarity in the teaching profession.(…)
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This post was published first as Seize Training Opportunities on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Make it Happen Let it Happen

tumblr_n8us58Y0Bk1qzr04eo1_500The age old debate of free will vs destiny still rages on today. I believe both have their place. You can’t sit around waiting for someone or something to show you the way. You’ll be sitting too long and when the lines start appearing on your face they’ll have no stories apart from the laziness that made up your life. On the other hand, I don’t believe you can push your hand too aggressively and get the natural results you dream about. Success takes time and premature success can be an ugly albatross around your neck. Balance is the secret to happiness in life. When your dreams don’t materialize right away, you need to be string enough to sleep and keep plugging away another day. You must do this for as long as it takes if you want to achieve your dreams.(…)
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This post was published first as Make it Happen Let it Happen on Damien at the Speed of Life.

Keep it Simple

tumblr_mz6r11SMyj1r1iv4bo1_500If you only know three chords on the guitar, hit them with all you’ve got. Jazz chords sound good but when it comes to singalongs, 3 simple chords draw the group together. You might compare this to life. Instead of going out and joining a gym, why not do pushups, situps, and walk around your neighborhood each day. We make excuses for not starting to get healthy and before we know it, disease develops. As a teacher, I hear a lot about what kids can’t do because of various excuses. Why not focus of what you can do, I tell this to my 10 year old students. A visual example is an eraser. If a 4th grade student doesn’t have an eraser, she/he can become preoccupied with this fact. They won’t write a word more until they have a way to erase mistakes. Instead of giving these kids an eraser, I tell them to cross out the mistake and get to writing. I see a real parallel to how I handle tasks in life. I wait until I have the perfect computer to get into blogging. I wait until I have enough money to splurge before I shop. It’s a better road when you keep it simple and start down the road toward your dreams right now.(…)
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This post was published first as Keep it Simple on Damien at the Speed of Life.

Warm Fuzzy Experiment

Power of Positive with KidsWhen I was young, in the 70’s, I recall a book called Free to be You and Me. In that book, my mom had it on her shelf, they talked about the emotions of people and how they have an impact for good or bad. The good things we tell people were calm warm fuzzies, the negative things were called cold pricklies. The idea was that is people heard more warm fuzzies, it would come around and make the whole world a better place. I love the concepts of the 70’s. This philosophy is true with adults and kids. I have seen it exemplified with my students time and time again. I have seen kids that were social problems on the playground and in the classroom turn around and be better kids because I purposefully gave them warm fuzzies ie; “I like your shirt today!”(…)
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This post was published first as Warm Fuzzy Experiment on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Cross the Bridge?

tumblr_mtnsealCGe1rwe56eo1_1280One of the life benefits of being a teacher is that I have learned to see things from many different perspectives. In my case, it’s been kid perspectives but if you teach, you generally have to analyze and consider the wants and needs of learners in your classroom if you are going to be successful. You could say the same benefit comes from staying married. Anyone can get married but it takes a strong consideration of your spouse’s needs, on both sides, to keep a marriage alive. My wife and I went to a Gottman seminar for married couples. Gottman did research in the 70’s and 80’s with couples living in a house wired with cameras, infrared detectors, and other stuff. Part of the day they would check their blood pressure and they had holter monitors to monitor their pulse. He learned it takes a 5:1 ratio of positive experiences to negative ones to keep vital signs healthy and happy. It takes a lot of bridge crossing to understand my wife and I know the converse is true of me. We do it because we love each other and we don’t like to fight. People need to cross bridges everyday to avoid conflict and promote health in their daily relationships. Are they willing to do it? I’d some some more than others.(…)
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This post was published first as Cross the Bridge? on Damien at the Speed of Life.

Power of Icon

Power of Icons in ClassroomKids get icons in their face every day on tv and the internet. My kids must see Spongebob in their sleep since their tv watching time seems to consist mostly of him. When they heard the song or see the icon on a fast food cup, they are dialed in waiting to take part. It’s trust built over time. Teachers have some of that power and we can use it to our advantage. Why not fill their heads with some different ones, with valuable meaning? On my desk I have a carved buffalo statue. My students walk by me every day and see it. I share with them the buffalo is a sign of gentle strength for me. Sometimes I will refer to him in my teaching, pointing out the characteristics that I admire. I even go so far as to name my student’s “Riley’s Buffaloes.” They know it’s my favorite animal, an icon is on my desk, and we identify with the buffalo by making him our mascot. In this way, I have an unwritten connection with my students. I have even developed a quick line drawing I put on the board and on their papers when I grade highly.(…)
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This post was published first as Power of Icon on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Obsolete Technology

Obsolete TechnologyHow many Windows operating systems can you remember? Mine go way back. I think the first time I was aware of an upgrade available was in 1993 or so. They were really growing and changing back then. I won’t get into my critique of Windows 8. I’ll throw this question out though: Since when is shutting down a “setting?” I suppose there are strengths in that operating system as well so I’ll move on. Nowhere can you feel the obsolescence of technology more than in the public schools. It seems districts either throw way too much money at technology kids can’t understand or they hang on to the antiquated stuff in fear the former will be true. I have a friend who collects age old machine keyboards. Some are made by IBM and others he has are made now for gaming and such. He has an affinity for the old machine feel of the keys. They give more of a resistance than the new ones.(…)
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This post was published first as Obsolete Technology on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Blog Safari 1-17-15

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurn over the raspy motor, we’re off for another Blog Safari. I’m sharing the best stuff I’ve read recently from other online diarists.

