A Wordy Site

As our bellies bulge with excess calories this week as a result of the Thanksgiving holiday, I share an opportunity to fill our minds with new words. The author of, linguaphile Anu Garg, created a program that randomly displayed rare words and their definitions/etymologies daily for himself. He has been sharing his words with the world for 13 years.

You can signup to receive his A.Word.A.Day newsletter in your email inbox, or purchase his new book, The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words. One of my favorite aspects of this website is the fairly low-tech appearance of it. It doesn’t have any of the flashy Web 2.0 technology that we have become accustomed to on other useful sites, and that allows it to be easily viewable on any device.

I can think of dozens of ways to use this in my classroom, whether its a formal lesson or just as a warm-up activity. The power of vocabulary-building exercises has been proven time and time again, and we could all do a bit more with the help of the Wordsmith.


Use All of Your Census

Always seeking out new ways to integrate web tools into my classroom instruction, I have to share a fantastic one that I just came across. While data from the decennial U.S. Census has always been available from the official government website, the GIS-style interface and cumbersome vocabulary put up roadblocks to its use in my classroom. That has changed with the beta release of Zipskinny.

The magic of Zipskinny is that visitors only have to know the ZIP (postal) code for the geographic area that they wish to investigate or compare, such as their own neighborhood. AT its simplest, the website allows students to instantly view colorful, easy-to-read graphs of demographic data comparing one area to the rest of the state and to the entire country. There is even a comparison to neighboring ZIP codes.

At its most powerful, however, students can compare vastly different localities by entering up to ten different ZIP codes for comparison. Try 90006 (Pico Union, one of the poorest neighborhoods in L.A.) and the infamous 90210 (Beverly Hills). My only complaint is the lack of visual representations of the data when comparing two or more ZIPs.


Funniest Dad on the Web

What began as appreciation for his Flickr tools (which, by the way, are useless to me now that Flickr is blocked by my school district’s web filters), has shifted to his personal blog about his family.

John Watson has so many projects that listing them all here would do them a disservice. But, I highly recommend subscribing to the feed for his blog called Flagrant Disregard. Most of the posts are just quotes from conversations with his children (ala “Kids Say the Darnedest Things”), but they have had my wife and I laughing in parental empathy for months. One of his recent posts, entitled “On Monkeys” is a great example:

Daughter: Can I get a monkey?
Me: No.
Daughter: Why not?
Me: Monkeys are wild animals.
Daughter: But I could give them a banana and they’d come to me.
Me: But they’re still wild.
Daughter: Are there tame monkeys?
Me: I don’t think so.
Daughter: I wish the president would start a company that trained monkeys.
Me: Now that you mention it, that would explain a lot.


To Grammar’s House We Go

With my new iPhone in hand, I’ve finally discovered the wonderful world of podcasts. One of my personal favorites is the award-winning Grammar Girl podcast, starring the surprisingly charming Mignon Fogarty. Each week, she goes after an issue (many raised by her listeners via email or voicemail messages) and uses extensive references from obscure style guides to correct the masses. I think that the true enjoyment of listening to this show comes from the guilty pleasure of having a professional tell you that you are justified in your long-held pet peeve about how some people love to spell “lose” as “loose”. Oooooh, it feels so good.


A Freaky Read

I have been a big fan of Stephen J. Dubner and Steve Levitt ever since reading “Freakonomics” two years ago. I discovered their blog a few months back, and that has helped rekindle that feeling of Science explaining Life that made me love the book so much. They recently “upgraded” to become part of the New York Times website, which has allowed them to include videos and many more cool features.

The recent posts on their site have centered around the most controversial topic in the book, the correlation (note: not causality) between the drop in U.S. crime rate during the 1990’s and the legalization of abortion in the 1960’s. We learn more about the research that led to the scientific paper on which this part of the book was based. Great reading for conservatives and liberals alike.