Category Archives: Teaching

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Hmmm.  I’ve got to schedule this for next month.  I hope I manage not to mess it up.  I’ve been wrestling with WordPress quite a bit lately.

There’s always good things flying off the keyboards of Ontario Edubloggers.  Here’s a bit of what I read recently.


Different Kids, Different Approach

If there’s one way to summarize why teachers should blog, Diana Maliszewski absolutely nails it in the last sentence “Before I forget, I wanted to reflect…” It’s a wonderful post about some of the things that she did during summer school.  I really liked the idea of “Student-Controlled Bulletin Boards”.  It was a technique that I always used with my Computer Science classes.  It started as a way to have fresh content without me generating it but evolved to a research and display space for students.  The rule was that the next group had to have their bulletin board up for Tuesday morning.  It always seemed to generate discussion among the class – I had six classes and six bulletin boards.  If you really believe that the goal as an educator is to teach communication, this is a perfect opportunity.

I wonder if Diana kept pictures of the bulletin boards?  That’s always been a regret of mine.


Students as Creators – Not Curators – of Math

This seems like such a logical statement but, given the beating that education gets from the outside about mathematics, it needs to be repeated and Kyle Pearce handles it in a recent post.

In the post, he even takes a reflective look at his own practice from being happy with his students scoring high on EQAO and changes the focus to deeper understanding of mathematics.

It’s too bad that we continue to have to have these conversations.  Of all of the subject areas, mathematics can lend itself to be fun when you get away from the drill, kill, memorize, regurgitate approach.  I like the reference to Pythagoras, Pascal, and Euler.  It begs the question – did they have to memorize the 10 times table?


What’s on your plate?

Sue Bruyns asks an important question to everyone in education.

“Who can you trust with this task?”

I remember having this discussion once with my superintendent who was a genius in my eyes in the field of leadership.  As it happened, we were in the car together driving to an RCAC meeting in London.  He would pick my mind and bounce ideas off me and I reciprocated.  If you ever have the chance to go somewhere with your leader in a car, take it.  It’s worth it.

One of our discussions was about burnout in education.  He made such an interesting point.  The only time that educators really “get it” is as a classroom teacher, dividing students into groups, establishing rules and norms to balance the workload among the group members so that one mark per group is fair.  But, as you move away from that scenario to assistant department head, department head, vice-principal, principal, consultant, superintendent, director and who knows what else I’ve forgotten, you forget all that.  Your plate gets filled with more and more “stuff”.  Some do it as a control freak.  Some do it to avoid letting others know what they’re doing.  Some do it for job protection or competitiveness for a promotion.  Some do it because they don’t trust others to do as good a job as them.

When was the last time you sincerely thought about delegation of tasks?


Thanks so much everyone for sharing your thoughts and leadership.  I hope that you can take a few moments and link back to these original posts and read them in their entirety.  There’s so much great thinking to be done!

I’m 5 Again


One of the things that I used to tell my computer science students was that every program that they create was actually a story. 

You tell the story to the computer and the computer retells parts (or all) of the story back to the user.  I suppose in the kindest of ways, it was a way from deterring from programming as an academic affair from the very beginning.

As we witness programming languages evolve, it’s increasingly appropriate.  Instead of writing programs like tax calculators, we now introduce programming by a more formal approach to story telling.  We manipulate screen objects, set backgrounds, add interactions, etc.  Programming languages like Hopscotch, Alice, Daisy the Dinosaur, Scratch, and Tynker make story telling the heart of programming.  The logic is to introduce students to programming concepts in a fun, easy to manipulate environment.  From there, the level of sophistication, and choice of languages develops a culture of programming. 

With classrooms across the world moving to tablet based programming, it’s so good to see introductory programming languages embracing that environment.  Frequent readers to this blog know that I’ve tried (played) with many of them.  The combination of a familiar environment and a well crafted developmental environment is a formula for success.

This morning, into the mix, comes ScratchJr.

With ScratchJr, young children (ages 5-7) can program their own interactive stories and games. – ScratchJr website

If you’ve used the Scratch Programming language on a PC, the iPad implementation is a breeze.  Download it, load it, give permission for it to use your microphone, and you’re ready to program.

Hit the ? to get an introduction to ScratchJr, learn about the environment, visit a few examples and you’re off to the races!  If you’re a Scratch programmer, you’re so familiar with dragging, modifying, locking, embedding objects to get the job done.  The same concepts apply here.  There was such a flat learning curve for me.  It’s like programming in Scratch – only easier! 

Normally, there would be concerns about a program being “late for the party” but I suspect that won’t be a problem in the case of ScratchJr.  There’s a huge collection of folks who have been using Scratch for years that I’m sure will become big advocates of the program.  I can just imagine copies flying out of the app store.

Scratch has developed such a large online community of users.  The same will happen with ScratchJr.  There will be all kinds of ideas and support available once this happens.  At present, you can follow the discussion on Twitter here.

You can download ScratchJr here.

Digital Citizenship Resources


Common Sense Media serves as a huge repository of resources that addresses many of the curricular needs. 

Like any repository, teachers should use their professional judgement with respect to the resources to ensure that they meets the needs of their curriculum and their classroom.  All of the things like bias, age-appropriateness, etc. need to go into the determination as to the appropriateness of the resource.

One are that many want to address but can find challenges in finding quality resources is the area of digital citizenship.  Can you define what it means in your classroom; never mind a single definition that fits all grades! 

