Monthly Archives: January 2015

Writing a Book: The Beginning

I know what you’re thinking. How in the world does someone decide to write a book, especially someone who is a Mathematics major, like myself? Well, the answer is simple. I had a story in mind, and I wanted to vomit it out onto paper so other people could read the story and see what’s going on in my cramped skull.  Also, I have a very loud mind that is constantly coming up with weird ideas that I need to somehow get out of my head. So, what’s the solution? Try to write a book, of course!

The idea to write this book popped into my head almost exactly one year ago, but I had done absolutely no work on it until about three o’clock in the morning on a Saturday last semester. I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to start the process. I knew I wanted to write about serial killing, with perspectives varying from killers, to the police, to civilians, etc. I began the process by writing down the broadest version of the plot I could come up with, and began flushing out the components of the book – setting, characters, etc. Once I did that, I just started writing, and let my fingers write whatever series of words came out of my brain. This is how I think I am going to start out writing this book, and then later go back and edit the crap out of it.

So, enough about the process, let’s get to the progress.

WARNING: This book is going to get incredibly dark at times. So, if the macabre is not for you, proceed with caution.

So far, I have written a brief introduction/preface, and two chapters. The introduction introduces the Overlord, and a killer, Keith Thompson, who cuts smiles into his victims. The first chapter introduces us to the main character, John Usher, a thirty-three year old architect living in Atlanta, GA, who is consumed by habits. In the second chapter, we meet Police Commissioner Blake Howell, Detective Haley Jenkins, Medical Examiner Linda Anderson, and Victim Number One, Jennifer Rhodes. Along with the smile cut into her face, Jennifer possesses a surgically precise stab wound, and the Roman numeral, “V,” branded on to her stomach. Upon further inspection, Linda finds the words, “Tag You’re It,” cut into Jennifer’s fingertips.

Most recently, I have created the working title, Perspectives, both to symbolize the shift in viewpoint from chapter to chapter, as well as to tie into the major plot twist later in the book.

My goals for this next week are:

1. Write at least two more chapters. Chapter 3 will probably be a continuation in the perspective of Commissioner Howell, and Chapter 4 back to John Usher. My first two chapters are rather short, so I would like the next few chapters to be longer, at least ten pages each.

2. Come up with a firm plotline, and place specific events along it. This will help me stay focused on what to write each chapter about, as well as ensure I do not give away too much information too soon.

The writing is going really well so far, and I am really excited to see how this whole thing goes!

The Importance of Classroom Orientation

When discussing education reform, many people think of hot topics that are focused on what is being taught and how it is being taught. These topics include teaching for standardized testing, class size, teacher evaluations, etc. However, not much thought is put into the importance of where the students are being taught. Many studies have shown that the room a student sits in during class has major effects on their performance. For instance, students are found to score higher on exams if the assessments are given in the same room that the class normally meets. Students are used to learning in that space, and can use the aspects of the familiar classroom to recall information. They can remember where the teacher stood when presenting an important point during lecture, or look up and remember where their professor circled an important point on the chalkboard.

This is just one instance of how the setting of learning is very important. The subject I would like to bring up is something that I have not heard much discussion over, and that is the physical structure of the classroom. The arrangement of desks matters, the position of the professor matters, much more than you would expect. The typical classroom setting – even rows of desks, teacher lecturing and using the blackboard in front of these desks – is not, in my mind, the most effective layout for the quintessential learning environment.

Let me preface my next few points by stating that this idea of altering the typical classroom structure does not hold for all subjects. The ideas I have in mind are ones that encourage interaction among students, increase communication and deliberation, and allow for the learning process to be self-sustaining. These aspects of the newly-designed classroom would not be very useful in a calculus course, for example. These types of classes hinge heavily upon the instructor relaying all of the information necessary for learning the subject to his/her students, rather than presenting an idea and having the students discuss the topic further.

What is wrong with the typical classroom? First, this arrangement of rows upon rows of desks creates physical obstacles for those students who do not get a seat in the front of the classroom. Students in the back of the room must bob and weave their sight through the back of the heads in front of them, hoping they can catch a glimpse of the board. This arrangement creates more than just physical boundaries. This structure creates a perceived caste-system, with the seemingly higher achieving, outgoing students sitting in the front of the classroom, and the shy and under-motivated students sitting in the back. This design also alienates the professor, making them incredibly intimidating, and hard to relate to. This is especially harmful in college, where asking for help from the professor is already intimidating enough. While they lecture in the front of the classroom, a gap is created; a divide that transforms the professor into an intangible entity of knowledge, who can never be reached for assistance.

