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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Get Learn Me Good for free!

Today and tomorrow (12/29 and 12/30), get the Kindle edition of Learn Me Good for free from Amazon!

Click here to get Learn Me Good free!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

If you can't count on your sweater...

So after losing in the Tournament of Champions, I felt I needed to point the blame somewhere.  So I looked no further than Lands' End.  Yes, THAT Lands' End, maker of fine quality upper wear.

Here's the scathing review I left on their FaceBook page:

The following is a review for a recently purchased Lands’ End product.

When I was invited to participate in this year’s Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, I knew I would need to study hard, and I knew I would need to look good. With those two goals in mind, I hit the library during the day and online shopping sites by night. While my knowledge base grew with each book I devoured, my curiosity for one of your sweaters grew with each page view. The Men’s Performance Half-Zip Mock Sweater piqued my interest more than anything else. Here was a great looking article of clothing that also, by its very name, purported to improve performance? This was exactly what I was looking for!

Or so I thought…

My Quarterfinal game of the tournament aired Monday, November 10, and as the world now knows, I did not win. Sure, I looked great in the black Lands’ End Men’s Performance Half-Zip Mock Sweater I had worn. Sure, I received many compliments on how stylish it looked over a dress shirt and tie. People even asked if it was comfortable, to which I had no choice but to honestly reply, “Indeed.”

However, the Men’s Performance Half-Zip Mock Sweater failed to help me win the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, and for that reason, I cannot give this product anything over 2 stars.

The studio was a bit chilly that day, and the Men’s Performance Half-Zip Mock Sweater kept me warm, but it didn’t prevent my competitors from getting the first several clues in the game. It provided the outerwear for a fantastic, cinema-worthy photo taken with host Alex Trebek, but it did not stop brain farts from happening at crucial moments. Even with copious amounts of palm sweat rubbed on it, the Men’s Performance Half-Zip Mock Sweater was no help whatsoever in correctly responding to a very difficult, and ultimately fatal, Final Jeopardy clue.

For potential buyers out there – if you are looking for a piece of clothing that keeps you warm, looks good, feels good, and is reasonably priced, then I highly recommend the Lands’ End Men’s Performance Half-Zip Mock Sweater.

However - and I cannot stress this enough – if you are planning on appearing on Jeopardy and WINNING … Avoid this product at all costs!!!

If I am ever invited back to appear on Jeopardy, I may wear the Men’s Performance Half-Zip Mock Sweater while studying. I may wear it on the flight out to Culver City. I may even wear it in the evenings after taping while enjoying dinner and/or drinks with family and friends. But I can promise you, I will most certainly NOT be wearing it while competing!

Sincerely (and with tongue planted firmly in cheek),

John Pearson, Jeopardy champion and author of Learn Me Good and Learn Me Gooder

Monday, November 10, 2014

Blaine from Maine (now has my disdain)

First things first, here's a SPOILER tag...  If you haven't yet watched the first game of the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions and don't want the results ruined, read no further until you've caught up.

At least I'll always have this awesome pic!

Now then, moving on!  Once again, I had the wonderful experience of flying out to sunny California to compete on the greatest game show in history!  Only this time, it wouldn't be 15 fans of the show who had never played before.  This time, it would be 3 of us who had one tournament under our belts and 12 others who had won at least 5 games (and in one case, 20!).  One of the first things we were told was that the 15 of us had already won a combined total of over $2.2 million.

Obviously, I was there because things had worked out for me last time.  I don't consider myself very superstitious, but I did try to do as much the same as possible.  I carried around the Superman backpack my kids had given me last year.  I ate dinner at the same place on Sunday and lunch at the same place on Monday as last time.  I ordered room service for dinner on Monday night, just like last time.  I hit the hot tub and got to bed early each night, like last time.

I didn't meet up with Weird Al Yankovic in the airport this time around, but I really couldn't control that one.

When Tuesday finally rolled around, and all of the preliminary work was over, I was SUPER happy to play in the Monday game.  That meant I did not have to wait in the green room, anxiously awaiting my turn.  Because of the wild card spots in the Quarterfinals round, players don't get to watch any games before the one they play in.  Since the four top non-winners get to advance to the next round, it wouldn't be fair if players in later games already knew what mark they needed to reach in order to move on.

