I Used To Be In Charge

In the beginning, there was the command line. 

If you were new to computers, you had to learn a lot of things.  Like directories, where things were actually stored, execution paths, location of applications, how to change directories, the difference between a slash and a back slash, a # prompt, a $ prompt, etc.

In fact, you can still do that, if you are so inclined.

Whether you’re using Windows, Mac OS, some version of Linux on your home PC, or some other OS, there’s that moment of Zen when you drop out of whatever graphic shell you’re using and you’re walking around your hard drive doing powerful things, peeking here and there, and these days mostly wondering what the heck that does.  There’s also libraries everything and you just know that there is all kinds of duplication.  With hard drives being so cheap, it’s eliminated the need to be efficient enough to store anything on a limited device…

We’ve become so used to just launching things.  I know, in my case, I seem to care less and less about where everything is and how I get to it.



I do get it.  Developers are working with portable and touch in mind.  One tap to load and away you go will be our future.  Of that, there is no question.

I just think about “how’ every now and again.

Above are the three launchers that I use regularly.  I could have them all configured to work exactly the same way, but I don’t and I often wonder why.  Mac and Ubuntu are vertical on the left side of the screen; Windows is horizontal on the bottom.  Mac hides when I don’t use it; Ubuntu and Windows are always showing.  The things I use regularly on Mac and Ubuntu are in the launcher; Windows I still go looking in the menu.  (Ditto with Gnome when I use it)

I guess it boils down to – I am either waiting for the perfect interface or I just don’t care to take total control any more.

Yesterday, I read this article about the upcoming Ubuntu 14.10.  Embedded in the article is reference to UnityNext/Unity8.  I wonder – is this going to be enough to push me to take back control of things again?  I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

What Does Coding Mean?

This was an interesting read for me this morning. Students: We need coding skills

I suppose I’m not terribly neutral on this.  I studied coding in high school; university; became qualified in Computer Science and Data Processing, and taught it for years.  Later, I licensed programming languages for use in our schools.  I’ve always believed in the power of knowing how to code and, after my first course figured that I was set for life.  Fortran was my ticket to everything.

Then, there was COBOL, BASIC, Pascal, C, C+, C#, Lisp, SNOBOL, WATFOR, WATFIV, Turing, ActionScript, Java, Javascript and goodness knows what else.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Albert Einstein

I can attest that it only gets easier.  But, in the big scheme of things?

I made all of my kids take at least one computer science course in high school.  “Daaaaaad.  We don’t want to be geeky like you!”  The compromise was that they’d take the course but I would help with the homework.  (I would have anyway so it was a double win for me…)

None of them went on to be the next great developer and I’m OK with that.  What I am proud of though is that they’re all self-sufficient in their own use of technology. 

Check out this photo from my daughter – taken with her Android phone.  The caption was “Like father, like daughter”.

When you think of the traditional computer science environment, you probably think of each student with their own computer and, hopefully, collaboration spaces around the room.

Maybe, for one class, the room should just be open spaces with devices everywhere.  The goal is to take control over all of the devices.  For the programmer type, devotion to one device and one language suits the need.  For the truly digitally competent, shouldn’t they have more?

And, while we’re at it, shouldn’t it be compulsory for everyone?  Along with the implications of being so connected?

Of course, those devices around the room will need to be upgraded regularly.

A Sign for Trustees

Jaimie and I were out for our morning walk and we saw a red and white election campaign sign on a neighbour’s lawn.  We thought – hmmm, a politician who wants to align themselves with the Liberal Party.  As we got closer, it turned out to be a sign for a candidate for the local Catholic School Board.

For my non-Ontario readers, a quick briefing. 

In Ontario, we have three major political parties:

and a collection of other parties.

We also have four publicly funded school boards.

  • English Language Public School System
  • French Language Public School System
  • English Language Catholic School System
  • French Language Catholic School System

In addition, each municipality has a mayor, perhaps a deputy mayor, and councillors that are elected every four years.  School board trustees are elected at the same time.  Social media made for some interesting moments at a previous election when people started to take pictures and send a copy of their ballot out on Twitter.

It’s interesting how social media permeates so many of the things in our society.  During the last municipal elections around here, the buzzwords were “transparency” and “openness”.  Even though our community retains the fame (and signs) of being the Safest Community in Canada, there have been issues that have arisen that I’m sure will result in a higher than normal turnout of voters.  So, it seems to me that it’s more important than even for candidates for the school boards to be very visible.

