Tag Archives: teachers

History For All

roman colliseum

How Earth Made Us is a documentary series produced by the BBC.  Like many BBC programs, the cinematography is spectacular.  But, perhaps more interesting, is the approach the program takes to history.  Instead of only examining human interactions, the program focuses on how natural forces such as geology, geography, and climate have shaped history.  And, the whole series is available on YouTube.

In the first episode, Water, host Iain Stewart explores the effects that extreme conditions have had on human development.  He visits the Sahara Desert, which receives less than a centimeter of rainfall each year, and Tonlé Sap, which swells to become the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia during monsoon season.  The contrast is striking.  One interesting factoid is that the world’s reservoirs now hold 10,000 cubic kilometers of water (2400 cubic miles).  Because most of these reservoirs are in the northern hemisphere, they have actually affected the earth’s rotation very slightly.

The second episode, Deep Earth, begins in a stunning crystal cave in Mexico, in which crystals have grown to several meters long.  The cave, which is five kilometers below the earth’s surface, was discovered by accident when miners broke into it.  I can’t imagine what they thought when they first set foot inside.

The third episode, Wind, explores the tradewinds which spread trade and colonization, which lead to the beginning of globalization.  This brought fortune to some who exploited resources and tragedy to others who were enslaved.  The view from the doorway through which thousands of Africans passed on their way to the Americas is a chilling reminder of this period of history.

Fire, the fourth episode, moves from cultures that held the flame as sacred, to the role of carbon in everything from plants to diamonds to flames.  And carbon is also the basis of petroleum, which has powered the growth of humankind.  Several methods of extracting crude oil around the world are explored.

The final episode, Human Planet, turns the equation around tying the first four episodes together by looking at how humans have had an impact on the earth. One of the most compelling examples is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is the result of ocean currents bringing plastic and other debris from countries around the Pacific rim.  This garbage collects, is broken down by the sun, and eventually settles to the bottom to become part of the earth’s crust.  This is juxtaposed to rock strata in the Grand Canyon, pointing out that eventually, one layer of rock under the garbage patch in the Pacific will be made up of this debris.

In all, there is almost 5 hours of documentary video here.  It is a compelling production with spectacular imagery.  There are any number of ways to use these videos with an ESL class.  And because they are available on YouTube, there are even more options available to an ESL instructor.  Instead of everyone watching together in the classroom, the videos can be posted in an online content management system and students can watch them anywhere, anytime on their laptops and smartphones, if they have access to that kind of technology.  And if the videos are being watched outside of the classroom, there are more options for assigning different groups of students to watch different videos and then have conversations with students who watched different episodes.  The ubiquity of online video can bring learning to students outside of the classroom.

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21st Century Newspapers

rolled up newspapers

A long, long time ago (maybe 6 or 7 years now) I taught an elective ESL class centered around a student newspaper.  We tried various formats including weekly, monthly, and quarterly editions, which ranged from 2 to 32 pages.  We also experimented with various online editions, but at the time that mostly consisted of cutting and pasting the documents into HTML pages.

Fast-forward to 2011 and look how online publishing has changed.  Blogs are ubiquitous, if not approaching passé.  Everyone but my Mom has a Facebook page.  (Don’t worry, my aunts fill her in).  And many people get news, sports scores, Twitter posts, friends’ Facebook updates, and other information of interest pushed directly to their smartphones.

It’s no surprise, then, that a website like paper.li has found its niche.  The slogan for paper.li is Create your newspaper.  Today.  Essentially, paper.li is an RSS aggregator in the form of a newspaper.  RSS aggregators are nothing new (see iGoogle, My Yahoo!, etc.).  As the name implies, the user selects a variety of different feeds from favorite blogs, people on Twitter, Facebook friends, etc. and aggregates the updates onto one page.

The twist with with paper.li is that the aggregated page looks very much like a newspaper — at least a newspaper’s website.  For people not on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, paper.li might feel much more comfortable.  Also, publicizing one’s pages seems to be built right in to paper.li’s sourcecode.  I say that because I first learned of paper.li when I read a tweet that said a new edition of that person’s paper was out featuring me.  How flattering!  Of course, I had to take a look.

