This Week in Ontario Edublogs


I’ve got to start this post with a big round of appreciation to Aviva Dunsiger.  Even though she lives 4 hours from me, she knows my blogging habits.  When a post didn’t go through yesterday, she knew it immediately and let me know.  I had to do some work – for some reason WordPress always goes to April in the Chrome browser.  I still don’t know why.  I’m back home to Firefox to write this post so I’m hoping that there are no glitches.  In the meantime, check out Aviva’s blog – she’s always good for an interesting post and you’ve probably seen many references to her blog from mine.

On to some of the good stuff this week from Ontario Edubloggers.


Life in Uganda

There’s a lot being said about Visible Thinking these days.  In this post, Jaclyn shares some of the questions that her class are asking about Uganda to phrase their thinking and research.

Often, we see this sort of thing at the end of the activity.  By placing it up front, students have them at home and at school for reference, parents see what’s happening and it’s bound to make the thinking deeper.


Singing the Homework Blues

Could there be anything that says “back to school” more than worrying about homework – whether as a teacher or a parent?

It’s a tough topic.  If you’re doing any reading about homework, you’ve probably noticed the discussion around the value of it.  In fact, there are some districts that are banning it altogether.

I remember, as a student, having to spend an hour after school in my room “doing homework”.  I recall a variety of activities like writing, colouring, drawing, or my favourite – doing mathematics.  Now that I’m blogging, I wish that I’d paid more attention to writing – I keep getting nailed as a passive writer.  Grrr.

After supper, I had to go back to my room for another hour.  This time, it was to practice playing the guitar.  We were paying for the lessons and I guess my parents were determined to get their money worth.  It probably worked – playing the steel guitar, I’ve known more Hawaiian or Country & Western songs than any student should have to.

As I think about it, the guitar and most of the homework was painstaking practice and repetition.  You’ve got to love the drill and kill – not!  But the fun was in finding a new way to solve a problem or to create a new song on the guitar.  That stuck with me.  As a new teacher, I thought that I had to assign homework.  I can’t remember what was the most useless activity; taking it up or going around checking to see who had done it and who hadn’t.  Later, I ditched the drill homework.  I had subscribed to “Games” magazine and used it as inspiration to give puzzles for homework instead.  Immediately, there was an uptake in doing these puzzles and coming to class on time was a priority since that’s when we solved the puzzle as a class.  And, when you peel back the onion, what’s computer science if not solving puzzles?


Making My Thinking Visible…the MMM Goes Public!

Donna Fry gave me a heads-up on this new blog.  I’ll be honest; I don’t even know who the author is but the first post is interesting.

At first blush, I think it goes beyond just making the thinking visible.

It’s about making the leadership visible.

It definitely goes out on a limb.  Everyone gets a chance to see the message and respond to it.

I wonder why more leaders don’t do this.  (Actually, I know the answer to that and I’m sure that you do too.)


GBL beyond Minecraft

When I read the title to Diana Maliszewski’s post, I thought that maybe she was going to talk about the recent Microsoft acquisition but, in fact, it turned out to be about Bop It!

I’d never heard of this before but really enjoyed Diana’s description about how she’s been using it.

If you’re teaching Drama and Dance, you might just want to check this out.

It sounds like fun.  I wish I was in this class.  I wonder if Diana will bring it to the BIT Conference for a little more social fun.


What a great collection of shared learnings from Ontario Educators this week. Please check out the original posts and all of the work from the Ontario group. There’s always something exciting happening.

Open Source Whiteboard Software


Recently, I downloaded the Open-Sankore software.  I needed a piece of software to do some drawing and got way, way more than I expected. 

I think that I went well over the top when I read that the software was the same and worked the same on Macintosh, Windows, and Linux.  You don’t see that range of support often.

Upon installation on Linux, I immediately was curious as to support for my Wacom Bamboo tablet.  I wasn’t disappointed. Everything worked as you would expect.  No configuration or extra drivers to install.  It just worked. I wish that I had other equipment to try it on and test their claims of compatibility.

The software is so intuitive.  If you’ve ever used any other type of whiteboard software, you’ll pick this up immediately.