Daring To Be Simple – Everyday Gyaan Corinne offers a simple suggestion for clarity and peace in ones life: keeping things simple. She’s a mentor to so many bloggers, including me, and this is another in a long line of great posts. Check it out.

January Blue | Jennifer’s Journal. Jennifer’s is a blog I recently started reading. I’ve read a lot of posts with the theme “blue.” This one is certainly worth a read. I’m so happy to be following a new and talented online diarist.

Of Fear & Failure. Jack is a talented blogger whose humility belies his accomplishments. This is another excellent post of his.

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Opposites | The Sound of One Hand Typing. John Holton is a great writer. He has honed his discipline and writes in a descriptive, smart voice about his life. I’m glad I discovered his blog a couple months ago. This post on opposites is a great read.(…)
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This post was published first as Blog Safari 1-17-15 on Damien at the Speed of Life.

Blog Safari 1-17-15

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurn over the raspy motor, we’re off for another Blog Safari. I’m sharing the best stuff I’ve read recently from other online diarists.

Daring To Be Simple – Everyday Gyaan Corinne offers a simple suggestion for clarity and peace in ones life: keeping things simple. She’s a mentor to so many bloggers, including me, and this is another in a long line of great posts. Check it out.

January Blue | Jennifer’s Journal. Jennifer’s is a blog I recently started reading. I’ve read a lot of posts with the theme “blue.” This one is certainly worth a read. I’m so happy to be following a new and talented online diarist.

Of Fear & Failure. Jack is a talented blogger whose humility belies his accomplishments. This is another excellent post of his.

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Opposites | The Sound of One Hand Typing. John Holton is a great writer. He has honed his discipline and writes in a descriptive, smart voice about his life. I’m glad I discovered his blog a couple months ago. This post on opposites is a great read.(…)
Read the rest of the article here.


This post was published first as Blog Safari 1-17-15 on Damien at the Speed of Life.

Keep Old Stuff

Keep old Curriculum 2To some this post is stating the obvious: keep your old materials for teaching. With all the “home makeover” shows on today, there is a definite emphasis on minimalism. Feng Shui and Hoarding are also a part of our modern vocabulary but throw all that away and keep old stuff! Remember encyclopedias? I kept a set. I don’t use them often but it’s a teaching opportunity to show the kids what life was like before the internet. We would consult World Book instead of Google. Kids get a sense of history that way. For example, compare the Apollo flight to the moon article in an encyclopedia to a Google search. Kids just don’t know there is a difference.

Keep old Curriculum 3Keep old textbooks that the District tells you to discard. I know so many teachers who regret getting rid of an old math series we used to use. I kept 21 of them! I wish I would have kept the 35 I once had. Another thing these are really good for is independent study. I sometimes get requests for independent study curriculum when kids are going to be out for weeks. When you have an old text, you can work with it and not risk losing the current texts. Of course, kids muct always have the option of taking home the current text per William’s act. These textx are great for small group work and even homework.

Keep old CurriculumMath manipulatives are notorious for being thrown out, as are Science kits. Both are golden to have around. I have noticed, for example, that many of my kids annot tell tradition time as in the hands of a clock. I got a hold of a kindergarten math kit a colleague had kept and I used it to teach time in about three sittings of 3 minutes each. Tis is helpful to all subjects and in all standards. You never know where it will pop up. Not to mention the kids that may think it’s cool to have an analog watch. Keep old stuff, I guarantee you’ll use it, Of course, some stuff must be thrown away. Someone said, it you don’t use it for 2 years, throw it away. I’ll leave that up to you.

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This post was published first as Keep Old Stuff on Dynamite Lesson Plan.

Life as Roller Coaster

tumblr_mlh7m5f7ma1r8iysgo1_500Life is a roller coaster in that it’s a long wait sometimes for the ride. It also gets your blood pumping once you’re on. Disneyland used to have e tickets for the cool thrill rides like Matterhorn and Space Mountain. Through time, they did away with that system and incorporated attendance fees that gave you access to all rides. I remember gathering the e tickets and waiting in like for the Matterhorn. For a child, that was a terrifying experience. You’d hear the screaming cars come out of the mountain and return into it as the bellowing sound of Bigfoot engulfed them. You knew you were next. In life it is this way. You watch people doing the things you dream of doing and you wonder if they ever had fear like you. I’ve never been very good at public speaking and yet, I’ve always wanted to speak on behalf of teachers, and people in need. I have no problem doing it in my classroom but speaking to other adults in a persuasive fashion has long eluded me. I enjoy watching ordinary people speak in persuasive ways and I have see this through being involved with my teachers union. I aspire to that.(…)
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This post was published first as Life as Roller Coaster on Damien at the Speed of Life.

