A Night at the Museum---Another Day in History

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 3:48 pm
PostPost subject: A Night at the Museum---Another Day in History
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Have you spent your Night at the Museum? What incredible advertising for the Museum of Natural History! And what a great action movie to sell kids on the subject of History!

The emotional message of Night at the Museum answers the proverbial schoolkid’s belief that “History is boring.” Granted, History truly is the stuff of textbooks, but even the ordinary and clueless (Ben Stiller) among us can become courageous enough to open our minds to the chaos and adventure of discovering the past.

In the Museum, Stiller’s ‘Larry’ endures the nightly isolation of witnessing each and every artifact and exhibit—even the skeletal frames of the great dinosaurs— come to life—why? Larry endures because who will believe him? In the end, though, Larry is able to show his son, Nick, and Rebecca (the museum teacher love interest) that what he sees at night is not a fantasy, but a reality that only the inspired can see. It is a happy ending.

But there is one sad catch: while Night At The Museum may succeed in getting many people across the country to plan a visit to New York and the Museum of Natural History, in classrooms all over the world, History is likely destined to remain lifeless in millions of lessons by day, and entombed at night—in homework. You can’t superimpose this movie’s love for the distant past on a million history classes and voila bring them to life.

While power, money, and the trickery of movie-making can bring history to life irresistibly in our minds, if only for the moment’s pleasure and romance, it cannot alter one of the undeniable truths of history: In the classroom, history is, well—stuck in time.

These are the thoughts of a solitary pilgrim traversing the terrain of knowledge. You see, I am probably one of the few individuals in education—a Larry alone in the Museum—who holds a secret key to ‘turning classrooms on’ to history. In my imaginative, chance career with puppets and play, I live in a physical world of companions that, in form and function, assume the guise of ‘a learning language.’ This language of paper puppet forms literally springs to life, turning real classrooms into thriving habitats as easily as Larry's nocturnal Museum is transformed in cellulose. My companions, like the active, unruly population in Larry’s night world, have taught me firsthand about life and death both in the history of teaching and in the teaching of History.

Movies may allow us a momentary leap into alternative realities, but when they’re over and we trundle outside, we are left to assemble the cinematic images in our minds to see if they fit imaginatively into the fabric of our lives.

Night at the Museum tells us, in the words of Zorba the Greek, that “life is trouble. To live is to undo your belt and look for trouble.” At the moment of crisis, Larry is forced to make a courageous decision but hesitates. ‘I’m made of wax, Larry’, whispers the wounded Teddy Roosevelt. 'What are you made of?’

In the typical classroom of History, students may, if there is time, put on a play or present a group project, but the only way to seize history by its blood, sinew, and spirit is to symbolically grasp its subject matter—the great men and women, inventions, narratives, animals, insects, plagues, and terrain—the fabric of the past held physically in hand, much as Gulliver reveals to his son his Lilliputian goat to confront, behold, and experience the tangible truth of it.

Try interviewing any one of these Historic figures—Lincoln, Caesar, Thucydides, Socrates, Einstein, Faraday, Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Alexander the Great—in a classroom talk show using simple paper forms, and stand back to watch History come alive. In a very real, concrete, and compelling sense: History is suddenly at hand.

Conventionally taught History is part of an Education stuck in a reality that it cannot rise above, and this makes our so-called ‘love of history,’ at least for now, elusive. In classrooms, the true adventures of history lie beyond reach, as if the young were being punished repeatedly to suffer ad nauseam the same old lessons of History in a kind of academic dustbin somewhere in hell.


It is in this hell that I recently met Dr. Aaron Willis. Dr. Willis is employed at the Social Studies School Service, School Counselor Resources & The Writing Company. Dr. Willis qualifies as one of many gate-keepers I have met in my travels. Dr. Willis never allowed me to talk to him. He was always in full control.

Now you might think that Dr. Willis’s company, which serves teachers and practitioners of writing, counseling, and history, would be interested in a play-based innovation that claims to revolutionize the delivery of history lessons, counseling sessions, and writing activities.

Just imagine. Your business is built on a world-class catalog of books and resources. Enter a totally unexpected, incredibly dynamic, and extraordinarily powerful way of presenting the content in your books and resources—a way that would trump anything offered by the countless staff development agencies serving Education. Wouldn’t even the most remote possibility of generating and harnessing creative energy be seen as a desirable thing to know more about? As you’ll read below in one of my several email dialogs with Dr. Willis, I assume the role of an impassioned, pathetic salesman. I am, like Larry, completely incapable of comprehending the wall of disbelief in others who simply can’t, won’t, or care not to see what he sees.

