July 14

“Primitive Art” – a #CLMOOC 2017 Reflection

We are wrapping up the first formal week of #CLMOOC 2017, where we were optionally (after all, everything in CLMOOC is optional) invited to add an introduction in Flipgrid. Flipgrid is a video-only platform, and my CLMOOC colleagues have used a variety of methods to introduce themselves; some funny, some serious, some silent.

I had the idea to create a video that emulates an old-style flip book, so went searching for a tool to use. I found FlipAnim, which seemed quite straightforward, a web-based app which had a short learning curve. The first (disappointing) thing I discovered is there is no “erase” or “undo” capability. The only way to remove mistakes is by deleting the whole “page.” The second “problem” with this tool is that the drawing is done using one’s computer mouse.

Even though I am left-handed, I have always used a right-handed mouse (maybe for the same reason I still use right-handed scissors – lack of availability when I first started using the tool?). When I was faced with the prospect of applying my atrocious right-handed drawing-with-a-mouse skills, along with the can’t-undo-mistakes reality, I sighed and considered finding a different app.

Then I thought better of it, and simply drew. I accepted that the result would be “primitive” at best. And discovered it was so liberating to play! I was relaxed and reckless as I created my crude facsimile of a girl with wild hair, and as I hand-wrote, er mouse-wrote my “credits.” Yes, the result is primitive, but it was such fun!

This experience ties in with the Twitter chats we had a few days ago, where a number of us acknowledged we feel we aren’t artists, that we are “bad” at art.

Our perception that we are not “artists” usually starts at a young age, oftentimes as the result of a classroom experience. My absolute favorite example of using a positive, iterative process to improve work comes in the form of “Austin’s Butterfly,” from Expeditionary Learning’s Ron Berger. In this process, instead of telling students their work is “bad” or “good,” peers offer “kind, specific and helpful” feedback. If you haven’t watched this video, DO! It provides such a superb example of how first-grader Austin steadily improves his work based on peer feedback, and how closely his final product resembles the photograph he was using as his model.

Confidence in the ability to continuously improve one’s work is a characteristic identified in Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindsets. It is interesting that many of us who participated in the CLMOOC Twitter chats demonstrated a fixed mindset regarding our artistic ability.

As we explored this discomfort and feelings of inadequacy further, we talked about the need to “play” with art, to have fun. Algot Runeman reminded us periodically how we need to treat ourselves more kindly, and to continue practicing. To allow ourselves to “stumble,” and to measure progress over time.

The point about the importance of play is well-argued in Stuart Brown, MD’s book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. As he says, “[p]lay is a state of mind, rather than activity” (p. 60). He further states “the impulse to create art is a result of the play impulse… art and culture are something that the brain actively creates because it benefits us…” (p. 60).

Now, I’m off to color.



January 8

Weather or Not

This week’s NWP iAnthology challenge, presented by Kim Douillard, is to think of #weather and how it impacts our photography. As one who is living in the Midwest (Chicago suburbs), weather this time of year can be pretty severe and bleak. As it is today:

I went out this afternoon to look for interesting shots of this prairie country I’ve lived in for sixteen years, and which will never be “home.” It’s too flat and boring for my liking; give me mountains and oceans any day.

One thing I have observed, having lived in a variety of climates, is that the sky is what most helps identify which season we are in. The ones below were all taken mid-afternoon, with #nofilter. The sun is already making a descent. There is a certain chill to the shades of blue.

For the past six months or so, I have made a concerted effort to relish, rather than complain about the weather. Especially since I really, really hate winter. Today’s photography exercise helped me see some of the beauty of this stark time of year. It reminded me of a recent New York Times travel article entitled “David Foster Wallace’s Peaceful Prairie,” which describes Foster Wallace’s enjoyment of the Illinois prairie country. The article quotes from the opening paragraph of Foster Wallace’s posthumously-published novel The Pale King, “Ale-colored sunshine and pale sky and whorls of cirrus so high they cast no shadow.” The sun was more lemonade than ale today, but the big sky was certainly there.


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January 1

#clmooc #2016bestnine photo review

To wrap up 2016, Kim Douillard challenged the #clmooc community to curate #2016bestnine photos. I’m not an avid Instagram user, so the collage the app created (below) was collected from a small selection of the photos I took this year. My phone also exploded this fall, so I lost a bunch of photos, including the Mt Hood shot.

