TDSB Hour of Code Resource

It’s that time of year.  Progressive educators are evaluating the concept of the “Hour of Code” and deciding if it fits into their classroom learning.

We see comments from school districts “We support the Hour of Code” which roughly translates to “We won’t dock you an hour of pay if you try.  Knock yourself out.”.  Haters who hate will be coming out of the woodwork to claim that it’s just a scam by commercial interests to promote a product.

If you can get by all that, the Hour of Code is a wonderful opportunity for students, teachers, schools, parents and the community to experience the thrill that comes when you make that electronic object do your bidding.  Supporters of the concept, myself included, want others to feel that glorious feeling when you conquer the machine and make it do something that you want.

The Hour of Code concept has been wildly successful as this graphic from the Hour of Code website indicates.


How many other initiatives can claim such global appeal?

Just up the 401, the Toronto District School Board has put together an absolutely incredible resource website to support its teachers involved with this initiative.


And, of course, since it’s published to the web in a Google site, it’s available to the world and just a click away.  In addition to the visible, there’s the invisible.  A link provides TDSB educators with a starter kit.

I think that Julie Balen summed it up very nicely.

 TDSB sets the bar!

I would echo her sentiments and encourage all to take a look at the resource.  It could be the start of something beautiful for you and your students.  Is your district doing something similar?  Why not?

And it shouldn’t stop there.  An hour is simply a tasty sampler.  How can you extend the concepts to make coding a regular activity in the classroom?  Now that so many of the resources are on the web, there’s nothing to installed so that excuse goes away.

Just fire up your browser and dig in.

OTR Links 11/26/2015

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Not just Google

A twinge of guilt hit me after the blog post from yesterday about search, advertising, and online literacy.  I was inspired by the original report that talked about students being confused by search links and advertising when doing Google searches.

As we all know, Google isn’t the only search engine on the web.

How do the others handle the same search?  Is it clear what’s advertising and what’s an actual search result?





It’s interesting to see the results and note that not all search engines mark and/or display the advertising results in a similar fashion.

If this isn’t a call for a renewed emphasis of digital literacy and understanding search results, I’m not sure what would be.  Are you sure that your “digital natives” really understand the difference?

And, of course, this is just a select few search engines that I use.  (DuckDuckGo is my default)  Check out the complete list of the “Top 15 Most Popular Search Engines | November 2015“.  There’s more to a searching life than just the default that comes with your browser.

I do repeat the message from yesterday – Education always wins.

OTR Links 11/25/2015

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Education always wins

There’s been a story that’s been persistently appearing in my readings over the weekend.

Teens have trouble telling between Google ads and search links

My first reaction was “Just teens?”

My second reaction was to think back to a story or a message that someone had shared that indicated that students find what they’re searching for in the first 10 results of a Google search.  (as an aside, I really wish I could remember that source)

My third reaction was that perhaps that isn’t such a bad thing.  After all, if a company makes a product and thinks that it’s the best in the market, it will pay for results placement so that people can find them.

My four reaction was sort of related to that – if the product is that good, then people will be buzzing about the product and it should appear near the top in some form or other.

On the other hand, if this is for classroom research, the student isn’t necessarily interested in making a purchase.  They may be interested in just how things work.

I decided to give it a test here.

My topic?  Something that’s the buzz around this house anyway.  “Elf lights”  (Don’t ask … I lost)

So, I fired up my browser with, as you know from over the weekend, I have ad blocking enabled and got the following result.

I tried the search again with the ad blocking turned off.

There’s a huge difference in the search results.

Now, in Google’s defence, the advertising is clearly identified…if you know what you’re looking for.

So, what’s the answer for students and schools?

Well, I suppose that we could ensure that all advertising is blocked at the school gateway.  Or, perhaps install an advertising blocker on all school computers.

What good does that do though when the student whips out her/his phone and does a search or uses their computer at home or their BYOD device at school?

You’d be forever chasing your tail.