Pitch the Ego

tumblr_li8raz0W1j1qhofrso1_400In psychology, the term “the Other” with a capital O is seen from Freud to modern theorists. The way we feel about the Other, which means anyone other than the self, signifies our level of self-actualization. I know I’m mixing theories there and I apologize but I think it helps to make my point. The way we treat others says a lot about our level of maturity. Going right along with that is the idea of compassion. Take modern racism as an example. We have white people going on talk shows and debasing victims of cop shootings. Some even say the victim deserved it. I find this extremely immature. They must know they are speaking to a televised audience of mixed races. They have no desire, apparently, to use rhetoric and discipline to win the Other to their side. It could be a lack of education or bad upbringing but these types show no compassion and only blind hatred.

We can move into the realm of immigration to see a similar immaturity. Lines like “This is OUR country, let them go back to theirs.” This is an objectifying of human beings they know nothing about. They also take to time to examine where illegal immigrants are coming from. Are we to only consider the humanity of those who are in this country legally? These ignorant types would probably say yes to that. That gets to the real point of my photo. You never see racist kids. They are trained to be that way by adults. The same is true about illegal immigration. Until a child is taught one is more worthy than another, they see us all as just kids. We were all kids once and we have more compassion. I like this photo because it asks an honest question that even if not answered brings out the innocent youth of us all. If we can all learn to consider the Other like we did in our childhood, the world would be a better place. More importantly, those who pull that off will be better people.

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Focus Times

IMG_3685What if you could achieve more in less time? Most people would be interested I think. You can’t take away time from your day but focusing can help you supercharge the minutes that you have, without burning out your students. If a doctor says you are Vitamin deficient you are going to ask which vitamin? This is so you can supplement that shortage to bring it back to par. You may be getting some vitamin D, for example, but not enough to meet your body’s demands. In that case, you would focus on Vitamin D supplement to your diet or pills. It’s similar in our classroom planning.(…)
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This was published first on Dynamite Lesson Plan as Focus Times

Throw a Little Guitar in There

Guitar as Academic Teaching ToolOk, so the kids aren’t paying attention. It’s been 5 hours of the same old academics with mixed results across the board. How about this? Throw a little guitar in there. It could be my personal standby old reliable This Land is Your Land of any number of a million others you have ready for them. Trust me, I’ve had a guitar in my classroom as an antidote for burnout, both teacher and child, and it works like gangbusters every time. If guitar isn’t your thing, try something else to break up the monotony once in a while. You’ll be encouraged because you’ll experience your kids in a new way, a restful, laid back way. Later, this may even translate into higher academics because they feel more comfortable taking risks.

If you can remember an old railroad song or anything you sang in school, the internet is your best friend for lyrics. The only thing cooler to kids than seeing you pulling your guitar up to the stool is getting fresh copies of lyrics passed out. You can do this “on the fly” or plan in advance. I’ve learned through trial and error that the “pre-planned” music times go the best but it helps to be set up for spontaneity. Bookmarks to children’s song sites help a lot. When you get the ones you like the best, paste those lyrics into a Word file and save them for future years. Children’s songs are timeless. Whatever your talent, try sharing it with your kids.

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Keep Calm and Blog On

522189_10150791266936117_610382242_nI was very young I think when I heard the term “starving artist.” I figured the best art was done by people living in hole-in-the-wall places with only enough cash to eat Top Ramen and smoke cigarettes once in a while. It was a romantic notion. I got bit by the blogging bug several years ago and snce then I’ve had waves of hunger for doing it. There was a time when I made a nice amount every month. I wrote about it in a series I called CAN Blog Statistics. I would measure success of my blog based on circulation (backlinks), analytics (traffic), and net income. It was fun and I learned some things that were helpful to that end. You can read those old posts here.

I may not ever get 2,000 visits a day but I still think I have a lot to say. My deal with the universe is that when my words run dry, I quit. As much as I enjoy blogging, I don’t ever want to do it just because I have to or because I’m forcing it. I really like those blogging challenges and I even participate in some of them. Still, if they ever get to be simply a way to “kick my butt” into blogging, I hope I’ll resign. There are so many definitions for a blog these days. Mine is an online diary. It’s a far more complicated genre than you would think. Having said that, it is also hugely therapeutic for me. I make far less money than I have in the past but I always imagine a bigger future where simply typing a few random thoughts works like an atm. Having said that, for now I’m always hungry.

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Recognition Cards on Hand

Good News from SchoolIt doesn’t take much time to recognize kids in the classroom. It also pays huge dividends in the their self-esteem when you send something home to their parents. Every year or so, my school gets “Good News from School” postcards made up for the teachers to use. The offce leaves them by the teacher boxes and we are free to take as many as we like. When you are amazed at a child’s work, this is a good time to recognize her/him. If you are simply trying to encourage the child, this is another. Whatever the reason, cards like this on hand go a long way toward healthy emotions and well-being in the classroom.

Kids tell me often how much their family appreciated them being recognized. I did have one kid that displayed very weird behavior as a result of getting a card, but he was an anomaly. The day after receiving his card, he stole a stack of empties off my desk. Another student turned him in and I actually had to punish him over it. Kind of ironic huh? The way I took it, he felt the cards were “good” and he wanted more of that feeling. In an opposite way it shows ow much kids want recognition. Unfortunately for this student’s case, it is something you can only earn, not steal. I recommend that any teacher have something like recognition cards on hand at all times.

