Utilizing the Tech You Have: Mobile Devices in the Classroom

If 1:1 laptops have not yet reached your classroom, there is most likely other tools which can be utilized for learning. Many students in the intermediate secondary levels already have their own cell phone and are often able to use them at school for educational purposes thanks to many school boards' BYOD policies. Are you utilizing this tool to improve learning?

5 Tips to get a mobile program up and running:

  1. Clearly define when, how and why mobile devices are being implemented
  2. Consider the digital divide - will some students be left out not owning a device?
  3. Co-create a clearly defined set of rules with students which compliments the school's established Responsible/Acceptable Use Policy.
  4. Practice using devices in group settings first to ensure students are familiar with the technology and can effectively use it.
  5. Ongoing reflection of your teaching practice: Is the use of technology modifying or transforming the learning task?
There are many softwares which support the use of mobiles in the classroom. The following are not limited to use with mobiles, but can easily be integrated into a BYOD setting:

Alternatives to PowerPoint: Web-Based Presentation Slide Programs

I used to teach Grade 8 English for 90 students. That meant whenever there were class presentations....I watched 90 of them. Thus, one would understand why I absolutely refused to let my students create boring, unengaging presentations using static, simple technology.

I didn’t restrict what software my students could use, rather I restricted what they couldn’t use by banning PowerPoint.
However, I learned as a teacher to be sure to direct students to programs that fit the criteria of the assignment. Since my oral presentation had to include a live speaking portion, students who chose the PowToons option were left starting and stopping their video. You can imagine how NOT smooth my nervous 13 year old students were in doing this in front of an audience of their peers.
When providing options for students to create a presentation, it makes sense to me to seperate technology by presentation slides and presentation videos. 
See my review of various technology to create slides (could also be used as a student resource):
To create short videos or animations to accompany presentations, see my Pinterest board of Video Creation Resources:

Flipping the Classroom: Don't Re-Invent the Wheel, Find Pre-Made Video Resources Online

There has been a lot of talk lately around the theory of ‘flipping the classroom’. Essentially, students preview lesson material and lectures at home to make time to do more hands-on, collaborative activities in class. 
Watch the following short video or view this infographic for more details.
Source: Center for Teaching and Learning
However, what teacher has the time to create a high quality video for each lesson?

Allow me to be so bold as to say: no teacher.  Though I have seen success from teachers who simply record themselves teaching a lesson at the front of the class or from an aerial view then posting it in a place students can access such as on YouTube or school LMS. This simple act allows the student to pause or rewind any confusing parts of a lesson which promotes self-regulation in the learner. Further, I have also seen success from teachers who record their screens during a lesson using tools such as EduCreations or the recording feature on SmartBoards. What’s great about this format is the accompanying online learning community of educators who have posted their own lessons to share. You could further check out places such as OpenEd or Share My Lesson for lesson sharing in a video format.  Flipping the classroom has many benefits: instead of students listening to a transmissive, passive lecture, teachers can utilize the collaborative environment of the classroom by guiding cooperative and exploratory tasks. It also frees up the teacher’s time to provide personalized instant feedback to students and differentiate instruction by pulling small groups of learners to work with.  However, there are many problems to the flipped classroom as well. What if the students don’t do their homework? What if there were technology issues? What if every subject teacher expected a student to learn lesson content the night before (how many hours of homework is that??) The more prominent downfall I spotted in my sideline analysis of the flipped classroom is that student grew tired of the format. Making an educational video entertaining is a hard feat! Creating even a simple animation or instructional video to accompany or substitute a face-to-face lesson takes much effort and time on the teacher's part.  What I realized is that I did not have to create the video myself - what it came down to is finding the best resource to fit my teaching needs. Why re-invent the wheel? Luckily there are many free educational video resources available online. 

I’ve also learned when it comes to the flipped classroom, as with anything, it works best in moderation. I appreciate many educational benefits to ‘flipping the classroom’. But I also am going to teach a lesson in the format which I feel worked best for the topic and my learning goals.  For instance, I chose to flip a lesson during a speeches unit I taught. In this lesson, I had students view Martin Luther King Jr.’s infamous “I Have a Dream” speech at home, identifying literary devices and observing the vocal skills used in the speech. By flipping the lesson, students could view the video as many times as they liked. For the in-class lesson, we discussed the answers in groups and as a class before viewing another video which deconstructs the speech.  I used the extraordinarily user-friendly site Ted Ed Lessons to create this lesson, along with embedded instructions, formative assessment , and discussion forum. 

The website sends the lesson creator a link to view what students have started the lesson and to review progress. Other teachers can also customize the lesson to suit their needs.

Reaching the Visual Learner: Software to Create Digital Posters or Infographics

Ever find yourself drawing incomprehensible doodles as you attempt to explain an idea to a student? I do all the time.

There is no doubt in my mind that I am a visual learner. I see this come out in my teaching, as I break down complicated ideas for my students in the same way I did to make sense of it for myself. Taking large amounts of text and synthesizing those ideas to create an aesthetically pleasing, symbol-saturated visual representation is something I truly enjoy doing. 

See my Pinterest board for resources to make digital posters or infographics as well as editing programs for photo manipulation:

Reaching the Auditory Learner: Text-to-Speech Software and Voice Comments

It's undeniable that students learn best in different ways. So much time is spent classifying learners as auditory, visual, or kinesthetic yet often I find students are a combination of various learning styles - I know this is true for myself. 

Source: OnlineCollege.org

Sometimes it's not enough to have the voice in your head reading along with you; sometimes it's just easier to have accompanying audio to text you are reading. Text-to-speech software is a great teaching tools for ELL students, struggling readers, students with learning disabilities like dyslexia or auditory learners. The following are my top text-to-speech tools:

Some of my students this past year requested I leave them audio comments on their work instead of written text. Perhaps this was due to the high ESL population at my school who find speaking and listening to the English language much easier to understand than reading and writing. Or perhaps these students truly did identify with being auditory learners.

