What a Web We Weave

Doug Belshaw shared an interesting link the other day.  I’ve been playing with it and it only serves to reinforce just how learning Web Literacy really isn’t a linear process.

This project is based on the Web Literacy Map, essentially a list of skills that one should work at to be web literate.  It’s a traditional presentation with categories and specific learnings within the categories.  It’s a very good listing and, by itself, should be printed and stuck into any planning documentation for teaching web literacy.

Then, move on to Doug’s work.  I’m guessing that you’ll need more than a quick look to completely understand what’s going on.

Each of the categories has two active buttons…

  • what should I know?
  • what can I learn next?

Before you dig deeply, click on each of them and see what happens.  You’ll immediately see what I mean when I indicate that the learning is not linear.  I imagined myself working in a web of connections with plenty of overlap and interactions.

Instead of a roadmap, it’s a realistic interactive overview of potential learnings and next steps.

I like the approach – it’s not the sort of thing that lends itself easy for developing lessons, but I really like the concept of empowering the learner with independent research.  “I know this”, therefore “I need to learn that”.

If you can’t use that approach with students right away, try it on yourself.

A Thimble Full of HTML

In the beginning, there was Notepad…

Everyone just had to have a personal webpage – it was the upcoming thing to have.  So, I bought a book about HTML, roughed out what my first webpage would look like and then began the process of creating a webpage.  It took a long time and when I was done, I had a crappy looking webpage.  It was OK because most everyone else had a crappy looking webpage.

So, it was off to find other alternatives.  At the time, Netscape Composer did a nice enough job and my personal webpage started to look better!  In fact, we used Netscape Composer for the Women in Technology program and the grade 7/8 students did a pretty decent job composing their own.  Later on, the Ministry of Education licensed the Macromedia Suite of web tools and moved along to the Adobe Suite.  With a lot of practise, it was relatively easy to create a decent enough webpage and website.  The nice part was that the graphical user interface took learning most of the HTML out of the process.

Now, most people use a wiki program like PBWorks, WordPress or Google Sites to develop their online presence.  They do an exceptional job of writing the HTML in the background as you compose/edit in the foreground.  If you wish, there is always a tab or link to let you lift the hood and look at the code underneath.  Most people probably don’t.  After all, it requires a knowledge of HTML and most people don’t know the code.

It’s a contentious issue for those who teach web design in a computer science classroom.  Some camps are OK with graphic developers, other camps insist that students learn to write using HTML.  It’s much like the discussion about whether or not students should memorize the multiplication tables.

I would suggest that, no matter where you stand, there is a middle ground.  There is a need to at least having a passing interest in HTML code and how it drives your content.  This blog, I would offer as Exhibit A, is one of them.

On Friday, I show off some of the best that Ontario Edubloggers have to offer.  The post will have three or four blogs and a long time ago, I used to use 6 = signs to separate one from the other.  It looked like this ======.

One day, I stepped back and thought … that looks really ugly especially when HTML supports a divider that would go from the left side of the screen to the right.  You don’t need to count the number of characters – it just works.  All that you have to do is insert the horizontal rule into the page at the right spot.  Problem is that the WordPress editor and the Scribefire editor which I use almost exclusively don’t have a little button to click and insert the code.

Instead, you have to switch from editing visually to editing the code.  It’s just a click away.  When you do it the first time, you’re immersed in at least a bit of HTML.  You then need toidentify the exact spot in the page where to insert the code and then key

to make it happen.

When it works, it works well.  Or, you might want to insert a code generated by an external program.  For example, a Twitter message.  When you ask Twitter for the raw code, you get something like this.


Kind of cryptic if you don’t understand HTML.

So, back to that middle ground.  What’s the best way to teach this?

“Best” is in the eye of the teacher and her professional judgement.  But, I would suggest taking a look at Mozilla’s Thimble.

Unlike traditional web development environments where you have to throw out the visual to get to the code or throw out the code to get to the visual, Thimble gives you the best of both worlds.

I know it’s a little small in the blog post but open the image and you’ll see it regular size.

On the left, you have an editing environment.  Computer Science teachers should be immediately drawn to the colours used to show various components of the code.  Using Thimble is easy.  Just type your code in the left panel and the results appear instantly on the right.  Talk about your immediate feedback.

