Friday, October 30, 2015

Expressions of Faith: Observations

For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
(Colossians 2:5 NIV)

Do you intentionally observe the actions of friends and acquaintances in various settings? If you haven’t, I’m surprised.

If you have, you’ve probably been surprised… by the differences many friends and acquaintances exhibit when out of the normal settings they share with you.

Paul is delighted by evidence of spiritual discipline and firm faith in Christ.

Hmmm. What do others see in you when they observe?

If those watching you don’t observe a disciplined life and firm faith in Christ, it’s time for a change!

Next Friday's Expression of Faith Series: Captives

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:
My website is:

I'd appreciate your feedback!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 3: Similarities and Differences... Clearly and Succinctly

Story Telling VS. Writing A Story – Part 3: Similarities and Differences... Clearly and Succinctly

This is the last in this series. As promised, this is short… and hopefully sweet.


Both telling and writing present a story. While that sounds trite, it is important to remember that the goal of a teller and a writer is the same: Get the audience engaged in the tale and wanting to see how it ends.


When telling a story, tellers animate the characters. Good storytellers modify both their voice and physical mannerisms for different characters. Listeners visualize beautiful women, strong tough men, children, non-native speakers, and scores of other types through the skilled delivery of spoken words by the teller.

A story writer must convey those same differences but the pages upon which they write limit a writer’s expression. Good story writers build, and then animate, characters. But they do it by describing not demonstrating.

Ultimately, readers and listeners form mental images of characters in each case. The better, more lifelike, those images, the more a reader wants to know about the characters and the part of each in the story.

A storyteller can read her/his audience. Good storytellers are always scanning the crowd. As soon as they teller sees or senses part of the listening audience slipping away mentally, the teller can change what he/she is doing to reel the listeners back in. A sudden clap of the hands emphasizing a door closing or a gunshot or mimicking the clap by a character will return the attention of all but the most reticent listen to the story.

A story writer must depend on her/his wordsmithing to keep a reader engaged. Boring is bad in writing. Confusion is bad in writing. Engagement is the goal of a writer.

A crowd of listeners can bring back those losing interest by their group dynamic. You’ve probably tuned out of some conversation only to be sucked back in because you wondered what everyone was laughing about. Storytellers use group dynamics to their advantage. Conversely, if a listening audience is restless, it can pull those trying to listen away from the story. Reading an audience is a finely honed skill in good storytellers.

Writers have no crowd to distract. But, the lack of crowd means that the only thing keeping a reader engaged is the writing. Writers have no group dynamic


While a story is a story, whether written or spoken, if you ignore the conventions of either as you write or speak your audience won’t come back for more.

Primary Lesson Learned

As a writer, it is important to provide your readers with insights into your characters that they have no way of obtaining without your written words. Include:
  • thoughts, insights, and quirks as thoughts or in descriptions.
  • descriptions of important historical information on your characters.
  • examples of baggage your characters carry that impact their current actions.

More on this idea in my…

Next blog: Thoughts After My Longest Edit… Ever!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Expressions of Faith: Value

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 

                                                                              (Matt 13: 44 NIV)


This is a continuation of last week's post: Worth.  Remember, we are looking at this Scripture from the viewpoint of "the treasure is YOU."

Once the treasure is dug up after the field is purchased, that treasure is in the hands of the field owner. Who's hands are you in?

A basketball in my hands is worth about $20. A basketball in the hands of LeBron James is worth nearly $23 million/year.

A baseball and glove in my hands are worth maybe $200. The same equipment in the hands of Clayton Kershaw is worth a bit over $30 million/year.

Your life in your hands is worth... not much. Your life is God's hands is worth... A FORTUNE.

At the end of your life, your true value will not be based on what you have. It will be based on who has you.

Who's hands are you in?

I know this is not from Colossians and is not Observations, but I heard this in a devotional at the Murietta Regional Center of Azusa Pacific University. I wanted more people to experience the insight of the campus chaplain.

Next Friday's Expression of Faith Series: Observations

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:
My website is:

I'd appreciate your feedback!

