Every once in a while something happens, and the memory of that something lasts for a very long time. And during the communication, and even in the aftermath of the communication, you could clearly see from everyone’s lens exactly what they were thinking/perceiving in their head…but yet, you were powerless to change the future, and absolutely struck at how erroneous the communication was and how misshapen the message was received by one or more parties to the conversation. And sometimes it’s so bad that it’s absolutely comedic! That’s how this went almost a decade ago for me. I’m telling you this story because as I laid trying to go to sleep the other night I was telling my husband a story, and well, as I talked he was falling asleep and would repeat parts of the story, and be so totally wrong in what he “repeated” back to me….that this old story came to my mind!

The story started with my husband texting me a picture of a cake…he was standing at a work party where they were congratulating a person who had just got promoted from an entry level position to an administrative position in a different department with the same company. Her current department had loved working with her and was all in on celebrating her good fortune…so they had ordered a cake for an at work/after hours departmental celebration. When I saw a picture of the cake my response was “Please tell me you weren’t responsible for ordering that cake!” 🙂 …and thankfully he wasn’t responsible…THIS Time!

A supervisor of the person had called a bakery to order the cake…and here’s how that conversation went. I’ll put the Bakery’s dialogue in italics, and the customers dialogue in bold.

 Hello, _____Bakery! 
 Hello, I need to order a sheet cake. 
 Okay, we have full sheet cakes and 1/2 sheet cakes. 
 “I’ll take the 1/2 sheet cake.  And, I would like you to write “Congratulations” on the cake and put some flowers around the edge. 
 Okay, is that all you want it to say? There’s a lot of space on there, you could add something else, like “congratulations on your anniversary”, or “congratulations for a job well done”. 
 That’s a good idea.  How about you write “Congratulations”, then I guess put “for 5 years” at the bottom. want it to say “Congratulations”, and then, “for 5 years at the bottom”. 
 Yep,…I’ll be down to pick it up tomorrow morning! 
 Perfect, we’ll have it ready for you. 

And here is an image that represents the final cake (I can’t find my original picture)…..

Now don’t get offended right away…think about how this cake happened. Think about what each person participating in the conversation was thinking. The customer was merely trying to get the words “for 5 years” put below the “Congratulations”, but they used the unfortunate words of “at the bottom”.

And, before your mind starts worrying about how this party went, I’ll clarify. When the customer picked up the cake, they didn’t look at it. They went straight from the bakery to the party, where they proudly opened the cake, then had several frantic moments trying to scrape “at the bottom” off of the cake. The person whose promotion they were celebrating thought the story was hilarious, and well, the supervisor felt awful and plans on ordering her a new cake to celebrate her “for 10 years at the top!”. And, you have to wonder if part of her promotion was her ability to understand how the original cake could have happened, and that it wasn’t some cosmic plan to “get her” or “put her down”! They were all there celebrating her promotion!!!! And her reaction was priceless. She looked at the cake in front of everyone, and just started laughing. My husband, having not seen the cake from his vantage point, was really anxious to see what was in the box…and hence took the picture and texted me.

The point of my story is that we all have miscommunications that happens every day. And, too frequently we blame that miscommunication on the other person involved. It’s really up to all parties involved to remain calm, reserve judgement, and continue to seek clarification until you know that both parties are on the same page with the actions you are seeking. Remember the baker asked for clarification of what was supposed to be on the cake…and it was verified by the person ordering the cake. Using the exact same words to check for clarification however, as you can see, may not be a perfect strategy.

Seek clarification in all important matters!!!!

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Isn’t that Obvious?

Like many people, I usually think that what I’m doing is obvious to everyone.  And then this happens!

Recently my husband ordered wood blocks for our grandson…you know…adding something to the order to get free shipping.  He loved playing with blocks as a little kid, so wanted to have them so that the grandkids can enjoy them.

Anyway, the blocks came with instructions!  I thought that was hilarious….and kept them as I have been analyzing this decision to include instructions for a whole week now.


The wooden blocks came in a nice little wooden box with a slide open lid.  To add this simple piece of paper with instructions to the blocks they shrink wrapped the box, then attached a plastic pouch to the side with these instructions neatly folded up inside.  Of course I had to open up the pouch to see what was inside because the shipping receipt was packed loosely in a bigger box along with the wooden box.  And I was delighted to see the “instructions for play”.  The method of packing made me realize that the company had went to great expense to add these instructions to the wooden blocks.  And while I thought it was obvious how to use them….apparently it isn’t to everyone, or the company would not have went to the expense and additional human labor to include the instructions.  

