Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Upside down and downside up

I came across some websites the other day about ambigrams. "Ambi-whats?" I hear you ask. Ambigrams are words or phrases that exhibit some sort of symmetry; a word or phrase that can be read in more than one way. Still in the dark? Well, as we say in Scotland, "It's better felt than telt!", so take a look at John Langdon's site and then come back here.

Own up. How long were you away? I got sidetracked for the best part of a morning by this site and others like it. They are amazing, aren't they?

I found John's site because of a book I'd been reading (I'll say more about the book at the end). There's good stuff on this site, but the reason I decided to write this blog entry was because of a site he linked to: Scott Kim's site, and in particular the Inversions section. Spining ambigram that says Teach then Learn

I liked his Teach/Learn ambigram (although I would have gone for Learn/Teach). It's a good visual way to point out the stupidity of the statement, "I taught them, but they didn't learn!"

What really caught my eye though was his suggested Classroom Activities. He lists some simple ideas that will help students play with words, design and symmetry. Brilliant! Unfortunately the High School gallery link that Kim gives seems to have disappeared, but I did manage to track down the new location of Mike Naylor's gallery.

I could see these activities working in Art or Maths to help with the exploration of symmetry, but, being a Computer geek, I especially saw its possibilities for developing ICT capabilities in a meaningful and fun context. That's where I spent most of my time. I fired up a paint package and tried to create an ambigram of my name. First I typed my name, copied it, rotated the copy and then put them one above the other. An ambigram of MuirA bit of copy and paste fiddling later it became clear that the "d" at either end of David made a bit tricky for someone as artistically challenged as me! However Muir proved to be more promising, especially once I decided to use an Old English font. It still needs a bit of work, but I think this has possibilities. Certainly it has convinced me that I could have a go at it freehand, or fire up a draw package and draw a neater version that would work. I had great fun playing with this and I think students would have great fun too.

A great context for developing a range of skills in (at least) Maths, Art and ICT... and it's fun! What more could you want from a classroom activity?

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Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

{Rant warning!}
The book I where I first came across ambigrams was Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. Yes that Dan Brown; the one that wrote the Da Vinci Code. There are various things I don't like about these books, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the story. However, it seems to me that some of the people getting most excited about this book have forgotten that it is a work of fiction; a misunderstanding that Mr Brown seems keen to encourage. As far as I am concerned, Mr Brown has a poor grasp of Biblical theology and a distorted understanding of the conflict between religion and science, however as a plot device, these "failings" allow him to tell a good story. As long as you read it for what it is (a story) rather than for what it is not (a theological treaties or a scientific paper) it is reasonably good fun and can stimulate discussions on science and religion with people who might not otherwise talk about these topics.

A more serious concern I have is with his characters' disregard for the truth. I'm not just talking about the religious characters he has created but I am especially concerned by the "heroes" of the books: the historian and scientists. In both the books of his I've read, the main character seems to say something along the lines of, "It's all a lie, but I'll not tell people because the lie is making them do nice things and it's nice to be nice." Bah, humbug!

The truth is important. In the UK we are in the middle of an election campaign just now. I want to know if what the various parties are saying in their manifestos is true? Can I trust them to do what they say they are going to do? I don't want to be told after the event, "Yes we lied to you but it made you feel better, so that's OK."

The truth is important. A fair bit of what I have been doing recently with teachers on the Internet has been about this very point. How do you judge if something on the Internet is true or trustworthy? I use examples like Teaching Zack to Think, a Tale of Two Cities, Deconstructing Web Pages and David Warlick's material on Literacy in the 21st Century to help explore this issue.

The truth is important and it is important that we help our students learn to have a respect for the truth.
{Rant off: Normal service is now resumed!}

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1 comment:

Cherice said...

Useful posting, great links! Given your interest in ambigrams and things technological, you should become acquainted with Punya Mishra's Wordplay site:

Click on the links to the left to see some of the results of his playfulness . . . and visit the "Punya's Home" link to see how he manages to connect his play to his work!