During the last municipal elections, many turned to social media.  I thought, at the time, this was a great idea.  It’s free – but a blog, or Facebook presence, or Twitter presence would raise the visibility of candidates.  I actually started a list of candidates on Twitter and followed the discussion about the election and their thoughts on education. 

Then, the election was over.  Down came the lawn signs and the efforts to talk about issues on social media.  To be fair, there are still three local trustees that maintain a presence and do interact on social media.  But, from my perspective, that’s about it.

I wish I could properly attribute this quote but it’s stuck with me.  “The Primary Goal of any Politician, once elected, is to get Re-elected”.

As we walked by the lawn sign, we mused that it will be up for a couple of months and then taken down.  Similarly, how many social media accounts will do the same?

When you think of the things that could be done…

  • promote events at your representative schools;
  • check-in when you do school related activities;
  • share your rationale for school board votes;
  • share pictures of educational events;
  • promote the cause of school/district initiatives (Green Schools, etc.);
  • support fundraising activities;

In fact, here are a bunch of reasons why you should tweet.

Doesn’t it make sense to develop an educational digital footprint, care and feed it during the campaign, and then continue after the election?  Your constituency won’t learn about you from a random lawn sign; they’ll know your record, your successes, your passions, your dedication….


CSTA 2015

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) invites you to participate in the 15th Annual CSTA Conference.  This event will be held July 13-14, 2015, in Grapevine, Texas (Dallas/Fort Worth area).

The CSTA 2015 Program Committee seeks proposal submissions related to the practice of teaching and learning computer science and
information technology in K–12. This year, the conference is seeking 3-hour workshops and 1- hour sessions, and 20-minute mini sessions
that focus on pedagogy and best teaching practices. Proposals for all three session types must include:

• the names and contact information for all presenters
• an overview of the session
• a description of the intended audience (level, knowledge, …)
• a description of session activity (in sufficient detail for an informed decision)
• presenter background and presentation experience

Proposal must also include an expanded description (to be submitted as a PDF attachment) that provides the following information:

• background for the topic to be presented
• description of the information to be covered
• description of why this information is relevant/useful to K-12 computer science and information technology teachers
• description of what the attendees will learn from this presentation, and
• description of any handouts

Presenters will have the use of a computer projector and screen. If additional equipment or facilities are required, this should be clearly requested in the proposal;  it may be possible to accommodate such requests but this cannot be guaranteed.  Presenters will be required to pay for their conference registration.

All proposals will be submitted through the online symposium submission system that can be found at https://www.softconf.com/f/csta2015
If you encounter a problem with the submission system, please contact Duncan Buell at buell@acm.org.

The deadline for proposals is midnight on October 6, 2014. Review of proposals will occur shortly thereafter and notification of a decision will be made around November 15, 2014.

All submissions will be evaluated on the following criteria:
• technical quality
• writing and presentation
• relevance to CSTA
(focus on K-12 computer science or information technology)

Successful proposers should expect to be asked to submit a draft copy of their presentation by May 15, 2015.

Draft presentations will be posted on the website for attendee reference and note-taking. All final presentations will be gathered by room proctors at the end of each session. Some sessions may be selected for videotaping, which will be shared online post conference. All
workshops and sessions will be photographed.

Why present at CSTA 2015?

The CSTA annual conference is the only CS conference specifically dedicated to meeting the needs of K-12 computer science educators. Come network with your peers, present your great ideas, and learn best practices. Here is what some 2014 conference attendees had to say about the conference:

• “Best session and workshops I’ve ever attended at CSTA conference”
• “First year as CS teacher, and I’ve heard a number of good ideas that I’m excited to research further and implement, via CSTA”
• “Very welcoming presenters, participants and volunteers”
• “Excellent conference!  Very informative and exciting!”

Additional conference details can be found at www.cstaconference.org.
We look forward to receiving your proposals and to your attendance at the symposium.

Where will you be in 20 years?

A couple of days ago, I read and shared this article from Business Insider “No Google. No Netflix. No iPhone. This Is What Tech Was Like In 1994“.

For those of us using technology then, and quite frankly, before then, it was a nostalgic walk.  I remember many of the technology in the post (and more…they probably never heard of the Icon Computer from Burroughs and then Unisys.

At the time, I thought that Microsoft had sold out with “Windows”.  After all, we are were geeked out with MS-DOS.  I remember thinking that was the last time I really understook how a computer worked.  All this windowing stuff hides so much…

I wasn’t the only one learning and surviving.  So was Heather Touzin.

