Category Archives: application

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Hmmm.  I’ve got to schedule this for next month.  I hope I manage not to mess it up.  I’ve been wrestling with WordPress quite a bit lately.

There’s always good things flying off the keyboards of Ontario Edubloggers.  Here’s a bit of what I read recently.

Different Kids, Different Approach

If there’s one way to summarize why teachers should blog, Diana Maliszewski absolutely nails it in the last sentence “Before I forget, I wanted to reflect…” It’s a wonderful post about some of the things that she did during summer school.  I really liked the idea of “Student-Controlled Bulletin Boards”.  It was a technique that I always used with my Computer Science classes.  It started as a way to have fresh content without me generating it but evolved to a research and display space for students.  The rule was that the next group had to have their bulletin board up for Tuesday morning.  It always seemed to generate discussion among the class – I had six classes and six bulletin boards.  If you really believe that the goal as an educator is to teach communication, this is a perfect opportunity.

I wonder if Diana kept pictures of the bulletin boards?  That’s always been a regret of mine.

Students as Creators – Not Curators – of Math

This seems like such a logical statement but, given the beating that education gets from the outside about mathematics, it needs to be repeated and Kyle Pearce handles it in a recent post.

In the post, he even takes a reflective look at his own practice from being happy with his students scoring high on EQAO and changes the focus to deeper understanding of mathematics.

It’s too bad that we continue to have to have these conversations.  Of all of the subject areas, mathematics can lend itself to be fun when you get away from the drill, kill, memorize, regurgitate approach.  I like the reference to Pythagoras, Pascal, and Euler.  It begs the question – did they have to memorize the 10 times table?

What’s on your plate?

Sue Bruyns asks an important question to everyone in education.

“Who can you trust with this task?”

I remember having this discussion once with my superintendent who was a genius in my eyes in the field of leadership.  As it happened, we were in the car together driving to an RCAC meeting in London.  He would pick my mind and bounce ideas off me and I reciprocated.  If you ever have the chance to go somewhere with your leader in a car, take it.  It’s worth it.

One of our discussions was about burnout in education.  He made such an interesting point.  The only time that educators really “get it” is as a classroom teacher, dividing students into groups, establishing rules and norms to balance the workload among the group members so that one mark per group is fair.  But, as you move away from that scenario to assistant department head, department head, vice-principal, principal, consultant, superintendent, director and who knows what else I’ve forgotten, you forget all that.  Your plate gets filled with more and more “stuff”.  Some do it as a control freak.  Some do it to avoid letting others know what they’re doing.  Some do it for job protection or competitiveness for a promotion.  Some do it because they don’t trust others to do as good a job as them.

When was the last time you sincerely thought about delegation of tasks?

Thanks so much everyone for sharing your thoughts and leadership.  I hope that you can take a few moments and link back to these original posts and read them in their entirety.  There’s so much great thinking to be done!

I’m 5 Again

One of the things that I used to tell my computer science students was that every program that they create was actually a story. 

You tell the story to the computer and the computer retells parts (or all) of the story back to the user.  I suppose in the kindest of ways, it was a way from deterring from programming as an academic affair from the very beginning.

As we witness programming languages evolve, it’s increasingly appropriate.  Instead of writing programs like tax calculators, we now introduce programming by a more formal approach to story telling.  We manipulate screen objects, set backgrounds, add interactions, etc.  Programming languages like Hopscotch, Alice, Daisy the Dinosaur, Scratch, and Tynker make story telling the heart of programming.  The logic is to introduce students to programming concepts in a fun, easy to manipulate environment.  From there, the level of sophistication, and choice of languages develops a culture of programming. 

With classrooms across the world moving to tablet based programming, it’s so good to see introductory programming languages embracing that environment.  Frequent readers to this blog know that I’ve tried (played) with many of them.  The combination of a familiar environment and a well crafted developmental environment is a formula for success.

This morning, into the mix, comes ScratchJr.

With ScratchJr, young children (ages 5-7) can program their own interactive stories and games. – ScratchJr website

If you’ve used the Scratch Programming language on a PC, the iPad implementation is a breeze.  Download it, load it, give permission for it to use your microphone, and you’re ready to program.

Hit the ? to get an introduction to ScratchJr, learn about the environment, visit a few examples and you’re off to the races!  If you’re a Scratch programmer, you’re so familiar with dragging, modifying, locking, embedding objects to get the job done.  The same concepts apply here.  There was such a flat learning curve for me.  It’s like programming in Scratch – only easier! 

Normally, there would be concerns about a program being “late for the party” but I suspect that won’t be a problem in the case of ScratchJr.  There’s a huge collection of folks who have been using Scratch for years that I’m sure will become big advocates of the program.  I can just imagine copies flying out of the app store.