I was impressed trying the application on different computers.  It goes full screen and you wouldn’t know what computer platform you’re working on.  To me, that’s the sort of transparency that we can appreciate.

The tools and tool sets are really obvious.  Pick a tool, pick a colour, and go to it.  Speaking of tools, the toolbar can be moved to the top or bottom of the screen.  They recommend the bottom for whiteboards.

Projects can have multiple pages.  Add a place and title it in the left panel. 

The installation comes with a big collection of resources for creating your multi-media document.

Nothing is proprietary to the software.  If your computer can play it, Open-Sankore can play it.  So, include audio, movies, or graphic images with easy.  Can’t find it in their collection – facility is there to search for it on the internet.

Objects are dragged onto the workspace where resizing, rotating, etc. are all well defined in the frame around the object.

Selection of language was a bit inconsistent. 

The software has its roots based in the French language.  Even though I was able to change the language and restart in English, there were still a few elements that remained in French.  But, I’ll be honest.  The iconage and the display was so graphically intuitive, I didn’t really notice until I started to write this post and give it a thorough test.

I’ve worked with a number of whiteboard software in the past and so there was really no big learning curve digging into this one.  In any classroom, this will be a welcome addition.  It will be really welcomed to a classroom where students bring their own laptops and you’re looking for software like this for presentation, displays, and just plain creativity fun.

Networked News


About 3am this morning, the dog was up.  I think he wanted to go outside to see if he could see the Aurora Borealis.  As I returned to go back to bed, I checked my iPad.  There was a message there from my friend Allison about the overnight event in Clinton.  I couldn’t ignore it and so started to read.

I flipped on the television and scrolled through the 24 hour news channels, looking for details.

Nothing.

And yet, online, there were reports from the local media – CKNX, CFPL, Blackburn News, and some I’d never heard of.  The story was still early but what details were available were being reported.  In our Clinton group on Facebook, people were aggregating news reports as they happened.  As it turns out, Twitter is serving as an excellent aggregator of the news, once you filter out the references to other “Clintons”.

This morning, the local stations had provided more details.  I did turn to our national news stations and there were no reports at all.  It’s like it didn’t happen.  The closest that I could find news was on Canoe.  As a former resident, I was so anxious for details.

As I sit here fidgeting for details, I think of traditional news media.  I remember Walter Cronkite as “the most trusted man in America“.  I recall watching the daily news read from the likes of Knowlton Nash, Peter Mansbridge, Lloyd Robertson in the evening.  These news shows had a definite starting and ending times with the contented carefully edited to fit in between.  They really weren’t about reporting news as it happened; they were entrusted to provide us with a summary of the day’s news.

News coverage has certainly changed.  Yes, we still have the nightly news summaries but most news sources now have their own 24 hour news channels.  For me, in this case, for the most part, the traditional media dropped the ball.  As I sat there anxiously flipping through channels looking for news, I saw repeats of previous newscasts as well as stories that could best be described as infotainment.  The best news reports were online.

Is this a message for the big, traditional news organizations?  What happens when you’re bested by smaller, more nimble news sources?

This certainly has not been a good week for humanity.  What news that was on was focused on much that was in the headlines. This is now old news.

There is a learning theory about connectivism that I’ve totally bought in to from my experiences and needs.  From Wikipedia (1)- “As Downes states: “at its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks”.

I think this describes perfectly what I was experiencing.  When I worked with Allison, we had a wonderful network of co-learners and we shared so much.  She continues in that vein.  Her efforts led me to a network of connections that I would never have known otherwise.  They were providing the best of the learning that was available at the time.  For that, I’m so grateful.  As I write this, I’m still so concerned about what is happening and am continually monitoring resources.

(1) Reference:  “Connectivism.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Later on – it’s now later than the original post – the story seems to be covered by all the major Canadian news sources.  Details are still sketchy.

Encouraging Girls


We’d like to think that the sky is the limit for all students.  But is it?

Career Girls is an online resource to help girls, and their teachers, explore options for the future.

Various advocacy groups will have sections on their internet presence devoted to a specific subject area or discipline.

