At OTF Teaching, Learning & Technology Conference – Hopscotch, Sphero, Social Reading

It was a terrific three days in Toronto working with a wonderful group of Ontario educator professionals. The Ontario Teachers’ Federation throws a great event.  The attendees were asked to self-identify as early users of technology.  I think that many left with their heads spinning, full of great ideas.  They were invited to learn where their interests lay because they certainly couldn’t take in everything that was offered.

What was offered was very quickly scaffolded and everyone was encouraged to learn, create, and push themselves to new levels.

Those that joined me got to experience from the following.


We had a ball learning how to code on the iPad.  We started simply by controlling movement on the screen but very quickly added the elements of sequencing and repetition to our efforts.  By the time we were done, everyone was programming like pros and had learned how to branch programs from the Hopscotch website and modify them to do great things!

Here is the link to the resources shared are on my PD Wiki.


Speaking of having a ball, it was only natural that we took the opportunity to learn a bit about programming a robot with the iPad. Many schools are adopting iPads instead of desktops or laptops. How can you continue to work with robots? Sphero fits the bill nicely.  I had a great conversation with Jeff Pelich from Waterloo and we both agreed that the Macrolab and OrbBasic are required downloads to support the programming.

Social Reading

One of things that I strongly believe is that when we read and share, we can all become smarter.  That was the basic message in the social reading station at Minds on Media.  This messy diagram shows the workflow, er, reading flow that I use.

We talked about a number of absolutely terrific sources for professional reading on a daily basis.

and, of course, Ontario Edubloggers.

But the message here was more than just reading.  It’s about sharing.  We identified the sharing links on any of these sources and learned how to send them to Twitter, Facebook, or Instapaper.

Again, the message was more than just sending it to these sources.  We talked about using  The moment (or shortly thereafter) you send a link to Twitter, we talked about how would send the link to a Diigo account.  I love to use the analogy of a set of dominos tumbling over!  But, when it all works, the links are shared with others and they’re permanently bookmarked in your Diigo account.

But, it doesn’t stop there.  We talked about collecting the good stuff and having it all in one place.  Remember that great article you read last year?  Why retrace you steps to find the article by doing an internet search and hoping that you’re able to find it again?  Tuck it away in Diigo.

Once it’s there, you can do some amazing things other than just bookmarking.

  • Install the Diigo extension so that you’re one click away
  • Create a blog post with the links you’ve shared
  • Save your Diigo links to Delicious so that you’ve got a backup
  • Make Diigo the default search engine for your browser
  • Set up Diigo groups and use Diigo network
  • Get a Diigo Educator account

Yes, it can be messy but are the benefits worth it.  And, people seemed to buy in at their own personal level.  It doesn’t get better than that.  I met a secondary school teacher-librarian who was planning to set up Diigo groups for the various departments in her school; a lady who is planning to cultivate recipes; another lady looking to build a knowledge network about running; and a gentleman going to pull together resources for bass fishing.  How’s that for personalized?

I know that there were a lot of exhausted people who returned home Friday night, but it was a good exhausted.  You can’t beat a event of learning, sharing, and making connections.

To App, to App, and Back?

A long time ago, I decided that I would diversify my email accounts.  One of the decisions that I made was to use my Gmail account for social media and Web 2.0 things.  Without a doubt, it’s the most active account that I have and there’s always a game of catch up on email to be played.

Being a web service, access is just gained by being another tab when my browser opens.  Quite frankly, it does get out of hand and it doesn’t bother me as much now as it used to.  I just get around to it when I can.  This mailbox is never empty.

When I got my iPad, I decided that this would be a lifesaver.  Rather than having to wait until I’m sitting at a keyboard, I could just grab the device and try to get caught up when I have a moment.  I’ve tried a number of different web browsers on the iPad – Safari, Dolphin, Diigo, Atomic, Chrome.  I tried them all with varying levels of satisfaction.

Then, Google decides to release a Gmail application.  Now, instead of just going in to email, another step is introduced to the process and that was “Download our App or …”.  Ever a sucker for suggestive purchases, I downloaded the free application and started to use it instead of the web interface.  It has a nice, annoying feature of letting me know just how many unread messages are sitting there waiting for me!  And, another really annoying functionality.