Scratch has developed such a large online community of users.  The same will happen with ScratchJr.  There will be all kinds of ideas and support available once this happens.  At present, you can follow the discussion on Twitter here.

You can download ScratchJr here.

Digital Citizenship Resources

Common Sense Media serves as a huge repository of resources that addresses many of the curricular needs. 

Like any repository, teachers should use their professional judgement with respect to the resources to ensure that they meets the needs of their curriculum and their classroom.  All of the things like bias, age-appropriateness, etc. need to go into the determination as to the appropriateness of the resource.

One are that many want to address but can find challenges in finding quality resources is the area of digital citizenship.  Can you define what it means in your classroom; never mind a single definition that fits all grades! 

To help the cause, their entire digital citizenship curriculum has been made available as iBooks and freely downloadable through the iTunes store.

If you’re looking for resources of this type, take the time to download and use your judgement as to the appropriateness for your students.

The resources are available for download here.

Pexels Images

You can’t have enough sources for Creative Commons or free images/pictures.  To the list, I’d like to suggest that you add Pexels.

Their claim is that they host “Free high quality photos you can use everywhere”. All without attribution to the creator.  This is a refreshing approach.  After poking around, there are some very good images to use.  I did my usual search for “house”.

All photos on Pexels are under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means you can copy, modify, distribute and perform the photos. The pictures are free for personal and even for commercial use. All without asking for permission or setting a link to the source. So attribution is not required. All in all the photos are completely free to be used for any legal purpose.

For student purposes, I still think that the first choice should be pictures, images, drawings, screen captures, … that they’ve created themselves but there are times when that’s just not possible.

There isn’t a huge collection – they claim to add 30 every week.  But, the ones that are there are really well done and I would suggest well worth the time to bookmark and search when you don’t have an image of your own to use.

A Block Graphic Calculator

Calculators have come a long way since the first ones that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  Now, for a modest cost, it’s possible to purchase a graphing calculator.  Or, with your computer, you can put a free one in your browser.  i.e. Desmos Graphing Calculator

But there’s another interesting option.

Many classrooms are introducing students to programming using any one of a variety of block programming languages.  It seems to me that a natural progression would be a block graphing calculator.  And, there is one at the Blockly site.

Choose from a toolbox that includes:



and Logic

If your students are familiar with a block programming language, the technique is similar.  Just drag the components out to the workplace, lock them together, add any necessary parameters, and you’re done.

Results are immediately displayed in the graphing window.  Move your cursor over any part of your graph to display the x and y co-ordinates.

The interface is clear and easy to navigate.  I think this is a definite keeper.  It’s positioned as a nice transition between block programming and a full-blown graphic calculator with all of its distracting bells and whistles.

Where in the World?

I love geography guessing / discovery applications.  My latest fascination is GeoGuessr.  

It’s humbling.  It reaffirms how little I know!

Like many in this genre, you’re given a map image and your job is to identify the location.  What could be easier?

Well, I never said I was good…

Although sometimes I do have a clue!

“The World” is a big place and makes for really tough puzzles.  When you scroll down, there are some localized puzzles to solve.  I had a great deal of fun with the “Famous Places” section.

Hunting for Code

At the CSTA Conference, Alfred Thompson sent this Twitter message.

Later, he blogged about his thoughts……My Big Learning at CSTA 2014 Day 1–Not From A Session

Based on his first quote, I headed over to the Code Hunt site and started poking around.  It’s very intriguing.  If you follow the link and end up at the CSTA contest, you’ll find that it’s closed.  If that’s the case, click on “Change Zone” and navigate away.




You have your choice to play in Java or C#. 

The game boils down to this…you’re given a section of code and output table. 



“All” you have to do is look at the code that you’re given and modify it so that the expected result is the same as your result (based upon modifying the code).

It was great fun.  You log in with a Microsoft or Yahoo! ID so that your attempts are captured.  It’s addictive.  I dropped by their booth, talked with the Microsoft folks and got a first hand demo.  In addition to the puzzles that they present (and there are lots of them), teachers can create their own for their class.

How’d I do?  Well, quite frankly, I wasn’t eligible since the instructions indicated that you had to be from one of the 50 states so that put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm at the moment.  There were a lot of really sharp people at the conference so I wouldn’t have stood a chance anyway had I been eligible.

Regardless, if you’re a Computer Science teacher or a programmer in a bit of a challenge for yourself or friends, make sure you check it out.

Three To Try

“Summer’s here and the time is right for’…

…trying out new software.

Whether you’re taking an AQ courrse or just looking for new software or ideas for the fall, you owe it to yourself to take a look at these three great Ontario developed resources.  All have been used here and I can see absolutely great uses for them.

Cube for Teachers

Cube for K-12 Teachers is a repository for teachers that went live in Beta the first of October.  While the opening screen indicates that the resource will ultimately be available to all Canadian teachers, at present registration is limited to Ontario teachers.”

