Storytelling in the Twitter Age

Recently, Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter wrote that the microblogging site is considering getting rid of its 140 character limit.

The limit was not part of the initial plan for Twitter and was only included so that tweets could fit in to a single sms message. These days people are getting more and more adept at using 140 characters to communicate; according to the statistics, there are 9,100 tweets going out every second!

This 140 character limit has been referred to as “a beautiful constraint.” Many writers and artists are getting intrigued and inspired by the challenges and opportunities that the Twitter format has inspired.

R.L.Stine, known for the Goosebumps series, has already started using twitter to tell stories, and true to form they are creepy!

Artists, Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman’s went even further with the technology, using the GPS information embedded in Twitter updates to locate where users were tweeting from and photographing the real world locations to create a visual story.

Even the Library of Congress acknowledges that 140 characters can be used to tell a story. In fact it is creating an archive of all tweets from 2006 to April 2010 to help them in their mission to “collect the story of America”. With Twitter accounts belonging to the likes of God and Bigfoot who can blame them!

There are many stories to be told and Twitter has succeeded so far – what do you think of Storytelling in the Twitter Age?

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What are your odds of surviving a zombie apocalypse?

In the cliffhanger Season 6 finale of the Walking Dead, the group once again got themselves into a terrible situation that is definitely going to end with one of them dying. And this won’t be the last time. It seems like Rick can’t get it together. This got us wondering, “Could we do better?”

We built mathematical projections for zombie survival strategies and ran the numbers, and came up with the quiz below. Check it out and see how your personal zombie survival plan will work out.

Turns out that no, none of us would do better than Rick. By our count, of people who followed Rick’s lead, about 4% are still alive. 4% is almost double the maximum survival project in our model (1.9%).  Rick defied not just the odds, but also the basic realities of the U.S. food and ammo supplies and the extreme difficulty of just walking down a city street. He might have seemed like an idiot in Season 1 (and also Season 2, and arguably about half the episodes in Season 3), but you can’t argue with results.

In the lesson below, students will  learn how we arrived at our quiz’s model, and make a model of their own to predict additional zombie survival strategies.

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The Science of The Force

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What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.
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So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

Science Fiction? Or just Science?
According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.

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Every Fraction and Decimal Matters at the NFL Combine

Every year at the end of February, the best college football players from the previous season head to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. The week-long event is used to determine many aspects of each player’s future — which team will draft him, which round he’ll be selected, and how much money he’ll make.

The Combine requires players to participate in various workouts to demonstrate their athletic ability. These workouts include the 40-yard dash, agility drills, and various jumping tests.

At the 2015 NFL Combine, Phillip Dorsett won $1 Million dollars from Adidas for running the 40 yard dash in 4.33 seconds!

Since so many amazing athletes participate in the Combine — and they’re all competing for the same prize, a spot on an NFL team — every tenth of a second and every fraction of an inch matters greatly.

Past outstanding performers at the Combine include many of the NFL’s current stars. Current New York Jets running back Chris Johnson ran a blazing 40-yard dash in 4.24 seconds in 2008. Johnson’s time is still the fastest recorded in the history of the Combine. Standout safety Eric Berry, of the Kansas City Chiefs, leaped 43.0 inches in the vertical jump at the 2010 Combine, the highest mark ever for a safety. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who was recently named the 2015-16 NFL MVP, was a top performer in both the 40-yard dash and the 3-cone drill at the 2011 Combine.

While not every player who performed well at the Combine went on to NFL stardom, many improved their draft stock by showing off their athleticism in Indianapolis. At this year’s Combine, stopwatches and measuring sticks will go a long way toward determining which players gain or cost themselves millions of dollars.

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FOX’s Empire is basically Shakespearean Hip-Hop Theatre

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Are Shakespeare’s plays universal?

In the poem “To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare,” Ben Jonson wrote that Shakespeare was “not of an age but for all time!” His argument was that Shakespeare’s works were universal, and that any audience could relate to the themes within them. His theory is evidenced by the countless retellings and reinterpretations of the Bard’s plays. FOX’s hit Empire about a hip hop dynasty seems to agree with Jonson.