It’s fun to look back 20 years and see how antiquated those things look now.

But, looking ahead 20 years, what does the future hold?  I think it’s a safe bet to think that computers will be even more personal.  My kids gave me a Fitbit for my birthday.  This has to be just the beginning.  It’s got to get better and more embedded.  I haven’t worn a watch in years and just having to have this on my arm is uncomfortable.  Hopefully, it gets better.

For no other purpose than to say that I’ve included this clip on my blog…

As much as things have changed in the past 20 years, you just know that it’s going to change even more in the next 20.

A Letter

Last week, in TWIOE, I noted a challenge from Stephen Hurley to pen a letter to a new teacher.  I’ve been mulling this around, editing/revising, and figured it was time to let it go.  Here would be my letter.  (It’s a long one but not as long as it originally would have been…)

Dear New Teacher:

Congratulations on starting the next stage in your life.  As an educator in the province, you have the opportunity to mold the lives and help set the direction for thousands of students over the course of your career.  It starts in a couple of weeks and, undoubtedly you’ve been in setting up your classroom(s) and getting very little sleep.  That’s pretty much par for the course – just long as you recognize you can’t keep it up all year!  30-35 years from now, it will all be over.  That time will absolutely fly by.  In the letter, I’d like to offer some advice and suggestions.

Yes, I know.  You’ve probably not even received your first pay cheque yet.  You’ve amassed bills over your university career that will need to be paid.  What to do?  Go see an advisor now!  How are you going to retire your current debt; prepare to buy your own home; plan for your own kid’s education; save for a vacation; get ready for retirement.  It’s never too early to start planning.  Think back to high school mathematics and calculate how much even $1000 saved annually will pay off at the end of your career.  Your credit union or bank will only be too happy to help.

The other side of income, of course, is expenses.  If you think of our profession as one big community, it’s not too difficult to imagine that there’s purchasing power in numbers.  It should come as no surprise that there are collectives to provide value to you.  You need to check out Edvantage.  But don’t stop there.  School supply stores, book stores, manufacturers, and community members all love teachers – there are offers and discounts awaiting you.  You just have to hunt them out.  The best place to find them?  Talk to your colleagues or look at the bulletin board in your staff room.

Know Your Federation
As a teacher in the province, you will be a member of a teaching federation.  Your district will have a local with officers and your school will have its own branch.  You don’t really know how education works until you’ve served on the collective bargaining group.  Or, you won’t know all of the issues in education until you work on an equity group.  Or, professional development.  In addition, acquaint yourself with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation.  You’ll have received an overview at the Faculty of Education but now it gets serious.  This is your professional group.  The more that you know, and get involved, the better.

Professional Subject Associations
Regardless of the discipline that you’ve chosen, there is a professional subject association for your needs.  Whether it’s resources, professional learning / discussion, or conferences, this will be your best set of connections to help you grow as a teaching professional. Subscribe to, and participate in the ongoing discussions as you learn and grow as a teacher.  Never stop learning.

Don’t overlook your own district.  Take advantage of the district’s and/or federation’s new teacher orientation.  Get someone to buy you Harry Wong’s First Days of School.  You won’t regret it.

Or do something with students outside of the class hours.  I know it’s not officially part of your job but, if you can swing it among your other commitments, it will help you so much.  Students will see you as something other than a teacher!  Parents will appreciate your efforts.  You’ll get to know students in a different context.  Just be aware that withholding this volunteerism is often the first step taken in a job action.

Buy a Computer
When you enter your room in August, you may be presented with a very clean classroom with a fully configured classroom computer or bank of computers.  Experience will tell you that they don’t stay that way for long.  And, if they are the school’s property, they’re probably very tightly locked down so that they won’t work outside of the school anyway.  Get yourself a computing device for lesson planning, notes, report cards, productivity, etc.  Sure, you’ll use it at home, but get a request in early to have it attached to the school’s network.  Be reasonable too – start saving for your replacement in five year’s time.

Reflect Lots
Isn’t it surprising that I’ve got this far in the letter and haven’t mentioned teaching at all?  Chance are, your first year will be full of activities that don’t go right.  You’ve got to make sure that they don’t beat you up and that you learn from them.  Make sure that you have a good day book and use it as your personal tracker.  At the end of the day, take a few moments to write yourself a note about what went right and ideas for success if you get a chance to teach the same lesson again.

