This Week in Ontario Edublogs

I’ve been writing this series of posts for a long time now.  Check the URL above to see how many times it’s been duplicated.  I never get tired of doing it so here goes – some great content from Ontario Edubloggers this past week.

The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred

No matter how much I read, I still get excited when I find another new, excellent blog post to read.  I’ve been asked – how do you find these blogs?

Certainly, in a multitude of ways – there’s no easy algorithm.  I found this blog with a usual dose of serendipity.  In this case, Helen Kubiw had retweeted a Twitter message that I had posted.  I checked her bio, saw the link to her blog, and the rest as they say is history.

The blog title really says it all.  “CanLit for LittleCanadians”. The blog is devoted to reviews and promotion of Canadian authors so that’s a natural for me to gravitate to.

If you haven’t already, share the link with your literacy and teacher-librarian friends. Check out her list of recent entries – this isn’t a fly by night blog.  It’s a definite bookmark for Canadian literature.

Money Clouds

This might not be an easy post to read if you’ve sipped the juice from the big cloud providing services.  Tim King points out that there was a time when companies had to pay for advertising.  Now with distinguished, certified, exemplary handles, teachers are doing the advertising for them.   Tim shares his thoughts about the other side of cloud computing in schools.  You probably won’t agree with it all but I’ll bet you say “hmmmmm”.


Jocelyn Schmidt describes a game she’s using in her Full Day Kindergarten class.  The mathematician in me loves it. Of course, everything is purposeful.

For students to build upon their subitizing (the ability to recognize the number of objects at a glance, without having to count all the objects), one-to-one correspondence (each object being counted must be given one count and only one count. The number word spoken and the object counted must match up), and conservation (the count of the object stays the same whether spread out or close together) skills in a hands-on and engaging way!

Complete instructions about the game, including some wonderful pictures of the activity (and not of the students) are contained in the post.  Any activity that is inspiration in mathematics and allows students to gain confidence in their abilities is great.  If this applies to you, check out her post.

Seymour Papert – 1972 – MIT Mathematician, Computer Scientist, and Educator

These days a lot of people have discovered Seymour Papert.  Brian Aspinall ends his short post with this question…

Why did it take so long to become “trendy” today?

That’s generated quite a bit of discussion and I might write a blog post about it sometime in the future.

I’m not sure that “trendy” is the best word to use to describe his efforts.  It seems to me that it is all dependent upon the circles that one keeps her/himself in.  There have been a lot of people doing a lot of great things for years now.

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas should be in every school’s professional library and required reading for the modern day prophets…

Demands never Cease

My daily shot of inspiration comes from the morning posts from Paul Cornies.  He constantly outdoes himself.  Today’s quote was terrific although I had to MT it because of length before resharing.

Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. ~Lou Holtz

This is one of those quotes that apply to everyone.

What a way to start the day.  I can’t say it enough – thanks, Paul.

Gift of a Snow Day

From Heather Durnin, a story that makes you appreciate the special things that teachers do.  It was a snow day but a student got delivered to school for a day of learning.

We all know that this can be a precious time of 1:1 or small group learning.  In Heather’s room, not only was it a chance to get caught up, but to build some self-esteem.  Read Heather’s full post to see how a student goes from “I suck at computers” to a day that Heather describes as a gift.


What another nice collection of works to extend our professional thinking.  Please follow the links to the original posts and check them out.  A little blogging love like a “+1″,  “like”, “thumbs up”, “comment”, “share” goes a long way to show your appreciation for the efforts and thoughts that go into the production of these posts. Check out these and all of the great Ontario Edubloggers I’ve found so far – here.

A Natural Progression

I found this article so intriguing.  “A picture is worth a thousand (coherent) words: building a natural description of images". 

At the same time, it shouldn’t come as totally unexpected.

