Category Archives: article


Check out this week’s Diagnosis column in the Times Magazine, enjoy the suspense before reading on.

I absolutely remember myself – and most of my friends – having that lightheaded, dizzy feeling upon standing up.  Since everyone experienced it and it went away in seconds, no one ever worried about it, but nor was it ever explained.  And I never noticed that it pretty much went away post-adolescence (then again, in my teaching life I rarely sit down for long periods of time).  So interesting to have both an explanation and to realize that in extreme cases, it could actually be quite scary, as it was for the patient in this column.  And the fact that it happens after a growth spurt makes so much sense…


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My favorite headline ever!

Monkeys Control a Robot Arm with Their Thoughts.

Basically, scientists implanted sensors over 100 neurons in the monkeys’ motor cortex, then programmed a computerized arm to respond to different firing patterns.  The monkeys were trained using biofeedback, but in a matter of days could control the arm on their own, and even used it in ways that they were not trained to, for example, licking the robot finger when some food stuck to it.  Cool.

That said, yet more evidence that biological body-brain systems are still better:

After several days, the monkeys needed no help. They sat stationary in a chair, repeatedly manipulating the arm with their brain to reach out and grab grapes, marshmallows and other nuggets dangled in front of them. The snacks reached the mouths about two-thirds of the time — an impressive rate, compared with earlier work.

Emphasis mine.

(Then again, if you took a youngster just learning to use his or her hands to feed him/herself, it would probably take more than a couple of days to reach this level of accuracy… I wonder if the monkeys will continue to improve their accuracy rate as time goes on?)

I am still waiting to be able to control children with my thoughts……

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Memorial Day To-Do

I can’t find my way to my closet through the huge pile of laundry, nor can I get anything done in the living room thanks to the boxes and half-packed piles stacked everywhere, the strewn-about packing tape torn off of boxes to be replaced by new tape once packed. Dishes need boxing, pots and pans need boxing, baking stuff and small appliances need boxing, tupperware needs sorting and boxing, dry goods need boxing, clothes need boxing, toiletries need sorting and boxing, office supplies are mostly sorted but need boxing, My plants are parched and dying behind the wardrobe boxes but I can scarcely reach them to give them water. The next two (one) weeks need to be planned, chaperones found for Friday’s sailing trip, quizzes graded, resignation letter printed (time to turn it in formally), transition to new job planned, OPD license applied for (so that I can coach robotics and help out here and there at my old school). I cooked food for the entire week so that I can start packing my kitchen, but now my fridge seems to be dying (all week I noticed things going bad unusually fast, but I didn’t put it all together until I felt the ice cream slosh around inside its cardboard pint). I have a final essay to write for my writing class, a lot of things I want to say about Emily Gould (then again, maybe there’s nothing to say), essays I want to revise and submit to magazines, a camera that seems to have disappeared into the bowels of CanonUSA again. I’m trying to figure out which order of events will energize me most… where do I start to make this a productive day?

(The fridge kind of makes me want to cry… when am I supposed to deal with that? Maybe I’ll just take all my lunches to school tomorrow… maybe I’ll take all my dinners, too).

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Imagine you have a magic marker (washable) in your hand…

now draw a capital letter E on your forehead.  Go ahead, raise your hand to your head and draw it.

Did you draw it facing me (so I could read it), or facing you (so the little guy in your head could read it)?

If you read this week’s New Yorker, you know why I’m asking… there was a little piece about researchers who believe that the direction you draw your E reveals something about whether you are, at that moment, a perspective-taking kind of person (who would draw an E for others to read) or thinking from your own perspective primarily (the inward-facing E).  They hypothesized that people with more power would draw the inward-facing E, and people with less power would be more likely to take others’ perspective and draw the outward-facing E.  They primed people to feel powerful by having them write about a time they were completely dominant over someone else, then primed others to feel less powerful by having them write about being completely submissive to someone else, and sure enough, the first group was much more likely to draw the inward-facing E.

The journalist writing about it asked a lot of famous, powerful people at the Time 100 (most influential) banquet, and all but one drew outward-facing E’s.  But a banquet is a pretty other-oriented event, don’t you think?  Also, they were allowed to draw on post-it notes placed on their foreheads, and I think paper implies a reader and has a more clear front and back directionality than a forehead does (if that makes any sense).  So that’s my take on that.  Interestingly, the SNL ladies were the only ones who refused to participate… who knows why, but I would have thought that comedians would be interested in every odd facet of human behavior  – isn’t that their fuel?

Part of the reason I’m so interested in this question, even though I’m not convinced that it’s a good way to measure how powerful someone feels or how much they take another’s perspective, is that I had the strongest reaction: of course I’d draw the outward-facing E.  I can’t even imagine the other ones.  And I figured everyone else would feel the same way.  But when I started asking colleagues and friends, the first three I asked all drew inward-facing Es!