Sometimes students just prefer to receive feedback in a certain way. As an educator who is a strong believer in differentiating my instruction, I am open to leaving comments in a form most useful for my students. 
Technology can be utilized to support various feedback mediums. Here are various ways to give audio feedback on your students' work:
See link to the slides here. How do you reach your auditory learners?

Learning Skills and Work Habits: Tech Tools for Tracking Student Behaviours

The first statement of the Learning Skills section of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s publication Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools states, “The development of learning skills and work habits is an integral part of a student’s learning” (p. 10).
Teachers are expected to report on six categories:
            • Responsibility
            • Organization
            • Independence 
            • Collaboration
            • Initiative 
            • Self-Regulation
Learning Skills should not be considered in the determination of a student’s grades. Instead, the assessing, evaluating, and reporting on the achievement of curriculum expectations and on the demonstration of learning skills should be done separately.
Though some may identify other skills as being crucial to student success, it is clear that a student’s work habits significantly contribute to their success in school and for life beyond the classroom. 
The Definition and Selection of Competencies (DeSeCo) Project, sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has underlined the importance of identifying and developing key competencies as follows:
Globalisation and modernisation are creating an increasingly diverse and interconnected world. To make sense of and function well in this world, individuals need, for example, to master changing technologies and to make sense of large amounts of available information. They also face collective challenges as societies – such as balancing economic growth with environmental sustainability, and prosperity with social equity. In these contexts, the competencies that individuals need to meet their goals have become more complex, requiring more than the mastery of certain narrowly defined skills.  
(OECD, p. 4)
We are preparing students for an information saturated world where they will need to be self-directed learners with the skills to collaborate with others, are organized, have initiative, and set and monitor personal goals. As educators it is our responsibility to foster and help develop these skills in our students.
When it comes time for report card data entry, our tracking should be consistent and accountable to result in accurate reporting of students’ learning skills and work habits. 
The following are three simple tools for tracking students behaviours for the reporting of learning skills:
See the slides here.

21st Century Tools: The Role of the Teacher

Once again, I refer to Dr. Matthew J. Koehler's model of TPACK to conceptualize the interconnected and overlapping realms of teacher knowledge. The question posed is concerning the role of the teacher as it pertains to learning and understanding 21st century tools.  The TPACK model shows a breakdown of the areas of expertise teachers are expected to know, including content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and technological knowledge. According to this model, teachers should strive to reach the middle area where all three realms overlap. 

Content Knowledge: this is the information on the subjects we teach. But I think we can all agree that being an expert in a field does NOT necessarily equate to being a good teacher. Pedagogical Knowledge: this is ‘the art of teaching’. It includes such things as taking into consideration learning styles, differentiating instruction, creating a classroom environment and assessment practices. Basically, its your philosophy of education. Technological Knowledge: this is the tools used to teach. Today, many people’s immediate thoughts are of modern technologies. However, it can also includes things as simple as a pencil or a calculator. The overlapping area between content and pedagogy covers the core business of teaching. It is what to teach and the best way to teach it. However, it is often the third realm of technology with its overlapping areas that tends to be the most challenging for teachers. It’s true, that technology is advancing at exponential rates and there’s no way any one person could keep up with it all.

So how should teachers face the daunting task of learning and teaching with 21st century tools?

First, teachers should remember that technology (including new computer-related software and hardware) are merely tools to use to support student learning. The foundation of teaching still lies in a teacher’s knowledge of the content and their own personal teaching pedagogy. Effective technology integration does not consist of using it as a gimmick or reward for students. Instead, technology should be utilized as a teaching tool for lessons firmly rooted in calculated pedagogy and closely linked to content and curriculum outcomes. Second, it’s important for teachers to realize that they only need to know enough about new technologies to integrate it into their specific classroom - the same way that we only use teaching practices which fit our pedagogy and content knowledge which relates to our subject. Teachers do not need to be tech experts to effectively use technology in the classroom. Instead, the best 21st century educators know of a tools which fits the context of their teaching, some basic skills of how to use and tool, as well as the courage to try it out! Third, teachers should remember that a proper education in the 21st century must include teaching and learning with new technology. Educators must equip students with technological skills to be digital citizens and successful in the world. It is the role of the teacher to learn alongside his or her students as technology advances to guide students on their journey and model self-sufficiency when learning about new technologies.

Microsoft Word Online vs. Google Docs

Why Both Are Great:

  1. Collaborate and share with otherswork on a document in live time; collaborate on whole folders of documents; share with others via a link or email with various levels of editing rights
  2. Auto-save featureno more backup files as documents save every few seconds
  3. Sync all your documents in a clouded driveaccess your work from any device by signing into an account

    How They Differ:

    At first glance, One Drive and the comparable Google Drive offer many of the same types of documents to create. OneDrive does not offer a Drawing option, but this is not that great of a feature in my opinion as there are many better drawing tools available online. A major benefit of One Drive over Google Drive is an online version of OneNote.

    But apparently Google offers OneNote as as an App in the Chrome Store:

    What’s a greater concern is the mere 3 GB of storage space on One Drive with the ability to upgrade by recommending the service. This is extremely limited when considering that Google offers 15GB of free storage (30GB if you are signed up at work or school).

    For additional reasons Google Docs edges out the competition see this article: 10 Reasons Why Google Docs is better than Word Online. On the flip side, there is a not-as-convincing list: 5 Reasons for Microsoft fans to dump Google Docs. Though the above article does bring up a key problem with Google Docs: FORMATTING. If you don't know what I am talking about, read about the way Google Docs often alters original formatting when documents are converted.  
    Personally, the only time I ran into formatting issues in my daily use of Docs was when I printed pages, but I do admit it can be a problem. Ironically, it was the Word Online document’s formatting that was disarranged during my demo.

