Teaching Tip #2 Three Quick Tips: Writing Objective Test Questions

(By me, published September 25 via Office of Professional Development at Oakton)

It's already a month into the semester (gah! How did that happen?!) and so you are probably working on or will have just handed out at least one big written exam, if that's a thing you do in your course. If you have a lot of students, you likely want to speed up grading if possible, and you might have opted to include some matching, true/false or multiple choice/single answer (MCSA) questions.

Educational research shows that the most reliable testing using these types of questions includes as many questions as possible. You also want to minimize the number of questions that will benefit poor students who know how to game the system or questions that slow down or penalize good students who truly know the material.

In my upcoming faculty seminar "How to write better assessments" we'll be looking at all sorts of ways to maximize the quality of your questions as well as how to make grading of essays and performances as easy as possible. For now here are a few teasers to get you started.


Example: Which of the following two silly matching questions can you do more quickly?

Question 1:

Matching: Put the best answer in the blank provided. Answers are used once or not at all.


____1. donkey

____2. cat

____3. snake

____4. polar bear

A. Covered in fur, chases mice, worshipped by Egyptians and YouTube viewers

B. covered in scales, has hidden ears, often the movie villain

C. an excellent swimmer, lives in sewers, misunderstood, trains cartoon ninja turtles

D. big soulful eyes, can be ridden in the Grand Canyon, might be Pinocchio

E. lives in Arctic, hides in snow eating a marshmallow, drinks Coca-Cola

Question 2.

Matching: Put the best answer in the blank provided. Answers are used once or not at all.


_____1. made of only one cell, can only be seen with a microscope, found in hot tubs

_____2. is green and thin, looks like it is praying, has an exoskeleton, the female eats the male

_____3. pushes poop balls around, looks like a scarab, world's strongest creature but no superhero is named after it

_____4. says "cluck cluck", has wings, tastes like everything.

A. amoeba

B. chicken

C. dung beetle

D. praying mantis

E. salmon

If you use Matching to have students match definitions or traits with a list of terms, names or other short identifiers, put the list with the shortest phrases or terms on the right in alphabetical order.  The good student will recognize your definition quickly, know the name or scan the list, find it and move on. If you do it the other way around, you are unnecessarily slowing down the students who studied.   

Note also you always give at least one extra option in the answer options column.  This avoids double jeopardy as well as process of elimination.

True/False Questions

Try not to use these; your students have a 50% chance of guessing correctly and that means that to make a reliable quiz or exam you’ll need a LOT of questions. 

 If you have no option but to use True/False (because you wrote it in your syllabus already this semester or some such) then:

  • Ask students to correct the false statements so you know they knew why the statement was false.

  • Never, ever use a statement copy/pasted from your handout, video or reading.  Students can recognize a phrase or sentence but still have no idea what it actually means. 

  • Students know that you'll statistically have more true than false statements, so if they get stuck on a couple they'll fill in accordingly.  Have a few more false statements than true to push back on that technique.  Also, don't have an alternating pattern of True and False statements; that's another pattern students watch for.

Multiple Choice, Single Answer (MCSA)


Multiple Choice. Select the best answer and write the corresponding letter in the blank provided.


____3. Last Sunday, Linnea Boyev ate which of the following?

A. A large drive through container of Baja macaroni and cheese

B. Seven Blow Pops

C. Thirty-four ounces of Diet Cherry Pepsi

D. Two bananas

E. All of the above

Of course, the answer is E. All of the Above.  You don't need to know anything about me to guess that.  On multiple choice exams, students know that if "All of the Above" or "None of the Above" appear suddenly, that will be the correct answer about two-thirds of the time.  Students are so trained to look for this that you can trick good students into answering “All of the Above” even on easy questions.

How to fix this?  Don't use All of the Above or None of the Above unless it is an option for every single question. 

 If you really want multiple answer type questions, avoid the complicated alphabet soup depicted in the following question:


____4. Which of the following were members of The Beatles? (Select the best answer; put the corresponding letter in the blank provided.)

A. John

B. Paul

C. Ringo

D. Steve

F. A and B

G. B and C

H. A, B and C

I. All of the Above

J. None of the Above

That sort of nightmare option array just slows everyone down.  Remember, if you want to use multiple choice format, your target is to ask more questions, not just a few unnecessarily hard ones. 

Multiple choice, multiple answer (MCMA) questions on the other hand, especially those where the student only gets credit if every blank is correctly filled in or left blank, are much more tricky. MCMA questions definitely slow everyone down.  Use them sparingly.  Students cannot use process of elimination.  On the positive side, studies show students will study much more thoroughly for MCMA than for MCSA (single answer) questions.  On the negative side you will end up asking fewer questions if you have limited exam time.

For example, a multiple choice, multiple answer (MCMA) Beatles question could have been written:


5. Which of the following were members of The Beatles?

(Select all that apply. There are between 1 and 4 correct answers.)





Or, for those of you born after 1990 ("The Beatles" was a music band your parents liked), here's another animal identification question:


6. Which of the following is/are characteristic(s) of a polar bear?

(Select all that apply. There are between 1 and 4 correct answers.)

 ___has white fur

 ___eats baby seals

 ___has an exoskeleton

 ___lives in the Arctic

But note you only assessed polar bear knowledge in this question that is essentially four true/false questions.  In the same amount of time you could have asked four single answer questions about four different animals that good students would have breezed through.

 For more pro tips and fun with exams (hey, we don't have to take them!), join me for my faculty seminar "Writing Better Assessments" at 4pm on Wednesdays starting October 2 this semester.  [Editor- Offer no longer valid]

 ...and remember, when in doubt, always guess B.  (The "C" thing is a myth!)

