Category Archives: software

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.

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?

Don’t Let The Good Stuff Go Away


As the school year comes to the end, I thought that I would share the post below.  It’s abot one of my favourite blogging utilities – BlogBooker – and how it’s so useful as things wrap up.  It’s a great way to archive a year’s worth of blogging to share with students, parents, post to your classroom wiki – all in the name of backing up and making a record of this year’s work.  Plus, it can serve as inspiration for next year’s blogging efforts.  There’s nothing like a good example.

As it turns out, when I went looking for this post, I’ve mentioned BlogBooker many times.  You can see all the references here.

Here’s the “Post from the Past” that I’d like to bring forward today.  The original post is from June 26, 2013.


This is another “Post From The Past” that is very appropriate given that we’re approaching the end of the school year here in Ontario.  You and/or your students have been blogging all year.  Will you just abandon your efforts?  Or, will you make a copy of it to save, use as an example, email to parents, give to students to keep, or use for any other of a myriad of purposes?

BlogBooker is an awesome service.  It will take the entire contents of your blog (with a little work) and create a PDF file that you can tuck away or otherwise repurpose so that you don’t lose the effort that went into it’s creation.  Here from August 22, 2010 is my post “To do more with your blog“.

Hey, you might even want to turn it into “A Flipping Blog“!

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Yesterday, George Couros asked for a little input through a Twitter message.

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My first reaction what that this might be a step backward in the goal of integrating technology for students.  After all, if you have a blog, why would you want to revert to a newsletter format?  In its simplest format, it could be a paper document that’s sent home to parents.

But then, I started thinking.  There are a lot of reasons why it might be desirable to have a blog in newsletter format.  Some that immediately come to mind are:

  1. Not every parent has internet at home for any of a wide variety of reasons;
  2. The blog might be private with only student access for privacy concerns;
  3. Access to blogs might be blocked at school but the teacher blogs from home;
  4. The principal of the school wishes to have paper generated for whatever reason;
  5. The blog might be part of a project where a culminating document detailing everything is desired;
  6. The blog is reset for a new year or new unit or
  7. You just want a copy of your blog in another format …

Yes, upon further review, I can see where there may be reasons for a blog to be in a different format for a specific use.

I think that the other thing about a solution would be that it needs to be easily re-purposed by a teacher to the differing format.  Typically, blogs have considerable effort in their creation and who has the time for yet another creation?

I then thought about BlogBooker.  I had blogged about its use in the past here.  At that point, I was thinking about using it as a way to create a backup for a blog or a permanent record of thoughts.  I’ve actually used it to create a couple of backups of my entire blog.  It works very easily when I want a book of everything (including the graphics and pictures that I embed in posts) but would it do the trick on a more flexible basis?

The procedure is pretty easy.

  1. Export your blog content from your blog  (it’s in XML format but most people wouldn’t care or need to care about the format);
  2. Upload the content to Blogbooker;
  3. Wait a minute of two;
  4. Download your book in PDF format.

Conceivably that PDF could be filed away for posterity or printed if it absolutely had to be.

But, what about content of a shorter duration?  I never really paid close enough attention when I did the steps above to see if it was customizable.  So, I went through the process and actually paid attention this time.

Now, I use WordPress as my host and so went to my dashboard and the export tool.

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Well, I’ll be.  There are configuration options!  I can set a start and end date.  In terms of the content, I could choose just the posts or all content.  I’m thinking that just the posts would suit my needs best.  Click on the “Download Export File” button and it’s on my hard drive.  That was easy.  The only limitation that I could see was that the export was done month by month.  Probably not a big issue as the newsletter might well be a monthly one.

Now, it’s over to BlogBooker.

Step one is to let BlogBooker know what type of Blog this comes from.  It supports WordPress, Blogger, and LiveJournal.  That’s a good selection.  Then comes the WOW moment.  There are a huge collection of formatting options for the output.  The preferences are customizable for any purpose.  I elected NOT to use “Footnoted Links” because my blog entries have a great deal of links in them.  If the ultimate goal is to send it to a printer, then you’re not going to want each entry on a separate page, I hope.

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Give BlogBooker a few moments and voila!  There’s the nicely formatted book in PDF format that you can download or view right in your browser.  I really like the fact that I could customize further the start/finish dates of the publication and the images are intact.  I really like the concept and it was so simple to do.  Plus, the headers and footers put a nice finishing touch on the whole product.

It even includes pumpkin shirts!

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Thanks, George, for the question and the opportunity for me to revisit this very powerful application.  Thanks, also to Aviva and Peter for keeping the conversation going.