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Run Your Own Race

420834_10150716047846117_1713767169_nI’ve been hugely competitve in everything I do as long as I can remember. I regret that now. What if you beat someone in a race only to fond out they had artificial limbs under their sweat pants. Would you feel big then? The best way to attack life is by setting “personal best” records. This is measured success on your own terms and it is true growth because it’s against yourself. Some people talk a lot of smack when it comes to other people but they have nothing to say when they lose against their own records. Be humble I say, that’s a big part of this.

Then there are those who are touched with success, wealth, and/or fame. They are naturals. I’ve worked for years at my music yet some I know have have found endless success. Others at least have regular paying gigs. It’s easy to get depressed when I focus on others’ success. I can feel very proud of myself when I look at my accomplishments and how far I’ve come toward my goals. So, that’s my wisdom for you on that. You have a virtual slap fight with someone you envy or you can run your own race and work incrementally to reach your individualized goals.

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Starbucks has a Short?

IMG_3658-1.JPGFile this one under, “Where the hell has Damien been? Under a rock?” If there’s one thing I thought I knew it all about, it’s Starbucks. Turns out I read on their site they have a super small coffee size called, appropriately, a “short.” I’ve long wondered why the drink I thought was their smallest was named a “tall.” Now I have that crucial lifelong learning knowledge. I’ve grown to love Starbucks and it just goes to show you there are hidden treasures of knowledge all round us, even when you think you know it all. Check out the secret menus at many popular restaurants.

A tall is what I usually get but a short may be all I need. There’s usually about half a cup left in my tall on my desk before I throw it away. There could be a conservation savings in getting a short. There are other examples of this take for instance, In n Out’s hidden Animal Style. That one isn’t even on the menu. Makes me wonder about more hidden treasures that may be all over town.

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Some Things About Teaching That Will Never Change

IMGP2724Common Core is the latest change that has teachers and families scurrying to absorb. Yes, it is the law of the law these days, the trend as well. Still, why get bent out of shape over something that is new and eventually, passing. The core standards of California are gone now, as an example. I internalized them along with teachers in the huge state I live in. We made progress toward goals and then they took the goals away. Any time there is change it causes stress. Technology is another thing that is causing millions of teachers to stress. This can, in turn, reduce the effectiveness of a teacher. Do you want to do that to your students? The reality is, rather than focus on the changing landscape of education, you can keep your feet securely planted. There are some things about teaching that will never change.

avstationAsk yourself, “What do I do with my students throughout the year that always works?” One thing I do is an incentive program using trophies. No matter what Common Core steers us toward, we can go there with recognition and my trophy program in hand. I feel stability in that. I have some examples I use with candy, no I do not give my students candy, that help explain fractions. I will still use those. I teach kids to write through the graphic organizer of a hamburger. It works in a stellar way! I see growth in writing when I use this method. It will most assuredly be compatible with Common Core. Instead of letting fear take over and reduce your effectiveness as a teacher, remember you are still there to light torches. Those kids will not remember the standards framework you used to teach them, they will remember how comfortable you were as you took them through the often uncomfortable process of learning. Don’t focus on the new things coming down the pike for teachers, focus on the things you know that work. I feel confident in saying, those things will never change. Common Core and technology will work better for you when you’re professional, self-assured, and confident.

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$5 Toys?

The image below is NOT an Ad.
imageI just drove by a discount store and the sign in the window read, “$5 Toys.” Immediately I imagined they were marketing to weekend dads seeking to please kids they only see once in a while. Then I imagined it might be for families low on cash. It’s funny how we read into things based on our own prejudices. Because of that, I let my mind wander into places where I wouldn’t normally go. As a dad, I can’t think of a situation, especially around the holidays, where I would be drawn into a store that offerred $5 toys. I like a good deal as much as anyone but these toys are marketing themselves as cheap. How can anyone complain if they don’t work or if they are otherwise boring. It’s been said it’s the thought that counts but let’s face it, you usually get what you pay for. Discount stores buy huge lots of unwanted items and sell them for 99 cents and up. Don’t dads think of that when they see this sign? Am I heartless for making these observations? Who are these discount stores really helping? Sometimes I wonder.

I like non-material rewards like “time with dad making pizza” etc. But sometimes, kids want a gift. In that case, is a $5 a real present or more like a cheap “buying the kid off?” It makes me feel like we are cattle when I see ads like that. These stores know were in a recession and they know dads have a heart to make their kids smile. In my experience, a $5 gift gets thrown under the rug pretty fast. This post is not meant to advise that gifts must be expensive but my goodness, “$5 Toys” sounds so wooden, so packaged, so android like. Buy the kids a $5 gift and be a hero for the day. Obviously we should be trying to forge a stronger relationship with our kids apart from material things but I feel we should have some standards when it comes to buying them “toys.” No kid wants a monkey that bangs cymbals with no batteries. I picture the kid who gets it, throwing it in a corner after realizing there are no batteries. After all, buying the batteries would require thought and caring AND $3 more. We do buy off kids sometimes and it’s sad. The best thing you can spend on your kids is quality time. In that time you can get to know them more and see the way to a gift they really want that may or may not be $5.