This old coder had a whale of a time playing with Thimble, wishing that I had an excellent tool like this when I was writing my first webpages.  It would definitely have helped flatten the learning curve.

If you’re looking for a tool to teach HTML, I’d recommend having a good look at this and kicking the tires on it.  It think you’ll like what you see.

Privacy, The Internet, and You

A big, no make that huge, shoutout to my friend Diane (@windsordi) for sharing this with me over the weekend.

It’s from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and offers another way to reach students around the topic of privacy.

It’s a graphic novel “Privacy, The Internet, and You“.

The graphic novel is a PDF file that will open on any device that you have in your classroom or your students have at home.

The novel doesn’t stand alone – check out the discussion guide for ideas and suggestion how best to use this resource with students in your classroom.

Five to Keep

It’s hard to think but there was a time when a web browser didn’t have tabs.  You could browse a single website and that was about it.  It made using a lot of the up and coming Web 2.0 activities a bit of a challenge since you could only do one thing at a time.  Fortunately, browsers evolved to the point where you could have multiple websites open.  It was possible at that point to open one tab with one website and another with another website and move content from one to the other.  Copy/paste or export/import were valuable skills. And if your basic browser didn’t have the desired function, you could extend its functionality with add-ons or extensions.  That single feature moved me years ago to make Firefox my default browser.  Of course, all of this is ancient history in the digital timeline given the modern browsers that we all enjoy.

In particular, working with a document in Google Docs was a big example of this for me.  I would often start with something in one tab, develop it, and then bring it into my document in another tab.  Doing so made you feel so cutting edge!

Now things have changed.  Recently Google upped the game by adding add-ons for use right in your open document.  This is an incredibly valuable feature.  With the right add-on, there’s no need to even move to another tab – you stay right in your document, create your content and then use the add-on as needed.

As you might expect, people were right out of the blocks writing posts about the “Top 10 Add-ons” for Google Docs and essentially picked some of the best for a post.  (Go ahead – Google it)  I started poking around adding, removing, based upon what I could see myself using and/or recommending to others.  At the end of the testing, I settled with five that I feel really comfortable with now.

To install, it’s as simple as selecting Add-ons menu and then “Get add-ons”.

The option to “Manage add-ons” as you would expect lets you have control over what’s installed and to delete the ones that you don’t want anymore.

Adding opens a menu of what’s available.  

My first visit was overwhelming.  I need this; I need this; I need that….

So many options.  As you add one, you have to give permissions for the add-on to access your Google information.  It’s worth noting every time you give any application access to your account.  Check to see if you’re comfortable with the permissions that you’re granting.

As I explored, I just knew that I had to keep things under control.  Which ones to keep?

From my perspective, here are my keepers.  I know that I’ll use them often.  Each of the add-ons make a “call home” and then opens on the right side of the screen.  No more tabs or windows browsing.  I’m really liking the functionality at my fingertips.  Just like extensions for the browser itself, extensions to the documents just extend the functionality and increase my productivity.

Here’s the calculator.  So often, I end up doing calculations when working in a document.  This tool now makes one instantly available.

At this point, here are the five that I have decided to keep.

  • Calculator
  • EasyBib Bibliography Creator
  • Lucidchart Diagrams
  • openclipart
  • Thesaurus

Other add-ons can be added on a whim.

I’m excited about this addition to Google Docs functionality.  These five definitely are keepers from my perspective.  I’ll keep checking the menu and looking for more exciting tools.  First to write an RPN Calculator wins my heart!

I’m interested in hearing from you.  What add-ons have you found to be keepers?

History in Your Hometown

In Amherstburg, we take our history seriously.  From 2012-2014, we’ve been celebrating the War of 1812 in numerous ways that bring the event alive for residents and history seeking visitors to the town.  The pride and joy is historic Fort Malden but a walk through town reveals history at every turn.  Street names, parks, even the Marsh Historical Collection tells stories of a community rich in history.  Recent additions to the Navy Yard Park really make you think and wonder.

