Are Computers Better Journalists?

March 29th, 2015  |  Published in Technology

“LET me hazard a guess that you think a real person has written what you’re reading. Maybe you’re right. Maybe not…Because, these days, a shocking amount of what we’re reading is created not by humans, but by computer algorithms. We probably should have suspected that the information assaulting us 24/7 couldn’t all have been created by people bent over their laptops.” S. Podolny The NYT

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Photos- Roger Lecuyer:Getty Images

Photos- Roger Lecuyer:Getty Images

Excerpt:  If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know? By Shelley Podolny  NYT

“It’s understandable. The multitude of digital avenues now available to us demand content with an appetite that human effort can no longer satisfy. This demand, paired with ever more sophisticated technology, is spawning an industry of automated narrative generation. Companies in this business aim to relieve humans from the burden of the writing process by using algorithms and natural language generators to create written content. Feed their platforms some data — financial earnings statistics, let’s say — and poof! In seconds, out comes a narrative that tells whatever story needs to be told. These robo-writers don’t just regurgitate data, either; they create human-sounding stories in whatever voice — from staid to sassy — befits the intended audience. Or different audiences. They’re that smart. And when you read the output, you’d never guess the writer doesn’t have a heartbeat.

Consider the opening sentences of these two sports pieces:

“Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”

“The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.”

If you can’t tell which was written by a human, you’re not alone. According to a study conducted by Christer Clerwall of Karlstad University in Sweden and published in Journalism Practice, when presented with sports stories not unlike these, study respondents couldn’t tell the difference. (Machine first, human second, in our example, by the way.)

Set loose on the mother lode — especially stats-rich domains like finance, sports and merchandising — the new software platforms apply advanced metrics to identify patterns, trends and data anomalies. They then rapidly craft the explanatory narrative, stepping in as robo-journalists to replace humans.”

Did a Human or a Computer Write This?

Can you tell the difference? Take this interactive quiz from the New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing,  and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activity

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  the topic.  Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.  

UIE brainstorming chart (sample)

Brainstorming chart by UIE.

Brainstorming chart by UIE.

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. There is a  multitude of digital avenues now available to us.
  2. This demand is spawning an industry of automated narratives.
  3. Companies aim to relieve humans from the burden of the writing process by using algorithms.
  4. These robo-writers don’t just regurgitate data.
  5. They create human-sounding stories in whatever voice — from staid to sassy.
  6. When you read the output, you’d never guess the writer doesn’t have a heartbeat.
  7. Software is stealthily replacing  us as communicators.
  8. Narrative Science claims it can create “a narrative that is indistinguishable from a human-written one.
  9. There’s so much information to absorb every day.
Word Map Education Oasis.

Word Map Education Oasis.

Reading Comprehension:Word Recognition
Directions: Have students choose the correct word or phrase from the article. This exercise reinforces students’ attention on words that have been introduced in the reading. Have them skim the article to check their responses. Students should also find the meanings for all unknown words.

It’s understandably/understandable. Algorithms and natural/neutral language generators/generates have been around for a while, but they’re getting better and faster as the demand for them spoors/spurs investment and innovation. The sheet/sheer volume and complexity of the Big Data we generate, too much for mere/more mortals to tackle, calls for artificial rather than human/humane intelligence to derive meaning from it all.

Set loose/lose on the mother lode — especially stats-rich domains like finance, spots/sports and merchandising — the new software platforms apply/apple advanced metrics to identify patterns, trends and data anomalies. They then/than rapidly craft the explanatory narrative, stepping/steeping in as robo-journalists to replace humans.

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs.
  2. If you can’t tell which was written on a human, you’re not alone.
  3. Study respondents couldn’t tell the difference.

II

  1. Algorithms have be around for a while.
  2. At least 90 percent of news could be algorithmically generated by the mid-2020s
  3. Humans  can do more reporting and less data processing.

