Whatever happened to …

… The Pen?

How many of us have multiple devices, but no pen? Or even the excitement over getting fancy pens (like the Cross one)? Then there’s the fact that adults spend a lot to time not using a pen, but most kids still spend the majority of time in the classroom using a pencil or pen. What does this say about how we’re preparing kids for their current reality? Is there a good balance, and what is it?

Thank you anonymous for posting to the Padlet for this suggestion.  I’m always looking for ideas; please add yours.

This brings back so many memories – from long ago and as recently as this past week.

From a long time ago, and I know that it’s a local thing, but it’s my memory so stick with me.

I recall in elementary school that some of the older desks had holes for inkwells drilled in them.  I can tell you that I’m not old enough to have been forced to use an inkwell but I do remember someone showing me once how to refill a pen.  It was also my first memory that there might be something different about left-handed people.  I remember being told that using “real ink” was a challenge for left-handed people due to smudging  when writing.

Driving into Goderich regularly, we would pass the Sheaffer Pen Company situated on Highway 8.  I remember asking my mother what they made; they were the only manufacturing company that I recall at the time.  She told me they made the best pens in the business.  The gold standard in pens was the Sheaffer White Dot pen.  I put it on my list to get when I made my first million dollars!

Eventually, I did get one (but not the million dollars) and it was amazing.  Writing was so smooth when compared to the cheap pens that I had used previously.  It became a prized possession and I still have it today.  At University though, I was influenced by a Waterman pen that I borrowed from a friend.  Once I started working, I got myself a Waterman pen set that I used with flair.  I had a ball point pen and a felt tipped pen.

But Sheaffer and Waterman weren’t the only big names in pens.  I had a Parker pen and my parents gave me an engraved Cross Pen and Pencil for graduation.  I even have a pen that’s only pen in shape but stylus in function.

Once you start going to conferences, you just seem to accumulate pens.  I have so many that I’m proud of.  My latest, most unique one, was a Rolls-Royce pen collected from their booth at last summer’s CSTA conference.   At my desk, I have a huge collection of pens.  Quite frankly, most are from hotels or conferences but I do have my prized Sheaffer and Waterman pens.  But, I have something more.  Something you don’t have!

I have two friends who are wood turners and, as luck would have it, they both made me a wooden pen when I announced that I was leaving my job.  I love both pens and they never leave the house lest I lose them.  Of course, each came in their own case.

Screenshot 2017-12-16 at 14.36.08
So many pens and I haven’t answered the original post.  Yes, I don’t use pens very much anymore.  I’m more likely to ask you to borrow a pen than to whip out one of my own.  I’m so much more connected that everything is pretty much done on computer.  The once beautiful handwriting that I used to take such pride with is now restricted to those times when I need to sign my name.

I know that many classrooms today have data projectors and teachers use presentation software in lessons and students do indeed use pens and pencils on their end.  If they’re fortunate enough to have a laptop, they might be keyboarders but for the most part, I’d be willing to bet it’s pen and pencils for the most part.  I don’t know what the balance is but it’s an interesting question.

For a Sunday, what are your thoughts?

  • What’s your most expensive pen?
  • Do you have a preference for taking notes?  Pen and paper or digital?
  • Did you ever use a fountain pen?
  • Do you prefer a thick pen or a thin pen?
  • How can we expect students to write well if we don’t teach cursive writing?
  • How can we expect students to type well if we don’t teach keyboarding?
  • Are there challenges today for left-handed writers?
  • Have you got away from chalk and the dust that goes with it in your classroom for other alternatives?  If so, what are your tools?
  • Do you have an opinion about the balancing point for students between pens and keyboards?

I’d be most interested in your thoughts.  Please reply in the comments below.

The complete list of “Whatever happened to …” articles appears here.  It’s not too late to jump in with your thoughts.


OTR Links 12/17/2017

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

Going, Going

… soon to be gone.

It’s with some sadness that visitors to the Storify website read the announcement that the service is no longer taking new accounts and will be unavailable after May 16, 2018.

Who hasn’t created a Storify document?  Or looked through one created by someone else?  Or participated in one by Tweeting using a particular hashtag?

