Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wonderland in Wales

Wonderland in Wales

by Eileen Neary, Intern Fall 2012

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains popular nearly 150 years after its first publication; in addition to the 2010 blockbuster movie starring Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp, over twenty other film adaptations exist, as well as numerous children’s shows, collectibles, comic books, musicals, ballets, operas and more. What many don’t know is that Alice Liddell, the inspiration for main character Alice, seasonally vacationed in Llandudno, Wales, with her parents, sisters and governess.

Llandudno is a bustling seaside resort about three hours from London via rail. The Liddell’s vacation home, “Penmorfa,” became a tourist attraction following the fame of Carroll’s book, and in 1965 was renovated as the Gogarth Abbey Hotel. Though the hotel was demolished amid public outcry in 2008, Llandudno continues to incorporate Alice in Wonderland-themed culture into the area; there are current plans to unveil a walking trail in 2013 with statues and interactive technology along its 35 points of interest.

Muriel and Murray Ratcliffe, long-time residents of Llandudno, installed a Rabbit Hole attraction and gift shop in 1987, featuring life-size characters in scenes from the book. In addition to purchasing the Rabbit Hole content from the Ratcliffes, the two directors of Alice in Wonderland Ltd., Barry Mortlock and Simon Burrows, have decided to revive Alice’s tale with new attractions in honor of the story’s 150th anniversary. Mortlock believes honoring Alice Liddell is important to Wales; Alice is “…a Llandudno celebrity, having graced our shores with her presence. Her story needs to be told to the world and remembered.”

These two directors aided in the remodel of several locations, such as a coffee shop, which will be Wonderland themed. In May 2012, four wooden sculptures of main characters were unveiled, as well as a giant flower clock and a bandstand. “Alice Day” was celebrated that May on what would have been her 160th birthday. It included a tea party, parade and tart-eating contest.

As Barry Mortlock says, the story of Alice “…takes us into a different dimension; it stimulates, feeds and drives the imagination.” And it’s looking like it will for many years to come.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

There and Back Again: 75 Years of The Hobbit

There and Back Again: 75 Years of The Hobbit

by Rose Pleuler, Intern Fall 2012

In the third grade my understanding of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien boiled down to a shoebox diorama of Smaug the dragon sitting on his pile of treasure. At nine years old, I had no idea of the enduring success of this epic tale and the trilogy it spawned. Back then I was busy imagining a courageous hobbit, a bunch of dwarves and a greedy dragon. Now that I’m older with more knowledge of the book and its history, I’ve come to realize that it’s amazing to consider the profound importance of this book on the fantasy genre and on literature.

September 21, 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of the first publication of The Hobbit. The book had a press run of 1,500 copies in 1937; today, the book has sold over 100 million copies in more than 50 languages worldwide. Furthermore, the first installation of a film adaptation trilogy will hit movies theatres on December 14, 2012. The Hobbit has also spawned many critical works, from chapter-by-chapter analyses, to exploration of the map of Middle-earth, to philosophical interpretations and discussions. The Hobbit is a rich text that warrants a great deal of intellectual investigation, for it has also shaped our reception of the fantasy genre today.

The fantasy landscape Tolkien conjures in his works has become the model for much of contemporary fantasy fiction, including media such as role-playing games (RPGs), television, movies and video games. Our visions of creatures such as elves, dwarves, trolls, goblins and dragons—not to mention hobbits and orcs—are due to Tolkien. The landscape of Middle-earth is reimagined countless times in modern fantasy, and other fantasy epics popular today may never have fully achieved success without the paving force of The Hobbit.

