A Stick of Dynamite

OK, so this is a quick and dirty post to let people know about a couple of sticks of dynamite I threw into my life.  I acknowledge Mike and my kids for being awesome in getting under Mom as she figures herself out.

A big hairy scary promise to myself in the context of this #MasterOfComplete project is to keep my promise and have full-time employment by the end of May.  It’s embarassing to admit that my startup for language learning games is not providing what my family needs, cool idea that it is.  It’s not cool to admit that I’m struggling the juggle all of the technologies, the research, the implementation, the playtesting of the products.  It’s not cool to say, it sucks, but our investments evaporated and that comfortable future is gone, and I can take responsibility for finding a great job with a great company doing work that I love.

I went to Startup Calgary to try out my MasterOfComplete idea as a business in that community, and it morphed into something surprising.  I am passionate about creating a supportive community for people who want to transition to tech careers.  Calgary companies have a huge need for people who can do tech jobs, and are competing at an international level for qualified candidates. There is a risk that employers have to manage, in taking on people who are just getting started, that they won’t work out, or can’t fill the needs of their business. There are people here in Calgary who want to transition their career, and their risk is that they won’t find employers willing to take them on.

I learned a few days before Startup Calgary about EvolveU, a program that is designed to take on exactly these people, people who want a career in tech. I am one of those people, and I’ve thrown my hat in this ring to be employed as a full stack developer by the end of their program.  EvolveU is training people not only in the tech stack needed in Calgary, but also in the paradigm shift of problem solving, critical thinking, and working in an Agile environment on small teams that solve problems and create solutions with velocity in partnership with business.  This kind of work environment is emerging and most people don’t have experience in living it yet.  EvolveU is designed to bring these communities together.

I’ve had a long career of managing quality assurance, and I want to transition my career to being a full stack web developer.  I’ve been doing it on my own and planning a project portfolio to put in front of employers that will help show that I can do the work, despite a resume that says 20 years of management experience and a startup experience that didn’t amount to what I’d hoped.  I’ve hacked together solutions and tools my whole career to support my teams, but you don’t take your solutions with you when you leave a job.  So now I’m completing those language learning projects as my portfolio, and posting them to github for employers to see that I can fill a development role.

I’m passionate that my colleagues all succeed too, and EvolveU are looking for partners in the industry who are looking for people that want people who are passionate about changing their career and want to work for them.

Contact me at angela@aviak.ca if you are interested, or contact EvolveU directly.

Holding Onto the Memories, Not the Things

Every time my husband Mike puts a cooking magazine into the recycling bin, I quietly pull it out and put it into my ‘to process’ pile. After all, we didn’t get the full value out of it, we didn’t make all the recipes, maybe I wanted to save a recipe to do later. Then I would carefully go through it, tear out the recipes I wanted to try ‘someday’ and put them in a binder. And there the binder would sit, for someday. Someday, when we are our ideal weight, we’ll indulge in making that decadent chocolate cake. We’ve collected cookbooks for twenty years, and when I looked at the collection of books and binders, it was overwhelming. I had to remember where my favorite recipes were, and I would have been upset if we’d had a fire. I would have been upset if Mike wanted to get rid of our cookbooks and those binders.

Reality check. I had to really look, what would I really lose if we had that cleansing fireball hit our incompletion ridden house? It turns out that all I wanted was 111 recipes from that huge collection. I counted, as I scanned them onto my laptop.

It turns out that all I wanted was to have my favorite recipe experiences from the twenty years that Mike and I have been together, the fifteen years of potluck dinner game nights, and to pass on my kids their favorite recipes so they can make them when they want to. I have an attachment to the Eggplant Gratin that we served to Robin who hated eggplant, to the samosas and butter chicken recipe we served to our picky eater kids more than 20 times before they decided it was the best thing ever, to my toffee popcorn crunch recipe that I give out every Christmas.

I’ve often spent more than ten minutes looking for a favorite recipe. I’ve had to dig more than once for the recipe, when the kids want to make a favorite family recipe. Now I just have a reference folder with my favorites, and I’ve given Mike’s cookbook collection back to him, to keep or purge as he wishes. More often than not we try new recipes from the internet that have 5 forks ratings, rather than from twenty year old cookbooks anyway. I can actually see that now, rather than a bookshelf and lifetimes worth of someday-we’ll-try-this-maybe.

This made room for me to consolidate my Spanish library to my favorite room in the house where I hold private Spanish lessons for special people who guinea-pig the latest version of my language learning games. It makes my heart smile to see them all in one place. I don’t have to go find it in the basement or my bedroom in the middle of a lesson. And now that they are all together, I can see that I don’t need to keep them all. My three year research project of what vocabulary you would need to read books that are fun can get complete. I can keep what brings me joy, and release the rest.

I’m still trudging through my paper monster, at the rate of about 3 inches a day on my work breaks. I’ll be seeing my dear friend Steve for the first time in two years for lunch and a catch-up, he saw my paper monster post and made time to reach out to say hello. You’re right Steve, my desk very much resembled the desk you had in Mackenzie town all those years ago!

