School’s First Ever “Rain Day” Closure

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You might have read about the rainstorms and flooding all over Chicagoland this morning. In fact, the school where I’m completing my practicum closed today for its first ever “Rain Day.” The photos above were sent out by the district superintendent. He actually came to school, because where he lives the flooding wasn’t bad, saw the situation, and called off school for the day.

Chicago has been hit hard. I’ve lived here just four years, but this was the worst I’ve seen it in the northern suburbs. Wish us luck as we try to dry out and get things back in order!

Here are some local links:

Chicago Flooding: Live Blog Updates from the Chicago Tribune.
Emergency closings.
Photos from around the area.


Celebrating International Women’s Day

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Happy International Women’s Day, everybody! I celebrated by filling out an application to volunteer for a Girls Rock! camp this summer. As a (semi-former; haven’t played in a few years) drummer, I volunteered to teach girls how to play. I still have my kit, and am looking forward to dusting off the ol’ skins.

Do you have anything planned? Check out the links below for ideas and more information.


What is International Women’s Day?
How is it celebrated around the globe?
IWD website.
Chicago events to celebrate IWD.

Meanwhile, In Edgewater…

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed for students at Chicago’s Swift Elementary School on Monday. Can you imagine a better start to your week than watching Yo-Yo Ma play the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in your school’s auditorium?!

Here’s a link to a video in the Chicago Tribune that shows the kids’ reactions. And not only did Ma make them cheer, he made them laugh. It was, to quote one of my favorite children’s authors, A Good Day.

Harper High School, Part Two

HarperPartTwoYesterday This American Life aired part two of their two-part series about Harper High School in Chicago. As a side note, in the week since part one aired I found out that I know the school psychology practicum student at Harper, and others in my cohort are currently working in schools in the area. So aside from being a Chicago story in general, this series really hits close to home.

Link to Part Two.
to Part One, aired February 15, 2013.

Harper High Updates

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Photo credit: Bill Healy

Last weekend I wrote about a recent This American Life episode featuring Harper High School in Chicago. That was part 1 of what will be a 2-part series. The show has received a lot of interest, including from people who want to donate to the school. In response, Harper has set up an online donation page for people who would like to contribute to the school.

TAL has updates on their blog, and also recently posted a few pictures taken just a week ago on the show’s Flickr page.

I’ll post a link to Part 2 of the show after it airs this weekend. Stay tuned!

TAL press release about the shows.
TAL Flickr page.
Harper High donation page.

Local Notable

In local news, an Illinois teacher at Waukeegan High School was named the 2012 National History Teacher of the Year. The award was given by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York. From the Gilder Lehrman website:

“The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History presented the 2012 National History Teacher of the Year Award to Josh Bill, a teacher at Waukegan High School in Waukegan, Illinois, on December 4, 2012. The award, including a $10,000 prize, was presented by Caroline Kennedy at the Frederick Douglass Academy, a public Gilder Lehrman flagship school in New York City. Bill was nominated for the award by his colleague Ali Schultz, an English teacher at Waukegan High School.”

And click here for the press release from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

Congratulations to Joshua Bill for this prestigious award!

Everyday Psychology: Emotional Intelligence

Recently Howard Gardner spoke at New Trier High School (link to the announcement and an audio file of the talk here). I couldn’t attend, but apparently 850 people showed up – wow! For those who are not familiar with the name, Gardner proposed the theory of multiple intelligences.

Thinking about emotional intelligence reminded me of something I read about last spring, which in turn reminded me that every now and then I see or read about something in the popular culture that I think is a great example of this or that psychological theory. In order to share those instances and discuss them further, I’m starting a new series called Everyday Psychology. The goal will be to help make seemingly academic psychological concepts and/or theories more accessible to the general public by sharing real-world examples.

To kick off the Everyday Psychology series, I’d like to introduce you to a man they are calling the Snackman; a true life subway hero.

The Concept: I read this article last spring, and it struck me as a perfect example of something psychologists refer to as emotional intelligence. There is controversy in the field about whether or not emotional intelligence (EI) is an actual intelligence, with measurable cognitive aspects such as those measured by the Wechsler Intelligence test battery (IQ test), or if it is more of a personal trait or ability. You can read more about that debate elsewhere, if you’re interested. I agree with David Wechsler that there are “non-intellective” factors which influence “intelligent behavior.” I also agree with Howard Gardner’s assertion that traditional methods for measuring intelligence do not “fully explain performance outcomes.” So I am proceeding from the assumption that there is such a thing as emotional intelligence, whether or not we resolve if and how those factors can be measured.