    The Bottom Line:

    If you work in an environment that is already utilizing Microsoft products or produced highly formatted documents, Word Online is an ideal tool to increase collaboration and sync work. However, if you regularly use Google tools (like I do in a Google certified school) than it makes more sense to stick with Google tools.

    Blended Learning: Learning Management Systems

    This hybrid method of learning combines traditional classroom and online education. Blended learning has emerged with the advancement of new technologies in an effort to reach and teach students more effectively.  While educators may debate the exact meaning of the term, the gist is that online technology is used not just to supplement, but transform and improve the learning process. 
    The Ontario Ministry of Education explains the tools used to create Blended learning should help students:
    • learn or review key concepts
    • stay organized 
    • communicate with others
    • show what they have learned
    • submit assignments
    • track achievement

    The website further states, “Blended learning uses the tools of the provincial learning management system (LMS) to teach and support learning in a face-to-face class.” Thus, technology used to support Blended Learning not just technology tools which can be used in the classroom, but online learning platforms meant to support traditional classroom learning.  The goal is to use technology to build an online learning community that transcends the walls of the classroom so students can continue their learning outside the classroom. 

    This Post is Licensed for Noncommercial Reuse

    It is my school’s policy that students and teachers use only copyright-free material. This makes sense hypothetically, but what does it actually mean? Where could this mysterious content be found?  After asking around, it became clear to me that copyright-free material was not understood by many other teachers as well. So how could we possibly teach and model finding such content for our students? Although it was part of my job to ensure students were only using copyright-free material, I knew very little myself about what can and cannot be used nevermind how to monitor this from my students.  However, teaching in a technology-focused school means the students use digital technology to create many of their projects. They take images, video clips, sound bites and more from the internet and to create their own products on a regular basis. 

    I decided to make it my mission to learn about copyright licensing alongside my students. 

    First, I compiled a list of websites with copyright-free material. I sent students to my Pinterest board of copyright-free resources. However, my students thought Pinterest itself was all copyright-free material which could not be further from the truth. I witness numerous students searching for "copyright-free" content using the search bar of Pinterest!

    I can see now why the students were confused.
    So next, I modeled finding content using the Creative Commons website. This search engine links to various copyright-free sites. But students still struggled with the specific options on the different websites.
    Luckily Creative Commons has a great resource to explain what each of the copyright permissions mean:

    For my own students, I made it clear what the best options would be for them on various websites: 

    We went over the above slides as a class before any task requiring images, video or audio. I also print hard copies of these slides for students to refer to at their desks. 
    Whenever we brainstormed Success Criteria as a class, I made a point to include "copyright-free material" in the list. It became second nature to always use copyright-free content and students began searhing for only copyright-free content in their other subject classes without being asked to.

    Research Function in Google Docs and Presentations

    Since I mostly utilize Google tools in my teaching, one of the simplest ways for my students to find copyright-free material is using the Research Tool in Google Docs and Presentations. This tool allows you to search Google content (filtered by usage rights) directly in Docs via a pop up box. 
    A few of my students made this tutorial video: 
    I think it is important to teach students to identify and understand the copyright-free licenses so they can determine for themselves what material they can and cannot use. Furthermore, students should understand WHY they should use copyright-free material and how to label their own work in the Creative Commons.

    Online Privacy for Students in a Digital Age

    When I taught Grade 8 English, I always had my students write an autobiography at the beginning of the year to learn more about them. This past year I added a media focus by having students design a digital poster to represent themselves. The software to be used was left wide open - students could use anything from Microsoft Publisher to online digital poster software to simple Paint. I even gave student the option to publish their work online as visual resume or an About.me page. My intention for this online option was to encourage students to begin building a positive online presence. It was not mandatory, but rather an option and platform for the students to showcase their accomplishments.  See my lesson instructions here:

    We spoke as a class about what is and isn’t appropriate to post online.  However, I received mixed reactions from parents and my peers. Was this still too much information for students to post publicly? Should students under a certain age be anonymous on the internet? Should such online behaviours be encouraged by a school?

    Where do we draw the line between creating a positive digital footprint and protecting children from the dangers of the internet? 

    In a school which introduced a 1:1 laptop program and supports a tech-infused learning community dedicated to the principles of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), these are critical questions to be asked. And it seemed that no one knew the answers. My classroom project sparked a lively debate among educators at my school concerning what the students should and should not be doing online. On one side, it is important for schools to protect students from the dangers of the internet. On the other side, I think we could all admit that students with their own laptops and a constant wifi connection are visiting whatever sites they wish. Instead of hiding children from the internet, I feel it’s the role of the school to educate students on safe online behaviours. We can never teach someone swim from the deck of the pool. We of course shouldn’t push them into the water with no previous guidance, but instead assist them into the water with a suitable knowledge of what to do once in the water and how to react to unfavourable situations.  From my experience, educators often prematurely give students full reign of the internet after deciding technology is a beneficial tool for education. We essentially pushed students into the deep end without the necessary skills needed to stay afloat. Students need to be explicitly taught digital citizenship and have their online actions closely monitored while they are still learning appropriate online behaviour. See my follow-up lesson on online privacy here:

    Please feel free to use any of these resources in your own teaching of online safety.

    21st Century Teaching Means Collaboration

    The information age has broadened our accessibility to information and people. As technology and consequently approaches to education advance, the roles of the teacher and learner in the 21st century are drastically altered too.  

    My emphasis as an educator has always been about collaboration. Even the most dedicated and hard-working teacher is not as effective and resourceful as two teachers collaborating. Working with others increases productivity, encourages critical brainstorming and problem solving, increases professional learning and offers a different perspective of the content to be taught.  I have consistently pushed cross-curricular projects within my school and modelled my instruction after what the Ontario Ministry of Education has coined Teaching-Learning Critical Pathways (TLCPs). It is through working closely beside others teachers that I have learned the most about teaching.