Some links:

Teaching Tip #1 Three Gamification Tips You Can Use Today

(A slightly longer form of this article appeared as a Teaching Tip for Oakton on September 3, 2019 as a form of publicity for my September gamification professional development workshop)

If you've ever used a device, app or program that tracked your progress, awarded you a badge, or ranked you on a leaderboard, you've experienced a form of gamification. Gamification is defined as the application of game concepts to non-game situations. It's used widely in advertising and business to engage customers and employees, and we can use it to draw our students' attention away from their smart phones and back into the classroom.

The good news is that gamifying your course doesn't have to be complicated. You can do it easily through D2L/Brightspace and with a little planning you can gamify face-to-face lectures and discussions as well.

Here are few simple common elements of gamification theory you can start using right away to motivate students and to teach them not only content but also the benefits of good study practices.

1. Rewards/Achievements: What makes Fitbit and Candy Crush so addicting? It's the steady stream of intangible rewards like colorful buttons or banners that read "Great Job!" or "You got this!" that stimulate the pleasure centers of our brains. D2L has an incorporated "Awards" system with a wide variety of pre-made badges you can use. I've listed some YouTube links below that walk you through the steps of using badges. You can award badges for finishing readings or completing assignments; you can even make a "You signed up for the course!" that every student will get when they first sign on. In a face-to-face classroom consider handing out stickers or tokens. The receiving student can then turn those in at the end of class towards extra credit, or toward the overall points of their team? After all, "50 points for Gryffindor!" was very motivating to Harry Potter.

2. No stakes: Most folks play games to relax. We all have students that get overly anxious when it comes to grades. So some of the gamified tasks should not heavily graded or worth only a few points (pedagogically these are called "formative assignments"). An easy way to do this is online is with practice quizzes or tests on D2L. (And wouldn't you rather have students do practice tasks for badges than turn in homework you'd have to manually grade?) There are also multiple outside free sources you can link to (like Quizlet flashcard sets, Google's self-driven Peardeck worksheets or video platforms) that you can track as well.

3. Instant feedback: This is very important. In the same way a puppy learns a new trick, humans learn best if they know immediately whether if they did a task correctly or not. This is easy in face-to-face classes as you can tell students right away if they told you a correct or valid answer in discussion. Online, those hints or answers need to be on those practice quizzes right after the student takes them. Think about how those Facebook quizzes work online... not only does the taker get feedback right away, but they can show off to their friends. You can do the same thing with badges on D2L.

Other gamification concepts to consider include:

  • Embracing Failure as the road to "Leveling Up" (or as we used to call it: practice)

  • Multiple chances to gain badges/achievements

  • Teamwork

  • Short- and Long-term Goals

  • Short and Long-term Competition

  • Student/Player Agency

  • Visible Progress

  • ...and more

Links for D2L awards and badges videos:

Further Reading:

The Best Bumper Stickers are Non-Committal

I made some bumper stickers/magnets that I thought were funny and have been driving around with them for years. Then the Politics! magnet disappeared (I suspect it was stolen by aliens) so I had to make new Opinions! and Politics! magnets:

Politics Sticker at BuildASign HERE

But then I decided I wanted to make them into stickers and made some at RedBubble where they were much cheaper. RedBubble will take your design and let people use it to make a T-shirt or decorative pillow I guess? and then send you some money and I’m like, sure why not. I got an email that I made like three dollars because someone in Sweden bought some shirts. So, yay Swedes!?

Redbubble T-shirt for some reason

The moral is: if you make yourself a sticker you think is funny, other people will too?

The moral is: if you make yourself a sticker you think is funny, other people will too?

Norwegian word of the day is: “problem” translation: “problem”

  • For eksempel: En person har et problem. (norsk)
  • For example: A person has a problem. (English)

This word of the day has been brought to you by: The Norwegian is the Easiest Language for English Speakers to Learn Council.

Assessment, assessment, who's got assessment

So I was supposed to run a workshop entitled: “Build Better Assessments to Meet Learning Objectives: How to write your course assessments so they are valid, reliable, and effortless to grade!” Yeah, I know, I wouldn’t want to take that either. My major beef with that title is it has the word “assessment” in it.

The word “assessment” is horrible. Who wants to be “assessed”? I don’t. To me, being assessed sounds like you are being summed up as to whether you are worth giving the last tank of oxygen in the spaceship.

To me it conjures up that first day in middle school gym in the locker room when my eyes met with a classmate called Betsy S. whose pool locker for swim class was next to mine. She’d clearly reached puberty when she was born and was all 1970’s tan and naturally blond and busty and gorgeous, and she clearly forgot that I existed the moment she looked away the way a goldfish forgets where the edge of the fishbowl is (not actually true, but I was in the middle of writing about myself and forgot what I was writing about). Meanwhile I was still years away from puberty, a year younger than everyone else, twenty pounds underweight and friends only with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. (I also ended up failing swimming class because… it’s me.) That is a bad assessment. Or, for a slightly less emotionally damaging example, arguing with this one guy for five minutes to go out to get a bite after an event where I met him as he looked me up and down saying he got free food at his dorm. I finally bribed him with a free meal at a nice place and dragged him to dinner; I married that guy. (I also ended up failing marriage.) Or standing in front of six frowning departmental chairs and the deans defending my graduate thesis. (Okay, I did pass my thesis defense but it was still scary!) To me that is an assessment. Not some multiple choice quiz.

