June 2016 archive

How to Motivate Students: The Perfect Films for Communication Courses

DSC_4050 copyEvery teacher knows that sometimes you have a class that’s super motivated, while another class is barely hanging in there. There’s not necessarily a rhyme or reason for it, it just happens.

The solution? I won’t attempt to go into that at the moment, but you can do a variety of activities, see how things progress, and potentially show a movie (or assign it for homework) related to the material your class is studying.

When I can feel student motivation slowly waning, I go for the movie.

I don’t tend to show films during class time, but sometimes there’s that class where students keep withdrawing, energy levels are way down, and you’ve got to take action during the time you have them with you.

That’s when you show (or assign) one of the following fun, informative, and relatable movies (for communication or related classes, only!):

The Great Debaters: This is my go-to movie if students aren’t researching their speeches well enough, or not feeling a personal connection to public speaking, or its importance. After this movie, my students’ work ethic and level of research sky rockets. The experiences and relatability of the movie characters tends to change the energy and attitude of most students for the rest of the term (and hopefully longer!).

Thank You For Smoking: This movie is great for a Persuasion course, or the unit on persuasive speaking, ethics, or communication fallacies in any communication course. The movie is rated-R (which you might want to take into consideration), so I went ahead and had it edited for classroom.

Wall Street (1987): Another very adult, R-rated movie, which you might want to consider editing for classroom use. Watching this classic was actually an assignment for my online Ethics course (it was originally part of the online master course, so I was excited to see it on the syllabus!). The students were directed to find it online, and buy it for $2.99 on Amazon if need be, which means I had a few students lightly complain about having to pay to watch it. However, after reading in-depth analyses of the movie, it was clear that they were pleasantly surprised by the entertaining content, and possibly even enjoyed thinking about the way ethics played a role throughout the film in various characters’ behavior. I even had a student email me back saying he was officially happy he had paid $3 to watch it.

I’ve also considered assigning the following films at one point or another for the public speaking, communication, persuasion, and/or ethics content (Note: The movies with a star (*) next to them are those I haven’t seen, but I’ve considered based on what I’ve heard or read):

Wag the Dog
Twelve Angry Men
The Candidate (1972)*
The King’s Speech
All the Presidents’ Men*
Broadcast News
The Informant!*
Erin Brockovich

If you want to see one of the assignments I created that can be used for any of the 3 movies I’ve shown in the past (I have multiple assignments that we use!), you can find it below.

Happy teaching!


Movie Assignment
(Used The Great Debaters, Thank You For Smoking, and Wall Street)

During and after the movie write your own comments and opinions on the following concepts as they relate to the movie and communication. You are welcome to use additional notebook paper if you need to:

The credibility of the senders and/or speakers
How the message/s are interpreted/misinterpreted
The senders
The receivers
The channels that are used to send the message (ex. TV, newspapers, audio, visual, etc.)
Source-> message -> channel -> message -> receiver -> feedback -> source (it’s a cycle) — and any noise (internal or external) that interferes with the message
Logos (logic)
Ethos (credibility)
Pathos (emotion)
Verbal communication taking place
Nonverbal communication taking place

Additional comments are welcome! (You can use the back)…

Take notes during the movie for yourself, I won’t collect them. After the movie each of you will give a 1 to 2 minute impromptu speech about one of the categories above as it relates to the movie (note: if it’s a public speaking class, we may or may not do the impromptu speech portion). And an essay question about this movie will be on the final exam.


The Best Snacks for Busy Teachers

DSC_5886I know I’m not the only teacher that feels completely wiped out by the end of the workday.

I tend to run low on energy whether I’m lecturing on my feet all day, or grading papers from a coffee shop. And since I gave up my regular caffeine fix nearly a year ago, I decided to replace that much-needed boost with some actual healthy foods.

For anyone else who’s looking for a more natural energy boost, I highly recommend the following. Not only are these foods easy to snack on in the car and/or classroom, but they’re pretty good for you!

Whole wheat toast with local honey, bee pollen, and coconut oil

This is easy to prepare, great for the immune system, and also good for your energy level and allergies. I eat this almost everyday for breakfast.

An apple & small packet of peanut butter

Apples take a long time to chew, swallow, and digest, and with the added healthy fat of peanut butter, this snack makes me feel good, full, and energized. As someone who hates wasting time, I buy peanut butter packets in bulk from Amazon and throw a couple in my bag when heading out the door.