    When it comes to collaboration in my classroom, I foster a cooperative learning environment for my students through group activities and exploration of topics. I strongly believe that all people learn more in a social setting where they are encouraged to questions and test their ideas instead of a more traditional rote-style learning setting. Learners are encouraged to interact with one another, share ideas and work together to complete tasks and solve problems.  However, traditional teaching methods do not often incorporate collaborative learning and often it is viewed as ‘cheating’. Yet 21st century teaching requires a re-imagining of what learning should look like. If students are unable to share information with one another and discuss their ideas, then perhaps it is the assignment that is flawed and not the cooperative nature of the students. Teachers must re-evaluate where assignments lie on Blooms Taxonomy. If the sharing of answers between students defeats the purpose of the assignment, the task itself needs to be changed so students have the opportunity to analyse, synthesize and evaluate topics instead of simply regurgitating facts and ideas. 

    For me, 21st teaching and learning is all about collaboration. Collaboration among teachers (in-person and online) and collaboration between students.

    Social Media in the Classroom - Twitter Pilot

    Social media is a great tool to integrate into the classroom and I have experienced with various platforms such as Edmodo, Blogger, Google Sites, Facebook, Skype and most prevalently Twitter. I used Twitter in my practicum classroom back in Ontario and it went over quite well. The students stayed in touch with me and their peers from the ease of their phones and home computers. I was able to send links to the students easily and recommend educational resources related to the topics were were learning about in class. Last year, I piloted a Twitter program at my school and Hong Kong and did not have as successful of results. Twitter is not popular in Asia and many of the students had never even heard of it before. After the chaos of getting 90 students signed up on the website, I found Twitter not to be very user-friendly for 12 year olds. Unfortunately the students were not very engaged in using Twitter as it was not a form of social media they were interested in using. In addition, we ran into many problems with the students’ inboxes getting spammed with adult content.

    In the end, we found other collaborative web 2.0 tools such as Edmodo and Google Docs a better fit for our students. I personally use Twitter to connect with other educators and find it a valuable tools for collecting resources and having conversations with other educators.
    For those new to Twitter, see this document about the basics of using Twitter (I made this for my students). Here is a presentation and instructions for signing up to Twitter we presented to the teachers after our pilot project.
    Follow me @CrisTurple

    “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

    election-crowd-wellington-new-zealand-1931-photographed-by-william-hall-raine

    As most people concerned about the cultural decline of Western civilization continue to moan in despair* , I would like to take a moment to abandon my own complaining and look at one group, at least, that seems to be bucking the trend.  But before I get to the point, I need to digress again which, I suspect, is why many of you are reading this in the first place.

    It used to be, there were places where you could meet the right people, even if you were far from home.

    When railroads and a general lack of Europeans from different nations slaughtering each other on sight made travel a lot more pleasant, certain places came to be generally accepted as the ones one went to to meet acquaintances.  Perhaps for the Anglophones among us, the archetypal example is the Pump Room at Bath (below).  Anyone familiar with English novels of manners from the pre-Victorian period will have run into this (even casual readers are likely to have encountered it in Austen).

    Pump Room Bath

    Essentially, it got everyone who was anyone together in one place, without having to go to the trouble and expense of getting invited to the Royal Gala or whatever.

    There are other places (notably certain hotels where one would meet for lunch), which took the anglophone through the Victorians and into the 20th century, but by then, the world had once again become a much smaller place, and culturally relevant people – even insular Englishmen – were no longer meeting exclusively in their own cities, or with people from their own countries.

    By now, they were meeting in Paris.  More precisely, they were meeting in the Paris Cafés.  1871 is usually pointed to as the beginning of the Belle Époque.  From then until the first world war, Paris was the place to be seen at, and to meet your acquaintances, French, Dutch, Austrian or British.  There is a myth, an image flying around that this era was overrun with impecunious artists.  It is relatively true, but only tells a small part of the story.

    Small, but what a story.  It must have been amazing to witness the birth of a new and major current in art every few weeks, driven not by the established masters but by a previously unknown artist from the countryside, or from Spain or somewhere equally unexpected.  The heady times among the currents and countercurrents in the avant-garde were balanced by almost equally exciting events in what was then considered high culture, from the World’s Fair, to Stravinksy.  Even the now reviled Paris Salon gave us iconic images.  Not all the great works were famously rejected, you know.

    Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Le Moulin de la Galette

    But WWI brought it to a screeching halt.  Europe was not really in the mood for it all, and any mingling of nationalities would be best done on neutral ground, so the circus moved to Broadway.

    Broadway in the twenties

    Eventually, the in-crowds moved to Hollywood,  and then spent some time in Monte Carlo (always at least peripherally on this list), but it also lost some of its melting-pot feel.  The problem is that, as the world became smaller and smaller, the enclaves started catering to the super rich… and no one else.  I’m certain you’ll run into the right people if you snag paddock passes for the Monaco GP, but there aren’t many of them, and you might have to sell a yacht to afford them.  Any Dubai pool party classifies in the same category, too.

    The day you sell a yacht is supposed to be the second best day of ownership after the day you buy it, but what about those who either prefer to keep their yachts or simply aren’t in that financial class?  What about the slightly less well-to-do global citizen, who wants to be surrounded by like-minded people, but has accidentally travelled thousands of miles from their usual base of operations?

    The answer to that, after decades of traveling in a variety of budget levels is surprisingly heartwarming, and I first got an inkling of it when I bought a pass that saved me money on a variety of New York attractions.  The way it was set up was the clue: each ticket let you enter one of two attractions.  One of the options was something typically touristy, while the other option was generally a museum.  Strangely, the typical things you see on TV were usually mirrored by things that I really wanted to do.

