Tool #41: IMDB: Movie Information

imdbInternet Movie Database (IMDB) is a great place for reference for anything to do with movies. I love to discuss movies with my students. Unfortunately, the names in Japanese often have no connection to the names in English.

With this web site showing, though, I can lecture and show short pictures or even trailers to make a visual connection with the language. I often have my students keep track of the logical connections that are between movies (one actor was in another movie, who’s director made another movie with an actor, who married an actress in another movie…).

Tool #40: Evernote: Organize your online stuff

Keeping notes organized is hard enough on paper. But when you add web pages, media clips, videos, audio, podcasts, and whatever, it gets hard to handle. Try EverNote, for keeping things organized and connected to what you do.

Just like most other Web 2.0 sites, you can share part or all of your online notes and great finds with your friends, family or students.

Tool #38: Pace, Speed

I am often astounded by how slowly everything goes in class. It is like everyone is living in molasses. The answers are always carefully considered before being uttered. This is not how communication works. It is not good enough to speak correct English, you have to speak it fast.

Learning goes the same way. You need to have a steady pace, and be constantly learning. I like to say that the absolute worst language learning environment is the classroom, a room with no input, bare walls, only other students for interaction, with perhaps one or two exchanges with the teacher each session. Dismal.

Look at this kid learn. He knows how to do it.

Tool #37: 10 Days in the USA: Board game

Better than Monopoly
Better than Monopoly

OK, OK. It’s not a computer thing. This is a simple board game, one you play at the dinner table after dinner. Did you know Germans are real big fans of board games, instead of TV?

10 Days in the USA is a simple geography game that takes about 45 minutes the first time you play it, but after 2 or 3 tries, you can do it on about 20 minutes. The goal is to set up a travel schedule for a 10-day trip in the USA.

The gameplay is very simple, you play with cards that you replace each turn you get. The first to set up a trip with no gaps in it is the winner.

This is great for student to read the instructions (which are very simple), and sometimes check each other (no real negotiation necessary), and it really helps with the geography of the US.

If you want to give the students a great little electronic (computer based) geography lesson, try Statetris (that’s Tetris with US states…Japan version too.)

Tool #36: The Moth: a podcast

themoth The Moth is a podcast of short stories told by amateurs, and a few professionals. They are told at a weekly event in New York or Los Angeles. People are selected to get up on stage and tell their stories, without notes, to the other story-tellers (the hardest audience).

You can listen to the Moth on their website or through iTunes. Nathan Furuya over at Kasai Gaidai recommended the podcast to me, and he is putting together of list of the best ones for teaching. I’ll share it with you when he gets it done.  For now, they have a contest every once in a while, and here you can listen to the winners of the StorySlams.

Tool #35: iKnow Social Learning

iKnow does more than language
iKnow does more than language

iKnow grew out of a project at Cerego, a company here in Japan that made English language learning software. They moved the content online, made it free, and “socialized” it, made it have more Web 2.0 features.

After that they expanded the content to include more than English, to other languages, and then beyond langauges. All with a simple interface and a few great tools for language learners. The best part, however, is the interaction between learners. Watch the introductory video to get a quick overview. My students like this site as well.

Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech

Ogawa-sensei remembered that I had brought Obama’s acceptance speech to Cosmos Festival in November. He asked me if I had a good copy (better than the one on YouTube). Ogawa-sensei, I’ll bring it in on Monday.

Obama’s speeches are legendary now. I’ve been following him since 2004, and he continues to amaze.

President Barack Obama gives his inaugural address. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty
President Barack Obama gives his inaugural address. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The text and video of his speech show initially that his Inauguration speech on Tuesday may have had lukewarm reception at first.

But when you start to look at the speech carefully, his mastery shows. It is a new style of speech, more measured, more exact, and it leads to discussion and interpretation. He is moving the ideas front and center, instead of personalities.

Stanley Fish, Dean of my university (Uof I , Chicago) when I was there (now former) and widely read columnist for the New York Times, looks closely at Obama’s speech, and shows us the intricacies. He thinks we should use this speech in our English classes, because of its

Paratactic prose lends itself to leisurely and loving study, and that is what Obama’s speech is already receiving. Penguin Books is getting out a “keepsake” edition of the speech, which will be presented along with writings by Abraham Lincoln and Ralph Waldo Emerson. (You can move back and forth among them, annotating similarities and differences.)

I can’t wait for the new Penguin Edition to come out. After their ground-breaking WeTellStories, I am really looking forward to more experimentation on augmenting regular text. Penguin is really innovative.

My (younger) daughter will be giving a part of an Obama speech on February 14 at the Jr/Sr high school on campus. She picked it out last September, and hopes to take it to the National Finals of the Hachishibu Speech Contest. I’ll put up a video after.

Tool #34: LiveMocha: Social Language Learning

livemochaLiveMocha is a social web site, like Mixi or Facebook, or MySpace, but better.  This social web site is all about language learning and language exchange. People teach each other or simply interact in foreign languages. The New York Times has taken notice (look at the quote on their home page). I ask my students to sign up and use LiveMocha as part of my Computer Literacy Class. They seem to really like it. You can get points by teaching other people, or helping to create materials in your own language, and use those points for learning. A whole new economics of teaching is being created here.

Tool #33: Lexxica’s Word Engine

study words you really need
study words you really need

Lexxica’s Word Engine is built on research done by Charles Browne and others. He has been into Showa to speak to teachers and students about learning vocabulary. The main idea is that most books in high school teach the wrong words, words that are of very low frequency (they aren’t used much).