Greek yogurt with frozen fruit & local honey

This snack is healthy, filling, and surprisingly refreshing after hitting the gym. I opt for frozen fruit instead of fresh fruit since I have a tendency to let fruits and veggies go bad before using them.

Barbecue almonds

The added barbecue flavoring might not be the healthiest, but I found these almonds at World Market, and they’ve been my go-to salty snack ever since. Since almonds get pricey, I tend to mix them with plain peanuts before I head out the door.


I decided to save the most important for last. We all know that water hydrates you, but it’s also incredibly good for your health and energy levels.

Happy teaching, and happy health!

What Rough Notes/Preparations for Taking a 4-Week Trip Look Like

DSC_5913When I was preparing to travel to Los Angeles, Thailand, San Diego, and Arizona for a month, I didn’t have the type of schedule that would allow me to exert the time needed to do the type of planning necessary, so I took the most logical steps I could:

I jotted notes to myself in my ‘Notes’ app when I had spare moments, and most importantly, I picked a travel companion who is a skilled traveler and innate planner, my sister.

Of course, as someone who embraces simple living, I didn’t want to spend more money than I had to, so I bought groceries instead of eating out (most of the time), I used Groupon for a package trip (with hotels, flights, tours, etc. included), Airbnb for days when I had to find my own place to stay, and my  husband and I stayed with good friends in San Diego and Arizona.

For anyone thinking they can’t pull it off, don’t have the money, resources, or patience- if I can do it, I promise you can do it!

Here’s what the rough, time-constrained breakdown of my planning and organizing this trip looked like (or at least, as much as I wrote on my phone):

Before the trip

$1733 + $249 (checks I wrote to my sister for flights, included tours, hotels, breakfast, LA car rental, Airbnb)
$200 (Amazon purchases for my trip- tennis shoes, bag, Kindle)

Things to potentially check out while in Thailand:
(*Note: I didn’t end up doing all these, since we did so much other stuff, but I’m still glad I thought of some possible plans ahead of time!)

Bike tours
Wat Phra Kaew/Grand Palace
Kailash Akhara
Doi Suthep Temple for a meditation workshop (go to the website and let them know you’re coming ahead of time)
Massage in Chiang Mai
Elephants (Blue Elephant Thailand tours? Blueelephantthailandtours.com; 6000 baht = $200
Tiger Kingdom

Air China Flight
I can take 1 carry-on that’s 5 kg (11.02 lbs)
Can’t be bigger than 21 in long x 15 wide x 7 high

Online classes while I’m gone
VCC. Done 4/27. Start 5/9
FIU. Done 5/6. Start 5/16
EFSC. Done 5/9. Start A term 5/16, B 5/16, C 6/13

Questions and answers from Affordable Asia:
Meals on the plane? 3
Play movies? The whole flight
Which hotels have wifi? All
Public areas for wifi? Free
How much for wifi if by some chance it isn’t free? $2 for access

Figure out:
Should I get a raincoat?
Portable charger?
Wifi finder?
What to do for luggage? Big backpack?
Do phone and laptop chargers work or do we need converters?
Clothes to wear?
Do we need travel insurance?

Some essentials to pack:
Big purse that can fold into luggage
Shirt with sleeves & skirt
Laptop & laptop charger
iPad, iPod, One book, 2 magazines
Big blank notebook, pens, pencils
Good headphones
DVD player
Filtered water bottle
Ear plugs, glasses, toiletries
Mascara, dry shampoo
Baseball cap? Sunscreen? Can I buy it there?

If I write a book about Thailand:
(Note: As awesome as my trip was, I don’t think I’ll be writing any travel books. It was really fun to think about, though!)
How to Visit Thailand In Only 2 Weeks, These 30 Pages, and Less Than 72-Hours to Prepare: A Complete Guide for Packing, Planning, Staying on Good Terms at Work with Just a Laptop, and Doing It All on a Tight Budget (Includes Links to Everything You’ll Need)

How to entertain myself on the 16 hour flight:
(Note: I want to laugh when I read these now. Basically, I just watched movies and tried to survive. I never took out my laptop or attempted to read. I watched every American movie available on the flight, and I watched the 1990 version of Total Recall.. Twice.

