Category Archives: learning

A Tecumseh Trip


Last weekend, we returned from up north and a class reunion.  We’ve made this trip so many times and it doesn’t make any difference what route we take; it always seems to take the same length of time.  Usually, it’s a race to get home but this Sunday was different.  The dog was boarded and we couldn’t pick him up from the Hound Dog Hilton until Monday so there was no real rush.

As we entered Kent County, we saw the familiar signage for the Tecumseh Parkway.  It didn’t take long to say forget the 401; let’s run the Parkway and see the sights.  We’ve stopped at the Tecumseh Monument and the Fairfield Museum in the past but it was a quick stop en route to our destination.

The Parkway follows the Thames River which is absolutely not a straight river.  Throughout the drive, there were “pull offs” where you could stop and read information about the history that happened at/near the spot.  It was fascinating.

When I got home, I decided to do some research and found the wonderful site linked above. 

But there was another incredible resource.  I think that we’ve all seen the use of Google Maps on websites to document locations.  But, I’ll bet that you’ve never seen anything this detailed and inclusive.

Notice all the pin drops.  What a monumental task!

I could kick myself for not having this preloaded on my phone to help with our drive.  This really is a great example of history meeting modern technology.

I’m also thinking that his is a perfect exemplar in the classroom.  Certainly, it’s a great resource for the War of 1812.  But I know that many people use Google maps to document their community or to show historical events. 

Why not use this as a model and an inspiration for inclusion and detail?

A Block Graphic Calculator


Calculators have come a long way since the first ones that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide.  Now, for a modest cost, it’s possible to purchase a graphing calculator.  Or, with your computer, you can put a free one in your browser.  i.e. Desmos Graphing Calculator

But there’s another interesting option.

Many classrooms are introducing students to programming using any one of a variety of block programming languages.  It seems to me that a natural progression would be a block graphing calculator.  And, there is one at the Blockly site.

Choose from a toolbox that includes:

Math

Variables

and Logic

If your students are familiar with a block programming language, the technique is similar.  Just drag the components out to the workplace, lock them together, add any necessary parameters, and you’re done.

Results are immediately displayed in the graphing window.  Move your cursor over any part of your graph to display the x and y co-ordinates.

The interface is clear and easy to navigate.  I think this is a definite keeper.  It’s positioned as a nice transition between block programming and a full-blown graphic calculator with all of its distracting bells and whistles.

Hunting for Code


At the CSTA Conference, Alfred Thompson sent this Twitter message.

Later, he blogged about his thoughts……My Big Learning at CSTA 2014 Day 1–Not From A Session

Based on his first quote, I headed over to the Code Hunt site and started poking around.  It’s very intriguing.  If you follow the link and end up at the CSTA contest, you’ll find that it’s closed.  If that’s the case, click on “Change Zone” and navigate away.

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You have your choice to play in Java or C#. 

The game boils down to this…you’re given a section of code and output table. 

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“All” you have to do is look at the code that you’re given and modify it so that the expected result is the same as your result (based upon modifying the code).

It was great fun.  You log in with a Microsoft or Yahoo! ID so that your attempts are captured.  It’s addictive.  I dropped by their booth, talked with the Microsoft folks and got a first hand demo.  In addition to the puzzles that they present (and there are lots of them), teachers can create their own for their class.

How’d I do?  Well, quite frankly, I wasn’t eligible since the instructions indicated that you had to be from one of the 50 states so that put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm at the moment.  There were a lot of really sharp people at the conference so I wouldn’t have stood a chance anyway had I been eligible.

Regardless, if you’re a Computer Science teacher or a programmer in a bit of a challenge for yourself or friends, make sure you check it out.

The TechCorps


One of the really bizarre things is that, while the use of technology is omnipresent (and growing), the number of students taking Computer Science courses is actually decreasing.  As a Computer Science educator, that really concerns me.

Ultimately, it will mean that the end user has a smaller and smaller impact on the direction technology takes.  You experience it now.  Install a new piece of software or upgrade some and you’re presented with terms and conditions and privacy invasions written by someone else.  Your choice?  Take it or leave it.  Wouldn’t it be better if we actually knew the implications completely and, in some cases, write our own application rather than conceding rights to someone else?

I know it’s probably unrealistic but I don’t think that we can overlook the need for education so that students know about these things and have the skills and knowledge to make intelligent decisions about their use.

At the Computer Science Teachers Association Conference, one of the sessions that I proctored was “CS Education for Early Learners (Techie Club)” and I had the honour of meeting Aung Nay and Lisa Chambers from Tech Corps.

Tech Corps is a non-profit whose goal is to hack away at the problem of getting young students involved in Computer Science through Techie Camps and Techie Clubs.  It’s a marriage between students and community volunteers to provide the opportunity and insights into Computer Science.  Both Aung and Lisa spoke with a passion for their project.  It’s limited in location right now but it’s worth check out their goals and what they offer.  http://hadron.techcorps.org/  

This is an initiative that needs to grow.  It’s good for kids; it’s good for the community; it’s good for Computer Science.

Some statements from their website…

What We Know

  • Computing careers consistently rank among the top 10 fastest growing occupations in the US. The US Dept of Labor estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings. At current rates, however, we can only fill about 30% of those jobs with US computing bachelor’s grads.
  • As the role and significance of technology has grown, the teaching of computer science in K-12 has faded. Since 2005, the number of US high schools offering rigorous computer science courses has fallen from 40% to 27%.
  • Today’s students are the most tech-savvy generation ever, yet many have no interest in technology-related degrees or careers. 96% of teens reported “liking” or “loving” technology but just 18% indicate an interest in pursuing a technology career.
  • Girls, African-American and Hispanic students are avid users of technology, but they are significantly underrepresented in its creation. In 2008, women held 57% of all professional occupations in the US workforce but only 25% of all professional IT-related jobs.