Some may think it petty and vindictive to mention Dr. Willis by name. But there are the numberless nameless like Willis who sit in key positions encircling the field and, in the name of education, keep Education free— of complicated bold thinking and forward movement. Dr. Willis is a force to be reckoned with. We should know his name. Because in the end, corporate powerbrokers and string-pullers like Dr. Willis are partly the reason kids and teachers are denied their rights in school to play, to creativity, and to experiences that wake them up and take them by surprise. Dr. Willis is a Wizard of Biz. We should pull back the curtain to see him for what he really is.

Companies and the likes of Dr. W. dominate our classrooms, shape the nature of teaching, and dictate the learning experience in classrooms—prevent innovators like me from changing tastes and terrain. With such power conferred on them by our need for text-based resources, we abdicate our power to dream, imagine, and foster the love of knowledge that parties happily triumphant in Night at the Museum. And that may be the most important History lesson. Until we re-claim our learning culture, American children will continue to have an Education owned and operated by politicians and PhDs more interested in getting the big contract than having schools truly conceived in the image of—and in homage to—the young.

Playtonic Dialogs

Can you provide me with the name of a buyer or an individual interested in new profit centers? I have developed a puppet concept that could conceivably be of interest to your company. Thank you.

Jeffrey L. Peyton.
< http://www.puppetools.com>Puppetools

Dr. Aaron P. Willis wrote:

Dear Jeffery, [sic]

I don't see much of a role for puppets in our lineup, but I am the person to contact about such things in this organization.

Aaron Willis
Dr. Aaron Willis
Social Studies School Service
School Counselor Resources & The Writing Company
10200 Jefferson Blvd., Box 802
Culver City, CA 90232


310-839-2436, x209

At 01:49 PM 10/18/2005, you wrote:
Aaron, hello.

Would it be possible for us to talk by phone? I realize that I have been a bit too persistent and possibly overbearing, but I also know that I've put forth some interesting and innovative ideas. Could you at least indulge me a few minutes on the phone? I would at least like to know, if you are dead set against my proposal, the nature of your resistance. At heart I do have the interest of improving social studies experiences in the classroom, and I think that I have something valid that is worth consideration. Please, if you are willing, let me know the best time to reach you. Thank you.
Jeff Peyton

Mr. Peyton,

We will let you know if our editors are interested in your product.
Thank you for your submission.

Dr. Aaron Willis
Chief Education Officer

Social Studies School Service www.socialstudies.com
School Counselor Resources www.counselorresources.com
Classroom Science Resources www.classroomscience.com
& The Writing Company www.writingco.com

10200 Jefferson Blvd., Box 802
Culver City, CA 90232
310-839-2436, x209

Dear Jeff,

Feel free to send samples in you like to me at the address below. --Aaron Willis

At 06:20 PM 8/22/2005, you wrote:
Dr. Aaron P. Willis wrote:

Dr. Willis,

I am most grateful for your prompt reply. I want very much to show you my web site which is both a showcase and an online training platform. If you visit the site, you will find a communication process that I have developed over the years, with the crucial help of innovative teachers who were brave enough to break through many preconceptions that most of their peers hold about puppets. Once the breakthrough occurred, life in the classroom for these teachers was never the same.

The breakthrough didn't occur merely because they fell in love with puppets, but because their understanding of what a puppet is and does was changed by the model of puppet-based communication I presented them with, and because the model not only exceeded their expectations but provided them with an approach to communication that revolutionized their teaching.

I realize that sounds grandiose, but the puppet concept--Puppetools-- I have developed is not about puppets per se, but about the nature of the communication they embody and induce when put into classroom exchanges.

For social studies, let us assume that the highest goal of the teacher is to create experiences that are engaging, stimulating, socially-driven, and thought-provoking. Let's also assume that such goal includes enabling all the resources a teacher will use to teach social studies--from workbooks, maps, stories, biography, texts, and craft projects--to be exponentially enhanced and integrated through moving and memorable learning experiences set in motion alternately by teacher or students alike.

For this puppet pitch, I will now come back to earth and define 'learning experience' as conversation--conversation that is conceptual, symbolic, kinetic, enlivened, memorable, exciting, interesting, charmed--consistently and predictably.

