lunes, 28 de mayo de 2012

First time in Turkey

English teaching conventions are always fun.  The people who teach English are people persons, and are easy to get along with.  However, imagine a trip that combines the areas that most interest you: in my case, technology, material light learning, and teacher development, with  not only many of  the best minds around, but many of the nicest neurons on the planet.

Burcu Akyol and her posse organized everything beautifully.  Talking to the volunteers, they enjoyed the whole process... a great compliment indeed.  The framework was strong enough that everything went forward yet open enough to enjoy and have space to visit.  

The other protagonists were the Turkish teachers.  Like at the other conferences... they emanate vitality and some of it sticks onto whoever passes by.  Lovely magical beings that seem more from a fairy tale than a classroom.  (By this, I mean one of the highest compliments I can give.  I believe hopelessly in Fairy Tales.  I suspect that the most exciting things that happened to me were the result of  following the faint drift of music over the hills and far away... )

Onto practicalities, which are not incompatible with fairytales, the open discussion hours allowed me to spend some small time group work time learning with, and from, the turkish teachers and teachers in training... I hope they continue in the direction they are going, as they came up with very sensible and student centered ideas.  People I have no choice but to admire and respect, and who make me feel as comfortable as an overused sweater.

I love how it ended, with the faint drift of music turning into an impromptu sing-a-long .

Luke and Marissa at the piano, Ken and Maureen leading the choir, and Anthony playing the drums with his fingers, and the rest of us singing, yes, even Graham, and discussing complexity theory with Willy, while Burcu offered us turkish coffee..  (Scott had long since turned into a bottle of wine by that time, but this was no lugubrious* transubstantiation as he had turned into a fine bottle of Rioja. )

Absolutely magical.

Time to carry a faint drift of music back home, over the hills and far away.

* if I use it three more times it will be in my active vocabulary. Beware.

domingo, 5 de febrero de 2012

Clil tecnologia: hojas de calculo

Ok... One of the things I have been experimenting with has been to do CLIL for ESO students near Madrid, Spain, two days a week.
(CLIL- Content Language Integrating Learning.)

As someone very sympathetic to the dogme principles of getting content from students, not filling their empty little heads with my unending rays of wisdom, it is often very anti-intuitive for me. It has been really hard, after the very fun and useful experiments with teaching through improv theatre last year. Also, full disclosure: I have more training in theatre than spreadsheets.

The content is important to get across, so it is like driving the car with the parking brake on. The rule of "what is taught is not necessarily what is learned" is especially true here. Students have their own level of English, and understanding of technology. I tried to adapt by giving them video tutorials that they could follow along with at their own speed.

It also creates the "Anti-Pareto principle" with 80% of my work going for 20% of my income. There aren't any materials available for my particular levels and guidelines from the school, (Spanish curriculum, using LibreOffice software) so I have to/get to make it. The cheating that goes hand in hand with an economy of marks and the digital tools that make copying effortless means that I spend a good chunk of time "watching the prisoners." (a task facilitated by open source software monitor Italc 2.)

Doing something that is totally anti-me, I had to set up a zero tolerance cheating rule and enforce it ruthlessly (going to the draconian extreme of a public execution, I mean, demo of open source forensic software "autopsy" on a copy of an anonomous (ok, made up) student file).

What does all this mean? It means I spent a lot of time like the monkey in toy story 3. That, of course, is not good for the affective side of things. 

On the other hand:

I had an opportunity to really empower kids with tech.

I made an exercise allowing them to model a Spanish mortgage, allowing them to see how the bank works while "buying" their dream home, and what they really sign when they sign a mortgage.

If more people were aware of what they were really signing, I think the Spanish economy would be much better off right now. (if it is useful to anyone else, you can download it here, and here is part b showing how to use the solver function.)

I got the school to get them google app accounts, and we can now use collaborative software that is being taken up by companies like the BBVA bank, as well as learn skills that will serve them in the rapidly changing world, and try to give them tasks that will make them question things and look at data carefully like here (downloadable), checking if hollywood salaries for actors are sexist. (short answer: yes, they are.)

I don't know if they appreciate my work.  One student looked at the "hipoteca" (mortgage) example and said, "When are we ever going to need to know anything about that! We should do something useful."

miércoles, 9 de noviembre de 2011

Bethany Cagnol, hair pulling angel.

@bethcagnol collapsing of exhaustion in front,
the rest of us having fun behind her ; )

We all know somebody who inspires us, who shines a light on our talents so that we see them, who encourages us to see past the things that aren’t yet there and focus on growing, and passing that growth on to others.

Imagine 10 people like that in your life.

Now imagine 20. Or hundreds.

Now imagine that you have constant access to them. It is called a PLN, a personal learning network. Twitter might be the glue that keeps it together, but it goes much further. It is a place where you can find and be one of these people.

These people are positive, passionate about what they do, and are out there doing quality work that touches many, many, people. Their passion gives sort of a “holiness” to their work, in the sense that Grotowski would use the word. Saints, or mad prophets in the wilderness, whittling distant possibilities into realities.

Ever heard of Habukkuk? His name comes from a Hebrew word meaning “strong hug.”

In the judeo-christian story of “Daniel in the lion’s den”, Habukkuk was “fifth business”, the figure not important of himself but through him, important things happened.