Originally reviewed on this blog here.


“Brian Aspinall’s latest production is called nkwiry.  nkwiry is a very classroom friendly social bookmark curating service.  There are many similar services on the web but they do require some involved account creation and then a bit of work (read explaining grown up sevices to students and the frustration therein) to get started before you can enjoy some success.”

Originally reviewed on this blog here.


“From the fertile mind of Brian Aspinall, comes a collaborative word processor option for those that don’t need the high-end, high-powered options.  He’s called it Scrawlar.  Think of it as a word processor with just the right number of tools.”

Originally reviewed on this blog here


Mistakes to Action

I follow The Daily Post as inspiration/ideas for blogging.  There was one idea that I hung on to because I’m sure that I could have used it as the basis for a post.  This bit of inspiration was called “My Favorite Mistake“.

As I write this, I’m getting ready for the CSTA Conference.  Two great days with Computer Science educators and this mistake memory brought back a memory of my own.

It wasn’t really a mistake; it just should have been!

Here’s my story.  It was years ago.  I sat next to a good friend who was a wizard working with Microsoft Access and publishing it to the web.  He had a database of resources and had written a front end webpage that allowed anyone who visited his website to query the database and get the results.  I was looking over his shoulder and got the gist of it.

His front end was an Active Server Page and I’d never written one seriously.  I had composed a simple one in Dreamweaver just to prove that I could.  He was writing his in Notepad and his rationale was that it was only writing that way that you truly knew how ASP worked.  It made sense to me.

Eventually, we went our separate ways and my learning started to fade. 

At the time, I was heavily into collecting WebQuests and tying their use to the Ontario Curriculum.  It started simply with just a table with a descriptor, grade and expectation, and a link to the WebQuest.  As the collection grew, so did the length of this silly webpage.  Then it dawned on me. 

There’s a better way to do this – put the information into a database and write the code to query it.  After all, I’d seen it in action already.

Creating the database was easy.  I fired up Notepad and started to write the front end that would query it.  It was at this point that I regretted not paying more attention earlier and/or taking notes.  Or, I should take a course in ASP.  Or, at least do a tutorial.

That would require more work than what I wanted at the time.  So, I just kept at it.

I was –> <– this close to having it work just the way I wanted it.  But, for the life of me, I couldn’t get it done.  If you’re a programmer, you know that there comes a time when you get punchy.  I was at that point.  I tried one change that looked goofy, and I expected the worst.  This would be my mistake.  Maybe I could learn something?

Well, you know the point of this post.  I’ll be darned if the doors didn’t open, light shone through, and my WebQuest Locator worked.  Perfectly!  (Not pretty, but that would come later)  I posted everything and asked a few friends to try to break it.  They couldn’t but liked the way that they could get what they wanted.  I was outrageously happy.  I’ll call that my Favourite Mistake!

I did give in and bought a couple of books to work through and try to understand just what I’d done.

How about you programmers out there?  Any mistakes that worked that you’d care to share?

Jaimie Was Here

Numerous times a day, Jaimie and I go for walks.  I swear that he can tell time and knows when his next walk is due.  At least twice a day, we do a walk through the King’s Navy Yard.  There are lots of flowers to look at and we mark the trail on our travels.  Actually, he marks while I pause for a bit.

It was with great interest that I read that Google Maps now allows for multiple points as it maps out a total distance on a map.  I thought – why not mark out our walk?

Off we went to find that our usual walk would be shorter than usual.  It was Sidewalk Sale Days in the downtown and the last thing that we would want to do is take our normal jaunts through the displays.  If you get my drift…

When I got home, I marked out our route on Google Maps.  It was easy to add multiple points – just right click where you want the point and the resulting menu …

… has the option to mark a “Distance to Here”.  I took a shot at mapping out our walk.

It was actually kind of difficult at first since the brick pathways weren’t on the map.  Then, I clued in … switch to Earth View and zoom in!  The path was very clear.

A little back and forth between map displays and I was able to come up with the route and the distances.

But, how accurate was my drawing?

Fortunately, I also had my smartphone with me and the app My Tracks installed.  I asked it to map things for me from beginning to end of our walk.

I had to smile.  According to this, we didn’t walk in straight lines!  It could be an error or more likely could be our little dodges to the bushes and interesting distractions on the way!

When I look back, I was quite impressed with the functionality of Google Maps and the abilities to add markers along the way.  This is a definite keeper.  Imagine drawing maps for walkathons or marathon races or just anything that needs multiple points!

I’d be remiss not to point out a favourite spot along the way…the signature Hostas Garden.  Of respect, we walk by it and not through it!

Have you checked out this new functionality in Google Maps?  How would you use it?