What’s your story? In two sentences or less…

By Kai-Arne Zimny

People love stories. And apparently, they always have. Neuroscientists suggest our yearning for stories is rooted deeply in the human brain; supposedly stories even help us master all kinds of life tasks, e.g. solving logic puzzles, conveying facts, and remembering stuff. Stories are second nature to us. Thus it seems safe to say: People will always love – and even need – stories.

So, got a story? Yes? Well, let’s see…

Sometimes we think we have a story when all we have is a vague idea. This happens when we get caught up in the beauty of a flashy fantasy or wondrous world we’ve created without considering an actual story that sets everything in motion. And now, after a long intro, let me get to the core of this story: loglines.

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National Comedy Center – It’s on THE Map!

By Sabrina Völz

When I started out as a teaching assistant at Syracuse University at the ripe old age of twenty, I instinctively knew I should get to know my students better. The obvious way to do that was to make small talk before or after class. My questions were nothing too personal or special, but the answers to one question puzzled me. “Well, what are you doing this weekend?” The responses varied, but they all had something in common: “Going to THE basketball game,” “Going to THE lake,” “Going to THE City” Okay. The first two were obvious. Basketball meant Syracuse University’s finest. THE lake meant Onondaga Lake, after all it was the closest one. But THE city? As if there is no other. Where, for crying out loud, is THE city? “Going to the City?” I asked meekly. “Yes, going to the City. You know, THE City.”

I felt like I was in the middle of a Laurel and Hardy routine. No, I really didn’t know. So I had to muster up a large dose of courage. After all, some of the students were actually older than me, and I, the new T.A. and graduate student from Iowa, obviously didn’t want to look stupid. After an excruciatingly long minute of silence passed, I finally spit out my question. Trying to keep a straight face, my student responded in slow motion, over enunciating his words: “New York City.”

Right then and there, I learned an important lesson: For most New Yorkers, there was, is, and never will be another city besides the Big Apple. Well, at least until now. Move over N.Y.C! Jamestown, N.Y., is on THE map. So what does Jamestown, a city with a population of roughly 30,000, have that THE City doesn’t? It has THE National Comedy Center.

photo credit: Steve Neilan

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Outhouse Races, Chocolate-Covered Deep Fried Cheesecake, and the Butter What? Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair

By Sabrina Völz

Credit “Iowa State Fair – Day 2” by Phil Roeder

When tourists from all over the world plan their vacations to the United States, they often stick to tried and true places to visit: National parks, Disney attractions, beaches, monuments, outlet malls, and museums. While they certainly are worthy places to visit, they won’t bring visitors closer to the people, contemporary culture, and everyday life in America like a good ole state fair. As an Iowan, I may be somewhat biased, but I wholeheartedly agree: “Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair” (this year’s motto).

Although the Iowa State Fair is not the oldest – that honor goes to the New York State Fair first held in Syracuse in 1841 – it is one of the best state fairs in the nation and places in the top 10 of most rankings. The Iowa State Fair, located right in the middle of the heartland, has been in operation continually since 1854 except for a time during WWII. The first visitors travelled by covered wagon to the largely agricultural showcase held in Fairfield which included spectacular exhibits and entertainment, such as “female equestrianism” otherwise known as female horseback riding. The Fair is five years older than the state, which became the 29th state in the Union on December 28, 1846. Iowans like to point out that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, State Fair (1933), was inspired by their fair. Today, it draws over 1.1 million visitors from all over the world to its permanent fairgrounds in Des Moines each year. So now that you know the basic facts, let the fun begin.

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“When you spot your flower, you can’t let anything get in your way”: Adaptation (2002)

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Adaptation is an oldie but goodie with an excellent cast of characters. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is supposed to write a movie adaptation of Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) non-fiction book, The Orchid Thief. The emphasis is on ‘supposed to’ because he doesn’t.

We accompany Charlie trying to overcome his severe writer’s block by pursuing his work without a plan. In the process, we witness his soul-crushing rampages of self-loathing, short moments of seeming progress, and tragically unfulfilled desires. All the while, Charlie’s much more lighthearted twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage in a double role) naively pursues his own screenplay endeavors. Also, the audience dives into the book along with Charlie and get a glimpse into the life of orchid thief and breeder John Laroche (Chris Cooper). Initially, the film is nothing but bizarre; however, gradually it becomes inspiring and holds quite a few surprises for unsuspecting viewers.

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Connect-the-Cards: Making Academia Exciting while Fostering Critical Thinking Skills and Meaningful Conversation

By Sabrina Völz

Question and answer. Question and answer. Question and answer. And then silence. Lasting silence. It happens to the best of us. The routine of working with texts can be an excruciating experience for both learner and instructor. But it doesn’t have to be.

A while back I came across a must-do activity that works in a variety of educational settings from middle schools to undergraduate seminars. Connect-the-cards may have a painfully dull name, but this text-based exercise can lead to deep learning and engage students so much so that they lose track of time and leave their smartphones in their pocket. So if you want to know how connect-the-cards works, you are only one click away.

Credit: Based on Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford’s exercise “Connect-the-Cards”in Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understanding, Portland: Stenhouse Publishers, 2011. 106-107.

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