After all, Google has been doing amazing things with images for a long time.  Google Goggles is just an indispensible tool.  Take a picture and let Googles help you decipher what it is.  It’s a great replacement for a specific QR Code reader application but can be so useful in answering the questions “What is that?” or “Tell me more about that?”  It’s a great tool for inquiry.  In addition, Google’s Search by Image lets you get alternative views to a picture that you’ve taken or found online.


Humanity has been feeding the web images forever, tagging and describing them, and search engines are there to index them.  An algorithm to describe the images just seems to me to be a natural in the progression of things.

Just the possibilities of this are kind of mind boggling.  Google has a picture of my house online.  I wasn’t there when they drove by but they did.  Can you see comments generated like “Looks like Doug needs to cut his grass”.  Or, in the next stage of commerce, identifying all the dandelions on my front lawn and sending an email to the local landscaping companies who have subscribed to a service with the message “We’ve got a live one…”

Technology serves us best when it makes out lives better.

  • Immediate results from an x-ray or MRI with a detailed description not subject to human error;
  • A description of a robbery suspect moments after a holdup at the local variety store;
  • A description of a hit and run vehicle caught on camera, again moments after it happened.

Sometimes, we’re slow at adopting new technologies.  While the process seems at its infancy now, it’s bound to mature.  What will our lives be like when it does?  What does this do to our privacy?

This article makes for a great classroom discussion.  Can students extend the list of uses for an application like this? 

More About Binary Numbers

I really enjoyed playing around with the binary number resource that Alfred Thompson had shared and I wrote about yesterday.

It reminded me of trying to teach the concept to students in Computer Science.  It always seemed like an academic exercise until you applied it directly.  For me, the payoff for binary came in the logic in game writing by peeking ahead of the movement at the next pixel to see if it was lit or not to signify a collision and then, of course, when we got the bread boards out and created some hard circuits.

Binary numbers and binary logic just seem to pair so nicely

I remember how I was taught – certainly back in the dark ages with no real context – it was just a mathematical concept of place holders and carry digits.  I think that, at some level, I gained a deeper appreciation for Base 10.  Then, of course, academically we moved to octal and hexadecimal to prove that we knew the concepts.  It was chalk talk at its finest.  In my first year of teaching, I still remember a student coming to class asking if we were going to do more with the “half-ass adder“.  After my jaw dropped, I wondered if I was talking out loud with my inner voice again!  Unless you’re a computer science or electronics whiz, don’t fret.  It’s a really obscure reference.

There are many techniques to try and introduce the concept.  The standard introduction, I think, is the light switch.  (See here for the Homer Simpson version).  By flipping a switch to 1, lights go on, switch to 0, lights go off.  It didn’t work terribly well in my classroom.  I only had two banks of lights on switches so demonstrating anything more than 3 was out of the question.  Had it been important enough, I guess a trip to the cafeteria with all its lights would have been in order!

I even stole a technique from my uncle to show binary addition.  You hold up one finger in one hand, and one in the other while making fists.  Smack them together and you end up with two fingers on one hand and none on the other.  As a four year old pre-schooler, I could watch it forever.  It didn’t play well in Grade 10 for some reason.

We didn’t have the tools and demonstrations that we have today.  Used properly, they make learning binary fun.

In fact, Alfred has a whole page devoted to binary numbers on his blog.  Check it  out here.

I was really intrigued by the link “How to Count to 1,023 on Your Fingers“.  If you’re still with me, you know why 1,023.  If not, that’s OK.  You just don’t know what you’re missing.

In fact, this resource takes you beyond binary.  It takes you far beyond my uncle’s adder.

It’s definitely a keeper, as well as the instructions for other bases.

You might even wonder why we’re so in love with base 10!

Binary Numbers

Thanks to Alfred Thompson for the lead on this incredibly addictive game.  In his regular Monday morning post “Interesting Links“, he made reference to a Binary Numbers Game from Cisco.

It’s fun; it’s a challenge; and it really makes you understand your binary numbers.