What I like about Career Girls is that it has a wide variety of career options.  If the goal is to explore various options for the future, this needs to be added to the list of resources.

In addition to teacher resources, the site is bound to engage today’s connected young ladies.  From a pull-down menu, the student selects a profession.  Each profession is described via video.

Sadly, at the time that I visited, there wasn’t a section devoted to becoming a computer programmer.  Hopefully, that will be added as the site grows.

A New Start with Education


I had lunch yesterday with Charlie Wright (@cerwright on Twitter).  Charlie is the deputy mayor of Leamington.  Leamington certainly has been in the news in the recent past with the announcement that the 100 year old Heinz facility was being closed.  Reports are that 740 jobs in that industry would be lost.

The recent good news is that the plant will be assumed by Highbury Canco and that it would require 250 people for its operations.

As could be imagined, such a big hit to any community the size of Leamington (~30 000) would have a huge impact on the community.  Not only is the impact felt by those who worked in the plant, a Leamington institution for as long as I can remember, but for the farming community and the retailers throughout the town.

If those jobs are gone, what can you as a community do?

You would hope that education might provide an answer.

Another problem is that Leamington isn’t easily accessible to Windsor or Chatham, the two closest places with educational opportunities with St. Clair College and/or the University of Windsor.  It’s about a 45 minute drive to either location.

You might that a distance education solution would be appropriate but, in this case, it’s not viable.  So, if you can’t get to the mountain, bring the mountain there.

In partnership with St. Clair College, the town has made an educational arrangement that could be very helpful.

St. Clair College will be physically coming to town and offering a diploma program in Business Computing Applications.  The program, composed of 10 courses will be offered in the evenings from 6-9:30 over the course of the year.  Topics include accounting, computing applications, and more.  The logic is to provide a program of marketable skills for a movement into other industries.

Apparently, there is also an interest from existing businesses to upgrade the skills of other employees.

If you check Charlie’s Twitter timeline, you’ll see that he’s been busy going from door to door promoting this offering.

This provides a unique opportunity for those affected to take control over their careers and their learning at this difficult time.

I hope that enough of the residents see this as a solution and take advantage of it.

Data Spoils a Good Walk


I know, not original, Doug.

Golf is a good walk spoiled.- Mark Twain

But, it’s still an appropriate spinoff.

Today’s the day for Apple’s latest, big event.  The internet is alive with stories and speculations about what might be announced.  I’ve been watching, with amusement, the content from the big Apple fanboys and girls.  It goes even so far as to making indications about what they’re going to buy – even before it’s announced???

Anyway, one of the speculated new devices is the iWatch.  So, it just seems appropriate that today is the day to write a blog post about my birthday present.

My daughter demanded that I blog about it so here goes…  For you, Weaze.

Four years ago, we adopted the world’s best pet.  Ever since Jaimie came home, my walking patterns have changed dramatically.  I’ve gone from a nice stroll down the block to three power walks a day.

“I always crash after a good walk”

A while ago, my friend @sadone told me about an app that I could install on my phone that would count the number of steps I take in a day.  So, Noom Walk was installed and, at the end of the day, it was with curiosity that I would check the number of steps made.  I double the count and that’s Jaimie’s score for the day.  Doug’s advice to me was that I should take 10 000 (20 000 dog steps) a day.  It was always a bonus when that happened.

Mid-August was my birthday and the kids all chipped in to buy me a Fitbit Flex.  Essentially, it’s this rubber device that you wear on your wrist and it counts steps and, if you configure it properly, you can have it monitor your sleeping patterns.  There’s no digital display – it has five LEDs that let you know your progress towards your daily goal of steps.  I configured it for 10 000 steps and so each LED lights up at 2 000.  The band syncs with a computer or smartphone via bluetooth.  I started syncing to my laptop but switched to the phone which seems somehow more convenient.

A green one?  Of course.  You were expecting some other colour?