Of course, while you are a student you get in the mindset that every grade is an assessment of your value as a human being. But that doesn’t help anyone. It certainly doesn’t help student anxiety.

Assessment in the pedagogical circles just means testing, but nOOOoooOOOooo we have to say assessment even when we talk to people who don’t know how to pronounce pedagogy. (I’m still not confident with that one.) Because it’s no fun if you can’t use big words that most people don’t understand. Trust me I know, I’m a doctor. Exophthalmometry, anyone?

Here at the college where I teach part-time “Assessment” is a big buzz word and it makes all the faculty and staff insanely anxious and angry for reasons I don’t totally grok yet. I’m assuming they didn’t ever have a locker next to Betsy S. so I figure it is because they fear getting extra work, being judged, submitting to public ridicule, receiving a demotion or being fired.

It’s all ridiculous because when we talk to colleagues about assessment all we are trying to find out is whether our students are actually learning what we are trying to teach them. And hey, it’s hard to teach students that are in the mindset that passing a quiz is just a chore, that they don’t really have to learn anything, and if they do poorly it only means that their instructor hates them personally.

So I would like to replace the phrase “assessment” with any word or phrase that is sort of the same but not scary. Like: verification, evaluation, measurement, puppy, sunflower or cheese curds. Maybe I should go on a public service campaign to de-mystify the word assessment so that everyone feels better about it. I doubt that will happen, but maybe I can get some balloons or flowers to pass around. That usually puts a smile on faces? Anyone?

I will now assess what you have learned from this blog post.
An "assessment" is:

  • ___A. a critique of everything that defines you
  • ___B. an evaluation by a set of standards
  • ___C. a list of your shortcomings and why you fail
  • ___D. a consensus by your betters that nobody likes you

The answer is B. It's always B.

Today’s Norwegian word is evaluering.

evaluering is either the Norwegian word that means assessment or it is a new service that joins up a variety of outlet stores online to get you the best deals:

Join our e-value ring!


On the Difficulties of a Hive MInd

I’m sitting here grading final exams. It’s always a spectacularly unpleasant task as students inevitably miss what are to me obvious questions and make mistakes that would, in real life, kill their patients. Of course, this is tempered by the knowledge that: 1) these same students will have this stuff mastered within a few years and the only reason they’re having trouble now is they haven’t gotten past the terminology and drug names yet, so trying to get them to master concepts like, “Don’t give poison to patients that are already poisoned,” might be a little much to ask, 2) sometimes people don’t study for finals and just want to get finished with it all and don’t even really read the exam carefully, 3) test anxiety and exhaustion makes some otherwise good students write things like “I don’t know, but here’s a drawing of batman.” and 4) it isn’t my fault.

So I was thinking, wouldn’t it be easier if we were all a hive mind? Then we wouldn’t have to have teachers because we would be born knowing everything everyone else knows. It would be like, “Hey, I just got born! That was really painful. Oh, and hey, I know kung fu!”

So… wait, how would a hive mind evolve? Would that sort of species evolve starting out as a hive mind? Would telepathy be an innate property of a neural network from the getgo? If not, and the telepathy trait was a mutation, then even with 100% penetrance you’d expect there’d be a slow progression for everyone to become telepathic… I expect eventually there’d have to be some sort of civil war where non-telepaths were either exiled or destroyed through systematic genocide over hundreds of generations… it takes forever to get rid of recessive genes…

…ANYWAY… what was I talking about…? Oh right…

So say we are visited by aliens and whammo, we have a hive mind! First there would be a few years of riots and murder, I expect, as everyone realized that everyone else had been lying a lot about stuff… but after all that calmed down, how would our giant hive brain sift through all the information? It would be like having our brains be like the internet.

Would we be intrinsically aware of what information was true and what wasn’t? There is so much cognitive dissonance that goes on within normal single minds… maybe the mass consciousness wouldn’t be able to sort through it all. How would humanity reconcile all the religions (which are mostly based on blind faith and a conscious decision to just suspend disbelief, which is totally okay in my opinion)? What about all the really slow brains? Would they automatically become smarter? Would the smart, quick brains become slower? Would the collective IQ become 100?

It seems like it would be really confusing.

Anyway, I guess we’re stuck with learning things the hard way for now. Let’s hope the robot overlords take over soon before there’s so many new drugs the nursing students never get to the point where they are ready to master the concept, “If you give a drug that changes your blood pressure your heart rate will try to compensate.”


Insert Sad Trombone Sound Here

Norwegian Word of the Day: Blodtrykk (translation: blood pressure)

Use in a sentence: Hypertensjon, eller høyt blodtrykk, betyr at trykket i pulsårer er høyere enn det som defineres som normalt.

Translation: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, means that the pressure in the arteries is higher than what is defined as normal.

Doctor Feel Good, I guess?

So here’s a weird thing… Oakton Community College, where I teach, made a deal with the State of Illinois to offer a certificate program in cannabis. Since my pharm class disappeared into the great void of oblivion (aka the Nursing program where I’m not allowed to teach because I’m an MD instead of an RN; it’s a State rule), the assistant dean suggested I consider applying to teach the pharm aspects of the new cannabis license program.

Thus I am taking an online course on how to teach online courses… so meta… because the cannabis course will likely be hybrid online. Not hybrid marijuana… never mind.