To help the cause, their entire digital citizenship curriculum has been made available as iBooks and freely downloadable through the iTunes store.

If you’re looking for resources of this type, take the time to download and use your judgement as to the appropriateness for your students.

The resources are available for download here.

Verification


For me, it really started in earnest with a slow Bronco chase down a California freeway which was captured live and broadcast to the world.  Since then, there’s such a proliferation of media sources, all trying to be first and exclusive with reporting.  It was a natural spillover to the Internet where people share everything (and anything).  It’s the anything that should be of concern.

For use in workshops about searching and authentication, I had compiled this list of “Sites that should make you go Hmmm“.  It’s interesting to direct students to any of the sites and ask them to do research.  (My favourite is the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus)  It’s all in the sake of online literacy and recognizing that just because it’s on the Internet or Google-able doesn’t necessarily make it true.  Insert a call for digital literacy and a good teacher-librarian here.

Now, we can’t send all media people back to Grade 5 but they can up the ante.  They need to check out the Verification Handbook.

But, I would suggest that this resource is good for everyone. 

It’s uniquely available – it’s 14 bucks through Lulu.  But the authors have also made it freely available under a Creative Commons license from their site.

You can read it online, download it in PDF for a number of different formats.

Check it out – after a read, there should be fewer and fewer reasons for getting caught looking for an octopus in a tree.

Pexels Images


You can’t have enough sources for Creative Commons or free images/pictures.  To the list, I’d like to suggest that you add Pexels.

Their claim is that they host “Free high quality photos you can use everywhere”. All without attribution to the creator.  This is a refreshing approach.  After poking around, there are some very good images to use.  I did my usual search for “house”.

All photos on Pexels are under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means you can copy, modify, distribute and perform the photos. The pictures are free for personal and even for commercial use. All without asking for permission or setting a link to the source. So attribution is not required. All in all the photos are completely free to be used for any legal purpose.

For student purposes, I still think that the first choice should be pictures, images, drawings, screen captures, … that they’ve created themselves but there are times when that’s just not possible.

There isn’t a huge collection – they claim to add 30 every week.  But, the ones that are there are really well done and I would suggest well worth the time to bookmark and search when you don’t have an image of your own to use.

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.

Where in the World?


I love geography guessing / discovery applications.  My latest fascination is GeoGuessr.  

It’s humbling.  It reaffirms how little I know!

Like many in this genre, you’re given a map image and your job is to identify the location.  What could be easier?

Well, I never said I was good…

Although sometimes I do have a clue!

“The World” is a big place and makes for really tough puzzles.  When you scroll down, there are some localized puzzles to solve.  I had a great deal of fun with the “Famous Places” section.

About Programming Languages


The closing keynote speaker at the CSTA Conference was Michael Kölling who shared with us some of his thoughts about where CS Education was headed. "What’s Next for CS Education: Thoughts on Topics, Tools, and All the Rest". You should know Michael from Greenfoot and BlueJ.  His talk was very engaging and one of his visions has really stuck with me.

I wish that his presentation was online because it wouldn’t do justice if I tried to recreate a chart that he drew about programming languages. 

Basically, on an X-Y grid he mapped out our current selection of programming languages.  He distinguished between “block” languages like Scratch and “text” languages like Java.  One of the differences, of course, is in the environment.  In his presentation, he argued that we need a new language that fits somewhere in between and demonstrated what it might look like in an ongoing project.

My first reaction was – great – something new that I would have to learn.  But I stuck through with his argument and could see where he was headed. 

If you’ve ever debugged and looked for that elusive semi-colon, you might jump right on board.

On the other hand, if you’ve looked up and down for the proper graphical structure, you might jump on board as well.

Stepping back, it is important to consider the student.  For a long time now, we’ve seen success in making a student’s first programming language graphical in nature.  It’s more of a “work on the algorithm” than “learn the language” approach.  Ultimately, the assumption is that not all block programmers will become great text coding professionals.  The goal is to teach an appreciation for problem solving by computer.  And yet, there will be those who want to study everything.

You can’t help but think about the gap.  The interested student will ultimately reach the end of the line for programming in a block language and will need to dive into the deep end full of semi-colons.  There really is no transition.

Could a new language, filled with the best of both worlds, be the answer?

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.

What a Great Idea


As part of the Computer Science Teachers Association conference, we all piled into buses and headed to the Universal Technical Institute for a tour and reception.  What a facility – we were amazed at the facility and, importantly, the claims of graduation rates for its students.

The comment was made a number of times that so much repairs to today’s cars are computer related and that’s why it was so important that our group of educators knew of this as another pathway for students.

Forget computer labs – how about a car lab?

Dress code and deportment is important at UTI and part of their student assessment.  Dress required proper hair cuts, wearing a UTI shirt or T-Shirt, heavy pants, work shoes, etc.  From a safety perspective, the descriptors absolutely made sense.  We were encouraged to take pictures and Peter Beens has been creating a gallery of the entire conference here.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures but there was one recurring thing that caught my eye as just genius.  I snapped a quick picture.

Full length mirrors were placed throughout the building under the question “Would you hire this person?”

The first time I saw one, I thought “neat”.

But, as I kept running into them at location after location, it really made sense.  It sends a constant message about how you carry and present yourself.  In order to achieve the highest graduation rates, you need graduates that present themselves ready to take on the world.  There were no instructions or suggestions.  It was just a constant reminder.  As a passerby, you take it or leave it.  Your call.

So, I wondered — why don’t we do that in all our schools as a constant reminder?