Tuesday, February 28, 2017

gatsby essay prompts

Here's what we came up with in class today:

·      The last line of the book is arguably the most important: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.”  How does this line embody the thematic conflict that defines The Great Gatsby?
·      Is Gatsby’s desire for success—however we define it—evidence of the American dream, obsession, a personal sense of honor, or something else? Does Gatsby symbolize our culture and even our own desires, or is he an outlier?
·      How does Fitzgerald’s characterization create a tone around the theme of happiness?  What is Fitzgerald’s attitude toward happiness?  Does it depend on love, on external markers such as wealth, on repairing or atoning for the past, or on something that is unattainable?
·      The notion of the American dream figures prominently in this story.  How do readers define the American dream?  Moreover, is pursuing the American dream necessarily a good thing?

february 28


February is over.  In the blink of an eye, March will be over too.  What can we do to enjoy the experience of time, instead of just observe how fast it passes?

1. Journal
2. Test debrief and essay prep

Sunday, February 26, 2017

february 27

This may seem like a no-brainer, but common sense is that sense which we hold in common, which requires us to articulately describe and explain even those things we assume others understand.


Why do we prefer hearing "yes" rather than "no"?

1. Journal
2. Gatsby test Chapters 7-9

for those times when you wish you had the answers before the test

 Now you can.  All you have to do is look them up today.  (Because you will take this very test in class tomorrow.)  
* Please Note: I cut/pasted this from a formatted document and I just noticed many of the words are incorrectly divided by lines-- no time to fix today, so please read carefully.
The Great Gatsby
  Test  Chapters 7-9
During lunch at the Buchanan’s, (with Daisy, Tom, Jordan, Nick, and
Gatsby), Daisy remarks, “You always look so cool.” What is the
significance of this remark?
Gatsby for the first time realizes the
importance of Daisy’s little girl.
Daisy is commenting on Jordan’s app
earance, who sits “like a silver
idol” on the couch.
Daisy is remarking on Nick’s abilit
y to stay both “within and without”
the plot.
After Daisy says this to Gatsby, To
m realizes that Daisy is involved
with Gatsby.
“...that was the inexhaustible charm th
at rose and fell in it, the jingle
of it, the cymbals’ song of it.”
Which of the following is a true
statement about this passage?
Nick’s realization comes from Gats
by’s comment that Daisy’s voice is
full of money.
It elevates Daisy, as part of Ga
tsby’s dream, above the “vast, vulgar
and meretricious beauty” by which F
itzgerald characterizes the ‘20s.
It contains a paradox.
Both A and C
Nick narrates, as he and Tom get ga
soline, “I stared at him and at
Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before—

Friday, February 24, 2017

february 24


The last line of The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

How does this sum up what the book is all about?

1. Journal
2. Socratic seminar

Suggested topics:


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

february 23

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: "Somebody Got Murdered" by The Clash; "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan]

What is it about death?  Why do so many characters die by the end of the book, or the play, or the movie?  What do we care, anyway? 

1. Journal
2. The end of Gatsby and the end of Gatsby

february 22


The other day my daughter asked me, "If someone walks in front of your car and the car hits them, whose fault is it?"  Whose fault is it that Myrtle is dead?  Why do you think Fitzgerald took the story in this direction?  As an aside, how do you think the issue of responsibility will change with the increasing popularity of self-driving cars?

1. Journal
2. Quiz on Chapter 7
3. Gatsby Chapter 8

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

our chat with howard rheingold

Here is the video from this morning's chat with Howard Rheingold.  I thought the recording was split screen, the way I saw it online.  I was wrong.  Also, I thought the audio would record directly from the Skype call.  Apparently I was wrong about that too.  Still, you can see Howard on the distant screen, and you can hear most of what he has to say.  I'll work on the tech for next time. #Learning