 

The Price of Literacy


I was doing some writing yesterday and just wanted to confirm the appropriate use of a particular piece of punctuation.  It was about the use of an Ellipsis … so I used the Guide to Grammar and Writing to get the job done.

The process was pretty easy.  I just opened another tab, went to my bookmark, found what I needed, and then went back to my writing.

My mind wandered, as it often does, and I thought that this would be a great reference application.  I could be a split-second more productive if I could do my writing on the computer and reference things on the iPad and be oh, so much better.

I immediately dropped my work and headed to the App Store and searched for “punctuation”.

There were lots of results.  But the reference materials came at a price.

Interesting.

The good news is that there was a game to teach punctuation that was free, but it does offer in-app purchases.  We’ve become accustomed to that.  I still was quite surprised that there was no free product available.

How about Android?

Whew!

Does this make Android users more literate than Apple users?  Or, do Android users just need more help?

It was just an interesting observation.  Thankfully, we have our priorities right.  Games are free; educational reference not.  Such is the price of literacy.  

So, folks, pay attention to your English teachers.  Otherwise, it will cost you…

 

I Know Now


Have you ever had one of those things that just bug you and you promise yourself that you’d figure it out some day?

Only you never do?

Sometimes, I think it’s the story of my life.

I’ve been playing this game for a long time.

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It has an interesting animation for its opening screen

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Once opens, it sits here for a second or two.

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Then, you play the game.

The thing is that the letters on this screen always puzzled me.  They never stayed on long enough to pronounce the word but I kept looking at it and remembering the letters every time I played. 

I still didn’t get it.  Were they random letters?  Was it an anagram?

So, I did what I should have done a long time ago.  I searched for it.

Boy, do I ever feel stupid.

Looking Good


Out of the box, most browsers look the same.  Kind of silvery with tabs and it’s only when you start to poke around under the hood that you realize that there’s a big difference.  I’ve always customized my computer – it’s just pleasing rather than having to deal with a boring interface.  Since I spend most of my time in a browser these days, it seems only logical to customize the look of the browser.

There are many themes available for you already created and waiting for you to download and apply them.

One of the things that intrigued me about Opera Next was the menu option right in the browser to create your own theme. 

I’ve always been impressed with this image that was part of a Ubuntu release and have maintained it as my desktop on my computer.  With Opera’s built in “build a theme”, I was able to make it part of my desktop of my browser.

But what about the other browsers?

Well, you could poke around the theme repositories and see if you could find one – or you could roll your own.  Here are a couple that I played around with. 

The applications are essentially extensions to the browser.  Just install them and away you go.  There are others so if you don’t like it, try another.  The goal here is customization.

Canvas for Firefox

Theme Creator for Google Chrome

They both function similarly.  You personalize with images that you upload from your computer and you can adjust the colours for the application.

As I was looking around the already created themes, I notice that there are a great deal of options if you’re a soccer fan and want to show your loyalty via a browser customization.  Editorial Note – lots of Brazil!  If you’re in a school setting, how about a custom school theme with school pictures and colours?  Themes can be shared amongst friends or the whole world, if you’re interested.

I’ll confess – I’m no artist.  Despite my efforts, I couldn’t do better than the themes that I’m currently using.

There’s definitely an element of green there.  It sure beats silver.

Tetris at 30


We’ve certainly come a long way in the development of computers and the software that runs on it.  Nothing hit the mark more for me than a download for my iPad last week.

From Electronic Arts, it was a special 30th anniversary version of Tetris.

Why did this particular application resonate with me?

Early in my teaching career, I had a small group of students who were very passionate about programming.  It didn’t matter what I threw at them, they found a solution and then added bells and whistles to really extend the program.  Nothing could stump them.  Well, maybe documentation…

They worked on their projects before school, at lunch time, and between dismissal and the time that the bus would leave.

To inspire their programming, I used to give them special assignments and things to learn.  One of these things was dabbling around in machine language code.  Right about that time, one of the students had a home Atari game and a version of the Tetris game on play on it.  They approached me about developing their own version of Tetris on the school computers and to try their best to do a faithful reproduction of the game.  The concept of open source and sharing was foreign at that time so it would have to be done by scratch.

I said yes thinking that this would keep them busy for a while. 

And it did.

I don’t recall now how long it took but I still have great memories of the three or four of them gathered around a computer shouting ideas, pointing at the screen, and looking up references in a technical manual that I had purchased for them from the mall.  I remember that they would go home to the Atari game and make notes about how it played, recorded all of the starting blocks, and making the rules of the game.  They eventually got a working version and they proudly showed it off to anyone who would look.  