Nonetheless, Instagram and I agree on some of the themes I explored during the year. As part of the #clmooc #silentsunday thread, I look for subjects that represent my surroundings and my interests.

The first photo (collage) I chose is of my son tipping off at a basketball game. He played competitive travel basketball for five years, and this summer decided to abandon the sport. Part of me still grieves, because he is a talented player, and I feel like he is walking away from something which has much to offer him, and to which he has much to offer. I also developed friendships with many of the other parents, and think the loss of those hours sitting on bleachers in solidarity with them is what I miss most.

This next shot grosses some people out :-). An orb spider in his/her domain. Spiders creep me out as well, but nonetheless they are magnificent beings, and (as Ms. Frizzle informs us all) beneficial for eradicating other insects.

I love the defiance of this leaf, standing up in the grass.

These next two were taken this fall, in the same area. I love the symmetry of the two paragliders, and the study in light and shadows and reflections.

After a glorious, mild autumn, we were abruptly shocked into winter with the first snow. The accumulation of heavy, wet snow provides a magnificent frame for the tree branches and decorative crab apples.

Perhaps my favorite shot of the year is this self-portrait taken as a fluke. In this blog post, I describe the circumstances, and the subsequent analysis and connections related to it.

To cap it off, I selected these two shots of lights. The first is soft, the glow of candles in a darkened room. The second is more dramatic, part of a light and sound show presented by the Morton Arboretum in the Chicago area.


Thanks, Kim for inciting me to think about the photos I took this year, and what they mean to me.

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November 29

2016 #CLMOOC #DigiWrimo #AltCV

As I mused about creating this season’s #AltCV, a recent interaction with #CLMOOC friend Stephanie Loomis came to mind. She was wrapping up a project related to social media profile pictures (you’ll have to ask her for the details!) and messaged me with some questions. She asked me for my interpretation of the following Facebook profile picture:


To which I responded:


I hadn’t consciously analyzed the photo before posting it as my profile picture. However, when Stephanie asked me what it represented, I came up with my description easily, with very little thought. So, the analysis and interpretation were already there, just at a subconscious level.

I was also somewhat astounded by the similarities in Stephanie’s interpretation:


She and I “know” each other only in virtual spaces. The photo spoke for itself.

As Stephanie and I chatted further, we explored the blurring of lines between “professional” and “personal” identities:



In reality, our professional and personal lives co-existed before social media. The difference was that on our resumes, and in presenting our “professional face,” we emphasized our skills and experience vis-à-vis the position we held, or wished to hold. We downplayed our personal lives, only divulging details to our closest colleagues.

Given we are holistic beings, this new era of transparency is refreshing. When we fracture ourselves into multiple personalities (Sybil anyone?), we are inauthentic. So here I stand. Strong, hopeful, and as documented in this 2014 #CLMOOC avatar, a warrior.


November 14

#DigiWriMo Storyjumping Part 18: The Cold November Rain

This is part 18 of a storyjumper for Digital Writing Month. To read the whole story (so far):

Part 1 Bruno’s blog started us off with a personal narrative.

Part 2 Kevin’s blog began the story.

Part 3 Maha’s blog continued…

Part 4 Sarah’s blog…

Part 5 Ron’s blog…

Part 6 Tanya’s blog…

Part 7 Kay’s blog…

Part 8 Ron’s blog…

Part 9 Dana’s blog

Part 10 Tania’s blog

Part 11 Maureen’s blog

Part 12 Sue’s blog

Part 13 Rhonda’s blog

Part 14 Yin Wah Kreher’s blog

Part 15 Scott’s blog

Part 16 Jeffrey’s blog

Part 17 Wendy’s blog

For a geographical map of participants, click here. If you would like to participate, add your name to this Google Doc.


[As they turned the next corner they could not believe their eyes. Their two friends Smidgy and Wry were walking towards them! They ran towards them with huge grins and a laugh. The first thing they said was …..]

…”Smidgy! Wry! What’re you doing here? We thought we were the only legal aliens here!”