Let us say, too, that to set in motion conversation of this higher order requires no extensive experience on the part of teachers in theater or puppetry other than a general picture of what the potential is and what it looks like when content is explored via puppet-based patterns of communication. Puppet-based communication is not unlike using a karaoke microphone, except the mic becomes the puppet that. for social studies, sparks playful interviews, town meetings, newscasts, and reports (spontaneous or structured), that are used to integrate and synthesize the issues and facts of history being taught,.

For a glimpse of what this might look like in the hands of students, I have provided you with a number of links found on my web site. I hope you can view most of these.

A Puppet With a Purpose
Fifth Grade Puppet Interviews
Fifth Grade Teacher Commentary 1 & 2
Puppets Based on Book Content or Illustrations
Teacher Journals
Picture Puppets (rough samples)
Puppet Library (Adults)

The patented platform we have developed, as the web site will show, uses a paper hinge to make PAPER PUPPETS or a durable plastic format called PICTURE PUPPETS: A puppet products could supplement every conceivable product, thereby adding a powerful add-on feature' to existing lines, or new stand-alone

Three basic formats for Puppetools puppets include:
· puppet pattern
· puppet kits
· picture puppets

I hope you can begin to see from all of this that I am talking about using puppets in a way that radically departs from any model you may be familiar with--a model that could be introduced, practically and inexpensively, over time, and which, if it caught on, could become a successful profit center by supporting social studies with tools that equip teachers with the power to spark energized conversation and social interaction.

It's not puppets per se that are looked upon with skepticism, but the impractical models for using them, as well as the notion that puppets are suitable only for the young. I am aware that I may be testing the limits of my credibility here, and that I should rush to tell you that play behavior is an important focus on brain science, and that I have been pioneering play not only n the classroom but in brain science as well, but none of that may make a difference. In the end, "business is business." But innovation is also business--a key to business building, and diversification is a principle of business survival. I am proposing that a creatively managed introduction of this medium to social studies educators will bear a significant harvest, and for that reason I ask you to seriously consider this concept as the new and important publishing utility it could be for Social Studies School Service.

Thanks for reading this long letter. I hope I have given you something to seriously consider.

Jeffrey L. Peyton
Founding Exec.,Dir. Puppetools

[Samples enroute]

Sounds like you are on to something very important. However, our business is catalog based and I don't think that we can convey your message succinctly in catalog ad in a way that would move adequate inventory.

Thank you for your interest in our company.

Sincerely yours,
Aaron Willis

At 12:48 PM 8/22/2005, you wrote:
Dr. Willis.

Please, if you'll indulge me an appeal.

Just because your dominant business is catalog doesn't mean it couldn't--or may need to-- benefit from other avenues in the future. Besides, the puppets, sold as kits or as downloads off your site, could be sold in bulk at good profit; can be used perhaps at first as premiums based on characters featured in your best-selling classroom books; they can promote use of your web site--and therefore be used to build traffic and sales via the site. Keep in mind that the product can be quickly customized to adapt to and respond to 'hot' current events. The puppets represent a unique and highly effective marketing tool; a tool that not only excites people using your products that the puppets would supplement but extends the value/ use of the product as well. Anything worth its weight needs time to unfold, be seen, be understood. You couldn't find a more suitable tool to enhance social studies classroom learning, or to stimulate your overall selling environment--a perfect complement to your text-based products. On the one hand, the market defines what you sell; on the other, you also can influence strongly what educators are exposed to. And there is considerable demand now for products that can add even a little creativity in teachers' hands to the strict regimen of academics daily employed. I would think that the prospect of contributing in that regard would be both desirable and commendable. There could be so many creative ways to economically test drive this product. Is there no way I can send you samples? Would you be willing to show my note to others at Social Studies School Service? Or simply to float the idea around before a summary dismissal?

As far as a succinct delivery is concerned, a video clip or two of teachers using their puppets can be sent to your clientele along with some very short information to introduce the concept---a video is worth many, many words--which is why I sent you links--did you have a chance to view any of these? I would think they deserve at least a small degree of consideration.

