Book Review: Suzie Ivy’s “Bad Luck” makes good reading!

Book Reviewed:
Bad Luck Cadet & Bad Luck Officer omnibus (2012)
Author: Suzie Ivy
Published by: Bad Luck Publishing

I read a goodly portion of Bad Luck Cadet & Bad Luck Officer: A True-Life Adventure by Suzie Ivy (2012) while waiting for and riding airplanes.  Originally written as posts for her blog, they are nicely divided into readable chunks.  Thus, they turned out to be perfect for a day punctuated by multiple interruptions.
But I am here to testify that they also can be as addictive as popcorn if you have a longer stretch of time.
Suzie Ivy is a natural writer with a great sense of humor and terrific stories to tell.  Although she desperately needs a proofreader, I found her true-life adventures both fascinating and highly readable.
Her saga begins at the age of 44, when a riding accident lands her in bed with a broken hip.  In pain and facing a midlife crisis, she spotted an ad on a drugstore bulletin board.  Her hometown, which she refers to as Small Town, Arizona, was seeking police academy candidates for a class to begin six months later. 
Author Suzie Ivy has a natural writing gift.
Not everyone—okay, almost no one—would have seen this as an opportunity for a  44-year-old woman who was 40 pounds overweight and had a broken hip, but it rapidly becomes clear that Suzie is not “everyone.”  
Through her blog posts, she takes her readers along with her to the Police Academy, and when she miraculously (her word) survives to graduate, we then get to ride along for the start of her career as a “midlife police officer” in Small Town.  And what a ride it is.
I ran across her “Bad Luck Detective” blog when researching police-related blogs for my novel.  I ordered the book to gain some badly-needed insights.  Started reading for research, and by page two I was hooked as a reader, too.
If you are interested in reading about police work—or, quite frankly, if you are interested in a great story about the triumph of the human spirit—buy and read this woman’s books.  The link I’ve attached is to her Amazon page, where both print and Kindle versions are available.

This is the first of several “Bad Luck” books she apparently means to write and publish through her Bad Luck Publishing company. I’m looking forward to reading them, just as soon as they are available.

Image Credits: Many thanks to the Criminal Justice School Info website’s “Interview with Detective Suzie Ivy” article, for the book cover image! (The interview is worth reading, too).  Thanks also are due to the Independent Author Network for the photo of Suzie.

Look Closely

I’ve always been fascinated with the very small, in nature. 

A somewhat bigger grid than mine was!

When I was in seventh grade, I created a miniature “dig” on one square foot of my back yard, using sewing pins and thread to create a one-inch grid, as I’d seen archaeologists and paleontologists do in books. 

As I recall, my excavation yielded some empty snail shells, rocks, broken toy bits, and that’s about it–but it was a fun project for a summer afternoon (so sue me–I’m a nerd). 

Macro Moss: Photo by “Celine

In high school I did a Science Fair project on moss, rocks, and wood as seen through a magnifying glass.  It didn’t win any prizes, but it was visually interesting, and for me visually interesting is always a high value.

Anyone who’s looked at my artwork probably is sitting there saying, “well, duh, Jan!”

My point in this post is that from time to time I plan to share images in this space that focus on the very small, and the beauty that can be found in looking closely at something. In that vein, I’ll leave you with a photo of the starfish species Patiria pectinifera,by Alexander Semenov.

Alexander Semenov’s cool starfish closeup . . . one of them, anyway.

Semenov’s work was featured last February in a Smithsonian article.  If you like this, you may enjoy Semenov’s website, too.

Photo Credits: Many thanks to Native American Net Roots for the image of the grid on the archaeological site, and for the moss image by “Celine” on the Stayton Daily Photo site. The Alexander Semenov photo of the starfish is from Smithsonian.


Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy has been accepted into the “State of the Arts” exhibition!

Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy will be in the 2013 “State of the Arts” show.

If you’ll be in the Kansas City area during October, please come to the Prairie Village Municipal Center, Prairie Village, KS, to see the “State of the Arts” show, sponsored by the Prairie Village Arts Council.

The reception is set for October 11 at the Prairie Village Municipal Offices (7700 Mission Rd., Prairie Village, KS), and the show runs October 1-31.  The mid-October date means I’ll be in town to attend the reception!  If this year is anything like past years, it should be a good one.  The City of Prairie Village usually puts on a good reception!

Image credits: The photo of my Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy is by me.  I found the “State of the Arts” logo on the Olathe Visual Artists website.

Turn of the Semester, Turn of the Page

Windblown (2010) is one of my first “autumn”
paper sculptures.