The answer, as in most things, is good teaching and understanding of digital literacies.  That starts with good teachers incorporating what’s important into the classroom.

As the title here says, Education always wins.  I see a wonderful bulletin board display.

OTR Links 11/24/2015

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

An interview with Martha Jez

Martha is another person that I’ve yet to meet in person but does have an interesting online presence. I was looking forward to meeting her face to face at the recent Bring IT, Together conference. That plan fell through so this interview will have to take its place.

Martha and Dustin Jez are principals at Fair Chance Learning and provide professional learning opportunities and support for Canadian educators and School Districts.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Martha.  I was hoping to meet at BIT but that didn’t work out.  I did attend a highly energetic presentation by Dustin though.

Martha: Doug thanks so much for setting this up. I am sorry to have missed you at BiT- but yes Dustin and I are certainly passionate about what we do and that comes with a high level of energy and enthusiasm :-)

Doug:  With Mom and Dad in the business, technology must be great for the Jez family.  What devices and opportunities would a “fly on the wall” see in the Jez household?

Martha: Yes we are very fortunate to have 3 beautiful children. If I had it my way we would have many more, our house is like a village hub, always full of kids- we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s funny we have over 50 different devices at any given time yet our children are hardly ever on them. We did have a Promethean Board installed in one of the bedrooms for a while that was pretty fun- the extension from that was the kids thought every wall/surface should be interactive- we had lots of art walls as a result :-)

Doug:  How do you handle screen time with the kids?

Martha: Dustin and I firmly believe that technology is a tool that should enhance our daily routines. We love when our kids use it to create and share with their family, friends and teachers. It’s not so much about screen time with us but interactions we want the kids to be exploring and connecting. However who can’t get wrapped up in looking at Superhero pictures or building in Minecraft? A dog, a big young energetic lab helps keep physical literacies at the forefront as well!

Doug:  Can you share how you predict technology will shape their lives?

Martha: I am all about the process of learning- focused on getting our kids to be reflective about what they are learning and why it is important is a big goal of mine. I believe they need to develop digital literacies and expect more from their technology.  I predict that the technology they use will be ubiquitous and naturalized. So I also want them to be aware of the human and environmental impact that comes with the technology they use and choose thoughtfully.

Doug:  We’ll start the tech questions with a lob up – OneNote, Keep, or Evernote?  Why?

Martha: I love this interview- Great Questions! OneNote without a doubt. In August, I met with the engineers who won the Microsoft Hack-a-thon this past July. They are in Vancouver and are an amazing group- a snapshot of what they are working on can be found in this article: Ryan Mcminn, @ryanmcminn is the product manager for OneNote and he says everyday they are looking at OneNote as a tool for education. I truly believe that this is the closest tool we have that is a learning for all tool. Teachers love it because they are organized creatures (some in a chaotic way) but it truly is an open canvas that allows students to capture learning in multiple ways and make that learning searchable. My two favorite tools are the search and the tags. The search tool allows students to find information that has been captured by camera, text, images and even voice- that is brilliant!

Doug:  At Dustin’s presentation, he showed us how to find the Office 365 blogging tool that’s visible within the organizational unit.  Does Office 365 for Education have external blogging capabilities?

Martha: is your tool for that scenario. It is a great way to post your thoughts to a larger audience and allow them to interact with your content. Students and Teachers become publishers and also can delve into the data analytics that go along with sharing their message.

Doug:  With your connections to school districts through the variety of professional learning that Fair Chance offers, you’ll have seen a great deal of implementations of Office 365.  Who would you say is leading the pack in Ontario?