Would paper.li be a good platform to relaunch a student newspaper?  It might.  If students have multiple blogs, paper.li could certainly aggregate the most recent posts into one convenient location.  Other feeds could also be easily incorporated as well.  (Think of this as akin to your local community newspaper printing stories from the Associated Press.)  The most recent news stories about your city or region, updates from your institution’s website, and photos posted to Flickr tagged with your city or school name could each be a column in your paper.li paper right beside the articles crafted by the students themselves.  You could even include updates from other paper.li papers.

To see examples of paper.li papers, visit the paper.li website.  (And note that .li is the website suffix — no need to type .com no matter how automatically your fingers try to do so.)  You can search paper.li for existing papers to see what is possible.  A search for ESL, for example, brought up 5 pages of examples, some with hundreds of followers.  Take a look.  You might just get an idea for your own paper.li.

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Teaching with Google Images

canoes on google image search

In a recent meeting with the executive council of our student association, one of our class representatives suggested organizing a canoe trip.  Judging by the puzzled looks around the boardroom table, many students did not recognize this word.  So, I pulled up Google Images and did a search for canoe.  The results were similar to what you see above.  Instantly, students could understand the word and the discussion could continue.

I really enjoy the challenge of working with a group of students with a wide range of ability.  Using Google Image search is a good way to help level the playing field so that students can communicate with each other more efficiently.  If you have a projector and internet access in your classroom, images can be pulled up very quickly as a teaching aid.

A word of caution, though.  Be sure to set the Safe Search setting to “Use strict filtering” if you are doing a search in front of a whole class in order to reduce the chance of objectionable images appearing.  And be aware that even strict filtering is not 100% perfect.  So, if you are working with a group that is young or particularly sensitive to certain images, be ready to hit the back button immediately or, better yet, mute the image on the projector until the search comes up, preview the images, and then make the projection available to the class.

Once you begin using it, Google Image search is the kind of simple tool that you will wonder how you lived without.  While there are certainly benefits to having students define unknown terminology for each other, there are also times when you just want to provide a few words to define a term and move on.  In these cases, an image search is worth a thousand words.

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Show Me The Money

statue of liberty dollar coin

I’ve posted about finding royalty- and copyright-free images on line before.  In this post, I’d like to share an often overlooked source: the U.S. Government.  Many government departments have images in the public domain, which usually means that teachers can use them in presentations, classroom activities, and almost any not-for-profit ways you can imagine.  Of course, there are exceptions, so be sure to read the fine print.

coinsThe U.S. Mint

The Mint publishes some very nice images of the money it produces including coins commemorating states, presidents, first ladies, national parks, and significant historical events.  Most are available for free download, though a few are copyrighted (such as the Sacagawea dollar coin).  There are also a few anti-counterfeiting restrictions on reproducing paper money, so be sure to read the fine print on the website.

astronaut on the moonNASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has some amazing copyright-free images and videos available.  Whether you are looking for images of astronauts, rockets or other spacecraft, or images of outerspace, the NASA website has you covered.  Some of the images include those from the Hubble Telescope which has captured extraterrestrial images for over a decade.  There are lots of science- and engineering-related images, and the website makes it easy to search for them.

washing a dogCDC

You might not ordinarily think to look on the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but but the Public Health Image Library has lots of interesting stock images available, related to topics such as home safety, personal hygiene, agriculture, child safety and more.  Of course, you’ll also find lots of images of bacteria, microscopic pests, and other diseases, some of which may not be suitable for children.

More

For links to photos from more U.S. Government photos and images, visit the USA.gov website.  You will find links to images from lots of other departments related to agriculture, the environment, defense, safety, science and technology and others.  In essence, these images are “free” because you’ve paid for them with your taxes.  So, don’t hesitate to take a look and use them if you need to.