So, what do we do to fix this problem? The solution is simple, but varies depending on the course being taught, and at what level the instruction is taking place. For this post, let’s focus only on discussion-based college courses. In his article, “A Place for Learning: The Physical Environment of Classrooms,” Mark Phillips details his preference for a semi-circular seating arrangement. He states, “A semicircle encourages interaction and enables all students to see each other. This is important if you place a high value on relationships between students, building community and creating an open environment” (Phillips, It is no secret that the semi-circular arrangement promotes conversation, which is incredibly important in courses like Philosophy and English. However, what is more important about this arrangement, is that it makes students comfortable sharing their viewpoints, and helps them build strong human relationships, something that has been declining ever since the birth of social media. Deliberation is a lost art, and this arrangement would help students develop this important skill. This orientation also allows the professor to become part of the group, including him/her in such a way, that they are no longer intimidating to the class. As subtle as it is, the arrangement and structure of the classroom can play a major role in the quality of students’ education.

RCL II Civic Issues Blog Ideas

My first idea for my Civic Issues Blog fits under the category of education. Education has been a passion of mine for an incredibly long time. My father is a music teacher, and this has been incredibly influential in my interests as I have grown up. I one day hope to be a professor at a research university, and every opportunity up to this day that I have had to teach, I have absolutely loved. Teachers are capable of tapping into the unadulterated potential that their students possess, and is one of the few professions with this “power.”

My first idea for the Civic Issues Blog is the topic of educational reform. In my opinion, as well as the opinion of many others, our country is falling behind in education. Changes need to be made for our future. This topic has many possible avenues. One week I could discuss more physical reform, i.e. the setup of a typical classroom and why that needs to change. The next week, I could talk about standardized testing and my views on that subject. This blog lends itself to a world of possibilities, and I am incredibly excited to share my thoughts about what needs to change in order for our children to receive the best education available in the world.

My second idea for the Civic Issues Blog is in the category of race. Race is an incredibly relevant topic to discuss right now. With everything going on in Ferguson, and its migration throughout the country, race is a hot topic right now, and would lend itself to a lot to write about. However, race in general is a very broad topic. So, more specifically, I would like to write about how race affects everyday life in ways we do not even realize. We read an article at the end of last semester that touched on this idea, and I was incredibly intrigued. As a white male, I had not thought about a lot of the topics brought up in the article, and I think this blog topic would be really enlightening for me. I have never really felt tied to my race, not that I do not recognize it, but it is not essential to who I am. So, I think this blog would really help me explore myself, and how I fit into the framework of society. Through this blog, I could also tie in some ideas about education (affirmative action for example). I am really excited to get started on these blogs.

RCL II Passion Blog Ideas

My first idea for this semester’s passion blog is to detail my attempt of writing a novel. I have had the idea for a long time now, and actually began writing (only the introduction and one paragraph of the first chapter) last semester, but I would really like to work more on this book. In this blog, I would describe how the past week of work has gone, as well as share my goals for the next week. This idea was actually inspired by a friend of mine at James Madison University, who has done a vlog series of the same exact style. If you are curious as to what I am writing about, it is a thriller about a serial killer, with the perspective shifting from the killer to the police investigating the murders, and possibly other characters I create. This blog would really help me stay motivated, give me deadlines for the book, and allow me to see if what I am doing is entertaining and worth continuing.

Here’s a link to the first vlog of his series:

My second idea for the passion blog is related to a topic I explored in great detail last semester: Comedy. In particular, I loved exploring stand-up comedy last semester. So, for this blog, I would watch a different stand-up comedy special each week, and comment on what I found funny, what I liked and didn’t like about the comic, and try to delve further into what the comic was trying to say about society as a whole. Yes, I did just say what the comic was saying about society. Stand-up comedy is no longer just about making people laugh. This form of entertainment has become so much more, and is an incredibly successful platform for social commentary. I believe that stand-up comedy may be one of the best tools to create necessary changes in society. This blog would allow me to further explore this interest of mine, as well as expose the more “scholarly” side of stand-up.

Here’s a link to the TED Talk I gave on comedy last semester: