I want to do something a little different this week.  Last weekend, two edcamps were held at the same time.  One in London (edcampldn) and one in Tilbury (edcampswo).  It was a very interesting day in risk taking for the organizers.  First, you have to do the math – bring 100 connected teachers together and you’ll need at least capacity for 200 devices.  On top of that, a couple of sessions were held collaboratively through Google Hangouts and a Google Document.  Both sites appear to have done it successfully.  Congratulations to the organizers.

One of the best ways to measure success is to gauge the reaction from the participants.  During the event, of course, monitoring the Twitter hashtags is the best way to go.

But, after the event, blogging is the way to go.  Even better, when you get new bloggers, you know that you’ve changed the reflective practice of some.  In this post, I’d like to identify the blog posts that I found as professional educators share their learning and their thoughts about their learning.

That’s about what I was able to find.  If you did blog about either event and I didn’t find you, please let me know below in the comments.

I’ve already added the new bloggers to the Ontario Edubloggers Livebinder.  If there are any more new education bloggers, I’d love to add them.  Remember, if you want to know about Ontario Education, talk or read an Ontario Educator.

To all those involved, don’t let this be a traditional one shot in the dark event.  Keep the conversation and the learning going.

What a Web We Weave


Doug Belshaw shared an interesting link the other day.  I’ve been playing with it and it only serves to reinforce just how learning Web Literacy really isn’t a linear process.

This project is based on the Web Literacy Map, essentially a list of skills that one should work at to be web literate.  It’s a traditional presentation with categories and specific learnings within the categories.  It’s a very good listing and, by itself, should be printed and stuck into any planning documentation for teaching web literacy.

Then, move on to Doug’s work.  I’m guessing that you’ll need more than a quick look to completely understand what’s going on.

Each of the categories has two active buttons…

  • what should I know?
  • what can I learn next?

Before you dig deeply, click on each of them and see what happens.  You’ll immediately see what I mean when I indicate that the learning is not linear.  I imagined myself working in a web of connections with plenty of overlap and interactions.

Instead of a roadmap, it’s a realistic interactive overview of potential learnings and next steps.

I like the approach – it’s not the sort of thing that lends itself easy for developing lessons, but I really like the concept of empowering the learner with independent research.  “I know this”, therefore “I need to learn that”.

If you can’t use that approach with students right away, try it on yourself.

When the author is in the house…


I thought that this moment at edcampSWO was worthy of note and that it might be also worthy of tucking away in your memory if you’re wondering whether to attend in the future.

At the beginning of the day, I was sitting with my friend @margsang.  We were catching up at light speed and out of the blue, she asked – do you know Brian Aspinall?  Well, of course I do.  She asked “Which one is he?”  I looked around the cafeteria where we were sitting and noted that I couldn’t see him.

“Why?”

”I want to ask him something about Scrawlar.”

Fair enough.  We waited a few moments more and Brian did enter the room and I asked him to join us.

What happened next was some great conversation, back and forth.

  • “I have this problem when I use Scrawlar with Internet Explorer.” Response – Yes, it’s a known issue.  Use any other browser and there’s no problem.
  • “What’s the best way to transfer Scrawlar documents from one year to the next if a student has a different teacher?” – Response was a number of different solutions.
  • “ You know, I find Scrawlar especially appropriate for my students.  With other online word processors, there’s too much of a cluttered interface with ribbons and huge menus. They have difficulty with them.  With Scrawlar, we just do the writing that we need to do.”

Now, I suppose I should have felt badly that I invited Brian to the inquisition.  But, he seemed to genuinely enjoy doing off-the-cuff support.

At the end of the five minute discussion, everyone seemed happy and we moved on to other things.

On my drive home, I kept thinking about how you’d get support for any other product like that.  Here, we had access to the designer, coder, and chief promoter of the product.  Who could ask for more?  His product is obviously a personal passion and he’s not shy about promoting or supporting it.

image

The product is free; teachers set up classes and students use the product without the need for email.  In so many ways, it’s a solution that would fit nicely into classrooms.

Read my review of it here.

If you haven’t taken a look at Scrawlar, I would encourage you to take a look and see if it’s a fit for your multi-device classroom.