    I probably missed out on a lot of people very different from myself by choosing the museums.  But I did enjoy them.  And most of the people I generally have things in common with have spent a disproportionate amount of their time in major cities at the Met, MoMA, the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Prado or the National gallery, and considerably less at the photogenic large buildings / famous actor’s former homes / scenic countryside than others who visited the same places.  Art museums seem to be the one place where you’re likely to run into the polymath and global citizen today.  Even the ones who prefer hiking and hitchhiking aren’t going to miss the city’s big museum(s).  The fact that the great cultural artifacts of humanity also attract much smaller crowds than Graceland is only a secondary consideration to the kind of people this blog is aimed at.

    Most of them can tell me which wall this…

    757px-Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project

    is hanging on.

    Which, when you stop to think about it, is kind of nice.

    *and yes, I know, we urgently need a nice knock-down, drag-out fight about the relative merits of high culture as opposed to popular culture on this blog – the very nature of this space cries out for that particular battle.

    A trip to New York on Hydrogen Wings. It Was Just One of Those Things

    w27_60808075

    After the stunning success of our first guest post, I am happy to announce our second, which is also amazing, but in a very different way.  Today’s blogger, Stacy Danielle Stephens is most certainly a polymath in the traditional sense of the word.  Not only is she the owner of Flatwater Press in Nebraska, which puts out classics in affordable editions, but she is also an author in her own right, having written The Nothing That Is and Other Stories,  The Bohemian Girl and Other StoriesWhen So Much Is Left Undone and Other StoriesBut Soon It Will Be Night, and Daybreak in Alabama.  As if that wasn’t enough, she is also extremely knowledgeable about WWII and the immediate prewar era.  And that, of course, means airships. Because, as steampunk writers never tire of telling us, there is nothing more awesome than airships.  Enjoy!

    True story.

    In 1936, a passenger boarded The Hindenburg, then went to her room to rest before takeoff.  After some time had passed, she began to wonder what the delay was, and rang for a steward.  When he arrived, she asked when they’d be taking off.  He told her they’d taken off over an hour earlier.  This illustrates two things.  Traveling in The Hindenburg was unbelievably placid.  If you weren’t watching the ground passing beneath you, you probably didn’t know you were moving.  The other thing?  You couldn’t watch the ground from your room, because it had no windows.

    big_hindenburg_passenger_cabin

    A passenger cabin of The Hindenburg was actually smaller than a Pullman car for railroad passengers.  But the Hindenburg passengers didn’t mind this.  They spent most of their time on the promenade deck (below), where they could watch the landscape, in much the way rail passengers in the observation car might, except on The Hindenburg, you watched from above, with just enough altitude for the the view to be dramatically panoramic, yet highly visible.  The Hindenburg operated at low altitudes not just to offer this fabulous scenery, but for the safety of it.  Atmospheric pressure decreases with altitude, and this caused the potentially explosive hydrogen inside to strain at its containment cells.  It would be vented as necessary to prevent damage, but also to compensate for the loss of fuel as it travelled.  And from this lower altitude, the Hindenburg crew was also better able to watch the weather as they approached it, and would not only avoid storms, but even take advantage of them, maneuvering the ship into a useful tailwind whenever and wherever they found it.  The passengers were seldom aware of this, or of the fact that the elevator man was essentially strong-arming the ship’s stabilizers to keep it within five degrees of level, which is another reason passengers seldom felt any sense of movement.  An eight-degree tilt is enough for heavy objects to slide off of a smooth surface, and in household plumbing, drainpipes are set to a four degree slope to ensure that waste water flows easily but quietly.

    big_hindenburg_promenade_deck

    In 1936, passage on The Hindenburg, between Germany and the US, cost $400; converted to today’s dollars, that would be between five thousand and six thousand, depending on how the conversion is calculated.  For comparison, first class passage on a fast boat was $240.  The Hindenburg would make the crossing in no more than three days; its fastest crossing was forty-three hours.  A fast boat would take five or six days.  For people who could afford it, getting there in half the time was worth paying nearly twice as much, particularly when comfort was only slightly compromised, and any risk of seasickness done away with.

    For further comparison, the standard of transcontinental fixed-wing air travel in the thirties was set by United Air Lines Boeing 247.  For $160, United would take you from New York to San Francisco in twenty hours, with five to eight stops along the way.  In those same twenty hours, for still more comparison, the Twentieth Century Limited would take you from New York to Chicago for $52.

    Now contrast The Hindenburg’s reading room (below left) with the 247’s interior (below middle) and the 20th Century Limited‘s observation car.

    big_hindenburg_reading_roomb247_interiorebd1d443d6802249a5732a2f6c214fed

    I have yet to write the passage of my War Correspondent novel in which a woman who travelled on The Hindenburg wistfully recalls the absolute wonder of it some twenty years later.  If you don’t want to wait, you might want to visit The Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany, and see the Hindenburg replica there.

     

    The Grand Tour – Not Just For the 1%

    In a world where most travel is vicarious, just a few clicks away, the concept of the Grand Tour may seem wasteful or even immoral.  Something for the 1%, or, much worse, the people who want to be like them, the wannabees, nobles plotting to become royalty (or whatever the 21st century equivalent is).  I believe that it isn’t – but that it has also changed shape, to become almost unrecognizable.

    English Gentleman on Grand Tour in Rome

    So what, exactly is this Grand Tour thingy? Well, there’s a long, complete article on Wikipedia, of course (which is where the image above of an English gentleman posing in Rome came from), but for our purposes, suffice to say that it was a custom among upper-class gentlemen to take a long trip to continental Europe after finishing their university studies.  It is mainly associated with British gentlemen, but was practiced in most of northern Europe as well as North and South America.

    Ah, it’s just like when modern college kids finish college, then, and it’s nothing special.

    No, it’s not.

    While the purported objectives of both kinds of trips are similar (get to know other cultures), that is where the similarities end.  While a typical modern student trip might involve coming into continued contact with the local populace and seeing the local culture, a Grand Tour would would put one in contact with the creators of that local culture, as well as an understanding of why that culture exists, from the horse’s mouth.