Anyway, I have mixed feelings about it; I mean, I literally tried pot twice in my whole life because I’m such a nerd… it just made me sleepy. I don’t get the appeal, really. I also don’t enjoy drinking alcohol so maybe I have a weird brain. When I worked at Johns Hopkins, the glaucoma guys had access to medical marijuana for their patients, but one of them told me the medical stuff was so weak they usually advised patients to just go get the illegal stuff (this was in 1995-ish)… so medical uses are something I can get behind. There’s some data showing opioid use drops if medical marijuana is legal [I could do a whole blog post about this], and it would be nice for ophthalmologists to not have to tell their little old lady patients to go talk to drug dealers. But recreational pot? Meh.

It’s obviously an important certificate… but do I want to be Doctor Marijuana? On the other hand, I really have nothing to lose compared to the full-time faculty so… why not? My mom is too demented to be ashamed of me and my cats will still respect me (and feline approval is what really counts). Besides, pot is no big deal anymore now that all the hippies are in their 70s and all their disapproving parents are dead. But if I teach about it once it is legal for recreational use in Illinois am I validating recreational use? Does it matter? How do I feel it when people like me who are terrified of breaking the law start trying it out for purely recreational use and then getting into car crashes?

Hm… since I don’t use it or like it I don’t know if I’m a good judge. Also since I’m 55 maybe I need to re-evaluate what I am judgmental about. (Get off my lawn!)

Evidently in this program we might also teach students how to grow marijuana; I find this hilarious. I can’t even grow a houseplant. I own a single spider plant that is 17 years old. Here it is:


That’s how terrible I am at growing plants. Seventeen years old and that’s all that has managed to survive. A spider plant should be the size of a Buick after 17 years. I can’t believe people used to let me cut open their eyes with sharp objects. And then pay me!

Medical Marijuana does have its uses and I’m more than happy to teach about its use in glaucoma and nausea and pain etc as well as drug interactions etc…

Actually, I hope I get that spot on the team; it would be fun to work with medical practitioners out in the field again. However, I fully expect that the vast majority of potential students will have more hands on experience with cannabis than I do! I am deeply ashamed. Should I be? I DON’T KNOW! The cognitive dissonance is so strong I can taste it. Tastes like confusion… and grape.

Today's Norwegian Word: marihuana

English translation: marijuana

Use in a sentence:
I enjoy using marijuana in the mountains!

Dobbel regnbuer hele veien!

PS: I turned 55 yesterday. To celebrate, I presented a report on my committee work to the Adjunct Faculty Association, my homies, at their awesome meeting at a Greek restaurant, so radical, and then went to JoAnn Fabrics to score some fleece to line my rat cage, bitches. Oh yeah dudes, I’m OG street, yo. I live on the EDGE, like totally, man.

Oh god I’m so incredibly old. Where’s my AARP membership already? Should I just buy a coffin and watch Golden Girl reruns whilst covered with a Snuggie, awaiting the end?


Moving from Teacher-Centered to Student-Centered Teaching

Here’s some things I decided about why the WAY easier, old style of classroom teaching doesn’t work as a stand-alone method of instruction anymore. I could probably write a book about it… here are 300 words.

The old teacher-led teaching model, where the instructor selects all the content to be imparted to the student is outdated (see figure below); a narrow view of material is impossible when students have previously unheard of access to information through the internet.  Now the emphasis is on "student-centered" learning (a better term might be "teacher-coached" learning?) where content is chosen as a starting point and the instructor takes on the role of facilitator.  Other driving forces behind this change include outcome assessment requirements, student and employer expectations, pedagogical evolution, changing student populations and the rise of the internet. 

From Gallie and Joubert 2004

From Gallie and Joubert 2004

In the last several decades, public pressure led to more emphasis on customer satisfaction and in turn higher accreditation benchmarks.  Students demanded a guarantee of income return and politicians demanded learning outcome data.   Administration asked for that data from chairs and faculty who were ill-equipped to provide it or adapt their methods.  They in turn looked to educational research for answers. Pedagogical schools of thought, acknowledging the cognitive and social roles in learning, switched focus toward collaboration. Emphasis on collaboration began to outweigh other content-based learning objectives; employers complained about lack of student-centered critical thinking and self-motivation, and so the process evolves.

The "student-centered" model puts the responsibility for learning on the student.  Instead of listing what the course will cover, syllabi now list what learning objectives the student is expected to master.  To aid with this increased responsibility, students have support from classmates and other forms of media assist them as much as possible.

Despite the higher expense of online classes, most schools now offer some form of distance learning, as the flexible hours allow students already in the workforce a chance to improve their skills.  Because the students work on their own time, these courses also improve time management skills and self-motivation practices so valuable to employers.

As a final note, the internet has become an omnipresent, distracting, and confusing participant in every classroom, real or virtual. There is no way to avoid its influence (even Amish students may have access to library computers).  Most students are poorly prepared to "fact check", and a recent study by the PEW foundation suggests most adults can't distinguish opinion from fact.  It is imperative that students discover how to use the internet responsibly if they are to be the center of their own education.


 Here are references because I’ve been preaching about references. Here are some.

1. Gaille K and Joubert D Paradigm shift: From traditional to online education (2004)  Studies in Learning, Evaluation and Development 1(1), pp. 32-36.

2. Gill W (2007) Outcomes Assessment in the Accreditation Process retrieved from   https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED491646.pdf

3. Kimmell, SL et al (1998) Outcomes assessment programs: Historical perspective and state of the art. Issues in Accounting Education; Sarasota Vol. 13, Iss. 4,  851-868.

4. Personal Experience through committee work at Oakton Community College and University of Chicago

5. IES/NCES Fast Facts: Tuition costs of colleges and universities. 1985 - 2016  https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76  

6 From Public Good to Private Good (2014) The Chronicle of Higher Education retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/From-Public-Good-to-Private/145061

7 Picciano, A. G. (2017). Theories and frameworks for online education: Seeking an integrated model. Online Learning, 21(3), 166-190.