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When Kids Know You

appleProbably the coolest thing about teaching is being a micro-celebrity. When kids know you and come to you for advice or inspiration, it really makes you feel good. So much of teaching involves deadlines and standards, it isn’t a cakewalk by any means. But it’s those times when a student relies on you, asks your opinion, or tells you the impact you had on them that keep you happy on the job. My doctor once asked me how I can do such a job with the “petrie dishes” all around. While I agree with him there are a lot of germs in teaching, I explained that when it’s good, it’s the most gratifying profession I can imagine. I guess we hang on for those times. Sometimes we even give up and those times come to our rescue. When kids “know you” it makes you feel like you’re making a difference. So if we have this ability to boost kids’ spirits and even their self-esteem, why is the emphasis of teaching academics? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy academic pursuits in my class. When someone makes a milestone, I am the first and the loudest to congratulate that person. At the same time, it seems we’ve lost our place in the media for being the “goto guy or girl” for kids in our world. The kids may know the barber or the guy at the grocery store but they don’t know adults outside their family as well as they know us. We should have more training in psychology and counseling for that reason. Instead of always talking academics, we should be encouraged to talk social skills sometimes and we shouldn’t have to worry that it isn’t 100% academic.

When kids know you, it reminds you to be responsible. As teachers, we find out every day how little about the world our kids know. They look to us for explanation, description. One example is the other day we were reading a story where the setting “Times Square” came up. On student thought it meant a geometrical cube. I showed them photos and explained it to them as I watched their eyes widen. Over Winter break, one of my students told me she watched the ball drop and “it looked a lot like Times Square.” It is a privilege when kids know you and you have to take that trust very seriously. I’ve joked with students through the years saying one day I might be on a hospital gurney being whisked into surgery only to find one of them there saying hello to me as my surgeon. It could happen! What a proud moment that would be. Then I use that as a motivator to get them to memorize their times tables. You can’t be a doctor without those. I suppose you could even argue they would know that if I didn’t explain it. These are heavy days to be a teacher, we should be careful to not forget our crucial place in the culture.

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How to Process a Punch in the Stomach

fight_stomach_punch2_00-quick-e-mail-view1I just got some news tonight that felt like a punch in the stomach. It’s fine, I’m fine so don’t worry friends and loved ones. It concerns the current state of affairs with my school district. What do you do when your employer says something about your union that is a bold-faced LIE? Answer is … throw a party! Life’s not worth getting so embroiled in the web of people in power that you miss out on the sweet pleasures of being alive. I’ve suggested to the union that we have a party and with a little luck, and my powers of persuasion, that will happen. I don’t have to get stupid to have fun. Just point the way to the carbs table and I’ll be good to go. When life punches you in the stomach, learn to divert your attention away from the fist. In due time, after some rest and relaxation, you can process it better and get things taken care of. I guess this is why teachers strike. I’ve never been part of a strike but I am an organizer and I’m starting to see the worth of it. It all gets back to that staple I always write about: relaxation. If you are relaxed, you are better, period. Don’t fixate on working all the time and avoiding the label of “lazy.” Sometimes that laziness is what solves problems. Take a break after to get punched in the stomach. Rested and relaxed, you may be able to deliver a much stronger reciprocal blow.

I reached a point a few years back where I gave myself permission to be sick, lazy, relaxed, a waster of time and otherwise disenfranchised with the system. When hings happen that let me down, I remember that license I hold. Humor is another way to process a punch in the stomach. When you know “the way to relaxation,” that only comes from practice, you can laugh so man things off. Sometimes you get punched because someone is trying to get your goat. Don’t give them the pleasure. Plan a party, play a song, eat your favorite food, drink a tasty drink. Flee anger, it is not productive. Some may be okay, the jury is still out, but too much will boil your insides and that doesn’t help. Take some time away to a “French Bay” in your mind or any other vacation vision you might have. If you can afford it, go for real! It’s not how you handle success that makes you successful. But rather, how you process a punch in the stomach. Think about it.

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Damien’s Guide to the Online Diary Genre

The online diarist at Starbucks
The online diarist at Starbucks

We are all time travelers moving at the speed of exactly 60 minutes an hour. -Spider RobinsonWriting and keeping up an online diary as you time travel is a bitch and not for kids. -Damien Riley

The online diary is a nearly dead art in 2015. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there writing from their ID to their ID, or from their navel to their navel, that is prevalent. In fact, all you have to do is read your Facebook newsfeed to see that is alive and kicking. By online diary, I mean something that is connected to a tradition of the past. The first online diaries were in the 90’s. Some were listservs connected by email threads. Others were rudimentary “weblogs” pieced together manually on html based websites. Some old timer bloggers like me might remember Geocities. A simple search of online diarists will yield historical references on Wikipedia. Chemists wrote about waking up, putting their glasses on and being inspired to do chemistry. The occasional actor would write short posts, which we might compare to today’s “statuses” on Twitter, and academic types would talk about their theories. I read many of these and I can tell you there is today no anxiety as strong as logging on to a modem sound to find out what my favorite diarist had for breakfast. It was reserved to those with technical savvy like html knowledge and also who had something to say. You couldn’t call them geeks because they were and are leaders and gifted writers. Now that it’s so easy to post things on Facebook and other places, where is the online diarist?