    The differences don’t end there…  A grand tour would last months, even years even had youth hostels existed during its heyday, no one on the tour would ever have gone near one.  No, if you’d been visiting the continent, you would have been lodged at the homes of notables in the countries you visited.  You would have been exposed to the top of society, as opposed to the bottom and sides.  There’s a much clearer view from up there, of course, which meant that the Grand Tour would create a much deeper understanding and, in so doing, remove a layer of ignorance and arrogance.  It was a good thing.

    It was not universally loved, of course.  Isaac Asimov wrote a story called “Good Taste“, set in a future in which mankind has colonized parts of the solar system.  Essentially, the main character goes on a “Grand Tour” of other celestial bodies, where he gains knowledge and loses some of his prejudices – which eventually leads to serious problems (I don’t want to spoil it for you, if you’d like to read it, the story is available here).  

    Fittingly, the conflict centers not on the knowledge gained but on the prejudices lost, and that has always been the Grand Tour’s greatest value.  It takes more than a couple of weeks in Paris to accept the French attitude towards sex (hell, even I was surprised that they show hardcore porn on normal cable channels, completely uncensored) or, on the other side of the spectrum, Arab marriage customs.  You need to understand the people’s quirks, get more than just a passing feel for their beliefs, and see their culture as more than just a tourist.  But in doing so, you will lose part of what makes you similar to the people back home.  It’s the fear of the different, the “contamination” that it brings, that leads to the fear, and this is what Asimov was pointing at in his story.

    Of course, there is ample reason to fear, at least in the eyes of the narrow-minded.  On returning home, the attitudes of your acquaintances will seem primitive, provincial and narrow.  Their attempts to right the world’s wrongs will seem basic and one-sided.  Finally, you will not be able to resist speaking out initially out of a desire to help them expand their views, then out of frustration and, finally (if you are too dense to shut up in time), out of self-defense.

    I know that among some super-rich families, this is still a custom, but other than that, there are many ways to go on the tour.  Probably the most popular is to get transferred to a job abroad.  This has the advantage that you will be living in relative luxury on company accounts, hobnobbing with the upper crust and other expats, and – though you may not enjoy it – being exposed to other default conditions.  It also lasts long enough to make a lasting impression (three years is typical).

    The downside is that people with the experience to deserve a transfer are usually a bit old and set in their ways to be truly moldable.  Maybe the ideal would be to be the child of one of those expats (which has the added upside that you will possibly end up at one of these schools), but that isn’t something you can choose if it didn’t happen naturally.

    As a counterpoint, being a world citizen on the internet is just about the worst way to do it.  It gives a lot of information around which to form an opinion, but none of the context that is, by definition, unwritten.  A lot of people believe they have had contact with other cultures or ideas, based on their online adventures.  That is about the same as saying that you’ve climbed Everest because you’ve seen pictures taken from the top.

    Anyhow, I think that, if at all possible, everyone should be exposed to an immersion in a different culture at an early age – or at an advanced age.  And never stop teaching what you’ve learned, even if most people won’t want to hear it.

    10 Reasons Why It Sucks to Be Single, Female and Smart

    Note: today’s post is an important milestone for Classically Educated.  It marks the first time that we have a guest columnist on the blog, and I must say that Scarlett has done an amazing job in the face of that pressure.  She definitely fits the definition of a global citizen and polymath, and yet, her vision of the world is so different from mine.  I hope you enjoy the piece as much as I did!  Scarlett will be answering comments, so feel free to chime in!

    Commuters-walk-over-Londo-007

    Before we begin digging into the main topic of this post, I must notify all readers that these lines are not likely to touch the heart of most men, and probably most women in their 20’s. My point of view is that of a single female, 40+, professional and single by choice… only not MY choice!

    My journey up to now has been quite interesting, fun and enlightening, not to mention frustrating and sometimes sad. At this point, if I hear one more well-intended urban legend on how someone like me, at my age just magically found love around the corner and happiness ever after and everything worked out for them, I’ll run to Tibet and hide with the Dalai Lama!

    I’ve had my share of relationships by now, the good, the bad and the ugly… The good were in my 20’s, the bad and the ugly in my 30’s. Now I’m facing a new decade, relationship free, with all my choices open some might say, and it sucks BIG TIME!

    Let me tell you why:

    1)     Most people who learn about your “condition” (being a single female I mean) for the first time will look at you and think (and even sometimes say): you must be a very difficult person, surely something is wrong with you, otherwise you wouldn’t still be single. You can get angry, fight for your right not to be misjudged, hate the person in front of you, but this is a fact: this is a very common perspective where I live, and many other places around the world.

    2)     After having been of great value to your loser ex’s lives, you will at some point casually meet them on the street. You will be wearing sweatpants, no make-up, inexplicable hair, and they will be at their best: fit, tanned, looking like a million bucks, and they will be very nice to you and tell you how happy they are, married, with children and great new jobs where they have been promoted. There will be a moment where they will ask about you. Mark my words: don’t answer!! RUN!!!! Otherwise you will end up feeling even sorrier for yourself, because you will confirm to them that YOU are now the loser ex…

    3)     Most of your friends are married with children, which makes it hard to have a fluent conversation, in which both parties pay undivided attention to each other for more than … 20 seconds. Here’s a transcript of a typical catch-up conversation with them. In this self-explanatory example we are describing a conversation with a female friend:

    –      Friend: So tell me, what’s new with you?

    –      You: Well, not so much, works is fine, a bit unstable as usual. I’m starting a new project with… (my friend is talking to her kid now)

    –      Friend: Sweetie, please leave that, you’ll break it and you know how mummy will get upset… Sorry, you were saying?

    –      You: I’m starting a new project with this new company, and it’s exciting because… (again talking to her kid)

    –      Friend: Darling, stop chasing the cat, she is clearly not interested in playing with you, cats are not like dogs sweetie… We’ve already talked about that, remember? Sorry, you were saying?

    –      You: This new project…

    –      Friend: What new project? Honey! Come back here now! I told you not play with that! Give it to mommy… OK, that’s better, now sit down and play with your ipad. There you go… Sorry, you were saying?