III

  1. Automated Insights states that its software created one billion stories last year.
  2. Books is robo-written, too.
  3. Our phones can speak to us (just as a human would).

III. Post Reading Tasks

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

The following  three statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each one, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

1. “But we should be forgiven a sense of unease. These software processes, which are, after all, a black box to us, might skew to some predicated norm, or contain biases that we can’t possibly discern. Not to mention that we may be missing out on the insights a curious and fertile human mind could impart when considering the same information.”

2. “Automated Insights states that its software created one billion stories last year, many with no human intervention; its home page, as well as Narrative Science’s, displays logos of customers all of us would recognize: Samsung, Comcast, The A.P., Edmunds.com and Yahoo. What are the chances that you haven’t consumed such content without realizing it?”

3. Our phones can speak to us (just as a human would). Our home appliances can take commands (just as a human would). Our cars will be able to drive themselves (just as a human would). What does human even mean?… With technology, the next evolutionary step always seems logical. That’s the danger. We rarely step back to reflect on whether, ultimately, we’re giving up more than we’re getting.”

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about robo-journalists from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

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The Girl Who Loved Crows and The Gifts They Brought Her

March 21st, 2015  |  Published in Birds

“Lots of people love the birds in their garden, but it’s rare for that affection to be reciprocated. One young girl in Seattle is luckier than most. She feeds the crows in her garden – and they bring her gifts in return.” K. Sewall–BBC

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Eight-year-old Gabi Mann,Photo-Lisa Mann-BBC

Eight-year-old Gabi Mann, the crows bring her gifts.Photo-Lisa Mann-BBC

Excerpt: The girl who gets gifts from birds By Katy Sewall, BBC News

“Eight-year-old Gabi Mann sets a bead storage container on the dining room table, and clicks the lid open. This is her most precious collection.

Inside the box are rows of small objects in clear plastic bags. One label reads: Black table by feeder. 2:30 p.m. 09 Nov 2014. Inside is a broken light bulb. Another bag contains small pieces of brown glass worn smooth by the sea. Beer coloured glass, as Gabi describes it.

There’s a miniature silver ball, a black button, a blue paper clip, a yellow bead, a faded black piece of foam, a blue Lego piece, and the list goes on. Many of them are scuffed and dirty. It is an odd assortment of objects for a little girl to treasure, but to Gabi these things are more valuable than gold.

Gabi's beautiful gifts from her crow friends.

Gabi’s beautiful gifts from her crow friends.

She didn’t gather this collection. Each item was a gift – given to her by crows. She holds up a pearl coloured heart. It is her most-prized present. “It’s showing me how much they love me.”

How It All Began…

“Gabi’s relationship with the neighborhood crows began accidentally in 2011. She was four years old, and prone to dropping food. She’d get out of the car, and a chicken nugget would tumble off her lap. A crow would rush in to recover it. Soon, the crows were watching for her, hoping for another bite.

As she got older, she rewarded their attention, by sharing her packed lunch on the way to the bus stop. Her brother joined in. Soon, crows were lining up in the afternoon to greet Gabi’s bus, hoping for another feeding session…

Gabi’s mother Lisa didn’t mind that crows consumed most of the school lunches she packed…In 2013, Gabi and Lisa started offering food as a daily ritual, rather than dropping scraps from time to time.

Crow friend  from Gabi's garden.

Crow friend from Gabi’s garden.

Each morning, they fill the backyard birdbath with fresh water and cover bird-feeder platforms with peanuts. Gabi throws handfuls of dog food into the grass. As they work, crows assemble on the telephone lines, calling loudly to them.

It was after they adopted this routine that the gifts started appearing. The crows would clear the feeder of peanuts, and leave shiny trinkets on the empty tray; an earring, a hinge, a polished rock. There wasn’t a pattern. Gifts showed up sporadically – anything shiny and small enough to fit in a crow’s mouth…When you see Gabi’s collection, it’s hard not to wish for gift-giving crows of your own.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – High Intermediate


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

 

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using  a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Have students use the pre-reading organizer to assist them in finding the main ideas from the reading.