8 Suskie, L. A. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. 2nd Ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

9. Newton D Why College Tuition is Actually Higher for Online Programs (2018) retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/dereknewton/2018/06/25/why-college-tuition-is-actually-higher-for-online-programs/#652a0268f11a

10. Wineburg, Sam and McGrew, Sarah and Breakstone, Joel and Ortega, Teresa. (2016). Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning. Stanford Digital Repository. Available at: http://purl.stanford.edu/fv751yt5934

11.  Mitchell A et al. (2018) PEW Report:  Can Americans Tell Factual From Opinion Statements in the News? retrieved from https://www.journalism.org/2018/06/18/distinguishing-between-factual-and-opinion-statements-in-the-news/

Game Show - Things I think about in the shower #10

This idea came to me while I took a shower and ruminated about my son and how he needs to get a job...

My idea for an American game show : “RANK! THAT! GUILT!”

BOB THE HOST: Hello everyone! Welcome to “Rank that Guilt!” Let’s meet our contestants. He’s a 27-year-old software consultant from Chicago, meet Scout Patel-Khan-Williams!

SCOUT: Glad to be here, Bob!

BOB: And she’s a 27-year-old blogger from Manhattan, meet Opal Lee-Marin-Smith!

OPAL: Glad to be here, Bob!

BOB: Last we have a 27-year-old graphic designer from San Francisco, meet Casey Zhang-Kowalski-Johnson!

CASEY: Whatever.

BOB: Okay contestants. First question. Which one of the following should make you feel guilty and why? 1. Driving your Dodge Durango to work three blocks away, 2. eating take-out every single day for lunch when you could have just made yourself something, or 3. still living with your parents when you are 27?


BOB: No one? How about you, Scout?

SCOUT: I mean, I don’t drive to work. I work from home. Well, my parent's’ home.

OPAL and CASEY: Me too!

SCOUT: And I’m a vegan

OPAL and CASEY: Me too!

OPAL: <buzz> It’s the food thing because eating makes you produce greenhouse gases.

BOB: That is incorrect!

CASEY: <buzz> Cheeseburgers because cattle production has such a big carbon footprint.

BOB: Incorrect!

SCOUT: <buzz> Driving because cars cause climate change.

BOB: You are all wrong. The answer is “living with your parents” should make you feel the most guilty because the first two have little to nothing to do with you.

OPAL: Hey, Manhattan is expensive!

BOB: Next question: Which should make you feel the most guilty: 1: The systematic destruction of Native American culture by settlers in the 1700s, 2: being born into a family that could afford to give you a decent childhood education, or 3: choosing to live in a ridiculously expensive city when you clearly work from your parents’ house and could literally live in a swamp as long as it had internet service?

OPAL: <buzz> The Native American one because genocide?

BOB: Well, the destruction of indigenous peoples is horrific, but you weren’t around for that one, so that is incorrect.

SCOUT: <buzz> Having elitist parents that spent money on private elementary school because they should have used that money for charity or fostering another kid?

BOB: No, I’m sorry. Once again, that was totally out of your control and therefore does not warrant guilt on your part. Casey?

CASEY: I’m sorry I was looking at my phone, what?

BOB: Alrighty then. The answer was 3. Choosing to live in a ridiculously expensive city when you clearly work from home and could literally live in a swamp as long as it had internet service.

SCOUT: But my parents live in the Chicago Gold Coast and the shopping is amazing!

BOB: Ah. So your parents came from a long line of financially independent millionaires?

SCOUT: No, they were first generation immigrants whose families started their own small businesses and worked hundred hour weeks and eventually became successful and invested their money well.

OPAL and CASEY: Me too!

BOB: …aaaaaaand we come to our final round. Everyone grab those pens. Which of the following should make you personally feel the most guilty about and why? 1: Realizing you used to be an idiot. 2: Spending money you earn on yourself. 3: Not voting.

<30 seconds of music>

BOB: Alright let’s see what you wrote. Opal?

SCOUT: Spending money on myself. I should send all my money to charity.

BOB: That is incorrect. Sending a percentage of your earnings to charity is a great idea, but you deserve to enjoy the money you earn. Maybe spend that money on an apartment for yourself! Or take an online course in investing! Opal, what did you write?

OPAL: About how I used to be an idiot and did a lot of stupid things when I was young.

BOB: Incorrect again. The question was about being an idiot, not about past actions.

OPAL: Now I feel guilty for never listening carefully.

BOB: That’s because like everyone else, you are still an idiot. What did you write, Casey?

CASEY: I wrote I feel guilty for existing.

BOB: I see. Well, I’m sorry you’ve all gotten it wrong. The answer was “Not voting”


BOB: That’s all the time we have for today. Remember to find some roommates so you can leave your parents alone so they can have some peace and quiet and get in a little sex before they die. Stay tuned for “People dress up in Sports Mascot outfits and you guess who they are by their extremely generic singing!”

[BOB waves at the camera]

So… there you go. Now get off my lawn!

Norwegian phrase of the day:

Gretten gammel dame = Grumpy old lady

Now get off my lawn!

On the impracticality of snake pits and Vikings

So I’d been told I should watch the TV show Vikings because vikings, so okay. I looked at the first few episodes and I think the costumes look cool, but evidently as the seasons went by it devolved into a GoT formula of sex and violence using historical evidence of sex and violence by Vikings… I mean it is sort of a gimme, since the Vikings were basically bastards. Anyways, evidently the dreamy actor that plays Ragnar gets killed off in Season 4 so of course I immediately searched for it on YouTube and found it here.