Last year, I played in the Thursday game, which meant I had to wait through three games AND the lunch break before finally getting to enter the studio.  This time around, I was out there for every game.

The thing I was NOT super happy about was who I had been matched up with in the first round.  I wasn't going to say anything at the time, but now that it's over, I can freely admit that Ben Ingram scared me more than any of the other tournament players.  I knew going in they'd all be fierce, but Ben struck me as super-intelligent, fast on the buzzer, and quick with a correct answer.  Oh, and he had never missed a Final Jeopardy response.

The really strange thing is that Ben and Rebecca and I had all played cards downstairs in the hotel lobby for a few hours on Monday afternoon.  Someone had joked about how funny it would be if the three of us wound up playing in the same Quarterfinal match.  You know when somebody asks you,
"Hey, wouldn't it be cool to pee on an electric fence?" - and you nod and grin crazily, but inside your head, you're thinking, "NO, that would NOT be cool, not at ALL!!"  Yeah, that.

Anyway, as you now know, the three of us DID get put into the same game.  At least it was the very first game, so I didn't have to deal with the Green Room sequestering like I did last year.  I'd say we all played a pretty darn good game, albeit some of us better than others.  Those boards were NOT easy.  And not to spoil anything, but nothing about this whole tournament was easy.  Several fellow contestants mentioned to me that they thought this was harder than anything they had ever seen on the show (excepting the recent Battle of the Decades), and I definitely agreed with them.  I spent a LOT of time studying over the past year, and I really feel that hardly anything I studied came up -- not just in my game, but in the whole tourney!  I don't think I'm alone in that thought, either!

I want to talk a little about two of the crucial moments of the match for me.  The first being the Book to Movie Daily Double.

This is the one that I will always kick myself about.  Of COURSE I know that Apocalypse Now is based on Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.  In fact, about 3 weeks before we taped the tournament, I was at a pub trivia night with some buddies, and the category "Documentaries about Movies" came up.  Before a question had even been asked, I said to my friend, "If Hearts of Darkness is one of the questions, the answer is Apocalypse Now, because it's based on Heart of Darkness."

But a couple of things kept me from getting it on Jeopardy, at that crucial moment.

First, it's true what they say, there's a HUGE difference between answering questions on your couch or at a pub and answering clues under the bright lights in an actual game of Jeopardy.  I felt like a deer in the headlights (and probably looked that way too) when that clue came up, and the response didn't occur to me right away.

Second, my train of thought was WAY off track.  We had already seen one clue from that category, and it was about The Fault in Our Stars.  The movie was based on the book by John Green.  (I knew that one, but once again, Buzzer Ben beat me to the punch.)  So my mind was absolutely fixated on the thought that they will name a movie, and I will say the author who wrote a book by that title.  The whole "based on" concept was completely out of my mind.  When Apocalypse Now came up, I immediately panicked because I had no idea who had written a book called Apocalypse Now.  It wasn't on my books and authors list that I had spent so much time studying!  I had never heard of a book titled Apocalypse Now, and I sure as heck couldn't think who would have authored it.

When Alex began to say that the movie was based on Heart of Darkness, I felt miserable, because if I had taken half a second to actually picture Marlon Brando from the movie and think about the riverboat cruise Sheen took to reach him, I could have put two and two together.

Oh, and lastly, I should mention that it took nearly 15 minutes to complete that Daily Double.  Thanks to the magic of television and editing, my complete mental collapse appeared to happen in real time, in under 30 seconds, but in actuality, it was much, much longer than that.  I have a new empathy for field goal kickers who get iced now.

When I hit that Daily Double, the show's producer walked on stage and halted the filming.  The three of us playing had to turn around (in case something popped up on the board that we weren't supposed to see), while the judges debated some issue or the production team fixed some glitch (we don't really know; they never told us).  Maggie, the contestant coordinator, talked with us the whole time, while we all went through various states of hyperventilating.