You have a whole school behind you.  Talk with colleagues and find out their successes.  If you’re going to try something a little different, check with your department head or principal to make sure that your back is covered.

Get Blended
It is true what they say – students do like to use technology.  Remember how you used to update your Facebook status while your university prof went on and on about the role of education in the British North America Act?  Specifically Section 93?  Those 30 warm bodies in your classroom are accustomed or should become accustomed to elements of a lesson being online.  Remember eLearningOntario from the Faculty?  It’s absolutely one of the best places to start.  Meet them half way and you won’t regret it.

Take Pictures
Don’t wait until the end of the year yearbook to give you the fond memories.  You’ve got a smartphone – take lots of pictures and tuck them away in your digital memory box.  There will come a time when you look back and have great memories of the connections and successes that you’ve had.  You don’t need to share them with anyone else.  What’s a great project look like?  A great team?  A great bulletin board?  If you are going to share the images online, follow the school rules for doing so.  The best advice is to take pictures of the activity and not necessarily the head and shoulders shot of the student.

Get to School Early
Can you remember the frustration of being behind a school bus at any point in time?  It’s even worse when there are four publically funded school systems all with schools starting roughly at the same time.  Plus, a convoy ends up at your school’s front door.  It’s an occupational hazard!  You can go from late to really late in a hurry.  And, along the way end up with a really bad parking spot.

Make Important Connections
Your life is so much better when you have a good working environment.  Get to know the school secretary, guidance staff, care taking staff, and the folks in the cafeteria.  They control so much of the school environment and you want them on your team. 

You’ve had the lessons at the Faculty of Education – you’ve done your practice teaching – you have the subject background.  The difference now is that the students in front of you are yours.  You will have great successes; you will have some activities that don’t come through as planned.  The best news is that we all went through the same thing.  All the best to you as you start in September.

I could go on but will put this to a halt. 

Thanks, Stephen, for the idea.  It was a fun post to write and there was so much that I edited out.  You don’t want to scare people before they get started.

What do you think folks?  Did you take Stephen’s challenge and write one yourself?

This Never Gets Old

A couple of days ago, I was channel surfing looking for something interesting to watch on television to kill some time.  We had company on the way so it couldn’t be too time consuming.  I also had my laptop open to the left of me and had half an eye on new Twitter messages flying by. 

I noticed a few in a row from Brian Aspinall in my Ontario Educators stream.  (@mraspinall)

It looked like he was as bored as I was or was doing some research. 

He was retweeting messages about Scrawlar.  It’s one of his babies in the digital world – a combination of word processor / whiteboard built with collaboration and no data collection in mind.  A lot of people like the approach that he’s taken.  I reviewed the product here.

It was actually interesting to see where he was digging up the resources.  I stopped looking for something on the tube and watched him.  I thought I would help his cause and retweeted messages as he sent them.  It’s probably a futile effort because earlier that week we came to the agreement that we probably have the same community on the social network.  Oh well.

There was one that was of particular interest to me.

It was a short tutorial, written in blendspace.  This was a service that I’d never heard of before.  But, I retweeted the message knowing that would somehow, some day, reach my radar for a little more research.




A couple of seconds later, my half-eye noticed that my Twitter message had been retweeted.  Brian?

This wasn’t a terribly unusual occurrence – this is how Twitter works, right?

Then, again and again and again.

I looked yet again and there was a retweeter that I’d never seen before.  So, I checked her bio.

She was from Italy.

I did a little mental math time conversion and realized that it was very early in the morning, her time.

Two things crossed my mind.

  • I wonder what wine region she lives in?
  • Is she camped out at Monza at Curva Parabolica waiting for the Grand Prix?

Am I bad because the two things that I think of when I think Italy are wine and Formula 1 racing?

In reality, she’s probably a hard working teacher preparing for a new class, looking for good resources and certainly Scrawlar fits that bill.

I thought Brian might get a kick out of the reach that his project has so sent him a private message to check the source.

We had a little back and forth about the humility of all this.  We’re just a couple of people doing some learning and sharing in the evening. 

The fact that someone half a world away wants to join in just blows you away.  As Brian noted, he’s just a guy sitting on a living room couch cranking out code on his laptop.  Yet, his work is being appreciated so far away.  But, when you think of the reality, it could be a first year teacher two blocks over looking for good resources.

There’s something about this shared learning that is so impressive.  For how many years have school boards tried to engage teachers with official memos sent from central office and failed?

Yet, the connected learner has that – and so much more.

For me, this moment never gets old.