And, I could be a little critical of the instructions….because they could have added some other uses…like the ability to use the blocks for simple classification of items, like by color, or by number/letter.  Or that the “to play” list wasn’t exactly written for a specific audience.  You see if someone is going to learn letters from the blocks, they probably can’t read the instructions.  And if the instructions are written for parents/guardians/babysitters of small children, they didn’t include the age/stages information that would be helpful to go along with the play instructions.  Like toddler may use them to learn the alphabet, numbers, colors etc.  While older children (kindergarten and 1st graders) might use them to do simple math problems or build simple structures, whereas an upper elementary child may use them to build complex structures.  But that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here.

Last week I also shared a lesson plan with an Iowa parent.  I immediately received back a question about how long the lesson plan would take…and I responded with that depends.  You see if you do it this way, it’s a one hour lesson…if you do it this way, it’s a four hour lesson, and if you do it this way, you can stretch it out all summer long. And I looked at my lesson plan and realized that I had not put estimates of time on the lesson plan, nor had I put the variations that I had shared with the parent and how each variation would emphasize a different aspect (scientific concept) of the lesson plan, targeting a little bit different age group, and have a little different expectations about the knowledge level of the participating youth.

But then today it hit me….what I might think is obvious in my area of work, might not be to everyone!  Do we really look at the materials we create from the end users perspective?  Do we pilot these materials with end users and take into consideration their feedback?  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have Extension curriculum in a database format, so that the end user could enter the age of a participant, subject area interest, or key scientific concepts to learn, or even the area of the state that the participant resided in, and the database would spit back out the perfect lesson plan/workshop designed specifically for that clientele?  ……Making each lesson plan highly relevant to the end user!!!

Isn’t that our ultimate goal?  Using research from the University and boiling it down to consumable, highly relevant, information for our clientele!  Then layering that information with our knowledge about how/who the information is highly relevant to and how it’s relevant….neither error on the side that the clientele obviously know the information and we aren’t programming to their knowledge level nor that we assume they know things that they do not and program beyond their needs or knowledge level.

We know that the greatest opportunity for educational impact occurs at the front edge of the bell curve of knowledge in our expertise area.  So that is the area to program toward.  Because if all we are feeding is obvious solutions or if all we are feeding is beyond the learner…we are diligently programming ourselves into irrelevance?

One small step for Extension, one giant leap for impact!


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Why Great Questions are Important!

With the current COVID situation, I moved a couple of my regular Extension programs online.  Yep, it didn’t take a lot of time to think about how the new environment would make teaching the course different, and dare I say, better…but regardless, today was another highlight day!

I just got off of my I Wonder Zoom session…and I have been smiles since.  The 2nd graders that sign up for this workshop are full of questions…and indeed that’s what the workshop is all about, why those 2nd grade questions can sometimes lead to great scientific research questions.  Yes, we discuss that an insect has six legs, and whether butterflies could fly in space if you put them on the international space station in a room filled with oxygen (ANSWER: No, because butterflies actually need gravity to fly). We discuss how crickets make sounds and we even do an experiment to see if we can make cricket sounds by rubbing our legs together.  It’s pretty much a raucous discussion of questions they may have, and if they don’t start throwing some out, I do for them…and we discuss them.

Anyway, at the end of the lesson I ask the kids if they have any additional questions that they would like to ask of the group.  And typically the same four or five questions get asked…but today there was a new one.  It started down the typical path, one kid asked me if I had a favorite insect, then another asked me if I had a favorite animal….but the kicker question was “What is your favorite meat eater?” This gave me pause…you see at first I thought he asked what my favorite meteor was…and well, while I’ve studied a couple meteors, I really wasn’t prepared with a favorite.  I glanced at my husband across the room who said “meat eater”.  But then I was confused because Zoom connections with multiple 2nd graders means greater difficulty in overcoming listening challenges, I asked the kid to repeat and got it that he was asking for my favorite meat eater.  My gut instinct was several different dinosaurs….settling in on velociraptor, I decided that answering it with a dinosaur could possibly open up a bunch of questions that I was definitely not prepared for…like different dinosaurs that I may not know if they were meat or plant eaters.  So, I chickened out and said “Humans”.  Which thankfully and probably more truthfully is my favorite meat eater!  🙂

I love my job because we can connect with real people.  These are real questions that 2nd graders have, no, probably not the most important questions right now…but real questions that kids have and that adults aren’t taking the time to answer.  And that is really sad.  Every answer you give a kid produces three or four more related questions, or clarifying questions.  And, isn’t that awesome?  Somewhere along the line we teach people to not ask questions as sometimes we perceive them as sarcastic or leading in some way….but kids know how to ask good questions….ones that sometimes give adults a great deal of pause to answer. And one of the deepest questions people ask is “why?” Please encourage questions in your work….it’s the only way to assess whether clientele really understand the content…good clarifying questions!  And don’t chicken out when the really good questions come up….those are the treasures, the real means to determine whether our clientele understand what we are discussing.

