Another Interview with Brian Aspinall


A little over a year ago, I conducted an online interview with Brian Aspinall.  We’ve stayed in contact and certainly I follow the stories and articles that he shares every morning.  Recently, he indicated that we should do another interview.  That sounded like a good idea so here goes.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to do another interview, Brian.  It will be interesting to catch up with what’s happening with you.

 

Brian: Thank you again for this opportunity. I cannot believe it has been over a year since our last Q & A!

 

Doug:  So, where are you teaching this year?  What grades?

 

Brian: I have (finally) secured some seniority and am here to stay at Indian Creek Road PS in Chatham. My current assignment is a grade 8 homeroom with some grades 7 & 8 rotary Science and Phys Ed.

 

Doug:  I’ve read that you’ve been out of class on special projects.  Can you elaborate on that?

 

Brian: This year I am active on two Board committees. This first of which is a Creating Pathways to Success committee. We are revamping our program to coincide with the new ministry document. More about inquiry and student choice. Our K-6 students are now required to have a portfolio of “all About Me” that will follow them to grades 7 & 8. We are working on what that will look like for our students.

 

The second project is a TLLP grant we received from OTF. We have been granted some release time to teach other intermediate staff about some of the news, technologies and pedagogies of today’s classrooms in order to level the playing field – so to speak – across the feeders schools in our area. This is a cross panel group and we have members from the local high school involved as well. This gives us an opportunity to share and highlight the great things happening in each of our schools and provides us with an opportunity to actually tour each building.

 

Doug:  During our last interview, we talked about Sketchlot and Clipkwik.  Where do these projects stand?

 

Brian: Clipkwik is still alive and well. I’m not sure what I am going to do with it now that youtube etc. is pretty well wide open in our classrooms. As you remember, Clipkwik was a solution to a problem – a way to find videos fast from sources other than youtube as it was blocked at the time. I haven’t used clipkwik much lately but still own the domain name.

 

Sketchlot hasn’t been on my radar since Scrawlar was developed about a year ago.

 

Doug:  Most recently, your biggest project is Scrawlar.  Can you give the readers a short description of it if they haven’t tried it already?

 

Brian: Scrawlar is a web whiteboard and word processor for schools. Essentially it is a place to collaborate on writing or math for younger students who do not have an email and want a simple tool. Students can create documents and sketches and then share them with anyone in the class. With tools like Scrawlar, our school alone saved close to $7500 last year just on printing costs! Students do not need to sign up for Scrawlar as the teacher adds them to the class network.

 

Doug:  Was there a little something extra in your pay cheque?  <grin>  Now, you’re entering a space where there are existing online products.  Why would someone consider Scrawlar when they could use Microsoft Office 365 or Google Documents?

Brian: Privacy! Scrawlar is just me. No data mining. No ads. No bots. Just me and a few lines of php code. Secondly, I have had many conversations with teachers trying out Google Classroom with young grades and they find it difficult. Many are making the switch back to Scrawlar. Lastly, Scrawlar is web based so it is always up to date. Teachers won’t have to bug site admins for app updates. It is HTML5 and works on all tablets, phones and PCs – for those BYOD classrooms.

 

Doug:  Is there room for a classroom to use both?

 

Brian: App smash away! You can now upload pics from the camera roll to sketch on in the whiteboard section.

 

Doug:  How many classrooms are currently using your online projects?  

 

Brian: As of this writing there are about 5500 users.

 

Doug:  In your mind, you must have a target figure that you’d like to reach.  Could you share that?  

 

Brian: I’d love to see it reach the numbers twiducate hit a few years ago. Last time I checked twiducate was about 160,000 users.

 

 

Doug:  Who pays for the bandwidth and storage space for these projects?

 

Brian: My wife! Ha, jk. I do. As it grows so do my bandwidth fees. I believe I currently have four godaddy accounts. Maybe I should re-think this now that you brought it to my attention!