Fall semester has begun.  Start of the school year, start of a new cycle: since I was a tiny child, the start of another school year has functionally been my “new year.”

But it’s been several years since I last began a new fall semester as a classroom practitioner.  I will always be a teacher in my heart, but the life of working in the classroom is no longer my life. 
Today I’m most invested in the other major aspects of my life: professionally, as an artist and a writer; personally, as part of a vibrant, multigenerational (and multi-species) family.
Purple Clematis is one of the paper
sculptures I finished in 2013.

So, while my “intuitive cycle” is (probably forever) tuned to the end of summer as the time of “new beginnings,” this particular year’s new beginning marks a change of direction for this blog.

For the past few years I’ve been scattering my attention between two personal blogs—this one, as “Artdog Educator,” and another one that’s been devoted strictly to my visual artwork, titled “Artdog Observations.”  As anyone knows, who’s been following either one, I’ve been posting less and less frequently to both. 

That’s because I have a massive new project in my life, a science fiction/mystery novel with the working title of Dogged Pursuit.  It’s been consuming much of my attention since spring.

At the same time, I have been trying to keep up working on my artwork.  I make fine-art paper sculpture, aimed at juried shows and in hope of gallery representation. 

Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy is my most recent finished
paper sculpture. It was recently accepted into a show!

With so many creative projects now moving forward, however, I need to re-balance the load.  This season of new beginnings seems a good time to combine both of my former blogs under one title, “Jan S. Gephardt’s Artdog Adventures.”   

As all creative people know, it’s hard to compartmentalize—worse, it’s often counter-productive to try.  Things one learns in one sphere inexplicably turn out to relate to others.  My own creative life is like a Venn diagram with about a thousand circles—and they all converge in my art and writing. 
I sometimes foster dogs for
Great Plains SPCA.

“Artdog Adventures” will explore all of it—the artwork, the writing, the background material, the interesting stuff that I discover, books I read, current events, and also my ongoing thoughts about social issues and education reform when it seems appropriate.  

Because they inform my creative work, I also will undoubtedly include thoughts on the environment, animal welfare, and most especially dogs.  Because I am involved in science fiction fandom, you’ll probably also get comments on that sphere, from time to time.

I hope you’ll be interested to join me on my creative journey, and share the “Artdog’s” adventures.

Finnish Success in a Nutshell

If you are an educator, by now you know about the so-called Finnish miracle.  My son shared a fun graphic presentation with me that sort of sums it all up:

IMAGES: This graphic presentation is offered here courtesy of Tumbler and “Slow Robot”.com.
Many thanks!

3-D Printers at School?

Ever since I first learned of them, I’ve been fascinated with 3-D printers.  Cutting-edge applications for this technology have been proposed or are in development for everything from printing prosthetic ears with living cartilage cells, to printing buildings for a moon base.

But 3-D printers are high-tech and hideously expensive (even $1,200-$1,500 is REALLY steep for your average public school!).  Could they have a use in schools?  The folks at OnlineDegrees.Org think so.  They’ve prepared a graphic to explain their ideas.  Here’s part of it:

Some seem like little more than gimmicks (coughs: Jell-o molds), though I could be all wrong about chef-training for the avant garde world of future gastronomy, which can start in high school.

The truth is, we don’t know all the ways that this amazing new technology can or will be used–who predicted the ability to print a plastic gun that fires real bullets?  Yet they are now a reality. 

Because they are clearly an important and rapidly-expanding part of our future, they most definitely belong in schools.  But if we’re still “teaching like it’s 1980” how can we meet that challenge?  And with lawmakers cutting education budgets right and left, a fancy newfangled gizmo that costs–holy smokes! One to two grand?!?–get real.

Actually, “real” is what we truly must get, as in welcome to the real world–where evolution keeps happening every day, the climate really is changing dramatically, and new technology is not just coming, but already here.

Are we preparing the kids?

In-class collaboration for ADD students’ success

Follow-up to a 3-Part series
My last several posts have been a series on the topic of “The ADD-Friendly Classroom,” developed as a result of several conversations with my daughter, Signy Gephardt. She was diagnosed with ADHD in the first grade (and successfully completed her BS degree in Biological Science last May). I quizzed her about “best practices” from a student’s point of view, and she shared some ideas that all teachers may want to consider, to help the easily-distracted students in their classes.

The power of mutual support

If students know each other, they can help each other succeed.

One subset of suggestions, however, deserves a post of its own. These suggestions revolve around the idea that building a sense of collaboration and mutual support in the classroom helps distractible students succeed much more readily than dividing the classroom through competition.

