Butcher’s Human Predator Fact Check

I passed on this Wikipedia list of people who mysteriously disappeared 1 on Twitter last night which led to the following reply from Luke Neff.

“Last year in the U.S. alone more than nine hundred thousand people were reported missing and not found…
That’s out of three hundred million, total population. That breaks down to about one person in three hundred and twenty-five vanishing. Every year….
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it’s almost the same loss ratio experienced by herd animals on the African savannah to large predators.”

? Jim Butcher, Dead Beat

I actually read this novel at one point and I meant to see whether this was true (it’s a great writing prompt either way). I did’t know how many people go missing each year in the U.S.A. or what the predation rate is on herd animals on the African savannah.

The first part seems pretty straightforward. I did a search for missing person statistics us site:.gov

During 2013, 627,911 missing person records were entered into NCIC, a decrease of 5.1% from the 661,593 records entered in 2012. Missing Person records cleared or canceled during the same period totaled 630,990. Reasons for these removals include: a law enforcement agency located the subject, the individual returned home, or the record had to be removed by the entering agency due to a determination that the record is invalid.

-NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2013

Even if we pretend that the nearly 630,000 entries were all missing permanently, we’re still about 1/3 short. When you look more closely at the numbers, you’ll also see that at the end of 2013 there were 84,136 active missing person records which is considerably short of 900,000. I did find the 900,000 number here (You must read the comments.) but there’s no references or anything to where their numbers come from.

I did want to know some things about predation rates on the African savannah. That took a bit more effort. I found this reference to predation rates on African livestock – between 2-10% in the 1970s – which was a good bit higher than the .3% Butcher references. There are variety of percentages and any number of interesting opportunities for more exploration. Another study, in Bhutan rather than Africa, found 2.3% losses to wild animals. And finally, closer to the mark, The Wildebeest in Western Masailand tells us that the bulk of the roughly 8% yearly turnover in the herd is due mainly to lion predation.

Twilight Zone Titles Poetry

This is the first #ds106 assignment I’ve done in a long while. The challenge is to write a poem using only the titles of Twilight Zone episodes. It’s an easy one for any English teacher to use as is or to adapt to whatever restricted set they want – chapter titles from a book, band names, Top 40 song titles, scientific names for animals etc. etc. I think more and more that a major part of English class ought to be encouraging students to play with language and then to figure out why they like what they like. Maybe that’s obvious.

Thanks to Todd Conaway for the assignment (official assignment in the repository) and for the work getting the titles in one place. I also took his Word doc and put it in a Google Docs table to help me see more/most of the titles at once and because I dislike having to open programs on my computer these days.

Is The Apocalypse Upon Us?

Mr. Denton On Doomsday

The Fear
The Fever
The Last Flight
The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street
The Four Of Us Are Dying

And When The Sky Was Opened
I Shot An Arrow Into The Air
The Last Flight
The Purple Testament


The Silence

Wolverine Love Poems

I’ve been interested in using this Garfield Minus Garfield site for a while. Here are a few ways I might use it.

Instant creative writing prompt-

  • Write a love poem to a wolverine.
  • Or write a love poem from the perspective of a wolverine.
  • Or simply write a love poem using the word “wolverine” at least once1

The image matters. Having images like this always changed the quality and engagement I got from my students.

eat my socks
And we have a vocabulary exercise, in this case, for the word consume. Depending on where the student is at, they could match words to provided comics, find their own comics matches etc. I’d probably have them find their own matching comic and create a sentence along the lines of “Though Jon consumed the socks, the meal did not quench the fiery passion in his heart.”

If you feel like really making your students work, you might white out all the words and have them use the comic of your choice to explain something complicated or leave the words in and ask them to provide the context that will make it make sense.

For instance- this comic re-worded could become . . .
pity smile_filled
a look at King George III’s thoughts on the American colonies2. Part of the assignment would be explaining why your comic makes sense and that could be in writing or verbally to the class. A collection of these would provide for some interesting review material. I might even use them as test questions. I’d present the comic and then ask them to explain it.