For smoothness, it had to be written in machine languge – interpretive code wouldn’t work.  The actual controls were relatively simple.  They would just scan the keyboard for the left and right cursor arrows for movement, the down arrow to drop the block and the space bar to rotate it.  There were also things like keeping score, clearing a row, etc. to check for.  When it was all done, it was a much bigger project than what they had originally anticipated.  But, they did it.

Fast forward to today and the iPad game has modern features that really put it over the top.  Music, sounds, special powerups, social media integration, different levels, challenges, and so much more.  It only barely resembles the original game!  After all, you’re not controlling via a keyboard – your input on an iPad is limited to tapping on a screen.

It’s really an engaging implementation and enhancement to the original game.  If you poke around the internet, you’ll see that there are various online versions that let you relive the past.  Get your hands on this new version and you’ll realize that we’ve become so sophisticated over the past 30 years.

Happy Birthday, Tetris.

Getting Organized


OK, confession time here.

When it comes to digital organization, I am probably one of the worst ever.  I create files and documents and drop them into a folder/directory called “Doug’s Documents”.  Periodically, I’ll feel guilty knowing that stuff is just sitting there completely unorganized and I’ll take the time to put them where they need to go for later retrieval.  It’s a technique that’s been the bane of my digital existence since I saved my first file on some random floppy disk and had to find it later.

I have the greatest admiration for people with the discipline to “Save As” instead of “Save” and put the file where it needs to go right from the get go.  I have a friend who has a different technique.  She saves everything to her desktop and when she quits her application, files the documents where they need to go.  Again, I have admiration for that.  I wish I could do that.  I know that there’s no excuse.  It’s a personal flaw.

To make things worse, I have taken my lack of organization to the cloud.  I’m a big Dropbox user and to quote my Grade 8 teacher, at times, it looks like “a dog’s breakfast“.  I’ve never actually understood that since my dog’s breakfast look like his dinner, but I digress.  Periodically, I’ll go on a cleaning binge and organize things manually, way after the fact.

Fortunately, I have taken the time to learn how to write mail rules and can manage my email inbox better than that.

I’m a digital whatever in search of a solution.  I may have found it in SortMyBox.  It brings the concept of rules to Dropbox.

The promise is to create filing rules depending upon the file attributes.  So, if the file that you upload has a particular extension, i.e. .jpg, .png, .gif, … it will tuck it away in a folder within your Dropbox that you define.  Now, I can just imagine a folder full of images but at least they wouldn’t be sitting at the root folder mixed in with documents, presentations, movies, etc.

It sounds like an interesting concept.  I’m already wondering about using it in conjunction with Dropittome.  If students were required to add a prefix like a course code or period so that hand-ins are filed into the appropriate class folder, that would be very helpful.

In the meantime, perhaps it’s the solution to my organization problem.

 

Twitter Clients


Daily, I like to step back and look at the wisdom of the folks that I follow here on Twitter.  This morning, I was curious to know if my Twitter habits could be improved.

My Twitter client of choice, at present, is Hootsuite for desktop and Android and Twittelator for iPad.   I guess the number one reason is that runs in a browser so it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, it’s open in a tab.  In fact, it’s one of the default tabs on all my browsers.  

Twittelator is the go-to on my iPad.  It’s been a long-time friend there.

Just to confirm that there’s not something better, I took a look at what the folks I follow are using to get their message out.  Fortunately, Hootsuite makes it so easy since it lets you know what tool others are using.  

Looking around, I find my timeline filled with messages posted from the following:

  • Buffer
  • Twitter Ads
  • Hootsuite
  • Twuffer
  • Tweetbutton
  • Flipboard
  • Tweetdeck
  • Twitter for iPhone
  • iOS
  • Paper.li
  • Twitter for Windows
  • Twitter for iPad
  • Triberr
  • Twitter for Android
  • Sharedby
  • Dropbox
  • SocialFlow
  • Foursquare
  • Web
  • Twitter for Mac
  • Twitter for iOS
  • Tweetbot
  • Bitly
  • Twitter for Blackberry
  • Twitter for Windows Phone
  • Instagram
  • IFTTT
  • WordPress.com
  • and then I got tired of looking…

Clearly, there is no consensus as to what folks are using.  Some share their thoughts and learnings from a Twitter client and others will just click on a link to share when they get to a resource.

The bottom line is that I see no compelling reason to change any of my habits.  The process did give me a renewed appreciation for those who share their learnings and their thoughts on a regular basis.  Together, we all become that much more informed and, potentially, that much smarter.

What more could you ask for?  It may be a confusing start for those just getting started but the results are worth it.