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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1550 San Remo Drive

By Maria Moss

This almost Bauhaus-style villa, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is located in beautiful Pacific Palisades, just off Sunset Blvd. In 2016, it went up for sale – for a measly $16,000,000. And the German government not only went right ahead and bought it, but also renovated it for another $4,000,000. Now why would Germany buy real estate in Los Angeles? Read more »

“No, It’s Not Sissy Ball” – In Defense of Soccer

By Sabrina Völz

Credit: Steven Depolo

As most of you have probably noticed, the United States is not among the countries playing in the World Cup for the first time in 32 years. There is certainly a plethora of explanations – or excuses – circulating that revolve around the question why (men’s) soccer isn’t as popular as other sports in the U.S. Watch a few of the YouTube videos on the subject with your class and have learners collect the arguments and excuses. A number of them are just plain silly, so divide the students in groups and have them see who can give with the best or wittiest counter arguments. Here’s my list:
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