Manicure Monday

Manicure Monday

Scientist Hijacks Seventeen Magazine’s #ManicureMonday hashtag on Twitter.

At the beginning of each week, Seventeen magazine encourages women and girls to tweet pictures of their done-up fingernails under #ManicureMonday. But if you searched the hashtag yesterday in hopes of finding some bedazzled inspiration, you were in for quite a surprise. Seemingly all at once, scientists hijacked #ManicureMonday with their own images of fingernails interacting with ghost crabs, keyboards, shark bait, and coyote scat….

Hope Jahren is the scientist who single-handedly orchestrated the coup. Jahren works as an isotope geochemist and laboratory scientist studying photosynthesis at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She got the idea a week ago when autocomplete suggested she tweet something under the #ManicureMonday tag. Once she figured out what the French tip that was, she hatched a plan to hijack the hashtag.

Seventeen magazine has 700,000 followers,” said Jahren, “and it’s my dream they’ll retweet one of these images to show their followers, presumably a lot of girls, that it’s about what their hands do—not about how they look.”

Using Haiku Deck as a Visual Flashcard Generator

Next year, I want to try out a project that involves students using the iOS app Haiku Deck to collaborate on a set of visual flashcards. Haiku Deck is presentation software that makes very quick, very beautiful Keynote-style presentation slides. One key element that is amazing is it searches the text of the slide for related high-quality Creative Commons-licensed images. Here’s one that I made for a professional development session with my colleagues:

Haiku Deck-generated slide with text DIFFERENTIATION THE IPAD GIVES STUDENTS FLEXIBILITY AND CHOICE (original photo here)

Please note the small banner at the bottom of the slide that includes the Creative Commons license and the source of the picture.

Here’s my vision of the project. A student is assigned something: a Latin word, a phrase, a concept. The student then uses Haiku Deck to make two slides. The first is the “front” of the flashcard: it has the Latin word or phrase. The second is the “back” of the flashcard, and it has the Latin as well as the English translation or explanation. The student then shares her slides with the class. Ideally, each classmate would be assigned a different word or phrase, which allows the entire class to split the labor of a long list.

Here’s my example:

Carpe Diem slide (original photo here)

Carpe Diem Seize the Day Slide (original photo here)

I like Haiku Deck for two reasons: it is very simple, and it only searches through Creative Commons-licensed images.

Here are my (potential) problems with what I want to do.

1. Haiku Deck makes lovely images, but I want students to have a single image with the Creative Commons license included. To do this, the current workflow is to make a slidedeck, share it to myself as a presentation that I then email to myself, open in Keynote, play fullscreen, and then screenshot each slide. After I share my presentation to the web, I visit the Haiku Deck website to copy the original photo URL for citation. That is far too many steps for students; maybe Haiku Deck will consider simplifying this someday.

2. I haven’t figured out the best image repository for the students. It needs to be a place that everyone can easily upload to, and everyone can easily pull into their own photo albums. If all my students were over 13, I’d just have them post to a Flickr group, or maybe to Pinterest. But I teach middle school students, so I have to find another solution.

I like this format because it could be used for anything: student-generated study-guide questions and answers; student-written Latin sentences that show vocabulary in context (first slide = vocab word; second slide = sentence using the vocab word). I came up with this as a way to get students to interact with Latin phrases like carpe diem or tabula rasa, but it seems like something that could potentially be expanded into a number of different directions, if I can just figure out how to simplify the workflow.

[[UPDATED TO ADD: The Haiku Deck blog has a very helpful post on tips for classroom use. I hadn’t considered using a single email to create a classroom Haiku Deck account that all the kids use. Might make it easier!.]]

The Twitter Twacker

This year one of my goals has been to increase the amount of writing in Latin that my students do. I wanted to do this in an authentic way without taking up too much time of either the students or myself. Inspired by a picture that I saw online, I’ve come up with a basic procedure that has been working well for me. I call it the Twitter Twacker.

I begin by having everyone say the phrase “Twitter Tracker” three times as fast as they can. It’s impossible to pronounce this normally; instead we all end up sounding like Elmer Fudd; because we’re in Latin class, I prefer to think of us as sounding like good ol’ Emperor Claudius (of I, Claudius fame). The Twitter Twacker is a poster that I adhere to the whiteboard. Each student writes a sentence on a post-it and then “tweets” by sticking the post-it onto the board.

pic three Twitter Twacker boards

This gives me a quick formative assessment of whatever grammatical concept we are working on as a class. The students enjoy it because they can be creative. I ask them to write their name in the Twitter convention, using the @ symbol. Some students want to also use hashtags.

pic single tweet with three funny hashtags

Some draw pictures that illustrate the sentences, or even draw their own “avatar”.

four tweets with pictures

Some imitate the Twitter user experience by including the timestamp or other metadata.

single tweet with handwritten metadata tweeted at 3:16, favorites: 104, followers: 8000

I’ve found that my students really enjoy the opportunity to “tweet” in class in this manner. Since we are not actually broadcasting online, they don’t have a fear that an unknown public is seeing their content or judging their mistakes. The tactile nature of writing the sentence and then sticking it onto a poster is somehow very comforting to them. And because the size of the post-it only realistically allows a single Latin sentence, possibly paired with an English translation, the task does not feel cumbersome to them.