Thanks to those of you who contributed questions online and in person.  As we discussed just after the call, we covered a lot of ground and sometimes this stuff takes time to sink in.  If you have any other questions or ideas you want to share after reflecting and/or watching the recap below, please comment to this post.  I'll review the video tonight and post a couple key quotes and reflections of my own.

our chat with senator leach

Here is the video from this morning's chat with Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach.  I thought the recording was split screen, the way I saw it online.  I was wrong.  Also, I thought the audio would record directly from the Skype call.  Apparently I was wrong about that too.  Still, you can see Senator Leach on the distant screen, and you can hear most of what he has to say.  I'll work on the tech for next time. #Learning

Thanks to those of you who contributed questions online and in person.  As we discussed just after the call, we covered a lot of ground and sometimes this stuff takes time to sink in.  If you have any other questions or ideas you want to share after reflecting and/or watching the recap below, please comment to this post.  I'll review the video tonight and post a couple key quotes and reflections of my own.

february 21

Today is our chat with Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach.  My questions for Senator Leach have to do with language, politics, and digital culture.  If you have specific questions or ideas please comment to this post.  Or pass me a note in class. :)

Your journal topic for today is reflection on the conversation.  What did you learn?  What did you think about while you listened?  What does politics matter in your life, and how might you take a more active role in shaping things to come?  How can you use social media for the purpose?

Friday, February 17, 2017

february 17

Why do people dance?  What (if anything) makes you feel like dancing?

1. Journal
2. Gatsby Chapter 7
*Please post GATSBY CHAPTER 7 NOTES to your blog (reminder: plot/character highlights & literary techniques)

Thursday, February 16, 2017


We will be having a very special guest speaker in class tomorrow.

please read chapter 7 tonight

We now have a post and a page with the full text of Gatsby-- please preview chapter 7 tonight.  Mahalo.


For immigrants and non-immigrants alike, HERE is a helpful resource.

chapter 6 questions

Here's a typical quiz.  How many can you answer correctly?
1.  What is Gatsby’s real name, and where is he from?
a.  He is James Gatz from North Dakota.
b.  He is Floyd Jay Deisinger from Nevada.
c.  He is Jamie Garcia from California.
d.  He is Jason Gatsboukian from Illinois.
2.  What did Dan Cody do for Gatsby?
a.  He introduced Gatsby to Daisy on his yacht.
b.  He educated Gatsby about money and the people who have it.
c.  He lent Gatsby money for his early business ventures.
d.  He left Gatsby a fleet of yachts when he died.
3.  What is extremely ironic in Tom’s statement of Gatsby, “I wonder where in the devil he met Daisy.  By God, I may be old fashioned in my ideas but women run around too much these days to suit me.  They meet all kinds of crazy fish”?
a.  Tom doesn’t like it when new people flash their money more than he does
b.  Tom himself is “running around” with Myrtle
c.  Tom thinks Nick shouldn’t befriend Gatsby
d.  Tom doesn’t like fish, especially the crazy ones
4.  What is Daisy’s opinion of Gatsby’s party, and how does it affect him?
a.  She likes it immensely.  He is so pleased that he asks her to help him arrange his next one.
b.  She doesn’t like it.  He becomes angry and vows never to see her again.
c.  She doesn’t like it.  He becomes depressed.
d.  She likes it somewhat.  He asks her to attend several more before she gives him her opinion.
5.  Gatsby wants nothing less from Daisy than to:  
a.  come to him and say she never loved him (Gatsby), so that he can finally be free of her ghost
b.  come to him and say she wants to stay friends but not get romantically involved.
c.  stay married to Tom but have an affair with him.
d.  Go to Tom and say, “I never loved you,” and leave him for Gatsby
6.  How does Gatsby react to Nick’s statement about Daisy, “I wouldn’t ask too much of her. You can’t repeat the past”?
a.  He replies, “Can’t repeat the past?  Why of course you can!”
b.  He says, “Yeah, you’re probably right.  But I know she’ll eventually come around.”
c.  He replies, “How dare you!  I’ve got enough money to make anything happen again!”
d.  He states, “I should have known better than to go down this road.  It’s a dead end.”

february 16

Today is my Dad's birthday.  Why do we celebrate birthdays?  How do you celebrate birthdays for people who are special to you?