Then, I read about Mailbox.  It promises to revolutionize the way you think about email and promises to take you to mailbox zero quickly.  How can I lose?  Off I go to sign up and get a copy.  Not so fast, Doug.  There was actually a waiting list to get a copy.  So, I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

One evening, I’m watching #ecoo13 Keynote Amber MacArthur on AppCentral and she features the app, talking about its features.  I’m really excited, and without a word of a lie, I get an email indicating that my copy is ready.  I grab it.  I need this better way.

It was interesting.  I’ll admit that I’m not really a gesture person so I did have to do some work learning left and right swipes and long swipes.  It was a challenging paradigm for me to break.  Even with a device designed to be poked, prodded, and swiped, I’m still more comfortable clicking on icons to get the job done.  But, I stuck it out and the swiping does speed up the process.  I like the ability to delay mail until later.  This is good.  The good news for you is that the waiting list is no longer there.  Mailbox was acquired by Dropbox and you can get it right away.

I learned how to navigate and use the utility but quickly dropped it.  At the time, it was designed for the iPhone only.  These smaller applications, when multiplied 2x look really awful on the iPad.  I had actually forgotten about the application until I got a notification that there was an update this past week.  An update away and I was very pleased.  There’s now a native iPad format!  You have a list of emails on the left of the screen and the message content on the right.  The layout is landscape only at this time but it’s not bad.

But, the annoying functionality that the Gmail application has is still there.  It’s also there in the Apple native application.  Remember that I indicated that I use Gmail for Web 2.0 and social media?  What are these things but part of the web with links to take you here and there.  The applications don’t handle them internally.  Instead, they launch a browser, open yet another tab, and then you reach your destination.  I suppose it’s not a terrible problem to have if you’re just going to check out a link.  But, consider the scenario where you have all kinds of links to discover.  I’m always sticking them into my Diigo account, Instapaper, or just sharing to Twitter.  Even if you’re just checking out a link, you then have to leave the browser and go back to the email client to pick up where you left off.  I find this a real annoyance.

For the moment, this is my mail reading application for the iPad.  If the message that I wish to read contains links, I’ll leave it along and wait until I’m at a keyboard.  It’s a compromise, I know, but it works for me.

It’s no time to get comfortable.  From today’s reading – Do these screenshots reveal a heavily revamped Gmail for mobile and Web is on the way?  Oh, I love a good rumour.  And, if it’s going to make reading and processing email easier, I’m all over it.

Give a Little; Get Back a Lot

Recently, I had blogged about how to create Big Data Sets.

At the core of the post was reference to the website  For Computer Science teachers, this can be a real timesavers.  Rather than create significant test data files, use the utility here to generate data for you … lots of data.

It comes back with big value for me!

It ended up being included in a Pearltree by drbazuk.  By following the link, it opened up a huge collection of resources about big data!

The point of this post is to pay it forward to my readers.

If you’re looking for articles, resources, or discussion about big data, check out this Pearltree.  Make sure you tuck it away in your Diigo, Delicious, Pocket, or Evernote account for future reference.

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New Diigo Extension

During my morning reads today, I ran across this story about Google’s London Web Labs.  “With more than 5m visitors so far, Google’s London Web Lab experiments are still going strong“.  As per my normal habits, I thought the story was interesting for me, might be for others, and it’s something that I would want to keep around for later.  So, I shared it to Twitter with the share function on Zite.

Ever looking for automation, the story caught the attention of my account which tagged it as such and tucked it away into my Diigo account.  Normally, that’s where it would sit until I would get back to it later on.  However, it had captured the attention of @pbeens who read the story and added it to his fabulous collection of Google A-Z resources.

I’d become a little lazy lately allowing to take care of things for me.  While it does do a great job of capturing the links that I share to Twitter, the one area that it falls down is in the concept of tagging.  I have to have the sticktoitiveness to go back in and add my own tags so that resources that I’ve tucked away into Diigo are easily located after the fact.  I’ll blame it on the cold that never ends – I’ve been bad lately and haven’t been doing the retro-tagging thing.  I’ve got to get better and get back into the swing of things.

Oh well.

As it turns out, later in the day through other means, I had run across the announcement of Google Code Jam 2013.  I headed to the Diigo bookmark in the tool bar to do the deed and, as it turns out, spent some time doing something that I should have done about a week ago.  You see – Diigo had updated its extension (as shown by the NEW button on it) and I hadn’t explored it.


“Bookmark & Annotate” was why I used Diigo in the first place.  “Read” later could be handy.  “Share” is pretty much taken care of with Twitter and posting to this blog and my Blogger Blog.