Habakkuk was in Judea; he had made a

stew and crumbled bread into the bowl, and he was on the

way to his field, carrying it to the reapers, when an angel

of the Lord said, 'Habakkuk, carry the meal you have with

you to Babylon, for Daniel, who is in the lion-pit.' Habakkuk

said, 'My Lord, I have never been to Babylon. I do not know

where the lion-pit is.' Then the angel took the prophet by the

crown of his head, and carrying him by his hair, he swept

him to Babylon with the blast of his breath...

I mention this story not for the spiritual enrichment of the readers, but because exactly the same thing happened to me.

Despite being a performer, I can be a bit self isolated, busy working on "shtuff", and with the economic crisis in Spain, I can end up focusing on taking care of basic needs, instead of higher and nobler priorities.

Bethany Cagnol was my hair pulling angel, who made sure that I had every excuse to stay home eliminated... she encouraged me every step of the way, and she was even prepared to look for a place for my wife and daughter to stay!

I imagine she pulled the hair of a lot of other people, because the Tesol France conference put skin on a lot of people I had been keeping tabs on, and admired, and both revealed some new amazing people and reconfirmed the amazingness of others. I was farmed out to one such person (whose name I won’t mention because this thank you note is for Bethany, but his twitter handle is @Brad5Patterson.) and had a great time in “the Panda den”.

And I got to share what I have been working on with people working on similar things... and they did the same with me. I am filled with energy, and ideas, and with gratefulness to be in a world with such amazing people, and to be connected with them.

Strong hugs, Bethany. You know how to throw a party.

miércoles, 15 de junio de 2011

Embedded widgets, for publicity and THE GOOD OF HUMANITY!

I am (re)looking at different gadgets that are easy to produce web pages with. It looks like next year I will be doing some middle school CLIL with the technology classes, so I'd like to get some ideas for things to surprise them with.

I have permission to teach them LibreOffice instead of MS Office (Yeah, FLOSS opensource programs!) to give the students up to date info on copyright licenses, operating systems, viruses and internet safety. As the students will be doing everything in English: task based learning!

(I have some thinking to do about how I will set up collaborative work so it isn't just rehearsal for an office job later.)

One neat thing is, which I haven't played with for over a year... I started using it when Sproutbuilder started changing their terms of service like most people change their socks. Dead easy. It is free. Easy to adapt, and has a new mobile focused site coming out soon. Great for making "pretty stuff".

Both done in under an hour, so this is good for allowing teachers or students to create with. So why do I blog this, thinking it is interesting? Because it is both interesting and cool... if you are less egocentric than me, and put something less you centered.

Paul Braddock, from the Barcelona British Council Young Learner´s Dept, has made an online game for staff development, and it looks great. Thinking behind it here, and a look at the actual wix here.

What a great idea!

Free website - By

lunes, 25 de abril de 2011

“Ring out the bells that still will ring, forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."

Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

I had a marvellously disastrous workshop.

As everybody who has played with them knows, there are three main things that can go wrong with a wiiboard in windows:

1. The Microsoft .net 3.5 (or higher) isn't installed.
2. Bluetooth connection issues. (using non microsoft bluetooth driver software is the way of pain, and sometimes windows 7 can time out a connection apparently, though I haven't experienced it
3. The wiimote or the projected image isn't positioned adequately. (receives direct sunlight which gives false infrared signals to the wiimote, or the wiimote isn't tracking correctly because it is too high/low/near/far.)

Number 3 is what got me.

To avoid the weight, I hadn't brought my tripods for my projector and wiimote, so I couldn’t get things to ideal positions instantly. Figured I could play "tetris" with objects in the room, or find something if needed to get everything balanced out and I knew there would be time to pick up a tripod that would be cheaper than going overweight. (… or there would have been except for the three hour delay of my flight.) So, above all I have to claim responsibility for the problems... My bad.

I set up the room at 8:30 in the morning and was set for the 10:30 session, but to accommodate another speaker, I changed rooms at literally the last minute.
Coming to the new room with the participants, it dawned on me that the furniture was different... and with my new pieces to play with, I couldn't set it up without obscuring peoples view or risking having to reset it for being to close to a window.

While I set up... pulling all the stuff I had crammed into a bag rapidly… it occurred to me that my notes and paper visuals I use to explain before the board is set up hadn't made the trip upstairs with me. The upside of this was that I now had both hands free to move stuff around.

I set it up with a chair on top of a table to position the wiimote with sufficient height. Unfortunately I was a bit short of height, and couldn’t get the whole image in the wiimote camera while remaining close enough to scan well. There was one position I could move the improvised stack of furniture, but that would block the view of a third of the participants. No choice: I set up the visual obstruction.

Turning to recalibrate the board, the chair fell off the table.
I was now the Tommy Cooper of learning technologies.

There still was one last possibility: rear projection, using this frame for holding folding chairs. The participants unloaded the chairs helped me to duct tape an ikea shower curtain to the frame and Heike found the mirror image on the projector.
The room literally sprung into action. And we had an Interactive whiteboard. It worked.

And just then… the time was up.

I was a bit frustrated not to be able to show what it could do, not to be able to have them fly around google earth with the second wiimote, using it as a video game controller, and using the accelerometer. I also would have liked to look at free software that allowed you to use the board more collaboratively.

The bitter taste was removed from my mouth by the participants: they enjoyed the workshop, and several people told me to keep the problems in next time.