Beyond that, the academic merit and commercial success of the franchise is because it’s just a good book—one that my third grade self was enthralled with but any adult will find just as enthralling. The Hobbit is rooted deeply in myth, lore and legend, and it’s filled with riddles and songs. It’s a story about good and evil and overcoming the odds, as Bilbo is truly just “a little fellow in a wide world.” Above all, The Hobbit urges us to find courage within ourselves. And that’s the message that resonates with us still, 75 years later.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Role Playing in the Classroom

Role Playing in the Classroom: A New Technique to Teaching

by Gabriella Balza, Intern Fall 2012

It’s 8 a.m. and you’re teaching to a room packed with 60 students. Most of them are hiding in the back with slumped bodies and eyes that you still haven’t made contact with because they’re nearly closed. As you try to engage them in talk that they’re not even going to remember about a war or scientific discovery, some of the students are drawing comic strips or unappealing caricatures of your face in notebooks that have become sketchpads. A few will appear to look at you because the clock is right behind you, but secretly, they’re hoping that if they stare at it a little longer, the next hour will suddenly dissipate to five minutes.

In settings like this, some students who are not interested in the class subject or have difficulty understanding the lesson might tune out. Because of this concern, more and more teachers are changing their approach to help these students become more engaged during class. Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is one method that has been introduced by Barnard College. RTTP is a role-playing game that allows students to become scientists, astronomers or historians in the classroom. This game demonstrates the process of reaching a conclusion and introduces the concept of scientific progress to students by permitting them to assume the role of historical figures. By allowing students to debate on topic matters from their viewpoints and interpretations, they are forming a connection with the topic at hand. As debates and discussions on whether Pluto is a planet or not keep going, students playing on their strengths of communication, persuasion or analysis become not only interested but passionate about the material. Suddenly, the frequently asked question, “How does this relate to me?” becomes answered.

Instructors seem to agree that this new approach to teaching is refreshing, since it allows a teacher to be “. . . more of a coach and less a dispenser of information,” as Taz Daughtrey, a lecturer at James Madison University, puts it. The different components of interacting with the subject matter seem to not only engage students who are tired of long lecture classes, but also add a new mix to the traditional teaching techniques many instructors have felt boxed into.

Although met with high praise, the RTTP method does face some challenges. Since the game requires students to come into a character, often times this new persona is one that a student does not agree with. Also, introverts might prefer a lecture class, since they may struggle with coming into character. Either way, this new method seems to be helping some students keep their heads off their desks.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Math Class Goes First Class

Math Class Goes First Class

by Eileen Neary, Intern Fall 2012

Back when I was in middle school, some fancy Texas Instruments 83 calculators were purchased for our math classes. The best thing about these calculators was that they had a bigger screen than other calculators along with a keyboard setting. Naturally, my friends and I spent more time passing notes on our calculators than we did graphing functions. Today, math students at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California, are using the technology in their classrooms in a much more focused way than my classmates and I did.

Six years ago, sixth grade teacher Eric Marcos, a graduate of Boston College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, helped a student with a math problem. He sent her a quick video from home that he made on his tablet PC demonstrating how to solve the equation. The student was enthusiastic about the idea of learning through video format and asked to borrow the device to make her own tutorial video, or “screencast.” Her peers quickly caught on and started making their own math videos with the tablet PC. Using assumed names, they posted their screencasts to a website created by Mr. Marcos as a way to share their work with their peers. The Mathtrain Project was born.

Today, students in Eric Marcos’s math classes continue to use various brands of computer tablets, including iPads, to create tutorials. Students can record their handwriting with the stylus, a touch-screen digital pen, to demonstrate how to solve an equation. Several of Marcos’s students have even been flown out with their families to present the Mathtrain Project at big-name educational conferences such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and Building Learning Communities (BLC).

Eric Marcos had an idea: “If you give kids a little bit of trust and let them try out some stuff, they’re going to come up with fascinating things that will surprise you.” It’s safe to say that with over 500,000 views from students all around the world, his kids-teaching-kids Mathtrain Project is a profound success. Nearly all the videos for the free and nonprofit project are student-authored, and also available via YouTube as well as in podcast form. For more information on Mr. Marcos’s work and the Mathtrain project, see http://www.educationnews.org/technology/eric-marcos-students-use-tablets-for-math-video-tutorials/