Martha: This one took me the longest to respond to, only because I see so many great examples of O365 implementations but from many different angles. Most school boards in Ontario have Office and/or O365 available to staff and students. I love what Greater Essex has done in their approach to encourage collaborative teaching and professional learning with yammer. They had 3500 educators, executives, and administrators sharing their learning and expertise with each other on their yammer site almost immediately after implementing O365. That is a rapid adoption rate that was done organically without a ‘mandate’. I love seeing the tools being used in an authentic and natural way. The TDSB Assistive Technology Department has rolled out an amazing program to support students with disabilities transitioning to high school with the use of OneNote and Surface tablets, over 2000 this year, and the results have been very powerful. Last February we did an #MSFTEnable Accessibility workshop for all the SERTs and many Grade 9 teachers, over 110 teachers, from Halton Catholic District School Board focusing on making content digital with Office 365 so their students can unlock learning opportunities. I have to also shout out to Danny Maas and his team from Edmonton Catholic School Division who are doing an amazing job building teacher capacity and helping teachers redefine the learning experience with Office 365. Also Upper Canada District School Board has an amazing parental engagement strategy that includes a family room in Office 365.  Like I said so many great things happening.

Doug:  Again, with the connections, you’ll have a chance to monitor trends in technology use.  Overall, what skills do you feel Ontario educators have the best grip with?

Martha:  Collaborative learning and leveraging our networks to solve our real problems and having open dialogue about redesigning teaching and learning experiences. You can take any one of your Follow Friday lists of Ontario Educators and it is an example of individuals who are modeling for us what a modern contemporary educator looks like. We are at a point where Technology is now embedded in all pedagogical conversations. As a collective, we have moved beyond convincing educators on why they need to use technology and forward from grabbing the shiniest, loudest and most popping technology. IT and Programs are part of the leadership team in the same room discussing overall school transformation plans.

Doug:  Where is there a need for improvement?

Martha: We need more students involved at the leadership level. We are also at a point where we need to take the islands of innovation that exist and focus on scaling that innovation across the province. Also I think we need to be having deeper conversations about where technology is interfering with learning and having the courage to challenge those situations.

Doug:  A few years ago, I attended a Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Summit as the media guest of Alfred Thompson.  The event showcased some of the incredible things that are happening in classrooms.  I was blown away with what students were doing with Kinect at the time.  I remember throwing a fish at the Pike Place Fish Market simulator.  What sorts of innovation have you seen and been excited about?

Martha: Doug you have to attend a #MSFTCamp21! There you will see the amazing innovation that is Microsoft. Microsoft garage is also a great place to peek at some of Microsoft employee passion projects. Coming up at our camps in the New Year we hope to have some hololens appearances … how cool is that? I am also really interested to see where Microsoft takes the learning analytics they are building into Office 365 with a tool called Delve. Power BI and data visualization is also some pretty incredible stuff. Can’t leave out Minecraft ‘nuff said!

Doug:  Other than BIT, how do Ontario educators get to show off their best stuff to the rest of the province?

Martha: Obviously Twitter, but I have also integrated Skype into a lot of the training and events that I am involved with- it is the most convenient way to get the expertise of educators across Canada and to model to many educators what bringing an expert into your class can do for the learning.  I love EdCamps, and meet-ups. If you want to share your passion as an educator you have opportunities 7 days a week- make sure you take time to pause and be still though. I think it is important to balance the energy and mindfulness.

Doug:  Would you agree with my vision for TouchDevelop as the perfect introductory and intermediate programming language for students?

Martha: Absolutely, our young adults are having difficulty finding full time work and Microsoft is sitting with 10,000+ job openings for people who can code. We need to give everyone the opportunity to explore coding. I love what Michael Fullan said at the #YRDSBQuest conference this week “We need to stop asking students what they want to be when they grow up and ask what wicked problem they want to solve”.

Doug:  What’s stopping it from happening?

Martha: Mindset- like: I teach French how does coding connect? I’m a primary teacher computer science is a secondary school thing. The message to offer coding across grades and throughout the curriculum is being amplified with  and but I think teachers need mentors, models and dare I say training.

Doug:  Microsoft has admittedly been late getting to the online productivity suite table but is now rolling out its products and upgrades regularly.  How would you convince someone to drop their current tools in favour of Office 365?