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The Bard’s Empire

In the pilot of Empire, one of Lucious Lyon’s sons, Jamal, says, “We King Lear now?” Lyon has announced that he has been diagnosed with ALS and will have to decide to which of his three sons he will leave control of his music business empire. Fans of Shakespeare may immediately think of Cordelia, Goneril, and Regan, but some of the fun of Empire is that the series offers many more parallels to Shakespeare’s plays than solely King Lear. Throughout the first season, we see connections to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Othello and Iago, and Romeo and Juliet, among others. Each episode, in fact, is named after a line from a Shakespearean play, which can prompt us into an even deeper investigation into parallels between the series and Elizabethan drama.

 

From the Stage to the Small Screen

One of the most interesting elements of Empire is the way the series maintains its own story while drawing on themes from Shakespeare. Shakespearean tragedies often begin in a state of disorder, either within the home, city, or kingdom. Over the course of the two hours of a play, the initial disorder is addressed, ultimately leading to a more orderly society. Things are not perfect, but the initial disorder is settled. Take Romeo and Juliet, for example. At the start of the play, we learn that the Prince is infuriated with the civic quarrels between the Montagues and Capulets. By the end of the play, everything is not resolved: two young lovers have died, along with many others. As a result, however, the Montagues and Capulets decide to put aside their hatred for one another, thus creating more order in Verona. Is it perfect? No. But, through the conflicts in the play, the initial conflict is resolved. At this point, the audience applauds and leaves the theater. What’s interesting about Empire is that the series can expand on this disorder-order model. Since the series airs weekly, and is much longer than two hours, there is more time to develop several themes and conflicts, and to create new ones. Just when the initial disorder is resolved, another conflict incites more disorder. In this way, the show can continue to draw on universal themes that make Shakespeare’s plays so beloved.

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X-Men: Are Mutants Already Among Us?

 

Evolution: The World Is Always Changing

The world is always changing, and all of us with it, some of the latest and greatest scientific discovery has been in the field of genetics and evolution. Since Charles Darwin’s first postulations of evolution through his studies of the adaptations of finches and other animals of the Galapagos Islands to the scientific ‘miracles’ happening in labs today like growing human ears on mice, the field has been met with hesitation and hostility. The study of evolution is truly groundbreaking and revolutionary in our own understanding of life itself.
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Evolution in The X-Men Series

Evolutionary insights have also inspired astonishing stories like X-Men. The X-Men are children of the atom developed in comics during the 1960s. First titled as “The Mutants” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were advised to rename the comic, as at the time most people didn’t know what a mutant was. The stories of the X-Men showcase the more fantastical possibilities of mutations and delve into the social issues they would face as a new class of life. Inspired by Darwin’s legacy, the X-Men even have a character named after him, whose mutant ability helps him adapt to survive!

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Which Superheroes are Mutants?

But what is a mutant? Look no further than the immortal words of Lady Gaga, “Mutants are born that way.” Mutation is part of evolution, the process by which all the creatures in the world today became what they are. Mutations are fundamental changes to a person’s genetic code. The basis in the evolutionary truth of mutation sets X-Men apart as a long standing comic stories. The Avengers aren’t mutants, Tony Stark is a genius but impossibly so and not as a result of a genetic mutation as far as we know. Captain America and the Hulk are not mutants, although their powers do come from the effects of serums and radiation they were born as average (or below average) people. Hawkeye and Black Widow are just regular people and Thor isn’t even human to begin with.

 

What About Quicksilver?

Quicksilver on the other hand is an interesting case. He has appeared in both The Avengers and X-Men films. Just as he is in comics, in the X-Men films he is a mutant, he was born with the mutant gene which he inherited from his father Magneto. But in Avengers: Age of Ultron, his superspeed like his sister Scarlet Witch’s powers are the result of alien technology and radiation. Because 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the X-Men and the mutants, in the Marvel CInematic Universe they are known as “miracles” not mutants and Magneto doesn’t even exist. They are technically the same character with the same abilities just with completely different backstories and personalities, and only one of them is a mutant.