The stories that could be told if these people were around to tell them.  Of course, Amherstburg isn’t alone – we’re but one community located on the Great Lakes which were the great transportation and dividers of the time.  For the past couple of years, we have been day and over night tripping visiting communities, forts, and historic sites in southern Ontario.  It’s fascinating to think and be proud that we’ve managed to maintain so much.

There’s another part of historic story telling that isn’t as immediately obvious and yet people drive by them daily without much thought.  I’m talking about cemeteries.  Are you aware of the CanadaGenWeb’s Cemetery Project?  It’s ambitious – the plan is to catalogue each of Canada’s ~18,000 known cemeteries.  Imagine the stories!

A number of search tools will let you find a cemetery by name or even a headstone if the name was still readable when photographed.   But, I would suggest that you don’t do this first – find your country and look for the list of cemeteries.  You’ve probably been by so many of them and not known the name or history behind it.

Essex County has a big list…

There’s one, in particular, that I see on a regular basis.  It’s at the intersection of County Road 10 and County Road 20 – the Wyandotte Indian Cemetery.

Further north, the Walls Fugitive / Slave Cemetery

Off into Kent County, the North Buxton cemetery

The list goes on and on.  Unfortunately, not all cemeteries have made the list – in particular, it would be nice to have the Battle of the Thames Cemetery catalogued.  Those that are catalogued have pictures of headstones, historical plaques and more.  There’s even a spot to suggest a change or improvement to the information that’s on file.  The entire collection is a huge repository of history – ours.

In your community, what stories are waiting to be discovered?

Ha! Ha! Building Serious Skills Using Stand-Up Comedy

This post is another guest blog publication.  I actually had read this story during my morning reads about a week ago and saw it retweeted a number of times.  I’m honoured that Sue has offered to share it with you via this blog.
What could be more fun than experiencing true mirthful laughter at school with teachers and students? Sue Stephenson compiled several of her blogs into this article for MiddleWeb. Kudos to Patti Henderson for capturing the spirit so cleverly with her photography. PLP Powerful Learning Practice http://www.plpnetwork.com publishes three of Sue’s books as ePubs.

SueStephenson-hdsht-128by Sue Stephenson

“It’s okay to laugh at your own jokes.”
– grade 7 student

Imagine seventh grade students becoming stand-up comedians. I know — you think they already are! But just wait for my punchline. A year ago, after the print edition of my book Kidding Around: connecting kids to happiness, laughter and humor appeared, I spent time with middle school classes at North Kipling JMS in Toronto, Canada, exploring their reactions to some of the activities. I was the founding principal at this school, so I felt pretty comfortable back in the classroom with these kids. We began by focusing on pleasant feelings like happiness and challenging feelings like anger and sadness. Then we analyzed comic strips as a route into comedy or planned humor. That was a good start. But we had a bigger idea!

And then a very funny thing happened . . .

comedy-coachThis school year we moved on to stand-up comedy — both writing and performing. With support from principal Alex Tracey, five teachers took the comedy plunge with me: Alessandro Lamanna, Marilyn Orszulik, Ian Robertson, Ellen Walton and Doug Cornell. From the start we wanted to develop a safe, simple pilot project built right into the curriculum — a crash course of three in-class workshops over three months culminating in a performance. The teachers developed rubrics for a logo contest and for the in-class presentations. The project used strategies to encourage skills that aren’t traditionally taught but have serious curriculum connections:

  • Developing language skills (oral and written) and creativity;
  • Building confidence and a sense of humor when speaking in front of others;
  • Confronting mental health and well being issues;
  • Learning the difference between helpful and hurtful humor (and sarcasm’s nasty cousin, bullying).

One of the surprises from the students came when a few of them voiced a request to not limit participation by selecting only the “best” to perform, but to encourage all types of students to take part. Each student was to perform for his or her classmates in small groups, and two or three acts from each class would be chosen to perform in the final Showcase.

Have you heard the one about . . . 

NK laughter 1In the first workshop, I introduced the guidelines and showed video clips to the students to establish positive exemplars. (Finding age-appropriate videos was a real challenge.) I had prepared joke bags, each containing six short jokes, that the kids shared in groups of three to practice their timing. Our participants included students who were learning English as a second or third language, and we learned that vocabulary is a key factor in understanding humor. The three main guidelines were:

  1. One, two or three performers in an “act”;
  2. Rehearsed short sketches or skits of three to five minutes in length with a set-up, a story and punchline or twist at the end;
  3. Appropriate, non-hurtful humor. “If you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see this, don’t put it in your act.”

