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/

Cats, Eyesight, and Photo Editing


Right up front, I’ll admit it.  

I’m a dog person.  I have no use for cats or cat videos.  

Now, you can’t beat a good dog video…

I once worked with a gentleman in the Program Department who was quite fond of saying “There’s got to be a workshop in there somewhere.”  We’d drive to places together and between the two of us would see the darnedest things and somehow work them into a workshop, not necessarily in the traditional means.

I had that moment last night when I read this report on a research study – “Cat Watch 2014: What’s it like being a cat?“.

Photo Credit: ucumari photography via Compfight cc

This report is one of three and its purpose is to show how cats experience the world around them.  In the article, they explore sight, movement, hearing, and smelling.  

Much as I’m not a cat person, I did find the article extremely interesting and the videos very engaging.  

In a traditional class dealing with animals, certainly there’s a great deal of immediate use.

But, could you use it more?

I’m thinking Gimp or Photoshop or any of the photo editing software that you might have at your disposal, as applied to cat sight.  In the article, they talked about “muted colours”.

A common classroom learning activity is to adjust the colour and the multitude of options.  I remember using these words myself – “make it an old time picture”.  The context makes sense if you’re old enough to remember “old time pictures”.  To today’s digital youth, that might mean an old digital camera versus their latest and greatest smartphone camera. 

What if the context was to edit an image so that this is what a cat sees?  In fact, the sight video asks and demonstrates the answer with its split screen.

Using your editing tools, can you turn “Human vision” into “Cat vision”?  

As I write this post on a cool Saturday morning, I’ll confess to having Gimp open as another application, playing around with it.  It’s not as easy as it might appear.

Yep, there’s at least part of a workshop in there.

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.

Q&A – Jeopardy Style


One of the favourite tools that was shared during my university class was a Flash based version of the popular game show, Jeopardy.  We talked about using it as a diagnostic tool or as a way to have students challenge their classmates during the research of a particular topic.  It certainly isn’t something that you base an entire course on, but it’s nice to shake things up a bit.  Paired with a SMARTBoard, it also helps students with their presentation skills.

These days, not all devices effectively use Flash anymore and so that opportunity is lost.  Plus, if you created a game at home, you had to remember to bring the questions to school in order to use it!  If there was an application that screamed for a web-based solution, this was it.

Enter Flipquiz.

Like so many things these days, there’s a free and a paid (pro) version. The free version has the features that you need to give it a fair shakedown.

Visit the site and try out the demo quiz that’s online.  Six categories with five questions in each category.

If you’ve watched early evening television in the last 50 years, the presentation is so familiar.

Choose a category and a value…

I’ll take NBA Teams for 400…

I’ll buzz in with the answer “Utah”.  A reveal shows the answer is true.

Selecting student responses can be done a number of ways – hands, call on a student, or I used to use those “That was easy” devices from Staples.

That’s about it! 

You’re not going to use it daily – it would lose its lustre – but add it to your arsenal.

This Never Gets Old


A couple of days ago, I was channel surfing looking for something interesting to watch on television to kill some time.  We had company on the way so it couldn’t be too time consuming.  I also had my laptop open to the left of me and had half an eye on new Twitter messages flying by. 

I noticed a few in a row from Brian Aspinall in my Ontario Educators stream.  (@mraspinall)

It looked like he was as bored as I was or was doing some research. 

He was retweeting messages about Scrawlar.  It’s one of his babies in the digital world – a combination of word processor / whiteboard built with collaboration and no data collection in mind.  A lot of people like the approach that he’s taken.  I reviewed the product here.

It was actually interesting to see where he was digging up the resources.  I stopped looking for something on the tube and watched him.  I thought I would help his cause and retweeted messages as he sent them.  It’s probably a futile effort because earlier that week we came to the agreement that we probably have the same community on the social network.  Oh well.

There was one that was of particular interest to me.

It was a short tutorial, written in blendspace.  This was a service that I’d never heard of before.  But, I retweeted the message knowing that would somehow, some day, reach my radar for a little more research.

 

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A couple of seconds later, my half-eye noticed that my Twitter message had been retweeted.  Brian?

This wasn’t a terribly unusual occurrence – this is how Twitter works, right?

Then, again and again and again.