1. Journal
2. Gatsby Chapter 6
3. Whatever else we need to learn

**UPDATE: In class we decided to talk about the portrayals of women in Gatsby.  Please blog about the conversation you had at your table.

day without immigrants

Today many people are demonstrating to remind business and political leaders of the importance of immigrants

I support everyone's right to demonstrate and to make their perspectives known.  Even though my family is made up entirely of immigrants, I will be in class today, because sometimes the best way to demonstrate is to learn out loud together.  Our agenda is what we make it.  (And I will also post the daily for us to rely on just in case.)

If our classroom looks like this

I will spend the day writing, and I respectfully request that you do the same.  If you're not in school today please blog about your reasoning and share your experiences.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

great gatsby full text

Since we only have one class set of the novel, here is a link to the full text so you can read and review on your own:


our chat with senator daylin leach

Democracy still works.  Last night I Tweeted about the sh*tgibbon post.  I invited the artist who created the graphic and the Pennsylvania State Senator who popularized the phrase to join us for a Skype call.  I also invited Howard Rheingold, a great friend and expert on digital culture who Forbes Magazine has called America's "digital elder."

Senator Daylin Leach replied to me-- in ONE MINUTE.  This has to be some sort of record.

This morning I spoke with Zak in Senator Leach's office, and we will be live on Skype with Senator Leach next Tuesday morning (February 21).  Please feel free to contribute ideas for questions or discussion topics in comments to this post.

february 15

Why do people fall in love?  Would you characterize Gatsby's attraction to Daisy as love?  Why or why not?  Do you think they will be successful in love?  Why or why not?

1. Journal
2. Chapter 6/ questions and reading
3. Our date with a senator 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

sh*tgibbon: a timely study in etymology and usage

It's a great time for the English language.

Sometimes we just don't have the right tool for the job for expressing ourselves.  I'm a big fan of building vocabulary, but there are moments when no existing word accurately conveys our idea.  Maybe it's because we're trying to describe something new in the world.  Maybe we need cathartic release and a laugh at the same time.  Maybe the available choices just don't grab or persuade our audience.

That's when we innovate.* (*make stuff up.)  Scholars estimate that Shakespeare used less than 18,000 words -- and that he originated approximately one out of every ten.  We add words to our language all the time.  Today the Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 600,000 words.  Some of those words become necessary to describe something that didn't previously exist (think Internet, which derived from inter-networking, according to TCP/IP architect Bob Kahn at 59:35 in this video).  Some of those words have a ring to them or capture our feeling in a familiar way.  Why else would Homer Simpson's "Doh!" make it into the Oxford English Dictionary?  But in spite of what some of your teachers tell you, you can't just "use your own words" -- no one else would understand what the hell you're saying.  The words we create and use are currency.  Their value depends on what they give to our readers and listeners.

As you may remember from your days on the elementary school playground and last semester's analysis of the ad hominem fallacy, calling people names is neither personally appealing or especially effective in persuasion and argumentation.  They are often a last resort for people who have run out of ideas and are desperate to say something.     

These days, desperate times are calling for increasingly desperate rhetorical measures.

Which brings us to "The Surprising Rise of the S---gibbon."

Shortly aftyer he was elected, President Donald Trump offered to destroy the career of a Texas legislator who opposed civil asset forfeiture.  (Civil asset forfeiture is when law enforcement officials can take your money and your property without even charging you with a crime, much less getting a guilty verdict in a court of law.)

Enter Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach:

Now, normally, citizens of the republic -- including me -- would expect more decorum from an elected official, even if that official was standing up to a bully.  But these days you have to crane your neck and look in America's rear view mirror to catch a glimpse of normal, lying there in the middle of the road next to truth and integrity, bleeding out on the asphalt.  There is nothing normal about having a president talk about destroying a legislator's career, or banning Muslims from entering the country, or grabbing women.  There is nothing normal about that president appointing a Secretary of Education who knows NOTHING about public education and thinks we should have guns in school to protect us from grizzly bears. Uh huh.  Grizzly bears.