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic.

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic.

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. This is her most precious collection.
  2. Each item is individually wrapped and categorized.
  3. Many of them are scuffed and dirty.
  4. It is an odd assortment of objects.
  5. She was four years old, and prone to dropping food.
  6. A chicken nugget would tumble off her lap.
  7. As she got older, she rewarded their attention.
  8. Gabi has been given some icky objects.
  9. She  regularly charts their behavior and interactions.
  10. Crows love the birdbath. 
Freeology Chart

Freeology Chart

Reading Comprehension: True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.

  1. Eight-year-old Gabi Mann keeps her gifts from the crows in a blue box.
  2. Gabi wraps and categorizes each item.
  3. Among her items from the crows are a small car, a balloon, and a ring.
  4. Many of  the items are shiny and new.
  5. To Gabi these things are more valuable than gold.
  6. Gabi’s relationship with the neighborhood crows began accidentally.
  7. She’d get out of the car, and a chicken sandwich tumbled off her lap.
  8. There are 100 crows total.
  9. Lisa is Gabi’s best friend who helps her keep track of the gifts.
  10. According to Gabi, the crows watch hem all the time.

Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. Inside the box is rows of small objects in clear plastic bags
  2. Each item is individually wrapped and categorized.
  3. There’s a miniature silver ball.

 

II

  1. She didn’t gather this collection.
  2. Each item was a gift given to her by crows.
  3. She holds up these pearl colored heart.

 

III

  1. She was four years old, and prone to dropping food.
  2. A crow would rush in to recover it.
  3. As she get older, she rewarded their attention.

III. Post Reading Tasks

Graphic Organizers: Finding the main idea

Directions:  Have students use this graphic organizer from Enchanted Learning  to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main points from the article.WH-organizer from Enchanted Learning

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1. The following three statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each one, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.
“Gabi’s relationship with the neighbourhood crows began accidentally in 2011. She was four years old, and prone to dropping food. She’d get out of the car, and a chicken nugget would tumble off her lap. A crow would rush in to recover it. Soon, the crows were watching for her, hoping for another bite.”

“Marzluff, and his colleague Mark Miller, did a study of crows and the people who feed them. They found that crows and people form a very personal relationship..They understand each other’s signals.The birds communicate by how they fly, how close they walk, and where they sit. The human learns their language and the crows learn their feeder’s patterns and posture. They start to know and trust each other. Sometimes a crow leaves a gift.”

“But crow gifts are not guaranteed. I can’t say they always will give presents…Not all crows deliver shiny objects either. Sometimes they give the kind of presents they would give to their mate. Courtship feeding, for example. So some people, their presents are dead baby birds that the crow brings in.”
2. Have you or your group members ever tried to communicate with crows or any other kind of birds? If yes, describe your experiences.

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about crows from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

Thank you for using this lesson plan.
Please come back again.

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Leonard Nimoy (aka Mr. Spock) Leaves Us…

February 28th, 2015  |  Published in Actors

“Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.” V. Heffernan, Feb. 27, 2015, New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Nimoy as the famous Mr. Spock.

Nimoy as the famous Mr. Spock.

Excerpt: Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83 By Virginia Heffernan, Feb. 27, 2015 NYT

“His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Mr. Nimoy announced last year that he had the disease, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.
His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”).

An older Mr. Spock.

Nimoy as an older Mr. Spock.

Mr. Nimoy, who was teaching Method acting at his own studio when he was cast in the original Star Trek television series in the mid-1960s, relished playing outsiders, and he developed what he later admitted was a mystical identification with Spock, the lone alien on the starship’s bridge…
Star Trek, which had its premiere on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966, made Mr. Nimoy a star. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the franchise, called him “the conscience of Star Trek — an often earnest, sometimes campy show that employed the distant future (as well as some special effects that appear primitive by today’s standards) to take on social issues of the 1960s.