I looked yet again and there was a retweeter that I’d never seen before.  So, I checked her bio.

She was from Italy.

I did a little mental math time conversion and realized that it was very early in the morning, her time.

Two things crossed my mind.

  • I wonder what wine region she lives in?
  • Is she camped out at Monza at Curva Parabolica waiting for the Grand Prix?

Am I bad because the two things that I think of when I think Italy are wine and Formula 1 racing?

In reality, she’s probably a hard working teacher preparing for a new class, looking for good resources and certainly Scrawlar fits that bill.

I thought Brian might get a kick out of the reach that his project has so sent him a private message to check the source.

We had a little back and forth about the humility of all this.  We’re just a couple of people doing some learning and sharing in the evening. 

The fact that someone half a world away wants to join in just blows you away.  As Brian noted, he’s just a guy sitting on a living room couch cranking out code on his laptop.  Yet, his work is being appreciated so far away.  But, when you think of the reality, it could be a first year teacher two blocks over looking for good resources.

There’s something about this shared learning that is so impressive.  For how many years have school boards tried to engage teachers with official memos sent from central office and failed?

Yet, the connected learner has that – and so much more.

For me, this moment never gets old.

Another #BIT14 Visualization


After Saturday’s post about Tweetbeam, I received a note from a former student of mine, @JeffClark who invited me to try his Twitter visualization program.

So I did!

Jeff’s done a bunch of visualizations at his Neoformix site.  He calls his Twitter search visualization Spot.

I fed it the hashtag #bit14 and sat back to watch.  I do enjoy a good visualization and I wasn’t disappointed here.

In fact, he visualizes the data a number of different ways.  Your visualization is selected by the icons on the top of the screen.

 

Banner View

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Timeline View

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User View

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Word View

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Source View

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Group View

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I’ve captured the above images real sized and let WordPress resize them for your browser.  Use your local browser to view the original image if you’re interested in seeing it.

Complete descriptions about the views are contained on the page Introducing Spot on the Neoformix site.

I’m glad that Jeff dropped by to remind me of his work.  Visit the Neoformix site if you’re interested in more details about this project or any of the others that have been created.

In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy another way to visualize the buzz leading to the #BIT14 conference.

Popcorn Tour of Essex County


I’ve heard many reasons why students aren’t allowed to create movies in class …

  • installing the video creation software takes up too much room on the image;
  • we don’t have licenses for all students;
  • movie making is reserved for this course;
  • our computers don’t have enough hard drive space;
  • we’ve got to constantly apply updates for bug fixes;
  • <fill in your own>

It results in frustration from the need to put together digital resources and to present them as a movie.

If that’s the case, or you want to get an easy to use, fully functional cloud based creation tool, you need to check out Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker.

It’s got most of the functionality that you need to create your content – layers, timeline, transitions, scrubber bar, preview in the environment, the ability to import created content from a wide variety of sources …

To kick the wheels, I decided to make a video promoting Essex County.  Well, sort of…

I figured the four cornerstones would be Windsor, Amherstburg, Leamington, and Belle River.  (Sorry, Stoney Point)

As I looked at the sources available (Popcorn calls them Events), a couple immediately caught my eye…  Google Maps and a Flickr search.

So, I created a separate layer for each municipality’s map using Google Maps.  Double clicking in the window presented lets you zoom in and move around to get things positioned just the way you want them to be.  Images are randomly generated from a search of Flickr for the community.  Of course, you can upload your own but I thought this was an interesting concept and it worked so quickly.

Once a layer has been created, objects can be moved or stretched on the timeline.  As you would expect, the layers themselves can be ordered after the fact.  I had complete freedom to mix and match.  I started with an idea and it kept evolving as I experimented.  There was nothing in Popcorm Maker to slow me down.

Of course, you need a title and a good kiosk program just runs a continuous loop.  Literally, within five minutes, I had created my first movie!

Creating and logging in with a Mozilla Persona unlocks additional features like bringing in YouTube movies for remixing or the ability to permanently save your efforts in the cloud.  This really did generate some wow at my keyboard.

After playing around with Popcorn Maker for a while, I could easily see how it addresses the issues above. 

If your students have a browser and internet access, that’s all that’s needed to start to create productions from their efforts.  This is the real deal.