They hugged each other fiercely, feeling centered for the first time since arriving here in this odd Times-Square-that-was-not-quite-Times-Square. They stood in the drizzle, talking excitedly, until Haras realized she was drenched, and chilled to the bone. “Keith and I were looking for a tea house. Do you know where we could go?” “Ah, I know exactly the place,” responded Wry. She led the way as they hopped the subway to the West Village.

Bosie Tea House

Once inside the tea house, Keith and Haras were unsettled to see a blind man sitting and running his fingers over a tattered map. “Um, guys,” said Haras, “maybe we should go somewhere else.” “Oh, no worries,” replied Smidgy, “that’s Facino Cane. He plays the clarinet and has been looking forward to you two bringing your sax and uke to jam with him. He’s been standing outside holding a candle in the cold November rain, hoping you would show up.”

Still uncertain, Haras approached the old man. “Excuse me, sir, who are you?” “Haras!,” he replied. “I’ve been waiting for you. There was a scuffle somewhere… it’s all fuzzy, but I think Keith was involved…?”

Keith approached even more cautiously, remembering the altercation at his house. “You know, old man, even though my fear has subsided somewhat, shadows still remain. I mean, we’re not even really in New York, I’m not really Keith, and you died like 200 years ago.”

Abruptly, the old man jumped out of his chair and grabbed Wry*. “Where’s the other map?,” he demanded. Whirling, he turned and faced the other three. “If you don’t hand over the other map, your friend here dies. You think you have two weeks to figure it out, but here where we are, it’s November 29th.”

[Over to Wry*, aka Mariam Shoaib]

November 5

#AltCV and #DigiWriMo

Phew. That’s all I can say. When the #DigiWriMo folks issued the call to create an “alternative CV,” “based not on degrees and position and peer-reviewed publications, but on what we think is most important about who we are and what we are genuinely most proud to have accomplished,” I decided to make the exercise a challenge. More of a challenge than I anticipated, really.

Animaker is a tool I have barely glanced at, but which has fascinated me for some time. So, I decided to use it to create my #AltCV. Thus the adventure began. Animaker has an eleven-and-a-half minute tutorial. I watched it once. Fumbled through assembling a few “scenes.” Several things did not come together as I wanted them to. Went through the tutorial again, to find the explanation for the nuances I was missing. Like all good learning experiences, the process was iterative. I would make some modifications, replay the video, identify the improvements I needed to make. Again and again.

In my work as a PBL (project-based learning) coach, this is an aspect I impress upon teachers. Students need to be given feedback on their work, and the time to revise. Not only once, but multiple times. My all-time favorite example of this is Ron Berger’s video of  Austin’s Butterfly:

It is all too common for educators to get caught up in the but-I-have-all-this-content-to-cover mindset, so students don’t have the occasion to delve deeply into any given topic, nor do they have the opportunity to reflect on their work, and to make improvements.

This year in our Meliora group, we are studying World History. To some, I will sound like a heretic, but I care little about what these students carry away in knowledge and facts about World History (well, I do hope they remember “les grandes lignes,” the major points). What I mostly care about is that they develop deeper thinking and analytic skills. We spend significant time discussing events in history, and making connections to today, to my students’ reality. By using open-ended questions, “why?” and “how do you know?” being perhaps my favorites, the students are required to think, and to defend their rationale.

I also care that the students learn to reflect on their work, and to actively find ways to improve it. As they develop projects, I offer feedback throughout the process. They also conduct peer reviews of each other’s work, so they can learn to critique using “kind, helpful and specific” (a phrase coined by Ron Berger) feedback.

As I went through the development of my #AltCV, I was also applying Standford’s d. school ideology of “iterative generation of artifacts intended to answer questions that get you closer to your final solution.” As they further explain in the excerpt below, iteration is fundamental to good design. Interestingly, they discuss iterations within a process, in my case the complete video, and then within a step, in my case a single scene. That is exactly how I tackled it, narrowing my focus as the flow began to take shape.

d school design thinking excerpt

I would argue this design process can be applied to many, if not all, academic disciplines. When I work with Meliora students on their history projects, we first look at the big picture, their overall argument/thesis, then over time narrow the focus to particular details that need fleshed out and refined. Likewise, when solving a math problem students need to learn to determine the process to be used, then drill down to the detail. And so forth.

