Prezi, and Steve the Skydiver: how to analyse poetry

I’ve discovered Prezi, a new way of creating presentations that appear more interactive and, well, ‘swishy’.

It’s not that much different from Powerpoint, despite it wanting to be, but it’s very user-friendly and, for teachers like me, there are already lots of ‘prezis’ on the short stories and poems that make up some of my taught courses, all done by students, demonstrating both their understanding and the platform’s usability.

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Replacing the Teacher(‘s voice)

One. that’s all it takes. One cheeky New Year’s Eve cigar (well I’ve got to have *some* fun) and the consequences are pretty disastrous: laid out for a week with tonsillitis, the exact week you’ve planned to do all that marking and planning that piled up last term in fact; slipping into the jetlagged time stream of the insomniac by waking up every five minutes hacking and coughing and hot-flushing and cold-sweating, so much so you think you’ll sleep through the first-day-back-at-work-alarm; and then you lose your voice on the first day…

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Backstage Pass: assistant-directing the school play

I’ve just completed a week as Assistant Director on the school play, this year the 40s/50s-set musical, ‘Guys and Dolls’.

Backstage
Backstage

In a theatre, this means taking extra rehearsals, doing the Director’s admin, corralling the cast and crew, and liaising with technical staff to work out how to both make this an excellent production and keep the director happy.

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Cover#4: Adelaide’s Pop Psychology from ‘Guys and Dolls’

Our school play (musical) is ‘Guys and Dolls’, which is a darling of a show with incredibly upbeat numbers and period styling as it’s set in the 50s, and is one I produced back at University … unfortunately in the days just before social media and digital cameras.
One of the two pairs of romantic leads is Adelaide, the ‘comedy’ female lead. She has a brilliant number called, rather unimaginitively, ‘Adelaide’s Lament’, where she is reading a pop psychology book that explains that her constant cold is actually a psychosomatic response to having been engaged for fourteen years but not actually getting anywhere near the altar. This is clearly a sore point for her, despite her comically chirpy outlook, as she’s already written to her mother about her five kids and her husband’s promotion. The lyrics are a delight: here’s a version of it (at 6.18) with the scene leading up to it beforehand…

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How to make an ‘old book’ cover for your Kindle (or, a guide to how to accept a Kindle into your heart)

I am reblogging this old post from my old blog, http://booknewsatblackboardfiction.wordpress.com (yes, what a huge mouthful, and how content-specific, hence this new blog), which I originally posted on 26th December 2011 – Boxing Day. This was a delightful Boxing Day pursuit, as you will see. I thought it best to move it seeing as people keep asking me for it, and it’s far too time consuming to give them the old blog address 😉

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So… I got a Kindle for Christmas. My darling and savvy other half decided that, as I’m in the business, you know, actually publishing for Kindle, I should actually have one.

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Busy June 5: online English course design

One of the gifs for ‘The Adventurer’s Guide’ – see end of post

5) course design. For the distance learning organisation I work for, I am in the process of updating the Literature IGCSE and A-Levels that are run, due to changes in the texts studied. With an update of the online platform we use to one that supports more media features, I’m starting to think outside the written page and move toward designing additional resources that are audio, and perhaps visually, based.

For students that are independent learners, support needs to come from all angles for the student to be sufficiently ‘buoyant’. Also, with my move to full-time teaching and my increase in online students, I need to minimise the reliance they feel towards me as my ability to answer their emails becomes less. Audio resources of ‘their master’s voice’ for example could help, with explanations of the other resources, or extra detail that makes them feel like someone is reading the text resources with them. I also have some differently-abled students that would benefit from a different approach to make their learning process smoother.

The other advantage perhaps of visual aids is their ability to go viral – memes, infographics, posters. Combining the audio and visual in a youtube or vimeo video clip could also be an option, although I’m not exactly photogenic for that purpose (when we use Skype, I look a lot like a pink balloon) . I’ll certainly document any interesting findings in the process of making these on here, as it’s my job for the next two weeks.

I’m also meant to be starting to design a creative writing course. Now *that* should be fun. I did a basic, children-oriented one last year, called ‘The Adventurer’s Guide’, as a preliminary project. It was a weekly email-based course that I then archived for later use, and which can still be found at Blackboard Fiction – go here and find the passage behind the bookshelf, or just be boring and click this link: http://www.blackboardfiction.com/theadventurersguide

Busy June 4: prop making

For our school play, which I didn’t get to see because I was ill, I made some props. This was a nice hands-on and hands-dirty project and a bit of a change. I used to make all the props for the plays I produced at college, and I’ve been making odds and sods for school whenever there’s something random we need for a show.

We needed: a pile of pretty cupcakes, a pile of rotten cupcakes, and a cleaver. Everything below was made with things findable in either the pound store or my classroom.

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Pound shop purchases
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Voila – a pile of yummy cupcakes!
Beware though, as the sign says these are full of skewers to keep them together, including the cherries. DO NOT EAT.
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YEUCH! Ugly, mouldy cupcakes.
Effects created with pieces of green scourer, green marker, and tea granules from a ripped teabag, which was surprisingly effective on stage. No one wanted to eat these, even without the skewers.
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Step one: buy a cheap dustpan…
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Step 36, finish covering with layers of tinfoil having cut in half and folded over to make vaguely ‘cleaver’ shape (had to be strong enough to split pieces of velcro that were keeping a teddy’s limbs on, appearing to dismember said teddy. I’m not sure why.)
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And here’s our finished props table. Obviously, stuff we made earlier…

Busy June 3: being ill (again)

3) Being ill. No, I’m not going to write about that really, but I am convinced that my out-of-character ill health *just might* have something to do with the 4.30am starts, 4-hour roundabout commutes, sitting on a cold platform at Clapham when they can’t be arsed to open the waiting room doors at the right time, then working til midnight most days and eating…well, you work out what kind of diet is manageable on that schedule.

