Category Archives: Just Rambling

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.


“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.


“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


You Have About Five Seconds…

…to impress me.

I like to learn things.  Daily.

There’s a world of people connected, particularly on Twitter, to learn with.  It’s just a matter of connecting with them.  Unlike the thought in some corners, I don’t spend my entire day online.

But I like to use the time that I do spend online productively.  I value those who take the time to learn and share; share and learn.  I like the interactions.  I like the fact that Twitter will suggest people that I might want to learn with.  I also like the fact that I get notifications when someone new follows me.  For me, that’s all raw data just waiting to be analyzed.  That’s where the five seconds come in.

Now, I have been on interview teams and I’ve been interviewed for jobs many times myself.  I know the importance of making a first impression.  Why wouldn’t it apply here?

Here’s how I gauge that first impression in this media.

When I find a “person of potential interest”, I’ll nip over to their home page and check them out.

This is what I look for when I’m there…

  • Do they have a profile picture that would lead me to believe that they’re serious about this;
  • Have they posted anything recently?;
  • Is what they’re posting/sharing recently consistent with what I want to learn?;
  • Is what they’re posting/sharing recently totally inconsistent with what I want to learn but now I’m intrigued?;
  • Do they have an up-to-date blog?;
  • Are they an Ontario Educator?;
  • Do they look spammy?;

A quick Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, No passes the test.  They’re worthy of following.

Where do they go?  Once I found the joys of a multi-column Twitter browser, I was convinced.  Not everyone needs to go into the big mixing pot of followers.  I can make my life a whole lot easier by creating lists.

I recognize that this is hardly scientific.  But I don’t have the time for an hour-long formal interview!

Notice that I don’t care if they have hundreds and hundreds of posts.  Everyone has to start somewhere.

How do YOU determine whether or not to follow someone?

In Search of the Green Doughnut

One of life’s great mysteries is … why are there no green doughnuts?  (Except for the specials on St. Patrick’s Day)

Those who know me know that my favourite colour is green.  So, why not a green doughnut?  After all, there are wonderful flavours that we associate with the colour green.  Lime, Pistachio, Jalapeño, Green Tea.


You do it online using the Dueling Donut Configurator.

And, at your disposal, you have a ton of goodies for raw materials, including the flavours above!

What a Jalapeño doughnut looks like

Green just doesn’t get any respect.  It’s supposedly unlucky for race cars.  Maybe it’s because when things in the fridge, that aren’t naturally green, turn green, we throw them away?  From my university days, I know that they do eventually turn brown…

Maybe this is the year of the green?

If not, maybe we can at least answer another of life’s great questions – if they’re made of dough, why do many people call them donuts instead of doughnuts?

In the meantime, it is fun to work your way through the configurator and check all of the options available.

It will be interesting to see the winner of this contest when it closes in August.

This would have been an interesting contest to run during the school year.  There’s plenty of material for use in a Family Studies class, including the Tim Horton’s Nutrition Calculator.

Unexpected Blogging Benefits

One of the categories in my Zite reading list is “Blogging”.

The stories that get gathered typically talk about how to make money blogging but every now and again, there is an article that helps with my own reflection for doing what I’m doing here.  I need to be very clear here – I don’t make money doing “Off the Record”, it’s just a hobby that lets me write to share whatever thoughts that I might have at any particular time.

I’m probably not consistent.  If you were to do a fact check, I may contradict myself and do a complete 180 from a post that I had written previously.  I like to think of that as refining my learning and thoughts.

Given all this, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I’d spend some time reading this post – “5 Unexpected Benefits That Happen Naturally When You Blog Frequently“.

Photo Credit: Annie Mole via Compfight cc

From the article, I’ve distilled the 5 benefits and commented on each.

Your creativity will go into overdrive.

I never really thought about this.  I guess that it is true.  Without creativity, one could only imagine that you’d be blogging about the same thing over and over.  So, creative it is.

You will become a master of time management.

There’s no question about this.  A typical post can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending upon its complexity.  I’ve mentioned it many times, I find that I’m often thinking about a blog post while walking the dog.  He’s very patient and really enjoys it when it takes a long time to put things together.  It means for longer walks for him; but when we get home, it allows me to just sit down and write!