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Pop Psychology for Teachers

balloon popping

I originally intended this post to be about an article I came across on creativity, but as I looked around What Makes Them Click.net, I found that the whole site deserves a mention.

Susan Weinschenk, who writes this blog, draws on her 30+ years of experience applying her PhD in Psychology to the workplace.  She identifies interesting research articles and then summarizes them in a way that makes them very easy to apply to the workplace, including the classroom.  Some examples are below.

knitted duck on a street

4 Types of Creativity

Evidently, there are four types of creativity, each a combination of cognitive / emotional and deliberate / spontaneous.  Thomas Edison, who is said to have gone through thousands of failed experiments before inventing something, is classified as cognitive and deliberate.  In contrast, artists and musicians tend to be spontaneous and emotional in their creativity.  Each type has different requirements in order to be successful.    For example, the Thomas Edisons need lots of knowledge and time whereas require skill to create based on a spontaneous impulse.  So, there may not be a one-size-fits-all way to facilitate creativity in the classroom.

jack in the box toy

Surprises

Your brain craves surprises.  This is, ironically, not a surprise to any good language teacher who fills lesson plans with a variety of activities to hold students’ interest.  This summary is based on a study which demonstrated that people find surprises more pleasurable than things they like.  How do they know?  The squirted fruit juice in people’s mouths.  Seriously.

blue screen of death -- Windows computer error

Error Strategies

This study looked at what strategies older and younger adults used when encountering an error when trying to use a new electronic device.  Some interesting differences: the older group didn’t receive meaningful hints from their actions or use their past knowledge as much as the younger group did.  These results may be particularly useful for teachers who integrate technology into their classrooms.  Common sense would have us believe that older adults would have different difficulties navigating a content management system for the first time.  Perhaps this study can help teachers to better anticipate these problems.

There are lots of other interesting studies summarized on this site.  Take a look around and if you find others that are particularly applicable to ESL teachers, leave a link in the comments.

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Kinect Development

microsoft kinect hardware

Microsoft recently announced plans to release a software development kit (SDK) for the Kinect.  This should allow academics and enthusiasts to find new ways to connect the motion-sensing Xbox hardware to other platforms, such as desktop and laptop computers, much more easily.  In short, there should be many more Kinect hacks to come.

I’m still not sure how this would directly apply to classroom teaching, although it stands to reason that these applications could someday replace physical interactive whiteboards in the same way that Kinect was originally designed to replace physical videogame controllers for the Xbox.

For more, see my previous post on Kinect Hacks and below for some new examples of how Kinect is being used in new and exciting ways.

Control Windows 7

The touchless multitouch is really nice.  Mice are so 2008.

3D Tetris with Face Tracking

As the user moves his head, the perspective on the screen changes to match so that the 3D perspective is constantly updated.

Kinect Lightsaber

A wooden stick becomes a lightsaber in real time.  This would save hours of  frame-by-frame editing.

Balloon Body

After Kinect scans your body, use your scroll wheel to expand or contract the surface.

Christmas Lights

Use Kinect attached to a bunch of dimmers to control Christmas lights for a very nice effect.

Flying Robot

The 3D capability of connect makes it perfect for a robot that navigates three-dimensional space.

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Hey, You Guys!

light bulb

In the 1970s, The Electric Company was a kids television show made by the Children’s Television Workshop, the same folks that made Sesame Street,  but designed for a slightly older, getting-ready-to-read audience.  Fast-forward to 2009.  The Electric Company is being made again by what is now called Sesame Workshop.

Each half-hour show contains a main story featuring The Electric Company kids and their antagonist Prankster peers.  Vignettes interspersed between parts of the story focus on letters and sounds that relate to the vocabulary highlighted in each episode.  Most are catchy songs or games and contests played between the characters.  I’ve embedded several videos featuring silent e in this blog post.

The best thing about this show is that it does not baby it’s audience.  Scott Cameron, the Director of Education and Research for Sesame Workshop, has experience teaching ESL with music and games.  The focus of The Electric Company is on motivating children to read and this really can’t be done by talking down to an increasingly media-savvy audience.

