Monday, October 15, 2012

Vindolanda Mini-Class

I've been asked to teach a "mini"-class for prospective 7th graders at one of our schools Family Visit Days, when we'll host applicants.  The classes are broken down into 20-minute slots for no more than 20 students, and we'll run each class 6 times.  Thanks to the format, it's very difficult to teach a language-based mini-class, let alone one in Latin, but I have an idea that I'm eager to try.
I explored Hadrian's Wall a few years ago and have since been very interested in the military letters found along the wall, chiefly in the Roman fort at Vindolanda.  With that in mind, I've decided to do a very short writing project with the kids, having them write "Vindolanda" letters of their own.  I'll use Google Earth to "travel" to Hadrian's Wall and show them just how far they were from Rome (maybe also briefly using Stanford's ORBIS project?), then give them the Roman cursive script used along the wall and some Latin phrases in a Google Doc as a starting point.  They'll write their letters on a small piece of balsa wood using a black marker (cf. the famous letter 291 below), and I'll paste a QR code (found above) on the back of each "tablet" that will direct them to the same Google Doc, on which I'll allow comments, in case they have any questions or comments after they leave the classroom.  It'll be fun to see how many kids visit the Google Doc after the classes are over.
This project should be a great way to learn actively a little bit about the formalities of Roman letter writing, including names and dates, while working within an actual historical framework.  And it'll be a nice personal project that students will be able to take home with them.  I'm eagerly looking forward to putting some ideas I've had over the past few months to the test.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Greek Iconography Workshop Ideas

Right now I'm taking Google's Power Searching online course and am enjoying it.  In our 4th lesson, I learned that images can be dragged/dropped directly into the search bar for imaged searches (but not on tablet devices; cf. below!).  I got to thinking that this could be incredibly useful in looking at Greek iconography with students.  We offer the Medusa Mythology Exam as an optional exam to our students at the school, and I think we could have a lot of fun in a workshop combining the iconography of the mythic figures covered in the exam with the search tools we've learned in the course.  As an exercise, we could give students images from Greek vases or other pieces of art and ask them to identify the figures, based on what they see.  Then, they could check their guesses by searching for the image online and even figure out more about the image, e.g. its museum location, approximate date, etc.  Basically, it's an online scavenger hunt.
But, as noted in the course, image searching does not work with tablet devices!  Our school is in the beginning stages of implementing a 1:1 program starting next year, but we haven't yet chosen a device.  I'm sufficiently excited in the ability to search images in this way that I think this is another strong argument against adopting an iPad or other tablet device.  For now, I'm going to demo this myself in one of our JCL club meetings, but it's an idea I intend to explore in greater detail in the near future.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cheating, Investment, and Technogogy

We are in the middle of a reassessment of our honor code and have been thinking about ways to make it more visible in our daily lives on campus.  With that in mind, I just read through this NYT article on cheating at Stuyvesant HS, and a few things struck me.  One of the students who admitted to cheating, blamed his academic dishonesty on his lack of respect for his French teacher; he asks, “When it came to French class, where the teacher had literally taught me nothing all year, and during the final the students around me were openly discussing the answers, should I not listen?”
I hate to admit this, but he has a point, at least in part.  This goes back to the issue of personal investment in an academic courses that I brought up a few days ago.  I think I undervalued the importance in student investment for preventing academic dishonesty:  to my mind, students are less likely to cheat in a course, if they have respect for the course, namely, for the instructor, the material, and especially their role as a student.  I can't help but think that if this student really enjoyed his French class and was personally interested in the material, he would have acted differently.  But I wonder if this is a naive view on my part, given the "make or break" attitudes toward college these days...?