Rather than being frightened off experimenting with it, they saw how problems could arise and how you could deal with them. It stopped being about what a iwb could do, and about what a bunch of people could do with a few toys and a sense of humour in dealing with problems. People who would run at the word “Bluetooth stack” came out with the idea that they could do this, too.

Alchemists, the precursors of scientists spent centuries looking for a formula to turn lead into gold. They should have asked the participants of my workshop, who transformed a potential disaster into a shared learning experience, one that was suddenly worth something.

lunes, 21 de febrero de 2011

Trolls: Anti Social Media in Twitter.

The Troll in our garden.

Interested in English Language Teaching? On twitter, search for #ELTChat: you will find info centered on English Language Teaching , and a couple of chats every wednesday, where teachers vote on a topic to chat about, and share ideas and resources. Great stuff. And now we even have our own pet troll.

#eltchat Barking dog is back... yeah Twitter...
(paraphrased by me.)

Barking dog is indeed back with us. Eurominuteman has the very doglike idea that if you pee on something, you own it.

Short version: He doesn't exist. He is an elaborate hoax by someone whose hobby is pushing peoples buttons, as a main character supported by other false people. Check the fake VAT tax number he posted (why do you post your VAT number?) on 38 different pages ( DE146346525 ) in creating the extensive, but false background info on himself, against official tax numbers here for yourself.(copy his number DE146346525 here. )

Incredibly, #ELTChat has grown steadily but until now, we haven’t really been trolled and peed on. Trolling isn't just a mean comment ... it can be a hobby, or lifestyle.

Long Version:

What does "being trolled" mean?

This article in gives better insight into what an "intentional" troll is.
(If you are going to dig further, (ie look up lulz), be prepared for lots of naughty words. However, you might want to count the number of times the word "groupthink" comes up. Any corpus or NLTK users up for the task of a l33t corpus for troll memes?)

Trolling is the prank phone call of our beloved digital natives: internet is traceable too, but you have to really do something bad for the efforts to be made, and there are a lot of tools for being anonymous. That is good: sometimes dissent is needed, and activists in countries with suppression of human rights have been aided by these tools. What allows someone to abuse may allow someone else to report abuses.

Voltaire might say today: I disagree with trolling, but I would defend with my life the possibility that allows for trolling.

We have been gifted with a pretty good starter troll to educate ourselves with on #ELTChat. My guess is that he is about 16-23, based out of the States. (1) Looking at the lengths of the posts outside of twitter, the troll has a good use of voice dictation software, and can produce defamatory posts at a respectable speed. Has skills in IT, and is not above helping someone set up a group to troll it after. It is his hobby, after all.

Why I don’t think @europeminuteman is really a grown up, (probably a kid and a somewhat badly characterized sockpuppet.)

1. All contact info is social media:

-Facebook page.

-Various twitter accounts. MANY twitter accounts. MANY MANY MANY, which will get him back up fast to hashtag squat when banned.

-Free online german email( is a German freemail that is little known and probably not on lists of spammer havens. Might get through twitter, facebook, and a lot of things without really checking personal information. BTW Eurominuteman is listed on as probable IP sockpuppeteer (if you need to ask, you don’t need to know.) MAybe lives in Germany, but uses American IP (AOL. Why AOL? AOL = new IP with every page load. CheckUser does not work. Still, got people suspicious with IP ... )

-Vague info on things that can be checked. (ie: exact “association” with European Union Quality control group not clarified, offset with very precise info on education and pictures of report cards that we couldn’t be bothered to care about.)

-Very few photos of "him", all in the same time period (2007) when this false identity was born. Impressive work, though, on the two fotostreams. Someone into mobile learning would probably have a smartphone instead of a kodak. Whoever the pictures are of, it probably isn't James O'Reilly.

-vat ID number listed in many of his pages: DE146346525, easily typed one hand. (odd nothing higher than 6, but it could be possible, right? (see footnote 2, and links above.)

-Only contact a mobile phone in Germany. Not worth the price to check for a pranker.

If he was really a quality control engineer, would he have something more substantial in some part. A mention in one of the organizations that he supposedly works in? He is very cautious in providing information, but he does some wonderful digital storytelling with the background info and stays mostly consistant. If he was indeed authentic (and free of mental illness, a sadder possibility) which I doubt after looking at the quality of his digital footprint: he's actively hiding lots of info.

2. The name: James O’Reilly.

Great name... not only the brother(?) of perhaps the most influential man of internet , Tim O’Reilly, (great attention getter in case of accidental ban.) but it is a variation on the last name of Ignatius, in John Kennedy Tooles “A confederation of dunces”, who is the greatest (idiot savant?) troll of all literature. Talks about eveyone else as superficial, and is constantly injured by the cruelty of others while he is insulting them. Pretends to help people, but finishes by creating explosions and fear, uncertainty and doubt wherever he goes. BTW unlike @eurominuteman, this book is worth reading.

3. Trolling for teachers.

Come on, this is pure high school fantasy. To attack someone as benign as @grahamstanley (a lovely man who has been pushing the envelope in Education in Second Life for years.) with threats about knowing people who can cut his European funding, obscure accusations with nothing behind them, pseudo tech and ed-babble, obscure links to wikipedia that don’t actually say anything relevent, requires a certain high school mentality. The choice of leaders in the teachers world as targets screams high school.