And, now, for my #AltCV:


July 5

#CLMOOC 2015 Make #2

I have enthusiastically charged into #CLMOOC again this year. Although some of my efforts seem more like limping along than charging!

For our second “make,” we were invited to “consider how the media we compose within (like print, sound, still and moving image, or objects) influence how we communicate and interpret.” Furthermore, we were asked to “mediate and re-mediate and reflect on how the affordances of different media impact our choices, processes, and meanings.”

Simultaneous with the beginning of this make cycle, I was brooding over the recent tragedy in South Carolina, where Dylann Roof killed nine people. Although I was feeling sad about those pointless deaths, I was even more sad that a general reaction was to get rid of all Confederate flags.

I understand that the Confederate flag is a symbol of racial hatred, and stirs negative emotions in some people. But, it is also part of our history. If we try to ignore or bury history, we will encounter even more dire consequences.

So, I decided I would use that topic for this week’s make. After some consideration, I settled on ThingLink as the platform, because I wanted to develop some proficiency with it, and to analyze its potential is as a teaching and learning tool.

As I have noted in the past, free versions of software tend to be limited, limiting, and frustrating. This is definitely true of ThingLink. In the end, I chose to upgrade to “pro” with a 14-day free trial.

What I learned as I worked (fought?) with this tool is that my process for creating this multimedia “essay” was similar to what I would do if simply writing a text essay. I needed a thesis. I had to research, looking for credible primary and secondary sources. I needed to organize my argument, and support it with evidence.

What was different than a traditional essay is that I could incorporate images, videos, and music in further support of my textual argument. By using numbered “tags,” I could also draw the audience through my argument in a logical, coherent sequence.

Much of what I was able to accomplish I quite like. I am, however, frustrated with the inability to clip video or audio segments. I would like to incorporate only the pieces that are most relevant. I could download a video, edit it, re-upload it to YouTube and then include it in the ThingLink. Ditto for music from SoundCloud. It seems like an awkward, time-consuming workaround.

ThingLink does allow the (pro) user to upload images from a computer. Why is the same capability not available for video and audio? I could edit the elements to my liking on my laptop, then upload them to ThingLink.

I also dislike how the viewer of a ThingLink image is forced to click on tags and media elements within tags in order to initiate a response. I would much prefer that the creator be able to control the response at all entry points. For example, when the viewer hovers over a tag, music utomatically starts playing. Or, when s/he clicks on a tag, a video begins.

ThingLink also seems designed to encourage the viewer to interact in any order on the image. In the case of my essay, I want the viewer to follow a given sequence, to be able to logically follow the flow of my argument. So, I imagined numbering the tags as a way of creating the proper flow. However, the number icons, both native to ThingLink and others I found readily available, all end at 9 or 10.

Since I have more than ten tags, my next hurdle was to create an icon set of my own. That was another learning process that chewed up hours of my time. I will, however, be much more efficient whenever I face icon creation again!

I can imagine ThingLink as an effective teaching tool. Teachers can incorporate multimedia elements, offering students information in a variety of formats, from many different sources. By diversifying the presentation of information, teachers create a richer learning environment, which may improve student engagement.

Editing a ThingLink image is also straightforward, so it would be easy to update a presentation with new, different, or additional information without reengineering the whole design.

Conversely, students could use ThingLink as a tool for exhibiting their learning. It would allow them to organize their evidence of learning and easily present it to a broad public audience. It has many potential uses, not just for persuasive writing. A few examples:

My next effort with ThingLink will be to create or redesign professional development I do as a #PBL (project-based learning) coach so that I can model its use.

To take a look at my finished product:


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January 5


The San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) graciously included me in their list of invitees to the currently-underway Writing Thief MOOC, a deep examination of Ruth Culham’s book The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing. As I explained in my introduction to the MOOC participants, I’m an outlier in the group, as I am not a formally trained writing teacher. My passion is project-based learning, which encompasses all disciplines, and which is itself an (albeit quickly growing) outlier in educational methodologies.

