Virus of the Mind

The novel coronavirus. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The first pandemic of my lifetime to virtually close the United States. With this post I hope to propose a connection between the current pandemic and a book I read last summer, Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie.

Logos and marketing tools are “viruses of the mind”. Brodie is the creator of create Microsoft Word so I learned a lot of new vocabulary trying to keep up with his writing.

In 2009, Richard Brodie published this work of research investigating how cultural icons become so well known and transferred through society so quickly. The following is an incredibly abbreviated summary of the book.

In cultures, certain ideas seem to catch on and are shared more quickly than others. These ideas by definition are memes (pronounced MEEM) which is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture”. This notion of meme has been hijacked by the social media culture to refer to an easily shareable image.

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A classic ‘meme’.
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Memes are usually rich with sarcasm.

While I read Virus of the Mind an interesting statistic caught my attention. The term ‘meme’ was first coined in 1976 in the book The Selfish Gene. 1976!

How could something so culturally relevant in 2020 have been coined in 1976? This notion leads directly into the point of this post. A true virus, or virus of the mind, starts as single unit and grows exponentially through sharing. True exponential growth is y = abx where ‘a’ is the initial amount, ‘b’ is the growth factor, and ‘x’ is time. ‘y’ is the total number of virus, or memes being circulated.

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Sharing is slow at first and then increases quickly, exponentially.
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The number of reported cases outside of China seems to nicely follow this expected exponential growth for a virus.

The images above seem to highlight the similarity between the “virus of the mind” idea of a meme spreading and the actual spread of the COVID-19 across the globe.

In my home state of Michigan, the news reports and social media feeds have been bombarded with COVID-19 information this past week. Coming to a dramatic head on March 12, 2020 when colleges and universities began to move all classes to online platforms. The closing of colleges and universities accompanied the cancellation of sporting events and group gatherings of more than 250 people. Did the growth of Google search popularity of the COVID-19 virus match the rate COVID-19 cases in the United States? No. As the graph of search result rankings below shows, the past two days have outpaced the exponential growth of the virus itself. The past two days have moved up in a near vertical jump, rather than the progressive growth of an exponential curve.

The United States Google interest seems to jump very quickly on March 12, 2020.

I believe we are currently fighting against two viruses. COVID-19 and the virus of social media hysteria. Brodie poses the question, “Will there be a mental plague?” I would offer the empty shelves of toilet paper and hand-sanitizer as evidence that as a society we are consumed by the social media plague. At our local Meijer hand-sanitizer shelves were empty while a stash of hand-soap was still available. The CDC and WHO top two recommendations for slowing the spread are washing hands with warm water and soap and social distancing. Wash with soap, not hand-sanitizer! The social media feeds are littered with empty hand-sanitizer shelves and posts warning of high hand-sanitizer costs. So which is ruling the mind of cosumers? Rational thought and scientific advice or media hysteria? COVID-19 is real and stocking up on a couple weeks of supplies does make sense. Buying a cart load of toilet paper to last through October is unnecessary and not supported by the COVID-19 timeline.

If you use this much toilet paper in two weeks, COVID-19 is a lesser worry…

In China, the numbers of survivors is now growing faster than the number of deaths due to COVID-19. The world is closing down much faster than before in an effort to “flatten the curve” and ease tension on healthcare systems. This is a global learning opportunity and I pray the positive lessons learned outweigh the damage done to families, industry, and the economy.

Protective measures help the strain on healthcare systems.

One takeaway from the book Virus of the Mind is that social media has allowed a meme to spread much faster than a typical virus. The hit rate for a popular culture meme grows much faster than something truly viral. The spike is faster and the drop-off in popularity is equally as quick. I can only hope the social media hysteria surrounding this current pandemic will drop-off as quickly as it set in.

