About Snake OIl


I had breakfast with the wonderful Alison Slack yesterday.  We seldom get a chance to sit down and chat so we made a point of making it happen.  I’m so glad that we did.

We talked about many things and one thing that she shared with me was an article “How to Recognize Snake Oil in Your Personal Learning Network“.  It is a real thought provoking article and I whole-heartedly recommend that you read it at least once.  I think I’ve gone through it at least four times as of this writing and I pick out something new from each read and the comments.

I think it’s important to recognize and admit that we’re all selling something.  Perhaps not formal or touchable but I would suggest that ideas, thoughts, and experiences are just as powerful and can be as valuable.  I remembered a Murray McLauchlan song from long ago and it’s been going through my head since she mentioned the article.  The whole song isn’t relevant but certainly this part is:

Everybody has ambition
Everybody has a dream
But everybody don’t get to be kings and queens
That seems to be the way it seems

I think that the message heard tags on nicely to the post that Brandon Grasley made about expanding one’s online learning by “Finding “unusual” content using Zite“.  In addition to enriching your learning by reading, you enrich your learning by the folks that you include in your Personal Learning Network.  (A term that I’m not a fan or but is used throughout so I’ll include it.)

Reading an article is one thing.  Your attention can be grabbed with a catchy title and drawn in my a good opening paragraph.  It’s standard writing fare and writers use it all the time.  After the first paragraph, you do have the option to stop reading and move on if it’s not meeting your needs.

If we turn to social networking, it’s a bit difference.  Twitter messages, for example, have no title or opening paragraph.  In up to 140 characters, you get both barrels before you have a chance to really evaluate the merits of the post.  There are no pictures or diagrams – you just get it.  The brain is an amazing thing; the message gets taken in.  A well supported post may also include a link or two to online content that fleshes out issue.

A lot of the time it doesn’t. 

You’ve got everything that the author has.

I’m making the assumption here that a major reason you use social media is for learning and expanding your mind set.  Therein lies the rub.  The reason why you follow a person presumably is that you feel that you have something to learn from them.  So it begs the question “What are they selling?”

I think you also need to ask:

  • “Why are they selling it?”
  • “Do they actually practice what they’re preaching?”
    (A colleague once called it “All sizzle, no bacon”
  • “Are they consistent with their message?” 
  • “Do they engage in a worthwhile manner that’s worth your time to read?”
  • “Are they learning as well or just using the platform for personal promotion?”

Moderating things with Zite is relatively easy.  Just give it a thumbs down and Zite promises to give you better content.

On social media, it’s a bit different.  At times, the snake oil becomes annoying and repetitive.  At its worse, it can change your perception of things for the worse.  You may develop a negative attitude towards things that don’t deserve it or you may be cajoled into doing something that you shouldn’t or are not capable of doing.  At times, these people can exhibit the worst in bullying behaviour.

What to do?

Stand up and focus on why you’re connected in the first place.  I remember advice from my parents “Would you invite them into your house?”  I think it clearly applies here.  I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. I wouldn’t invite a bully into my house.  Why would I continue to have them in my online learning space?

Use the tools to address the snake oil salesperson.  Mute them, put them into a list that you don’t read regularly, unfollow or unfriend them.  Life is too short to be wasted on detractors.

Take back your Personal Learning Network and turn it into your positive learning again.  You’ll be glad you did.

Hour of Code 2014


The Hour of Code for 2014 is coming.  Teachers and students from all over will be using classroom tools to get a flavour for what coding/programming is all about.

There’s no one language that we’ve come to agreement on that would be perfect.  So, we’re all over the map with this one!  Choose one and do it well.

To help the cause, great people all over the web have been building activities and tutorials that will take one hour-ish to complete.  Hopefully, it doesn’t stop there and the coding activities and skills inspire great things to happen from this experience.  Computer Science is a wonderful discipline that opens so many doors.  It’s tough to believe that any student wouldn’t want to have an awareness of it with the chance of going into it big time.

