Over the last two days of the first week of school, I’ve had slideshows (presentation software files, like Apple Keynote, or Google Docs presentations, or PowerPoint) ready to go for Latin class.
It’s a little weird. Slideshows for Latin??
But bear with me here a moment. Both slideshows are in the school’s new Google Docs-based system. (I hear we’re calling it “Google Drive” now?) They’re a quick overview of the class notes… now if someone is absent those days, I can share the slideshow with their e-mail account, and they can review the class notes for the day. Not the same as having me talk at them, or doing the exercises in class, but promising. An improvement over the current system, which is catch-as-catch-can.
The second thing is that both slideshows are set up so that parts of each slideshow are interactive — “here, let’s translate this together.” Or, “here, read this aloud.” Or, “Here, read the English while I read the Latin.” Or, “Here, write down the words in this list that you think are probably Latin, and cross out the ones that you think are probably not-Latin, in origin.”
The third thing that I like is that by the time I get the ten or twelve basic “Chapter Overviews” done, for the chapters we usually get through in a year, my students will have a set of complete review guides to the Latin language as presented in Ecce Romani IA, any of which they’ll be able to review and consider at any time during the course of the year. If a kid makes the same basic mistake over and over, I can direct him to the relevant review slideshow, and give him or her a suitable outline of things to think about. And that’s awesome.
The fourth thing is that they’re done.
By the time I get to the fourth or fifth week of school, I’m going to be in a position to have students making rough drafts of these presentations as homework or as classwork. They’ll have seen enough of them at that point. They’ll have access to the digital tools. They’ll be helping to build the curriculum for next year’s class with their work… and they’ll begin to have a sense of what’s good about a presentation, and what’s bad. So will I.
I’m reminded of two things as I make these slideshows, though, two cautionary tales.
The first one is the awareness that “Magic Lantern Shows” with cardboard cutouts and cellophane prints of ancient locations in the late 1800s were a Plato’s Cave kind of experience, but they exposed people around the world to the exciting and amazing opportunities that travel opened up; and they gave people access to a new kind of knowledge that one couldn’t get from books.
The second, though, is a much more sobering story. The infamous Sing-Sing Prison, on the shores of the Hudson River north of New York City in Ossining, NY, was built by prisoners marched forth from the city in winter, who arrived and camped on the present site of the prison. And then, in the spring, they began cutting and quarrying the stone blocks necessary to build the prison in which they then imprisoned themselves.
And I think I have to be careful about this. I want students empowered and wondering about the world, not imprisoned by the structures I impose on them.