Additionally, I found it stunning that the interim principal of Stuyvesant has banned the use of laptops and iPads on campus during the day, which goes directly against the "1:1" movement that many schools, including ours, are pushing.  I think I've undervalued the concern for cheating in pushing for more "technogogy" in schools and it's a concern I indeed want to address with faculty but I don't see how electronic prohibition will help to prevent cheating and facilitate us moving forward with technology.  Many of the methods outlined in the article had nothing to do with electronic devices, and students who are intent on cheating will always find a way.  So, the issue of academic dishonesty is something to keep an eye on, as we push forward with our 1:1 movement and curricula redesigns.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

QR Codes and Foreign Languge Projects

About a month ago a colleague brought to my attention Bryan Caplan's argument for the futility of foreign language instruction in this country.  I don't buy the argument, of course, but it's challenges like these that give us a chance to re-evaluate why we believe in what we do, if read constructively (cf. a similar argument against algebra).  To my mind, this article illuminated the glaring lack of publicity that our student work receives in a daily basis, especially in comparison to the emergent STEM movements, and I think that we foreign language teachers need to do a better job of making our courses relevant and personal to students.  We can do this, at least in part, by giving students more opportunities to show off their work publicly, just like we do for math, science, performing arts, etc.

With that in mind, I saw Peter Vogel's post on G+ yesterday on QR codes and began thinking about some ways we could use them.  It would be very easy to have students generate a QR code (e.g. with Google's URL shortener tool), linking to a document that could then be easily shared.  For example, I do a Greek vase project with my 8th graders, having them make a vase that depicts a myth of their own choosing (preferably myths they make up).  In the past, I've asked for a short write-up of the story, including a short "museum" discussion of the depicted image and its significance for the myth.  Now, though, I can ask them to write their discussions in a Google Doc and link it to the vase with a QR code that can be pasted directly on the vase.  No more need to give me a sheet of paper or write a name on the vase.

When we're done with that, we can show off our collective work in some of our school gallery space, I hope, as is typically done with artwork in the Visual Arts Dept.  We don't need QR codes, to be sure, but they could add a nice twist and even give our students a chance to share their work outside of the gallery space.  Anyone with a QR reader app could be taken directly to the Doc with more information about the vase.  And perhaps we could even give a prize to the best couple myths and/or vases.  An opportunity to show of their projects to all their peers may give students a chance both to take more pride in it and even to develop more of a personal investment in their foreign language study.  Right now, I'm thinking out loud, but I like the direction and am eager to give this a try.  Rome wasn't built in a day, after all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Little Latin Reader

Thanks to its recent BMCR review, I recently got word of English and Irby's new Latin reader, A Little Latin Reader (Oxford) and received my copy a few days ago.  I don't intend to fully review the book here, but I'll offer a few brief thoughts on it.  The reader is designed to give students an early introduction to real Latin (in opposition to "textbook" Latin) and is organized topically by points of grammar, e.g. the dative case, the perfect tense, indirect statements, cum-clauses, etc.  Each grammatical topic heading contains a few short passages with a brief self-contained vocabulary, giving the reader over 200 passages in total.  The authors have designed the book to be a versatile tool in accompanying grammar instruction, and in this respect, I think it's an excellent resource.
As Pollio notes in his BMCR review, the choice of passages and fullness in commentary could always be debated, and while I would have preferred to see more Imperial prose, I'm very happy with the selection.  In particular, I'm especially happy that the authors have included a number of epigraphical texts that are worth reading.  In fact, non-literary texts are receiving more attention than ever at the intermediate level, as is also the case with LaFleur's excellent Scribblers, Sculptors, and Scribes, and I hope that the trend continues.

It's certainly true that the minimalist commentary accompanying each text is little more than a plain vocabulary and as such won't help students with points of grammar, language, and style.  But while this fact will prevent the reader from becoming a primary textbook, it will also allow teachers to tailor the discussion to their own interests and force students to analyze the texts themselves.  A quick browse through the selections reveals an abundance of "nonstandard" forms that are ripe for all sorts of discussions, e.g. anc (34.4 and 38.1), cīves (43.1), deicō (15.1), līberum (27.3), negāstī (33.3), praetereis (45.2), sexs (34.3), etc., in addition to the usual points of literary interest.  In all of my classes I'm going to use the book exactly as the authors suggested, namely, as a springboard both for further discussion on selected topics and for sight-reading.  At $15.95 it's a bargain.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Two notes on dialectology