On social media, I had been resting on my laurels because I had assembled some resources for last year’s event.  It occurred to me that the digitally responsible person would check the links for things that have gone away and be on the lookout for new resources.  That was the task yesterday.

I’m happy to announce and share the latest, greatest, up to datest, all links verified as of November 24, 2014, version.

Thanks to my digital friend Sue, in addition to the Learnist and Pearltree collections that I had last year, I create a Flipboard magazine with my new found abilities.  Thanks, Sue.  Links to them all appear below.  (They all point to the same resources; I just wanted to use a few tools)

I hope that you find these resources useful and that one or two of them might make it into your classroom for the Hour of Code, December 8-14, 2014.

p.s. if you have a favourite resource that isn’t included, shoot me the link and I’ll get it added.

p.p.s.  After I posted this, I realized that I might be visiting Brian Aspinall’s classroom today.  So, I whipped up another resource – this time using his excellent NKWiry resource.

Mapping Crime


The Global Security Map attempts to map the world, showing us where the bad stuff is located.  For its purposes, it tries to identify “malware, phishing, spam and other malicious activities”.

Upon your first landing, you’ll be presented with the world with countries coded from green to red or low to uh oh.

I’m a big fan of infographics to immediate share an image and message and maps have always lent themselves to visualize things.  In this case, it’s the malware that the concerned, connected computer user needs to keep in mind.

You’ll definitely want to read how the site determines the colours and the severity of the threats.  The descriptions of the threats is particularly helpful. A tool such of this opens the door for discussion about safety online.  Why would some countries be orange and red?  Why would some be green?  Is Antarctica really the safest place on the planet?

Mouse over the countries and click to get the summary for that country.

Can you find #1?  How about #219?

Don’t forget to click the grey triangles to open each category to reveal the details for each category.

It’s a fascinating look at our online world and a great conversation starter and launchpad for further research into online safety.

The App Mentality


Yesterday, I made reference to a quote that Brian Aspinall had shared about coding:

Why did it take so long to become “trendy” today?

I needed more space to share some thoughts about that so this is it.

I’m really not sure that I like the term “trendy” though.  There have always been proponents of coding and having students work with computers. While we weren’t successful in Ontario convincing the curriculum powers that be to include it as a discipline, we were able to get products like Hyperstudio, Frames, and Turing provincially licensed.

I spend an entire teaching career being involved with this and was fortunate to be able to have a full timetable of teaching computer science and data processing.  As I reflect back on the most satisfying moments, they occurred when the lights went on and students were able to make this “box” solve a problem or otherwise do something successfully for them.

This past week, a number of us were involved in a Twitter chat session surrounding coding in the elementary classroom.  It was wonderful to see so many individuals involved but there still was something that bothered me and I think it boils down to the trendy deal.  I like to call it the “App Mentality” that seems to be so pervasive with so many.

Do any web research on a topic, and it won’t take long until you find a post that demonstrates this perfectly.  In the best sense of click bait, the title reads something  like:

“58 apps to do the same thing and why you need to use them all”

It throws up red flags for me when I read statements like “Oh, I teach coding.  We learn this language, then this language, then this language and then learn this language.  It’s just like Seymour Papert said.”  Huh?  Have you even read “Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas”?  Was the powerful idea that a student would write a piece of code in this language and then write it again in this other language and so on and so on?

I hardly think so.

Ontario’s Computer Studies Curriculum is the envy of jurisdictions everywhere.  In one document, it describes a series of courses devoted to the study of Computer Studies, including Computer Science.  The key, and the power, lies in the fact that the courses are described in terms of student expectations.  It doesn’t state that this particular language is used in Grade 11 and then this language is used in Grade 12.  It honours the teaching profession by allowing for the choice of language by educators and most suitable for the course.  It stands the test of time as languages and approaches change.

Sadly, coding in the elementary school hasn’t been covered and so good folks are doing it alone with whatever skillset they have.