 

Doug:  I had asked earlier if you would open source your projects and you indicated that you didn’t think you would.  One of the things that I think would be useful would be for a classroom teacher to customize their students instances of the projects.  Would you consider adding room for a school or classroom logo so that the teacher could really make it their own?

 

Brian: I’ve never considered this but I LOVE the idea. Like a Google Site or D2L teachers could make their network a little more custom with school logos and colours. Something to consider, thanks for the idea.

 

Doug:  I’m guessing that you’ve got a few projects on the go.  Can you share with us some of what you’re working on?

 

Brian: Nkwiry is my #1 focus right now. Again built as a solution to a problem. Over the last six months I have heard teachers saying “I want to flip my classroom but videos get buried in timelines on websites or social media we use”. Class websites are great but it seems there is difficulty in sharing many videos, filtered by subject area, on these sites.

 

Nkwiry is a place to share videos with and alongside students, based on subject area. teachers and students alike can post math videos under a math tile, science videos under a science tile, etc. I see nkwiry as the perfect flipped / blended learning tool for teachers who want to stop using textbooks and have their students research authentic class concepts. The videos shared under each tile and be posted back to a class website using a public link. www.nkwiry.com

 

Outside of the technology front I am an active planner on the EdCampSWO team. This year we are piggy-backing #BIT14 by offering George Couros as a keynote to those local here in south western Ontario who cannot make it to Niagara. EdCampSwo is November 8, 2014 at Tecumseh Vista school in Windsor. People may register at www.edcampswo.com. Based on numbers so far, I think we may hit 400 participants this year!

 

Doug:  Over the past year, I’ve noticed that you’ve become more vocal online about getting students to code.  If a person was a fly on Mr. Aspinall’s classroom wall, what would they see on a typical day with respect to programming?

 

Brian: Noise. Bean bag chairs. An Arcade machine. I have students coding choose your own adventure graphic novels. I have students coding math applications to make rote tasks more engaging. I have students coding games in Unity to be played on the arcade. I also have students teaching themselves javascript from code academy.

 

Doug:  We’ll undoubtedly get a chance to catch up at the Bring IT, Together Conference in Niagara Falls in a couple of weeks.  Can you share with us a bit about your presentation?

 

Brian: Based on my summary for #BIT14 I need about 6 hours to cover everything! I want to discuss Google Classroom, augmented reality and coding but 50 mins will be a challenge. I am toying with the idea of taking a vote as I love choose your own PD. I think I will cover the big ideas from two of the topics and go into greater deal on the third topic the group has voted on.

Doug:  Thanks so much for being available to be interviewed again, Brian.  All the best to you.  I’ll look forward to catching up again.

Brian: Thanks Doug, see you in a few weeks!

You can follow Brian on Twitter at @mraspinall

You can also follow his apps!  @scrawlar, @nkwiry, @clipkwik, @sketchlot

His home on the web is here:  http://brianaspinall.com/

Michelle’s Been Busy – #BIT14


Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to join Michelle Cordy in an interview with #BIT14 keynote speaker, Richard Byrne.  You can read about it here.

Since that time, she’s been busy with a couple more interviews related to the Bring IT, Together Conference.

In addition to Richard, she’s interviewed George Couros and talked about his keynote address “Leading Innovative Change” and his leadership session “The Networked Leader“.  If you missed the interview, you can enjoy it here.

Her microphone had barely cooled off when she was back at it again.  

This time, she connected with Heather Durnin and David Hann.  At the #BIT14 Conference, Heather will be presenting “Three Dimensions in Student Learning“.  David will be presenting “How to make use of a Makerbot 3D Printer in Your School – Year II“.

You can enjoy that interview here.

Excitement is building as we get closer to the Bring IT, Together Conference.  Michelle nicely works the interview process to really tease us about the great learning that will happen.

Registration is still open – you can register through the website and read about these sessions and all of the other great happenings at the three day conference here.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Here are some of the great thoughts from the fingers of Ontario Edubloggers recently…

Guided Reading Should Be Happening Every Day

Bill Forrester’s blog is a new addition to the Ontario Blog collection.  In his most recent post, he talks about supporting colleagues with guided reading and admits that it wasn’t always a regular routine for his classroom.