It’s all simple stuff, I know but it might be interesting to someone out there. The Internet is a big place after all.

1 Bonus points for including a Red Dawn reference.

2 If students don’t have image editing software, just put it in Word and put text boxes over the speech bubbles. If you don’t have it, just use picnik or something similar

Passive Aggressive Learning and Other Drivel

These things are less techy and more inspired by pop culture once again but I thought they were worth remembering.

RSS, DIY, Technology, RSS and Passion
Scion Crest Generator – While the choices aren’t unlimited, this nice flash interface will help you make a lot of different crests. The real power would be in requiring logic for the various choices and in that way the restrictions almost work for you- less time in building and more time spent on why your choices make sense. You could do this with just about any character or historical figure. The really nice thing is the image sizes are really good- up to 2048×1536 so you could print them out and do other things with them or just use them as a starting point in Photoshop or some other image editor.

For instance, I made the crest above for this blog. The wrenches on the left to represent the DIY ethic of much of the stuff I like. The circuit board patter on the right to represent the technology. Then the broadcasting icon represented RSS to me and the fire is for igniting a passion for learning. The wolf is because I like to bite people. I just liked the wolf, a little gritty and banged up from the real world. Corny, I know, but you get the idea.

It’d also be a fun first day, get to know each other activity for younger grades.

Passive aggressive notes via Mental Floss – I can just see all kinds of fun with this concept.

There’s the semi-obvious W. C. Williams “This is Just to Say” poem option. Then you have the students write similar passive aggressive poems “apologizing” for things in the style of other poets.

You could warm the students up by having them write passive aggressive notes first in the style of current pop culture icons. Not exactly current, but Mr. T keeps springing to mind.

I pity the fool
that left those plums
in that icebox.

I won’t spit
no jibba jabba
about being sorry
I ate them.

Mr. T’s gotta eat too.

What kinds of passive aggressive notes would various characters/historical figures leave for one another? You could even get into what they’d write on/with and why. What would their handwriting look like? You’ve got some flexibility in terms of using scenes from the play or real life set ups (Marc Antony and Brutus are sharing an apartment for example).

Take for instance in Julius Caesar, Marc Antony leaves a note for his roommates-

Friends, roommates, countrymen,

Someone has borrowed my car without asking and only one of you has the spare key and that person is Brutus.

I know Brutus would never, ever borrow my car without asking. And if he did, as a “honorable man,” he’d at least have the decency to fill it up with gas when he brought it back because after all he is an “honorable man!”

from Act 3. Scene II of Julius Caesar

And just for fun . . .
Nature abhors a vacuum – the perfect shirt for your favorite science teacher

Google Zeitgeist as a Writing Prompt

So the folks over at Google Blogoscoped had a great idea. Use Google trends as a writing prompt.

For instance, if the top queries are …

1. subaru impreza
2. priyanka chopra
3. build a bear
… and so on …

… then your narrative may go like this, to quote from Simon’s try:

I went out and bought a brand new Subaru Impreza last week, which was very scary as I have only just passed my test. I took Priyanka Chopra, the Indian film star, with me to keep an eye on me and exert a calming influence as I was pretty nervous because the Impreza is wild beast of car.

“Let’s go build a bear”, I shrieked as we weaved through traffic, “an actual live bear that will do our bidding”.

“Good idea,” agreed Priyanka, “This bear could drive us around too, anything would (and so on) …

Morphs pretty well into a fun writing prompt that uses subjects that are, by definition, things people are interested in.
Ways to take it to the next level-

  • write the zeitgeist as a character or historical figure
  • use the words to take the pass the sentence game to the next level
  • see who can make the longest sensible sentence with the fewest additional words (not listed in the trends list)
  • constrain it further with a theme- a fairy tale, a haiku, a reality tv show
  • you could compare different dates and research why the keywords differ

Stuff like that. I’d probably check the date out before hand just to make sure it’s decent and to make sure there are no “surprises.”

