Three Stages of Truth

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

—Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)

Creativity Elementary vs Middle & High School

In a meeting today, a group of elementary and high school teachers were asked to list the attributes we looked for in student who were thinking about their learning.

A list of 16 items came up on the board and the one thing lacking was “creativity.”

We discussed why.

“Creativity is not valued by our society,” said one high school teacher.

The elementary school teachers were shocked it was a subject for discussion. Frankly, everything in elementary school is fueled by creativity and fun. In K-5 we can’t demand students do their work. Yelling at a student to finish a worksheet only ends in tears and a meeting with the parent.

Apparently, one can give a boring assignment to middle school and high school students and simply demand they do it and threaten punishment (letter home, referral to principals office) if they don’t comply. “This works?” I’m thinking.

Apparently, in high school, creativity is reserved for GT, International Baccalaureate and other high-end endeavors.

School Based Technology — Stone Soup

A really good school based technology support person, a laptop cart and a good Internet connection are all one needs to create a significant online learning environment.

Blogs, wikis, discussion boards, photo sharing, wikipedia, research resources, photostory, youtube, teachertube, vimeo, flickr, library of congress online, google are all free.

The problem is, nobody can get a job after they retire from the school system with a free resource built up by a social network.

Visual Metaphor

With this blog post, three things are going to happen. First, as a history teacher it will open up vast stores of media you didn’t think had any use in teaching history. This is important, because there isn’t a lot of news video of the Revolutionary War. Second, it will make you one of the most powerful visual creators and communicators in your building. And third, (and I’m sorry about this) you’ll probably stop watching television for entertainment, except in small bursts, in about three weeks time.

Before I became a teacher 7 years ago, I was a different person. A television producer and writer. Life’s funny that way.  I worked for NBC, CNN, Associated Press Television News and other organizations. I would like to pass along a big secret, the hidden gem, the under-the-table truth on how to produce eye-popping, emotion-grabbing, communicative media. It’s the Visual Metaphor.

Easier to explain than to do, the Visual Metaphor makes up most good media.


A metaphor is:

1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

2. A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, esp. something abstract.

( source: )

In the vernacular of the peasantry, a metaphor is “comparing two things without using like or as.”

A Visual Metaphor simply replaces the words for one of the two things compared, with a picture or video.


When using metaphors for teaching, we choose two things, one is something our students know (prior knowledge), the second is some concept we are trying to teach.  The second is usually not “literally applicable” and is usually “something abstract” as noted in our definitions above.  When creating a Visual Metaphor, one wants to use the visual piece to communicate the second, abstract, something.

Watch this video:

Uncontacted Amazon Tribe: First ever aerial footage from Survival International on Vimeo.

We see here long-bows, longhouses, and any number of artifacts we are trying to teach children about in K-5 environment. We have standards to cover about Native Americans which are contained in this video. Of course the video is not about Native North Americans. It’s about Native South Americans and was shot this year.

What is an underlying theme in the video is the uncontacted tribe‘s reaction to seeing the plane.  They are scared.

OK, that was pretty easy, let’s try another:

When teaching slavery, we have limited visuals with which to work and the subject is both disturbing and difficult. This video compares slavery to a cattle auction. Every kid who’s been to a county fair knows what a cattle auction looks like.  They’ve seen the pen.  The video is talking about modern slavery, not the period in U.S. history 100 years ago.

Clearly both these videos are not proper for some groups of students and even the cattle market would need to be stopped at the high school level before the last bit about the modern sex slave trade.

But what is critical is both of these videos speak to the emotion of the participants in similar situations.  Universal emotional truths.  People caught up in a trade as slaves would have certain emotional reactions and it isn’t too much of a stretch to paint the picture.  Since we are using these videos as metaphors, we aren’t saying this is exactly how the African slaves felt when they were brought to North America.  Nor are we saying this is exactly how the Native Americans might have felt when they encountered european settlers.  However it’s important for getting information across.

People use the framework of emotions to organize information, at the gut level.  They use emotional intelligence as a wire frame on which to hang facts and figures.  It’s what drives most media.  It’s the most difficult piece to bring to teaching history — making it real on the gut level.  Great history teachers have been able to do this.  My favorite history teacher did.

So much of the traditional teaching of history is the accumulation of facts. The parsing and organization of huge amounts of empty data.  It’s the stellar history teachers that make it all come alive.  It’s not a big secret, they speak to the emotional intelligence, and use that as a scaffold on which to organize the data.

Neither of these two videos are mock-ups. Neither of them are “infotainment” with the types of historical inaccuracies inherent in using sources like Disney movies or Williamsburg to teach facts about history. As Visual Metaphors, it’s made clear they are not representations of historical fact. What they communicate is the gestalt of the historical issue. They are great writing prompts and discussion starters that allow students to place historical issues and the facts that surround them in an emotional context, without a lot of words and analysis. The information is transferred quickly and visually at an emotional level, and the syntheses comes from  analyzing and working with the information.

Conversely, what torments many students in history class is the lack of context from the start.  It is only at the end of a unit, when a diorama is complete and can be studied, that the gestalt of the historical issues are internalized.  Syntheses is rarely achieved in such circumstances.

Using Visual Metaphors at the beginning, to provide context for the facts and figures, short circuits this teaching challenge.


There are many sources of video, audio and still pictures: Discovery Education,, Creative Commons.  All of these online sources have key word search.

Here’s the trick.  When searching for visuals, don’t search using nouns (common or proper) for the actual thing you seek to teach.  Search using adjectives, for the attributes of what you seek.  You’ll find a hugh array of metaphorical options.

Find a storage place for your good visual metaphors.  They hold over time.


I said after reading this, you’ll probably stop watching television for entertainment.  What happens (to people who work in television) is they start recognizing the use of Visual Metaphor.  In every commercial, drama and movie, you’ll start to deconstruct the production process.  And that’s, unfortunately, a side effect of becoming aware of this phenomenon in media.


Slope of Ineffective Efficacy



The “slope of ineffective efficacy” is at a point just after the bulk of the planning process is completed, and after the “implement” order from required managers has been achieved.  It is at this point at which one can bring in that throng of “must have buy in” mid-level managers with the most positive and least negative impact.

It’s too late for them to scuttle the project politically in the planning stages.

It’s too early for them to claim it’s somebody else’s project, and scuttle it because one is not getting any credit.  In fact it’s just in time for them to claim credit themselves, which is critical.

Most important, it’s too late to scuttle the project by “adding value.”

During the period in a project life-cycle I term the “slope of ineffective efficacy,” mid-level managers can be brought on board, claim some ownership, not have any direct hands-on impact, and they can benefit themselves by gloaming onto the success, while not really being in a position to try and kill the project.

Solipsistic – The Word of the Day

As in, “The solipsistic ranting of histrionic and proudly biased evening hosts on Fox News and MSNBC.”

Solipsism (play /ˈsɒlɨpsɪzəm/) is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist. The term comes from the Latin solus (alone) and ipse (self). Solipsism as an epistemological position holds that knowledge of anything outside one’s own mind is unsure. The external world and other minds cannot be known, and might not exist outside the mind. As a metaphysical position, solipsism goes further to the conclusion that the world and other minds do not exist.