He has researched ELTChat and looked at who to hit.


He has attacked parentella, a group Shell collaborates with, multiple times. Search his twitter stream. He spams it through various hashtags that have little to do with parentella, but everything to do with Shell. He is just trying to incite her but Shell is very good at not responding, so he is going away.

Instead of multiple mentions, he repeats the same thing to several people: an individual accusation is much more likely to get a response.

@Eurominuteman says:

@englishraven Plz tell me more about yr authorization to claim Twitter tag ownership, 1st step void foundation is fake/mock scam
20 hours ago

@Marisa_C Plz tell me more about yr authorization to claim Twitter tag ownership, 1st step void foundation is fake/mock scam
20 hours ago

@esolcourses Plz tell me more about yr authorization to claim Twitter tag ownership, 1st step void foundation is fake/mock scam
21 hours ago

@mattledding Plz tell me more about yr authorization to claim Twitter tag ownership, 1st step void foundation is fake/mock scam
21 hours ago

That is just lazy trolling. (Realized that I am not even a leader in the ELTChat community, and decided that he better unwaste a message on bigger fish.)

So he looks at where the big fish are and claims that he isn’t spamming... EVERYONE ELSE IS!

#eltchat @englishraven is No. 6 spammer in the Top 10, I don't appear at all yet

#eltchat @Marisa_C is No. 1 spammer, @cerirhiannon is No. 11, so I can identify the handful of real spammers getting hair loss this evening

#eltchat Well the volume of my tweets is comparably low, but the content was much higher... yeah Twitter
10 hours ago

And what was that content? A link about the Purpose of Education, and a wikipedia article about Aristotle. Will I put up those links? Nah. Every click probably counts as a point for him..

#eltchat @esolcourses The Purpose of Education and Aristotle do not contradict that, stop the superficial flaming about nothing.

(SUPERFICIAL: One of the fave words of Ignatius Reilly when referring to anyone beneath him. For example, everyone. This roleplay is much clearer when euromm has more than 140 chars.)

Actually, @eurominuteman has, as an agent of provocation, been quite successful at getting bites. Certain artistry, almost , in his roleplay as troll. Because the character isn't him... it is a roleplay. We are getting angered by someone's imaginary friend. And he might have more imaginary friends.

@educationland follows a similar style,and interest in inclusion/annoying people, although it seems he is just starting and trying to establish credibility right now. (by copying the contents of peoples tweets without crediting them.) @ardgroomlad ("real name" Kevin O'Brien... see comments for why this name was chosen.) could be the good cop character, trying to fan indignation at @eurominuteman for extra drama... he only seems to come out when Eurominuteman is around and seems to work as the puppet on the other hand saying, "look at how bad Eurominuteman is!" Bottom line: more attention and focus on the puppet show.

The problem with this “artist”?

We waste time and energy over someone who is simply laughing at us. Or threatening...

Later, he came back to post this:

@mattledding Hehe Aristotle has a compass function Hehe Believe me, especially for teachers of all colors Hehe Thanks for the laugh :-))

Which, through wordplay let me know that he had researched me. (Easy, I am wide open and a dead easy target... and because I work with kids, even the slightest smell of scandal could sink me.)

Meh... if I get troll spam sunk, I’ll just go to the corp show market, where I can be as disreputable as I want, and I'll make more and work less.

Others being attacked might not be as comfy, which is where the term "cheap anonymous coward" slips in.

The troll is the ultimate comfy one, safe in his parents basement... we can attack his false identities, while he attacks our real ones. It is easier to destroy than build.

But I don’t think that our Troll is out for more than reactions, and this post is a pretty good reaction.

The real danger is wasted time.

I wasted time writing this post. I got things to do.
You wasted time reading it. You got things to do.

Let’s waste no more time:

Block and report trolls ( ie: eurominuteman in whatever of his many twitter ids he uses) when they start to provoke others, and avoid engaging them: that takes their game away. If anyone is annoying, block them. Life is short, and mean people suck.

Enough blocks and they get banned, although our friend can probably get round that easy enough. But... this is a good learning opportunity, and now a lot of teachers will be able to recognize trolls, and share that with students... wrecking a perfectly good hobby for trolls. That is why it is a bad idea to troll a teacher area full of people that care about teaching and who share knowledge in a far too inclusive way.

As a note to Mr. James O'Reilly: If you want to stay as our pet troll, then you should know that nobody is going to get angry at someone's imaginary friend.

That being said, there are some absolutely great bubble test, school reform groups that would be great for you to make new friends with.

; )

Please feel free to exercise your artistry there.
You could be the Superman they are waiting for.
Let me know how it works for you.


Virtual Homeoffice - Mind Map - [ Traducir esta página ]
DE146346525 . ZIP-Code Street Town Company Country . USA (German green card) . Project Management 1.0 Mindmapping 1.0 Brainstorming 1.0

Who in Germany has a green card? Only in the States.

Vat number: DE146346525 - forty results.

A. Who puts their vat number in their photostreams?
B. Who FAKES their vat number 40 times? check it here:

So this is all just a massive hoax. Take a good look at the info he put, (which I have saved offline in case it disappears and I have to use it, or someone wants to do a unit on trolling in a textbook with authentic material.) to see the details of how he uses the pdfs on scribd to make it look (in a search) like he wrote the articles by putting contact details. (note: jing video, requires flash) Giving him unearned "expert" appearence. (Like the "Dr." in Dr. Maurer's English in 1000 words.)

