This Week in Ontario Edublogs

I’ve been writing this series of posts for a long time now.  Check the URL above to see how many times it’s been duplicated.  I never get tired of doing it so here goes – some great content from Ontario Edubloggers this past week.

The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred

No matter how much I read, I still get excited when I find another new, excellent blog post to read.  I’ve been asked – how do you find these blogs?

Certainly, in a multitude of ways – there’s no easy algorithm.  I found this blog with a usual dose of serendipity.  In this case, Helen Kubiw had retweeted a Twitter message that I had posted.  I checked her bio, saw the link to her blog, and the rest as they say is history.

The blog title really says it all.  “CanLit for LittleCanadians”. The blog is devoted to reviews and promotion of Canadian authors so that’s a natural for me to gravitate to.

If you haven’t already, share the link with your literacy and teacher-librarian friends. Check out her list of recent entries – this isn’t a fly by night blog.  It’s a definite bookmark for Canadian literature.

Money Clouds

This might not be an easy post to read if you’ve sipped the juice from the big cloud providing services.  Tim King points out that there was a time when companies had to pay for advertising.  Now with distinguished, certified, exemplary handles, teachers are doing the advertising for them.   Tim shares his thoughts about the other side of cloud computing in schools.  You probably won’t agree with it all but I’ll bet you say “hmmmmm”.


Jocelyn Schmidt describes a game she’s using in her Full Day Kindergarten class.  The mathematician in me loves it. Of course, everything is purposeful.

For students to build upon their subitizing (the ability to recognize the number of objects at a glance, without having to count all the objects), one-to-one correspondence (each object being counted must be given one count and only one count. The number word spoken and the object counted must match up), and conservation (the count of the object stays the same whether spread out or close together) skills in a hands-on and engaging way!

Complete instructions about the game, including some wonderful pictures of the activity (and not of the students) are contained in the post.  Any activity that is inspiration in mathematics and allows students to gain confidence in their abilities is great.  If this applies to you, check out her post.

Seymour Papert – 1972 – MIT Mathematician, Computer Scientist, and Educator

These days a lot of people have discovered Seymour Papert.  Brian Aspinall ends his short post with this question…

Why did it take so long to become “trendy” today?

That’s generated quite a bit of discussion and I might write a blog post about it sometime in the future.

I’m not sure that “trendy” is the best word to use to describe his efforts.  It seems to me that it is all dependent upon the circles that one keeps her/himself in.  There have been a lot of people doing a lot of great things for years now.

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas should be in every school’s professional library and required reading for the modern day prophets…

Demands never Cease

My daily shot of inspiration comes from the morning posts from Paul Cornies.  He constantly outdoes himself.  Today’s quote was terrific although I had to MT it because of length before resharing.

Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. ~Lou Holtz

This is one of those quotes that apply to everyone.

What a way to start the day.  I can’t say it enough – thanks, Paul.

Gift of a Snow Day

From Heather Durnin, a story that makes you appreciate the special things that teachers do.  It was a snow day but a student got delivered to school for a day of learning.

We all know that this can be a precious time of 1:1 or small group learning.  In Heather’s room, not only was it a chance to get caught up, but to build some self-esteem.  Read Heather’s full post to see how a student goes from “I suck at computers” to a day that Heather describes as a gift.


What another nice collection of works to extend our professional thinking.  Please follow the links to the original posts and check them out.  A little blogging love like a “+1″,  “like”, “thumbs up”, “comment”, “share” goes a long way to show your appreciation for the efforts and thoughts that go into the production of these posts. Check out these and all of the great Ontario Edubloggers I’ve found so far – here.

A Natural Progression

I found this article so intriguing.  “A picture is worth a thousand (coherent) words: building a natural description of images". 

At the same time, it shouldn’t come as totally unexpected.

After all, Google has been doing amazing things with images for a long time.  Google Goggles is just an indispensible tool.  Take a picture and let Googles help you decipher what it is.  It’s a great replacement for a specific QR Code reader application but can be so useful in answering the questions “What is that?” or “Tell me more about that?”  It’s a great tool for inquiry.  In addition, Google’s Search by Image lets you get alternative views to a picture that you’ve taken or found online.


Humanity has been feeding the web images forever, tagging and describing them, and search engines are there to index them.  An algorithm to describe the images just seems to me to be a natural in the progression of things.