For those of us who study how we communicate and use language, sh*tgibbon is a silver lining. It turns out that this word has a history, which you can read more about here.   The study of the origin and development of linguistic forms and words is called etymology.  A word's etymology provides insight into how culture shapes language and vice versa over time.  Check out the Online Etymology Dictionary and look up your favorites.

Sh*tgibbon also gives us a creative outlet and a path forward.  If you're not able to vote, or participate in a public demonstration, or call your elected officials, or tie up a Trump property phone line, or take any other immediate civic action, you can still find ways to express yourself in words using what you learn from sh*tgibbon.  Taylor Jones, a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, builds on Ben Zimmer's concluding note that, "Metrically speaking, these words are compounds consisting of one element with a single stressed syllable and a second disyllabic element with a trochaic pattern, i.e., stressed-unstressed. As a metrical foot in poetry, the whole stressed-stressed-unstressed pattern is known as antibacchius."  Jones goes on to provide a recipe for making a sh*tgibbon in two easy steps.

Do it.  Post a sh*tgibbon poem, story, song, nonfiction essay or [?] to your course blog and explain your creative process.  And then do more.  Your reading audience and your republic await.

[credit: many thanks to Edel Rodriguez for the inspired Der Spiegel cover art.]

Monday, February 13, 2017

february 14

JOURNAL TOPIC: ["My Funny Valentine" by Chet Baker]

Why Valentine's Day?  Why inflated flower and restaurant prices and momentary declarations of love, when really if you love someone there are 365 perfectly good daily opportunities to show it every year? Do "Hallmark Holidays" such as Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Valentine's Day add anything to the experience of being appreciated, or is this just another opportunity to guilt us into spending more for roses?

1. Journal
2. Hi, remember me?
3. Dude, where ARE we?

For Tomorrow: research the word sh*tgibbon online.  No, I'm not kidding.

Friday, February 10, 2017

february 10

The human body is such an amazing design.  Evolution.  Wow.  But whether you believe that Mother Nature, or God, or selective adaptation from primordial ooze is responsible, why do we have such weird quirks?  Why is pain necessary?  Or fever?  Or phlegm?  Why couldn't we just have a red light or buzzer that goes off and says "Er, hey, you should probably get some rest"?

1. Journal
2. Gatsby Chapter 6: read and post notes to your blog (title: GATSBY CHAPTER 6)

I'll be back on Tuesday.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

february 9

Several of the themes in The Great Gatsby deal directly with human values and how we interact as individuals in society.  How does the book address the roles of women in our culture?  How does the book address differences in class and race?  Are rich people, or men, or white people "better"?  How much (or how little) do you think American culture has changed in the nearly 100 years since the book was first published?

1. Journal
2. Compare notes on your tests-- how did you do?
3. Begin reading chapter 5 and post your notes (title: GATSBY CHAPTER 5 NOTES)

*sneak preview: next week we will begin brainstorming essay prompts. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

february 8

Alright. This week is not going the way I planned.  Being sick sucks, and not being with you guys for a third day in a row sucks worse.

But there is a very silver lining.  Those of you who are contributing ideas here and on your own blogs are officially learning independently.  You're exactly the kind of self-starter that universities and employers look for.

So my question today is (for those of you crushing it): How does it feel to seize the opportunity?

And my question today is (for those of you not doing anything I can see online and not emailing me for help): How does it feel to waste the opportunity?

1. Journal
2. Today is reflection in the form of torturing a friend.  Write a test with at least two questions per chapter.  Post the questions (BUT NOT THE ANSWERS) on your blog (TITLE: GATSBY TEST CHAPTERS 1-4).  Get three friends to take the test by commenting to your post with their answers.  Grade them and report their grades with the correct answers in a second post (TITLE: GATSBY TEST GRADES).