It’s the Little Things


My morning dog walk on Friday took us past the local elementary school.  The dog was taking in all the smells at ground level and I’m looking around for anything to amuse me during our morning ritual.

As we passed the school, two cars pulled into the parking lot almost in synch.

The doors open and two fathers stepped out and released their daughters from their car seats.

Then, something amazing happened.

The two girls, with their backpacks in place, came together.  They held hands and skipped up the sidewalk to the school.  The fathers followed them in.

I felt a little out-of-place.  I can’t remember the last time I skipped anywhere.  During this winter, I swear my dog, part Husky, skipped through the snow drifts on our walks but that’s about it.

So, I ask.  When was the last time you lived the true joy of youth and skipped somewhere?

It’s the little things.  Actually, maybe that’s everything.


It was another great reading from Ontario Edublogs.  Here’s some of what I enjoyed this past week.


Wow what a great day of learning at the Ontario GAFE Summit

The Ontario Google Apps in Education Summit was held last weekend.

It’s always pleasurable to read blogs and Twitter stories from people who attended professional learning events.  This blog post will bring you up to speed with at least a part of the summit.  And, the content is extended further with a Storify of Twitter messages to tell more of the story.

Jonathon’s comments certainly echoed what I caught from the summit with the hashtage #gafesummit


Ronin

Tim King had a different take on the Google Summit.  He was tweeting some non-summit things clearly at the time the summit was happening and they had nothing to do with it.  Oh, I finally clued in, he’s stayed home to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix.  Sometime during the weekend, he penned his thoughts about getting excited about a sole provider in education.

It’s an interesting reality check for all to have.  As I commented on his blog, technology does tend towards a single solution at times.  i.e “We’re a Macintosh board” or “We’re a Windows board”.  There’s certainly more curriculum to cover than time, do we have the time to spend on a broad sampling of software or hardware?

Also check out his later post “Hack the Future“.


Want Great PD? Enter Another Teacher’s Classroom!

This is something that we all know could be of value but the time has to be right, arrangements made, and a plan put into action.  My computer science classroom door was never closed and a certain Science teacher would always wander in while I was working with students and see what they were doing and asking questions.

I remember the first time that it happened – it was my first year of teaching and a million thoughts entered my mind “Were we to noisy?” “Did one of my students get caught wandering the halls?” “Was there a science experiment gone bad and there was an evacuation?”

No, he was just curious…

This post by Diane Maliszewski should serve as a reminder that we don’t need to have a big, involved professional development event to learn.  Sometimes, a great idea may be just down the hallway.


Feeling off-balance is okay

Julie Balen offers a wonderful post that should remind us all that the learning should never stop.

Taking technology purchased for one of her courses and then using it in all her courses was considerably more involved than passing them out, turning them on, and watching the magic happen.

I think that everyone could or maybe even should write this blogpost from their own experiences.

It’s a nice reality check.


What a wonderful collection of posts from this past while.  Thanks so much to the authors.  I hope that you take the time to visit these blogs and enjoy the full postings.  While you’re reading, check out the complete listing of Ontario Edublogs here.

A Thimble Full of HTML


In the beginning, there was Notepad…

Everyone just had to have a personal webpage – it was the upcoming thing to have.  So, I bought a book about HTML, roughed out what my first webpage would look like and then began the process of creating a webpage.  It took a long time and when I was done, I had a crappy looking webpage.  It was OK because most everyone else had a crappy looking webpage.

So, it was off to find other alternatives.  At the time, Netscape Composer did a nice enough job and my personal webpage started to look better!  In fact, we used Netscape Composer for the Women in Technology program and the grade 7/8 students did a pretty decent job composing their own.  Later on, the Ministry of Education licensed the Macromedia Suite of web tools and moved along to the Adobe Suite.  With a lot of practise, it was relatively easy to create a decent enough webpage and website.  The nice part was that the graphical user interface took learning most of the HTML out of the process.

Now, most people use a wiki program like PBWorks, WordPress or Google Sites to develop their online presence.  They do an exceptional job of writing the HTML in the background as you compose/edit in the foreground.  If you wish, there is always a tab or link to let you lift the hood and look at the code underneath.  Most people probably don’t.  After all, it requires a knowledge of HTML and most people don’t know the code.