Here at the Word Engine, you can get your vocabulary checked in a few minutes and then study words that are most necessary to understand most reading passages.  Thre are 3 or 4 vocabulary activities you can do, and the program remembers which ones you know or don’t know. You can even do some activities with your cell phone.

Tool #32: Google Reader

Google Reader organizes your RSS feeds and podcasts
Google Reader organizes your RSS feeds and podcasts

Google Reader is a way to collect and read all those RSS feeds. You can see in my reader a few of the categories I have created to put all those feeds into groups according to topic. The great thing about the reader is that I can click on a “star” in the corner to save it, or one click on a “share” button to automatically send it to my “fans” or students. It’s just a great way to collect information and organize it. Much better than surfing the web.

Check out my earlier psots on RSS and Google Desktop for more information on this topic.

Tool #31: iTunes audio software manager

There are a lot of free podcasts as well as expensive music
There are a lot of free podcasts as well as expensive music

iTunes is a great piece of free software. It is designed to work with iPods, but you can use it to organize your music or other audio files.

You can also use it to access thousands of audio files that are free. Podcasts of all types and qualities are available, and they even have a section for educational podcasts.

Tool #30: iPod

Check out the iTouch for even better hardware
Check out the iTouch for even better hardware

Apple makes great computers, and Steve Jobs is started three technological revolutions. The fist was to make a desktop personal computer. The second was to make a portable digital music player, and the third was to make a portable computer that fits in your hand (iPhone). Each revolution has changed its respecitive industry (computers, music, phones).

The iPod is a great tool for education. You can load audio, and even video on to an iPod and it becomes a portable media machine. It works better than a CD, cassette or MD player. You can bookmark places in your sound files to go back to the exact place each time. Get the AV cable to connect to speakers and digital projectors.

Tool #29: GoToWeb2.0 Directory

Thousands of web 2.0 sites
Thousands of web 2.0 sites

I really like this directory of web 2.0 sites for the variety of names and logos that have proliferated (spread) in the last few years. It is much easier to make a web 2.0 site, it only costs, on average, about $100,000, where in the year 200 Internet bubble the average cost for a site was about $1,000,000. These sites all have a few things in common: they are simple, they do one thing and do it well, and they are almost all free. Explore, enjoy, spend some time. Or look of a specific kind of site, as well. Go2web2.0.

Tool #28: YouSendIt: big file transfer

Replaces FTP
Replaces FTP

With Gmail, or Yahoo Mail, you can send files up to 10 MB, which is pretty large (a 10-minute mp3 file, for example).

But sometimes, you need to send someone a file that is larger. My favorite service is YouSendIt. I send files to Boston and get them back fine with this service. Normally, a geek like me would use FTP, but that requires owning a web site and using specialized software. With YouSendIt, it is all done on the web, and is very similar to sending an email.

Recent books

Over winter vacation, I spent almost a week at my wife’s mother’s place in Nagoya. No Internet. Which meant lots of time for reading paper-based stuff. Here is how I spent my New Year’s.

The Limits of Power by Andrew Blacevitch, former Navy Admiral shows how we can’t continue our imperial ways in the world, how they got started with Regan, how Carter was right, and how Rhienhold Neibuhr foresaw this a long time ago.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson: Monks in the future, on another world, grapple with society, purges and a new world-shaking event. 940 pages of classic Stephenson, his best book yet, but hard to read because it has its own vocabulary.

The Big Necessity by Rose George: The biggest health improvement in the last 500 years has been sewage treatment. This Guardian reporter explores, literally, the biggest and the best, the worst and the stinkiest ways to handle shit.

Tool #27: HandBrake video format conversion

Convert DVDs to other formats for editing or watching on your iPod
Convert DVDs to other formats for editing or watching on your iPod

Sometimes you have a DVD with a small section of video you want to use in class, or want to put on your iPod, or you want to edit a little for your class use. This is legally OK because it is called Fair Use, an exception to copyright, specifically for education. HandBrake is a software you download and install on your computer to change from one format to another.There are many different video formats, and not all people can play all the formats on their computers, so a coversion software is necessary. This one is free, and works very well. This does require some knowledge of editing videos to use well. Sorry, no Japanese version available.

Tool #26: EasyBib

Online bibliography maker
Online bibliography maker

More research tools. There are a lot of bibliography makers out there,  but this one is simple to use and the basic account is free, plenty enough for my zemi students and their research.

EasyBib is nice because you don’t have to download anything to your computer. You can also share your bibliography if you work together in a group.

Tool #25: Google Calendar

coordinate with different groups
coordinate with different groups

Google’s applications online go beyond an office suite, this calendar makes it easy to coordinate your own life, and share coordination with others using their calendars too. This is particlularly valuable in setting meeting times.

I have 3 different calendars in one, with stuff added to some of them. My personal calendar has all my information, but does not include the phases of the moon, for example. I have a calendar for my friends and family, and another for my volunteer work, and finally another for my “paid hobbies” (work). I have my reminder deadlines inserted automatically (by a service called Remember the Milk, another upcoming tool). I can control who sees, and who can interect on each calendar (I have one for students if they want to make an appointment with me, for example). Versions in English, Japanese and many other languages.

Tool #24: Sparknotes Summaries

help for native speakers
help for native speakers

Sparknotes is a site designed to help high school and university native speakers of English in their studies. Many professors look down on such sites as being a kind of cheating, but for non-native speakers it is an invaluable reference in how to do summaries. You can look up pretty much anthing, but they specialize in literature. They have complete chapter-by-chapter summaries of the most popular books in high school. They even have some audio versions you can download and listen to on your mp3  player, and text versions for your iPod or phone. This is where books start turning into bits.