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Thoughts On Teaching and Learning

By | Norm's Author Blog

   Here are two thoughts on how teaching and learning is changing in the digital world.

   My first thought stemmed from when I was teaching at Eastern Michigan University. One day I announced the date for a Midterm in a graduate course. One of the students challenged me: “Dr. Tyler, why do you give tests? They may test our memory, but don’t evaluate our ability to solve problems.” I immediately recognized he was right; that was the last test I administered. With the universal use of Google, I realized students no longer needed to “know” information since virtually everything is immediately accessible on the smartphone in their hand. I revised my courses to be less a teacher of information and more a facilitator of problem solving.

   My second rumination resulted from reading about a professor who was surprised his current students did not use “folders” to organize information on their computers. Their computer desktop screens were often overloaded with randomly-placed icons. A comparison of one of their screens with my own illustrates the generational difference.

Typical(?) computer screen of a student
My computer screen

   The professor surveyed his class and found most students had no knowledge of the concept of folders, so he began offering a class on the use of folders. Why was this necessary, he wondered? He concluded this generation of students had grown up relying primarily on their “Search” function. Their smartphones and iPads were great at doing a sophisticated Search that could find what they needed in a variety of ways–by name, date, size, subject, format, or even using facial recognition for photos. In their minds it was not necessary to have their files organized in any systematic way.

   Fortunately, in my retirement these generational changes in how we use our personal devices has not really impacted me that much. First, I no longer teach, so I no longer need to evaluate the “learning” of my students. Second, I will continue my old-school practice of placing computer files in folders so I know where to find them. My computer is quite comfortable with its tried-and-true MS Word software used for my writing; my iPhone and iPad are primarily used for distractions. In short, I may not be keeping up with Generation X, Y, or Z, but it is good enough for now.

Tyler Original Editions

By | Norm's Author Blog

The two volumes of The Tyler Genealogy first published in 1912 include names of 7,724 of Norm’s distant relatives dating from 1619. Family genealogist Willard I. Tyler Brigham made it his life’s labor to collect this wealth of information on descendants of immigrant Job Tyler. Although original editions of Volumes I and II are now pretty rare, I was able to purchase them online in very good condition. It was like a birthday party when they were delivered to our front porch. Now, instead of the poor-quality Xerox copies I have used for research for many years I can peruse dates and details in these original volumes without needing to refocus my eyes.

Although these volumes are a keepsake, our current efforts involve loading our genealogy information online, making it far more accessible to the public. Names are being added gradually to the genealogy software site, I prefer WikiTree because it is world-wide, easily accessible, and free (with no ads). Feel free to look up my family there; we encourage you add your own family members as well.

Model Railroading

By | Norm's Author Blog | 5 Comments

Are you curious about model trains? My interest began long ago as a young boy. My current layout, named the “Ausemy and Eastern Railway” after our grandkids Austen and Remy, includes many unique features, so last year I submitted an article to Model Railroader magazine. I thought you might enjoy reading the article and seeing photos of the overall layout, weathered cars, and hand-built structures. You can view it online at:

Murder Mysteries

By | Norm's Author Blog | 3 Comments

Twenty years ago in New Mexico, our family used a Murder Mystery as a way to amuse ourselves during a weekend-long celebration of the new millennium. The fictional story unfolded to reveal a prominent lawyer who had been stabbed in the kitchen at the Albuquerque Country Club. I played the role of the detective who had to expose the guilty party. Uncovering various clues was a wonderful device that encouraged multiple generations of family members to interact with each other.

From time to time I have written other Murder Mysteries. The characters and circumstances changed, but typically a plot unfolded during drinks and dinner and our big old house in Ann Arbor often became one of the characters.

   This year, however, a New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery would need to be totally online. Six of us took on roles built around the shock of the murder of Wayne Bruce, “Ace Reporter” for the fictional Metro Times, whose five-day-old dead body was surprisingly found in one of the caskets at the Luke Lexher Funeral Home. (Tip: Names of the characters were derived from Superman and Batman stories.) To simulate our meeting, the six of us each put the same photo of a funeral parlor on our Zoom virtual background screen so we all appeared to be in the same space; we agreed that it was a nice touch. The mystery revolved around, How did the body get there? And who was the guilty party? Was it the reporter’s estranged wife, his old flame, the managing director of the Metro Times, one of the newspaper’s reporters, or even possibly the funeral home owner. The plot was a fantasy diversion which served to take us from a bleak 2020 year into a hopefully more positive 2021.