William Shatner (Captain  James T. Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock)

William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock)

He also directed movies, including two from the “Star Trek” franchise, and television shows. And he made records, singing pop songs as well as original songs about “Star Trek,” and gave spoken-word performances — to the delight of his fans and the bewilderment of critics.
But all that was subsidiary to Mr. Spock, the most complex member of the Enterprise crew, who was both one of the gang and a creature apart, engaged at times in a lonely struggle with his warring racial halves [part Vulcan and part human].

The Vulcan  Blessing: Live Long and Prosper.

The Vulcan Blessing: Live Long and Prosper.

To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behavior,” Mr. Nimoy wrote years after the original series ended…But that wasn’t such a bad thing, he discovered. Given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.”RIP LEONARD NIMOY-1931-2015

RIP LEONARD NIMOY-1931-2015

4

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  the topic.  Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart Kootation.com for assistance.

 

Great Brainstorming chart from Kootation.com

Great Brainstorming chart from Kootation.com

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. His wife confirmed his death.
  2. Nimoy brought to life one of the most indelible characters of the century.
  3. Nimoy acknowledged ambivalence about the character.
  4. Star Trek, which had its premiere on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966.
  5. Some special effects appear primitive by today’s standards.
  6. His stardom would endure.
  7. The fans’ devotion only deepened when Star Trek was spun off into an animated show.
  8. His zeal to entertain and enlighten reached beyond Star Trek.
  9. But all that was subsidiary to Mr. Spock.
  10. His speaking voice was among his chief assets as an actor.
Word Map Education Oasis.

Word Map Education Oasis.

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.

  1. Mr. Nimoy was known for his role as Spock in the “Star Trek” series.
  2. Mr. Nimoy was working in a store when he was cast in the original “Star Trek” television series.
  3. “Star Trek” had its premiere on ABC on Sept. 8, 1966.
  4. The fans of the show were called Spockies.
  5. Mr. Nimoy was Born in Boston MA.
  6. Mr. Nimoy also directed several of the “Star Trek” movies.
  7. In 2001 he voiced the king of Atlantis in the Disney animated movie “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”.
  8. Mr. Nimoy dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
  9. His religious upbringing never influenced the characterization of Spock.
  10. The phrase “Live long and prosper” was Spock’s signature salute and blessing.

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. Nimoy became an folk hero.
  2. Spock was the lone alien on the starship.
  3. Mr. Nimoy was  a star.

 

II

  1. His stardom would endure.
  2. The series was canceled after three seasons.
  3. The fan’s devotion only deepened.

III

  1. Mr. Nimoy also appeared on the follow-up movie.
  2. He also directed movies.
  3. Mr. Spock was the most complex member of the Enterprise crew.

III. Post Reading Tasks

Directions:  Have students use this advanced organizer from Write Design to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main idea and points from the article.Main idea chart By Write Design

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1. The following  three statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each one, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

“His zeal to entertain and enlighten reached beyond “Star Trek” and crossed genres. He had a starring role in the dramatic television series “Mission: Impossible” and frequently performed onstage…But all that was subsidiary to Mr. Spock, the most complex member of the Enterprise crew, who was both one of the gang and a creature apart, engaged at times in a lonely struggle with his warring racial halves.”

“Though his speaking voice was among his chief assets as an actor, the critical consensus was that his music was mortifying. Mr. Nimoy, however, was undaunted, and his fans seemed to enjoy the camp of his covers of songs like If I Had a Hammer.”His first album was called “Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music From Outer Space.”

“His stardom would endure. Though the series was canceled after three seasons because of low ratings, a cultlike following — the conference-holding, costume-wearing Trekkies, or Trekkers coalesced soon after “Star Trek” went into syndication. The fans’ devotion only deepened when “Star Trek” was spun off into an animated show, various new series and an uneven parade of movies starring much of the original television cast, including — Mr. Nimoy.”