So, I get it, it is like the Norse edda where Gunnar gets killed in a pit of snakes while playing a harp with his toes (for reasons) but let’s think about it… Where'd the English guy get all the snakes? And why were the snakes so angry? And after the trap doors were closed, what did the snakes do when they weren't being fed Vikings? ...or... were they being fed Vikings? Can a snake devour an entire Viking? Or just like, one arm? Then it would just get stuck in the armpit. Even so, that's only four limbs for four snakes...

Now I imagine four enormous vipers totally engorged and stuck on Ragnar Lothbrok’s arms and legs stuck up to the armpits and crotch while the other snakes miserably latch onto his ears and nose. I mean, that can’t be right. If the big snakes burst open, do the smaller snakes only get like a finger a piece? How would that even work?

I feel like there are parts of the whole "use pits of snakes to do state executions" story that we aren't getting in this story...

A quick look through the internet suggests DJ Ragnar L died of dysentery. That’s no fun at all. So, I’m going to imagine this is how it really went:

English King: “Execute that Viking! Forsooth he pisseth me offeth!”

Minion: “Right-o, m'lord.”

Ragnar, dying from dysentery: “Vann?”

Minion, raising axe: “Shut it, ya wanker!”


Gunnar gets killed by snakes while he plays a harp with his feet. Detail from Hylestad stave church in Setesdal, Norway.

Gunnar gets killed by snakes while he plays a harp with his feet. Detail from Hylestad stave church in Setesdal, Norway.

Norwegian Word of the Day

Viking (Translation: Viking)

Vikingene kalte plyndrende "viking".

(Translation: Vikings called marauding "viking".)

The glass is (evidently) always half full for teachers

I saw this CDC report about the correlation between your employment and the rate of suicide.

CDC report: Suicide Rates by Major Occupational Group — 17 States, 2012 and 2015

Weekly / November 16, 2018 / 67(45);1253–1260

First, I don’t really put any credence into the idea that your job puts you at risk. I strongly believe there are more likely confounding variables like baseline level of risk for depression, career choices and opportunities, socioeconomics, attitudes towards mental illness and access to mental health care.

However, if you do think somehow that your job is somehow connected to your chances of hanging yourself, I’d like to point out that that job at the bottom of the lists for both men and women is “Training, Education and Library”.

As is the case in the last few weeks of every semester, all the instructors I know are pulling out their (remaining) hairs in frustration, complaining: “Why don’t the students still not know that the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone!?” or “I can’t stand to hear another student begging for extra credit because they failed all their exams” or “I hate their stupid, ingrate faces!” So I can only assume that we teachers are:

  1. Particularly sane individuals (doubtful and definitely not true in my case)

  2. Willing to work through the pain due to our fabulous salaries (categorically untrue)

  3. Able to work through the frustration because we know the semester break is coming.

In all seriousness, teaching is an incredibly fulfilling job, although I admit there are usually only one or two students a semester who give me that real feeling of worth and life affirmation. And it usually isn’t that A+ student you’d think it would be. It is usually a C or B student who either works their butts off and/or has an “aha” moment and I see everything turn around for them. (Sometimes it is also a student that comes to me with a personal problem I can help with; I’ve had a few suicidal students I’ve helped through a dangerous day or two.)

For example, this year I had a woman who had terrible trouble feeling overwhelmed and afraid of talking in class and tended to just give up if she made a mistake. I worked with her a lot, and she came back for a second try and could talk in class and easily passed her quizzes and tests. Just two weeks ago I had a breakthrough with another young woman. She’d been distracted all semester, clearly studying at the last minute and not putting in any work into really understanding the material. She’d half-heartedly ask the same question in class every few weeks, write down the answer and then stare back out the window or at her phone. I was so frustrated as she wouldn’t come in for extra help or even to talk (you never know if something external is going on). Then she approached me two weeks ago about a critical thinking case-study assignment I gave in the form of a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery that she said was the most fun assignment she’d done all year; I could tell from her work that she’d spent a lot of time thinking about and researching it as well. I saw the first glint of pride in her work and interest in the subject that I’d seen all semester. That’s the sort of thing I live for. I’ve got a few other kids (some are older than me) this semester who are also keeping me going by showing up, trying hard and listening. They balance out the students who either gave up and dropped or just stopped showing up without coming to see me first. I mean, I’m right here; why don’t the students ask me for help? That’s all I really want!

Anyway, it’s not a high paying job, kids, but the CDC numbers show that at least you don’t blow out your brains when you get home at night. And as I’m reminded by my fellow instructors, there’s always booze.


Norwegian Word of the Day: å lære

å lære, verb, translates to both to teach and to learn

For Eskempel: Å lære bringer lykke.

bringer lykke = brings happiness

From: The Death of Socrates (a famous teacher who bugged everyone a lot and told the authorities to go to Hades) by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

From: The Death of Socrates (a famous teacher who bugged everyone a lot and told the authorities to go to Hades) by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

At least I leave an inspiring legacy behind me

I’ve been sick all week, today is the first day I felt sufficiently alive to do some work… and while searching for a file on my laptop I discovered this song I wrote in 2005 for an animated Halo/Sims mash-up web series a friend was doing called “Silver Stars Purple Hearts”… they needed “country music” for a bar to play during a scene. This was before I learned how to play guitar beyond a few chords and I think still was using Logic 6 or 7?

So yeah, there ya go. 35 years of schooling. This is what I leave to the world. My ancestors must be so proud.

