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Rescuing the Rat in a Blender: Saving Teens, Teachers, and Social Media

I was fifteen-and-a-half and hadn’t run away from home yet. After a year of Catholic high school I felt lost and confused. My parents had originally pulled me out of public school in the 6th grade. While my time in private middle school was fine, my experiences at a local private high school were anything but fine.

Most parents, teachers, administrators, heck most of the public, view the teenage years as a time of struggle (Erikson). They think the key to managing the transition between childhood and adulthood is to warn teens about avoiding, violence, drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, crime… even Satan, rather than focusing on the characteristics that make teenagers unique and valued in our society such as their plasticity (Bowers 720).

While I may have been “unique” (who isn’t) there was nothing in my life post 9th grade that any parent or teen would see as “value.” My grades showed a lack of competence. And only went downhill from there.

bball mdhs

I made the “Red” team. It was all downhill after that

 After washing out of the basketball program, the honors program, and feeling like I didn’t connect with anyone at my school except for a few outsiders, what little confidence I held quickly vanished. The hypocrisy of the school’s administration and community crushed my previously strong connection with the church. My sense of caring and compassion withered.

That summer I decided to “spend the night” at a friends house. My parents never would have let me stay out late enough to do what we were about to do. We snuck out to a local punk venue: The Cuckoo’s Nest. My friend and I waded through the crowd outside. It felt like this

gates of hell2.jpg

Rodin’s Gates of Hell

Once inside we found a dark corner and started watching the show. This was before mosh pits and stage diving. Punks writhed on the floor over broken glass, singers yelled, it was angry. There was an angry part of me that immediately found a home in the music. There were fights, and sights. Finally the main act took the stage: The Vandals.

Rat Blender Vandals


In the middle of their set the singer took out a blender. Setting it on the floor of the stage he poured a beer into the blender. I was transfixed. Then he lowered a live rat into the blender. I was confused. Then he turned on the blender. I was shocked. Then he asked someone in the crowd if they wanted to drink from the blender. A young punk girl with a red mohawk walked to the stage, without hesitating she started to drink. I was stunned, horrified, confused, but I didn’t leave.

Here was a community where you could invent yourself, but there were obviously elements that didn’t make me comfortable. Obviously that was the point of punk. Luckily for me the early straight edge movement was about to be born in Orange County. Before you knew it, bands like Uniform Choice, Unity, Youth Brigade, Seven Seconds and of course Minor Threat were going to create a space for me. A space built on an acceptance of outsiders with an alternative embrace of positive lifestyle.

Within this space we created. We set up shows, recorded albums, took pictures, interviewed bands, created fanzines. If you went to one of the shows, you would’ve thought you had entered the gates of hell, and yet we were walking our way to the palace of wisdom.


So Cal backyard show from the 80s  

As I grew up I’ve experienced that rat in a blender moment fairly regularly. Whenever I try something new and unsettling I have that same- what is happening, what will happen feeling. Particularly in two areas of my life: teaching and social media. Both can make you feel like a rat in a blender.

Fortunately, there is a social media app which is uniquely situated to address Positive Teacher Development (PTD) and Social Media Development (SMD). In particular this app addresses the Positive Youth Development (PYD) system of the five Cs. The app in question is none other than Voxer. To make a case for Voxer being the ultimate social media app let’s go back to the beginning of this post where we mentioned adolescent development.

Impediments to the Five Cs of positive youth development (PYD)  and therefore the Five Cs of positive teacher development and social media development

Table 2

If you can’t read this, then just click the image to view a larger image. Table adapted from (Bowers, 2010)

Interestingly enough when we were teenagers we knew about the importance of PYD, but we had other acronyms: BYO (Youth Brigade’s Better Youth Organization) and PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) was a local band’s rally cry. We didn’t need a research scientist or psychologist to tell us the importance of maintaining and cultivating a positive outlook on life.

 Before we stage dive into how Voxer can rescue the rat in the blender let’s give you a brief synopsis of what Voxer is and how it works.

rat vox chat


Voxer is basically a social media walkie talkie or two-way radio. When I first told my friend Sean Ziebarth about Voxer he said “oh it’s like leaving someone a voice mail.”

Well not exactly.

The beauty of Voxer is: 

  • You can listen to a stream of voxes from various friends all in a row without clicking on anything. I’ve listened to twenty-five minutes of uninterrupted Voxs on a specific topic while driving or working outside. It’s like a podcast by your friends.
  • You can leave and listen to messages whenever you want. No worry about missing out on a Tweet or Post because it made its way to page two of your social media feed/stream.
  • You can have group conversations with teachers all over the world for free, and you can leave groups or add users whenever needed.
  • It’s great for hashing out the details of a project.
  • You can share pictures or even text if you want to participate in a thread without speaking.
  • Because the threads are private people don’t worry as much about what outsiders will think so the the thinking and speaking are raw. People get emotional on Voxer. People share real life, struggles etc…

Rat Just in Time Visual

You can give a quick thumbs up visual, ask for in time help, or share a resource and not worry about making it pretty or running it through an editing app

While I LOVE my Google Hangout threads and discussions. You have to LOOK at them. Not very easy when you are driving.