Now, as a support person, he’s seeing the value of this as a regular activity.

In the post, look for some online resources to support the technique.


Volume = Length * Width * Height

Alex Overwijk’s blog is another new one to the group.  Welcome, Alex.

I thought this was a rather unique approach.  He shares a lesson that his students did dealing with volume and how they addressed the concept of volume using manipulatives.

Now, that’s a great approach but not entirely new.

What I liked though was taking the image and posting it to Twitter to get some thoughts from other connected educators.  He shares some of the responses.  Very interesting.  Would you be so bold as to post pictures of your hands-on activities in this manner?


Discovery in Primary Math

I think that the power of social media for sharing goes well over the top when lessons are shared.  Alex did above and Jen Aston describes a three-part math activity that she did recently with a split 1/2 class.

Check out the video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuIJQsV-L5s and then head off to Jen’s blog to read the rest of the story about her activity.

It sounds like so much fun.


How Social Media Can Help Increase Social Capital For Students and Their Families

I think that Tracy Bachellier nails it when she talks about the use of social media and “social capital”.  I love this quote that she embedded in the middle of her thoughts.

“It allows me to organize people a lot faster, to check people out for things I might want them to do. It allows people to find me, or if I want to get advice from people, the fastest way is to get them through facebook or twitter. There’s a lot of convenience involved in interacting with people over social media.” ~ Aimee Morrison, Associate Professor of English Language and Literature (Digital Culture), University of Waterloo

Traditional media takes so long to get results.  By the time it’s researched, vetted, edited and ultimately published, the original premise may well be old news.  Tracy identifies a number of benefits in her post that go well beyond that.

  • Social media helps overcome time and distance barriers
  • Social media builds upon existing ties and relationships
  • Social media facilitates new connections and collaboration
  • Social media provides a platform for advocacy, collective practice and action
  • Social media enhances social participation and engagement

Think about the traditional, controlled techniques of the past.  Buy a book, read it, implement it, review the technique sometime.

The immediacy and potentials that social media affords, as Tracy notes, are just too many and too big to ignore.  If we’re really going to stay on top of the latest and most effective techniques, being connected has to be the solution.  The downside is, as always, equity but we’re getting around that.  I did a quick look around the county here and there are some communities that are using internet voting for the upcoming elections.  A community obviously sees the power and is making it available for all – why can’t we model that in education?


La voix des élèves

You know, a lot of people talk about Student Voice.  Others ignore it.  Some pay lip service.

johanne

This blog post reinforces the need to listen to what is said.  Sometimes, it’s the little things that can make such a big difference.


Using Intelligent Agents in D2L to Enhance Your Online Course

One of my favourite activities when was the DeLC for my district was going to regional meetings and partake in the learning and sharing that was happening.  It’s easy to feel so inferior because there’s so much to learn about online learning.

The Desire2Learn LMS was continually evolving but we thought that we’d struck gold when we first learned how to set release conditions during a course.  In this blog post, Rod Murray shares a number of resources about the “Intelligent Agents” in D2L.  Whether you know them all or not, it’s still a nice review.

Rod


Again, there was some absolutely wonderful thinking and sharing in my reading this week.  I hope that you can take a moment or to and give these posts a little social media love.  Their thoughts are only a click away.  The complete collection is located here.  There’s always a wealth of thinking and sharing happening there.

LEARNstyle at #BIT14


LEARNstyle has long been a good friend of ECOO and they will return to offer a full-day’s worth of activities this year.

In the past, you may have associated LEARNstyle with its Google and Assistive Technology content and training.  As we discussed a partnership this year with LEARNstyle, we pointed out that there are other offerings being used throughout the province.  LEARNstyle was quick to respond.  Their offerings this year will go far beyond a series of Google workshops.  (although there’s still plenty of Google there if you wish)

With their offerings, they’re truly headed to the Cloud.