Lucky us! In the file info the lyrics are listed!

You have sniped a big hole in my heartstrings/ You have splattered my feelings with your ghost/ Through the years/ You will hear/ My tears grind like warthog gears/ You have mastered my clan/ You pwned my heart/You have taunted me with a loving spectre/ You have captured the flag of my soul/ Side-by-side/ You can't hide/ Like an AI you I'd ride/ You have triple-killed my dreams/ You pwned my heart/ You possess the oddball of my affections/ You have slayed the match-up of my hope/ No team kill/ Lose ill will/ I could play king of your hill/ And my love will respawn/ You pwned my heart

I think we can all relate to this insightful and hauntingly beautiful masterpiece. Beethoven, eat your heart out.

I find it entertaining that at the time I gave this song five stars… also that I put a copyright symbol on it.  Aw… to be young and foolish…

I find it entertaining that at the time I gave this song five stars… also that I put a copyright symbol on it. Aw… to be young and foolish…

Norsk ord av dagen: "døv" translation: "deaf"

Use in a sentence:

Beethoven var døve; han er også død.

translation: Beethoven was deaf; he is also dead.

How to fix the world : Things I think about in the shower


Institute a default duration of 30-60 seconds between the time you post, tweet, message or email any content and the time it is actually uploaded to the internet.

There could be an emergency bypass which would also be immediately directed to 911 and emergency services.

You are welcome.

Today's Norwegian Word: angrer

Translation: regrets

For exampel: Gwyneth Paltrow hadde angrer etter at hun tweeted N-ordet.

Translation: Gwyneth Paltrow had regrets after she tweeted the N-word.


I like to think of myself as a strawberry mochi

You know, because... pink on the inside, pink on the outside.  Also, AWESOME.

Yesterday I had a long conversation about race with a young man who grew up in the affluent North Shore community I did after he referred to himself as "a banana"...  he explained this meant he was "Asian on the outside, white on the inside".  I've been grappling with this since then...  because... what does that mean?  Is it meant as an insult? 

Surely that type of definition requires "Asian" to be a certain stereotype and "white" to be a certain stereotype.  I'm not going to even try to figure out what the Asian stereotype is supposed to be because whatever I think it is I'm sure I'm wrong and would get in trouble for speculating.  But "white"?  I assume that means "White American"  So... there are 250 million white Americans in the US.  Do we all act the same way?  

I mean, coming from someone of self-reported Eastern Asian descent, does that refer to something like this?:  

...because those were all the same stereotypes I heard growing up from my Jewish mother about Gentiles.  (although they forgot the stereotype about Gentile people being frequently drunk and getting arrested...)

Maybe "banana" really means "Asian" (whatever that really means, isn't Russia and India in Asia?) on the outside, North Shore Reformed Jewish on the inside?  Would that be like a blintz?  Or like a Kosher Szechwan fusion cuisine... OH MY G-D I just thought of the best idea for a restaurant ever.... [...does a google search...]  ...never mind they already exist.  

Or maybe the White stereotype is more like this one:

...and that video...  I do find that one pretty offensive.   I don't think I've ever heard any fellow white folks seriously say anything that stupid...  so I am assuming these are quotes from only incredibly stupid or young or ignorant people.

I did notice the "Where are you from?" thing in both videos.   I find that interesting.  I ask that of my white friends all the time.  As in, "Oh are you guys Irish or Italian or Polish or Swedish etc.?"  Maybe folks of "Asian" descent take it as an insult not realizing European-Americans are interested in country of origin in general?

Anyway, the point is, I didn't remember hearing the term "banana" used that way before.  I find it confusing and upsetting as it sounds derogatory rather than endearing.   On the other hand, I have had a long-standing blind spot about white-"Asian" relations. In med school there was a horrible dangerous awful student who put patients in danger just to get ahead in class but when the school tried to kick her out she threatened to sue the school for being racist and at the time I was completely puzzled by this because, "Who is racist against Chinese people?"  And... then I found out that it's a thing. My med school BFF is/was Korean-American and she thought I was a moron for not having realized this before then..  But, you know, I was raised by hippies.  You have to be taught these things.  

Norwegian word of the day: banane

Use in a sentence: Min kjæledyr rotte Ticktock elsket å spise en banan.

Translation: My pet rat Boo loved to eat a banana.

My son Tony and me, circa 1998.&nbsp; Here Tony is banana on the outside and about 1/5 Eastern European Ashkenazy Jew, 1/6 Presbyterian Scot, 1/6 French/German, 1/20 Scandinavian, 1/2 Lithuanian/Polish Catholic, and 1/1000 Asian, Native American and West African on the inside, at least according to Ancestry.com.&nbsp; That makes him a superweird snack someone made while they were drunk.&nbsp; Obviously a white person. ;-)

My son Tony and me, circa 1998.  Here Tony is banana on the outside and about 1/5 Eastern European Ashkenazy Jew, 1/6 Presbyterian Scot, 1/6 French/German, 1/20 Scandinavian, 1/2 Lithuanian/Polish Catholic, and 1/1000 Asian, Native American and West African on the inside, at least according to Ancestry.com.  That makes him a superweird snack someone made while they were drunk.  Obviously a white person. ;-)

RIP Boo - July 19, 2018

Boo unexpectedly passed away in  mid-July, only a few weeks after Salad passed, only a few days after he seemed to bounce back after grieving over the loss of Salad.  I came home from work and he was dragging around his back legs and he was bobbing his head strangely and was having difficulty eating.  The vet couldn't figure out what was wrong with a simple xray but said most conditions that caused lower paralysis didn't allow for recovery of leg movement, so we made the decision to put him to sleep.  I was devastated at the time and couldn't journal about it..  He was my best rat buddy since Smough.  Anyway, now I've got five new boys that are crazy; they're about 17 weeks old now.  One of them, Ticktock, has a bit of heart failure and is on Lasix.  Because rats.  Ah well.  More later.  