Just the possibilities of this are kind of mind boggling.  Google has a picture of my house online.  I wasn’t there when they drove by but they did.  Can you see comments generated like “Looks like Doug needs to cut his grass”.  Or, in the next stage of commerce, identifying all the dandelions on my front lawn and sending an email to the local landscaping companies who have subscribed to a service with the message “We’ve got a live one…”

Technology serves us best when it makes out lives better.

  • Immediate results from an x-ray or MRI with a detailed description not subject to human error;
  • A description of a robbery suspect moments after a holdup at the local variety store;
  • A description of a hit and run vehicle caught on camera, again moments after it happened.

Sometimes, we’re slow at adopting new technologies.  While the process seems at its infancy now, it’s bound to mature.  What will our lives be like when it does?  What does this do to our privacy?

This article makes for a great classroom discussion.  Can students extend the list of uses for an application like this? 

Binary Numbers

Thanks to Alfred Thompson for the lead on this incredibly addictive game.  In his regular Monday morning post “Interesting Links“, he made reference to a Binary Numbers Game from Cisco.

It’s fun; it’s a challenge; and it really makes you understand your binary numbers.

I’ll confess to playing with it for far too long.  In fact, it was only after playing for an extended period of time that I realized that the music loop is really annoying.  (Sorry developers)  I can’t imagine a classroom full of computers doing this activity without headphones!

The Ontario Curriculum is loaded with all kinds of references to Binary Numbers.  This activity would be a welcome addition to any classroom where the topic is being addressed.

p.s. I really should have done a screen capture with my higher scores but I was focused on climbing levels….

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling – Programming

One of the huge initiatives that you see so many school districts involved with is the implementation of tablet technology.  When you discuss this, the over achievers will indicate that the tablet is not just a consumption device; it’s a creation device.  When you peel back the outside and truly look inside, most of the implementation is anything but.

There’s still a lot of reading and math games happening.  You do have to start somewhere and I’m sure that the use will become more sophisticated with time.  It’s just that such low level activities are so easy to find and over populate the various stores that are available.

Recently, I had a discussion with a number of people who were always doing innovating things with kids – one being robotics.  Because of their district initiative, their traditional computers were replaced with tablets and that killed the robotic fun.  Robotics is such a great activity.  The ability to build and program your own robot can be so motivating.  To be able to create a set of instructions and then have the robot perform them is so engaging.  Just don’t mention that the process is programming!

So, what to do?

I’d suggest a long look at Sphero.

Sphero is a robotic ball.  Inside are the mechanics for motion, acceleration, direction change, colour, …  Most importantly, it connects to a computing device via Bluetooth.  All of a sudden, those new tablets have a robot to control and program.

With a very futuristic interface, you control your robot.  Mine’s called “Doug On A Roll”.

Right out of the box, Sphero is OK.  It does all kinds of things.  But, in the best sense of gamification, it gets better.  By completing challenges, you unlock additional Sphero’s additional abilities.

The challenges are fun and the fact that Sphero does more with your successes just keeps you wanting to attempt challenge after challenge.

Every time I head over to my app store, I see new applications written to exploit the functionality of Sphero. 

But there was one app that put me over the top.  It was orbBasic.

With the scripting capabilities, you can write your own code and have Sphero follow your instructions.

If you’re lamenting the loss of your traditional robotics or you’re looking for some way to incorporate programming into your classroom, you owe it to yourself to take a look at Sphero.  Sphero has a pal – the pal’s name is Ollie.  I haven’t had hands-on with it just yet.

The Nouveau Geek

One of the highlights of the recently concluded Bring IT, Together conference for me was having a chat with Peter Skillen and Brian Silverman during a break at the Minds on Media event.  Brian came up to me and said “We met in the early 80s, didn’t we?”  Come on, brain.  Fire some synapse and make the connection.  Very, very vaguely I remembered.

I do remember a lot of things from the early days of ECOO Conferences.  It’s where we nerdy, geeky types converged once a year.  Complete outsiders within the traditional school community, we were on a constant mission to make these computing boxes do something just because we could.  It wasn’t just ECOO; I can remember going to a similar series of events at MACUL just through the tunnel in Detroit or across I-96 to Grand Rapids.  I remember being in Cobo Hall at the huge Apple booth when Lisa was shown to we educators, wondering if this thing with the mousey and graphic interface would ever succeed in a world of computers with command lines and a second language learning of DOS.