You will become more relevant, noticed and trusted on your social media sites.

I do agree with the concept of being noticed.  One of the things that eventually came to me was a willingness to go with the flow.  I was frustrated at one point that a blog post didn’t generate replies on the blog itself.  It was only by stepping back and seeing that folks were commenting on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, retweeting, sharing, +1ing.  By actually following references to the blog on Twitter, I could see that people were sharing it with others.  “Notice” can mean more than what you think.

You will inadvertently start a business, which you probably didn’t intend to do.

This hasn’t happened yet.  Any ideas about how to make Doug rich?  <grin>

You will help your SEO, even if you don’t understand how SEO works.

This wasn’t something that I thought about but it does make a great deal of sense.  There was a time, in the beginning, when I couldn’t find my blog at all when doing a Google search.  Now, it’s easy.  What’s ultimately cool (or stupid when you think about it) is to do research about a topic and get a hit that points back to my blog because I’ve already written about it.


I think I’d like to add a bonus point

You will try different writing styles.

There are many blogs that I read that are so predictable in format and style.  They start the same, build the content in the same way, post after post, throw in a gratuitous piece of clipart and call it a post.  In fact, there’s at least one blog that I read that evaluates software on a daily basis.  It’s quite obvious that the author often doesn’t even run the software – just writes a post talking about how great it is.  One of the things that I do and can assure you that I do, is install and give any piece of software a fair shakedown before blogging about it.

I try different layouts, approaches to writing, and even try to use my own sense of humour when writing.  You’ll be the judge as to the effectiveness of the approach.  I just can’t imagine writing the same stuff, the same way, every day.  It comes as no surprise to me – when I install a piece of software, I’ll deliberately NOT install any templates that come with it if I can.  I like to figure out stuff by myself.

That was an interesting collection of thoughts about frequent blogging.  Could you see that happening for yourself?  Would the benefits be there for your students?  Think of blogs that you read regularly.  Does this apply there?

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This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Ah, the first week of summer.

But that’s no excuse for not blogging.  Here’s some of what I read this week.

Extra-Curricular Gala vs. Athletics Gala

It’s great to think that we celebrate excellence in school and for areas.

Emily Fitzpatrick shares her observations of both the Athletic and Extra-Curricular events from her school.  But, then she asks an important question.  If you have the answer, I’m sure that she would appreciate hearing it.

Getting to the Change We Want: Developing an Easement Mindset

Stephen Hurley outlines a very interesting description of the education scenario.  He identifies the role of teachers, parents, administration, students, and the district level.  I think everyone who has had a part in education can identify with his analysis.

His post takes an interesting turn as he turns to real estate to describe relationships between the entities.

If you’ve ever walked into an enemy staff room or gone to another department and notice that the conversation stops when you walk in, you know you’ve witnessed educational life as he describes it.

As with Emily’s post, he’s looking for answers, thoughts, or suggestions.

Dear Graduates…

You know that a post comes from the heart when it begins…

Before we say goodbye forever, 

It’s definitely the type of post that every teacher should write – although the “forever” part may be a little iffy if you’ve taught your students to be connected citizens.  Just this past month, I’ve received connections from students I’ve taught years and years ago so forever may not always be appropriate.  How about “until we meet again?”

Beyond the sentimentalism, I think that it’s important to recognize and appreciate why teachers continue to have positions in education.  It’s the students and Brian Aspinall absolutely knows it.

It Started With a Surprise Party

On the last day of school, I was treated to the most incredible “goodbye” by an amazing group of Grade 5 students – my fantastic class – that many days later, made me realize how much this surprise party truly summed up my learning from this year.

So starts Aviva Dunsiger’s last post to her group of students.  Not only will they move on, but so will she.

In the post, she lists and expands on a number of things that define her professional practice.

  • Give students a voice
  • Never underestimate what students can do
  • Relationships matter
  • Make math real
  • Let them problem solve
  • Learning is a community affair

What a wonderful reflection and words to live/teach by.  Hopefully, she can carry and amplify this in her new position.

End of the year: What have I Learned?