But like any magic trick, if you spend enough time and effort looking at it several times, you can see through the deception.

domingo, 28 de noviembre de 2010

Uses for Crayon Physics Deluxe Demo version.

I have commented on this before, but haven't put much detail on how I used it.

While Graham Stanley did a nice write up on the game here, in digital play, a great blog for those interested in game based learning ( ) , I thought I would add a few thoughts...

This game, with a free demo version here: , is an amazing resource for language learners. It is a low input - high output exercise, true task based learning, highly engaging, and great for collaborative learning.

A pure visual framework, it allows you to SEE how your students think and create real communication situations. It is an open and intuitive game where crayon drawings come to life, and operate with a 2 dimensional physics. The object is to make a ball touch a star... in the coolest way possible.

So, suggestions for usage in class settings:

* * * * *


a. One crayon physics station/ (which can be an IWB, a wiiboard, or even a computer with a decent sized screen) per 10 student group

b. timekeeping device.

* * * * *


Introduction game. (As students familiarize themselves with the game.)

Students get to draw three lines each and pass it on to the next person.
They explain what they are doing, while they do it, to the group.

-while this is not going to elicit a lot of language, and may not appear engaging, it will actually be quite effective, and is great present continuous practice for lower level students.
-variation 1: another student, or the rest of his team of 5 people, explains what the first student is -variation 2: another student, or the rest of his team tell the first student what to do.

Variant game 1 (as students become more familiar.)

Starting team tries to block team 2 from the star. They can draw one line each time.
Team discusses (in English, naturally...) their strategy for blocking, and take turns blocking.
Team two also descuss and alternate every turn... they have two lines every turn, and can use one of those lines to erase the move of the blocking team, while the blocking team can’t erase.
(Just as a note, the game is skewed in favour of the drawing team, who will always win if the game goes long enough.)

-variation: blocking team can’t use the same move twice, which will encourage more conversation as they look for new strategies.

Variant game 3. (as students become adept.)

Teams compete for the most elegant solution to the same puzzle.
They explain what they will do, and then proceed to do it.
Most elegant and original solution wins.
(here is an excellent opportunity to praise ambitious failure...)

Variant 4: Rube Goldberg machine.

A Rube Goldberg machine performs a very simple task in a very complex way. The point of this variation is to make the most complicated chain reaction possible. The best example of one that I can think of is Ok Go’s video here, ok go video, in itself a marvellous visual scaffolding for either conditional or present continuous language.

This is best given with time for the group to plan, with paper, on how to do their variation. They will spend most of their time working out their machine, and then set up the machine backwards... and then watch it (probably fail.)

Insist that it go through at least three “stages”. It is possible to have ropes or rocks that can be erased in real time to make different parts start.

* * * * *


So, in summary, I think this is a great opportunity to apply game-based learning to the classroom with limited resources... there is no need for internet connection in class, and with three laptops it would be possible to serve a 30 student class. Notwithstanding... if there is a possiblity to have 3 projectors and make three wii whiteboards for that class it is well worth the effort to do so.

The teacher can gather interesting emergent language, encourage students, or correct those nasty workbook entries accumulating at their desk...

domingo, 17 de octubre de 2010

English vowels for Spanish Speakers

Sounds are not often taught, and phonetics is a bugbear and source of fear amoung non-NESTS... but it is easy to do, and fun to do so. The vowels can be taught in under 15 minutes using the chart... so I hope this will be as useful for your students as it has been for mine.

Pitter patter, let's get at her.
I love pronunciation and I love hobbits.

Adrian Underhill is not a member of the Underhill family of hobbits, but his Phonemic Chart is a very useful, and enduring tool for learning sounds for anyone who has fossilized the phonemes (meaningful sounds) they hear. It is somewhat intimidating until you become familiar with it. (Macmillan has graciously put a lecture on youtube, which you can see here.)

It is:
-a map for your tongue.
-a means connecting voiced and unvoiced sounds
-a means of “seeing” sound

It is also possible to connect Language 1 sounds with English. As I am in a Castillian Spanish atmosphere, something that the Spanish have difficulty with at a phonetic level is vowels.

As a (mostly) phonetic language, they have 5 vowels that correlate like this:

a → æ ʌ ɑ:
i → i: ɪ
o → ɒ ɔ:
u → ʊ u:
e → e

They don't have weak form (schwa), so ə and ɜ: are totally foreign.
The quality of the vowels are different.

English goes louder: eeeee
Spanish goes softer: eeeee

Of course, phonetic symbols are frightening and confusing out of context, and our job is not to bring unnecessary complication into the classroom. So... how do we look at this effectively?

In walks Mr. Underhill's chart. Or at least part of it... the vowels.

here I put words, (training wheels, really) to contextualize the sounds. (I also mention that as a Canadian, I don't use a lot of /ɜ:/ )

I then teach the quick hacks, /i/, and /u/ (If I want to feel clever, I can mention that we use the Spanish sound /i/ at the end of words after L sounds, but I don't think it helps anyone. )

The hacks: (and convenient lies) for the Spanish: shorten the sound in /ɪ/ and /ʊ/, lengthen the sounds with colons (/i:/ and /u:/) , gesturing the time with hands. (or cigar boxes like in the video from my show at the end of the post.)