I recall one professional development day when I organized a day at the Computer Science Faculty at the University of Windsor.  We were coming to grips with the end of life for procedural languages like BASIC and Pascal and were trying to set a future direction.  We were seeking an object-oriented solution and the languages we were considering included C, Java, Turing, and probably a few others.  One of the teachers asked the Faculty Dean the important question – “Since our students who are interested in pursuing Computer Science will be going to your Faculty, what language do you want them to know?”  It seemed like the perfect question.

The answer took many by surprise.

“We don’t care.  All we want are students that have computational thinking skills and can solve problems.”

For us, going forward, that was always the guiding principle.  And, when you step back from your passion, shouldn’t that be the perfect answer?  Many school districts are in love with the Grades 7-12 model for a school.  Why not have this conversation with your school’s computer studies teacher?  She/He has a vested interest in attracting those who wish to take control of a computer for their own use.  What attitudes, skills, and knowledge are they looking for?

I’d be willing to bet that they don’t want a “wide but not very deep” knowledge.

So, back to the apps.  We live in a time and age where there are absolutely the best tools available for use right now.  You’ve seen the posts; you might even have read some of what I’ve experienced personally on this blog.  You, as the professional, need to take a look at the tools and decide what’s appropriate.  Short of a provincial or district curriculum, you’ll need to ask “What is it that I want students to be able to do with code?”.   Choose the tool, stick with it, and scaffold the coding experience with more challenging problems.

Throwing another app into the mix because it’s “trendy” doesn’t add much.  In fact, it may be intimidating to the person just getting started with the concept of coding in their own classroom.

Want to learn more professionally?  Monitor this website for the 2015 CSTA Conference.  There’s a whole strand devoted to coding in K-8.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


I’ve been writing this series of posts for a long time now.  Check the URL above to see how many times it’s been duplicated.  I never get tired of doing it so here goes – some great content from Ontario Edubloggers this past week.


The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred

No matter how much I read, I still get excited when I find another new, excellent blog post to read.  I’ve been asked – how do you find these blogs?

Certainly, in a multitude of ways – there’s no easy algorithm.  I found this blog with a usual dose of serendipity.  In this case, Helen Kubiw had retweeted a Twitter message that I had posted.  I checked her bio, saw the link to her blog, and the rest as they say is history.

The blog title really says it all.  “CanLit for LittleCanadians”. The blog is devoted to reviews and promotion of Canadian authors so that’s a natural for me to gravitate to.

If you haven’t already, share the link with your literacy and teacher-librarian friends. Check out her list of recent entries – this isn’t a fly by night blog.  It’s a definite bookmark for Canadian literature.


Money Clouds

This might not be an easy post to read if you’ve sipped the juice from the big cloud providing services.  Tim King points out that there was a time when companies had to pay for advertising.  Now with distinguished, certified, exemplary handles, teachers are doing the advertising for them.   Tim shares his thoughts about the other side of cloud computing in schools.  You probably won’t agree with it all but I’ll bet you say “hmmmmm”.


“Tenzies!”

Jocelyn Schmidt describes a game she’s using in her Full Day Kindergarten class.  The mathematician in me loves it. Of course, everything is purposeful.

For students to build upon their subitizing (the ability to recognize the number of objects at a glance, without having to count all the objects), one-to-one correspondence (each object being counted must be given one count and only one count. The number word spoken and the object counted must match up), and conservation (the count of the object stays the same whether spread out or close together) skills in a hands-on and engaging way!

Complete instructions about the game, including some wonderful pictures of the activity (and not of the students) are contained in the post.  Any activity that is inspiration in mathematics and allows students to gain confidence in their abilities is great.  If this applies to you, check out her post.


Seymour Papert – 1972 – MIT Mathematician, Computer Scientist, and Educator

These days a lot of people have discovered Seymour Papert.  Brian Aspinall ends his short post with this question…

Why did it take so long to become “trendy” today?

That’s generated quite a bit of discussion and I might write a blog post about it sometime in the future.

I’m not sure that “trendy” is the best word to use to describe his efforts.  It seems to me that it is all dependent upon the circles that one keeps her/himself in.  There have been a lot of people doing a lot of great things for years now.