There are essentially four areas where you’ll find LEARNstyle’s presence at the Bring IT, Together Conference.

  1. In the Exhibit Hall.  Again this year, drop by the LEARNstyle booth to talk with the Cunninghams and their staff about all of the areas that are supported.
  2. LEARNstyle’s CLOUD STYLE Conference (Google Focus)
    • Google Classroom, Google Chrome in the French Language Classroom, Strategies for Flipping a Classroom using Google tools
  3. LEARNstyle’s CLOUD STYLE Conference (Microsoft Focus)
    • Introduction to Microsoft in the Cloud, OneNote in the Classroom, Office 365 in the 21st Century
  4. LEARNstyle’s CLOUD STYLE UNconference-ENGLISH AND FRENCH
    • This will be a truly unique learning experience.  The format will follow that of an unconference where you can join conversations with others from around the province.  There will be an additional twist – some Ontario educational startup companies have been invited to demonstrate and talk about educational offerings that just might impact your classroom some day.  Here’s an opportunity for you to see things first and provide initial feedback about design and usability.

If that wasn’t enough, D.J. Cunningham, the CEO of LEARNstyle and Joe Wilson, Educational Strategist from the MaRS Discovery District will deliver keynote style presentations to all in attendance for the LEARNstyle events.

This is a really fluid, unique opportunity for Ontario Educators.  If you are interested in more than you can learn by yourself or through what your district currently offers, this is a wonderful opportunity to do so.  If you’ve never been to an unconference event like an edCamp, you can experience it here with the potential of making connections from all corners of the province, in both languages.

Resources – 24/7


As a result of yesterday’s post, I had a couple of conversations with people I used to work with.  We were laughing at some of the presentations that I had done which were I think cutting edge at the time, are now pretty dated.

I used to do 2-3 workshops a week after school and had a constant flow of people showing up.  We were a big district and there always was an interest to learn and do more.  As I reflect back on it, it was an amazing group of professionals who would show up unpaid just to learn some new things about the use of technology in the classroom.

In the beginning, the handouts were distributed on paper.  Creating the handout was a fine skill between attacking forests and getting the message across.  Fortunately, connectivity won out and eventually everything went electronic.  The neat thing about that was that I could correct mistakes without anyone noticing it, they were available 24/7 for anyone who wanted them, they could be used directly with students or other colleagues, and you could still snag the resources if you were unable to attend.  All of these were a big win for me.

The resources, since they were available freely on the web, were available to anyone who needed them.  (To use or make fun of…)  It was nice to run into people at conferences who indicated that they had used things.  It was a great opportunity for sharing.  Perhaps one of the neater things was to be noticed by Education World and be part of this article – “Unique Resource Sites for Educators“.

In fact, it got to the point where I put everything online.  It was there for the taking.  Actually, the stuff is still there, if you know how to get to it although some of it is in dire need of updating.   I don’t have access anymore so it won’t.  But, I did manage to take a copy of the content and put the relevant things online at this Google Site and my PD Wiki.  I think of all the efforts that were put into supporting report card implementation and was quite happy to NOT include it.  I had even created a Google Custom Search to look through all the resources to find something!

Quite frankly, most of my learning these days gets archived either here on the blog or in my Diigo account.  Packrati.us has been my best of friends to streamline things.

One of the things that we know about effective learning is that it’s most powerful when you teach others.  These were the tools that I used and there’s nothing like creating a resource to make you know your topic inside and out.  Many of my learning friends created their own wiki(s) or Google site(s) to customise it for their purposes.

Their resources are available 24/7 as well.  Isn’t it great when we can all learn and share together?

Minds on Media at #BIT14


A very unique, Ontario founded learning opportunity is available for those coming to the Bring IT, Together conference in Niagara Falls.

You have to experience it at least once to understand just what’s happening.  It’s not quite workshop – for that, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It’s not quite unconference because there is a formal structure to it.  It sure isn’t “sit ‘n git”.