I’ve found that my students love this activity, and they appreciate the fact that their poster hangs in my room alongside those made by students in other grades. I love it because I’ve stumbled across a method to get my students eager to write Latin sentences quickly and often.

Old Time Radio

I’m a big fan of Old Time Radio (OTR). It started when I was a kid, with my parents allowing me to listen to an episode or two of CBS Mystery Theater late at night. Later, I discovered OTR cassettes, and then CDs, in the audiobooks section of my favorite bookstores. Now I’m happy that I can subscribe to a few OTR podcasts for free. I especially like to listen to OTR on my commute, on long car rides, and even on my iPhone when I’m at the dentist.

For the past several years, I’ve been teaching a theater arts class in addition to Latin. I’ve accumulated a number of Old Time Radio episodes that I like to pull out from time to time. Radio drama works well in the classroom because the stories are short enough to play in a single 40-minute class; because 99% of my students have never heard one; and because the best of them are more powerful than you’d think a 70-year-old form of drama ought to be.

Today I tried a new lesson, and I was pretty happy with it. It started with a recent episode of Relic Radio’s The Horror podcast: Episode 455: “Little Old Lady” by Lights Out.

Here’s what I did.

I set the scene for the students: we have two characters at the beginning. Alice is calm and reassuring, while Mona is excitable and argumentative. We meet them in the car, driving on break from college to go to visit Alice’s Aunt Harriet, who hasn’t seen Alice in a decade. Then I started the recording, asking the students to focus on how each character is revealed through dialogue.

I paused the recording shortly after the car got a flat tire on the lonely unpaved road to Aunt Harriet’s house. Alice decides that it won’t matter if they just leave the car on the road, and they grab their bags (after some grumbling from Mona) and start walking. Alice stops, noticing the sudden darkness and some odd mist that “looks like thin white fingers”. Mona reminds Alice that there’s a scientific explanation for everything, if Alice would just remember from their classes at school.

When I paused the recording, we had a quick discussion about their characters. We talked in particular why it made sense for calm Alice to be the one concerned about the darkness and the mist; as one student says: if it were Mona, it would just be one more thing for her to complain about.

I started the recording up again as Aunt Harriet’s house looms into view. Mona is impatient about Alice’s timid knocking, so she takes over. She begins to get exasperated, when finally the door slowly creaks open. We hear a hesitant voice: “Yes? Who’s there? Who is it?” After a bit of back-and-forth, Aunt Harriet recognizes Alice and invites them both in. Harriet brings them to a room, but quickly leaves to fetch some tea. While she’s gone, Mona is surprised that Harriet doesn’t pepper them with questions about school.

That’s when Alice stops Mona short: she sees something moving in a dark corner of the room. We hear the low sound of a very large animal. At first, Mona thinks it’s a dog, then realizes it must be a cat. But, Alice points out, it’s much to large to be a housecat. It’s the size of a tiger. Aunt Harriet bustles in with the tea service. When Alice starts to question her about the animal, Aunt Harriet’s tone immediately shifts. She is no longer the kindly old lady; she becomes sharp-tongued, and refuses to directly answer Alice’s questions.

This is where I stopped the recording. I had my students write for a few minutes about how they would continue the story. I told them to focus on the characterizations of Alice, Mona and the newly-secretive Aunt Harriet. After a few minutes of writing, I put out another challenge: how would they continue the story if it had to have a happy ending (or, at least, a non-horrible ending). Remember the car on the road, I said: what if someone found the car and went to investigate? I asked the students to include a description of what sound effects they would need to finish the story.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a group of students who were so eager to share their stories as this group was. Some were gruesome (the tiger ate Alice and Mona!), some were romantic (the tiger turned out to be Mona’s boyfriend!), some were Halloween-y (the tiger was Alice’s long-lost Uncle, under a spell from Aunt Harriet the witch!), some were prosaic (Alice and Mona ran away!). By staying active as the story unreeled, I helped keep the attention of even my sleepiest students — the class was first period — and got them engaged. It also helped that this story has a relatively intriguing opening, but a not-very-interesting conclusion.

Our next lesson will be for the students to write their own script with sound effects, which will eventually be recorded in GarageBand.

Using the iPad in Class

As a Latin teacher, my number one priority is to get students reading as much Latin as possible. We read in our textbook, we read out loud together, they listen to me, they listen to audiostories, they watch videos, they watch presentations. Variety is key.

