Category Archives: Education

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:

Math

Variables

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.

What’s Old is New Again


I keep an eye on links to my blog posts.  Sadly, most of the time, it’s just to get rid of garbage links and stupid spammer comments.  But, periodically, it turns into gold.

That happened this morning.

An incoming link from the post “YEP, ABOUT FIVE SECONDS” led me to a recent post from Philip Cummings.  He had made reference to a post that I had written “YOU HAVE ABOUT FIVE SECONDS…” in which I talked about my procedure for determining whether or not I would follow back someone who had followed me.  In his post, Philip lays out his criteria for following back.  It’s an interesting read.

But…it wasn’t that that inspired this post.  At the bottom, he indicated that this particular post was a “Pomodoro Post“.  I’d never heard the term before so decided to check it out.  

It brought me full circle to a discussion from years and years ago.

At the time, I had a superintendent who had done considerable research about time management and passed it along to us to help us become more effective.  Now, he was at the top of the academic food chain and so could close his door during the workday to work on projects on his own terms.  I couldn’t/didn’t.  

My door was always open (when I was in the office) and there were always people dropping in.  Looking for help, wanting to share an idea, teacher who was at someone else’s workshop and wanted a break, needing access to some of my technology, or the director who would come down three floors to grab a cup of coffee since my drip machine did a better job than the machine in the cafeteria.  Time management seemed to be beyond my control – at least at work.

My superintendent was an advocate of what Philip describes in his post.  Instead of the formal 25 minutes, he described productivity in terms of chunking pieces of time while on task.  It was an effective way to take control when working at home in the evenings, I used the techniques when delivering workshops, and we also used the principles when we helped move teachers to 75 minute class periods.

Quite frankly, it was more or less an informal timing discipline.

In his post, Philip talks about using a time tracker to keep him on task.  In this case, he uses Tomatoes to get the job done.  

Reading the research and playing around with the timer brought back a deja vu moment for me.  Thanks, Philip.

It was interesting to see the principle applied to blogging.  For you bloggers who happen to be reading this, do you need a time management tool or technique to become more productive?  What do you think?  Will Tomatoes do it for you?

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.

About Programming Languages


The closing keynote speaker at the CSTA Conference was Michael Kölling who shared with us some of his thoughts about where CS Education was headed. "What’s Next for CS Education: Thoughts on Topics, Tools, and All the Rest". You should know Michael from Greenfoot and BlueJ.  His talk was very engaging and one of his visions has really stuck with me.

I wish that his presentation was online because it wouldn’t do justice if I tried to recreate a chart that he drew about programming languages. 

Basically, on an X-Y grid he mapped out our current selection of programming languages.  He distinguished between “block” languages like Scratch and “text” languages like Java.  One of the differences, of course, is in the environment.  In his presentation, he argued that we need a new language that fits somewhere in between and demonstrated what it might look like in an ongoing project.

My first reaction was – great – something new that I would have to learn.  But I stuck through with his argument and could see where he was headed. 

If you’ve ever debugged and looked for that elusive semi-colon, you might jump right on board.

On the other hand, if you’ve looked up and down for the proper graphical structure, you might jump on board as well.

Stepping back, it is important to consider the student.  For a long time now, we’ve seen success in making a student’s first programming language graphical in nature.  It’s more of a “work on the algorithm” than “learn the language” approach.  Ultimately, the assumption is that not all block programmers will become great text coding professionals.  The goal is to teach an appreciation for problem solving by computer.  And yet, there will be those who want to study everything.

You can’t help but think about the gap.  The interested student will ultimately reach the end of the line for programming in a block language and will need to dive into the deep end full of semi-colons.  There really is no transition.

Could a new language, filled with the best of both worlds, be the answer?

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.

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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. 

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“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.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Sure, it’s summer, but at great time for reading and blogging…check out these from Ontario Edubloggers.


Can You Change Someone Else’s Belief?

Jennifer Aston tries to answer this question as a result of her summer reading.

It’s a good question and one that I suspect some administrators expect from a successful coach.  Of course, if it was completely possible and successful, all educators would have the same beliefs.  Are we not richer by our diversity of ideas?  Would a better question not be “Why would we want to change someone else’s belief?” or “Could we not build on the strength of our current belief?”

Understanding what can and can not be done, it seems to me, is one of the powerful strengths of a coach.


Everything I Know And Do On Social Media I Learned From My Students

It was the title that had me hooked to read this post from Royan Lee.

I suspect that the title was written with a bit of tongue in cheek but the points that he argues most certainly are refined by interaction with students.

It is an enjoyable read and does make you think.


If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, How Many Lessons is That?

I can’t remember which racetrack it was but with two minutes to post time, marching music would play over the in house audio.  As an observer of human nature, I was amused with how the music would inspire people to get up and get in line to place wagers if they hadn’t already.

We experience music all over the place.  We experience sounds all over the place.  At the CSTA Conference, I was walking into the hotel – now you have to know that we were in the heart of St. Charles with wonderful Chicago traffic and noises somewhere.  And yet, this robin was sitting in a tree just singing her heart out.  Both my wife and I stopped in our tracks – it was in the middle of a driveway and so some traffic stopped as well – and we just listened to her.  There’s something so wonderful about hearing nature singing in that setting.

That’s the point of Rob Ridley’s post.

The question is – why not?  It can be so relaxing and non-distractive.