Murder mysteries can be interesting, but difficult, to write. If you ever thought of echoing Agatha Christie by writing a novel-length murder mystery, I suggest trying to write such an evening’s interactive version first. Use your imagination to write colorful characters, meaningful clues, and a compelling plot line. And although not as easy as it may sound, it is definitely a lot of fun.

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Book review

By | Norm's Author Blog | One Comment

One of our books, Greek Revival in America: Tracing its architectural roots to ancient Athens, has received primarily 5-star reviews on Amazon. The following review by an unnamed reader describes our quest to unravel the mysteries inherent in our historic home through the narrative of our travel to England and Greece. The story of our odyssey includes many serendipitously unplanned discoveries. Available online, we feel this book would be a fine gift for someone who could vicariously appreciate the joys and drama of historic travel during this year’s stay-at-home holiday season.

The review reads:

“While Norm and Ilene Tyler’s “Greek Revival in America” may sound like a book that would appeal by title to architects and students of architecture only, the adventure this couple embarks on in their quest to uncover the architectural history of their beautiful, old house in Ann Arbor makes for a great and entertaining read for all. The book opens with what seems like an improbable tale concerning one of the 20+ foot columns that takes an unexpected tumble across the front lawn of their grand historic home (original structure built circa 1830’s). This incident sparks a unique gum-shoe trail for Ilene and Norm as they research and uncover stories about the home’s original owner (Judge Robert Wilson), subsequent home-owners (some characters are quite colorful) – and mainly – why this stately home was built in replication of a Greek temple in a former Midwestern frontier town in the first place. Ilene and Norm are not long for insignificant details that detract from their pursuit of the origin of those grand columns in front of their dream home. The reader continues to be drawn by their folksy narrative and well-documented travel-research that takes sometimes Norm and mostly both authors to New York State, England, and finally Athens, Greece. Ilene and Norm provide unique insight to the architectural uninitiated about why we should care about their passion for the old house. (For one we learn that Teddy Kennedy made a speech in their parlor during his presidential run). Historic facts aside, we ultimately care because Ilene and Norm are able to weave an intriguing story that includes a little mystery, fun, adventure and fact-finding. Not boring textbook “facts,” but unearthed stories that lead Ilene and Norm — and this reader – on a deeper mission involving adventure, overcoming obstacles and uncovering hidden historic landmarks. After finishing the book one mystery however still remains: how did Ilene and Norm – as husband and wife – manage to write such an entertaining book together – and yet remain professional partners and friends? That question is also part of the endearing appeal of a story that is perhaps best described as a travel-log adventure with a historic twist. Don’t be fooled: “Greek Revival in America” is far from a text book. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in history, art, community, travel, and relationships!”

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Book gifts

By | Norm's Author Blog | One Comment

If you are like us, you may be considering special gifts for the holidays. Many of you may be interested in the book Norm published last year, 15 Generations of American Stories: Notable Descendants of Immigrant Job Tyler. You do not need to be a Tyler to enjoy the biographies taken from five eras of American history. The stories include Caribbean pirates, Salem witches, Civil War generals of various repute, a very distinguished academic, and three U. S. presidents.

You can buy a copy(ies) on Amazon for $7.99, and with Amazon Prime you get free and quick delivery. When looking at Amazon, also check out our other books under the name of Norman Tyler. Another book of general interest published in color, Greek Revival in America: Tracing its roots to ancient Athens, depicts our personal odyssey of discovering the roots of our historic house.

We hope you will continue to keep in touch with us through email and wish you all the best for this holiday season.

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Coming Up for Air

By | Norm's Author Blog | 3 Comments

The creative process we discuss in these Blog postings can take many forms, including assisting others in their creative process. We are pleased to have been able to support our friend, Roger Rapoport, in the filming and production of a full-length movie titled “Coming Up for Air.”

Filmed in Michigan, it is the story of a collegiate diver whose incredibly stressful life as a nationally-recognized student/athlete is leading to his mental breakdown. The story revolves around his mother and how she must learn to cope with the worsening situation of her only son.