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Born Not Made

In the X-Men films, all of the mutants are born that way, with their abilities manifesting at birth or near adulthood. The only other way mutations have been shown to occur is through the transference of other mutants, like Rogue, Viper, or Apocalypse. Though many believe her to be mutant, we probably will never know for sure, but either way Lady Gaga is right, mutants are born not made. In this lesson we will look at genetic mutations both fictional and real and try to answer the question – Are there mutants already among us?

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The Future is Here Pt. 1 of 3: Virtual Reality, The Beginning or the End of Society as We Know It?

 

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“Whoa!” That was the famous word Keanu Reeves said when he discovered the alternate reality of The Matrix back in 1999. Of course, as we learned in the movie, Keanu was stuck in a false reality. His senses were tricked into believing he was on Earth, when in reality an alien planet was living off his body and sending false signals to his brain through some creepy cord connected to his head. It was an apocalyptic, futuristic take on virtual reality, a concept that has been featured in many science fiction films.

The origins of virtual reality date back to 1968 when Ivan Sutherland created a wearable headset  to simulate being in a wireframe polygon room at the University of Utah. Starting in 1966, Thomas Furness spent over two decades at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base developing the virtual reality environments for pilots to train in. In the 1990s, movies like Lawnmower Man and Disclosure, made Virtual Reality look like it was about to enter the mainstream. By the mid-1990s gaming companies Sega, Atari and Nintendo had all invested heavily in Virtual Reality focused games, but the Virtual Reality hype quickly fizzled when all of their prototypes failed. Nintendo managed to get two of its products in the marketplace, the Power Glove and Virtual Boy, but they had awful sales and caused a virtual reality bust.

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The possibilities of virtual reality have only reemerged recently with Oculus Rift, a VR headset company that Facebook bought for $2 billion in 2014. LucasFilms is currently marketing Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a Google Cardboard virtual reality experience called Jakku Spy and even the New York Times is embracing it. But what is it? How does it ‘trick’ our brains? How can it be used for social good? In this lesson make your own VR headset and get in on the ground floor in figuring out how VR can change the world.

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Learn What’s New With NuSkool!

NuSkool has come a long way since its first release. The site was originally created out of teachers’ demand for more engaging curriculum, based on the real world and relevant to students’ lives. We’ve listened to your feedback and took all of your suggestions into consideration. The result is what you see before you, a more complete and interactive tool to further enhance real life learning, both inside and outside the classroom. This site was built to support learning for all, whether you are inside a school or not. So if you are a classroom teacher, after-school counselor, tutor, home school instructor or just someone who has a love for learning, this is the site you’ve always been waiting for. Here’s just some of the cool new features you’ll find on NuSkool:

‘New’ NuSkool: Learner Edition We are happy to announce the new Learner edition! Every week we’re adding new quizzes and challenges for students to the site. Our assessment types include multiple choice, true/false, fill in the gap, short answer and open-ended essay questions. Most lessons now will have a quiz section for your students based on the reading and media sections related to the topic.

Private Teachers Discussion Educators can now have a private discussion with other professionals to discuss topics and share strategies for implementation. It’s real time professional development!

Assign Lessons To Your Class Create an unlimited amount of classes and assign lessons to your whole class or just a small group for differentiated learning. Any discussions are private to each class and you can monitor their progress using your Learner Management Tools located in your dashboard.

Sign up today and you will have full access as an ‘Educator Subscriber’ for a limited time only.

A free Educator* account will get:

Unlimited access to all articles, blog posts and multimedia
Access to featured lessons plans
Access to featured activities
Participate in general discussions on each post

An Educator Subscriber account will get you additional features like:

Unlimited access to our complete library of lessons, articles and activities
Access to assessments, quizzes and test prep exams
Create classes and send assignments to your learners
Facilitate private group discussions with your learners on each post
Join in the ‘Educators only’ discussion to share strategies for implementation
Monitor grades and student progress using the ‘My Dashboard’ learner management tools.