Then show the REAL sound by having them do a tongue slide from front /i:/ to /u:/ .
Tongue starts at front, slides back slowly, while lips go from "smiling" to "kissing". (you can probably ignore the lips, as they will naturally close as the tongue goes back if your students are thinking of their u sound.)

/e/ being the same, go on to /a/, which is a tongue slide from /æ/ → /ʌ/ → /ɑ:/ on the bottom of your mouth.

/o/ is going up and down from /ɒ/ and /ɔ:/

(Weak form is perhaps best seen on the Adrian Underhill video.) I have them make the sound that zombies make, (uhhhhhhh...) and change length. I point out that schwas are 30% of all vowels used, and that they are never stressed. Zombies don't yell.

Underhill points out that while many coursebooks teach one sound today, another tomorrow, it is when they are together that they all sort each other out. Have the class follow your finger around the chart while making the sounds... it is fun, and they can suddenly make precise sounds they may not be even able to hear yet.

If the phonemic chart doesn't interest you there is always phonetics through juggling like in my show, "Perception and Deception".

Un numero completo (teatro en inglés)
Cargado por mattledding. - Mira más vídeos divertidos.

lunes, 11 de octubre de 2010

George Macdonald on imagination in education.

The trend in the United States, which is slowly worming its way into Spain is to demand teacher accountability via standardized tests. Focusing too much on and offering teacher compensation (or "spanking teachers") based on the results of standardized tests means that we will attempt to produce standardized students that can write these tests, not independent thinkers that can solve higher level problems outside of the curriculum.

Students will be written by tests.

To see the focus of today on standardized tests, content based courses, and expensive inventions which supposedly "spark the imagination", but rather facilitate attention to "empty vessel" content-centered teaching makes me feel that imagination needs a defender much more capable than myself.

George Macdonald, (10 Dec, 1824 - 18 Sept, 1905) wrote fairytales and novels for "children and the childlike". He is not a terribly well known writer today, but is the source of many great writers. He inspired writers such as Tolkien, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and his contemporary friend, Mark Twain. His "The Light Princess" is an excellent fairytale that can be used as teaching material (I believe Macmillan sells a reader, although the story can be downloaded freely.)

Mr. Macdonald has an excellent defense, in his "A Dish of Orts" available, at no cost, in Project Gutenberg. (Project Gutenberg is in itself an excellent defense for the accusation that internet is killing reading. It is a 24/7 omnipresent library where we can carry extensive libraries of books that have stood the test of time, and bring them with us in laptops, ebooks, and smartphones.) While his Christian viewpoint throughout the book may not be terribly popular with everyone today (nor was it probably in his time, as Macdonald attacked hypocrisy within the church of his day, throughout all his work.) there are messages here that ring true and clear no matter what your spiritual beliefs are.

* * * * *
following excerpts from A DISH OF ORTS  BY GEORGE MACDONALD. EDENBRIDGE, KENT. August 5, 1893. 
* * * * *

Those who would quell the apparently lawless tossing of the spirit, called the youthful imagination, would suppress all that is to grow out of it. They fear the enthusiasm they never felt; and instead of cherishing this divine thing, instead of giving it room and air for healthful growth, they would crush and confine it--with but one result of their victorious endeavours-- imposthume, fever, and corruption. And the disastrous consequences would soon appear in the intellect likewise which they worship. Kill that whence spring the crude fancies and wild day-dreams of the young, and you will never lead them beyond dull facts--dull because their relations to each other, and the one life that works in them all, must remain undiscovered. Whoever would have his children avoid this arid region will do well to allow no teacher to approach them--not even of mathematics--who has no imagination.
(...and a little bit later...)

For, if the whole power of pedantry should rise against her, the imagination will yet work; and if not for good, then for evil; if not for truth, then for falsehood; if not for life, then for death; the evil alternative becoming the more likely from the unnatural treatment she has experienced from those who ought to have fostered her.

The power that might have gone forth in conceiving the noblest forms of action, in realizing the lives of the true-hearted, the self-forgetting, will go forth in building airy castles of vain ambition, of boundless riches, of unearned admiration. The imagination that might be devising how to make home blessed or to help the poor neighbour, will be absorbed in the invention of the new dress, or worse, in devising the means of procuring it. For, if she be not occupied with the beautiful, she will be occupied by the pleasant; that which goes not out to worship, will remain at home to be sensual. Cultivate the mere intellect as you may, it will never reduce the passions: the imagination, seeking the ideal in everything, will elevate them to their true and noble service. Seek not that your sons and your daughters should not see visions, should not dream dreams; seek that they should see true visions, that they should dream noble dreams.
* * * * *
The Victorian novelist is not outdated today: we are in a new Victorian age, where information and access to it is plentiful. Anyone with an ability to read and imagine today can eventually make or push advances in uncountable areas, the same way that a high school graduate could make scientific advances then. With so many new intellectual and creative frontiers opening up, there is room for all to make their mark, if they so choose.

We have to allow children not only to solve problems, but to find the problems themselves.

We have to allow children to be productive individuals, not mere bubble test consumers.
We have to allow children to see true visions, and dream noble dreams.

miércoles, 28 de abril de 2010

Delsarte's approval... in defense of (some) 19th century teaching.