In one of my classes today, I wanted us to read a story quickly without worrying about the grammar or new vocabulary. I figured out a new(-to-me) technique that went well. Even my most distractable students told me how much they enjoyed the lesson.

Here’s what I did:

Before class, I had already created a PDF of the story that I wanted the class to read. I transferred that file to my iPad, and opened it in an app called Notability. (Notability is a note-taking app that, among other things, lets you read and annotate PDFs.) I also used my whiteboard to write out the new Latin words with definitions. My goal today was COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT, so I wanted to make the language as accessible as possible to all of my students.


In class, I mirrored my iPad to my projector, and opened the PDF of the story in Notability. (I use Apple TV, but I could have connected the device to the projector cables if I wanted.) I briefly set the scene for the story, and then we were off.

As we read the story, I turned on Notability’s highlighter tool, and then slowly dragged my stylus over the words we were reading. We discussed what we were reading, and paraphrased what was going on. If students looked down at their notes, they were quickly able to figure out where we were the next time they looked up at the screen because of the highlighted text. When I was ready to move on, I hit the “undo” button to erase the current highlighted section, making the page ready for the next bit of highlighting action.


After about three sentences, something happened that I should have anticipated: one student asked if she could highlight the next sentence on my iPad. Of course I agreed. While she highlighted the Latin, I was able to call on other students to read and tell us what was going on. My students were surprisingly polite in the way they asked if they could be the next person to highlight. Everyone who wanted to participate got the opportunity to, while everyone else could enjoy the process.

Because I teach middle school, it was perhaps natural that a couple of the students quietly (and discreetly) drew happy faces or hearts with the highlighter tool after finishing a sentence. But no one was disruptive, and everything was erased when the next student hit the “undo” button. Some of the kids also figured out how to change the color of the highlighter tool, so they did that without much prompting.

We were able to quickly proceed through a fairly lengthy story, keeping up a full-class discussion that centered (over and over again) on the Latin in front of us. It wasn’t an earth-shattering story in terms of what happens in it, but there was a little bit of suspense about what a couple of the characters would do. Still, my students stayed focused and interested throughout the entire story. I’ll definitely try this technique in my other classes.

Using Wordsift

This summer is the Summer of Professional Development™ for me. I’ve got three multi-day workshops, and I’m tremendously excited about them.

One of the tools that I learned about is a word cloud generator called WordSift. Here’s one reason that I think it’s useful.

On the first page, you enter text. For this demo, I pasted in a Latin story from Cambridge Latin Course, Stage 4, in which a drunken Grumio sees a lion painted in the dining room and freaks out. After I pressed “sift”, this is what I got:


This is a word cloud showing frequency of the words; words that show up more often are larger. So far, it’s OK, but it’s not nearly as pretty as Wordle.

Wordsift has some interesting tools, however. I clicked the text “Create Workspace” underneath the word cloud, and immediately a new area opened up, as you can see:


The words from the original word cloud can now be dragged into the workspace. This allows you to create your own semantic maps. For instance, you can see that I’ve taken all of the words from the original word cloud, and in the workspace I’ve moved them into grammatical groupings: people/animals, objects, places, verbs, pronouns, adjectives/adverbs, exclamations, conjunctions. Imagine projecting this website in class, and doing this in front of your students.


In the bottom left of the next picture, you can see a Google Image search for some of the text from the word cloud. The images can be dragged into the workspace.


Ramsay Musallam of showed me how to use Wordsift. Here’s a techique that he uses that I’m totally going to steal:
• Ramsay has the students submit responses to videos that he creates via a Google Form.
• Once he has the responses, it’s easy to copy all of the entries to a particular question.
• He then posts all of the student responses to WordSift.
• This shows the words that the students use most often, which will (probably) be the main points.
• Opening the workspace, especially projecting it to the class, lets you quickly build an outline or mindmap.

This is a pretty powerful tool that I look forward to using more often in my classroom.

Update: On June 20, I wanted to make a word cloud using all of the tweets written by all of the attendees of a conference. I used both Wordsift and Wordle for this, and Wordle ended up being better for my purposes.

Wordsift is limited to the top 50 words in a passage, while Wordle is customizable. I found that using the top 200 words was ideal; anything beyond that and it starts becoming hard to read.

Visually, there’s no contest: Wordle just looks better, and can be customized in a number of fonts, colors, and shapes.

Finally, Wordsift’s innovative workspace cannot be saved, as far as I can tell. The only way to save your work on both Wordsift and Wordle is to take a screenshot. (Wordle has a gallery function, but it’s kind of limited.) This means that both tools work well for in-the-moment creation that you save as an image. Wordsift’s workspace feature is quite good for in-class work or, if you’re so inclined, capturing in a static screenshot or even a video screencast.

Here’s the wordle that I created.