Does knowing what my favorite meat eater make any difference in my knowing whether my clientele understood the content…no.  But, if I had had the courage to take on the question with my in the moment dinosaur thought process, I would have come to new and interesting content that would have stretched both the kids in the workshop and my own learning as well.  Here’s hoping that next time I don’t chicken out!!!!

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Podcast Suggestion: Cult of Pedagogy

Hello!  When I cut my commute time several years ago from 2 hours a day to literally just a few minutes, I sort of dropped my habit of voracious consumption of podcasts.  Now, I have to tell you that I think I need to resurrect that practice.  I’ve found podcasts on literally just about everything…but today I spent some time listening to one of my favorite podcasters….Jennifer Gonzalez.  Jennifer has a podcast called the “Cult of Pedagogy”.  She’s a veteran middle school teacher who now teaches pre-service teachers.  Anyway, I find her podcasts…and her blog, refreshing.  They are relatable and really are helpful in our work at  educators in the informal classroom too!

Today, I would challenge you to download a couple of her podcasts and go for a walk.  Take the ear buds out when you cross the streets…but take a good listen.  It will be rewarding!

Podcast  Podcast #142 on Distance Learning (March 30, 2020) gave some helpful tips on how to move from face-to-face learning to distance learning in our current COVID social distancing phase……And, she keeps it real.  She’s not suggesting things that are not comfortable, and she has suggestions on how to do a reset when you think it’s not going like you want it to!  I think you might find a few of the tools she mentions quite helpful!  I’m thinking about testing out a few of them that were new to me too!


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Innovation In Pedagogy & Technology Symposium

Okay…so I’ve been going to this for years now!  Talked some of my best friends into going with me too!  I find this conference fascinating because, well, you learn lots of information about how our colleagues (UNL, UNK, UNO, UNMC) are using technology and new pedagogies to reach beyond what we’ve done before.  Technically they have sessions on leadership, emerging technology, marketing, instructional design and pedagogy!  It’s yielded new tech and new pedagogies annually for me…but it also has been an opportunity for me to meet people that are great partners for my work in Extension.  Last year I went to a session from UNMC on backwards design…and well, a month later, had the same team of presenters do an online session for Next Generation Extension….they were that good!!!!

Each year this conference has been held in Lincoln…but with the COVID situation, this year the conference is a virtual one on May 12!  To register…. 

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Programming in the Age of COVID-19

So, here we have been for a month!  I know that not all of you have been working from home for a full month, but we are getting close to that one month mark.  And, I know that some of you are really struggling to try to figure this out, or juggle all of the new demands on your time.  But I just wanted to put some perspective on this all…cause I miss my colleagues!

You see my position with Extension is not to babysit, but rather to provide quality educational resources to youth.  And, secondary to that, to provide that quality education in a safe environment.  My mission with Extension has not changed, despite all of the curve balls that COVID has thrown my direction.  YEAH, it has been a major inconvenience to say the least…but that inconvenience has been uniform across everyone’s plate…not just those of us in Extension.

I think that like never before we have some opportunities here….our most major opportunity is to show everyone in the state how responsive we can be in new situations!  That we can be real agents for change!  We have tools at our finger tips that quite frankly work well in our mission and also quite frankly, we have access to tools that other businesses may not have in their arsenal.  Sure, the copier and postage scale may be in quarantine, and you may have spent a lot of time trying to figure out a work around for mail and your work phone….but by now, I’m hoping that your new normal is becoming easier for you…that you have figured out how the tools we have at our disposal work well in this new environment.  And, that you have been able to adapt and have finally got back to our mission of providing quality educational experiences for Nebraskans during an age of COVID-19!

So here are my top five tips for Programming in the Age of COVID-19:

  1. Create a routine and follow it!  Get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time.
  2. Get your sleep.  Don’t binge watch some old t.v. show that you have seen eight times already….go to bed and get a good night’s sleep.  ..Okay, I admit, I binge watched Tiger King on Netflix last weekend.  Nothing spectacular came out of my time commitment, but it did help me connect some dots with why I saw some tiger cubs in the Platte River Mall in North Platte years ago!  🙂
  3. Eat healthy.  Yeah, I know, I don’t necessarily trust the grocery pickup to pick out the freshest fruits and vegetables….but I do want to eat healthy, so I am working on building that trust.
  4. Get some exercise. Not all of you have the luxury of living in a rural area where you can literally take a walk every night and still social distance….but if you do, do it!  You will feel so much better!
  5. Think innovatively.  I love it when I can jump in my car and it just works…but well, if you have driven very long, you know that there is going to be a day when you jump in the car, and something is wrong…dead battery, flat tire, something.  Do you shrivel into a ball crying when that happens or do you figure it out?  Well, it’s time to figure this out too!  Not everything is going to happen perfectly, but moving incrementally forward is at least moving forward!  If we shrivel in defeat…we are only moving ourselves and our organization backwards!
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What have you learned today: COVID forced Mindshifts

I know that many of you probably have spent countless hours trying to figure out how to do our work with our current COVID parameters….some with more success than others.  Here’s another strategy for you!  How about instead of pushing yourself to adapt your materials to online delivery, that you consider seeing how others have been successful with their materials?