“This too shall pass”. During this unprecedented time I hope we can all find ways to reconnect with nature, each other, and focus our energy away from the draw of media. The path of least resistance will be to settle in on the couch and binge marathons of media. Rekindle the more traditional ways to entertain while many of us have the time. Journal, sort through old collections of stuff around the house, call a friend you haven’t found the time to connect with, and the list continues for ways we can all make use of our time and resources during this pandemic shut-down.

When this has all leveled back out I predict we will see a unique divide in our population. The divide will be between those people who have worked to fill their time productively and those who have lost this time due to being consumed by factors outside of their own control. I encourage you to pursue the former and make the most you can of this unique time. Peace.

I Wrote a Children’s Book!

It took a couple years of intermittently working to write the story, find an illustrator, find a way to publish, and then get the courage to finalize the project. I am excited to share that my first book is complete! Physical copies have arrived and Print On Demand (POD) is available for ordering your own copy.

So what is the story!?

While visiting with family in northern Michigan people kept losing track of their phone and tablet chargers. It started to feel as though each time we sat down together someone was asking, “Have you seen my charger?”. I felt compelled right then to grab a pad of notebook paper and start rhyming out lines to go along with the situation taking place. It is becoming a question asked more often, “Have you seen my charger?”. Common replies seem to be “No”, “Yes, on the counter”, or “Where did you leave it last?”.

As the lines started to flow out and family members kept adding their own input, a short story was quickly developing. For the character in the story the search for a charger takes them on a journey. In searching, they find something even more valuable than the charger they were looking for in the first place.

After several tweaks and edits to the manuscript “Have you seen my charger?” is more than just a common question, it is also the title of my first book.

How can you get your own copy? Great question! There are two main options for purchasing your own copy. Book Baby’s BookShop and Even searching for the book, or my name, on Amazon boosts the status of the book. Please consider at least giving it a search or clicking the Amazon link.

BookShop sends 50% of the sales back to the author.

Amazon sends 13%. Amazon does have a much larger reach and you could add the book onto an order quite easily.

The price is actually set below the BookBaby suggested price. I would go even lower if the cost of printing allowed since I think the message of the story is worth spreading.

There are several people I will not be able to thank enough for helping this all finally come together, but I will try.

Illustrator Tracy Burnett took the manuscript and ran with it, really bringing the words to life. I am very thankful for her willingness to take a chance on the story and work through all my short-comings as someone publishing their first book. I asked a lot of Tracy and she helped make it work. Without her there literally would not be a physical copy of the story.

My family. I am blessed to have two loving families to belong to. A big thanks to the Skalecki/Haggerty side for inspiring this situation. A big thank you to the Johns family for building my confidence to continue after the initial story was written.

A special thank you to my wife and kids for listening to the story and helping with feedback. Also thank you for patience as a “quick project” stretched into multiple hurdles to overcome and a lot of new learning taking place. Also, thank you for believing in the book enough to self-publish. Another spot which could have stopped the process, but I am thankful the book is now complete.

Thank you to Kevin Kammeraad for meeting up with me at Panera Bread and encouraging a complete novice like me to find an avenue to create a finished book.

Thank you to my teachers. I recently found a few papers I had written in high school… I would say looking back that writing is not necessarily a natural gift, but I know I would lack an ability to express my thoughts through writing without their guidance. This includes my colleagues as an educator. Several of you have encouraged me to “do hard things” or build my skill set.

The process from notebook in a cabin living room to printed book was riddled with obstacles to overcome. Perhaps another blog post will help explain how each these challenges added meaning to the project overall. Peace.

‘Bull’ An Unexpected Literary Treat

For those who know me you might be able to envision my reaction when I read the opening line from David Elliot’s book, Bull. Sorry Mom, I am just quoting here.

”Whaddup, bitches?”

I literally set the book down.

But like a curious cat the intrigue of why a book would start in this way got the best of me so I reread the preface and started again.

I quickly understood this would be a unique read for me. I seem to stay in the non-fiction genre most of the time and this verse-novel version of the Minotaur tale from Greek mythology piqued my interest early.

