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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

lonely teens

If you haven’t heard the buzz, the Netflix mini-series “13 Reasons Why” has taken over many conversations in the educational community.  Based on the book by Jay Asher,  it focuses on high schoolers (set in today’s educational environment) with the usual cliques (cool kids, preppies, honors kids, jocks, band kids, and…). A student at their school, Hannah, takes her own life, and another student, Clay, returns home from school to find that he has received a package in the mail containing seven double-sided cassette tapes from Hannah, each tape detailing an incident and a person that played into why she killed herself.  They had been sent to several others before arriving at Clay’s door.  There were 13 parts on Netflix, and, after watching each segment, I had a nasty knot in my stomach. Some knots were from my own awkward high-school experiences; others were from the blatant evil that today’s students can be subjected to or can utilize.

I don’t want to give away the entire story, but it starts with an incident that I blogged about last spring. (On a side note, that post gained a bit of traction when someone became completely paranoid and thought he/she was the only one who received it. This is not sexual harassment; this is educational information.) Hannah has a picture taken of her with a boy on a “date” which is seen by the boy’s friend and taken completely out of context.  His friend grabs the phone and then sends the picture out to an entire class, which eventually makes it around the entire school.

Topics include the aforementioned body shaming, rape, sexual assault, cover-ups, and societal acceptance–the daily grind of what high-school life is today. High school is an interesting navigation as is.  Throw in today’s technology, and you have a whole new world–a world where previous generations can’t even begin to fathom what is happening in school anymore.  It’s no longer passing notes and settling the score at the flagpole over some stolen milk money.

Teen suicide is the second largest cause of death in the US. For every teen who commits suicide, at least six others are thinking about following that same path. Despite such a terrible statistic, conversations are happening every single day about getting people the help they need. While the series has launched a multitude of proactive stances and resources, it has also caused some copy-cat incidents and some concerns from mental health experts.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

It can be intoxicating to realize that a whole world of abstract ideas exists that can explain and help us interpret the world of our daily lives. If supported in thinking in theoretical ways, many of our senior students/adult learners quickly and thoroughly take to the powerful understanding of the world that abstract ideas can offer.

[And so my "Tips for Imaginative Educator" Series continues. Welcome (back)!]

Developing A Sense of Abstract Reality

All through our lives we actively develop a sense of reality through particular kinds of emotional and imaginative engagements. This focus on reality–the real world around us–tends to develop with the onset of literacy. We seek real-world examples of knowledge we are introduced to. We tend to particularly enjoy the “romantic” adventure- and wonder-filled aspects. What does this look like, then, when we study a topic like history? Well, with tools of oral and written language shaping our meaning-making, we most enjoy vivid accounts of exceptional events, heroes, or stories of people/situations that “beat the odds”. We are engaged with the ingenuity of people who are able to channel their hopes, fears and passions in ways that lead to novel solutions and inventions. We collect many examples of specific historical events that, together, create for us an image of why the world is as it is.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

Whether early or accomplished readers, if your students read, then their emotions and imaginations can be evoked when they engage the "literate eye". Add this to your cognitive toolkit: literate students learn better when they have opportunities to work with information in different visual formats.  

So, encourage your students to play with graphs, charts, tables, maps, lists, VENN diagrams, info graphics etc.


The Literate Eye: A Cognitive Tool

If you have been following this Tools of Imagination series on BAM EdWords, you will be familiar with the term “cognitive tool”. The practice of organizing knowledge in different visual ways is another tool of the imagination and, thus, learning or "cognitive tool." Here’s why: when we become literate the way we access information shifts. Rather than gaining most of our information about the world through our ears (which is the case primarily for oral language users) we now access information actively through our eyes. We de-code symbols all around us (language being one symbol system) all the time. So, afford your students opportunities to play with information visually and you will tap into this powerful feature of their imaginative literate lives.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

Books like the Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s Believe it Or Not never stay on the shelf for long.  

Young people tend to be fascinated (even obsessed) with the limits of experience and the extremes of reality--these kinds of books reveal all the record-breaking aspects of the world. I recall leafing through our own home copy of the Guinness Book Of World Records at about age 9 or 10, just consumed by the images of the curling, caramel-colored finger nails of that record-holder or the unsettling size of the world’s largest human, pig, or pumpkin pie. 


We don’t completely lose that interest in the extreme features of reality—think about the headlines that most engage you now. Often they reveal something that falls outside the normal—far outside. We love the “superlative” tense in life—the fastest, slowest, most and least of all kinds. The most expensive houses. The smallest technologies etc. We are curious about things that are foreign to us, that seem odd, exotic, bizarre and—for many young people—just plain gross.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens


This journey. This transformation, started one cold, dark morning nine years ago.

She was only 8. Because her mom worked late and her dad? Well, her dad was just a photo she kept by her bedside. Just in case he ever came back, she might recognize him. But, by this point she couldn’t care less.

Anyway. She had to walk to school by herself. 9 blocks. 9 city blocks. The first few times were horrible. Mariposa could not believe all that went on between her apartment and her school. But it did. And she had never known it. She tried to block it out. The gunshots. The trash. The people she had to pass everyday on her walk to school. But she couldn’t! So she decided at the age of 8, that she was going to read on the way to school. If she couldn’t block out the world around her, she would immerse herself in new ones.

She stumbled the first couple times she tried this. But after a few weeks she had the route memorized. She didn’t even need to look up. This was a good thing. All that went on around her became background noise. She knew it was there. But could ignore it. Because she had her own worlds to worry about now. Hogwarts was her favorite. Her escape plan was working.

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