(video warning – language NSFW):

The Example: Charles Sonder was riding the subway in New York, eating a bag of Pringles, when he saw a man and a woman get into a physical altercation. Apparently the woman initiated the violence by hitting and kicking the man. Rather than start shouting at them to stop, or calling for help, or physically restraining the woman, Sonder simply edges his way over to the fighting couple and silently stands between them. The whole time, he’s eating his Pringles, projecting an aura of casual indifference. But his physical presence, acting as a human barrier between the man and woman, is enough to defuse the situation and shift the woman’s attention away from physically lashing out to merely hurling insults.


The Discussion: Sonder’s actions are a great example of EI. I think the casual snacking was a key component to the effectiveness of his intervention. He says he was just trying to get the couple to stop hitting each other, and that he didn’t stop eating the chips because he was hungry. Even though Sonder downplayed his actions, I think his instinct to keep eating the chips is a central part of the EI factor. He read the high emotions of the situation, and probably surmised that telling the couple to stop would not be effective and, in fact, might cause them to escalate. A direct challenge would likely have been viewed as threatening to either the man or the woman or both. By pretending to be involved in something else, to not really notice what was happening, Sonder became simply a neutral presence rather than a lightning rod. His neutrality is what allowed the explosive psychological energy to dissipate, as he became simply a nondescript physical buffer. If he had not been eating chips, I doubt this would have worked nearly as well.


The Four Branch model of EI has a category called Managing Emotions:

Managing emotions – the ability to regulate emotions in both ourselves and in others. Therefore, the emotionally intelligent person can harness emotions, even negative ones, and manage them to achieve intended goals.”

This is exactly what Sonder did, purely out of instinct and not thinking he was doing anything special. He was simply displaying an innate “adaptive behavior” by perceiving emotions, understanding emotions, and managing emotions in a social context. I suppose a parallel to a different type of intelligence would be a math genius who solves some complicated equation and humbly says, “I was just following it to its logical conclusion” while the rest of us look on, dumbfounded. Sonder probably did not even think of his actions as special, he just did what came naturally…to him.

Footnote: The article points out that once Sonder defused the situation, a female bystander came over – suddenly emboldened – and yelled at the man half of the couple to get off the train. But according to the witnesses on the train, it was the woman who started punching and hitting the man. Here’s a quote from the bystander who videotaped the whole thing: ‘Punching him in the face, kicking, cursing. Soon as she saw the dude, she started fighting him. Then he kicks back.’ So why would the “helpful” woman tell the man to get off the train? Surely it was the violent woman who should have been asked to leave. With the important caveat that we don’t know the background of these individuals, I can’t help but wonder if there is some level of gender bias there; the cultural assumption that a man can’t be a victim of domestic abuse. Just a thought.

Hispanic Heritage Month

Detail from “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park” by Diego Rivera

Today marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. Even though Day of the Dead isn’t until Nov. 1, it seems that its iconic imagery has become linked to the celebration of Hispanic culture overall. This is exciting because there are so many great craft projects associated with Day of the Dead that would be a fun way to introduce kids to Hispanic culture and traditions, and it gives you plenty of time to prepare for Day of the Dead. Whether you’re a teacher or a parent or a counselor looking for activities to do with children, here are a few of my favorites. These are from the craft supplies section of (click on images to go to their pages):

Sugar skull molds and supplies

Sugar skull rubber stamps

Balsa foam to make “woodcuts without the knife”

Animal Alebrijes – carved wood animals you paint in the traditional style of Oaxaca

Confetti skull beads

Blank paper mache skulls

If you live in Chicagoland, the National Museum of Mexican Art showcases “the largest annual Day of the Dead exhibition in the United States.” I also recommend perusing Wikipedia’s List of Latin Americans, a comprehensive list of notable Latin Americans. Want to know who the first Puerto Rican astronaut was (answer: Joseph M. Acaba)? Wonder which Peruvian chess player held an honorary International Grandmaster title in 1977  (answer: Esteban Canal)? Forgot which Mexican poet won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990 (answer: Octavio Paz)? The List is a great resource, but make sure you set aside some time before you head there – once you start clicking it’s kind of hard to stop!

Additional Links:

Smithsonian Education Hispanic Heritage links

The Library of Congress hosts a Hispanic Heritage Month website