It’s a contentious issue for those who teach web design in a computer science classroom.  Some camps are OK with graphic developers, other camps insist that students learn to write using HTML.  It’s much like the discussion about whether or not students should memorize the multiplication tables.

I would suggest that, no matter where you stand, there is a middle ground.  There is a need to at least having a passing interest in HTML code and how it drives your content.  This blog, I would offer as Exhibit A, is one of them.

On Friday, I show off some of the best that Ontario Edubloggers have to offer.  The post will have three or four blogs and a long time ago, I used to use 6 = signs to separate one from the other.  It looked like this ======.

One day, I stepped back and thought … that looks really ugly especially when HTML supports a divider that would go from the left side of the screen to the right.  You don’t need to count the number of characters – it just works.  All that you have to do is insert the horizontal rule into the page at the right spot.  Problem is that the WordPress editor and the Scribefire editor which I use almost exclusively don’t have a little button to click and insert the code.

Instead, you have to switch from editing visually to editing the code.  It’s just a click away.  When you do it the first time, you’re immersed in at least a bit of HTML.  You then need toidentify the exact spot in the page where to insert the code and then key


to make it happen.


When it works, it works well.  Or, you might want to insert a code generated by an external program.  For example, a Twitter message.  When you ask Twitter for the raw code, you get something like this.

Tweet

Kind of cryptic if you don’t understand HTML.

So, back to that middle ground.  What’s the best way to teach this?

“Best” is in the eye of the teacher and her professional judgement.  But, I would suggest taking a look at Mozilla’s Thimble.

Unlike traditional web development environments where you have to throw out the visual to get to the code or throw out the code to get to the visual, Thimble gives you the best of both worlds.

I know it’s a little small in the blog post but open the image and you’ll see it regular size.

On the left, you have an editing environment.  Computer Science teachers should be immediately drawn to the colours used to show various components of the code.  Using Thimble is easy.  Just type your code in the left panel and the results appear instantly on the right.  Talk about your immediate feedback.

This old coder had a whale of a time playing with Thimble, wishing that I had an excellent tool like this when I was writing my first webpages.  It would definitely have helped flatten the learning curve.

If you’re looking for a tool to teach HTML, I’d recommend having a good look at this and kicking the tires on it.  It think you’ll like what you see.

My Memories of Windows XP


Microsoft has stopped support for Windows XP.  It’s an event that we have seen coming for some time.  Folks connecting their computers to the internet really need to do something just to ensure that they remain safe while browsing.  No more security updates will be coming your way.

I still have a computer that runs Windows XP.  Well, actually it would run Windows XP if I put the hard drive back in it.  I pulled the hard drive when I got my Windows 7 laptop and transferred files via cable.

2014-04-08 13.02.50

Right now, the box is relegated to being a platform for the power supply for the laptop that replaced it and my DataShield power filtering device.  I suppose if I was inclined, I could open the DVD or the CD-ROM player and use it as a the proverbial coffee holder.  For now though, it does work nicely as an end table.

I know that many people will be so happy to see Windows XP gone.  It has been a bear to support lately and a prime target for malware writers.  I don’t think that I ever ended up with any installed but that machine has been history for at least four years after I purchased the Windows 7 box.  I needed the power to be able to do the rendering and other things that the old Pentium 2 machine would take over night to do.  But years ago, I thought I’d reached utopia just in the fact that I could do what I could do with it.

Windows has had an interesting adventure in development.  I looked at this diagram to refresh my memory as I began to write this post.  I’m amazed at the versions of Windows that I had used over the years either at home or at work.  I must own at least a part Microsoft.  1.0, 3.0, 3.1, 3.11, 95, 98, CE 2.0, ME, NT 3.51, 2000, Pocket PC 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista, and lastly 7.  Lots of numbers there!  I would think, like most people, I used Windows XP for the longest period of time.

It was a nice crossover  point between the “old” versions of Windows whose claim to fame was the refinement of the Graphic User Interface and the newer versions of Windows which are so functional for high work, coupled with the power processors that we have at relatively affordable prices.