I’m coming up to about a month of wearing it and here are some of my observations…

  • It’s easier to hit 10 000 than on the phone.  I put the Fitbit on in the morning and just leave it on.  The phone is only counting when it’s actually in my pocket and I’m (we’re) moving.
  • I haven’t worn a watch in years.  Even before I had a smartphone, there were clocks everywhere and so never had the need.  Now, all computers and smartphones have easily visible time devices.  And yet, even though it’s been years, I must look at my wrist a dozen times a day to see what time it is.  There’s got to be a long lost brain synapse connection somewhere.  It amuses my wife who is constantly asking what time it is just to see me look at my arm.  Grrr.
  • I don’t monitor my sleep.  When I first got the device, I tried it and just found it annoying.  I know that I’m a light sleeper as it is, but this seems to make my sleep habit worse.  It was concerning to note that I was restless 30 times at night.  I now take the device off for bed.
  • I find it interesting to take my phone and the Fitbit for a morning walk when they both start at zero.  At the end of the walk, they never report the same number of steps.  Weird.
  • It’s 4 200 (8 400) steps to the firehall and back.  It’s 2 100 (4 200) steps around the Navy Yard in town.  It’s 3 200 (6 400) steps if I extend the Navy Yard walk to include going up to Sandwich Street by the Tim Horton’s.  I’m now becoming a fountain of even more useless trivia.
  • You can game it by taking longer or shorter steps. I can now confirm that not all steps are equal.  You knew that.  I have quantitative data.
  • The best episode on Pawn Stars was the step counting one where Corey attached his device to a paint can shaker…
  • My interest in walking data has changed.  With Noom Walk, at the end of the day, I’d check in and see how far I walked.  Now, I’m forever tapping to light up the LEDs to see how close to my goal I am.  I’m not sure I like that – it’s ruining a good walk!  But it does help set a goal.  There is a nice feeling to sync and get the congratulatory message that you’ve achieved your goal.

So there you go, Weaze.  Unlike the tie that hangs in the closet, this present has become part of my life and has made some changes to the way I do things.

Interesting Learning with a Couple of Google Tools


Google Maps Gallery was a new resource for me.  It’s a place for organizations to make their maps public.  Why?  Read the reasons why here.

That sounds so good.  I decided to dig into the maps in the gallery just to see what people were posting.  One really caught my interest.  Most of the maps in the collection were in English which intuitively made sense to this English speaker.  But this one didn’t.

Quite clearly, it’s a map of Japan with markers all over it.  But, the description is in another language – presumably Japanese.  (nothing gets by me…)  Mousing over the descriptor reveals a link, I check the link to make sure it’s OK – it points to another Google Map so I click it.  I’m presented with a gallery of three – I check one of the links to dig deeper.

Interesting, but I’m really no closer to understanding the map.

Ah!  Time to Translate. 

I open a new tab, and head to Google Translate.

Back to this tab where I select the text above, copy it, and then over to the new tab with the translation utility open and paste the text into the left pane.

Google Translate immediately confirms that the text is indeed Japanese and then does its best to translate the text and make it appear in the right pane. 

I do listen to the original text by clicking on the speaker icon.  It’s a reminder of what a beautiful language Japanese is even though I didn’t understand anything.

I look to the right pane and read the text.  It’s a reminder that online translations are not entirely perfect but I’m able to read enough to understand the point of the map. 

Stepping back, it never serves to be humbling that I’m able to do all of that on my laptop while sitting in a reclining chair.  No matter your age, think back to an activity in school similar to this.  The best I could remember was working with a piece of French text.  The process was painful.  I can’t help but marvel that today’s students will have these sorts of tools at their fingertips.

In my day, in addition to snowing more, true research and exploration was done in English and limited by the collection in my school’s library or, if I was ambitious and walked downtown, in the public library.  If I really needed another resource and the library had it in a collection elsewhere, I could place an order and it would arrive within a week.  Today, speedy delivery is only limited by bandwidth!

Are these sort of research activities used in your class?  Shouldn’t it be if we want students to be global citizens in the best sense of the words?

Back to the original exploration of the Gallery.  This appears to be a new Google endeavour.  At the time of writing, only a limited number of collections are included.  (The numbering system confuses me.)  But, the collections are of really interesting content.  This will be worth monitoring to see it grow.

Thoughts?