To me, my outward-facing E is a sign of the importance of communication and relationships for me… what’s the point of drawing a letter that no one can read?  my subconscious thinks.  We are who we are through the web of connections extending out from us, through the people we affect, help, inspire… well, that’s how I often feel, anyway.

What was your E?  What’s your take on this?


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Self-evident truths?

This is what we call news these days? City Schools Fail to Comply with State Rule on Arts Classes, NY Times.

The state requires that elementary school students receive education in dance, music, theater and visual arts every year. The survey showed that fewer than 30 percent of middle schools met the requirement of providing two half-unit art classes between seventh and eighth grades.

Despite the requirements, the state does not demand that the City Education Department report on arts instruction. But city officials emphasized that they would ask more schools to meet those expectations.

They’ll ask for arts education, but they’ll punish for reading and math failure, and they’ll cut school budgets mid-year.  Where the heck do they think the money is going to come from for art supplies and teaching?  “Um, hey there principals, do ya think you could squeeze in some dance around your remedial math courses?  I’m sure one of your math teachers knows some ballet or step or something…”

And then there’s this, from an article on the $125,000 charter school (TEP):

Yet the model is raising questions. Will two social workers be enough? Will even the most skillful teachers be able to handle classes of 30, several students more than the city average?

Now, I get the larger point (I’m not one for ignoring context), which is that the model might lean too far in favor of good teachers and neglect some other pieces of the reform puzzle, like small class size.  But – BUT – let’s not pretend that teachers in New York City are working with classes of 22… as a first year teacher, I had five classes of 30-32 kids.  Classes are a bit smaller in my current school, but still over 25 and creeping upwards every year for financial reasons.  So when evaluating this charter’s model, I think it’s only fair to note that for most NYC teachers, this wouldn’t represent a significant increase in class size, for many, it wouldn’t be an increase at all.  But the pay?  That would be double.


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I used to take the bus past this building every day,

and would idly fantasize about how we could take over and make it our school.  Nowhere for a schoolyard and dangerous street-crossings on every side, but still a fascinating old building and just sitting there, waiting to become something of use to someone.

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Five is a Handful

Sometimes, you need a little Moxie. One of my colleagues brought some back for each of us from a trip to Maine. A little research reveals that we’ve had Moxie since 1884 with nary a pause: it’s “the oldest continuously produced soft drink in the US.” Oddly, Moxie came up in my comments today, too, but this one’s a parenting blog. Go figure.


After reading a review in this week’s New Yorker, I’m totally psyched to pick up Peter Carey’s new novel, His Illegal Self. You may know Carey from the True History of the Kelly Gang or possibly Oscar & Lucinda). It’s a little weird to quote from a book I haven’t yet read, but I cannot resist a book with lines like this: “Plans have changed, she said, getting all busy with a cigarette.”


And speaking of reading, it’s all about the brain, senses, learning right now: This is Your Brain on Music, The Emperor of Scent, and this article about how the brain perceives number, and how we learn to do things with numbers (more New Yorker for ya):

Dehaene’s work centered on an apparently simple question: How do we know whether numbers are bigger or smaller than one another? If you are asked to choose which of a pair of Arabic numerals—4 and 7, say—stands for the bigger number, you respond “seven” in a split second, and one might think that any two digits could be compared in the same very brief period of time. Yet in Dehaene’s experiments, while subjects answered quickly and accurately when the digits were far apart, like 2 and 9, they slowed down when the digits were closer together, like 5 and 6. Performance also got worse as the digits grew larger: 2 and 3 were much easier to compare than 7 and 8. When Dehaene tested some of the best mathematics students at the École Normale, the students were amazed to find themselves slowing down and making errors when asked whether 8 or 9 was the larger number.

Plus, Oliver Sacks has a new one out about sound and the brain, and Donald Plaff is investigating how the golden rule may be (somewhat) hardwired into our brains (this would have been a neat lecture but who can make it from the Bronx to Battery Park by 6:00 pm? Not me). But there’s a larger post in all this, because “Scent” was one of those life-changing books.


I’m taking my enrichment cluster kids to a violin-maker’s studio in March. We’re also going to Sony WonderLab.


My LEGO kids unbuilt the mission models which took us so long to build. It wasn’t destructive, just the outcome of days and days of play, of stealing pieces for other projects. Which would be fine except we’re entering an exhibition/tournament in early April, and suddenly we need to build what we unbuilt. And the pieces are all mixed together with pieces from previous years. Live & learn?


Nevermind that last bit, the REAL #5 is this:


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