After 10-15 minutes, they asked us to turn around and get ready to start again.  When they break in the middle of a round like that, they always cue the audio back a few seconds and replay it over the loudspeaker so Alex can come in at the correct point and make it as seamless a transition as possible.  So as I stood nervously behind my podium, I heard myself select the clue again, then the Daily Double sound effect, then recorded audience clapping, then REAL audience clapping, as the show caught up with itself.  Alex looked over at me and (again) asked how much I wanted to wager, and I once again started to say, "I'll bet it all!" -- but then production was halted AGAIN!

Something hadn't synced up correctly, so we didn't have to turn around for a long delay this time, but we did go through the whole recue the audio bit again.  For a third time (and second  out-of-body audio), I heard myself select the clue, the sound effect, the canned clapping, then the REAL clapping.  By this time, I was as close to LITERALLY champing at the bit as can be imagined, I knew I needed to bet it all, and, quite frankly, I could hardly hear Alex over the canned and real clapping together.  So if it appeared that I shouted, "BET IT ALL!" at him in the middle of his sentence, well, now you know why.

That's the one I should have known and just flat out blew.  That will haunt me for some time.  The other turning point was the Final Jeopardy.  And that was just plain bad luck, pure and simple.  The bad luck of getting a wide-open category and a clue that you don't know the answer to.

I got to see all five Quarter Final games that were filmed that day (they'll air over the course of the week), and of the five Final Jeopardy clues, I knew the response to FOUR of them.  It was just bad luck that the one I did NOT know happened to be the one I was on stage for.

Just a bit about my thinking process.  When the clue came up about Secretaries of State, I tried to think of the early guys.  I knew that a lot of them were from Virginia.  I was born in Virginia and have friends and family who still live there, and I was pretty sure I had never heard of a holiday named after those guys (many of whom went on to be president).  I wandered the country for a bit while thinking of Sec States, and I finally fixated on James Blaine.  His presidential slogan, "Blaine from Maine," went through my head on a loop until the Final Jeopardy think music stopped.  I knew that in addition to presidential wannabe, Blaine had been Sec State for TWO different presidents, AND I thought that Maine was a small enough and sparsely enough populated state to have a state holiday named after him.
Seemed like a good enough guess, until Alex said the correct answer had made a significant purchase. At that point, I knew it was over for me.

Later, Keith Williams (A former champion who runs the Jeopardy-centric site The Final Wager) told me that he had been sitting with several other top Jeopardy champions from years past, including Brad Rutter, who did not know Alaska was the correct response.  I owe a small debt to Keith, because our talk really helped me feel better about my game and less like a complete moron who flamed out.  He told me that my fatal all-in bet was the right move and not an idiotic blunder of epic proportions, and he even used nicer words than that.

I really did have a good time in California.  As was the case with the Teachers Tournament, I got to meet 15 great competitors who have a love of trivia and information (I say 15, because there was an alternate as well, Mike Lewis, and he was great to talk to).  We were all genuinely happy for the person who won the whole thing (no spoilers), and a large group of us even went out to O'Brien's in Santa Monica after the final game for their epic pub trivia night.

Still, it took me quite some time to get over the feelings of not living up to expectations.  I was super bummed that I had lost, and in the first round at that, especially by missing a big clue I should have known.  In recent days, though, I've started looking at the tournament like the big March Madness tournament. There can only be one winner each year, but the other 67 teams are no less awesome for having made the tournament.

So in that regards, I now view myself as the "Duke" of Jeopardy.  It's only fitting, right?  Like Duke, I've won at least one tournament, and I've been bounced from the first round of at least one tourney.  If I ever get the chance to play in another, who knows what might happen?

In the meantime, I'm laying the blame for my loss completely at the feet of Weird Al.

(Go Ben and Rebecca!!)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

I'm a Rock Star!

Check out these awesome videos that have now popped up about the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions!

The first is a video all about me, and the second is a compilation of all of the champions (I added the epic music).

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Champions are coming!

We're less than a week away from the beginning of the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions!  Be sure to watch every day, but especially Monday, November 10, cuz that's when I'LL be playing!

