There’s a great deal to like about Brian Aspinall. He’s a very visible learner and engager online, active classroom teacher, software developer, and generally nice guy! Read on to find out more about this Ontario Educator.
Doug: Can you remember when we first met?
Brian: The first time we met would have been at school – the University of Windsor – during my teacher’s college year.
Doug: How did that work out for you?
Brian: I enjoyed the year. Especially the gadgets you would bring and make us guess on their use.
Doug: That was actually the first time that I had taught that course. It was entirely different from the syllabus given to me – printed on a dot matrix printer with a culminating activity of creating a Microsoft Word document.
You were one of the lucky graduates to land a position. Tell us about your assignment this year. As we write this, it’s one day old.
Brian: This year I have a grade 8 homeroom. Fortunately we have some rotary so I teach two grade 8 classes Science, along with my homeroom’s math and LA. Also have SYSOP time to look after the 60+ iPads we have.
Doug: How much of a role does technology play in your classroom?
Brian: Technology plays a huge role in my classroom. We use it as often as we can with our own devices and tend to hoard the iPad carts.
Doug: What new things are you going to try this year?
Brian: Remind101 is my new goal for the year to better continue to communicate with parents. Also codeacademy and a focus on more blended learning.
Doug: Will your classroom have a presence online that we can follow?
Brian: Most of our projects will be tweeted and vined – @mraspinall – you can also follow on mraspinall.com
Doug: Do you get a chance to do any coding with your students?
Brian: Sometimes I get down to actually writing lines of code on codeacademy with elementary students, or even some basic HTML. We definitely get to play with Scratch, Panther and Alice.
Doug: What extra-curricular activities are you involved in?
Brian: I coach soccer, basketball and track and field. Sports aside, I run a computer club and student-run helpdesk for staff and students.
Doug: You’ve also been a developer of educational applications. What can you tell us about Twiducate?
Brian: twiducate was a fun project that started after a conversation with an old grade 8 class. During our ‘pathways’ unit someone said “why don’t you program for education” and it kind of clicked. At the time of development, facebook and twitter were blocked by school firewalls so an appropriate alternative seemed fitting. I spent three years writing php code for twiducate and was proud of its growth. Most people don’t realize it was just me, on my laptop putting that together. It’s almost bittersweet now as twiducate was acquired by a company out of Boston last summer.
Doug: More recently, you wrote Clipkwik. (Reviewed here: https://dougpete.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/kurrate/) Can you share some insights about it?
Brian: I love to use media in my lessons. clipkwik was developed to make educational videos accessible – and more quickly – for those teachable moments. Using Google Custom Search, teachers can search for a video from multiple sites (TED, teachertube, schooltube, vimeo etc) in one spot. I used to spend hours looking for that perfect video by searching in multiple locations. Using clipkwik, you can search one and get results from multiple kid friendly websites immediately.
Doug: Why did you change the name from Kurrate?
Brian: clipkwik.com was available at the time of purchase. I liked the ring it had to it. Two syllables. I wanted to stay away from ‘curate’ – which of course was taken as a domain name.
Doug: And the most recent one that I’m aware of is Sketchlot. (Reviewed here: http://dougpete.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/a-new-sketching-program-and-why-you-need-it/) Why would an educator want to use that?
Brian: sketchlot is the perfect solution to a web whiteboard. Students do not need an account and everything they create is private – restricted to just those in the classroom. I developed sketchlot to solve my own issues of having students without email addresses. It also works on any device – android, apple and blackberry. It is written in HTML5 and not Flash.
Doug: And the price for these is….?
Brian: FREE – they are all free. Everything I develop will always be free for education. I’m not one to want to spend money on a subscription and to justify it to admins and school boards is tedious.
Doug: Do you have any other projects in progress?
Brian: As of now, nothing concrete in the works. A few ideas are kicking around and i’ll likely start one of them this school year but nothing at the time of this writing.
Doug: Are there any plans to open source any of these?
Brian: I admire the open source community as I’ve used the open source community. However, I don’t see any real reason to do so as most teachers are not developers. twiducate, for example, was built strictly on teacher input. I never imagined some of the functionality it has. I didn’t see it being used as it is. For example, adding multiple classes and embedding google docs – not my idea, but certainly useful! There is value there. I would rather develop for everyone based on user generated input.
Doug: Do you have any words of advice to those who would be startups in education?
Brian: You HAVE to be in a classroom and see it function. So many variables from device, to OS, to bandwidth, to user competency. I admire the fact that I can test what I develop the very next day. Anyone new to startups for edu had better see it run with 30+ students in realtime!
Doug: Last year, you were one of the organizers of EdCampSWO. Sadly, I was unable to attend. Would you consider it a success?
Brian: It was a huge success! Hundreds of teachers from southern Ontario and Michigan came together for this event.
Doug: Are you involved again this year? What are the dates, location, and registration details?
Brian: I am still involved!. We have a great team from GECDSB, WECDSB and LKDSB. We are hoping to run the event in Chatham-Kent and get more of a draw from London. Don’t miss this year – our second year – on November 9th – location TBA. http://www.edcampswo.com
Doug: You’re also presenting about the Paperless Classroom at the ECOO13 Conference. Can you share a sneak peek at what your presentation is going to look like? There better not be any paper handouts.
Brian: No paper handouts. Rather a discussion on the pedagogy of a modern math class. Rather than 30 practice questions, students should work collaboratively on a few rich questions. Or better yet – develop apps to solve math problems. I will share student developed apps from previous years at #ECOO13 this year.
Doug: You’re also an advocate for Colchester, Ontario, one of my favourite dog walking places! What else should I be on the lookout for there?
Brian: Colchester has become the new wine route for Ontario. Anyone interested in Niagara had better check out the new Lake Erie North Shore. That and Klassen Blueberries. They make a delicious milkshake! Colchester is where I grew up, and everyone should get an opportunity to visit the public beach.
Doug: Thanks very much for the interview. Hopefully, readers will know a little more about your professional life and get a sense of your dedication to education. Readers, if you haven’t looked at the resources that Brian has developed and is making available for free, you definitely need to.
Brian: Happy to share. I appreciate being asked to speak for your blog!
Brian is very active on Twitter. He blogs at http://www.mraspinall.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter at @mraspinall. He’s well worth the follow to help you grow professionally and to get the occasional smile.