I just came across this article on the divergence of American English in the Great Lakes region.  I'm not familiar with the dialect, but its vowel system is apparently diverging from standard American English more quickly than other dialects; cf. words like cot and caught with different vowels, unlike in my own dialect.  It's interesting to me to think about dialects in relation to (literary) Latin, which showed practically no dialectal variation across the empire for hundreds of years.  Latin, of course, did have "dialects", much like English does today, but the data are hard to find, given the authority of the literary language.  It's a fun and worthwhile exercise to point them out to students on occasion.
Secondly, the Gray-Atkinson model of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) branching and question of its Urheimat has resurfaced in the past few days, with the same claim that PIE began to break up around 8000 BCE.  The claim reported now is that the homeland must have been located in Anatolia.  Other than the above NYT story, most of the articles I've seen (except this one) fail to mention that Indo-Europeanists largely reject this model, instead projecting the break-up to 4000-5000 BCE and placing the homeland near or in the steppes of the Ukraine, based on scientific analysis of the linguistic data (which the Gray-Atkinson model doesn't do).

Being a historical linguist, I'm fascinated by language change, but it's rather difficult to illustrate in introductory and intermediate Latin courses, especially from the historical perspective.  But demonstrable language changes like the Northern Cities Shift near the Great Lakes could help illustrate more far-reaching changes like those we see in the developments from PIE.  And perhaps we can also arrive at an understanding that glottochronology isn't as easy as plugging words into a computer without really considering the data.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sounds in Oaxacalifornia

The 18th Street Arts Center is currently hosting an exhibition called Prospecting Notes About Sound by Gala Porras-Kim through September 7.  While the indigenous language Zapoteco isn't Indo-European, I'm excited to have a look at it.  Her project is linguistic-based and explores the musical quality of the tonal language, and so could provide some interesting parallels to the pitch-based Ancient Greek.  Additionally, I gather that Zapoteco has several dialectal features, much like Greek did.
I'm also curious to learn whether I can do something similar around Latin, asking students to craft a project that uses the sounds of Latin artistically.  Perhaps it could help students to get a better understanding of how the language sounded, though I think that it'll be more difficult doing a project along these lines with a dead language.  More to come, and I'll have more ideas after I see the exhibition.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Lion Attacking a Horse at the Getty Villa

Another shameless Getty Villa plug:  the Lion Attacking a Horse exhibition has just opened, featuring the eponymous statue on loan from the Capitoline Museum in Rome, and will be featured until 2/4, 2013.  The video below details its installation in the Villa's atrium.
On Thursday, 8/23 at 3pm (with repeats on 9/20, 10/25, 11/29, and 12/20), Villa curators will lead free 45min. gallery talks on the piece and its installation.  Additionally, they will offer a $35 ($28 for students) course on Saturday, 12/8 at 1pm on the history and iconography of this fantastic sculpture.

Last year, we offered a field trip to the Getty Villa that included a tour and scavenger hunt designed around the collection.  I think that we'll do something similar this year, though now focusing on the Lion.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Hobbit in Latin

Mark Walker's Latin translation of The Hobbit is available for pre-order (available September 13).  My students have enjoyed the bits of the Latin Harry Potter series we've read in class, and I'm now eager to have a look at Hobbitus Ille. With the release of the new Hobbit movie this December, I'm expecting that there should be a good deal of interest in the book.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Welcome to Cinis et Favilla!

I created this blog with a twofold purpose in mind:  to get my students thinking about Classical culture outside of a classroom and to give them an opportunity to improve their digital literacy in the expression of their ideas.  To that end, I will encourage them to keep their own blogs in a similar fashion, with posts on anything related to the Latin language, Classical literature and myth, art, history, architecture, etc. that they see in their daily lives. This is an experiment, and I don't know how successful it will be.  Ideally, though, we can work towards a deeper appreciation of our Classical heritage together.

Helen at the Villa in September

The Getty Villa will be staging Euripides' Helen this fall Thursdays-Saturdays in the month of September.  Tickets are $42 ($38 for students), and $25 preview shows will be held 8/30-9/1.  Don't miss it!

Beautiful Evil: The Challenge of Helen of Troy

Ruby Blondell is coming to the Getty Villa Saturday, 9/15 at 2pm to give a free public lecture Beautiful Evil: The Challenge of Helen of Troy.  She's a well-known Classicist from the University of Washington, and the lecture should be very interesting.