2. Are you or  the member of your group “Trekkies” ? Explain what you liked or disliked about the  “Star Trek” series.

3. If you could meet Mr. Nimoy today, what questions would you ask him?

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading and one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.

 ANSWER KEY

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To Have The Hands of A Superhero!

February 20th, 2015  |  Published in Technology

“Dawson Riverman’s parents tried to help him make the best of it. Born without fingers on his left hand Dawson struggled to perform even the simplest tasks… The Rivermans could not afford a high-tech prosthetic hand for their son… Then help arrived in the guise of a stranger with a three-dimensional printer.” J. Mroz,New York Times

The designs do not suggest disability; they hint at comic-book superpowers. And they are not made to be hidden. photo credit- stylefrizz.com

The designs do not suggest disability; they hint at comic-book superpowers. And they are not made to be hidden. photo credit- stylefrizz.com

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Excerpt: 3-D Printing Prosthetic Hands …Anything but Ordinary, By Jacqueline Mroz, NYT

“He made a prosthetic hand for Dawson, in cobalt blue and black, and it did not cost his family a thing. Now the 13-year-old can ride a bike and hold a baseball bat. He hopes to play goalkeeper on his soccer team… The proliferation of 3-D printers has had an unexpected benefit: The devices, it turns out, are perfect for creating cheap prosthetics. Surprising numbers of children need them: One in 1,000 infants is born with missing fingers, and others lose fingers and hands to injury…E-nable, an online volunteer organization, aims to change that.

Ethan Brown, 8, of Opelika, Ala., was born with two fingers missing on his left hand. Now he wears a Cyborg Beast in black and red, his school colors. Credit Kevin Liles NYT

Ethan Brown, 8, of Opelika, Ala., was born with two fingers missing on his left hand. Now he wears a Cyborg Beast in black and red, his school colors. Credit Kevin Liles NYT

Founded in 2013 by Jon Schull, the group matches children like Dawson in need of prosthetic hands and fingers with volunteers able to make them on 3-D printers. Designs may be downloaded into the machines at no charge, and members who create new models share their software plans freely with others.

They are not designed to look like replacement parts. One popular model, the Cyborg Beast, looks like a limb from a Transformer.

The Raptor Hand and Talon Hand 2.X do not suggest disability; they hint at comic-book superpowers. And they are not made to be hidden — indeed, they can be fabricated in a variety of eye-catching fluorescent colors, or even made to glow in the dark…

These days, some leading experts in 3-D design are now collaborating with E-nable on improved prostheses for children. The hands are lightweight, less than a pound, but the fingers move together, not separately.

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland and E-nable hosted their first 3-D printing conference. credit- hopkinsmedicine.org

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland and E-nable hosted their first 3-D printing conference. credit- hopkinsmedicine.org

Health care providers are beginning to take note. In September, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland and E-nable hosted their first 3-D printing conference involving the medical community, volunteers, recipients and manufacturers. The hospital has purchased a 3-D printer and has begun printing free prosthetic devices for children.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  the topic.  Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board.

Great Brainstorming chart from Kootation.com

Great Brainstorming chart from Kootation.com

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word organizer from Enchanted Learning to assist them with new vocabulary.

  1. He made a prosthetic hand for Dawson.
  2. The proliferation of 3-D printers has had an unexpected benefit.
  3. Each year, about 450 children receive amputations.
  4. State-of-the-art prosthetic replacements are complicated medical devices.
  5. Best of all, boys and girls usually love their D.I.Y. prosthetics.
  6. They are not designed to look like replacement parts.
  7. The Raptor Hand and Talon Hand 2.X do not suggest disability.
  8. They hint at comic-book superpowers.
  9. They can be fabricated in a variety of  fluorescent colors.
  10. Leading experts in 3-D design are now collaborating with E-nable.
Color Vocabualry Map by Enchanted Learning

Color Vocabualry Map by Enchanted Learning

Reading Comprehension: True /False/NA-Statements

 

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.