I’ll confess to playing with it for far too long.  In fact, it was only after playing for an extended period of time that I realized that the music loop is really annoying.  (Sorry developers)  I can’t imagine a classroom full of computers doing this activity without headphones!

The Ontario Curriculum is loaded with all kinds of references to Binary Numbers.  This activity would be a welcome addition to any classroom where the topic is being addressed.

p.s. I really should have done a screen capture with my higher scores but I was focused on climbing levels….

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling – Programming

One of the huge initiatives that you see so many school districts involved with is the implementation of tablet technology.  When you discuss this, the over achievers will indicate that the tablet is not just a consumption device; it’s a creation device.  When you peel back the outside and truly look inside, most of the implementation is anything but.

There’s still a lot of reading and math games happening.  You do have to start somewhere and I’m sure that the use will become more sophisticated with time.  It’s just that such low level activities are so easy to find and over populate the various stores that are available.

Recently, I had a discussion with a number of people who were always doing innovating things with kids – one being robotics.  Because of their district initiative, their traditional computers were replaced with tablets and that killed the robotic fun.  Robotics is such a great activity.  The ability to build and program your own robot can be so motivating.  To be able to create a set of instructions and then have the robot perform them is so engaging.  Just don’t mention that the process is programming!

So, what to do?

I’d suggest a long look at Sphero.

Sphero is a robotic ball.  Inside are the mechanics for motion, acceleration, direction change, colour, …  Most importantly, it connects to a computing device via Bluetooth.  All of a sudden, those new tablets have a robot to control and program.

With a very futuristic interface, you control your robot.  Mine’s called “Doug On A Roll”.

Right out of the box, Sphero is OK.  It does all kinds of things.  But, in the best sense of gamification, it gets better.  By completing challenges, you unlock additional Sphero’s additional abilities.

The challenges are fun and the fact that Sphero does more with your successes just keeps you wanting to attempt challenge after challenge.

Every time I head over to my app store, I see new applications written to exploit the functionality of Sphero. 

But there was one app that put me over the top.  It was orbBasic.

With the scripting capabilities, you can write your own code and have Sphero follow your instructions.

If you’re lamenting the loss of your traditional robotics or you’re looking for some way to incorporate programming into your classroom, you owe it to yourself to take a look at Sphero.  Sphero has a pal – the pal’s name is Ollie.  I haven’t had hands-on with it just yet.

#BIT14 Proceedings

I’ll give credit (and blame) to Sue Waters for this!

After I used Storify to show some of the comments from the recently completed Bring IT, Together Conference, she sent me a message asking if I had ever considered creating a Flipboard document to do the same thing and she shared one that she had created.  It was very impressive.  So, I thought – sure!  How tough could it be?

Back in the day, when I used to go to conferences where there were paper handouts, I would “binderize” the handouts for my filing cabinet and later reference.  I would also make a copy for my superintendent if he wasn’t able to attend.  Believe it or not, he actually went though it and it would be a great source for our weekly meetings.  He’d be quizzing me on the sessions and asking me to apply them to our reality.  That was my way of producing a Proceedings booklet.

So when Sue threw that idea out at me, it wasn’t like I was working with a blank slate (like normal).  This was just a transference from one media to another.  My immediate thought was that those pedagogues that use SAMR as the answer to every question would have a hey day with it.  Oh well, and a sigh.

As for the blame, what Sue didn’t tell me was that Ontario Educators are the noisiest on the face of the planet.  I created my book (after fumbling through to learn how it worked) and then did a search for #BIT14.

Good gravy!

How could 1,550 people generate so much content?

There had to be 300 references to people crying because of George Couros’ message alone!

The winning Twitter message had to come from Marie Swift…

Unlike Storify where you could add messages in bulk, each message had to be specifically added manually.  I hope that I don’t get a message from Sue “You dummy — here’s how you do it”.  

I started early.  Oh, I like that.  Great picture.  Oh yes, that was a wonderful video.  Terrific message from Richard.  George nailed that.  Glad to see that folks are Twittering in French during Ron’s keynote.  Loved the pictures of the Falls….

