Tag Archives: how

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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How Did He Do That, Too?

alphabet carved into 26 pencil tips

“How did he do that?” wasn’t intended to be a series of posts, but I couldn’t help posting this picture.  It’s the entire alphabet carved into the tips of 26 pencils.  How did he do that, indeed.

I think this would be an interesting question to pose to an ESL class looking at this picture.  It would certainly get them talking.  Were these letters made by hand?  By machine?  How long did the alphabet take?  How many letters broke while being carved?  Which letter was the most difficult to create?  And why were such old, chewed up pencils used?

a chain carved out of pencil leadUnlike last time, I actually have some of the answers to these questions.  The alphabet was carved by an artist / carpenter from Connecticut named Dalton Ghetti.  He carves all of his sculptures by hand, without magnification, using a razor blade and a needle.  Pretty amazing stuff.

The patience required for this work is astounding.  In an article in the New York Times, he talks about this being the thing that strikes people most about his work.

I’ve always been fascinated by chain links that are carved from a single material.  I have made a few minor attempts, but nothing like the pencil seen here.  In fact, that might be another interesting question to get students talking.  How did he do that?

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How Did He Do That? Revisited

Photoshopped photo

I’ve written about these photos before, but I recently had a chance to put them in front of some students and I learned a couple of things.  First, and most obvious, these photos are very well done.  There is a depth to the paradox of the two photos that is really engaging.

I started by asking students what they saw.  The first answers were mostly along the lines of, “a guy playing basketball.”  When asked about the “guys,” students began to notice these “guys” were all the same guy.  Interesting.

When I asked how the picture was made, many students said, “Photoshop.”  But, when I asked what picture was taken first, several students offered various theories.  Most agreed that the same head was not cut and pasted to different bodies, but that several pictures of the same person were laid one over another.  When I pointed out that some of the figures cast shadows on some of the others, they had to rethink their theories a bit more.  I told them I did not know how this was done — I still don’t — but we enjoyed talking through what steps would need to be taken to create this photo.

During the class discussion, I found it really useful to view the largest sized photos available (original size top and bottom).  I held the control button and clicked the photos (right-click in Windows) and chose View Image to view only the photos in my browser.  In my browser, I went to the View menu and clicked Toolbars and unchecked as many as possible so that my window was as big as possible to view the picture.  Because the original photo was so large, I could also click on the photo to zoom in.  (Your browser may be configured differently, but you should be able to set it up in a similar way.)  By clicking the control and tab keys together (alt-tab in Windows) I could toggle back and forth between these two images.  That combined with zooming allowed me to simulate zooming through layer after layer of this paradox.

If I had had more time, it would have been interesting to try to create some photos like these of our own.  If we had a couple of cameras and tripods, we could got out and snap some pictures and see what challenges they presented while slicing them together.

One student noticed that the top photo has a break between the figures in the right and left halves.  A simpler grouping, like that in either half, would not be too hard to put together.  (In fact, some cameras and at least on iPhone app allow you to stitch together pictures as you take them, allowing you to insert the same person in each of the frames that are stitched together into the final photograph.)

It would be interesting to see what students came up with, what challenges they met along the way, and how they were able to resolve them.

photoshopped photo

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How did he do that?

photoshop paradox

How did he do that?  Is that the first question you asked when you looked at this picture?  Look again.  Notice all of the people in the picture (and in the picture in the picture) are the same person.  Notice, too, that the person in the foreground is holding the picture being taken in the background.  To really blow your mind, scroll down to the bottom of this post to see the picture taken by the photographer in the background.  Click on either picture to link to larger versions for closer examination.

Impressed?  I was.  There are lots of examples of photoshopped dopplegangers on flickr, but few are this intricate.  With most others, it’s easy to see how how multiple images could be merged into one because the different images don’t interact and sometimes don’t even overlap.  When I look at these two pictures, I’m intrigued by how they were made.  Which image was taken first?  How many images were included?  These questions got me to thinking: I bet ESL students would have the same questions.  And it would be linguistically challenging to analyze these two photos (possibly by first priming them with something simpler) in the target language.

Next time you want to generate some discussion in your class, consider showing your students these images.  (They’re licensed under the Creative Commons, which virtually eliminates any copyright concerns.)  The discussion could lead to students planning their own doppleganger photos.  Even if they don’t have the photo editing skills or resources to pull it off, planning out the scene and even taking some of the photos required to make their own composite image could be a very interesting exercise.

photoshop paradox

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