    4)     At some point you will start feeling that your life has become a series of New Year’s resolutions and renewed hopes that this year will be your year, the year your life finally works out and you’ll find what you’re looking for…  Trust me there is no such thing as “YOUR YEAR when everything works out”, etc. It’s a myth, like all the already mentioned urban legends you are frequently told about happy people who finally got their lives together. My advice? Don’t expect so much from one year in your life!

    5)     You will have tried everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in an attempt to open to new experiences, meet new people, expand your mind, and … eventually find your soul mate. Here’s a list of EVERYTHING, are you ready? It will take a while … :

    ImageProxy

    –      You read The Rules

    –      You put The Rules into practice and played hard to get and high value woman

    –      You tried online dating… more than one site… more than one year in a row.

    –      You tried speed dating

    –      You tried slowdating

    –      You joined new social networks

    –      You accepted unknown callers on Facebook

    –      You searched for eligible candidates on LinkedIn and tried contacting them with some lame work related excuse

    –      You accepted EVERY blind date you were offered, even though most of the times in the past you couldn’t figure out what could possibly go through your mutual friend’s mind to introduce you to that guy

    –      You read Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and you found it enlightening and very true…

    –      You read Eat, Pray, Love and started thinking how you could manage to get paid to travel the world, learn to enjoy life, master meditation and fall in love like she did … and then write about it and become a success!

    –      You are in therapy for as long as you have memory

    –      You read The Secret, and firmly believed it works

    –      You’ve watched What the @$%&# do We Know” and learned about quantum physics and how your life is your entire mind’s projection…

    –      You’ve explored the possibility you might actually be a lesbian in the closet

    –      You’ve considered that your soul mate might just be in front of you all this time and you just haven’t realized it

    –      You’ve tried having a friend with benefits on the side while you dated other guys just to reduce your anxiety during the process of meeting someone new (a brilliant concept, I believe, as it works just like eating before going to the supermarket: you make better choices and stick to the list if you go on a full tummy :-D)

    –      You’ve tried celibacy for a year (or more) to focus your energies on the present, what you have, your work, your social life, your friends, etc.

    –      You’ve considered that YOU are the problem and worked out a plan to improve your rough edges with your therapist

    –      You’ve considered that THEY are the problem and stop worrying about changing yourself inside out to fit in with other people’s neuroses

    –      You’ve recently learned about a new app called Tinder, works similar to an online dating service, but a bit simpler and on your smartphone. You are thinking about joining it …

    6)     Your married friends are jealous of all the freedom you have to do as you please, so whenever you complain to them about your so-called “condition they’ll dismiss you with: “Oh honey, it’s not that great as it looks. It’s bloody hard work every single day, you completely lose your freedom, and your hobby of choice is napping when the kids are with their grandparents…” Need I state the obvious? At least you guys will have someone who will feel guilty enough to visit you when you are in a nursing home!! Jeeez …

    ImageProxy (3)

    7)     At work you will be given harder challenges for the same pay, because you can keep up with longer hours, and being on call. After all, no one is waiting for you to come back home … (Gulp, handkerchiefs please?)

    8)     There will be a very hard moment, sort of a sad penny drop moment – it might probably happen when you are about to reach 40 – when you’ll realize that the marketplace you are dealing with (aka the available options of single/ divorced/ separated members of the gender of your choice) is more of an Outlet experience, rather than a Premium / VIP experience. It will seem as if what you have available for dating are leftovers from a Season Sale… Yeah, life is so not fair, I know…

    9)     You will also realize that you have a better chance of a healthy long-term relationship with a pet than with a human being. I strongly encourage you to adopt a pet, it’s great experience. Animals are simpler than humans and they are great company. Also they make you look less crazy when you talk to yourself… If this is your case, I would recommend you choose furry pets, as they tend to be more interactive than reptiles or plants.

    10)  Last but not least, if you are smart, you will realize that most of your dates are not as smart as you are. Some of them will realize it and some will not. I would give more credit to the ones acknowledging their limitations, if I were you. In any case, this shouldn’t be a problem as long as you find something else where you actually have limitations (it might be hard to find, I know…) and they are more competent, and that might actually work to your advantage. For example: you are average looking, they are gorgeous; you are nearly broke, they are wealthy; you are lazy, they are hard-working and active… You might also find common grounds where you can connect, such as, you are sad and lonely, so are they!

    Bottom line, you’ve probably realized by now that I’m a silver lining kind of person. So, if by any chance you see yourself reflected in more than 2 of these points (or, more precisely, facts of life) join the club! You are not alone, you are certainly as hopeless as I am, but not alone, no siree… Some people say your life begins at 40, so whatever age you are: hang in there, and keep the faith!

    On Words, as they Relate to Worldview

    I once had an online conversation with a writer who really, really doesn’t like me.  We were arguing about something and he responded, that writers should be careful of the words and phrases they use, as they need to be precise.

    He was objecting to my use of the phrase “knee-jerk” to describe a decision that he claimed had been taken after consulting everyone involved.  While the original discussion that engendered his comment was never enough to really get my juices flowing, his statement about the importance of precise language stuck with me (you may draw your own conclusions regarding what interests me from the preceding sentence).

    Of course, it’s probably a good thing for prose intended for publication to be quickly and easily understandable by the widest audience possible.  But is it really that important outside of the confines of a book?  Even within those confines, I’d argue that a certain amount of transcending the rules is acceptable, so you can imagine that precision in daily language is something that I really don’t think is all that important.

    xkcd.com recently summed up my view of this:

    Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 2.06.02 PM

    Link to the original comic here.

    Sums it up, doesn’t it?  It just seems to me that if people understand what you’re talking about, it’s fine.  I have worked with a large number of accountants and engineers in my time and, as you can imagine, many of them disagree vehemently with this point of view.  And yes, I’ve seen a strong correlation between people who need everything to be in neat little labelled boxes and people who think this way – but that’s not the point today.  I really want to focus on the language implications, because these are the ones that have more to do – in my opinion – with being a global citizen.