GHO Final

See one of the difficulties in using social media is finding the time. You have to be staring and typing at your phone or computer. With Voxer you can vox while you commute, or do errands, or while weeding in the backyard (my personal favorite).

Rat Day Of

Voxer threads support divergent thinking, they are informal play opportunities, you get silly in them, ideas run amok. 

Deeper Learning

Yes the voxes can pile up, but you can either “clear” them or just pick and choose, it’s up to you.

If edcamps are what DIY punk shows were in the 80s

edcamp punkshow.jpg

and blogs are 80s punk albums diving deeper into a topic,

blogs albums.jpg

then voxer threads are punk fanzines. Every fanzine had a personality, a following and we would right letters and submit articles to the fanzine so we could discuss/debate the issues that we cared about the most. But what’s great about voxer is you get to have those conversations without clearning your house and inviting people over, or without finding time to all go out to eat. Voxer is like those conversations you would have with your friends in your teens when you all climbed in the same car together… just driving, observing and talking.


So let’s see how Voxer helps the 5Cs for developing teachers and social media users:

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.18.59 AM


How to get started: 

1. Download the Voxer app on iOS or Android

2. Decide if you want to go Pro or not. Most everyone I know uses the free version.

3. Allow it to find friends from your contact list.

4. Ask some people you like on Twitter, FB or Google+ if they use Voxer and would be willing to add you.

5. Create a new chat, name it with a certain topic like: edcamp chat or high school ELA chat whatever you want.

6. Hit the button and start sharing and asking. It’s that easy.


While using Voxer is easy there are two important research studies that show the proven benefit of not only using Voxer, but in using reflective and specific activities like student blogging. Recent research has shown that overgeneral autobiographical memory and rumination are vulnerability factor for depressive symptoms in adolescence and adulthood. both boys and girls who generated specific memories were less likely to display an increase in depressive symptoms when confronted with life stress (Sutherland 2007). In other words by writing about and talking about the specifics of the most stressful moments in your life you enhance the brain’s ability to draw on specifics rather than rely on an overgeneral autobiographical memory.

Additionally the act of problem solving is useful as a mediator of the damaging effects of depressive rumination (Sutherland 2007). So getting on Voxer and working through your problems instead of just tweeting or sharing them can help lessen the risk of sinking into depression.

Lastly, in a 2014 study titled “Best Friends’ Discussions of Social Dilemmas” (Hamlat) friendship quality, specifically how friendships deal with validation, caring, conflict, and conflict resolution are directly “related to the number of of reasons adolescents generated when justifying their opinions about what to do in a hypothetical or actual dilemma” (McDonald). When we dig through a problem in face-to-face conversations or in conversations on Voxer we are not only working on our friendship skills, but we are also contributing to our understanding of our social world.



 Works Cited

Bowers, Edmond P. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 7 (2010): 720-35. Print.

Erikson, E. H. Identity: Youth and crisis. Oxford, England (1968): Norton & Co.

Hamlat, Elissa J. “Rumination and Overgeneral Autobiographical Memory. Journal of Youth and Adolescence (2014): Online

McDonald, Kristina. “Best Friends’ Discussions of Social Dilemmas.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence  (2014): 233-44. Print.

Sutherland, Kylie. “Rumination and Overgeneral Autobiographical Memory.(Report).” Behaviour Research and Therapy 10 (2007): 2407. Print.


SPECIAL NOTE: This blog post was an experiment for me. At the end of the year I want my students to create a presentation on either: a question/problem, an argument about whether something is the best or worst, or a demonstration speech on how to do something fun or useful. I want my students to write a blog post that will also serve as the foundation for the presentation. They should be able to take the images from their blog post and dump them right into a Google or Haiku Deck and give their presentation as long as they organized their blog post into an effective structure. Lastly, I want the post to be formatted into an MLA formatted research paper with college level sources. So let’s recap. One assignment will result in:

This blog post

A Presentation (linked- still fixing as of 6/3/14)

A MLA research paper (linked)


Bonus Picture of East Coast Hardcore Band SLAPSHOT from the late 80s or early 90s

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 3.48.13 PMcover photo of the linked presentation slide deck



  1. 924 Gilman St. baby (Caning Shop marquee), 3 blocks from where I lived in Berkeley – yeah I went to a few shows as a frosh (raging music & mellow, unassuming crowd). I missed punk’s apex, but my 9th grade soundtrack is mostly The Clash. I’m one Voxer call in – okay so that means I’m ready for my stage dive.

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