In the StacksImage by Crossett Library via Flickr

While Sir Ken Robertson claims in his excellent video that we have spent the 20th century perfecting 19th century teaching, and it is time for 21st century teaching... many ideas, and the line rings true, but my "I dunno..." instinct alarm also starts ringing. Maybe teaching is evolving through several entities, and that we need to reclaim some good lost ideas that got ignored.

An educational model with which I find few people to chat about is by Francois Delsarte (November 11, 1811 – July 20, 1871), a French theatre/music teacher/theoretician who was largely discredited because of how people used his theories without understanding them, and as he only left fragments of his own work, which one has to mine through to get the gems.

A product of his time and background, he was profoundly influenced by his Catholic background... the charts he penned classifying types of angels are less useful than his other theoretical work.

He is directly responsible for what is called modern dance in America, modern mime, and much understanding of the meaning of human gesture. He was given the highest honour in France for his discovery that our thumb curls in when we die, allowing soldiers to separate their dead and wounded at a glance, saving lives. (as many lives as medicine at that time could save... Stephen Leacock suggested that medical training used to consist of one semester of school and a summer at the sawmill.)

In creating artists, he suggested that there are three stages:

1. imitation of existing art (learn technique)
2. improvement on existing art (use technique creatively)
3. creating new art (make technique, which others can now imitate...)

(Notice how this correlates with Steven Covey's "Dependant, Independant, Interdependant" progression, but over 125 years ago?)

I think that today's focus on standard based (which is nonetheless an improvement from norm-referencing bell curves) could be a way of remaining eternally in the dry first step, and not becoming autonomous (step 2) or innovators (step 3).

My experience at l'école nationale de cirque de Montréal helped me understand this process better, which I think is applicable to any educational system. It focused on enabling me to learn, adapt and create, and I am a better learner (and, hopefully, teacher) for it.

Bloom's taxonomy is useful as a roadmap, and I think it combines with Delsarte's principle beautifully to focus on creating autonomy and empowering students.

While technique is important, in times of rapid change, we need to get past the first stage of imitation, parroting, or we will not be able to adapt to changes, or create solutions fast enough. Rote memorization for itself teaches students a useless task... if they can look up an answer on wikipedia, why do they need to memorize it? (To practice memory there are many useful courses that we don't use, which would be more adequate) An excellent blog post on choosing questions is John Sowash's

"Google-Proof Questioning: A New Use for Bloom's Taxonomy". (this is a link. please click it if you haven't read it.)

So today's settings, where we spank or applaud teachers and students for metrics, scare me: metrics are dreadfully easy to abuse or twist, because a description of reality is not reality. Metrics that are accurate and useful descriptions would have to be much more complicated than google's search algorithm, and would also have to have measures to look for cheating attempts and punish them like PageRank... yet it would have to be unintrusive, and not require constant stopping for reporting. It would have to respect privacy while requiring incredible amounts of information.

In short, we don't have a system ready to implement... yet. And such a vast responsibility deserves more than a half-vast attempt.

Metrics are useful in a large scale environment, but teaching happens in a small scale environment. (the smaller the class, the better in my opinion ESPECIALLY for new teachers... wouldn't a 8 child class of difficult children be an excellent first year job/trial by fire that would lighten the load on regular classes? Send flames below...)

If we want to look at expensive metrics, Bill Gates' foundation (the most influential in the US, and as tweeted, have paid Participant Media, $,2,000,000 for 7 months of promoting a funny little film called, "Waiting for Superman"... heard of it?) says the number one factor is the teacher, (see ted video here) that a teacher is born, and more credentials or seniority does not make a better teacher than a less educated one. He talks about KIP (knowledge is power) ed theory, which he claims is creating high quality engaged teachers and students. They suggest rewarding the best teachers (top quartile) with better payment because, as we all know, teachers are clearly in it for the money. (Jokes aside, Daniel Pink's video on ted gives an indirect response on payment as motivation...) Gates also talks about integrating non-teacher trained teachers with "real life experience", an interesting concept, and not giving tenure for the first 2 years.

This seems like, in business, the "up or out" model. It is good for making money. Don't know if it is good for making autonomous and creative students. A hunch says the US is going to let us know in a few years.

Nonetheless, what goes past without my gut feeling getting antsy is what is described in another blog by David Finkle who is an excellent American cartoonist and a teacher who seems greatly enjoyable, compares whole food with whole education. Would he have Delsarte's approval as a level 3 artist?

miércoles, 17 de marzo de 2010


TESOL was brilliant... lots of things that I saw were really practical, things that teachers could bring into class the Monday after the convention. Met Steve Starry of, and a lot of people interested in making cool things happen.

There were some great workshops with speakers: like...

Elaine Gallagher: talked about CLIL, Bloom´s taxonomy, and gave candy for good answers. What energy... exactly the teacher you would want your child to have.

Micheal O'Brian: I thought AR was "augmented reality" not "action research" but despite the fact that my inner geek was whining, the Action Research workshop was interesting and worth staying for.

Elspeth Pollock: Personalizing technology was an interesting workshop on using tech tools to make personalized classes. The neat thing in tech workshops is how people whip off urls for different tools.

Charles Goodger's workshop on action songs got oversold to me by someone, it wasn't that it was bad, just that it wasn't as dead killer as the "ad" I got for it was. (With the help of "Band in a Box", I think I could do similar songs... by next month I hope to convert Swans Practical Grammar into 45 country music albums.)