    How often do you find yourself involved in a conversation with someone in which language barriers mean that you have to pay attention to the context of what the person is saying in order to be able to understand a particular word?  If you move in the circles I do – and I assume that anyone reading this probably does – you often find yourself trying to understand some heavily accented English, or even trying to make yourself understood by reviving those old French lessons.  When you are in the latter position, my structured adversary is probably not the kind of person you want listening to you.

    Experience teaches one to relax this requirement for others, and eventually brings one to understand that it isn’t all that important. I think what irritated me most about the original discussion was that he wasn’t focusing on the message but on the language, which has in human history led to a whole bunch of stupid (including the once-relevant PC parrots) , and is something I can never understand.

    So I have more questions than answers for you.  Was he doing it on purpose to bug me?  I doubt it – he seemed genuinely mad at me for using the phrase.  But it was clear from the context that it was just a place holder for “making an insufficiently reasoned decision and the wrong one, to boot”, which leads me to the conclusion that he chose to interpret it that way, and to take umbrage.

    In this particular case, it’s his problem…  But what does he need to get over something like this?

    Essentially, the best way to get past this is actually to be truly global in your outlook.  A big-picture approach is required, and you really can’t get that from books or from your peers, and you can’t really get that if your main contact with the larger world is online, with people you’ve never met.

    So, you ask, where is my nemesis from?

    If you guessed he’s an American who doesn’t move too far from his home in the midwest, you get full marks.  No bonus points this time, because we all know it was just too easy.  Of course, this is unfair to many midwesterners who actually have outgrown the limitations of their geography, but such is life when space forces one to generalize…

    Anyway, I promised eclectic, and eclectic this blog will be.  Art, travel and guest bloggers are coming now that we’ve goteen some of the philosphy and our first list out of the way…

    Stay tuned.

    Understanding Everyone Else (hint, you won’t manage it, but they’ll appreciate the effort)

    So, there you are, sitting around a table at a party, or talking to people at work, or even in a pickup bar.  There comes a point where you realize that the people around you are talking about the same things every day, all day (if this happens to you in pickup bars, you seriously need to consider doing something else with your free time) – and the things they say seem to consist mainly of stuff that only a game show studio audience (or mammals of similar intellect) could possibly find interesting.

    It’s kind of hard to know how to react in these cases.  Let’s be honest with ourselves for a second: what we actually want to do is to tell them that they should look into purchasing a brain, or getting out and seeing a little more of life.

    Try to resist that temptation.  The people you offend may not be worth much as companions, but they can make your life miserable in trivial ways as long as you have to have contact with them.  Not worth the aggravation.

    A better strategy would be to try to understand the people around you.  Why, exactly do they insist on talking about Pharrell Williams’ hat (deduct 100 points if you knew who Pharrell Williams is without clicking the link)?

    Simple: the people around you have negligible inner lives.  Their idea of heaven is waiting for 6 o’clock to roll by and then going home to watch TV.  On weekends, they get hammered and have sex with strangers who never call them back.

    OK, we admit that there’s some merit in this last bit, but still…

    Try to see it – or at least analyze it – from their point of view.  It is likely that most people reading this blog will have had structures shattered at an early age for some reason or another; many of those reasons will have to do with travel, but other motives are likely present, too.  That means, essentially, that you will be more flexible to understand other points of view (you may not agree with them, of course, but that’s another discussion entirely).

    But imagine that you are not you.  Imagine that you grew up in a small town somewhere – not necessarily in the US, but anywhere.  You went to school there, you spent your childhood summers fishing in the lake with your friends, and your high school summers making out on the shores of that same lake.  You know exactly what’s right, what’s wrong and how the world works.

    It doesn’t even have to be a particularly small town.  Hell, I’ve seen this in people who live in ten-million-strong cities.  Many people seem to need to make the world around them as small as possible, even when the evidence is shouting at them that it’s a reasonably big place.

    The above doesn’t paint the whole picture.  In that simplified model we are leaving out parents, and the guy at the general store, and the local newspaper.

    Oh, and religion.  Don’t forget about religion.

    While it’s sometimes fine for young people to wonder if there might be more to life than what they know, it takes a particularly strong personality to face down a bunch of people he loves and admires who are also armed with millennia of experience in the art of telling people what to think, how to think it and even when to think it.  “Normal”, under these conditions, becomes a very limited set of characteristics.

    You, of course, are different.  You know that there is more out there, that being flexible, open-minded and learning about everything is a wonderful way of life.  You want to share it, want to expand the minds of people with small horizons, and you get really frustrated at unnecessary mental blocks.  Even slightly structured people can get on your nerves.

    So what do you do?  If you’re like me, you can’t resist tweaking them.  You will make little comments based on the exact opposite of their assumptions or (and I don’t recommend this, as it’s a time sink of epic proportions on the comments front) write a guest blog post about how they are wrong about everything on a site with major traffic, in a nicely dismissive tone.  Yes, the temptation to make them jump is very strong… and the situation is made worse by the fact that the reactions are often extremely entertaining as well.

    But my advice is to resist the temptation (do as I say, not as I do, and all that).  The reason has nothing to do with getting along with others and playing nice and everything to do with the fact that it’s a waste of time.  Anyone who’s gotten to adulthood with an excessively rigid set of values isn’t going to change, and the fun of watching them grow angry grows old after a while (OK, some people are extremely funny when angered, but even so).  Plus, there’s the added benefit of people liking you more if you do resist.

    So, now that you at least have a slightly better understanding of where everyone else has their heads at, I’m certain you will be much more pleasant to be around.

    Oh, who am I kidding?  Just send me the anecdotes when you do tweak them.  I’ll laugh at most and probably ask you for permission to post the better ones here.