The whole object of comedy is to be yourself, and the closer you get to that, the funnier you’ll be. – Jerry Seinfeld

 Whose line is it, anyway?

For our second workshop, we were able to involve two local comedians, Tyler Morrison and Marc Trinidad, who shared their varied experiences and tips for success. In particular they distinguished between unrehearsed “improv comedy” and stand up comedy where the performer practices their set up and punchline. Some students who tried to wing it with improv were surprised to learn that it didn’t work as well as they predicted. Students were invited to stand up and share the routine they were working on. We were impressed with the natural comedic intelligence we witnessed, just waiting to be released. We used a Giggleometer rating scale (1 to 5) for the routines we saw on videos and in live performances. Everyone learned that there are different jokes for different folks. Some classes used blogs to share internet sources of inspiration and ideas. The teachers continued to coach and mentor students to bring out their funny side and talk about appropriate humor. Each class used a couple of copies of the Kidding Around book for reference.

And now, for the first time before a live audience . . .

Showcase photoFor the third workshop we combined all four classes so they could experience a bigger audience reaction and the actual venue for the final Showcase. We focused on two main questions identified in their blogs: how best to develop material, and what to do about performance anxiety. Here are some pointers we discussed to develop a short sketch:

  • Use a notebook to jot down raw material before you forget.
  • Be yourself and talk about your world.
  • Watch for funny things that happen around you and write about that.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Work out your timing.

Their other concern was how to find the courage to deal with being nervous. They had to first realize that it’s normal to feel nervous. Then we talked about:

  • being prepared and rehearsed;
  • loosening up their funny bones by jumping up and down;
  • going up on the stage and practicing with a microphone;
  • visualizing success and finding some friendly faces in the audience;
  • smiling and breathing deeply before going on stage.

One teacher shared a reassuring story about on boy whose sketch evolved and improved many times as he reworked the lines in preparation for his live performance. Student blogs and commentstracked their range of feelings as the project unfolded. Here are a few samples:

North Kipling collage png-  I was kinda freaked out at the idea when it was first introduced to us, but after talking with my group it seems to be a really cool experience.

-  I’m totally pumped for our sketch. Can’t wait!!! You don’t see many schools doing these types of things, and I am SUPER grateful for being exposed to a subject new to me.

-  I honestly really, really, REALLY love this assignment. It’s allowing me to reach out of my comfort zone, which usually doesn’t happen.

-  This is a great chance for really shy kids to break out of their shell and also for the jokers and class clowns to express themselves.

-  How can I be funnier and find my inner comedian?

-  These were the fastest two months of my life. I feel kinda sad about this coming to an end.

The logo contest entries were posted and students voted on their favorites. Because the school mascot is a Cougar Cub, a logo featuring “North Kipling Comedy Cubs” was perfect. Through a press release, the media was invited to attend the final showcase.


What a laughable experience it was!

My parents want me to happy. And a doctor. – Alim

A critical part of the success of the Showcase were the two run-throughs we staged before the real event. The teachers and I gave support and feedback to each act. The day of the Showcase brought out the best in most of the young comedians. The program and content the kids chose included stories about types of parents, out of control shopping experiences, social media, and experiments gone wrong — just to name a few.

Canadian CBC TV picked up the story and the videographer arrived early on the morning of the Showcase. She even spent time with the kids filming their stories after it wrapped up. You can check out theCBC coverage on YouTube!

This experience with the teachers and students was a highlight of my career. Their faces tell the whole story. I encourage you to learn from our experience and try this in your own classrooms or schools or living rooms. You could start small and just get your feet wet — or you could jump in the deep end and ride the waves of comedy.

To laugh at comedy on TV or in the movies is one thing, but to write and perform comedy in front of others is a unique experience. Students agreed that they were all winners for performing in front of an audience of their peers.

North Kipling JMS students and teachers hope this pilot project becomes an annual event. Plans are in the works to add a few more schools and involve more professional comedians. As one of the teachers Doug Cornell said: “We’re on to something new and good here!”