I had encountered a number of the Writing Thief MOOC leaders and participants during the summer 2014 Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC). I learned tremendously from that experience. I received an introduction to many technology tools available to incorporate into writing experiences (as well as other disciplines). I encountered other professionals’ views on teaching and learning. Perhaps most importantly, I discovered that interacting with this virtual community of similarly-minded people is good for my soul.

Therefore, I was eager to join the current conversation. Similarly to #CLMOOC, The Writing Thief MOOC consists of a number of “make cycles,” in this instance related to topics and themes contained in The Writing Thief.

In the second make cycle, we were asked to “find a quote (or quotes) from The Writing Thief that resonates with you,” then “[l]ook at it closely and dissect it” before letting the quote inspire our creativity. We were also told to “give yourself permission…” As I browsed through the “makes” that others had posted to the G+ community, I realized that I would not be satisfied to simply gussy up a quote and call it complete. I needed to give myself permission to dive deeper, and to have fun.

A word Culham used multiple times (nine, to be exact) in The Writing Thief is “frisson,” how we feel “frissons” as we and our students discover great mentor texts, and discover ideas we want to write about. I think my attention was caught by the word “frisson” both because it is not commonly used in English, and because, as a French speaker, the word was familiar to me.

So, the investigation began. One of the beauties of e-readers is they make it straightforward to search for words and phrases. Once I had found all nine “frissons,” I needed to decide how to present my reflection about them. I chose the tool Haiku Deck, both because I had some experience using it, and because it was well-suited to my purpose.

Initially, I thought arranging the nine quotes into a “deck” would be easy. Ha! I had to create an introduction, so off to take photos of the definition of frisson from both French and English dictionaries. Oh, wait, the first quote needed a preamble. Then, some of the quotes didn’t want to fit anywhere. I arranged and rearranged them several times, attempting to find a narrative flow. Finally, I got stuck trying to figure out how to conclude the presentation. Not to mention choosing the images that best portrayed the sense I wanted to give to each quote. As I was working, I realized this was the same process that any writer encounters as s/he creates a piece of work. Although I was simply remixing (thieving?) words written by someone else, I was nonetheless seeking to tell a coherent story. After all, that is what humans like to do – tell stories.

My finished story may be found here: https://www.haikudeck.com/p/9PC9br3xby/frisson.


October 24

How can I help students “level up?”

I recently completed a five-week MOOC offered by Coursera, called Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom. Successful completion of this course, three other courses,  and a capstone result in a Virtual Teacher credential, which is my goal.

As is the case with the other courses in the stream, this short course required only one assessed assignment. In keeping with a #PBL fundamental, we students had voice-and-choice, with three assignment options. One choice was to create a short welcome or instructional video, with an embedded interactive element.

I took the plunge… Due to the intriguing work/play I conducted in the Connected Learning MOOC (#CLMOOC) last summer, I have a heightened interest in understanding how media tools can be used to enhance engagement and learning in students.

In this course’s assignment description, a suggested list of media tools included “Zaption, ThingLink Video, Camtasia, YouTube Editor, Mozilla Popcorn,” although we were at liberty to use any tool that got the job done. I had encountered work done using Zaption during the CLMOOC, so charged ahead with that one.

Along my journey, I encountered many obstacles, and was thankful I had begun work on the project early! I ultimately prevailed, although my end result lacks finesse. I have two major observations from this experience.

Firstly, free versions of products tend to be severely limited and limiting, contributing to the level of frustration I felt as I put the elements together. I understand the purpose of free versions – a risk-free way to try a product and see if it is a good fit for what one wants to do. However, once an organization goes through this analysis process, I think it makes good business sense to commit to the product(s) that best fit the needs of the organization. Otherwise, there is an abundance of time wasted on learning a new tool which only partially satisfies the creative drive. Which ultimately means the creative drive is not satisfied at all!

The other realization that hit home with me was “Where is the instruction manual?” I reflected on this periodically for several days. My first career was in software development/support/project management, from the mid-70’s to the mid-90’s. There was always an instruction manual. Today, however, there is rarely a traditional instruction manual. Technology tools come with FAQs and “?” functions that (generally) lead to a searchable database.

Perhaps as a result, I observe that most young people jump right into the middle of a new app with no prior knowledge or explanation. They simply start using it, and if they get stumped, they try alternative approaches. When all else fails, they invoke the help function. I posit that students often use this same methodology as they tackle new academic material.

