Quantify Culture with NGram Viewer and NY Times Chronicle

Frequency of "The Great War" and "WW"I in Books nGram Viewer Frequency of “The Great War” and “WW”I in NYT Chronicle

This week in my University of Portland EdMethods class we considered the impact of digital technology on teaching and learning. Innovation in instructional practice is coming from the “bottom up” – from teachers who find effective ways to harness the creative energy of their students. These teachers don’t simply deliver information to kids, they craft lessons where students can research, collaborate, and reflect on what they’re learning. They harness a flood of new platforms that enable students “see” information in new ways and support a more self-directed style of learning.

To demonstrate transformative web-based research tools, my EdMethods students spent time using Books NGram Viewer and NY Times Chronicle – to develop and test hypotheses. As part of an in-class demo of the power of word frequency research, they shared their results via a Twitter hashtag: #WordFreq. I’ve collected them in the Storify below

Books Ngram Viewer and NY Times Chronicle have many interesting applications in the classroom. For example, they can both be used to introduce the research method – form a hypothesis, gather and analyze data, revise hypothesis (as needed), draw conclusions, assess research methods. Working in teams students can easily pose research questions, run the data, revise and assess their research strategy. Students can quickly make and test predictions. They can then present and defend their conclusions to other classroom groups. All skills called for by the new Common Core standards. Ideas for classroom use Books Ngram Viewer and NY Times Chronicle. For more advanced searches using NGram Viewer click here.

Want more? You can explore word frequency in rap lyrics and NY Times wedding announcements.

Digital History Workshop – Tech Meets Critical Thinking

I recently spent a few days working with the middle and upper school history department at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano CA. Shout-out to James Harris (chair) and the department for being great hosts and invigorating to work with.

Photo – teachers are challenged to design Yes-No Decision Diagrams and experience the difference between creating a sequence and merely memorizing one.

yes-noOur goal was a practical hands-on workshop that fused technology, critical thinking, and strategies for students to be the “historian in the classroom.” SMES has implemented iPads at the middle school, and they’ll will be following 9th graders to the upper school next year. We were focused on ways to use iPads for content creation, feedback and reflection. Throughout the workshop, teachers used their iPads to respond to activities via LearningCatalytics (LC) and had guided practice in producing and delivering LC questions. iPads plus student response via LC is a killer app for student engagement.

I created a resource website that gives all the details of the project – but here’s some highlights.

  1. How to select and craft historic documents into DBQs. Key takeaway – use documents that students can interpret with minimal background knowledge, or your just giving them another reading assignment with illustrations.
  2. Summarizing and comparison strategies that work. Key takeaway – are you really asking students to present what they think is important, or are you merely asking them to “guess what I’m thinking?”
  3. How to craft the iPad DBQ. Easy: Haiku Deck. Harder (but worth it) iBooks Author.
  4. Effectively curating information and sharing it with your team – How to use Evernote in the classroom.
  5. How to integrate statistical analysis into the history / social science classroom – nGram Viewer and GapMinder.

By the end of the workshop teachers had created a variety of DBQs using Haiku Deck and iBooks Author. Lots of ideas for using HistoryPin, Evernote, nGram Viewer and GapMinder. While it wasn’t a definitive tech training, I think they left with critical lens to reflect on their practice and enough knowledge about the programs to see their feasibility for use in their classrooms. Not to mention “high-fives” when they got to show off the first iBooks they created.

Photo – teacher demonstrates her newly created iBook on US Imperialism.
ibook-test

Here’s a few comments from the participants:

  • All of the examples and learning experiences you chose for us were right on the mark. They were relevant and forced us to reflect on our practices and the students’ experience when in our rooms. I have a lot to think about and a lot to change! Now if only it was the summer!
  • Liked the interaction and really appreciated the hands on aspects of the training. I appreciate that you focused on higher- ordered thinking because I think that sometimes I hear some folks talking about iPads as if they (in and of themselves) are going to foster higher levels of thinking. In my experience, you still have to work really hard to make sure the kids are engaging in meaningful ways!
  • Loved learning about learning catalytics. I will definitely start using this with the next unit, especially to focus on building reading comprehension skills with my sixth graders. The haiku deck will work to introduce units in a visual way and to have students demonstrate understanding. The main thing I focused on yesterday though was the need to be more deliberate in providing rigorous higher level thinking activities for students. I think I do a good job of this, but I want to do an audit on the curriculum to see where exactly I am providing these opportunities for students.
  • I am really enjoying so many aspects of this. It would be great for more SMES teachers to be involved. It’s practical and philosophical. The tone is upbeat and helpful and the flexibility of meeting us where we are at is terrific. There are certainly a few things I’ll do differently.
  • I really liked all of the concrete ideas of apps and teaching strategies I can use in my classroom. I feel energized to go back and change all of my units, which does feel quite overwhelming though! I feel like I am doing so much wrong, but then again, I am grateful that I have ideas for where I need to go.
  • I especially liked discovering Learning Catalytics and Evernote. I could see both being very applicable to the classroom. Learning Catalytics is the tool I have been needing in order to keep middle schoolers engaged. I have been looking for ways to help them become more active learners, and this will be an excellent tool for that purpose.
  • Really great day- I so appreciate your conversation about analysis! I am now thinking about new ways to increase rigor and I actually think it will make my class more enjoyable. This line stuck with me, “When do we stop modeling for students… and have the courage to be less helpful!?” I feel like I am always answering student questions with, “I don’t know… can YOU?” or, “I really hope you figure that out!” I know it makes my students uncomfortable, but I THINK it makes them uncomfortable in a way that helps them learn to be problem solvers. Thank you for sharing strategies with my colleagues to empower us to be more courageous in the way we deliver instruction to help foster more divergent thinkers