These things should concern us all.

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?

Mistakes to Action


I follow The Daily Post as inspiration/ideas for blogging.  There was one idea that I hung on to because I’m sure that I could have used it as the basis for a post.  This bit of inspiration was called “My Favorite Mistake“.

As I write this, I’m getting ready for the CSTA Conference.  Two great days with Computer Science educators and this mistake memory brought back a memory of my own.

It wasn’t really a mistake; it just should have been!

Here’s my story.  It was years ago.  I sat next to a good friend who was a wizard working with Microsoft Access and publishing it to the web.  He had a database of resources and had written a front end webpage that allowed anyone who visited his website to query the database and get the results.  I was looking over his shoulder and got the gist of it.

His front end was an Active Server Page and I’d never written one seriously.  I had composed a simple one in Dreamweaver just to prove that I could.  He was writing his in Notepad and his rationale was that it was only writing that way that you truly knew how ASP worked.  It made sense to me.

Eventually, we went our separate ways and my learning started to fade. 

At the time, I was heavily into collecting WebQuests and tying their use to the Ontario Curriculum.  It started simply with just a table with a descriptor, grade and expectation, and a link to the WebQuest.  As the collection grew, so did the length of this silly webpage.  Then it dawned on me. 

There’s a better way to do this – put the information into a database and write the code to query it.  After all, I’d seen it in action already.

Creating the database was easy.  I fired up Notepad and started to write the front end that would query it.  It was at this point that I regretted not paying more attention earlier and/or taking notes.  Or, I should take a course in ASP.  Or, at least do a tutorial.

That would require more work than what I wanted at the time.  So, I just kept at it.

I was –> <– this close to having it work just the way I wanted it.  But, for the life of me, I couldn’t get it done.  If you’re a programmer, you know that there comes a time when you get punchy.  I was at that point.  I tried one change that looked goofy, and I expected the worst.  This would be my mistake.  Maybe I could learn something?

Well, you know the point of this post.  I’ll be darned if the doors didn’t open, light shone through, and my WebQuest Locator worked.  Perfectly!  (Not pretty, but that would come later)  I posted everything and asked a few friends to try to break it.  They couldn’t but liked the way that they could get what they wanted.  I was outrageously happy.  I’ll call that my Favourite Mistake!

I did give in and bought a couple of books to work through and try to understand just what I’d done.

How about you programmers out there?  Any mistakes that worked that you’d care to share?

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?

Google’s Smarty Pins


OK, so if you have all the information in the world and all the maps in the world, what more could you do it with beyond driving instructions and all the things that we’ve come to expect from Google Maps?

Why make a trivia game from it.

That’s what’s Google has done with the latest release – Smarty Pins.

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Start with a pot pourri of topics or choose from a category…

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… and you’re good to know, er, go.

You know how much I enjoy mapping so you can only imagine how much time I wasted, er, invested with this thing.

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You’re given a clue and about 1,600 km allowance for being close.  Decode the clue and drop the pin on the spot you’ve understood from the clue.  Seems simple enough, right?  Did I mention that there’s a countdown timer, just to make it interesting?

As with any trivia game, some clues are easy and some are a bit of a challenge.  If you’re ready to forgo your bonus, you can ask for another clue.

I found it taxing my levels of trivia understanding.  As I mentioned above, some were easy and some, well, I just didn’t have a clue.  Even after getting the extra clue.

Through brutal force and a need to find out what happens when you actually win a game, I eventually succeeded.

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I am under no illusion that I’ve mastered this.  It’s well bookmarked and sure to be a source of entertainment for a long time to come.

Labelling America


On Canada Day, there was a really nice selection of Canadiana articles to read.  I shared some of them and just enjoyed the rest.  One of the articles that brought a chuckle here was “Here’s What Happens When Americans Try To Label The Country Of Canada“.

Now, I think it’s extremely important to remember the sampling source as you enjoy this.  But it’s still fun to read and feel a bit smug.

But what if the tables were turned?  What happens when Canadians are asked to label US States? 

I was sure that there would be a lot of online quizzes to aid in the research. 

So, I did what any self-respecting digital person would do – I did a Google search and my suspicions were confirmed.  There were all kinds of results.  It makes sense – it would be relatively easy to write and evaluate because the answers would either be right or wrong.

The first one that I got was from Sporcle, and located here.

Now, just a bit of background.  I do recall the mind numbing experience of having to memorize state and province names while in elementary school.  I also recall having to memorize the townships in my county, although if you’re from Huron County, you know that Goderich and Hullett are the only ones that count…

So, I played the quiz and my impressive results are shown below.  I will admit to panicking a bit as I got to 48.  I knew that the last two would be Hawaii and Alaska but they weren’t on the screen.  Then, digital wisdom kicked in – scroll down, dummy.

Here’s my results.

Now, a couple of things about the quiz…

All that you need to know are the names of the states.  The software floats the names into place for you.  That makes it helpful because the New England states are kind of small on the map…  And, you need to know how to spell.  I felt pretty good being able to spell Massachusetts although you could have caught me sounding it out and typing with my fingers crossed.  The quiz has a timer which I always find unnerving but I suppose that just adds to the fun.

So, thanks to my elementary teachers and a lifelong enjoyment of country music, I was able to nail it.  (I don’t think you can easily fudge it).

You have 10 minutes.  Go!

Give it a shot – how did you do?

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.