Anyone else out there have a secret paper monster they want to battle with me? It makes a difference to fight the good fight together!

To share your victories and completed projects, tag your posts on social media with #MasterOfComplete.

Master of Complete

If you walk into my house, it’s reasonably tidy. Don’t look in our basement though, or our garage. Thar be dragons there. Bins of started projects, potential projects, almost finished quilts, and I got stuck projects. Boxes of papers that seem like they are important, photos that never quite made it into a scrapbook or photo album. If you look around closely, there are repairs that distract my attention when I enter a room, like the peeling paint on the windowsills, a door that needs a door handle, a curtain rod pulling out from the wall and in danger of falling, tile that I bought years ago to install in our DIY basement, a dozen or so blank canvases, or half-finished paintings. Pretty much everywhere I look and in every room and every drawer and closet is a reminder of something I haven’t gotten to.

It creeps up on a body, all of these incompletions. All these great intentions, for creating a great space, full of fun and full self expression.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. Every day feels like performance art, ephemeral. Do some dishes, laundry, kids to their activities, clean something up, work, stay on top of all the inboxes like email, voicemail, work conversations, text messages, facebook messages. Rinse. Repeat.

Never mind my great intentions around transforming language learning. I have disks full of data, drawings, half finished and abandoned apps, boxes of half finished board game prototypes.

Let’s not even speak about that niggling fear of retirement, with so many investments that evaporated or lost money, never mind making money, and seeing my parents struggling to retire from the farm and start to make plans to travel, balanced against settling parents’ estates and caring for aging siblings, updating their own wills and dealing with their own stuff that’s accumulated over the years.

I’ve created a pact with my Mom. This is the year. My friend Kathy told me about Marie Kondo years ago, and when this Queen of Tidying Up appeared on Netflix, it reminded me that there can be freedom in letting go of stuff and keeping the things that bring you joy. Why not have events in our community to finish our projects, while enjoying being with each other and supporting each other? How about a social media blitz of our victories over our incomplete projects?

What I see possible is being free and complete and full of joy.

I’ve taken some ground by going through my clothes and shoes. This weekend I’ve been attacking our boxes and boxes of papers. Next weekend I’m at Startup Weekend Calgary, where I’ll be looking for ways to complete my language learning projects. The next weekend I’ll host a completion party and have friends and family over where everyone brings something they want to finish that evening.

Who would like to join me?

To share your victories and completed projects, tag your posts on social media with #MasterOfComplete.

Getting My House in Order

So if I told you this was a house, would you know where to start on building it?  You might start with the green base, maybe play around with the white pieces, probably leave space for the door, maybe make the roof out of the blue pieces.  A perfectly serviceable house.  You might hunt for the instructions so it will look the way it was meant to with those pieces.  Or maybe you only play with pre-packaged lego, no risk of missing pieces or doing it wrong.

Let’s say I want to build that lego house.  My brain pleads for the instructions, so I can do it right, and I know it will turn out right.  Like a puzzle, I want to know I’ve got all the pieces, because it’s been built before by my kids, and maybe a couple of the pieces have been eaten by the vacuum cleaner.  I kept all the pieces in their own container so I could play around with it when I had some time.  I have experience with small children that if pieces are missing, a temper tantrum from the small human is likely, or worse, giving up.  Play is gone.  Fun is gone.  It had such potential to be fun!  So I know I’ll be at least annoyed if I sit down to play with this and there are pieces are missing.  So I sort the pieces by color, then lay them out grouped by shape.  Then I count them using the handy inventory list included in the instructions, to make sure nothing was missing.  There was.  I have miscellaneous mystery pieces I’ve got sorted by color for just such occasions.  Now I’m ready to play!

Why would I do this?  Because I care deeply about what happens when you play.  I don’t want anything to get in the way of the fun.  I sure don’t want to decide either I or some small human who’s going to play this is going to get stopped or frustrated right when they get into it.

This is the same attention I’ve been putting into my game designs.  I’m doing them with paper and printer and felt markers and clay and game bits borrowed from my game collection.  I’m playtesting with game designers of Alberta, and talking to teachers.  I’m having my kids play, and I’m playing, and I have a sixty year old grandma playing my games.  I’m making games.  Why?  Because I want to bring play and fun to language learning.  I know I’ve got about 5 minutes of your attention before you decide your’re not good at this, this is a lot of work, this is frustrating, and you’re too busy to do this.  Anyone can learn a second language.  I promise it can be fun.

Support this effort by getting in touch with me.  I’m hard at work in Santa’s workshop making stocking stuffers that you can buy to support dream2do in keeping its doors open and the quest for good language learning games fun alive. The online store will be open in the next couple of days.

You can reach me at angela@aviak.ca

(Funny thing, my contact me page is broken, I’ll get that fixed right away!)

Technology Enhanced Language Learning for the SAHLA symposium 2018

Thank you!