Kidding Around-COVER_Layout 1Sue Stephenson has over 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal, staff developer, instructional consultant, author and speaker. She has written four books that focus on building trusting relationships and positive methods to cope with stress, including Kidding Around and Laughing Matters. Her keynotes and workshops focus on a passion for happiness & laughter and teamwork & trust. Contact her through her website, SueStephenson.ca, and follow her on Twitter @sue4stephenson.

21st Century Literacies: Media Literacy in My Classroom

The following is a guest blog post courtesy of Michelle Solomon and Carol Arcus.


The Association for Media Literacy is a volunteer charitable organization comprised of parents, educators and media producers who support the development and application of media literacy. They have been a driving force in the support and development of media literacy curriculum in Ontario since 1978. They have also been recognized internationally for their work, winning an award for “The Most Influential Media Education Organization in North America” in 1998. The AML organizes and provides workshops, presentations and seminars for educators, parents and students. They speak at conferences around the world and for locally organized events: institutes, conferences, PD Days, parents’ nights and university courses.

One of the more recent initiatives is the “21st Century Literacies” series, begun in partnership with York University’s Faculty of Education in 2012. The intent was to address the changing landscape of learning in response to changing media tools and technologies. That first year, a conference was mounted in the Spring to support teacher candidates; the theme was the use of social media in the classroom. Since then, the conferences have continued annually in the month of April, more recently offering workshops on the teaching, integration, and assessment of media literacy skills at all levels.

This year, on April 5, the AML is presenting “Media Literacy in My Classroom”, an opportunity to meet practising teachers who will share their teaching strategies and answer questions such as, “How do I use media to improve the presentation and oral skills of students?” and “What does student media work look like and how do I assess it?” The conference spans the day (8:30 to 4), is free, and is open to York Faculty of Education teacher candidates, as well as all educators interested and involved in media literacy education.

Registration is done through Eventbrite and, at the time of this writing, only a very few seats were left.  If you’re interested, register soon.

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Introducing Ron Canuel

Your Bring IT, Together 2 Conference Committee continues to steam ahead with plans for the annual conference, November 5-7 2014, in Niagara Falls.  Follow the hashtag #BIT14 on Twitter to be part of the conversation (and, please, jump in!)  The conference website is located at:  http://www.bringittogether.ca.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the third keynote speaker for the conference.  In addition to Richard Byrne and George Couros, Ron Canuel, President and Chief Executive Office of the Canadian Education Association will address the group.


Ron Canuel has been President and CEO of the Canadian Education Association since 2010, and has over 36 years of experience in the public education sector. As the former Director General of the Eastern Townships School Board in Quebec, Ron was the principal architect of one of the first Canadian district-wide wireless laptop computer program for students and teachers, and has received numerous awards in recognition of this ongoing initiative. He has been a frequent presenter, panelist, and lecturer at national and international conferences on CEA’s What did you do in school today? and Teaching the Way We Aspire to Teach research and action initiatives, as well as on change management, innovation in education, leadership, and technology in the classroom.

What Your English Teacher Told You …

… is great advice in the world of blogging.

Every morning, I allocate two cups of coffee time to my own professional reading.  I go to two spots.

First, I’ll head to the LiveBinder of Ontario Edubloggers to see what’s up with my favourite Ontarians.

Secondly, I’ll open Zite.  I’ve talked so much about my enjoyment of Zite so I won’t elaborate on that.

But, as I was flipping through the pages, I had to answer the question … do you read all that?  That got me thinking.  The answer, is, of course no.  I don’t have the time to do that even though I would if I could.

Here are a couple of screen captures from this morning’s read.

2014-03-16 06.47.39

2014-03-16 06.48.41

The question is … how do I choose what to read?

Now, there are good thought leaders that I will drop everything to read right away.  There are some people who will immediately get my attention because I know that they push the discussion no matter what the discussion!

But, from all the stories available, how do I choose what to read and what not to?  Certainly, the story has to be of personal interest but that’s the way Zite works.  It already knows my interests.  Once selected, the tap that opens the story for me follows two things I remember from English class.  More importantly, it’s also the way that Zite presents the stories.

