Calling E.T.

This is another one of those little things I love that the Internet brings me on a silver RSS platter1.

From New Scientist

As part of our special feature marking the 50th anniversary of the search for extraterrestrial life, we round up humanity’s radio messages to the stars.

This is an awesome list of messages we’ve sent into outer space2 and leads to some potentially interesting English uses. Here are a few very rough ideas.

  • Your Message – The standard idea would be “What message would you send into outer space? Write one paragraph etc. etc.” That’s OK but it doesn’t really do it for me. You need to add a lot of restrictions and bring to the forefront the things you need to consider when sending messages into outer space.

    I’d start by looking at the messages we’ve sent. What do they have in common? What assumptions are made about the recipients3?

    Then it’d be really interesting to start restricting the size of the message. How do you pack the most information into your message? The debates over what stays/goes would be really interesting as well as what type (text, images, number, video etc.) of communication is likely to succeed with unknown aliens.

    Looking at the Arecibo message would also spark some interesting ideas and discussions.

    You could also get into what happens if part of your message is corrupted or lost. How does that impact it?

  • Reception – You are an alien. You have received all of these messages in order. What do you think of the race that sent them? This is a nice way to get at point of view. Students could set their own sensory restrictions or you could assign them randomly.

    You could also respond to the messages based on various cultural and physiological traits.

  • Advertising – Doritos pitched an ad into outer space. Clearly, it flopped. Your job is to do better.

    First, analyze what advertisers like to know about humans.

    Next, how would those items change if you were advertising to a different race?

    What information would you need to have in an interstellar ad?

  • Take me to your leader – An alien race who has received one of these messages and has landed on Earth. What are their assumptions? What do they do based on them?

I actually did a unit on aliens and alien abduction in my 6th grade class. They were very reluctant readers and writers who, for the most part, were several grades below level. The alien abduction theme really captured their interests. We looked at crop circles, abductions, Area-51.

After reading a variety of abduction stories, we broke down the essential components and then they wrote their own stories as abductees. This opened up discussions about genera, point of view, descriptive writing etc. It was also a lot of fun.

Here are some random graphic organizers4 I made at the time. I’m putting them out here more as possible ideas. They’re pretty poorly done, although I still like a few of the ideas. It’s always depressing to look back at what you were doing 6 or so years ago. I had less than no skills but I was having a good time.

This one was done on the fly. The student was one who was there for a few days and then disappeared (only to return months later). It was a nice connection for the class to see someone they knew who actually, to us, disappeared.

1 Granted, I’ve piled this platter so high with various feeds that a lot is lost in the shuffle. It may be time for a reboot.

2 We’ve done some very strange things.

3 They can see, hear etc.

4 Sadly, probably closer to worksheets in most cases.

21st Century Video Remix

I remixed1 this video for our new specialty center which is focusing on teaching. Once you pass Obama, there’s some decent video covering students working in groups with computers, Promethean boards 2, and digital probes. It might be useful to others.

1 I swear it does change.

2 AKA the giant, wall mounted mouse- my opinion of the IWBs, obviously, remains pretty low.

Weird Books

My favorite kind of edtech use- free, quick and slightly odd1.

The Weird Book Room is, obviously, a collection of really odd book titles and covers2 This is prime fodder for all kinds of entertaining creative writing activities.

Things I would want to try-

  • Show the students three or four covers/titles. Their task is to pick one3 and write a Amazon style summary of the book totally based off the odd title and cover. The focus here would be on style, looking at how these reviews generate interest and what structural components they normally contain.
  • Instead of a summary write a review of the book as if you’ve read it. Give it 1 or 5 starts and write your review accordingly. I’d put a heavy slant on opinion and bias on this one, encouraging students to put themselves in personality roles with strong opinions and assuming that voice.
  • Use the titles in poetry. Students could just use the title as the first line, or they have to use X number of words from the provided titles. Lots of options.
  • If you had the time, students could write the book or at least a pitch for the book. Have them generate a character list, plot summary, etc.
  • As a frustrated art teacher, I’d give the titles and have students create the covers.

1 Thinking about it, it’s more about access to odd information and visuals. The tech part is relatively insignificant but could be expanding in most of the examples depending on what you had access to. For instance, with the time and inclination you might want to

2 Appropriateness varies. Probably not safe to have your kids wandering around on their own unless you live in Amherst, MA.

3 Choice is always good, but not too much choice or it’ll take forever.