I remember leaning against a really hot radiator at OISE listening to a presenter talking about the concept of electronic mail connecting university classrooms in Toronto with those in South Africa.  The talk wasn’t about the reason for the connect; it was about a network of computers passing the information along from one to another, check bits and more to ensure that the message was delivered so correctly.  This was excitement; this was computing; this was why we do it.  My inner Geek loved it.

I might even have my geeky glasses around here since I never throw anything away.

During our morning walk, Jaimie asked me how this year’s conference went.  He had a vested interest – he had given up five days of walks with me while I was out of town.

His question made me think about the overall quality of the sessions.  There was nothing that even remotely resembled the early days of ECOO.  Probably the closest was repurposing old computers with Ubuntu for student home use. (although Ubuntu runs well on newer computers like this one too!)

I think it’s a strong indication of a field of education that has matured.  Yes, there are things that are on the cutting edge but that’s not the focus of our learning any more.  In fact, they might not even be part of the program.

Instead, Jaimie and I decided to call the folks in attendance the “Nouveau Geek”.  There was the same level of enthusiasm and devotion that there was back in the 80s.  It might actually even be more frenetic.  The focus, however, is considerably different.  We know so much more about student engagement, how students learn, where technology politely fits in the classroom.  We know that the real learning comes from setting the table and letting students dig in.  We know that, the teacher standing there at the front of the classroom, sharing a concept and expecting students to hang on every word belongs to another time and era. 

We know much more about the conditions for learning.  Sue Bruyns caught and shared one of Ron Canuel’s thoughts…

The Learning Space was a perfect space for the Nouveau Geek.  It wasn’t a place to sit around and play with the latest toy.  It was a place to talk about the issues surrounding education.  It was a bull ring where there was no front of the area.  It was what the original edCamp model was about before it derailed and became a collection of workshops.

Throughout the conference, though, the focus whether during sessions, keynotes, or Learning Space was on improving learning and instruction.  At times, it seems like technology was almost an after-thought.  People “got” the how-to technology part and were there instead to learn and talk about the how and the why.  If they didn’t totally understand the “how-to”, they knew that they could always search for it or reach out to their network.  I kept sticking my head into rooms to catch a flavour of what was happening.  It really was affirming – the Nouveau Geek was there for best practices in teaching and learning. 

And they were getting it.

Remembrance Day

Today is Remembrance Day and it means so much to us and our way of life.

Photo Credit: Matthieu Luna via Compfight cc

We all will wear a poppy to show that we remember.

My friend Sheila sent me this link.

I think it’s worthy of display in classroom and at assemblies.  We focus on just what November 11 means and that’s important.  There’s another side and that’s one of hope for the future.

Visit the site and you’ll see images from 1944.

Move your cursor over the image and hold down the left mouse button and move your cursor to the right.

You’ll see a more modern picture taken from the same location.

Scroll down for even more.

The message?  There is hope going forward.  It can help to put things in perspective.

In the classroom, this easily turns into an exercise of discussion, writing, and a deeper understanding and appreciation for the day and why we are so passionate as a society to remember.

Post #BIT14

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.  It was so good, after devoting the past 10 months to the planning and preparation for the Bring IT, Together Conference  to be at home.  My reality check was Jaimie, perched on the cedar chest in the front window waiting for me.

I’m sure that he was wondering why I was sitting in the car with my phone pointed at the house.  But, the wagging tail was a solid indication that he knew who it was.

Sadly, as you’ll notice from the rain drops, our reunion didn’t immediately turn into a dog walk but just a belly scratch.  The walk happened later.

The results from my Fitbit band told the story of activity checking things out – 14,834, 14,465, 15,234 steps for the three days.  Had my friend Peter Beens not driven a few of us to the Falls for the Photowalk, it would have been even more for Thursday!  It was good activity, checking in on workshops to make sure the presenters’ needs were met.  Between me, Jeff Reaburn, and Rob Scott, I think we had that covered.  I hope nobody noticed me crawling up the stairs in the theatre to the audio booth during George’s keynote to get the audio adjusted for his videos.  That’s a really long walk at the end of a long day.

The drive home had me thinking about blog posts for the upcoming week and I hope that I remember my thoughts to make it happen.

For today, though, my thoughts turn to the important things from the past three days.  It was about the people.