Jeffrey L. Peyton

Dear Aaron,
The samples should arrive today. I hope at the very least you will show them around and talk to others about my proposal. As I said, I would be willing to submit a formal proposal.
My previous emails attempted to establish the fact that the puppet media applied as a ‘teaching language’ represents a potentially deep and pervasive innovation. As you open the box and look upon these samples, think about how memorable they will be weeks and months later; think of what they can do to present a side of social studies instruction that’s dynamic and ‘out there’ generating interest. Think of the marketing that can evolve as a result of putting this rich and resourceful teaching model in front of teachers hungry for creative direction in their teaching.
I realize that I’m not putting something simple and already packaged in your hands, but I am putting something that can be intelligently developed. I am proposing a partnership to help me help you do some exciting R&D to our mutual benefit. You obviously have done a great job creating a powerful business platform for social studies, counseling, and writing. Would it not be a great move to develop a communication product that could change the face of instruction and communication in those critical subject areas? I think it’s a great opportunity for a company as successful and recognized as yours. I know that I have a piece of magic in my hands that can make classroom life almost like a dream for kids and teachers alike—testing or no testing. It is just a question of seeing the potential in a medium that has been locked out of the classroom for many small-minded reasons. My web site showcases the modeling and the potential of a concept that has at least caught the attention of brain scientists. Now I am asking you to help me bring something truly liberating and mind-changing into instruction. Granted, that’s not your main business, but it could be. Why not? It’s simply a matter of laying claim to the tools and the territory. Together we can do it.
Thank you again for your time and consideration.
Jeffrey L. Peyton
Founding Exec. Dir.
Aaron, hello.

I've engaged in one-way conversations like this for many years, and sincerely hope that this is not one of them. I hope you received my package and have perhaps shared the contents or considered the ideas I am offering. I would certainly be grateful for any kind of response.

I would like to emphasize one point: one of the most difficult challenges facing the producers of educational material is that of creating emotional connection in customers--in this case with the teachers and kids--who use the resources you sell. Excitement, Fun. Productivity. Getting to an emotive, memorable experience from the book or DVD requires a broad leap. The right tools make all the difference between inspired and uninspired teaching.

The puppets are springboards for cultivating and marketing with such a leap.

If that element is successfully harnessed, it can add tremendous power and visibility to all your products.

This is not snake oil. It is based on real research and real teacher use of 'play language.'

The minds of kids do not have to leap; they are always there, waiting.. The teachers I work with have bravely made that leap. They are pioneers.

They have open minds and an ability to see the horizon.

I hope your mind is open because the best teachers are the ones open to creative discovery and expression in the classroom.

I can help you make your products open many more teachers to this potential.

I am convinced that your publishing programs would grow exponentially by tapping into this potential energy. Successful introduction of this methodology to users of your products could start a profit center worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you are not convinced, or if the idea does not appeal to you, I would at the very least like to know why. If you do like the idea, but have problems with it (or me) please give me the courtesy of a reply so that I can respond appropriately.

Thank you.

Jeff Peyton.
866 321 3467

Sound of the cosmic hum…….

Last edited by papertalker on Mon May 02, 2011 5:18 pm; edited 4 times in total
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Location: San Bernardino, CA 92404

PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 6:45 pm
PostPost subject: A TIME in LIMBO
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Your story of Doc TOR Willis brought back equally frustrating memories.
I spent $25,000 of my retirement money creating my SIGHT,SOUND, TOUCH Reading System. For several years I had tested it on prereaders and remedial readers. Three years in a row I managed to get one-third (12) of 36 of my first graders to read ORALLY in SIXTH grade materials. It was brain-based learning stimulating many senses.
When I brought it out was during LANGUAGE based reading and it was the rage and no one would buy it because phonics and sight words were being FORBIDDEN. This was interesting because I tried to explain that I only used SST as PART of my program, but used many oral language lessons, used small group reading of reading, science, and social science texts. I audiotaped EVERY mandated and supplementary text our district used and my class spent a minimum of an hour a day listening to tapes as well as interacting with me as we read together.
I couldn't get more than a few minutes with any administrator, because they were all locked into the FAD of the year. I never said SST was THE answer, but rather PART of a balanced program.
I finally began to give the kits away to libraries and schools, but they were seldom used because the few who did didn't have an real understanding of the basics of learning to read. I used the gifts as a tax writeoff for a few years.
It isn't just the Dr.Willis', it's a mindset that teachers come in with - or learn. Maybe we can make a difference?
Dr.Rose has spent his life trying new methods, theories, and techniques to improve his and others' teaching. His web site has many free materials, including plays for students.
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