In a surprisingly similar post, Jonathan So reflects on his own learning from his new position in the past year.

  • primary students take longer to do work
  • teaching primary has allowed me to focus on inquiry
  • One of the biggest pet peeves of many junior teachers is that the students don’t seem to be ready to be independent
  • I think that all grades should have a primary mindset

Another great reflection on practice from the past year.  Read his post to see how he’s fleshed out his thoughts.  It’s another great read and indication of professionalism.

What a wonderful collection of professional sharing and dialogue!  I hope that you can find the time to visit these posts and read the entire message.  It’s well worth the time.

Each of the above posts are linked to the original and you can read the entire collection of Ontario Edubloggers here.  As always, if you’re blogging or starting a blog, there’s a form there to add your location.  It would be great to have you added to the collection.

Happy Canada Day

Happy Canada Day to all Off the Record readers.

While you’re waiting for the fireworks to start in your community, how about checking out these quizzes?

Let me know how you did.

You Can Start Planning Now! #BIT14

Your BringITTogether Committee has been working very hard at plans for Ontario’s Educational Technology Conference.  The group met online just this week to update each other on the activities of the various sub-committees.

The keynote speakers have been in place for some time now:

After a hugely successful call for proposals, a terrific set of one hour presentations have been selected.  The BringITTogether Conference is a partnership between ECOO and OASBO ICT.  The ECOO presenters are in place; look for the OASBO ICT sessions to be finalized over the summer.  This, all in preparation for the conference on November 5-7, 2014 in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The program is in place.  Again this year, the BringITTogether Conference will be using Lanyrd for the online program.  You can see the conference in action at this link.

You can view the conference online at that link, or download the Lanyrd app to your portable device.

Download the application now or go online to explore.

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Each of the sessions has its own unique address in Lanyrd that you can share with anyone.  For example, frequent reader of this blog, Lisa Noble, will be presenting “How do we teach it if we’re not doing it? A discussion around curation, collaboration and creation.

The direct link to her session is –

With the Lanyrd application, you can start planning now as to which sessions you will attend.

It’s a great way to get connected and beginning the planning before you arrive.  It’s going to be a great three days.

You Never Know …

… where your next great blog post will come from.

Yesterday, Sue Waters, the Edublogger, wrote a wonderful post for the “new to Twitter” teacher.  The post was called “Hashtags, Twitter Chats and TweetDeck for Education“.  Pass it along to those who could use it.

Now, I’ve never met Sue face to face but certainly have communicated via Twitter on many occasions.  Yesterday was another time – both publically, and privately.


This was part of the public conversation.

In private, we chatted about a bunch of things and I commented that this post of hers would get a lot of traction with the Twitter community who are trying to bring colleagues along for the ride.

In part of our discussion, she mentioned that she didn’t know – that no blogger ever knows which post will be popular with readers.  

That’s really an interesting observation.

I thought about my own blog posts.  I’ll be honest – not all posts are created equally.  Some come as the result of hours of learning fraught with trial and error.  In that case, the post might be a procedural one and take forever to write, it seems.  The last thing that you want to do is omit something important.

The other type of post comes very easily.  Something sticks in my craw and I just sit at the keyboard and fire from the hip.  It can take minutes to write and click to publish the post.  Sometimes, I even feel a bit guilty about it.

I took a look through the statistics here and there’s one post that’s far and away the most popular.  It required zero research.  I needed no screen captures or step by step procedures.  It was just something that I needed to write for supportive reasons.  The post?  The Folly of Legislated Extra-Curriculars.  I just felt like I needed to say something about the topic.

It’s the type of post that might generate negative responses.  “Yah, and it snowed more back then too…”  And yet, somehow, it resonated with a bunch of people who decided to read it.  When I wrote the post, I had no idea that it might be popular.

So, I think that Sue was absolutely right.  You never know!

Except for one case … the poorly read post will be the one that you don’t write.  You’ve got to at least give it a chance. 

While Sue’s original article is a great bit of advice for those new to Twitter, I think that’s the best advice you can give to potential bloggers … you’ve got to start, you’ve got to write.  You never know how it’s going to be received.