News and Weather


There was a great deal of hubbub yesterday when word got out that Google had released a copy of its News and Weather Application for iOS.  It had been previously available for those who use the Android system.  I gave it a download to see what it looked like on iOS.

I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised when, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, … but other than the default dark display install of the familiar white of the Android, it looks and functions exactly the same way.  In fact, the first thing I did was go to the menu and add “Education” as a category.  Now both versions should pick up the same content.

But other than that I was off to the races.  Of course, location is important when you’re looking for the weather and there was no issue quickly picking up me at home.  A quick change of location and you’re pulling in the weather from wherever you want.

Like good news reading applications, a collection of “Top Stories” occupies the home for the application.

Tapping the now familiar hamburger menu lets you see the default news categories.  There is a nice selection to get started – World, Canada, Business, Technology, Entertainment, Sports, Science, Health, and of course the local stories from Amherstburg and Windsor.  Amherstburg just doesn’t have a whole lot to report so the application appears to pull in stories from around the country to fill.

With each story, a down arrow exposes related stories which is a very nice feature.  Once you’re done with the top stories, swipe left and right to work your way through your defined categories.

Clicking on a story takes you directly to the story.  There’s a navigation bar at top that will bring you back to the application.  Therein lies a problem for sharers.  Unlike other reading/sharing programs that connect directly to Twitter or Facebook, News and Weather doesn’t.  Fortunately, in this day and age, most sources have a way to use social media on their website.  The problem is that there’s no consistent way to access it.  It would be nice to have a native sharing button.

The layout is clean and you know that with Google who is already indexing things anyway, you’ll get relevant and fresh content.  For those on the iOS platform looking for a reader, I’d suggest downloading it and seeing if it has a home on your device.

Android Download

iOS Download

Q&A – Jeopardy Style


One of the favourite tools that was shared during my university class was a Flash based version of the popular game show, Jeopardy.  We talked about using it as a diagnostic tool or as a way to have students challenge their classmates during the research of a particular topic.  It certainly isn’t something that you base an entire course on, but it’s nice to shake things up a bit.  Paired with a SMARTBoard, it also helps students with their presentation skills.

These days, not all devices effectively use Flash anymore and so that opportunity is lost.  Plus, if you created a game at home, you had to remember to bring the questions to school in order to use it!  If there was an application that screamed for a web-based solution, this was it.

Enter Flipquiz.

Like so many things these days, there’s a free and a paid (pro) version. The free version has the features that you need to give it a fair shakedown.

Visit the site and try out the demo quiz that’s online.  Six categories with five questions in each category.

If you’ve watched early evening television in the last 50 years, the presentation is so familiar.

Choose a category and a value…

I’ll take NBA Teams for 400…

I’ll buzz in with the answer “Utah”.  A reveal shows the answer is true.

Selecting student responses can be done a number of ways – hands, call on a student, or I used to use those “That was easy” devices from Staples.

That’s about it! 

You’re not going to use it daily – it would lose its lustre – but add it to your arsenal.

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.

Hopscotch

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.

Sphero

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 Packrati.us.  The moment (or shortly thereafter) you send a link to Twitter, we talked about how Packrati.us 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.

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.

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.

Has Every App Been Written?


I had to smile a bit when I read this story on Mashable.  “Marketing Students Create Concept Video for ‘Google Gesture’ App“.

It was interesting to read the story and read some other stories with a different take on the same deal.  But, it got me thinking…

For many school districts, this June marks the end of a year or a second year of 1:1 or BYOD.  There will be some high flyers that have used some of the numerous tools to write their own application.  Hey, even I wrote “My Own Flappy Bird“.  It certainly wasn’t from original work and development; I had used the example from one of the Hour of Code resources and then modified it just to see what I could do.  After all, there’s nothing like creating something that’s “yours”.

In the classroom, teachers or someone tall selects the applications that students get to use.  I doubt that anyone short has anything to say.  More than likely it’s tied to the curriculum or an IT Department decides that they can support it.  What voice do the students have?

Maybe, they need to take a look at the concept behind this story.  They may not be able to write the code, but how about creating a video explaining what sort of application they would like to make their life as student complete?  Perhaps they have some insight as to a productivity tool that would be helpful.  Or, maybe a homework helper?  Or, a research tool that works for them?  Or, maybe something even more important.

As I was thinking about this, I poked around the applications that I have installed on my iPad.  I have a collection of comic creators.  As I looked around seriously (and this isn’t why I’m not naming names or titles …), I noticed an area of exclusion.  The characters that were available didn’t give a complete sampling of Ontario society.  If I’m sitting in class, looking around, I wouldn’t always be able to find a character representing all of my classmates or, in some cases, me.  That isn’t right.  It would be a shame if the story had to be changed just because I couldn’t find myself or my friends as one of the characters.

I wonder — if a student could create a video outlining what should be in a new application to be written, what would it be?  Personal?  Cool?  Productive?  Enjoyment?  Entertainment?  

We’ll never really know until we find a way to amplify their voice.