A Digital Citizenship Resource from Edmodo


Online savvy educators incorporate solid digital citizenship activities into their classroom and activities on a regular basis. 

But, what of the newly connected educators wanting to do the right thing.  Or, perhaps you’re using things wisely but are also interested in new resources or activities to breathe some new excitement into the topic.  Edmodo, in partnership with Common Sense Media has made available a “Digital Citizenship Starter Kit”.

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This is a nicely packaged teaching resource that includes not only the kit but digital citizenship teaching modules.

You’ll need an Edmodo account in order to access the material but once you do, you have access to a poster and lessons surrounding privacy, copyright, and citizenship.

I think that these resources will serve a great purpose in the connected classroom concerned about the teaching of these issues.  Your use might also spur colleagues to get on board. 

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/

The Speed of Social Media


An article was the topic of a number of discussions this weekend around here.  My daughter had shared it with me and I can only respond with “Sickening”.  You can read the story here.

How rumour, innuendo turned a man’s death into a double tragedy

I think that anyone in education lies in dread that something like this could happen to them.

It isn’t helpful to discuss the details or the response by the employer in this venue.  

Instead, I think that one sentence stands out from the article for me.

Correcting the record has been difficult – it’s hard to compete with the Internet – so she and her family decided to speak out.

We talk about teaching internet literacy, the importance of critical thinking to validate statements.  We talk about your digital footprint and how it’s so difficult to correct, edit, or delete anything that has gone wrong.

But, are we truly teaching it?  Information shared, is shared quickly.  We smile at some of the things that go viral.  That’s the up side.

There is another side.

This should serve as a call to action for education.

Two things:

  • Is your digital footprint saying what you want it to say?
  • Are you guilty of spreading rumours that aren’t based in fact?

What are you going to do about it?

News and Weather


There was a great deal of hubbub yesterday when word got out that Google had released a copy of its News and Weather Application for iOS.  It had been previously available for those who use the Android system.  I gave it a download to see what it looked like on iOS.

I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised when, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, … but other than the default dark display install of the familiar white of the Android, it looks and functions exactly the same way.  In fact, the first thing I did was go to the menu and add “Education” as a category.  Now both versions should pick up the same content.

But other than that I was off to the races.  Of course, location is important when you’re looking for the weather and there was no issue quickly picking up me at home.  A quick change of location and you’re pulling in the weather from wherever you want.

Like good news reading applications, a collection of “Top Stories” occupies the home for the application.

Tapping the now familiar hamburger menu lets you see the default news categories.  There is a nice selection to get started – World, Canada, Business, Technology, Entertainment, Sports, Science, Health, and of course the local stories from Amherstburg and Windsor.  Amherstburg just doesn’t have a whole lot to report so the application appears to pull in stories from around the country to fill.

With each story, a down arrow exposes related stories which is a very nice feature.  Once you’re done with the top stories, swipe left and right to work your way through your defined categories.

Clicking on a story takes you directly to the story.  There’s a navigation bar at top that will bring you back to the application.  Therein lies a problem for sharers.  Unlike other reading/sharing programs that connect directly to Twitter or Facebook, News and Weather doesn’t.  Fortunately, in this day and age, most sources have a way to use social media on their website.  The problem is that there’s no consistent way to access it.  It would be nice to have a native sharing button.

The layout is clean and you know that with Google who is already indexing things anyway, you’ll get relevant and fresh content.  For those on the iOS platform looking for a reader, I’d suggest downloading it and seeing if it has a home on your device.

Android Download

iOS Download

Google Forms Really Mature


I’ve been a user of Google Forms forever, it seems.  They’re a great way to collect opinions, quick testing, gathering observations, going paperless, …  Entries come in with a timestamp and you can ask for identifying information or just keep it random.  Things are done at the user keyboard and I think that, properly done, it’s one of the better electronic activities that you can use right in your classroom.

There are a couple of really neat features that you can use to make your work look and act even more professionally.  Google continues to work at their offerings to make them mature and just add additional functionality.

Themes

Of course, there’s nothing better than a great looking form.  But, don’t stick to the boring default – choose a cool theme.  Select “Change Theme” from the menu bar and select from some looks that range from fun to professional looking.

Even the best theme can sometimes use a little tweak!

Within each theme (or the blank default), select the “Customise” option and change to your hearts content!

Once you have the perfect customised theme, you may not want to use it just once.  In fact, you may have a theme that you’d like to use consistently throughout that class or that subject area.  

Copy and apply that perfect theme to your new form!  With a background or header image, you can have a consistent display (or even class messages) that appear every time you use that theme.  Lots of ideas can be incorporated.

Mix It Up (but not too much)

Now, I don’t want to say that I went to school with a bunch of cheaters, but I can remember paper tests that were labelled “Test A” and “Test B” and even duplicated on different coloured paper.  They were distributed such that even if you decided to take a peek at the person beside you the questions, while the same, were in a different order.  That functionality is available for your Google Form.  Of course, you could create two separate forms – but that’s old school!  This is 2014.

Just click the “Shuffle question order” and each visitor to the form will have their questions shuffled.  You’ve got to like that.