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #9: A Salute to Teachers Re: 10/10/2015

A Science Guy’s Almanac #9: A Salute to Teachers Re: 10/10/2015

On Saturday, October 10, of this year, the Cox Cable’s Channel 4 in San Diego broadcast the annual Salute to Teachers. This black-tie event recognizes all of the San Diego County teachers who were selected as Teacher of the Year in the school, and then in their school district.

District winners’ names and application materials were sent to the San Diego County Office of Education. There, four teachers were selected from the list of forty to be the San Diego County Teachers of the Year.

Those four are entered in the competition for California Teacher of the Year. The winner of that competition has a 1:52 chance of being named the National Teacher of the Year.

The Teacher of the Year program has been in place since 1974—my second year as a teacher. The Salute to Teachers celebration reached a milestone this year. 2015 is the 25th anniversary of that event.

In the early years of the Salute to Teachers, a variety of local celebrities hosted the gala. For nearly 10 years, Gabe Kaplan, best known as Mr. Kotter in the TV sitcom Welcome Back Kotter, was the host. Hosts of this year’s event were also media celebrities of a sort.

I was fortunate to be named as one of three San Diego County Teachers of the Year in 1985.

That year, the celebration consisted of attending a luncheon sponsored by the local chapter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). I attended with my principal.
Before the luncheon’s keynote speaker, each of the three of us Teachers of the Year was asked to come forward. We received a plaque from the County Office and a round of applause.

Now, teachers submit videos of their teaching as part of the application process because advancements in technology allow a greater visual celebration. The Salute to Teachers features those videos along with live music performed by some of the award-winning choirs, vocal and instrumental ensembles, and other talented students from local schools. The MC is articulate. Winners are given time to speak.

All in all, the evening is a well-produced celebration of the teaching profession. Along with the sold-out Civic Center’s theater audience, several thousand people watch the event on their television sets.

What’s my point?
I am very happy when any teacher receives recognition for their contribution to the lives of young people. All too often, media emphasis is placed on disgraced teachers. Not nearly enough attention is given to those hundreds of thousands of dedicated professionals who put in countless hours beyond their contracted work days.

During this unpaid time teachers grade, plan, prepare, create, and seek new ways to inspire, encourage, and prepare their students for whatever comes into their lives. In addition to unpaid overtime, studies have shown the most teachers spend thousands of dollars from their own pockets on materials and resources that their students would not have without this investment.

Why do they do that?

Because good teachers want the best for their students. For an eye-opening look into this out of pocket expense, check out the Huffington Post’s September 2 article on this topic. Take a close look at the photos sent in by teachers. Look at the types of materials/resources they are purchasing. Very little of the items shown would be considered frills or frivolous purchases.

Education is a right reserved to each individual state by the Constitution of the United States. Each state determines curricula and budgets for their schools. Most of those decisions are made in state legislatures. A minority of those elected officials were/are teachers.

According to Table 2 from Membership of the 113th Congress: A Profile released in November 2014, 102 of the current members of congress list their prior occupation in the field of education.


As you can see, not all “educators” were teachers. It’s possible that a sizable number never taught in any public school. I suspect the breakdown of most state legislators would be close to these numbers. By the way, numbers presented in the highlighted bullet point do not match those in the table.

So what?

Only this. Most decisions made on educational issues are made by people whose primary exposure to the educational system in their constituency was as students. Many of the issues are decided based on which outside group—publishers, curriculum developers, special interest advocates—has the most clout and/or the most money.

Bottom Line

If you are a teacher: Be proud! Be prepared. Be approachable.
If you are a student: Let your teacher know how much you appreciate her/him.
If you are a parent: Find out what you can do to help your child be most successful in her/his class.

Parents, Teachers, and Administrators
I am co-author of Tune Up Your Teaching & Turn On Student Learning. This book provides insights and ideas for all three groups on how to help students be better thinkers and learners. It is available at Amazon or directly from me through Teachers Pay Teachers. I’ll be offering 15% off on the book during November and December.

Also, visit Engage In Thinking at for additional information and resources.

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:
My website is:

Follow A Day in the Life of a Science Fiction Writer by Email