In their 2009 work Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel & Robison identify what they call new media literacies, among them “Play – The capacity to experiment with the surroundings as a form of problem solving,” “Simulation – The ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes,” and “Appropriation – The ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.”

When students jump into the middle of a new game or app, they immediately began experimenting, to figure out how it works. They use prior knowledge of other apps/games they have played, as well as real-world knowledge that may apply to this particular experience. In general, they are not at all intimidated by the fact that they have no guidance in their introduction to this new functionality, but expect that it will in some way have connections to something they already know.

Maybe we need to apply this reality to teaching! Instead of using a traditional instruct-drill-test process, why don’t we ask our students to solve an authentic problem or situation (another essential PBL element)? As they plunge in, they will encounter points where they do not have adequate knowledge or skills to continue further. As instructor facilitators, we can at that point provide the instruction needed (including the use of community experts and resources), in what I term a just-in-time model. Students will be receptive, because they recognize the need for learning, in order to be able to “level up.”

For the brave of heart, you will find my Zaption assignment here: http://zapt.io/tggknnx3.


July 21

Connected Learning MOOC (#CLMOOC) Make Cycle #6 – The 5-Image Story

The theme of the final week of #CLMOOC 2014 is “the 5-image story.” As I browsed the examples provided by the CLMOOC team, I began to ponder how authors decide on the stories they are going to tell, regardless of the tools they use. I know for myself, the story needs to reflect something about myself; things/people I value, ideas that intrigue me, pursuits I enjoy, etc.

So, for my “big” 5-image story project, I decided to reflect an activity that has been integral to my life for the past several years. My 15-year-old son has become serious in his pursuit of basketball. Once a “dabbler,” he now plays with a travel league, and spends time off-season improving his skills and conditioning. He and I have spent hundreds of hours on the road, attending practices, games, and tournaments.

I have never played team sports, and am clueless about many of them. I know something about basketball, at least the basic rules. The nuances… not so much. So, I began this journey with my son as an observer and sometime cheerleader. I still fill those two roles, but have also acquired a better understanding of the game, and have established some fine friendships with other parents.

Therefore, I felt that highlighting basketball would reflect a portion of my everyday life, my love for and support of my son, and a sport that is relatively prominent in the landscape of our country.

basketball collage

Interestingly, I posted this collage of five photos in the #CLMOOC community, and the universal response was that my photo story emphasizes the vertical aspects of basketball. Wow! I did not consciously focus on this, so maybe my “mind’s eye” was guiding me?

In verbal terms, I was identifying some components of a basketball game: the huddle, the tip-off, individuality, moving the ball around the court, victory. I was trying to identify the dichotomy of individuals seeking to differentiate themselves, whilst also contributing their unique capabilities to a team effort.

In some respects, I find this illustration parallels the American culture. We identify with this nebulous ideal of “American,” including flag-waving and cheering on our favorite sports teams, while simultaneously asserting our right to be individuals, with divergent values and goals.

As I evolved my collage of five still photos into a more fluid story, I encountered the frustration of technology-that-does-some-good-things-but-not-others. I first tried ThingLink, but quickly became frustrated. I need to consult with my CLMOOC compatriots to figure this out. Maybe the lesson for me as an educator is to ensure I have a basic understanding of any of the tools I ask my students to use.

Then, I turned to Zeega. Initially, I was under-impressed, but continued to experiment. I figured out I could superimpose audio using Soundcloud, and that I could use Flickr images and Giphy .gifs to enhance my story. The chosen elements are layers that can be added, removed, and “faded out” with a few keystrokes. After a bit of a learning curve, I began to get the hang of the tool, and started to have fun.

The beauty of the many technology tools available to even the novice user is that there is instant feedback on one’s creation. I went through several iterations of adding elements, deciding I liked them (or not), then modifying my Zeega to correctly reflect the story I wished to tell. I chose and discarded elements with abandon. This was not a methodical figure-it-all-out-and-put-it-together, but rather a free-flowing trial-and-error approach.

My final result (http://zeega.com/167226) is not “perfect,” but overall it depicts my most important ideas about the sport of basketball. I would love to hear your reactions!