While you’re at it – there may be people trying to “game” your form by submitting multiple copies of it.  Supposed you’re doing a little quiz and you don’t want to take the best results for an individual making multiples in the hopes of getting one that’s right!  If they have and are logged into a Google account, check “Only allow one response per person”.

If you’re a Google Forms user, check out these features.  Your forms will look, and work, awesomely.

You’ll look like the professional you are with these features.

Reblog – A Sign for Trustees


Some Twitter posts from yesterday made me smile…

But the value added by Lorna Costantini…

…had me going back and reading my original post.

I can’t believe that I posted it over a month ago.  How time flies.  Now that candidate nominations are closed, we have a LOT of people running locally, including one running for mayor who wanted to withdraw but wasn’t allowed to!

It just takes a tour through our town (or any town in the province, for that matter) to see all of the signage up for display.  I remember my father telling me the difference in importance between a sign on someone’s lawn versus a sign placed on public property.  I’ve always wondered about the value of lawn signs, certainly I’ve never been persuaded by someone’s names.  These days, I now look for choice of font and sign design, balance, colour, …  (such a nerd)  I supposed that the biggest takeaway would be the sheer numbers of individual signs as either a straw poll for popularity or the amount of money that someone has committed to getting elected.  I will admit that I do appreciate someone who takes the time to make sure that the sign is level.

For probably the week after the election, the lawn signs will still be there, but they’ll eventually get taken down and hopefully recycled.  During the election campaign, there will be many candidates who turn to social and electronic media to reach out to folks.  My original post talked about the use of technology during election campaigns and I tried to argue the case that lawn signs have a limited life and could be recycled.  Social media presence has the ability to live on after the election.

I still stand by my comments; maybe I’m even more committed to them.  But, I think the post was way too early.  It’s just now that we’re seeing the influx of signs and social media presence.  To that end, I’d like to bring the post forward and ask that it not be applied to just trustees but to all that are running for election.  Just change “school” to whatever institution applies.

Here’s the original post.


Jaimie and I were out for our morning walk and we saw a red and white election campaign sign on a neighbour’s lawn.  We thought – hmmm, a politician who wants to align themselves with the Liberal Party.  As we got closer, it turned out to be a sign for a candidate for the local Catholic School Board.

For my non-Ontario readers, a quick briefing.

In Ontario, we have three major political parties:

and a collection of other parties.

We also have four publicly funded school boards.

  • English Language Public School System
  • French Language Public School System
  • English Language Catholic School System
  • French Language Catholic School System

In addition, each municipality has a mayor, perhaps a deputy mayor, and councillors that are elected every four years.  School board trustees are elected at the same time.  Social media made for some interesting moments at a previous election when people started to take pictures and send a copy of their ballot out on Twitter.

It’s interesting how social media permeates so many of the things in our society.  During the last municipal elections around here, the buzzwords were “transparency” and “openness”.  Even though our community retains the fame (and signs) of being the Safest Community in Canada, there have been issues that have arisen that I’m sure will result in a higher than normal turnout of voters.  So, it seems to me that it’s more important than even for candidates for the school boards to be very visible.

During the last municipal elections, many turned to social media.  I thought, at the time, this was a great idea.  It’s free – but a blog, or Facebook presence, or Twitter presence would raise the visibility of candidates.  I actually started a list of candidates on Twitter and followed the discussion about the election and their thoughts on education.

Then, the election was over.  Down came the lawn signs and the efforts to talk about issues on social media.  To be fair, there are still three local trustees that maintain a presence and do interact on social media.  But, from my perspective, that’s about it.

I wish I could properly attribute this quote but it’s stuck with me.  “The Primary Goal of any Politician, once elected, is to get Re-elected”.

As we walked by the lawn sign, we mused that it will be up for a couple of months and then taken down.  Similarly, how many social media accounts will do the same?

When you think of the things that could be done…

  • promote events at your representative schools;
  • check-in when you do school related activities;
  • share your rationale for school board votes;
  • share pictures of educational events;
  • promote the cause of school/district initiatives (Green Schools, etc.);
  • support fundraising activities;

In fact, here are a bunch of reasons why you should tweet.

Doesn’t it make sense to develop an educational digital footprint, care and feed it during the campaign, and then continue after the election?  Your constituency won’t learn about you from a random lawn sign; through social media, they’ll know your record, your successes, your passions, your dedication….

How We’re Connected


It’s no secret that I love exploring with maps.  I think it can be the ultimate infographic! 

If you spend a lot of time exploring a map, there are so many great stories behind it.

This resource is just plain fascinating.  It’s called “Greg’s Cable Map“.

The map, created in Google Maps, shows under water cable connections, current and future. 

Navigate the map by mousing over a cable and the name and details of the cable appear at the bottom of your display.  On the right, click on the name of the specific connection for details and further links.  There is a caution that the details may not be completely accurate in location.  That’s completely understandable.

If you want to take the politics out of things, switch from the basic map to a satellite representation.

I’ll bet that you’ll find yourself being a connected global navigator in no time at all.  Of course, it makes for wonderful classroom discussion!