I did move up the media literacy scale trying to determine what to include so I guess it was more than transference.

My fingers started to bleed after 500 or so entries.  I’m sure that there are duplicates but that’s OK.

It even picked a cover photo for me!

You can enjoy the document here.  It plays nicely on a computer screen and will open in Flipboard if you have the app installed on your device.

I hope that it brings back nice memories for those who were in attendance and don’t hesitate to send the link to your principal or superintendent.  There are great messages to be shared by all in there.  Thanks, everyone, for contributing your thoughts and comments.

Thanks to Sue for pushing me to do this.  I think if I ever do it again, I’ll do it day by day instead of summarizing four days into a clicking marathon.

The Nouveau Geek

One of the highlights of the recently concluded Bring IT, Together conference for me was having a chat with Peter Skillen and Brian Silverman during a break at the Minds on Media event.  Brian came up to me and said “We met in the early 80s, didn’t we?”  Come on, brain.  Fire some synapse and make the connection.  Very, very vaguely I remembered.

I do remember a lot of things from the early days of ECOO Conferences.  It’s where we nerdy, geeky types converged once a year.  Complete outsiders within the traditional school community, we were on a constant mission to make these computing boxes do something just because we could.  It wasn’t just ECOO; I can remember going to a similar series of events at MACUL just through the tunnel in Detroit or across I-96 to Grand Rapids.  I remember being in Cobo Hall at the huge Apple booth when Lisa was shown to we educators, wondering if this thing with the mousey and graphic interface would ever succeed in a world of computers with command lines and a second language learning of DOS.

I remember leaning against a really hot radiator at OISE listening to a presenter talking about the concept of electronic mail connecting university classrooms in Toronto with those in South Africa.  The talk wasn’t about the reason for the connect; it was about a network of computers passing the information along from one to another, check bits and more to ensure that the message was delivered so correctly.  This was excitement; this was computing; this was why we do it.  My inner Geek loved it.

I might even have my geeky glasses around here since I never throw anything away.

During our morning walk, Jaimie asked me how this year’s conference went.  He had a vested interest – he had given up five days of walks with me while I was out of town.

His question made me think about the overall quality of the sessions.  There was nothing that even remotely resembled the early days of ECOO.  Probably the closest was repurposing old computers with Ubuntu for student home use. (although Ubuntu runs well on newer computers like this one too!)

I think it’s a strong indication of a field of education that has matured.  Yes, there are things that are on the cutting edge but that’s not the focus of our learning any more.  In fact, they might not even be part of the program.

Instead, Jaimie and I decided to call the folks in attendance the “Nouveau Geek”.  There was the same level of enthusiasm and devotion that there was back in the 80s.  It might actually even be more frenetic.  The focus, however, is considerably different.  We know so much more about student engagement, how students learn, where technology politely fits in the classroom.  We know that the real learning comes from setting the table and letting students dig in.  We know that, the teacher standing there at the front of the classroom, sharing a concept and expecting students to hang on every word belongs to another time and era. 

We know much more about the conditions for learning.  Sue Bruyns caught and shared one of Ron Canuel’s thoughts…

The Learning Space was a perfect space for the Nouveau Geek.  It wasn’t a place to sit around and play with the latest toy.  It was a place to talk about the issues surrounding education.  It was a bull ring where there was no front of the area.  It was what the original edCamp model was about before it derailed and became a collection of workshops.

Throughout the conference, though, the focus whether during sessions, keynotes, or Learning Space was on improving learning and instruction.  At times, it seems like technology was almost an after-thought.  People “got” the how-to technology part and were there instead to learn and talk about the how and the why.  If they didn’t totally understand the “how-to”, they knew that they could always search for it or reach out to their network.  I kept sticking my head into rooms to catch a flavour of what was happening.  It really was affirming – the Nouveau Geek was there for best practices in teaching and learning. 

And they were getting it.