For me, the tinkerer, Windows XP was the first operating system that I really tinkered with.  First thing I did was change the default colours – my mother told me that you should never have blue and green together!  I switched to the silver toolbars and felt quite proud to be able to stand out in a crowd.  Of course, Windows XP allowed for the custom wallpapers and, if you took Microsoft’s advice, you could disable the fancy UI making your computer look like Windows 2000 and supposedly run much faster.  I never really noticed any difference.  We didn’t have tools like the Windows Experience then.

Then, there was the Blue Screen of Death.  People would complain and laugh about it.  I always figured I was lucky.  It seldom happened to me and, when it did, it generally was because of something stupid I had done with extra pieces of hardware improperly configured or inserted.

Programs were more fun to use with this new interface.  The basic install actually came with a number of applications that would get you through most needs.  It had a great game of Blackjack!  Wordpad could get you through many word processing tasks.  Connect an external modem via a serial cable and you could dial up and get internet connected.  It’s interesting to even think that I could even get satisfaction from some of the very early web applications and browsers.  Even though Windows XP is actually only 12, that’s 84 in dog years and probably a good analogy for how far we’ve come in OS sophistication.

It was the box above that I first dual booted Windows XP and Linux.  I learned a great deal from both operating systems.  There were lots of hacks available to get you to make your computer completely yours.  And, you’d always make sure that you had the original install CD to erase the damage that comes from being too bold.  The concept of an installation partition was years to come.

In the schools, the IT Department loved Windows XP.  They could take a good installation and cripple all the good stuff so that students were protected from themselves.  Imagine a computer with no command prompt.  Tools were at their disposal for fast deployment of system images once they got the “perfect locked down computer”.

Windows XP was a programmer and hacker’s dream operating system.  At the time, it seemed like there was nothing that couldn’t be done.

There will still be people that hang on to theirs.  Over 12 years, so many facets of our society have been built on Windows XP and the software that runs on it.  Even yesterday, I was in town doing some business and the person I was working with had stock blue/green Windows XP.  When I asked her if the company was going to upgrade, the response was why?  This does everything that I need.  I suspect that, despite all the warnings from Microsoft, that there will be lots of people that feel the same way.  For them, there’s plenty of advice.

It won’t happen here.  I’d have to find somewhere to put the things that adorn the top of my desktop computer, open it up, insert my hard drive hoping that I get the connectors right, then find a monitor and wait forever for it to boot and then hope like crazy that I remember the password to the limited or the admin account so that I could get in.

Because of that, I probably will never do so.  I’ll just use something else and fondly reflect back on Windows XP and how much I learned from that operating system.  12 years?  It seems like just yesterday.

Postscript – Apparently, there are options available if you’re not ready to drop XP - Canadian government paying Microsoft $306,625 for XP support

Privacy, The Internet, and You


A big, no make that huge, shoutout to my friend Diane (@windsordi) for sharing this with me over the weekend.

It’s from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and offers another way to reach students around the topic of privacy.

It’s a graphic novel “Privacy, The Internet, and You“.

The graphic novel is a PDF file that will open on any device that you have in your classroom or your students have at home.

The novel doesn’t stand alone – check out the discussion guide for ideas and suggestion how best to use this resource with students in your classroom.

Five to Keep


It’s hard to think but there was a time when a web browser didn’t have tabs.  You could browse a single website and that was about it.  It made using a lot of the up and coming Web 2.0 activities a bit of a challenge since you could only do one thing at a time.  Fortunately, browsers evolved to the point where you could have multiple websites open.  It was possible at that point to open one tab with one website and another with another website and move content from one to the other.  Copy/paste or export/import were valuable skills. And if your basic browser didn’t have the desired function, you could extend its functionality with add-ons or extensions.  That single feature moved me years ago to make Firefox my default browser.  Of course, all of this is ancient history in the digital timeline given the modern browsers that we all enjoy.

In particular, working with a document in Google Docs was a big example of this for me.  I would often start with something in one tab, develop it, and then bring it into my document in another tab.  Doing so made you feel so cutting edge!

Now things have changed.  Recently Google upped the game by adding add-ons for use right in your open document.  This is an incredibly valuable feature.  With the right add-on, there’s no need to even move to another tab – you stay right in your document, create your content and then use the add-on as needed.

As you might expect, people were right out of the blocks writing posts about the “Top 10 Add-ons” for Google Docs and essentially picked some of the best for a post.  (Go ahead – Google it)  I started poking around adding, removing, based upon what I could see myself using and/or recommending to others.  At the end of the testing, I settled with five that I feel really comfortable with now.