Q: Dr. Preston, what if I can't get three friends to take my test?
A: Fine-tune your powers of persuasion and try harder.  This is all-or-nothing.

is gatsby a mystery? is gatsby a mystery?

The first question: Is Jay Gatsby a mystery?  On one hand, he's out in the open-- everyone goes to his house, everyone recognizes his car.  On the other, what does anyone really know about him?

The second question: Is The Great Gatsby a mystery?  On one hand, it's not a police procedural or the story of solving a crime.  One the other, aren't we following Nick as he's handed clues about why people are doing what they're doing?  Does that make this a "whydoneit" instead of a "whodunit"?  [Hey. Not so fast. Click that link.]

Please comment to this post with your thoughts on both questions.

february 7


Describe a time when you got so interested in a school assignment that you forgot it was for credit.  If you haven't had this experience, describe a time when you got so "into" what you were doing that you lost track of time.  If you haven't had that experience either, think back on your childhood and describe the last awesomely creative thing you did that was so cool it still puts a smile on your face.

1. Journal
2. Gatsby: Finish reading Chapter 4 & post your notes to your blog (title: GATSBY CHAPTER 4)
3. Please comment to the "Is Gatsby a Mystery?  Is Gatsby a Mystery?" post (next)

Monday, February 6, 2017

february 6

Why do people like playing games such as "Truth or Dare" and "Two Truths & A Lie"?  How do you know when someone is lying to you?

1. Journal
2. Read Chapter 4
3. Post GATSBY CHAPTER 4 to your blog, in which you answer two questions: 1) What "truth" does Gatsby tell Nick in this chapter, and 2) What "truth" does Jordan tell Nick?  Do you believe either one?  Why/why not?

being sick sucks

I came down with something nasty this weekend and I won't be at school today.  I don't want anyone else to feel this way, so please: get your rest; eat good food; drink a lot of water; and dress for the weather.  Have a great day. I hope to be back tomorrow.

Friday, February 3, 2017

february 3


Describe a moment when you were alone and no one was asking you for something or telling you what to do.  How did it feel?  What did you think about?

1. Journal
2. You tell me

This weekend you need to catch up on something for this course.  What is it?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

the suspense is killing me

I'm about to post tomorrow's agenda.

But not everyone has their work on their blog.

So, for now I'll post two possibilities.

1. (if I see notes and remixes) A celebration of creativity, Q & A about Chapter 3 with me, and launching into Chapter 4.


2. (if I don't see notes and remixes) A test on Chapters 1, 2, and 3.  A test that you should've started studying for.  A test that will hurt if you're not ready.

I don't like the idea of #2.  Please don't make me go with #2.  Please. 


We have a class of 35 people.  The period is just beginning and I'm not in the room.  How is it possible that only 6 people are on the blog?  Is the http://whos.amung.us/ viewer counter wrong?  Are the rest of you huddled over those six screens?  ....?

february 2


Up to you.  Write about whatever is on your mind this morning.  See if you can take that jumble of thoughts and feelings we call consciousness and make any sense of it whatsoever.

1. Journal
2. Finish reading Chapter 3 and post your notes -- I'll be happy to start class with Q & A tomorrow (or even answer questions in the comments to this post today)
3. Remix something from Chapter 3 and post to your blog (title: GATSBY CHAPTER 3 REMIX)

If you need ideas for the remix, collaborate.  See if Lesley's chicken nugget theory makes any sense.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

february 1

JOURNAL TOPIC: [today's tunes: (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party) by the Beastie Boys; "Ain't Nothin But A Party" by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band]

Why do people throw and attend parties?  Given what you know so far, why do you think Gatsby threw the one we started reading about yesterday?

1. Journal
2. Chapter 3
3. Remix review/prep for tomorrow 

IND/HW: Post your notes on Chapter 3 to your blog (title: GATSBY NOTES 3)