But, it was the “Screenshot” that really caught my interest.  It turns out that you can now send images to your Diigo account.  You appear to have two choices – just send the image or attach the image to the original link.  I gave that a shot and like what I see.

Why is this good?  It’s just a thumbnail, right?  Yes, but most resource sharing now includes images – check your Pinterests, Rebelmouses, etc.  It’s just that nicely added visual that will job your memory as to why you bookmarked it in the first place.  I’m liking that feature right off the bat!

I guess I’m going to have to get back into the swing of things and get serious about what I’m doing with my bookmarks.  This opens a whole new world of possibilities.  Particularly with students, if you’re using the teacher console, it gives an idea of what the resource is going to look like when they get there.


Business to Education

I have a favourite line in a Murray McLauchlin album – “We’re all in sales”.  I guess that it’s not always immediately obvious.

But nowhere in education is it more obvious than in blogging.  From the youngest blogger to the most experienced, we’re all selling something.  Usually, it’s ideas and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.  In fact, the more that we realize it, the more forceful our posts should be.

I had bookmarked this infographic quite a while ago but reference to it came across in a reading this morning.   Infographic: Your Blog Post Promotion Checklist

The checklist is written from a business blogging perspective but with a little change in the wording, could apply equally as well in education.  The original blog post appears here.  Thanks to DIVVYHQ for the post  Micaela Clarke for the original infographic.

I would suggest the following changes to make it work for education.

  1. Proofread your writing.  Is it powerful enough and are there tags and words that would allow people doing a Google search to find your blog post?
  2. Post a link to your blog on your class’ Facebook page and on the class Twitter account.
  3. Shorten your link using or tinyurl so that it’s easy to type.
  4. Create a short summary of your post for easy reading and to encourage people to read the entire post.
  5. Make sure you have a great title to your post and display it on your class wiki with a link to your blog post so that people can easily find it.
  6. Do you have a Diigo or Delicious account to bookmark class things?  If so, post a link and short summary with tags so that you and others can easily find it later.
  7. Make comments on your classmate’s blogs or other blogs.  Usually, you’ll have to provide an email address and a link back to your blog.  Great advertising.
  8. Share on Twitter! Does your class collaborate with another one?  Get them to read your blog post.
  9. At the bottom of your email, put a link to your blog post so that everyone who gets an email from you can find it.  You can usually have this done automatically.
  10. Do you know another school in your town or city?  Let them know about your great post.
  11. Does your teacher send a newsletter home to your parents?  Make sure that the address to your blog is included in the newsletter.
  12. Get your teacher to share your blog with her/his Twitter account.  Make sure they include #comments4kids so that even more people can find you.

Any additional suggestions?

Having students create their own infographic with tips would make for great artwork around the classroom and to reinforce the concepts.

Searching it All

When I’m searching for things on the internet, I really don’t want to spend time wandering around aimlessly trying one strategy and then another.

I’ve had a lot of success by changing the way that I think about search. I like to frame my thoughts in the form of a question.  This helps me generate the expressions that feed my searching process.  Thank you Alex Trebek.

The way I figure it, at least currently, there are three types of things that might reasonably lead to answers to my question.  First, there’s a database of darn near everything put online.  That leads me, of course, to Google.

But, secondly, I do a great deal of reading and discovery.  I interact with a lot of smart people and that generates some great content.  I tuck the best of the best away in my Diigo account.  (It’s public; I figure if I found it, there might be someone somewhere that could use it as well.)

Finally, there are things that are happening right now.  This instant, in fact.  You can’t beat Twitter for that.  That can lead to an instant answer to a question and maybe Google doesn’t know about it or places a different relevancy to it.

How can one get the best of all of these?  Well, you could do it in three steps, or you could do it in three tabs.

There’s another way.  Combine them.

In the news today is the monkey found in the IKEA store.  Here’s what it looks like using my current search strategy…

Searching for “monkey”!

In my Chrome Browser, after doing the search, I’m seeing…

1)  Here are the standard results from a Google Search

2)  Here are the results from my Diigo library.  Apparently, I’ve never bookmarked anything about monkeys before!

3)  This is the live Twitter discussion including the term monkey.


Making Google the default search is easy.  I chose the Encrypted Google option as default.


I have the Diigo Chrome Extension installed so that I can easily bookmark resources on the web and send them to my Diigo account.  If you check the settings, there’s an option to select your Diigo account when doing a Google search.  I used to make Diigo my default search engine but this gives me the best of both worlds.