Of course, our recording would have been interrupted by the jerk who honked his horn and gestured for us to get moving from the middle of the driveway.  We did but the robin had left by the time we got safely to the side of the road.


Canadian Canoe Museum Paddle Found!

This post isn’t from my usual list of Ontario Educators but it just flowed so nicely from Rob’s post that I felt compelled to do it.

If you’re going out recording, keep your eye out for paddles!


The Void

Robert Hunking asks the questions that many of us bloggers do all the time.

Regardless, I hope that he can answer in the affirmative.  It’s sad when you see reflective or commentary blogs go away.


I really do hope that you can take the time to support the above bloggers with a quick link to their blog post.  I’m sure that they’ll appreciate it.  Check out the complete list of Ontario Edubloggers here.  And, if you’ve started a blog this summer for whatever reason, add the link in the form so that we can all enjoy it.

The TechCorps


One of the really bizarre things is that, while the use of technology is omnipresent (and growing), the number of students taking Computer Science courses is actually decreasing.  As a Computer Science educator, that really concerns me.

Ultimately, it will mean that the end user has a smaller and smaller impact on the direction technology takes.  You experience it now.  Install a new piece of software or upgrade some and you’re presented with terms and conditions and privacy invasions written by someone else.  Your choice?  Take it or leave it.  Wouldn’t it be better if we actually knew the implications completely and, in some cases, write our own application rather than conceding rights to someone else?

I know it’s probably unrealistic but I don’t think that we can overlook the need for education so that students know about these things and have the skills and knowledge to make intelligent decisions about their use.

At the Computer Science Teachers Association Conference, one of the sessions that I proctored was “CS Education for Early Learners (Techie Club)” and I had the honour of meeting Aung Nay and Lisa Chambers from Tech Corps.

Tech Corps is a non-profit whose goal is to hack away at the problem of getting young students involved in Computer Science through Techie Camps and Techie Clubs.  It’s a marriage between students and community volunteers to provide the opportunity and insights into Computer Science.  Both Aung and Lisa spoke with a passion for their project.  It’s limited in location right now but it’s worth check out their goals and what they offer.  http://hadron.techcorps.org/  

This is an initiative that needs to grow.  It’s good for kids; it’s good for the community; it’s good for Computer Science.

Some statements from their website…

What We Know

  • Computing careers consistently rank among the top 10 fastest growing occupations in the US. The US Dept of Labor estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings. At current rates, however, we can only fill about 30% of those jobs with US computing bachelor’s grads.
  • As the role and significance of technology has grown, the teaching of computer science in K-12 has faded. Since 2005, the number of US high schools offering rigorous computer science courses has fallen from 40% to 27%.
  • Today’s students are the most tech-savvy generation ever, yet many have no interest in technology-related degrees or careers. 96% of teens reported “liking” or “loving” technology but just 18% indicate an interest in pursuing a technology career.
  • Girls, African-American and Hispanic students are avid users of technology, but they are significantly underrepresented in its creation. In 2008, women held 57% of all professional occupations in the US workforce but only 25% of all professional IT-related jobs.

These things should concern us all.

What a Great Idea


As part of the Computer Science Teachers Association conference, we all piled into buses and headed to the Universal Technical Institute for a tour and reception.  What a facility – we were amazed at the facility and, importantly, the claims of graduation rates for its students.

The comment was made a number of times that so much repairs to today’s cars are computer related and that’s why it was so important that our group of educators knew of this as another pathway for students.

Forget computer labs – how about a car lab?

Dress code and deportment is important at UTI and part of their student assessment.  Dress required proper hair cuts, wearing a UTI shirt or T-Shirt, heavy pants, work shoes, etc.  From a safety perspective, the descriptors absolutely made sense.  We were encouraged to take pictures and Peter Beens has been creating a gallery of the entire conference here.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures but there was one recurring thing that caught my eye as just genius.  I snapped a quick picture.

Full length mirrors were placed throughout the building under the question “Would you hire this person?”

The first time I saw one, I thought “neat”.

But, as I kept running into them at location after location, it really made sense.  It sends a constant message about how you carry and present yourself.  In order to achieve the highest graduation rates, you need graduates that present themselves ready to take on the world.  There were no instructions or suggestions.  It was just a constant reminder.  As a passerby, you take it or leave it.  Your call.

So, I wondered — why don’t we do that in all our schools as a constant reminder?

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.

Nkwiry

“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.

Scrawlar

“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

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Another One Bites the Dust


I had another sad conversation with a friend today.  He indicated that his employer was getting rid of the position of tech coordinator and that he was being sent back to the classroom.  I had two immediate questions:

  • Why?
  • Who will be replacing you?

Sadly, this isn’t a unique situation.

The answer to my second question was “nobody”.

The answer to my first question was “The district is going to buy iPads and the IT Director has convinced the administration that a position like mine is not necessary since ‘anyone can work an iPad’”.

We looked at each other incredulously.

Is the use of this (or any technology) treated so superficially that this logic makes any sense at all?

I recalled reading a piece from eSchool News recently that was so timely.

5 critical iPad mistakes to avoid

Just as the first teaching and learning machines failed on the promise to take over education and make it all good, so flies the iPad.  (Or any device – it’s just that all roads point to the iPad in this case)

Of importance is point #3 in the article.

It’s sad to think that any system would consider self-taught tap, tap, tapping and hoping that the magic happens, a critical part of their technology implementation.