Check here for viewing times:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When the moon hits your eye

We've been doing a PBL (Project Based Learning) lesson in math class for the past few weeks, and the theme is running a pizzeria.  Recipes have had fractions of ingredients, prices have decimals, menus have numbers.  Lots of good math going on.

Today, I had plenty of laugh out loud moments.  I had asked the kids to add two things to their project folders.  One was a newspaper ad, enticing people to eat at their pizzeria.  The other was a set of job postings, with the intent to hire waiters, chefs, etc.

I told the kids that the job postings needed to include qualifications and payment information.  Here are a few things I overheard and/or read from their folders:

"Do you want a job where you won't get paid very much?"
"Let's give them twenty dollars an hour!"  "HECK NO!!!"
"Nobody with Ebola..."
"Must have good credit." (remember this is an employee search, not a home loan application)
"Now hiring security guards -- Comes with free suit!"
"For managers, you have to have a PhD."
"Must not have diseases or back, neck, or skin disorders."   (Not too bad a request)

In regards to the newspaper ad and pizzeria information, here are a few gems I overheard:

"Come eat our pizza and ride a donkey!"
"We have cheap and inexpensive pizza!"
"You'll die of happiness!"

And just conversations in general:
"Nobody wants to eat pizza at 1 in the morning!"
"Let's have a 'Kids eat free' deal!"        "Dominos and Pizza Hut don't do that!"  "That's because they hate kids!"   "Kids need to be kids under 8, because 9 and 10 year olds eat a lot of pizza!"  "No they don't;  teenagers eat a lot of pizza!"  "OOOOOH, we should charge MORE for teenagers!!"

I was hard pressed not to guffaw several times today.  Though I did finally have to ask the one girl to stop incessantly trying to fit in the donkey angle.  Nobody wants donkey pepperoni.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Reruns are in the air!

Looks like the good folks at Jeopardy have chosen to rerun some of my episodes this coming week!

They won't be showing the Teachers Tournament in its entirety, unfortunately, but they will be showing the second week, which includes the three semi-finals games and then the 2-day finals.  I'm on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, but you really should watch all week long!

Here's a guide for when Jeopardy is shown in your neighborhood:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Teacher of the Year

This summer, I'm going to rerun the Learn Me Good comic strips that my brother and I did a few years ago.  Here's the first one we started with!

Monday, June 02, 2014

Never never

"Oh darn, only one more week of school left before summer break!"

said no teacher ever...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Learn Me Good 101

Hey, did you know there's actually a class on Learn Me Good?  An actual COLLEGE class!  OK, so the entire class is not about Learn Me Good, but I learned recently that an education class in North Carolina (no, not at Duke) has been using my book as part of the curriculum!  Pretty cool, right?  Even cooler, the professor of the class, Holly Pinter, wrote a guest blog post for me, detailing exactly what she and her students do with the story!

Without any further ado, I'll pass it over to Ms. Pinter.


In my position at Western Carolina University, I have the opportunity to teach a freshman seminar entitled “Teachers, School, and Society,” which explores education and its purpose from many angles. In this class, I expect the students to develop a strong sense of whether or not teaching is the right career for them. It is a delicate balance and an important job—we need teachers and we need a sustainable program. On one hand, I need to attract as many people into the major as possible; on the other hand, teaching isn’t for everyone and we want GOOD--no GREAT--teachers in our nation’s classrooms. We want the kind of teachers who are passionate about what they do and who have the staying power to invest in the field of education and make a difference in our schools. To that end, it is my job to outline not only the good, but also the bad, and the not-so-fun aspects of choosing the teaching profession. To meet these diverse goals, I structure my course to look at policy issues, trends and research in education, statistics, teaching strategies, and the day to day life of an educator.

In my class I expect students to take on the role of both student/participant and to assume what I refer to as “teacher brain.” Essentially, as we explore ideas, we do so from the perspective of learning the instructional practices aimed at teaching for understanding. One of my favorite activities from this course is a literature circle. Literature circles are a great choice for an education course because they can be broadly used. Literature circles cross disciplinary lines as well as grade levels. A literature circle could work in a high school history class, but also fit the needs of a fifth grade science class. We first do a mini lesson on what literature circles are; we explore how to structure literature circles from a teacher’s perspective-- emphasizing the importance of student choice, structured facilitation of literature circle meetings, and how to assess student understanding.