Watch movies
Start working on my Thailand book and Happy Professor 2 book in my Notepad app and/or in a notebook
Write a bunch of blog posts
Practice meditation

During the trip (notes I kept while we traveled)

Food and water in airports:

In LA (3 days):
$100 (groceries- note: I got sick, so I bought comfort food, pricey medicine, teas, soups, etc.)
$3 (eating out- one burger at In and Out)

In Thailand (12 days):
$200 (excursions: riding elephants, bamboo rafting, day trip to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle, etc.)
$100 (tips for various tour guides)
$200 (groceries, eating out, souvenirs, transportation)

On the West coast (14 days):
$400 groceries
$100 eating out in San Diego & AZ
$150 activities in San Diego & AZ (included the San Diego zoo!)
$75 gas (for our friend’s car and rental car)
$105 rental car

A few things to note from the above

  • I didn’t break the bank! A month of travel didn’t cost me much more than living at home in Florida during that month would have.
  • I’m glad I created all my lists, even if nothing came from most of them (for me, it’s about mental preparation).
  • I made sure I kept work in mind, making notes about the school schedule, taking care of wifi, and the types of converters I would need to charge my laptop in hotel rooms.
  • I called the travel company with questions ahead of time to help me prepare, which did a lot for my peace of mind.

I’m not sure if this blog post was more for me to reminisce about the trip or to help future travelers who might be on a budget and/or working at the same time, but I felt the urge to include it here on Happy Professor, so I hope it helps or inspires someone in some way.
Happy living, learning, and traveling!

5 Easy College Classroom Strategies to Help Students Succeed

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The other day I was sifting through some old ideas in my ‘Notes’ app, and I stumbled on some helpful student success strategies that never quite saw the light of day, so I thought I’d share them here.

These are my top 5 super easy and fun ways to engage students in a way that will create a positive classroom, inspire your students to do their best, and ultimately lead to their success:

1. Know how to say and spell every student’s name

2. Have workshop class periods once a month to engage with each student in one significant way, and discuss their work/progress

3. Know your audience when you work on lectures (or teach in a way that’s not quite a lecture); be sure it’s appealing, informative, and memorable for your students

4. Be approachable and friendly so students are more likely to let you know when they have questions or are struggling (even online)

5. Give them a chance to talk to each other so there’s a support system in the face-to-face or online classroom

As I said before, these are so easy to implement in the classroom, and each one make the teaching experience even more satisfying as the instructor.

Happy teaching!

What I’ve Learned from Teaching Online While Traveling

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Teaching online while I’ve been traveling for the past 3 weeks has been much more manageable than I expected.

Yes, there were mornings in Bangkok where I graded papers on the hotel bathroom while my sister slept in, and one morning in particular that I had a Skype interview for a new school at 6 am Thailand time, and 6 pm Texas time (that was interesting). I also stayed in to get some major work done while my sister spent the day shopping in LA, got some questions answered by my supervisor in the Pattaya airport, and occasions where I passed up watching a TV show with our San Diego hosts to address some student issues. And, naturally, I continually check student emails on my phone during slower moments or car rides during the day.

But when I stop to think about it, the experiences and memories that can be gained from (almost) non-stop adventures during the day, far outweigh the negatives of having to work during short stints while traveling, the complications that inevitably happen, or of not taking the opportunity to travel at all.

Needless to say, I don’t feel like I’ve been working during the last 3 weeks. I certainly have been, but in different times zones, in different places, and around different people, my online obligations just feels like quiet downtime between adventures.

My intent here is not to make light of the responsibilities I have as an online instructor. I take my job very seriously, and as you would expect, I’m pretty much always on-call, checking emails and solving problems within 24 hours, even on the weekends.

But my job here feels different, fun, and exciting. It’s paying for my trip. My job is helping me to live my dreams, which is a goal most people have when working hard for their next paycheck, but don’t always achieve. My students are interested in what city I’m hitting next. It’s opened up new discussions in the classroom.

It’s better.

If you work from home, or have the opportunity to, use it to live life differently, even if it’s just for a little while. Work in order to live, not the other way around.

Most of us have dreams about chances like this, and every one of us can act on them if we’re willing to operate outside our comfort zone for a while. I promise, I’m not an exception to the rules everyone else follows, I just decided to do life differently this summer.

Take a look at your opportunities, and make some amazing things happen.