Graham Stanley (you can read his blog at )My head got stretched a tad entertaining the concept of 2nd life language teaching, aside from the fact that Mr. Stanley is exactly the kind of person I enjoy hanging out with. Graham and I were mutually following each other on Twitter and it was nice to meet each other F2F. (He also re-tweeted the esssentials of my conference talk, and I felt like a celebrity...)

Graham talks briefly of the British Council Island in this video:

Talking with him also brought up a topic that is very web 2.0: what to do when you run into a troll that spams about your hashtag and can put your state funded project in jeopardy? (negativity can threaten grants for renewal, or just "street creds".) While it hasn't happened to me (that I know of) yet... one's competition could easily flame anyone throughout the net, and affect ones credibility. What can you do? (any ideas?)

Jamie Keddie, of did two workshops that were excellent as usual, and I missed a "Theatre of the oppressed" workshop to see one. Not just those "Robbie Williams" good looks, he always gives practical ideas...

looking for a Jamie Keddie video with him in it, I found him entering my "magic show territory":
(Jamie, if you want me to take this off, I will!)
I thought it was dead cool for teachers to learn.

Russell Stannard did a workshop, and I missed Elena Bañares' moodle workshop to see it. It was good, and many good ideas that are directly usable came out.

Then I did mine on Making your own Interactive whiteboard. I was all over the place, but the audience was there with me, so big fun... we got the basic ideas covered, and I think that there will be some whiteboards made.

Paul Seligson who has another youtube series on classroom management. Paul wrote "English File", and did a great workshop on "the four skills." I found some videos on classroom management, (from a conference in Brazil) so I thought I'd put them up here to give everyone a taste of Paul...

It would be really great to have a TESOL Spain youtube channel. (hint, hint.)

Next year the conference will be in Madrid... English Teachers, come!

miércoles, 10 de marzo de 2010

Five ways to respect your high school audience.

Hieronymus Bosch: The Conjurer, 1475-1480.Image via Wikipedia

I work in the corporate market as well as for schools, but I am focusing most of my energy on the school market.

There are few magicians who will do magic for high schools, let alone magic in English. It is a more difficult and lower paying market than tipsy executives, but it is a brutally honest public that will eat you if you are boring, arrogant, or just plain bad. It is a market that makes you work.

Work at what?
I work hard at treating them with respect, which for me means:

1. Don't insult their intelligence.. or yours.

You can PRETEND (en inglés pretend es "haz como" no "try") to insult your audience. You can PRETEND to insult their intelligence. But if you really do talk down to them, they will destroy you. If you make a show that sets up an ego conflict, or puts you up as a superstar, you should know that they are genetically designed to go for your jugular. I also try to avoid easy humour (sex, ca-ca/pee-pee humour) which allows me to do adult shows for EOI, or native English teachers and above all, be natural and consistant with who I am.

By knowing what kind of laughs I want, I don't get lazy and do a MAQ (minimal acceptable quality) show.

Minimal Acceptable Quality is an actual business strategy that means you do get an "acceptable" product which is easy to reproduce. You can make a new one with minimal effort after customers consume the first product. Hardly a noble undertaking... but apparently it is the most profitable. (¿Big MAQ?)

2. A magician has to surprise.

Nobody knows what will happen next because they haven't seen my tricks before. (I write, rather than buy, my routines, building them around objectives, or using routines that are open to various objectives. (Magicians will hate me for this if they don't see me... it is seen as a type of selling out, but I don't think I do.)

It also means that I can't do obvious things everyone knows will happen even if they haven't seen it before. As they say in commedia del arte, you have to be a little bit "dangerous" in the sense that anything can happen... and then deliver by making crazy things happen.

A surreal situation is a memorable one.

3. No card tricks.

Enough said.

4. I take everything about the performance seriously... except for me.

Stanislavski said "love the art in you, not YOU in the art."

That means removing good ideas that don't fit the show.
That means looking at goals and seeing the audience as being more important than my ego.
That means being able to laugh at myself, and being flexible onstage, to be able to listen to what is happening... and enjoy it.
Know your goals, but recognize new priorities when they suddenly surface in "teachable moments" (Was it Scrivener who said "Plan for the teacher, teach for the students"?)

5. Take risks...

Allow the volunteers to be thenselves and to play. LISTEN TO THEM. Give them space, and focus when you can.

I often take kids that are problem-makers in class, who never speak English ( If I had a dollar for every time I heard "¡Has eligido lo más macarro de todos!").
I don't often have problems. (It´s all about psychology: a mixture of respect and high expectations... although "control" must be mastered,(it is dreadfully easy to get someone to hold a rope if you push them in the water first...) but when they are active participants, very exciting things happen.

Giving away control is a beautiful risk that the audience recognizes and respects. (You can always "throw them in the water" later if you need to get back on track as long as you have built a good structure to go in and out of.)

Catalan clown/super-genius Leandre Ribera said when you take a risk on stage, you never lose... even if it doesn't work out, what you learn from it makes it worth it.
The confidence that this gives YOU allows the volunteers to take risks too... and if you do your job, they never lose either.

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lunes, 14 de diciembre de 2009

Twitter is useful. Click on photos to learn...

Here is my PLN, and people who I follow on twitter. Twitter is a good way of having a portable workshop and of sharing ideas and "discoveries" with people who have the same interests.