Photo credit John Bauer

The Cat In The Hat Experiment- A Literary Remix

The Litlab: J. Robert Lennon: The Cat Text

I have to say one thing here: it is not fun to be with me. I like books and things. Tame: that is I. I get no kicks, fly no kites, play no games. Hops and pot are not my things. If you are here, I want you to go away. So what should this dish, this fox want out of me? I sat and picked at the fish and looked at those hands, so white.

J. Robert Lennon has created a whole alternate story using just words from The Cat In The Hat. This would be a great English lesson. You could remix other things as well- AP news articles, poems, song lyrics etc. It’d be fun to have students use each other’s work. Jill would remix Dre’s paper and they’d talk about the different choices they made. That type of thing.

The creativity comes out as a result of the restrictions.

from Kottke.org
photo credit chinkychongka

Rap for English

I’ve been playing around with the idea of doing a blog for my middle school focusing on using rap lyrics to get at daily oral language and to build vocabulary. I think the potential is definitely there. I’m worried about two things. Can I come up with material consistently enough to make it worthwhile for the students? Secondly, can/should I use an appropriate portion from an inappropriate song? These are middle school students so it gets a little iffy and the county I’m in is pretty conservative. That being said they are having a Souljah Boy dance party at our school and played a clip from the song today on the intercom. So maybe I could pull this off.

I’d love to use lyrics like the ones below from TI’s “You Don’t Know Me”

You gone make me bring da chevy to a real slow creep
My Partner hangin out the window, mouth fulla gold teeth
When the guns start poppin, wonder when its gonna cease
choppa hitchu on the side and create a slow leak
We can end the speculation cuz today we gone see
What’s the future of a sucka who be hatin on me
i don’t care about the feds investigation on me
I don’t care they at my shows and they waitin on me
Ima keep a flossin poppin long as Toomp is on the beat
Tell police that I ain’t stoppin Ima keep it in the streets
Contrary to yo believes, im as real as you can be

You’ve got great vocabulary in there and you could come at this two ways- have them “translate” this into formal English or write it in formal English and they have to figure out which song it’s from. I’d probably use the former more but the latter would be nice for a change every so often.

The formal version-

Sir, you are going to force me to drive by you slowly in my Chevrolet.
My friend will be leaning out of the window. You’ll notice his teeth are covered in gold.
When the firearms begin to fire, you’ll likely wonder when they are going to cease.
If a bullet impacts your lower abdomen you’ll start to bleed slowly.
There’s no need to speculate because today we will find out for sure
what will be the fate of the unfortunate individual who covets my stature.
I am not concerned about the ongoing federal investigation of my person.
I am under surveillance at my performances and they are waiting for me yet I remain unconcerned.
I will continue to seize life with a joie de vivre as long as the music continues.
Inform the police department that I will continue to be true to my self.
Contrary to your beliefs, I am a forthright and honest individual.

It’d be hard to keep it up on daily basis but even if I had to avoid violence I could probably dig up older stuff. I know I’d have to get it started with new songs though- get some momentum going.

What do you think? Doable? Worth the time/effort? or am I just amusing myself?

The Director’s Bureau Special Projects Idea Generator

levitating animal
So The Director’s Bureau Special Projects Idea Generator generates fairly random three word idea strings like the one above – Do-it-yourself levitating animal.

This is one of those things that I’d love to use in the classroom because it’s so simple and fun. It’s also flexible in terms of how big or small you’d like it to be. It could kill 10 minutes or be part of a whole unit. This particular generator isn’t really fit for student use because it’ll throw in “erotic” and some other iffy stuff but the teacher could spin the wheel a few times and come up with a great phrase for each week. I’d probably screen grab it or make something visual for the word results- as the packaging does matter.