In our house, Silent E is a Ninja (below) is a favorite that has achieved earworm status.  Try to watch it once or twice and tell me it’s not stuck in your head the rest of the day.  You’ve been warned.

The Electric Company has even brought back its classic silhouetted heads reading words together.  These are really effective demonstrations of learning to read by sounding out words.

Videos are available on the Electric Company YouTube Channel and on the Electric Company website (which includes a section for parents and educators).

Will these videos work with adult students?  It depends on the student.  These videos are fun and poppy and targeted to a younger audience.  But as a way to expose language learners to lots of fun, catchy, repeatable reinforcement, these really can’t be beat.  Do you know of other good videos?  Post a link in the Comments section.

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2010 in review

automatic transmission

I got this auto-generated post direct from WordPress, which hosts ESL Technology.com, and thought some of it was worth sharing.  Every time I login to my blog, I can check on these numbers and other interesting data.  I can see how many page views I’ve had by day, week, and month as well as which pages were most popular and what sites are referring people to my blog.  More interesting than the numbers themselves are the fact that this data is so easily available that WordPress can automagically pull it together into a blog post for me.  (Incidentally, you can search “2010 in review” on WordPress to find other bloggers who have posted the autogenerated post.)

This kind of data is becoming easier and easier to work with — to mashup.  And all kinds of new software allows us to pull together lots of data in enlightening ways.  Governments that are making this kind of data available are finding citizens stepping forward to develop ways to make it more useful.  See Tim Berners-Lee’s TED Talk for a six-minute rundown of the highlights, below.

I recognize that the numbers generated for me by my blog are not as important as which roads are impassable after an earthquake in Haiti.  But, on almost every scale, this data is becoming easier to find, use, and mashup.  Some of our students may already be doing this.  Surely, many are not.  Developing the ability to work with this kind of data in very dynamic ways is sure to be an asset, if not an expectation, in the near future.

So, without further ado, my numbers.  Thanks for reading.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by these stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2010. That’s about 31 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 50 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 119 posts.

The busiest day of the year was August 4th with 95 views. The most popular post that day was OutSMARTed.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, esl.osu.edu, en.wordpress.com, en.bab.la, and google.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for esl technology, esl and technology, technology esl, technology for esl students, and kinesthetic learners.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

OutSMARTed August 2010
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2

Interactive Whiteboard FAQ (Wii) March 2009
16 comments

3

About Me July 2008
4 comments

4

How do I know my IR LED works? October 2008
1 comment

5

Projects August 2008
1 comment

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Hacking Kinect

I never really thought much about Microsoft’s Kinect until I saw what hackers were doing with it.  A story in the New York Times outlines how a designer and senior editor at Make magazine posted a $3000 bounty for the first person to post an open-source hack of the Kinect interface.  Huzzah!  In fact, I’m still not that impressed with it — 3D drawings are cool, but will they help me teach English? — but I’m thrilled that hackers big and small are poking around under the hood.

Interestingly, Johnny Chung Lee, who became famous for his TED talk where he described hacking a Wiimote to act like an interactive whiteboard, is involved in the development of Kinect.  Microsoft were so impressed with his skills on the Wii-based IWB and other projects they hired him.  He is reportedly very happy to see hackers taking on Kinect in the way he took on Wii a couple of years ago.  If a hacker can squeeze an interactive whiteboard out of a $40 Wiimote, what will come out of the $150 Kinect system?

Will this technology help us teach ESL and EFL?  It’s not easy to see how, at least not immediately.  But prepare for a giant step forward in how we interface with computers in the next few years.  Interactive whiteboards are just the beginning.  You can always show your students this video and ask them to predict the future (in English).

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Computer Games in ESL

burning pac man

Computer games are a medium that has become as popular as Hollywood movies.  It’s not uncommon for teachers to show movies in class, but how can games be incorporated?  This post will discuss these questions and will serve as the handout to my session at the Ohio TESOL Technology Fair 2010.