Since starting a personal website on Geocities around the year 1996, I have been a “sharing” type of person. I’ve posted the history of my name with photos of Father Damien and my anecdotes about the kidding and ridicule I’ve received and done so with a return of a mere 10 visits in one month. That was huge for me. I think even back then I knew I wanted to be this thing I would later identify with as an “online diarist.” Since then, I have been through a transformation of character through blogging. I’ve experimented with more taglines than would fit in my current post word count guideline, which is about 300-500 words. To be an online diarist, you must have or at least be open to developing a split personality. One one hand you are pouring your guts out to complete strangers. On the other hand you know exactly what you want to reveal and are skilled in pouring it out and bringing it back in when it gets too “gushy.” Those two statements took me from 2005 to 2013 to make cogent in my mind. I’ll give you them for free because I am super super nice. If you are an online diarist or interested in becoming one, read on! This is just the first in a series I will get to when I can. I have a lot to say and I have not said very much yet. I love blogging and I love reading blogs but not the garden variety types. Part of writing this series is to hopefully connect with like minded bloggers out there. Do leave a comment if this journey is yours as well.

This series is tagged online diary guide.

 

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Benefits of Edublogging and Content Creation

Online diarist, edublogger at Starbucks
Online diarist, edublogger at Starbucks

I have at least one more thing to say about edublogging. Please note I am wont to say that just before I write a book about something. In this post I thought I’d gush a bit about the benefits of all this backbreaking labor they call edublogging. I get 5-10 offers a year to write on educational topics or have someone write about them on my blog. I hate to be really transparent but I like that feeling. When I am addressed as an expert in education because I discipline myself to write on a blog, that’s cool. Sometimes, and far less frequently, I am asked to write a post for pay. This usually includes me placing proprietary ads in the post itself. I’ve made upwards of $300 doing this. Of course, I only accept payment when they are about education, no magic weight loss drugs of course. In short, I feel tall when people recognize me as an edublogger and purveyor of online information. It has taken work to get to this place and I hope it gets better as I hang in there continuing to edublog.

Content creation is sometimes easy and sometimes like keeping your head above quicksand. My approach is to make this a “teaching diary” and that is the main default category on this blog. I asked myself early on what would I always be able to write on in a pinch. Since I am already an online diarist at damienriley.com and have been since 2005, I already knew what that felt like. If you are doing this as a firs attempt at blogging, you might adopt a default category about something that is utterly natural for you. Science? Writing? Something should be used that you have mastered and are ready to write 50 books about. Writing on your blog some months will feel like 50 books. It can be really tough. Beyond that, read edublogs for yourself and make comments around “town” as you bloghop. Subscribe to feeds, you can also do this by email. There is so much to say on how I keep content creation alive. Suffice it to say, you need to orchestrate your life so it is comfortable. Content doesn’t come easy and you need to erase as many roadblocks as possible. For example, are you setup with a laptop and shortcuts you need to blog from Starbucks?

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The One I Love

5/5 stars
the-one-i-loveThis movie was on every banner before my eyes every time I’d log on to IMDB, Netflix, Rotten Tomatoes, or movie phone. Clearly the gods of matching meta data were in its favor. Every time I clicked on it I just saw a boring, wanna be romance that said in the synopsis it was about a couple at the end of their marriage trying to rekindle things. It just didn’t excite me but I kept it on my list just in case nothing else was on. I highly recommend not giving up on movies because this one ended up being the opposite of boring. It is indeed about a failing relationship but the steps they take to make it better are partly science fiction. That’s right, I said that genre. It’s sort of a Twilight Zone meets a couple in therapy. I know my wife and I related with some of the humor and the sci fi. More than anything, it got me thinking about the many sides to our partner and how we can fall in love with one and not the other. In the end, which will we choose to live with? More importantly, which will we not.

I like Mark Duplass a lot. He has that “older guy” feeling to him in this. Ironically, he is 8 years younger than me. I won’t get too into it but you see a lot of aspects of his character. He was a bit over the top for my taste in My Sister’s Sister. In this one he has calmed down a lot and delivers a more mature, soulful performance. Elizabeth Moss was a perfect casting choice as the wife. I’ve respected and enjoyed her work since Girl Interrupted and she continues to please in this. One more character I enjoyed seeing, though it’s a small role, was Ted Danson as the therapist. Great to see him in a movie! If you’re in a relationship and you’re looking for a date movie, this would be an excellent choice. Couples who are more long term may enjoy it more as it covers some of the issues that tend to appear only after the honeymoon phase has passed. This was a breath of fresh air combing romantic comedy with sci fi. I’m reminded of The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Adjustment Bureau, and About Time so it’s not a new seasoning. In this case, it’s more subtle than the ones I mentioned but it really made the message of the film more attractive and easily heard. The end is another twist after the main twist. I loved it.

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Flight

flightDenzel Washington is a great actor, not many people will argue against that. When you see his name on a movie you can know it was at least well thought out and that you’ll get a great performance from him. I knew that going into Flight and was not disappointed. The screenplay wove in and out like a plane in mayday and some of the characters didn’t seem correctly placed but the entire ride is energetic full of powerful acting. The story centers on alcoholism with pilots. Like surgeons, they have the public trust as they play the role of god. Those who abuse the public trust must answer to a court of law.