Funnily enough, science apparently agrees with me. Tiredness now leads to obesity (I’ve definitely gone up a dress size) and lack of sleep and good food leads to lowered immune systems. Despite the fact that I trekked through Morocco with 15 students in April, my body’s a right old mess.

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That’s right, this was me only three months ago. *sigh*

Luckily, my commute is over: from next year, I’m full-time teaching, which means I’m moving from London to Portsmouth. I’m incredibly excited about this, as it means I get views like this at the end of my road:

The Warrior
The Warrior, and one of the many excellent sunsets, at the bottom of my road.
Sally Port
Sally Port, Spice Island: the best place to get a pint of cider and some fish and chips and wave at boats.

I know this to be true: I took these when I last lived there. Hurrah!

The only problem now I have is managing my workload, but I’m sure I’ll think of something…

Busy June 1: exam marking

June was busy with exam marking, more exam marking, website design, being ill (again), prop making and course design.

1) Exam marking. I can’t really comment on this in detail, but it has certainly given me food for thought. I always write down the funniest responses from students – generally things that are amusing because of a misspelling or double entendre that clearly wasn’t intended, or things that are downright silly (and no, I can’t show you…oh, ok then, here’s my favourite: ‘The author uses language as an element of the text’. Genius. Sorry, that’s all you’re getting.) However, really the issue that comes out of it is how many students clearly don’t actually read any more, and this is plain obvious from the amount of simple phonetic misspellings that you come across as an examiner. Obviously, at some point in the student’s school career a teacher will have marked these wrong and offered a correction to be learned, but students never really pay attention to marked work unless they’re actually the conscientious sort – or their teacher is and plans time in lesson for competent reflection on marking – and you tend to find that…and here I’m going to make a pretty sweeping generalisation but it doesn’t stop it being true…the conscientious ones are the ones who read. Let me put it this way: the better the work, the fewer the spellings. It also translates as: the more study of the subject matter done, ie: reading, the better the level of response due to understanding and proficiency.

So, of course, I’ve started another new blog. This one I can’t believe I didn’t start aaaaaaages ago, as it’s a pretty simple concept: writing tips. You can find it here: http://bbfenglishtips.wordpress.com/

Content: I’ve given some thought to making this as student-friendly as possible, and come up with subtitles and snippets. The title highlights the problem or error, then a QUICK FIX is offered to sort it out, often using a mnemonic or rhyme to learn. To aid memory and pique interest, then a LONGER REASON is given – students remember better if they are given a reason for something. Then, if necessary, a NOTE is offered to explain any inconsistencies in the rules (as there normally are in English!). I’ve also done a selection of posts on the most misspelled words and ‘why you’re getting them wrong’: reasons so far include ‘phonetics’, guesswork’, and ‘watching ‘Neighbours’.

Design: I use bold and colours to separate worded sections, keeping this consistent as possible as many students (including myself) simply find a use of colour makes information easier to take in. The background and header are consistent with the Blackboard Fiction website, to continue a kind of ‘brand’ identity (Oh Lordy, I’m a Brand).  I’m also  trying to include pictures to liven it up a bit too, including memes, because they’re a hell of a lot of fun and mostly pretty intelligent.

Its already started to go down pretty well, and I’ve had a few teachers contact me asking for specific topics to be covered so they can set it as homework for their students (if that doesn’t force me to be consistent in posting, nothing will!) which is very encouraging, as it’s well known that while teachers telling students that they’re wrong and offering them a correction isn’t at all as interesting as them being set ‘look at a website’ for homework 😉 Yay Independent Learning !

Teaching Prometheus

As a Classical Civilisation teacher, I abhor nearly all of the recent slew of ‘based on’ films that lazily grab names and deeds from Greek myths and make an action-hero film out of them: Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (also the students say the book is better), and, most of all, The Immortals – a film that is now famous among my students due to the way that saying those two words makes my eyes roll skygod-wise. (We took some ex-students to see it. I think we really annoyed the rest of the cinema by laughing, really really hard. What utter nonsense. It reminded me more of those weird Boddingtons adverts from the 90s than any actual Greek myths.)

In a recent lesson, I wanted to prove that myths could be used intelligently to inform storytelling and the language of film by providing a subtext that enhanced the narrative. I used the example of Prometheus by Ridley Scott.

Now, Prometheus isn’t actually out yet, and won’t be until 8th June 2012. However, the film franchise of Alien, to which it is the prequel, already informs us of much that we need to know to understand what Prometheus might be about. Also, the Prometheus camp have created some really interesting viral advertising videos to accompany the trailer, all of which have the central theme of the myth of Prometheus at their center.

The powerpoint for the lesson is located here for download and perusal. It is meant to inspire discussion, and I’ve included my students’ responses. I’ve put the slides from the powerpoint below, although you’ll need the actual powerpoint for the links to the media (0r you can look them up yourself on youtube using the handy visual cues.)

NOTE: my students have no clue about film, so the beginning about Alien is a bit didactic.

I own no copyright on the pictures used in this powerpoint, which are purely there for illustration of the ideas within.

Can you add to the discussion? Do you have any questions? I’d welcome comments…