True or false? Deception, with iPhones, to tell the truth

September 11, 2011

Magician Marco Tempest pushes the boundaries on use of iPhones in magic tricks — is it magic, pure electronics, or what we want to see?

Tell us in comments how you could use this shorter-than-usual TEDS video as a bell-ringer, teachers — or as an ice-breaker, meeting facilitators and corporate trainers:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Michelle Gardiner, who suffered my bass playing with quiet equanimity.

Edith Wharton on Facebook: What a horrible thought!

January 3, 2010

Nancy Sharon Colllins, reporting after her recent work at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, including reading some original letters and other writings of Edith Wharton, wonders what would be the effect on history and literary studies, had Edith Wharton used Facebook instead of keeping her journal and writing copious numbers of letters.

And that got me thinking: What if Edith Wharton had Facebooked? Had she lived in our time and communicated digitally, I wonder what her literature would be like. Looking at five days of cursive writing and personal letters made me realize that her compulsion to jot down her thoughts was no different than ours today when we tweet about what we had for lunch or share some fab link we just discovered. The difference between a letter written longhand and a Facebook post is that one takes a little bit longer (and leaves a more lasting trace), but the purpose is the same. Whether we live on a grand, Whartonian scale or a quieter, more ordinary one, we feel more significant when we share intimacies about ourselves with others.

There’s a good warm-up and/or journaling exercise in there for literature teachers.

Best optical illusion of the year

July 12, 2009

I like to use optical illusions for warm-ups and bell ringers, to get students thinking and looking at things a bit differently.

Richard Wiseman said this is the best new optical illusion he’s seen so far this year:

Image by Prof. Kitaoka, 2009

Image by Prof. Kitaoka, 2009

What’s the illusion?  Well, you see those green stripes?  See the blue stripes?  Actually they are the same color.

You don’t think so?  Zoom in.  Or click over to Wiseman’s blog site and see what happens when all the other colors are turned to black.

I know you think you know what you see; what you think you see may not be what you actually see.  Your brain modifies what you think you see, in order to make it appear sensible, and in doing so, it sometimes makes you see things quite differently from what they are.  Don’t forget that.

So, how do we know what we know?  How do we know that what we know is correct?

Earth images from European Space Agency (ESA)

May 20, 2009

Greece and the Aegean Sea, mosaic image from European Space Agencys MERIS Satellite

Greece and the Aegean Sea, mosaic image from European Space Agency's MERIS Satellite

Great collection of photos from the European Space Agency (ESA), from their Earth from Space: Image of the Week series.  This one is a mosaic of Greece, the Balkans and the Aegean Sea.

Surely this could be made into a bell ringer/warmup.  Check out the images for other geographic forms, and great photos of them.  Nose around the ESA site, there are some great finds.  Can you quickly identify this image, for example (without looking at the name of the photo file)?

Bell Ringer: Bermuda Triangle, Area 51, Marfa, and other cool mysteries

May 17, 2009

If a day goes by that I don’t get a question about one of these sites, it’s a very slow day.

Those questions tell me something else:  Students have genuine interests in geography, and in mysteries.  Students will pay attention to lesson plans that include one or more of these sites in them, especially if you refer to the mystery.

How about just a geography search:  How close is the closest site to you?  Can students visit these sites on their summer vacations?  What airport is closest for tourists?  What arrangements need to be made to visit the place? provides the video — your students have the questions.  Can you provide the answers, or lead them to the answers?  How about listing your answers in comments?

Answers, or more information:

Oops! How many stripes on the U.S. flag?

August 7, 2008

School kids and people seeking naturalization as citizens of the U.S. should be able to tell you there are 13 stripes on the U.S. flag, one for each of the original 13 colonies. The top stripe is red, and the bottom stripe is red.

Oops. The U.S. Postal Service printed a stamp that features what looks like a flag with a 14th stripe.

Representations of the general usage, first class postal stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service in April 2008 -- and, is that a 14th stripe on the flag in the lower right?

Representations of the general usage, first class postal stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service in April 2008 -- and, is that a 14th stripe on the flag in the lower right? The four original, correct paintings were done by Laura Stutzman of Mountain Lake Park, Maryland.

A philatelist blogger, Stamps of Distinction, noted the error in a post earlier this week. The Postal Service acknowledged a problem with the stamp, but said what looks like a seventh white stripe at the bottom of the flag is really just a light patch added to the stamp to give contrast with the last red stripe.

The error appears on the fourth of a four-stamp plate known as the “Flags 24/7 stamps.” The flag is portrayed flying at four different times of the day, sunrise, noon, sunset, and night. The night portrayal carries the last-minute art revision that looks like a 14th stripe, on the bottom of the flag.

Errors in stamps drive up collectors’ prices — USPS says it has no plans to change the stamp now, so it won’t become a rarity.

Stamps of Distinction explains the intricacies of U.S. flag design, stamp traditions, and more specifics. You would do well to visit that site and check the full post.

Please note that flags flown after sunset should be specially lighted to be flown; the U.S. flag code suggests flags should be retired at sunset, otherwise, except at a few locations where the flag may be flown 24 hours a day, by law. USPS said:

For more than 200 years, the American flag has been the symbol of our nation’s source of pride and inspiration for millions of citizens. In May of 1776, Betsy Ross reported that she sewed the first American flag.

Federal law stipulates many aspects of flag etiquette. In 1942, a code of flag etiquette was established. The code states in part that the American flag should be displayed from sunrise to sunset every day, weather permitting, but especially on days of national importance like Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day. Also, federal law requires that “when a patriotic effect is desired,” the flag can be flown through the night if properly lit. Although compliance is voluntary, public observation of the code’s measures is widespread throughout the nation.

Teachers, can you use this for a warm-up/bell ringer exercise on flag history?


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