As James Harris, the department chair, later wrote me in an email - 

At dinner on Sunday, as we discussed the school, the department, and the needs of both, you mentioned the danger of “shiny objects” – educational technology pursued solely for the sake of it. I’ve always considered myself wary of ed. tech reps and their products. So often, in my opinion, the costs of hurriedly implementing their products – “critical thinking” activities over true analysis, etc. – often far exceed the limited gains they may bring. That is why I was so pleased with our time together and with the message you brought to our faculty. When you said that you were “all about what is simplest and most effective” to aid student learning, be that “a paper and pencil” or programs such as Learning Catalytics, I knew we were in great shape.

In following up with the department over the past 48 hours I can say confidently that your time here was a success on a variety of levels. First, and perhaps most importantly, you gently challenged us all to reflect on our own teaching practices and reconsider our definitions of “analysis”, “student learning”, and “rigor”. It is quite easy to fall into a pattern after several years of teaching with a certain model and our discussions this week on how best to challenge our students forced us all to reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, your modeling of programs such as Learning Catalytics and Haiku Deck opened my eyes to one of the simplest, most reasonable fusions of traditional / technological pedagogy I have seen to date. Our faculty left so excited about the possibilities ahead of them yet reassured as to the value of their previous best practices.

How To Quantify Culture? Explore 500 Billion Published Words With Google’s Books Ngram Viewer

By now you must be aware that Google has been busy digitizing books – over 5 million are now available for free download and search. Recently Google Labs has made public a giant database of of names, words and phrases found in those books (along with the years they appeared). It consists of the 500 billion words contained in scanned books published between 1500 and 2008 in English, French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Russian. 

Google Labs has just posted the “Books Ngram Viewer” – a free online research tool that allows you to quickly analyze the frequency of names, words and phrases -and when they appeared in the digitized books. You type in words and / or phrases (separated by comma), set the date range, and click “Search lots of books” – instantly you get the results. Note: when “smoothing” is set to “0” the results will show raw data. Using a higher number produces an average – example “4” will give you four year running averages that will more readily display trends. 

In this graph I searched “horse, carriage, canal, train, steamship, bicycle, car, airplane” and set the date range to 1800 – 2000.  Link to this transport graph at Books Ngram Viewer The results offer some insights into when these new transportation terms found their way into print. 

Transport-1

I think Books Ngram Viewer has many interesting applications in the classroom. The first that comes to mind, is as tool to introduce the research method – form hypothesis, gather and analyze data, revise hypothesis (as needed), draw conclusions, assess research methods. Working in teams students can easily pose research questions, run the data, revise and assess their research strategy. Students can quickly make and test predictions. They can then present and defend their conclusions to other classroom groups. All skills called for by the new Common Core standards.

Using the Ngram viewer, will enable students to discover many insights which will require revisions to their research strategies – a great way to explore word usage, social context and statistics. Words have multiple meanings. In my transport example “car” appears in the graph long before the advent of the automobile. Was it used as railroad car? In contrast to newspapers, events and trends take time to find their way into books. “Pearl Harbor” does not reach a peak until 1945.

The frequency of occurrence scale is important (vertical Y-axis.) If you graph a high frequency word against a low frequency word(s), the low is reduced to a flat line at the base of the scale. (Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe) Remove the high frequency (Abraham Lincoln) and re-run the graph – the low frequency (Marilyn Monroe) will appear with more detail. 

Need inspiration for nGrams? For a collection of clever searches Click here.

Updates: 

NGram Viewer has added a * wildcard feature. More on how to use it here Hat tip to Jean-Baptiste Michel of the nGram team who emailed me “In English, the data is good in 1800-2000, but not really before or after. Past that date, it looks like the composition of the corpus is changing; trends would indicate a shift in the corpus, not a shift in the underlying culture. So really, one shouldn’t look at data past 2000 in English.”

Analyze societal values: “ex wife, ex husband”  
 Changing laws and social values?
Watch the change in the Y-axis scale – add “my ex” to the original graph.

Ex-1

Track trends: “latte, sushi, taco”
Link to graph 
Are these new food fads?

Latte-1
 

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