To install, it’s as simple as selecting Add-ons menu and then “Get add-ons”.

The option to “Manage add-ons” as you would expect lets you have control over what’s installed and to delete the ones that you don’t want anymore.

Adding opens a menu of what’s available.  

My first visit was overwhelming.  I need this; I need this; I need that….

So many options.  As you add one, you have to give permissions for the add-on to access your Google information.  It’s worth noting every time you give any application access to your account.  Check to see if you’re comfortable with the permissions that you’re granting.

As I explored, I just knew that I had to keep things under control.  Which ones to keep?

From my perspective, here are my keepers.  I know that I’ll use them often.  Each of the add-ons make a “call home” and then opens on the right side of the screen.  No more tabs or windows browsing.  I’m really liking the functionality at my fingertips.  Just like extensions for the browser itself, extensions to the documents just extend the functionality and increase my productivity.

Here’s the calculator.  So often, I end up doing calculations when working in a document.  This tool now makes one instantly available.

At this point, here are the five that I have decided to keep.

  • Calculator
  • EasyBib Bibliography Creator
  • Lucidchart Diagrams
  • openclipart
  • Thesaurus

Other add-ons can be added on a whim.

I’m excited about this addition to Google Docs functionality.  These five definitely are keepers from my perspective.  I’ll keep checking the menu and looking for more exciting tools.  First to write an RPN Calculator wins my heart!

I’m interested in hearing from you.  What add-ons have you found to be keepers?

Why I Haven’t Downloaded Office for iPad…


…although at 12 million downloads, I appear to be definitely in the minority.  One of the reasons why this blog is “Off the Record” is that I give myself the right to change my mind.  If you’d like to convince me, go ahead.

I’ve never really been a big user of Office on any platform.  My needs are meagre, I would guess, and so never needed a copy to put me over the top.  I work interchangeably on Windows, Macintosh, and Ubuntu.  It’s important to me that I can exchange among the platforms and, probably the tipping point for me was installing my very first version of Ubuntu.  It came with OpenOffice and I never looked back.  It was all that I ever needed, at the time, and the LibreOffice fork of the product stays on top of everything.

The only time I strayed away was to investigate Kingsoft‘s office suite.  I liked what I saw and will admit to having a copy installed on my computer in addition to LibreOffice.

So, back to the iPad version of Office…

I’ll admit that I was tempted.  In fact, I might even go as high as $1.99 to have that functionality!  When I found out it was free, I thought…wow!

I’ll admit that I had a hard time finding it in the iTunes store.  I was looking in the store for Office but couldn’t find it.  After poking around, I finally realized that Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were separate downloads.  And, at 259MB for Word alone, that’s quite a download.

But the description stopped me in my pursuit.  The download only lets you read for free…you need to have an Office 365 annual subscription to get full functionality.  That’s something that I don’t have and not likely to get in the near future.  According to the website, the subscription for Office home is $99.99 and $79.99.  That’s quite a bit of money to be paying for annually.  Perhaps there are 12 million others that find that valuable.  Not me.

There are alternatives though.

Increasingly, my documents are stored in Google Drive.  As it turns out, Google has a Drive application that does the job nicely.  Edits and saves are done right on the document as it’s stored in Drive.

For the local use, I’ve always had a copy of QuickOffice on my iPad.  It has the functionality to fully edit documents stored locally or in Google Drive.  That’s always been the application that I go to in order to get the job done.  Price – free.

But recently, I was looking for something on the Kingsoft website.  I had missed it completely and so was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an iOS version in addition to all of their other products.  What was really interesting was the cloud support.

And the price was free as well.  Plus, it only is 100MB to get all three pieces of office functionality.  Check out this recent article from Cnet about Kingsoft. “Kingsoft Office 3.2 for iOS: Better than Microsoft Office?

As I work with the sort of documents that I use, I find that both QuickOffice and Kingsoft Office do it all.  The price is certainly right for the classroom as well.  And, if all that you need is word processing, don’t forget Scrawlar.

So, at this point, I will pass on downloading Office for iPad and buying the Office 365 license.  It’s your turn now – convince me that I’m wrong.