1.  It’s got a title designed to engage;
2.  The first sentence reaches out and provides the hook and reels me in.

It’s “Story writing 101″ all over again.

What amazes me is that this advice has withstood the test of time.  When I was in high school, I can’t imagine the concept of a blog was on anyone’s mind.  Yet, for my English teachers, these rules were crucial.  Good advice then; good advice now.

What’s apparent is that there needs to be a point #3 in this era of blogging

3.  Have a great picture in your post.

When all is said and done, these are the clues that Zite provides to the reader.  If you want people to discover your post and your thoughts through the Zite reader (and, quite frankly, any other software like Zite), your English teacher has already provided you the best advice possible.

Once your story has been opened, make sure that there’s a great body and a good closer.  In today’s blogging world, the best closer is a call to action.  Make your reader want to do something with your post.

For me, if you’re teaching English or blogging in any subject area, have students take a look at a reader like Zite or Flipboard or … and analyze how content is presented.  Doesn’t it just make sense that any blogger understand this and write accordingly?

A Brainstorming Tool

A few years ago, I did an evaluation of mind mapping/brain storming tools.  There weren’t too many products on the market at the time.  If you’ve been a computer user for a while, I’m sure that you could even name them.  We actually had a committee chosen to do the task – there were some members who were language arts teachers and had been using graphic organizers for years and then a couple of computery types like me who knew the value of mind mapping because we had used these.


Photo Credit: Marcin Wichary via Compfight cc

We had a great deal of fun evaluating the products although it was a challenge at times.  Essentially, they all did the same thing, the same way.  But, we did finally get one that we liked and went forward with it.

Now, that was a few years ago.

Fast forward to today.

If you head into your favourite app store, you’ll see that there are all kinds of products available to download.  Some are standalone applications and others run inside your browser.  Attempts to distinguish one from the other have been made largely in the graphic design of the product and the documents that they create.  But if you, as a friend of mine once said, peel back the skin of the onion, they all pretty much work the same way.  Essentially, not much has changed over the years.

Recently, there were a number of references to a new product that filled my reading.  The product was called Stormboard and it claimed to be different.  That was enough to get me to take an in depth look at.  I like what I see.

The thinking and design was a little different from what I’d used in the past.  I was encumbered by a knowledge of flowcharting templates where one box leads to another and there are lines connecting items.  Instead, I had to start thinking of how communication central works around here.  Walk into our kitchen and there will be sticky notes everywhere.  My wife is the queen of the sticky note.  Look around and there are reminders, instructions, orders, phone numbers, etc. everywhere.

Stormboard works like that…and more.


To kick the tires, I thought that I’d pull together some of the planning for the BringITTogether conference, November 5-7.

From the top left corner, I have a choice of things to drag out to the work area.  They all look like sticky notes so I was right at home!  Each note could be just a sticky or I could include an image, a video, document, or sketch my own.  As you drag them around the board, it’s hypnotic to watch them wiggle.  Each note has properties where you can change the colour or even a feature that I think would be very helpful – you can take sticky from one brainstorm and plop it into another.  Now, why would you want to do that?

Stormboards are multi-user.  The free version allows you to have up to five collaborators on any document.  So, a teacher, for example could divide a class into a number of small groups and then drop instructions into each of the groups without too much effort.  In face, the multi-user features really separate Stormboard from what I’ve been currently using.  Yes, you can have multiple users but there’s more.  Add the users and put your ideas on the board.  Users can then vote in favour or against a concept.  Each sticky also allows for team members to comment rather than change the original sticky.  Who’s doing the work?  Check out the activity button on the top right for a history of activity.  And, of course, what would a multi-user document creator be without a chat feature.  Think beyond the traditional classroom – think online learning or students collaborating on a project from home.  Chat and monitoring activity keeps everyone up to date.

Not every Stormboard needs to start as a blank canvas.

A group of starter templates come with the product.




So, there’s no need to start from scratch!

When you’re done…a nice feature is the ability to repurpose or summarize your efforts.


Check out the different ways to use your or your group’s efforts.

This certainly takes the concept of a report or summary to the next level.

If you’re looking for a web based brain storming solution, make sure that you give this one a long look.  It may just change your whole mindset about how brainstorming works.