Finally, the Twitter part is achieved with the HashPlug extension.  Install it and the current Twitter conversation surrounding your search appears and is refreshed live on the right side of the screen.  As you know, it’s also the preview area for Google results so if you mouse over the results, they do pop up as per normal.  It’s worth noting that HashPlug displays 3 or 4 results in the space allotted and when more are returned, you get a set of scrollbars to keep on looking.


This is my current way of configuring things to give me the best results for my time spent searching.  For my purposes, it has made all three search strategies pretty efficient.

Got a better way?  I’d be interested in reading about it.  There’s room below.

What Does Learnist for PD Mean?

I’ve been keeping a lot of resources for a long time.  I felt the need to do so when I had a computer at home and a computer at work.  It was then that I realized that bookmarking a link on my computer was a pretty limiting activity.  Even more limiting was bookmarking different resources on different computers and then trying to remember where the heck I left it.  Surveying the online landscape, I realized that there were a number of better solutions.  I chose to use a service called Backflip.  It served me well.  I could bookmark things as I found them and then it didn’t matter at all what computer I used to access them.  This was good, very good.  The process was exceptionally good when I realized that I could share the resources with people who weren’t me!  All that I had to do was give them the public address to my resources.

Sadly, Backflip went out of business.  So, I went looking for a replacement and found Delicious.  This had the same good features as Backflip and continued to add more to it.  I think that it was Delicious that first impressed upon me the importance of tagging things so that they could be accessed later in a quick and meaning manner.  Before that, I would organize resources by subject.  That made cross-subject or them categorization difficult.

Delicious also allowed me to post links that I’d found automatically to this blog.  That was even better.  I’m really all about automation when I can swing it.  Not too long ago, Delicious was cut loose by Yahoo! and it looked like the end was near.  Fortunately, I’d been playing around with Diigo not only because of its bookmarking abilities but because of the classroom feature built into it.  Diigo posts nicely to my blog, it can post automatically to Delicious so that I have an automated backup.  This is very nice.

During presentations, I can create a group to share with participants if I have a bunch of links to support my talk.  It’s also a great way to make documents available for the same sort of activity.

Recently, along comes a new service called Pinterest.  This is very intriguing.  Rather than just a link to a resource, you’re asked to select an image on the page being pinned.  Within Pinterest, there’s a huge activity of sharing pins and resources.  Couple that with following others and you have a rather dynamic and attractive environment.  Pinterest, in fact, has  exploded in popularity.  I have experimented with a number of ways of using it and really like what I’m finding.  On the other hand, Pinterest is so popular for way more than education.  By following pins, it’s easy to get very, very lost!

Then, recently a service called Learnist comes along.  It’s still in its infancy; you need to ask for an invitation or get invited to join.  You log in with your Facebook account once you’re granted access.  But, once in, it seems at this point to be the best of all the worlds for education.  Devoted strictly to education, there are far fewer random detractors in its operation.

While you’re waiting for your account, you can explore most of what Learnist has to offer.  Just select a category from the ribbon at the top of the page.  You can go directly to “Education” from here, for example.  Explore the results and you’ll see bookmarks, you’ll see the ability to “like” a resource, you’ll have the ability to follow people; and you’ll have the ability to add your own comments to the entry.  Once you have your own account, Learnist provides you with a bookmark button to easily tuck away a bookmark while you’re browsing the web.


From what I’m seeing, Learnist has “it all” – or at least whatever “all” means as of this writing.  The highly attractive and feature filled environment pack a great deal of educational potential.  One of the best professional learning activities that one can do for oneself is to read and reflect.  Reading is easy; reflecting when you’re reading on the web means revisiting resources when necessary.  By bookmarking it on Learnist, you have that functionality.  But, it goes further.  For professional learning, you can create your own “board” of selected resources to share with your audience.  And, if your audience is students, share it with students!

Learnist is the newest of all the resources I’ve look at in this genre.  In my world, it hasn’t replaced anything yet.  I still like my Delicious and Diigo accounts and all that they generate.  I see Learnist as another level for another application of bookmarking for professional learning.  It’s interesting to note that even the term “bookmarking” is starting to sound dated in favour of the newer term “curating”.

I think this service is one to keep your eye on.  It definitely has a smaller target audience that the whole computer using web – us!