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas should be in every school’s professional library and required reading for the modern day prophets…


Demands never Cease

My daily shot of inspiration comes from the morning posts from Paul Cornies.  He constantly outdoes himself.  Today’s quote was terrific although I had to MT it because of length before resharing.

Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. ~Lou Holtz

This is one of those quotes that apply to everyone.

What a way to start the day.  I can’t say it enough – thanks, Paul.


Gift of a Snow Day

From Heather Durnin, a story that makes you appreciate the special things that teachers do.  It was a snow day but a student got delivered to school for a day of learning.

We all know that this can be a precious time of 1:1 or small group learning.  In Heather’s room, not only was it a chance to get caught up, but to build some self-esteem.  Read Heather’s full post to see how a student goes from “I suck at computers” to a day that Heather describes as a gift.

Heather


What another nice collection of works to extend our professional thinking.  Please follow the links to the original posts and check them out.  A little blogging love like a “+1″,  “like”, “thumbs up”, “comment”, “share” goes a long way to show your appreciation for the efforts and thoughts that go into the production of these posts. Check out these and all of the great Ontario Edubloggers I’ve found so far – here.

More About Binary Numbers


I really enjoyed playing around with the binary number resource that Alfred Thompson had shared and I wrote about yesterday.

It reminded me of trying to teach the concept to students in Computer Science.  It always seemed like an academic exercise until you applied it directly.  For me, the payoff for binary came in the logic in game writing by peeking ahead of the movement at the next pixel to see if it was lit or not to signify a collision and then, of course, when we got the bread boards out and created some hard circuits.

Binary numbers and binary logic just seem to pair so nicely

I remember how I was taught – certainly back in the dark ages with no real context – it was just a mathematical concept of place holders and carry digits.  I think that, at some level, I gained a deeper appreciation for Base 10.  Then, of course, academically we moved to octal and hexadecimal to prove that we knew the concepts.  It was chalk talk at its finest.  In my first year of teaching, I still remember a student coming to class asking if we were going to do more with the “half-ass adder“.  After my jaw dropped, I wondered if I was talking out loud with my inner voice again!  Unless you’re a computer science or electronics whiz, don’t fret.  It’s a really obscure reference.

There are many techniques to try and introduce the concept.  The standard introduction, I think, is the light switch.  (See here for the Homer Simpson version).  By flipping a switch to 1, lights go on, switch to 0, lights go off.  It didn’t work terribly well in my classroom.  I only had two banks of lights on switches so demonstrating anything more than 3 was out of the question.  Had it been important enough, I guess a trip to the cafeteria with all its lights would have been in order!

I even stole a technique from my uncle to show binary addition.  You hold up one finger in one hand, and one in the other while making fists.  Smack them together and you end up with two fingers on one hand and none on the other.  As a four year old pre-schooler, I could watch it forever.  It didn’t play well in Grade 10 for some reason.

We didn’t have the tools and demonstrations that we have today.  Used properly, they make learning binary fun.

In fact, Alfred has a whole page devoted to binary numbers on his blog.  Check it  out here.

I was really intrigued by the link “How to Count to 1,023 on Your Fingers“.  If you’re still with me, you know why 1,023.  If not, that’s OK.  You just don’t know what you’re missing.

In fact, this resource takes you beyond binary.  It takes you far beyond my uncle’s adder.

It’s definitely a keeper, as well as the instructions for other bases.

You might even wonder why we’re so in love with base 10!

Binary Numbers


Thanks to Alfred Thompson for the lead on this incredibly addictive game.  In his regular Monday morning post “Interesting Links“, he made reference to a Binary Numbers Game from Cisco.

It’s fun; it’s a challenge; and it really makes you understand your binary numbers.

I’ll confess to playing with it for far too long.  In fact, it was only after playing for an extended period of time that I realized that the music loop is really annoying.  (Sorry developers)  I can’t imagine a classroom full of computers doing this activity without headphones!

The Ontario Curriculum is loaded with all kinds of references to Binary Numbers.  This activity would be a welcome addition to any classroom where the topic is being addressed.

p.s. I really should have done a screen capture with my higher scores but I was focused on climbing levels….