Signy told me, “Students in class need to know each other, because there WILL be moments when kids ‘drift.'” If the classroom culture supports collaboration, students can help each other fill in the gaps, so more of them are better able to succeed.

There are many laypersons and not a few educators who consider competition to be very important–some would even say that competition is an “American” value. It is quite true that fostering competition can motivate some students to excel beyond what they would otherwise accomplish. Demonstrably, competition has its place in education.

But one size does not fit all–and that goes double in education.

ALL students’ needs are important, not just those of “stars”

All students, and especially distractible ones, do better with a supportive circle.

Students who excel with ease in school often love competition, because it makes them feel like “winners,” but a system that identifies winners also by necessity singles out losers, as well.

Historically in schools, distractible students nearly always come out as “losers.”

An essay about the plain fact that a normal bell curve demonstrates the traditional age-group-based system of classes as “production lots” makes it inevitable that some students’ needs will not be served is not in the scope of this post (anyway, I’ve covered it already). My premise today is that competition may be one tool in the educator’s toolkit, but that collaboration and teamwork are even more powerful tools for many students–especially for those who are easily distracted.

Students need to learn how to work together in teams.

Teamwork is becoming an ever-greater force for business success in industries that rely on a strong and capable workforce, for precisely the same reasons it needs to be an ever-greater presence in our classrooms: everyone is different, and therefore everyone brings different strengths and weaknesses to projects. Students need to learn how to work together to support each others’ efforts so that all may become stronger.

Yeah, but what does that look like in real life?

If you’ve been steeped in the tradition of competition, winners, and losers in school, you may fear that “teamwork” is a euphemism for “stronger” students carrying “weaker” students along with them, or else maybe some kind of meaningless “self-esteem” exercise. I won’t lie: in today’s classrooms, those things unquestionably do happen.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. Those are examples of what happens when it’s not done right.

Mutual support reduces weakness, builds strength
Some time strategically spent at the start of the semester on “classbuilding” exercises can pay huge dividends in overall student success. Dr. Spencer Kagan’s Cooperative Learning structures include a helpful variety of classbuilding exercies; a similar approach is offered through the Tribes Learning Community, to name two.

When students work together and help each other, all do better.

“Classbuilding” is the process of helping students who may or may not know (or like) each other when they first enter a class, and turning them into an effective, dynamic team–a team in which all members function at a higher level than they might, if left to flounder along on their own.

Humans are evolutionarily predisposed to function as “tribes,” or small cooperative groups. As with wolf packs and prides of lions, humans developed a predisposition for social interdependence because it made all group members’ survival much more likely.

Academic survival (indeed, thriving success) is also well-served when everyone in the group feels they are “on the same team,” and can bring value to the work being done. Teachers—especially when they have distractible students—need to explicitly guide their students to the idea that “you should help each other get complete notes,” for example.

The effective use of small groups

Groups of four students can work together and stay engaged.

Signy specifically recommended small groups as being extremely helpful for ADD students–providing the group work is structured effectively.  

“Small-group discussions and working together to answer questions [really help],” she told me. “Up to four people per group is best.”  Pull chairs around to create an opportunity for students to talk face-to-face. Switch habitual groups periodically—but only after a few days or weeks of working together. “It’s pretty chaotic to mix up groups more often.”

She also recommended “group-style” tactics for class discussions. “When going through assigned questions in class, make the session as interactive as possible, by having a semi-presentation style,” she suggested, and described a process by which a chosen student stands up, says his/her name, identifies which of the assigned questions s/he will answer, then answers each. Follow with a recap of “this is what I said,” and take other students’ questions as needed.

A Kagan-style variation on this would be to have small groups of students discuss questions among themselves, then have each group’s chosen spokesperson present its answers to the larger class.

I hope you’ll give some of these ideas a try, or at least do further research on the positive effects for all students of helping your most distractible ones.

PHOTO CREDITS (and a few interesting references, as well): The photo of the group of three students is from “Five Principles of Effective Guided Practice,” by Richard Stowell. The photo of children and adults around a round table is from an article titled “Those with special needs seek accommodating churches,” by Irie Price from the Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal. The photo of the circular group of students is from a post titled “How to Maximize Cooperative Learning by Tapping into Personality Strengths,” from Insights, “The official blog for the Insight Learning Foundation.” The photo of two grade-school girls at a computer is from the article “Students show off latest tech,” by Chris Torres from the Daily Journal of Vineland, Millville, and Greater Cumberland County, NJ. The group of students with their desks pushed together to work on a project is from Laura Candler’s “Cooperative Learning Resources” page.