Planning Team
I can’t say enough good words about the planning team for the event.  They worked their tails off to make the event successful.  Cyndie and I held monthly online meetings and we used the tools, including our infamous “minute by minute” to take care of all of the details.  We had one simple rule – if it wasn’t in the minute by minute with someone responsible for it, it won’t happen.  While it’s technically our home base for planning, it can now serve as a good reminder of what happened.

The committee, I thought, excelled in its attention to detail.  This was our second time at the Niagara Falls Convention Centre and we learned much from last year.  The Convention Centre learned well too and it paid off with a smoothly run event.  As just one example, we moved our Learning Centre or Unconference Centre and had great response to it.  I don’t know if it was totally change in location or change in mindset that you can unconference within a conference, but it was a popular spot.  Folks signed in on the big wall and Jaclyn Calder turned it into a sweet looking Thinglink here.

If anyone ever asks you “who to follow in Ontario Education”, send them here and have them start clicking.

All of our planning seemed to fall nicely in place.  Audio visual, registration, social media, social activities, door prizes, exhibit hall, food and snacks, scheduling – they didn’t happen by accident.  A great deal of hard work made it happen.  Thank you so much, committee.

Learning With Friends
It’s one thing to talk about your network, but quite another when you get to meet face to face.  It seemed like every time I turned around, there was another person that I’d had interactions with online.  The greetings, thoughts, and memories serve to remind me that everyone is so much more than just a Twitter handle.

As I’m writing this post, I get notice that Colleen Rose had just blogged about her Day 2 and 3 at the conference.

By far, the most touching aspect of #bit14: when we see how students benefit from the changes we make as teachers.— Colleen Rose (@ColleenKR) November 6, 2014

I’m not sure that any other words could better describe the takeaways for educators.  I was so humbled by the high level of thinking and analysis of education that was shared by Ontario classroom teachers.  I’ve said it so often “If you want to know what’s happening in education, talk to an educator.  If you want to know what’s happening in Ontario education, talk to an Ontario educator”.  Find out from the experts; you won’t by reading the newspaper.

If anyone attended and doesn’t think differently come Monday morning, they had to be napping for three days.

I’m not going to name names because when you do, you inevitably miss someone.  I enjoyed numerous trips through the Exhibit Hall in order to visit and chat with all the exhibitors.  What strikes me as being unique was the lower key message.  There was no arm twisting or promises that “if you buy this, your test scores will go up 20%” like I’ve seen at similar conferences.  There’s a distinct feeling that these folks want to work with you for success.

Both Languages
This was a definite goal for both Cyndie and myself.  If we’re really serious about the conference being the place for those in Ontario education to learn, it needs to be friendly to both English and French language learners.  With the help of our good friend and committee member Lise Galuga, we were bilingual from the start.  The website was in both languages.  We made sure that we had at least one French language session in each timeslot.  All three of the keynotes had French in their presentation.  Kudos to Richard and George for working hard at some just in time learning.  Lise shared the master of ceremonies duties to welcome everyone.

The Low
Of course, there are always a few things that don’t go as planned.  We had the potential for the weather for the Photowalk being the low moment but it didn’t happen.  Instead, this is a message to the person that created the low moment for me – I hope to see your name in the blue pages soon.

Location, Location, Location
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it wasn’t just Ontario Educators in the audience.  There were teachers from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, the United States, and Hong Kong that I met.  It was a nice mix with the people I talked to wanting to know what Ontario was doing.

I couldn’t help but remark on good teaching.  I had terrific conversations with Brian Silverman and Peter Skillen.  All three of us have lived through so many changes, new technology, new promises that this will be the game changer, the new and improved “model” …  And yet, through all of this, one thing remains constant.  Good teaching makes the difference.  You can buy all the you want, but if you don’t focus on the student, you miss the mark.

Isn’t that really the big takeaway?

When Cyndie Jacobs and I were approached to co-chair the conference two years ago, we did on the condition that we were allowed to bring our vision of what professional learning would look like.  We moved the location; we focused on the social and providing opportunities for people to connect both traditionally onsite and informally offsite.  Ontario responded well with the highest attendance in years.  The two of us are truly humbled by the response and thank everyone for your support.

We won’t be co-chairing next year but wish the new committee every success bringing Ontario Educators together for three days of great educator directed learning.  Stay tuned to the ECOO website for the date and get your request for learning in to your principal early.