  1. Dawson Riverman was born without a left hand.
  2. The Rivermans purchased a high-tech prosthetic hand for their son.
  3. Each year, about 450 children receive amputations as a result of lawn mower accidents.
  4. The 3-D printers can also create prosthetic legs
  5. E-nable is an online volunteer organization founded in 2013 by John Scull.
  6. Dr. Schull is a research scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
  7. Prosthetic hands are designed to look like replacement parts.
  8. Prosthetic hands can be fabricated in a variety of fluorescent colors, or even made to glow in the dark
  9. Each hand takes about 20 hours to print and another two or three hours to assemble.
  10. The hands work for every child.

 Grammar Focus: Preposition Exercise

Prepositions: in, for, of, with, by, on, at, to, as, into, around, over, from,
Directions: The following sentences are from the news article. For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices presented. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.

State-of-the-art prosthetic replacements are complicated medical devices, powered___ batteries and they can cost thousands___dollars.The materials ___a 3-D-printed prosthetic hand can cost ___little___ $20 to $50, and some experts say they work just___well, if not better, than much costlier devices. Best ___all, boys and girls usually love their D.I.Y. prosthetics. The fingers are closed___ flexing the wrist which pulls ___cable tendons.

II. Post Reading Tasks

Directions:  Have students use this advanced organizer from Enchanted Learning to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main points from the article.

Topic organizer. By Enchanted Learning

 ANSWER KEY

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Tug, The Hospital Robot That Saves Lives

February 14th, 2015  |  Published in Technology

“The robot, I’m told, is on its way. Any minute now you’ll see it. We can track them, you know. There’s quite a few of them, so it’s only a matter of time. Any minute now. Ah, and here it is. Far down the hospital hall, double doors part to reveal the automaton… a white, rectangular machine about four feet tall… It’s not traveling on a track. It’s unleashed. It’s free.” M. Simon, Wired

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Tug autonomous medical robot, aka Tuggy McFresh - Josh Valcarcel:WIRED

Tug autonomous medical robot, aka Tuggy McFresh – Josh Valcarcel:WIRED

Excerpt: This Incredible Hospital Robot Is Saving Lives. By Matt Simon, Wired

“The robot, known as a Tug, edges closer and closer to me at the elbow of the L-shaped corridor and stops. It turns its wheels before accelerating through the turn, then suddenly halts once again. Josh, the photographer I’d brought along, is blocking its path, and by way of its sensors, the robot knows it. Tug, it seems, is programmed to avoid breaking knees. This hospital—the University of California, San Francisco’s Mission Bay wing—had opened four days before our visit. From the start, a fleet of Tugs has been shuffling around the halls. They deliver drugs and clean linens and meals while carting away medical waste and soiled sheets and trash. And by the time the fleet spins up to 25 robots on March 1, it’ll be the largest swarm of Tug medical automatons in the world, with each robot traveling an admirable average of 12 miles a day.

The staff still seems unsure what to make of Tug. Reactions I witness range from daaawing over its cuteness (the gentle bleeping, the slow-going, the politeness of stopping before pancaking people) to an unconvincingly restrained horror that the machines had suddenly become sentient… There are no beacons to guide the Tugs. Instead, they use maps in their brains to navigate. They’re communicating with the overall system through the hospital’s Wi-Fi, which also allows them to pick up fire alarms and get out of the way so carbon-based lifeforms can escape.

The roboticized kitchen of the UCSF Medical Center.  Josh Valcarcel:WIRED

The roboticized kitchen of the UCSF Medical Center. Josh Valcarcel:WIRED

It’ll only board an elevator that’s empty, pulling in and doing a three-point turn to flip 180 degrees before disembarking. After it’s made its deliveries to any number of floors—the fleet has delivered every meal since the hospital opened—it gathers empty trays and returns them to the kitchen, where it starts the whole process anew.