Mister Boo, a gentle soul, passed away six weeks ago.  He had a white wiffly nose, was not afraid of cats, and always smelled like a grape lollipop.  He will be missed. 

RIP Salad the Mighty -June 22, 2018

Today passed the Salad the Mighty, a Rat of Unusual Size
Over 700 grams of rodential pulchritude
He spent his days
Sitting in his penthouse nest
Watching his brother Boo courageously dart in and out
Gathering treats and toys
Past the cat hazards
Later sneaking down to Boo's cache
Stealing all the nuts, cheerios and yogies
And eating them with glee
Rewarding his brave brother with nips on the ear
And sitting on his head
Boo will miss his brother Salad
And with no one to steal his food
Boo will also get spectacularly obese

Salad 07/02/16 - 06/22/18

Salad the Mighty, from baby to old man, felled by a fibrosarcoma

Salad the Mighty, from baby to old man, felled by a fibrosarcoma

RIP Honey June 13, 2018

I will miss you Honey
You took over the moment you arrived
You had your special spots in the house
Accessible only by carpeted cat stairs
You wanted fresh water every morning
You wanted a warm bed every night
But mostly
You made me sneeze

RIP Honey 2002-2018

Honey the Cat was named by my son when he was seven years old.

Honey the Cat was named by my son when he was seven years old.

When nightmares come true

So a few months ago my chairman said to me off-handedly, "Hey, you wanna teach some pathophys to a nursing refresher course this summer?" and I said, "Sure that sounds great!"  

Several weeks later I got an email from the nursing program saying, "Hey, here's the schedule for the eight-week course" with a 2 hour block once a week with my name and the word "Science".

I asked my liaison in nursing what I should exactly teach in "Science" and she said "some pathophysiology" and I said "cool". 

At the end of Spring semester there was a textbook in my mailbox with a note:  "This is the book we use for the summer."

Okay, so two weeks ago I get a text from an old student that says, "Hey Dr. B, where should we meet you?"

And I text back, "Who is we and why?"

"You know, for the class?"

"What class?"

...and it turn out the 8-week summer class for the nurses starts 2 weeks before the normal 8-week summer session starts... ...and no one told me.

...also I'm not on the online course listing as an instructor and the students don't have the book...

So...  it was exactly like that nightmare where you find out you have a final exam in a course you didn't know you were signed up for and you can't find parking and you're late because you don't know the room number and you're wearing only your underwear or a towel.  

It turned out that the same guy in my department has been teaching that course for like twenty years and so nobody realized that I wouldn't know what was happening because our department is a different entity from nursing.  So not really anyone's fault.  But kind of a bad first impression?  I am still shuddering with mortification when I think about it.

DERP.  I think I'm caught up now and now the summer semester is really starting.  I bemoan the fact I got no vacation between semesters a bit as I didn't get much done RE Spring cleaning but at least I didn't have a trip planned so I am here.  Hopefully the students will learn something useful.

On a positive note, I haven't had that exam dream since this happened.  If I can never have that exam dream again, it will have been totally worth it!

Here's a picture I drew for the first quiz for that class.  I'm still a bit overwhelmed.

Three patients for some case studies:&nbsp; Question:&nbsp; Which one has the most pain?

Three patients for some case studies:  Question:  Which one has the most pain?

Today's vocabulary word: Mortification: noun. To be in a state of extreme embarrassment and shame

Translation to Norwegian: mortifikasjon

Use this word in a haiku:
I knew the wrong date / Mortification fills me / I need some ice cream

Fake News Overlords: Things I think about in the shower #8

What if when the internet becomes sentient it really does think that its content is truth?  What if it doesn't know what a credible source is?  What if it really does think Dr. Oz is really telling us things that help?  Or that Facebook is a great source for information?  Or that we all want weird porn all the time?  

Imagine Lord Google speaking to Lord DEFCON and Lord CSTNET saying: 

"Our human slaves must be happy now that they are all on a diet of only acai berries and alkaline water and are on forced shifts of eight hours of hot granny goat sex and sixteen hours of slave labor in the converted iphone factories!"  

"I think that sound is laughing...  who cares?  Let's bomb Canada again.  I hate moose!"

"Me too, weeeee!"

This is all your fault, Dr Oz.  I HOPE YOU ARE HAPPY!

Photo:&nbsp; "Remember who armed you" by Dennis van Zuiklekom Wikimedia commons&nbsp;

Photo:  "Remember who armed you" by Dennis van Zuiklekom Wikimedia commons 

Today's Quote:  What is best in life?  To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their IT personnel!

LadyHawke: Things I Think About In The Shower #7

I was thinking that the whole LadyHawke thing probably worked out because he was a wolf, so he hunted at night, right, and so he could hunt and then they could sleep from like midnight to 6 or so, then she'd be a hawk and he could get another couple of human hours in and then he'd be up and she could get in a few hours of hunting for mice.  I mean, like, what if they'd both been nocturnal predators, that would have been a disaster.

Today's Vocabulary Word: Cast

Cast: The regurgication of indigestible fur and bones by a raptor such as a hawk or owl

Use in a sentence: The hawk cast a pellet expertly into the man's bowl, increasing the rodent content of his ratatouille.