It’s the best model of the learner in charge of the learning that I can imagine at present.  Imagine a room with centres managed by people very comfortable with a particular piece of technology or pedagogy and you just walk over and plop yourself down.  You’ll be asked “What do you want to learn today?”  That starts the process, the conversations, and the learning.

The model is the brain child of Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen.  They’ve taken Minds on Media to places all over the province and have become a fixture at the annual conference for Ontario computer using educators.  I’ve had the honour of championing a station on a couple of occasions and was a pedagogista at another.  The model respects your prior learning and supports any additional learning that you may need to fill in the cracks or to extend your understandings.

A couple of years ago, I had the chance to interview Brenda and Peter about Minds on Media.  You can read that interview here.

No two Minds on Media sessions are the same.  Brenda and Peter gauge the burning issues in education and fill the needs with Ontario classroom folks who share their experience and expertise.  They’re also ready to extend their own understanding by participants asking the tough questions!

This year, at the Bring IT, Together Conference, you have the opportunity to learn along with…

Student Learning with 3D Printers Heather Durnin
Playing with Programming: Coding for Younger Students Peter McAsh
Frames5: How can you use it across the curriculum? Karen Kelly-Miller
Get Filming with your phone, iPad or Camera! Jose Martinez
3-D Printing Heidi Siwak
Make Your Old Stuff Work! David Scott
Turtle Art Artemis Papert and Brian Silverman
105theHive.org – K12 Student Internet Radio Andy Forgrave and Kim Gill
Tinkering and Making Cathy Beach
Minecraft in the Classroom Jen Apgar
Getting Googly (Using Google Apps for Education Effectively) Marcia Piquette
Working with Microsoft Office 365 Kate Taylor
Game-based Learning Adele Stanford and Derek Walker

Select this session for your Wednesday, bring your own equipment, and get ready for an absolutely full day of hands-on learning.

Effective Professional Learning


I like a good challenge.

Stephen Hurley threw out one yesterday in the VOICED.CA blog.  His post was titled “Effective Professional Learning – A New Topic For Discussion“.  So, I’ll throw in my two cents worth.  Thanks for the challenge, Stephen.

I actually shared my thoughts about this at edcampSWO/edcampLondon last year and at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation Minds on Media session in Markham this summer.  The talk was called “The Best PD”.

I framed my thoughts by going in the other direction.  What was the least effective professional learning experience?  That was actually an easier topic to address.  I have so many visions of presenters who have little vested in my learning.

Their sessions were filled with comments like:

  • “I got this Powerpoint from a session I was at.”;
  • “I’m not quite sure what they were talking about but I’m sure it was important”;
  • “They’re the expert in the field.  So, we should blindly adopt their work without question.”

All the while, they’re reading from prepared notes – perhaps even the speaking notes from the borrowed Powerpoint – and visibly trembling because they are just not sure of the topic or what’s coming next.  And hoping that nobody asks questions!

Let’s flip the perspective and get back to Stephen’s challenge.

It’s everything BUT this!

For me, the blogging model describes some of the best professional learning I’ve experienced.

  • I’m there learning by choice;
  • I can take a long time to learn or a short time depending upon my needs;
  • I can bookmark the learning and revisit it if necessary.  It doesn’t have to be a one-time event;
  • I can compare one person’s interpretation with another and draw my own conclusions;
  • The author has done her/his research and is speaking from personal experience;
  • The author conveys his/her enthusiasm and passion from the topic.  (Bonus points for pictures, videos, screen captures of the topic in actual action);
  • I can interact with the author via comments – if I want more clarification, I can get it;
  • There are links to additional resources to extend the learning;
  • I’m inspired to change my practice or my thoughts because I see the value for me;
  • and, most importantly, I can expand my network of learners by making contact with others who are engaged at the blog and presumably have the same interest in the topic.

If I think about these points, I can completely understand why I take away great learning at a conference, at an edcamp, at a coffee shop, or during a break at one of those least effective events.

Wouldn’t the blogging model go a long way to support learning for all?