Enjoy all of our features for a limited time before we introduce our subscription plan in the coming months. Thank you for all of your support. NuSkool will continue to grow and we hope you are there with us every step of the way. Take care and best of luck this school year!

*If you already have a previous account from an earlier version of NuSkool, you were granted an account with your current login information.

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What If? Writing Alternate Histories in Pop Culture

 

 

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By imagining how things could turn out differently, we can sometimes reflect deeply on how things really are. 

There seem to be more and more video games, TV shows, movies, and other media about alternate histories—these are “what if?” style stories that imagine how changes in the past would affect the future. From comic book series like East of West to TV shows like Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle (adapted from a Philip K. Dick story), many authors imagine how history would have turned out differently if important events hadn’t happened or had turned out differently. These authors use counterfactuals, a way of thinking that goes against known facts and events, to develop intriguing stories that are somewhat similar to our world but different in important ways.

Alternate histories, works of fiction, still tell us a lot about the world we live in. By imagining how things could turn out differently, we can sometimes reflect deeply on how things really are. Some things we take for granted—our government, the way our society works, or our everyday lives—might have been very different with some key changes in the past. In The Man in the High Castle, the Axis Powers won World War II and divided up America under fascist rule. In video games like Fallout, you have a first-person look at how the future might change as a result of changes in the past. Even comedies like the classic Back to the Future and Hot Tub Time Machine series find creative storytelling opportunities in alternate histories.

 

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In this lesson, you will learn more about alternate histories and will use your solid grounding in historical fact to write creative historical fiction about recent events in pop culture and society. What happens when you follow the chain of consequences from one tiny change in the past to a new, exciting, and possibly frightening future?

 

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The Ethics and Moral Dilemma of Superheroes

Essentially, the question for every superhero is whether the ends justify the means.

 

Both Batman and Superman refuse to kill their enemies, thus allowing them to cause even more havoc in the future. Batman pushes away those who care about him the most, Superman hides his true identity by lying to his friends and loved ones. Superheroes face a slew of ethical dilemmas, not the least of which is the fact that most of them are vigilantes—breaking the law even while saving the day.

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We often view comic book stories as simple cases of hero vs. villain, but such a perspective takes for granted the idea that superheroes are the good guys. In fact, moral virtue is a complicated concept, and what doing the right thing means depends on your perspective. There are nonetheless two main schools of thought on what makes an action right or wrong:  deontology, which categorizes actions as good or bad in themselves, and consequentialism, which classifies each action based on its results. Essentially, the question for every superhero is whether the ends justify the means.

There was quite a bit of controversy around the amount of destruction caused by Superman in the film Man of Steel. Many felt such destruction could have been avoided, and it was also left unclear how many people perished as a result of his battle with Zodd, whose death also left people questioning Superman’s moral foundation. This issue will probably inform the plot of the upcoming film Batman v Superman where Batman will question Superman’s regard for human life.

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Take Oliver Queen on Arrow, for example. He starts out as brutal vigilante who kills his enemies without hesitation. His mission is to avenge his father by taking out the criminals who had plunged Starling City into lawlessness. After the death of his best friend, Oliver decides to rededicate himself to saving the city, but he believes that in order to do so, he must become a hero called the Arrow and give up killing.

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On the show, this shift is presented as a positive decision, but is it really? He no longer murders people, but many of the criminals he puts away end up escaping and hurting more people. Is it more important for the Arrow to provide a positive example or for the villains to be stopped permanently?

Oliver himself realizes the shortcomings of his no-kill rule: when faced with a choice between allowing a villain to harm one of his loved ones and killing the culprit, Oliver invariably chooses to compromise his principles in the name of protecting his family and friends. This inconsistency reflects the tricky questions superheroes face as well was the difficulty of putting ethical principles into practice.

What do you think? Should superheroes strive to do the right thing or focus on protecting innocents no matter the cost? Or should they try to find a balance between the two?