Games as a source of English

MMORPGs and other complex, multiplayer games can provide a rich source of English (or many other languages) in which students can choose to immerse themselves.  Also, because these games are almost impossible to solve without teamwork, there are typically

World of Warcraft (WoW) – The granddaddy of all MMORPGs and by far the biggest.  Players create avatars that go on quests and have adventures.   In addition to finding potentially complex communication tasks with other players during the game, the WoW wiki is the second largest wiki on the internet after Wikipedia.  This is also potentially a good source of target language input.

Second Life – Though not exactly a game, per se, Second Life is an online 3D virtual world through which players’ avatars can navigate.  There has been much educational interest in Second Life which means there are several “islands” dedicated to language practice for users to explore.

Analysis of Simulations

Distinguishing between games, serious games and simulations is not as important as how we can use them.  Playing a simulation may not be entirely satisfying because a totally accurate simulation of any complex system is extremely difficult to create.  But this creates an opportunity for students to try them and then critique them.  There are lots of examples listed on Historical Simulations.org.  Some of my favorites are below.

Budget Hero – Where would you increase and / or decrease the federal budget and what ramifications would each decision have on the future?  Lots of information in a very accessible format.

Energyville – See if you can meet the energy needs of a city of almost 6 million people.  Do you think cutting all fossil fuels immediately is the answer?  Not in this simulation.  Does knowing that it was created by Chevron make you question anything about this simulation?  Lots to discuss here.

McDonald’s Video Game – What decisions would you make (have to make?) to keep your franchise humming.  Would you cut corners?  What effects would this have?  And, as with Energyville, above, is this an unbiased view or is there an underlying message in this game?

Group Problem Solving

Even the simplest games can generate complex discussion when played in pairs or as a group.  Two students working at one computer need to negotiate everything starting from who gets to use the mouse.  If you have access to an interactive whiteboard, a larger group can work together to play the game or solve the puzzle much more comfortably.

Samorost 2 – This is a visually compelling game that, at first, does not seem to have a point.  During a brief cartoon introduction, a dog is kidnapped from a tiny planet by space aliens and the protagonist begins his pursuit.  Now what?  By clicking on various items on the screen they can be manipulated.  Puzzles can be solved by finding the appropriate series of manipulations.  I’ve had a half-dozen students working on these puzzles on an interactive whiteboard.  I was worried because when working alone on my desktop, I found the puzzles to be quite challenging and I almost gave up on more than one occasion.  But the power of the group was amazing to see as the students moved quickly through several levels, working together and suggesting new ideas to each other as they went.

Grow Cube – I’ve been intrigued by this game since the first time I discovered it.  It is a puzzle in which the player ten turns to select from ten actions that can be performed on a cube.  Each one has a cute animation that interacts with the others.  Most importantly, some actions require several turns to fully develop.  Others must be performed sequentially to work properly (spoiler alert: place the pot on the cube before lighting the fire or the fire will grow too hot and crack the pot.)  The puzzle typically requires one or two attempts to get a feel for the game before players can really begin to notice the effects that each action has on the others.  Even if the puzzle can not be solved, there is a complete walkthrough available for help.  But do yourself a favor and don’t peek until you’ve given it a few tries.

Other Tips & Suggestions

Some of the most complex games available will also be the most expensive.  Even if that hurdle is overcome (possibly by purchasing older versions, for example), there may be a variety of reasons that prohibit the installation of World of Warcraft in the local computer lab (“You want to play games?!?”).  Fortunately there are a number of online games which are freely available and only require an internet connection to play.  Of course, if you routinely battle a firewall for internet access, you may want to test whether you can access them on the computers you intend to use before you plan to use them.

Ask what your students are playing and see if those games might provide a jumping off point.  Are they addicted to Farmville on Facebook?  Bejeweled?  Can they analyze the game critically?  Can they teach someone else the strategy involved?

Most games have wikis which describe all of the parts of the game as well as strategies that can be used to win.  Is there an undocumented way to win?  Have students contribute their ideas to the wiki.

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