In addition to pilot issues, there is a concurrent theme of addiction in this film. There are some twelve step meetings and we are invited in among the addicts as they share about the strengths and weaknesses in their addiction. There are side characters that serve to illustrate the different faces of addiction. I felt the movie went off course with these characters as a movie about pilots. If you combine the addiction and pilot themes, they seem to fit. It’s a disturbing film due to the subject matter but mixed messages about sobriety bring it to a level that’s tolerable and educational. The ending is truly riveting and as I said at the beginning as well, Denzel delivers a powerful performance. I’d recommend it with the caveat that it is not just about flight but a much more adult and sometimes gruesome topic.

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Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day.

Check your school’s curriculum for problems you can use. If you don’t find any good ones there, try old tests or pursue it on the internet. If you can’t find any to your liking, drop me an email and I’ll be happy to do some searching for you. One challenge in doing this is being regular at it. Morning routines get broken when deadlines approach too rapidly or other demands find you unprepared. I’d challenge you to be committed to it for at least one week and see how you like it. There is so much to learn in a year it can seem like you have to eat an elephant. Well, whether you like it or not, you’ve got to teach all the standards. What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Problem of the day as routine can help you eat the elephant.

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It’s Just Something I Do

treadmill-walking-for-health-12I’ve gotten back on my treadmill over the holidays and the benefits have been huge. I feel better, that alone should persuade you. Nonetheless, I’ve started and stopped so many times that I almost hesitate to even share with you I’ve started again. Call it superstition. At any rate, after a couple months at it I have developed a mindset that so far seems to be working. “It’s just something I do.” Just like brushing my teeth, eating, breathing, going out with my wife, playing with my kids, this is just something I do. I won’t congratulate myself for eating or breathing, so the same goes for the treadmill. This is a god mindset and it seems to be working. It’s not that I won’t accept failure at this but rather that I can’t accept failure. My longevity depends on it. Some would simply call it a healthy habit, that works too.

I get tired of hearing people whine about things they want. I say, if you want something go out and get it. In the case of my treadmill, I want to go through the rest of my 40’s and beyond with a healthy heart. For that reason, I work with what I have. We have people these days right and left saying they can’t pay their mortgages and turning around to spend that money on luxury items. The government has been bailing many of these types out. Why? Why do I pay my mortgage when I could feasibly do the same thing? “It’s just something I do.” Going on a Nordic Trac treadmill may not be everyone’s idea of serious conditioning but I don’t miss a day. I wont tell you the number of pushups and situps I’m doing but suffice it to say, I was sedentary a log time. There’s only one way back to health and happiness, declare that there are “just some things you do.” Then do them. No excuses.

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Advice for Making an Edublog

dlpI started writing this blog in 2007. I knew very little about edublogs and what goes into them. I did my best to scour the web through blogrolls which are now all but extinct. If you happen to find one, don’t get too excited until you’ve checked the links for which have gone dead. It’s likely to be many. In 2007, blogrolls and the blogger movement was beginning to die out itself. I insist there must be pockets of edubloggers out there doing what I do but the searches don’t yield them quite as easily as back then. I started this blog with a blogroll axis. That is, I read and commented on as many “cool” blogs I could find in education and hoped they would visit and comment on mine as well. It worked well at first. When I check back through my early years of posting, I see many reciprocal comments as compared to now. So that leads up to my suggestions for you about starting a blog: network. Without a network of bloggers, yours will have a soundtrack of crickets. The trick these days is finding quality edublogs that will reciprocate your visits and comments. It sounds “sell-out” but I don’t know of any other way.In the beginning you’ll need at least ten posts that say who you are as a blogger. Lots of people start with one I started with thirty. You also need a blogging platform. I’ll just save your time and tell you WordPress is the only platform to even consider. Furthermore, a WordPress.org self-hosted platform is the best one to make money on ads. A friend of mine online, Mitch Mitchell, recently made the point on his blog that there are only a few ways to make money on a blog. One of them is ads. For edubloggers, there may be an opportunity to make mney through offering services but day in day out little by little, ads need to be there to pay your hosting fees and such. Don’t expect a profit until you have thousands of visits a day. I’m being conservative there but I want to remind you this won’t make you a living. There is a huge benefit of keeping an online diary sort of edublog. I’ll save that for another post. For now I will leave you with the recap pf the importance of building a network of edubloggers and starting a self-hosted blog platform via WordPress software. Benefits of edublogging and content creation will come in a future post.

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The Grand Seduction

5/5 stars
the-grand-seductionNetflix, like so many movie search engines out there, makes suggestions based on your watching history. Usually they are very standard and not particularly enlightening but sometimes they bring out a gem. That’s what happened to me with The Grand Seduction. Check this one out, if you have Netflix you can get it streaming currently. It’s a sleepy, measured movie at the beginning but if you can wait it out, it become comedic, charming, and pleasant like a bowl of hot clam chowder on a rainy day. The movie was produced by Brendan Gleasson who most will remember as “mad eye” from the Harry Potter movies. He’s been in many other notable movies but he’s usually not the star. In this he’s the guy turning the wheels both in front of and behind the camera.