Thanks so much to everyone who attended my talk on Technology Enhanced Language Learning for the SAHLA 2018 Symposium.  Don’t hesitate to contact me with any comments or questions you may have.  If you are interested in being involved in my current project of a language learning board game for your classroom or for the families of your students, I would love to welcome you into the project.

I will also post more about gamification of language learning in the next couple of days, which is a subject near and dear to my heart, and which you can bring to your language classrooms.


Technology Enhanced Language Learning

With Angela Henders

Connect and creating a collaborative space

Creating a closed facebook group
Creating a google account
Tips on sharing documents on google drive:
Creating a Website with Wix:
Creating a Website with WordPress:
Make a group on Meetup.com

Authentic Material

Youtube.com for movie trailers, music videos, teaching material, audiobooks
Calgary Public Library
– elibrary > World Languages – PressReader and Pronunciator
– movies, CDs
Online talking dictionaries – e.g. Collins
Ebooks and chapter books
Audible for audiobooks
Online streaming audio – podcasts, radio
Music – itunes, cds
Bridge the Gap

Beginner Resources for language learning:

Radio and podcasts
Online dictionaries
The Noun project
WordPress and Wix

Apps Abound

Rosetta Stone
Audible, music, podcasts
Verb forms
Kindle and Kobo ebooks
Supermemo classic

Science of Learning

Spaced repetition
Corpus linguistics
Memorization has a place
Apply what you’ve learned


Language at Play: Digital Games in Second and Foreign Language Teaching
by Julie M. Sykes and Jonathon Reinhardt
Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World
By Jane McGonigal
Design for How People Learn
By Julie Dirksen
Rules of Play
By Katie Salen Tekinbas and Eric Zimmerman
The Science of Fun
By Nicole Lazzaro
The Four Keys to Fun – 4k2f.com
Nicole Lazzaro
Further Reading
Make it Stick, the Science of Successful Learning by Peter C Brown, Henry L Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel
Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen

My new favorite things

I listen to many many audiobooks while I’m working on my English and Spanish corpus, driving kids hither and yon, sewing and hammering and on roadtrips. There is this conundrum for reading books: you’re more likely to finish reading it if you are enjoying it. I’ve staked my language learning approach for any age based on reading books at a grade five level. This is when vocabulary levels explode – when kids start to read chapter books at this level. My kids also happen to be chewing through these books, so I’m getting great feedback on what they motor through, and which ones they leave in the middle.

I started my research based on others’ opinions of good books, and discovered that I disagree with some time-honored classics even. Award-winning books are sometimes terrible, in my opinion. Books written fifty years ago have strange roles for their female characters. I didn’t consider myself a feminist until I started reading the Narnia series and Peter Pan. I’m a girl, so some of the books I like don’t appeal to my husband or boys, and I admit I do like strong female or at least intelligently written female characters. Tricky, sticky, unexpected. I decided that if I’m going to recommend that kids or adults read books in Spanish, they are going to appeal to a wide audience, and I will stop apologizing that my opinion will come through in the choices I recommend. I read 104 books last year, and wrote at least a few words about each of them on goodreads.

I had both my boys, yep, 13 year old boys, read A Little Princess. Their response – ‘So good!’ and ‘This book made me smile because bad things happened and it didn’t magically get solved for the main character.’ Good books should be celebrated, even if they aren’t award winning, published last year, character building, or made into movies.

My challenge to you – leave a comment with one of your favorite books you think everyone should read.

Be the change

I got to 100 million words in my English corpus yesterday.  For the last 3 months to get to that goal I’ve been adding 300,000 words a day.  I have collected and analyzed the contents of 1344 books.  Along the way, I have read 265 of them, so far.  I have 32.5 million words in my Spanish corpus, from 368 books I’ve collected from libraries, used book stores, those precious few bookstores that carry children and young adult books in Spanish, and Amazon e-books.  I started this project when I left my very sensible job to pursue this three years ago.  Thanks to my family and friends and most of all my husband Mike, for their support, patience and understanding on this journey.

The corpus I based my research on was the British National Corpus of 100 million words, and was a collection of papers and texts on linguistics, chemistry and biology.  There were weird words in their list of the top words like membrane that made me say ‘nu-uh!’  More recent collections seemed to suffer the same issue.  Now, based on popular and classic books at a grade 5 level, I have answered for myself what are useful words for independent language learning using reading as your springboard.

In the coming week I’ll have an announcement of the first product that you can back on patreon based on the results of my research.  It’s going to have the collection words that you need to get to 80% of running words you meet with in a grade 5 level book of Spanish.  Spoiler alert – it’s going to be fun, and it will fit in a Christmas stocking!

Please leave a comment if you like what you’re reading.  Share my site with someone you think would be interested in this.  I’m not looking for venture capital, this is strictly grass-roots, and supported by the community.  You, in fact.  Thanks for your support.

p.s. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t say no to Disney or Amazon showing up on my doorstep.  But in the meantime, your support means the world to me.