We feel it is a gripping movie. It has been recognized with a number of awards and has been an official selection at 22 film festivals at home and abroad and four best picture awards. We are proud to have had two roles in its development—as minor actors and also as an executive producer. In this period with our focus almost exclusively on COVID, this movie, completed before the pandemic outbreak, reminds us we need to recognize there are other significant social issues still with us. We feel it is a film well worth viewing and encourage you to watch it. “Coming Up for Air” is now available for streaming on Vimeo at:

Finding Clues

By | Norm's Author Blog | 6 Comments

It is always interesting when your writing can be based on personal experience. Recently Ilene and I discovered an intriguing story in this way.

Because of COVID, we sometimes do our daily walk safely in Forest Hills Cemetery, located a few blocks from home. Because of my long interest in the Tyler family’s genealogy and history, I recently checked with the cemetery office to see if there were any Tylers buried there. They took out a map and indicated four Tyler gravesite locations, not counting our own. One site we knew about; the other three were harder to find.

One of the sites was located in Block 56, Lots 7 & 8. We strolled to this location and looked at every stone in the block. Not finding anything, we wondered if they had given us the wrong information. Fortunately, I was stubborn enough to kick some dirt away from a small area of a mostly-buried flat stone and exposed what was obviously a gravestone. Kicking away a little more dirt, we began to see lettering, and eventually were able to decipher the name, David Tyler. This photo shows what it looks like at this point, before we go back with brushes to clean it off properly.

Returning home, I looked through our three volumes of Tyler Genealogy and found a Doctor David Tyler who in 1830 moved from “Tyler Hollow” in Marcellus, New York, to Ann Arbor. Wow! I had found one of my relatives through this unique circumstance. I found information on him in Washtenaw County’s online history and on the genealogy web site, WikiTree.

Doctor David Tyler turned out to be an upright Ann Arbor citizen and an officer in the local Masonic Lodge. His brother was Comfort Tyler, also from Marcellus, a notable who had many distinctions as one of upstate New York’s early settlers. My special interest in Comfort had been established earlier when I wrote about him in my Tyler history book titled, 15 Generations of American Stories: Notable Descendants of Immigrant Job Tyler. It seems Comfort had foolishly become right-hand man for Aaron Burr when Burr tried to establish a new nation in the Louisiana Purchase with himself as head of this new government. When their small band of rebels was caught, both Burr and Comfort Tyler were put on trial before Chief Justice John Marshall of the Supreme Court. The historic Burr Conspiracy, written about in many books, resulted in both men being freed simply because their “actions” had never been realized. Comfort returned home, but with a sense of disgrace.

So I was connected with an interesting family and some fascinating history. Ilene pointed out that David Tyler was a contemporary of Robert S. Wilson, who built our own historic Greek Revival style house. The supreme irony would be to discover that David and Robert knew each other back in mid-19th century in Ann Arbor.

All in all, it was a wonderful example of how stories can come from anywhere. As writers, we should be able to find drama in the most innocent of instances; maybe even from brushing a little dirt from a stone.

750 Words

By | Norm's Author Blog | 5 Comments

During our months-long stay-at-home, many of us are thinking this might be a good time to do some writing. You may think–I always meant to begin my memoirs, or try writing a murder mystery, or wax philosophical. But there seem to be distractions and reasons not to begin.

Our son, Joseph, introduced us to an effective way to overcome such creative inertia. It is referred to as the 750-Word Exercise. There is one simple rule. Begin writing about a topic of interest to you and keep writing about it in one sitting, non-stop, for 750 words—no more, no less. If you are like most writers you will find that the first 250 to 300 words will represent your current thinking but following those initial words you should enter a freestyle writing where you don’t know what will come off your fingertips. But keep writing anyway until you reach 750 words (approximately 3 pages). Then take a break and come back to it in a day or two and see what you have. You may be surprised at where your free thinking led you, and hopefully you have something worth developing further. It might serve as a section for a coronavirus journal, or the beginning of a piece of fiction, or a more reflective piece.

We encourage you to try this 750-Word Exercise. And let us know what happens if you do. (Note this blog posting is only 233 words. Oh, well.)