Martha:  I would never want someone to drop their tools. I would want them to consider everything that Microsoft has to offer education and access these tools to help compliment and support every learner in their learning environment. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO says: “We approach every day focused on learning about people’s aspirations and how technology can help them realize their true potential.” That is worth knowing about. So a top 5 list perhaps?

  1. OneNote and OneNote Class Notebook – the best learning tool out there
  2. With a teacher/student account for O365 you can get Office 2016 on 15 personal devices (pc, mac, iPad and android)
  3. Your Office 365 login is like a passport so you can enter the wonderful world of Skype, Sway, O365 Video, and many other Apps for Education
  4. Microsoft is building two data centres in Canada! You can rest assured student data is on Canadian soil and is safe and secure
  5. Cortana, if you haven’t met her you are missing out. She is the first digital assistant that is built on Artificial Intelligence – this has huge potential in the classroom where students need support with executive functioning

Doug:  I love this statement from your website “Our focus is on early adoption, meaningful integration, and end user success.”  What does this mean to the classroom teacher?  How is ongoing support handled?

Martha: We are a connected company. Tell us your problem, issue or idea and we will use our resources and networks to help make that happen. When you have partners like Microsoft, hp, Minecraft EDU and many educational institutions and amazing colleagues we can get a lot accomplished.

Doug:  Microsoft has a number of educator programs, including their Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert program.  Is there a list of these Ontario experts somewhere?  How many are there?

Martha: There are over 100 MIEEs in Canada. The list is being built but you can meet some here: and here:

Doug:  Does Fair Chance Learning have a program to support those who would like to become members of this program?

Martha: We sure do. We just recently ran the first ever Canadian Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator and Trainer Academy. Check this out: we ran it at the hp Head Office, included IBM Educational Consultants, and dedicated a whole session to iPad and workflow issues. #thisishowwedo

Doug:  With all your connections, you have a better insight to the future than most.  What will we see in classrooms and schools five years from now?

Martha: I am a hopeful and optimistic person. What I see is all students taking ownership of their learning, connecting and collaborating to solve real world problems with peers and experts from all over the world. I see educators who understand the value of partnership with families, communities and businesses. I see us supporting our students to show us what they learned and where they would like to go next. I also see social entrepreneurship as a priority.

Doug:  I know that you’ve been involved with the organization of the events in Toronto and Vancouver. If someone attended a Camp 21, would they get insights to this future?

Martha: Answered in the innovation question (and Montreal and Fredericton and on our way to Thunder Bay and Saskatoon)

Doug:  What’s new and exciting on the horizon for Fair Chance Learning?

Martha: Wow we are pretty fast paced right now. Our team is evolving, we have already clocked 100,000 km this year in travel across Canada working with educators and it has been nothing short of amazing. We have been pretty good at predicting the trends in education- moving away from Interactive White Boards and the concept of Assistive Technology to cloud, mobile learning strategies and universal technology. We are definitely ‘In the Flow’ of learning and see much more focus being put on the design aspects of learning and that is exciting for us. STEM, Coding, Universal Design, Gaming, and blended learning environments that mix physical reality with augmented reality. I like that direction. The network we have across Canada is so wonderful to work with, meeting and supporting educators who are doing great things is what energizes us. Our team has more than 10,000 hours of investment in designing, implementing and executing high quality professional development and learning opportunities and having the chance to do that every school day is pretty epic.  I hear the States need some help maybe we are headed in that direction.

Doug:  Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.  I appreciate it.  You’ve really given me some insights as to what services your company provides and a glimpse into the future.  I’m sorry I took you away from preparing supper last week.

Martha: Doug, it was a real and sincere pleasure to answer your thoughtful questions. You are a skilled journalist and I appreciate the opportunity. You have really captured the essence of who I am professionally and what Fair Chance Learning is all about.

You can follow Martha and her adventures in professional learning at and Fair Chance Learning is online at

A complete listing of the people I’ve had the chance to interview appears here.