It can then be use for a variety of things. It’d be pretty cool right off as a creative writing or journal prompt but where things would be neat would be in tweaking it to focus on what you’re covering at the time. For instance-

  • Describe the do-it-yourself levitating animal kit using every word from this week’s vocabulary list
  • Write an ad for the do-it-yourself levitating animal creation kit using the bandwagon technique
  • Write two responses to seeing an ad for the do-it-yourself levitating animal kit. In the first one respond in the voice of an excited kid (“I’ve never been satisfied with the levitating animals I got from the store.”) and in the second respond to the ad in the voice of an irritated parent. (“Just what I need around the house- more levitating animals!”)
  • It’d be fun for poetry as well. It could serve as the end of your poem or the first line etc.

You could have contests where the kids vote on the best one or have a whole series where they complete one of each style by the end of the semester. It’d be a great way to get kids thinking creatively and interacting with one another’s ideas.

I found this via Stumble Upon

Students Explore Poetry Through Hyperlinks


I was trying to find a new way to make poetry more engaging last month. As I searched for intersections between poetry and technology, I found the genre of poetry that, along with innovative web comics, inspired this experiment. I created a website with a couple poems peppered with hyperlinks. The links point to clues both informative and intriguing. My hope was make exploring a poem more of an adventure than a chore. It seemed to be successful. My students were able to articulate the concepts and themes of the poems. The discussion was more informed and, therefore, more interesting.

Onomatopoeia- A Hook

The following post is my attempt to clarify how I go about conceiving and constructing lessons. If you’d just like the source files and could care less how I think (which I imagine is the majority), they are linked at the bottom of the page.

This is how I ended up with this fairly interesting introduction to onomatopoeia. Yesterday, I found a tutorial on how to make cartoon style lettering for comics using Photoshop at EEight.com. It looked like fun and I figured since Jim was going to be hitting poetry pretty soon, and I had some time during Spring Break to try things, I’d give it a shot. I think I found it using StumbleUpon which is a great site that lets you find some really odd things and that in turn tends to inspire me to make some interesting lesson. I try to keep the question “Can I use this to teach something?” in the back of my head at all times.

The first thing I did was brainstorm all the onomatopoeia words I could think of. The main one that kept coming to mind was crash and that led to the association with crash course- finally! an excuse to use the crash sound in a presentation. With that title, “A Crash Course in Onomatopoeia” in mind I set out to make my introductory material.

When I became brainlocked, I googled “list of onomatopoeia” and found this site which has a decent list.
tiger roar


So now that I had some good fun keywords in my head, I went over to FlickrCC to see what I could find. Nothing fancy here, I just started typing in the keywords and browsing the photos that came up. I do a lot of image searching initially. Images are key. I tend to open a bunch in tabs, while I keep browsing and then go back and cull the results. I usually download 10 or 20 more images than I end up using.

So, I end up putting in all my pictures and doing the photoshop trick to make comic book style lettering for all the onomatopoeia but it’s not working as a whole. The pictures are neat and the lettering is cool but it’s not there. I realize I have no story, no unifying thread. So I went back and made a narrative that involved all the onomatopoeia and worked in the images fairly well (and the vocabulary is pretty decent as well). It’s a deliberately odd story (view the notes) that involves shorn dreadlocks, tigers, vengeance and narcolepsy. There’s some decent vocabulary in it and it uses alliteration and irony to add some other things to talk about. Use it or create your own.

One of the projects I’d think about having kids do is create three different images with text that represents onomatopoeia (or other poetic devices like personification) and then I’d create a master folder where all the images would go and the students would have to draw out 7 or so images and create three specific types of poems or stories using the image/onomatopoeia combinations.

I wrote this in an attempt to figure out, for myself, how I come up with ideas for interesting lessons. If you’ve made it this far, I salute you.

If you want the file it’s here in Powerpoint and here in Keynote II.