I then give students a list of about twenty purposefully chosen books including professional books and memoirs. We do “book talks” so that students hear a bit about the content of each choice, then they rank their top three choices of books. I use Amazon as my choice helper in this task by choosing a couple books I know, and then let Amazon recommendations do the rest. This past semester the choices included a wide range of books including Teaching With Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk for students who are really interested in learning teaching strategies; The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch for students interested in policy issues in education; Holler if you Hear Me by Gregory Michie for students interested in teaching in urban environments; and of course Learn Me Good, a great choice for students who aren’t leaning in a specific direction, but want something real, fun, informative, and down to earth.

My most recent class had a large percentage of males, which was surprising in a predominately female-dominated major. The book Learn Me Good, attracted the attention of many of the males in the class who formed a tight knit group for our literature circle experience. The first task of the group is to decide how to divvy up the responsibilities and reading load. Each group would meet three times during the month, and each group was individually responsible for deciding how much to read, what homework they would complete (options are described below), and who would facilitate each meeting. From a teaching perspective, this structure is a dream--the work is completely frontloaded so that all the potential choices help to achieve the goals I want, but the work is totally in the hands of the students. The requirements and homework choices for students are the following:
Literature Circle Assignment Options and Descriptions
>6 sticky notes for each section of reading including a variety of text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. These sticky notes are to be placed on the page to which you are making a connection. List the page number, what kind of connection you are making, and a brief description of the connection.
               -text to text: Making a connection between what you are reading in the book and something else you have read.
               -text to self: Connecting your reading your own personal beliefs and experiences
               -text to world: Connect your reading to something in the outside world (current events, movies, etc.)

For EACH Literature circle session, participants must agree on and complete ONE of the following options:

Journal: Write a reflective journal about the assigned reading giving thoughts/opinions or questions regarding what was read.

Picture, Song, or Poem: choose a specific and relevant scene from this reading assignment and draw a picture, write song lyrics, or write a poem to match the scene. You must write a brief caption for your picture, song, or poem explaining the scene and its importance to the reader and/or the reading assignment.

Character in a Bag: select a key character or theme/idea from your book and collect artifacts that match your selection. Write a brief description of why you chose each artifact.

CD Cover: Design the front and the back cover for a CD to capture the theme or spirit of your book. Be sure the name of the book, plus the title of the hit single, appears on the front cover along with an appealing sketch or design. On the back, list the other songs from the CD, making sure they relate to the book and to the characters’ experiences.

(These assignments adapted from Daniels & Steineke, 2004; and Bell, B.H. EDRD 631 at Western Carolina University)

Here are two sample homework assignments from this group. The first, a CD cover, has song titles matching the themes in the book. Students were expected to describe in detail the process for choosing their titles and to make explicit connections to the text along the way. The second sample is from the assignment choice “character in a bag.”

The group of students working on Learn Me Good always seemed to have lively conversation. As I walked around listening to conversations and looking over homework assignments, I noted a lot of laughter, creativity, and thoughtfulness in much of the work and conversation. I can only assume that much of the humor and creativity stems from the content of the book—these students were hooked. The truly rewarding part was to hear the students branch out beyond the content of the book into their future classrooms. I would consistently hear, “what do you think about how he dealt with that?” or “how will you handle that kind of behavior in your class?”

This experience completely met all of my instructional goals: students were engaged, thinking deeply about their future teaching, and learning about an instructional tool to engage their own students down the road. Having books like Learn Me Good to give the down and dirty, ups and downs, and all of the fun of classroom teaching make my job of attracting quality future teachers easier. I refuse to sugarcoat what these pre-service teachers are getting into. Teaching, while a noble profession, is far from easy. Learn Me Good offers students a dose of reality along with some laughter. And most good teachers know—to do this job well, you have to have a sense of humor!