With some thematic elements and some literary imagery fit for HBO the story reads quickly and presents the epic in an engaging way. Each of the seven characters communicates through their own poetic form. Another bonus in my mind is given the short stanzas of poetry, the story reads quickly. Continue reading

These 6 Things

This post is geared to the educators out there, so if you know a teacher pass this along! I have been blessed to teach with some great educators. Not just people good at their job, but individuals who are constantly pushing themselves to be even better. One of these individuals is Mr. Dave Stuart.

Several times a year students will comment about how great Mr. Stuart is and stir up a little bit of teacher envy inside my teacher soul. To a high school student some teachers are “great” because they allow cell phones, or give open note tests, or don’t keep track of tardies. The more I have gotten to know Mr. Stuart, and how his class functions, the more I have realized he probably expects more from his students than the average teacher.

During the second year at my current school I became more interested in finding out what makes Mr. Stuart such a great teacher in the minds of so many students. I asked students, positioned our instructional rounds group so we would see Mr. Stuart in action, asked colleagues, and even asked Dave for bit of advice.

Through these observations and conversations I learned a lot about things Mr. Stuart’s class does but I was missing the real difference that helps students key in to his instruction. It is not some trendy pedagogy that helps students enjoy Mr. Stuart’s class. Sure, students frequently share about a good Pop-Up Debate, or how the Article of the Week is relevant in their life.  What underscores all of these activities is a set of beliefs students share in that class.

The Five Beliefs are:

  1. Credibility: I believe in my teacher.
  2. Belonging: I belong in this classroom.
  3. Effort: I can improve through my effort.
  4. Efficacy: I can succeed at this.
  5. Value: This work has value for me.

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I have the benefit of being in the same building as Dave and can pick his brain if I am looking to try something from his class in my own room. I have even tried resources on his website. If you are anything like me, I like to have a physical copy as a guide when trying something new that has some type of format involved. As a college student I remember having Harry Wong’s First Days of School, and once I started my current assignment a colleague handed me Teach Like a Champion 2.0. Both of these were great resources to help build a skill-set as a teacher.

Lucky for anyone looking to build classroom culture, Long-Term Flourishing in their students, or looking for a guide to using Pop-Up Debates Dave has just published his second book. This one is simply title These 6 Things.

I know my copy will be nearby as I plan throughout the year. I am sure it will be a much loved resource as I continue to build my skill-set and get students more involved with reading, writing, and using meaningful argument.


So aren’t Reading, Writing, and Speaking things that should be left to ELA and the Social Studies departments? Not at all, especially with the Next Gen Science Standards and the increased emphasis on students modeling their understanding of science concepts.

A key piece of developing science-minded students revolves around what NGSS refers to as the Science and Engineering Practices. There are eight practices, but let’s connect dots between three of these standards and These 6 Things.

  1. Analyzing and Interpreting Data- Reading
  2. Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information- Reading, Writing, Speaking
  3. Engaging in Argument from Evidence- Speaking/Listening

Our biology classes have dabbled with using news articles as source documents. We have also increased the amount of modeling as part of our investigations. Having These 6 Things as a guide for Pop-Up Debate is the piece I am most excited about having this physical copy.

There are so many topics in science that will lend themselves nicely to Pop-Up Debate. Climate Change, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), safe dieting, stem cell research, and how about the granddaddy of them all, Evolution.

Dave’s writing is conversational, yet informative. He is authentic and it comes through in his teaching and in his book. Whether on a personal, department, building, or district level there is value in getting this book into teacher’s hands. Almost all of us who are teachers chose this career to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others. Not just to help boost standardized test scores or get into a college, but to really help students become successful individuals as they head out into life after school.

This book helps focus on 6 things to streamline meaningful instruction. This helps students flourish in the long-term and will help teachers find balance between school and life. I know this book will be a great resource for Professional Development. I am curious to see how long it will be before this book is on a college syllabus for new teachers. First Days of School was a good preview to essential classroom management. These 6 Things will be a great resource for helping develop meaningful, life-long skills in our students. I hope you have a great year! Peace.