Credit: Josh Valcarcel:WIRED

Credit: Josh Valcarcel:WIRED

Asimov’s laws are good to keep in mind so we don’t end up with murderous hordes of machines, but we need to start talking more about the other side of things. How should we treat them? We need laws for human-robot interaction. For the moment, it seems that we’re supposed to just pretend they’re Grandma. That’s Law Number One. What the other laws will be, I’m not so sure. How will we treat AI that’s smart enough to pass as human, for instance? I mean, we’re already getting emotional about a box that rolls around hospitals. Maybe it’s too early to tell these things. Give me some time to think about it.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing,  and speaking.  Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  the topic.  Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board.  Students can use this great Brainstorming chart from Kootation.comGreat Brainstorming chart from Kootation.com

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. The whole circus is, in a word, bewildering.
  2. It’s really weird.
  3. The Tug that’d emerged had come from the kitchen.
  4. Other departments have their own monikers that include Tuggy and Little McTuggy.
  5. There are no beacons to guide the Tugs.
  6. We had to train on a lot of robot etiquette.
  7. We need laws for human-robot interaction.
  8. Most staffers have a strange nonreciprocal affection for Tugs.
  9. The Tug tango is a nice alliteration.
  10. Tug’s manufacturer, designed it to be comforting.
Freeology Chart

Freeology Chart

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.

  1. The Tug robot is currently being used at a hospital in New York.
  2. Some of the Tug’s duties are to answer phones and play with children.
  3. The hospital staff still seems unsure what to make of Tug.
  4. Soon Tugs will be in all California hospitals.
  5. The robots use maps in their brains to navigate.
  6. Tugs communicate through with the hospital’s Wi-Fi system.
  7. Hospital staff knew how to interact with the robots.
  8. Tug’s manufacturer designed it to be comforting.
  9. There are Drug Tugs that securely deliver medications.
  10. According to the article, the robot  performed its duties correctly almost 85 percent of the time.

Grammar Focus

Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. El Camino Hospital has been using the bots since 2009.
  2. Tugs have allowed them to avoid hiring additional staff.
  3. There’s an hotel opening this summer in Japan with robot receptionists.

II

  1. Walking around an hospital in scrubs is perfectly normal.
  2. I’ve spent the morning tailing an autonomous robot.
  3. Right now I envy the Tug on account of its perfection.

III

  1. They’re not saddled with emotions.
  2. I don’t like Tuggy one bit
  3. There’s no robot for an man like me.

III. Post Reading Tasks

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1. How would you put the following three statements from the article into your own words?

“In fact, I think the most interesting thing is people have been very respectful of the robots. When we went and talked to other people at other hospitals, they said, ‘Oh, people get in the way.’ We haven’t had any of that. I think we did a lot as an organization to sort of prime people …t sounds demeaning, but the humans had been coached on how to deal with robots. So welcome to the future. Your robot ethics instructor will see you now.”

“It may have an adult voice, but Tug has a childlike air, even though in this hospital you’re supposed to treat it like a wheelchair-bound old lady. It’s just so innocent, so earnest, and at times, a bit helpless. If there’s enough stuff blocking its way in a corridor, for instance, it can’t reroute around the obstruction.”

“…For as cute as Tug can be—and it pains me to say this—it’s also a bit creepy. There’s something unsettling about a robot that’s responsible for human lives tooling around with minimal commands. Maybe it’s that I occasionally felt like we were hunting wild animals, wandering around in search of Tug after Tug. While technicians can track a Tug’s movements, it isn’t always easy to immediately pinpoint and intercept them.”

2. In your opinion is the Tug robot an asset to have in hospitals? Provide reasons for your answers.

3. Will there be less need for human workers now that robots can perform certain functions?

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the Tug robots from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

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