Coursera has announced several online certificate programs that are FREE!  Yep, quality online courses that for a limited time will lead to a certificate!  So, if you are sincere about figuring out how to get your materials online and available to the public we serve, now you have a new opportunity….see what others are doing and mimic their strategies.

So whether you have always wanted to learn Psychology First Aid from John Hopkins University, or How Things Work: An Introduction to Physics from University of Virginia, or Communication Strategies for a Virtual Age from the University of Toronto to name a few….here’s your opportunity!  Here’s the full list of free courses.  In case you didn’t know, these are some big names in the MOOC arena, offering their classes up for free until the end of May!

So ….now….you too can enjoy a stayEDUcation!  From living room learning to arm chair professional development…my guess is that you can find something that is just right for you!  My hope though is that you don’t just take the course, but you also take the time to analyze what they are doing and why, and what strategies you can adopt to put your own materials online because while the COVID situation is horrible….there are opportunities for us in Nebraska Extension to learn how to adapt and help our public move forward…the pandemic simply puts us in our clientele’s shoes!



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Wayne Gretzky

A couple weeks ago I heard a great quote from Wayne Gretzky…and I can’t stop thinking about it!

“Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.” – Wayne Gretzky


In case you don’t know who Wayne Gretzky is, he is a GREAT hockey player.  …And here is what I am thinking about his quote.  In Extension we frequently are conducting needs assessments that assess where our clientele are at this moment, and then we set about developing or presenting materials that are in the moment needs that are identified by our needs assessments.  We also have some smaller groups in Extension that are focused on the next five years or so….ie the 2025 Technology group.  But as I thought about Wayne Gretzky’s quote, I started wondering if that was enough.

I know that many of our groups have talked about trends in our focus areas, and think a bit about those trends…but are we analyzing them enough to determine whether we are programming toward fads or societal trends?  A fad of course in six months or so will be out of date…resulting in development of one and done programming.  A societal trend however is a movement toward or away from something that we will probably never see reversed….ie global communities.  I think it’s time that we start really giving ourselves time to pause and think about what we are doing in the long-term.  Are we developing programming for this season, this year, the next five years…or are we developing programming that puts Extension in the driving seat in 50 years?  We can’t ignore the current needs…but I think we might be doing ourselves a disservice by not thinking about the long-term societal trends that are emerging on the horizon.

Case in point….a couple years ago at our Fall Conference, we identified the idea of developing a Google like platform whose searches would only pull up research based information. I shared with Chuck that Lindsay Chichester, Connie Reimers-Hild and I had talked about that several years ago and that we thought a clever name for it would be NUgle.  🙂  Anyway, now we have had another Fall Conference since, and yet, no movement has been made on this lofty goal…or any of the others we spent a day identifying.  I know this because I remembered thinking that this one goal was what I thought out of all of those generated that would really make an impact on Nebraskans.  And yet this year, I noticed a trend that I think would make this project irrelevant.  You see this year as I have been out working with kids, I noticed that they don’t Google so much…now they all use Siri or Alexa!  Nugle would be a total waste of time now….cause we just couldn’t quite get to the point of development and implementation in a timely manner.  And while all of the individuals of my generation are busy worrying about whether Siri or Alexa are “listening in on their conversations” (they are…we just need to move forward), we are missing yet another opportunity to serve a big audience, in a different way, that truly would be an amazing opportunity for Extension.

For several years now I’ve talked about the tagline of “Living locally, but learning & working globally.” I think that’s more important than ever and today I’m going to start choosing to set aside time at least once a week to work on “skating to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”   Will I fail…YEP…but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t pop right back up and keep skating to where the puck is going!


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Sleepless in Nebraska

Susan Harris-Broomfield presented on how sleep affects every moment of our daily lives, from how we think and remember to how our bodies thrive or deteriorate.  It determines how we deal with stress, make choices related to safety, and function as human beings.  Sleep is arguably the single most important factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and lack of it causes a significantly reduced quality of life.

If you missed this great webinar today, you can still watch the recording!

Also, here are a couple of Susan’s handouts:

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Presenting with Clarity

If you were not able to join us this morning for Karly Black‘s presentation “Presenting with Clarity”.  Here is a link to the webinar, and here is a link to the slide deck.

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