The Four Tendencies

A recent road trip allowed for some much needed audiobook time. This time around I gave a listen to The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. Certainly in the non-fiction self-help genre, but an interesting listen from the start.

In a nutshell there are four tendencies which people tend to naturally fall into. In the book there is a printed version of a tendency quiz, or there is an online version (you will need to give an email address to get the result). Continue reading

Human Being, not Human Doing

Warning: Hypocrite at the keyboard!

My message in this post is to find the happiness to just be. This should come naturally to us as human beings but it seems like somewhere in history we started to try and become human doings instead of human beings. Admittedly, I have not figured out how to unlock the secret to full happiness while just being. I know this level of fulfillment and happiness is possible. I just feel far from achieving this balance. 

In a fitting turn of fate, this blog post has been in the queue getting limited attention for the past few months. Whenever I would think about sitting down to type out thoughts on this topic I also started to think about all the things I “had to do”.  Continue reading

Delivering Happiness

Tony Hsieh (pronounced shay) is the CEO of Zappos, an incredibly popular online shoe site. In his book Delivering Happiness, Hsieh walks through his entrepreneur career in an informal and biographical way that draws the reader (or listener) in and is very encouraging to anyone hoping to bet on themselves and find success. Hsieh’s journey to a current net worth of $840 million is not purely a tale of “hard work pays off” nor is it the story of “the underdog winning the championship”. Hsieh’s business biography up to the point of this writing is exciting and stems back to his youth.  As a dad of two young boys I wonder if I have the courage, and trust, to let my sons experiment with success the same way Hsieh’s parents allowed him to try several money making ideas before even graduating high school. Continue reading

The Barefoot Executive

Through and app called Overdrive, you can rent audiobooks (and eBooks) for FREE with the use of a local library card. Audiobooks are great for commutes, family car trips, the rare moment of quiet time, and for absorbing some knowledge while exercising. While camping this summer I was fortunate to get away for some long bike rides. On a few of these rides I listened to The Barefoot Executive by Carrie Wilkerson.

The description for this book being the “Ultimate Guide for Being Your Own Boss and Achieving Financial Freedom” sounded cheesy, but interesting enough to fill some time while turning the pedals on the quiet roads in northern Michigan. Continue reading

Finding God in the Waves

I have known for awhile that reading is not a priority for me. I also know there are many correlations between successful people and reading. One of the final nudges for me to start reading, and sharing my reading with students, is I believe strongly in the “lead by doing” idea of being any sort of role model or leader. In the winter of the 2016-2017 school year I took the lead from a few other teachers in our district and started a classroom library.

Creating this library actually came together quite nicely! Two matching bookshelves were sitting unused in our district’s furniture “storehouse”. I have many personal books I took out of moving boxes to start the collection. I used resources like Donors Choose to order a few dozen science themed books. I was also fortunate to have colleagues share books, or direct book donations my way. Put all these together and voila! The science library begins. Getting students to use it has been a story for another post.

To start populating the science library, I looked at several ‘Top-100 Science Book” pages. Continue reading

2017 Book Blitz: The Beginning

In early May 2017, I got a phone call from my colleague Dave Stuart while I was coaching at a JV tennis match in Big Rapids, MI. Dave and I like to joke around so I probably answered in a flippant way, but his tone seemed a bit more serious than usual. He continued on to explain the reason for the call was he had just recommended to our superintendent that I go to a workshop taking place in Chicago called The Orange Frog.

An interesting piece to this scenario is that Dave had just written in a blog to never “pass the buck”. Even with this being the case Dave knows I someday see myself as some level of administrator and convinced me that being trained as a a future trainer at The Orange Frog work be to my benefit. (Jumping ahead and leaving out details, I think he was both correct and the training on positive psychology came at very good time for me on a personal level.) Continue reading