Taylor Kitsch is also a commanding presence. Some will remember him from John Carter. It took me a good long while to place him in my mind as I watched and wondered. It concerns a small fishing town that is no longer allowed to fish due to regulations. As a result, everyone collects a welfare check. It affects their pride and the town is really dying inside because of the lack of work. An oil investor holds the promise of jobs but will only take their bid if they have a resident doctor. Since they are a town of just over 100 people and most are uneducated, this presents a problem. The town does everything it can too woo a young, hooligan doctor and the results are quite funny. The movie unravels and shows itself to be a life lesson about lying as well as a highly entertaining film. This has been one of my favorites of 2014. Original and clever.

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Beyond Table Points

IMG_2541.JPGTable points are amazingly helpful in my classroom. Each table takes initiative to win points by listening and participating. I’ve discovered over the years that competition works. My 4th graders will compete to get the prize every time. For this reason, I seat my students at tables, not individual desks. This enables them to have elbow room and engage in discussion. I find that group discussion often fills in teaching objectives that I might not have covered in traditional teaching. It works well for every subject, including fostering self-esteem. 

IMG_2545.JPGOnce I seemed comfortable with the table points system I started sharing it with a friend who teaches 12th grade. He agreed my system was good but made a powerful suggestion. He explained a way to get tables interacting with other tables so it is a more universal collaboration. He suggested I name each position around the tables so each table would have a corresponding position and those students would operate as a team sometimes. This is especially helpful when I need a student volunteer from each table. It’s been pandemonium in the past with wildly raising of hands. With my friend’s suggestion, I just say for example “Northwest please get the handout for your table.” It’s exciting when you master an idea so you can tweak it with a new on like this.

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2014 – Another Year as Online Diarist

Damien Riley Online DiaristI learned a lot blogging in 2014. I’m ready to move mountains in 2015 and still find peace in the journey. That’s not the easiest thing to pull off either, still I’m ready! One thing I learned early in 2014 was that If You Aspire to do Something, Be Regular at It. It helps to know what you want out of life. Think about what you’d want on your tombstone and that could be a good start. Since I like to blog, I am always thinking about ways to get more readers. I’ve learned this requires a blogging identity and this year I am closer than ever to knowing what my blogging is all about. The First Blogs Were Online Diaries. I Have One of Those. I’ve truly simplified what I do so I can concentrate on the words. In the past could months of 2014, I wrote a post every day. I hope to continue that and perhaps gain a level of mastery as an online diarist. As I work on this canvas, I miss the good old days of meaningless statuses. While growing as a diarist, I post to Twitter and cross post to Facebook and Tumblr. Social media suits me.

Damien RileyAlthough I adore WordPress and figuring out new ways to do things with it, I recognize the power of A Simple, Clean, Well Lighted Place in writing posts people respond to. I am not happy with the low comment counts on my posts and I mean to remedy that through networking and commenting but nothing is better than simplicity for posting. I started carrying The Satchel to work which has worked out well. Some days it seems like I have everything in that little bag, it feels powerful. Ibecame more aware of racism in the world and even in my own heart I wasn’t aware of. I wrote a post In Times of Racial Tension, Be a Bridge of Kindness after the Ferguson stuff started exploding. I’m committed to erasing prejudice in my own life. I see no color in friends. Despite my efforts to be perfect, along the way, I have learned Whatever Works for You may be more than you ever need. I developed my own Tricks for Keeping a Blogroll and my Blog Safari. Finally, when multitasking to achieve all your goals, remember the Wisdom in Doing One Thing at a Time.

I wish my fellow online diarists a happy 2015! May is be your best ever.

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Blog Safari 12-31-14

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis safari features some excellent blog posts about the past and new year by excellent bloggers I read. Enjoy them.

The Most Popular BTR Posts of 2014 – Beyond the Rhetoric.

New Years Resolutions – Dad on the Loose.

I’m Just Sharing » Blog Archive » My 10 Favorite Videos of 2014.

Stretching Your Soul #MicroblogMondays – Everyday
Gyaan
. A very talented and creative blogger uses words and links to bring out wisdom of her past posts while making a completely new thought! Happy New Year Corinne!

Happy Old Year :-) | Jennifer’s Journal.

2014 | Fat Free Mango Sorbet.

Do You Read The Blogs You Follow?.

Pizza Rolls for Dinner! | The Sound of One Hand Typing.

TwitterFacebookTumblrPinterestGoogle+PocketDiigoDeliciousEmail

Blog Safari 12-31-14

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis safari features some excellent blog posts about the past and new year by excellent bloggers I read. Enjoy them.

The Most Popular BTR Posts of 2014 – Beyond the Rhetoric.

New Years Resolutions – Dad on the Loose.

I’m Just Sharing » Blog Archive » My 10 Favorite Videos of 2014.

Stretching Your Soul #MicroblogMondays – Everyday
Gyaan
. A very talented and creative blogger uses words and links to bring out wisdom of her past posts while making a completely new thought! Happy New Year Corinne!

Happy Old Year :-) | Jennifer’s Journal.

2014 | Fat Free Mango Sorbet.

Do You Read The Blogs You Follow?.

Pizza Rolls for Dinner! | The Sound of One Hand Typing.

TwitterFacebookTumblrPinterestGoogle+PocketDiigoDeliciousEmail