I know that I’ve used them in a number of ways – probably the most productive were to collect the Tweets from the Bring IT, Together Conference when I co-chaired it in 2013 and 2014.  Even my ego got involved with one called “Me at #BIT14“.

Screenshot 2017-12-15 at 10.06.18

For many, this has been the go-to resource for easily collecting data.  If you’re a user of Storify, you should read their FAQ for more details, including how to export your old Storify documents and how to purchase an account for Storify 2.   The key message here that your old documents will no longer be accessible so you’re going to have to make a call about what you want to do going forward.

So what is a person supposed to do?  When using a free service, there’s always a chance that it will go away or get acquired by someone else or have its own plan to monetize itself.

The past week, the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario held and #ECOOchat dealing with the Hour of Code.  For our purposes, we used Participate.  Our collection is available here.

Screenshot 2017-12-15 at 10.09.23

It seemed to work well for our purposes.  It allowed me to write this post on the ECOO website.

How about you?  Are you a regular user of Storify?  What are your plans for collecting data in the future?

OTR Links 12/16/2017

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

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

I hope that everyone is comfortably shoveled out on this Friday.  It was quite a bit of snow pushing around here but I did get out to get things done.

But a little snow isn’t going to stop me from getting out my Friday post, featuring some of the best Ontario Edubloggers.  As always, there’s been some great thoughts shared this week.

Breakout Games

There’s been a great deal about digital breakout games in the classroom lately.  I’ve featured posts from Larissa Aradj and Cal Armstrong here.  So, we’ve had a look at a Google solution and a Microsoft OneNote solution.  Both are great and have a purpose but Eva Thompson had a different take.

She wanted to take her students back to the original or, as she calls it, Classic Breakout activity with her students.  Click through and see if you don’t agree that sometimes the newest and technology-ist isn’t necessarily the best.  Getting up, collaborating, problem solving, …, she had it all.

Stephen Hurley shared with me this research article The Rise of Educational Escape Rooms.  It’s a definite good read if you want more information.

Four Ways To Transform EQAO

If Andrew Campbell was King of the World, he’d change a few things.  This time, he takes a look at what he’d do with EQAO – in four easy, ok not-so-easy, steps.

All four take on a modern approach to a testing situation that doesn’t seem to want to go away.  All four are indeed worth a read and consideration but there were two that really struck me:

  • Respecting professional judgement
  • Respecting Students

He describes the day-to-day reality that both teachers and students deal with and yet is thrown out the window on EQAO testing day.

Makes you think.

What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Coding?

It isn’t often that I disagree with Aviva Dunsiger but I sure had the hair standing up on the back of my neck when I read her title.  But the world would be boring if we all agree on everything.  Her topic was influenced by another post that she had read that I found completely misunderstands what the Hour of Code is all about.

There would be huge backlash if her title had been

  • What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Mathematics?
  • What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Play Based Kindergarten?
  • What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Language?

You get the point.  If you look at the activities that people focused on with the Hour of Code, the “code” part was definitely there because of the branding but the activities are anything but passive and are all about Thinking and Problem Solving.  That’s what coding/problem solving is all about.  If you can’t see that in your activities, then you’re doing it all wrong.

Superior-Greenstone District School Board Beyond the Hour of CODE Challenge

I have to give a big unrelated shout-out to Stacey Wallwin.  She introduced me to the concept of “Freighter Friday”.  Believe me, it’s a thing…

This tags on so nicely on my thoughts about Thinking and Problem Solving.  Stacey shares with a challenge from Superior-Greenstone that takes them beyond the Hour of Code and invites you and your students to join them.


Embedded in the post is a Slides presentation with more details and links to deal with all of these topics.

Well done, Stacey.  It shows that people are ready to move beyond that one Hour and really make a difference.

Teamwork and Problem Solving

On the ECOO blog, Peter McAsh shares with us an activity that he’s been involved with the past few years.

During Computer Science Education Week, the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) at the University of Waterloo acts as a local host for the Programming Challenge for Grade 10 Girls.  PC4G

The girls get a chance to be guests at the university which is always a treat but then Prof. McAsh leads them on a learning journey involving the Alice programming language.  (slide deck attached to his post)

To “make things count”,

A group of University of Waterloo math professors met in a conference room to “judge” the submissions from the girls. The primary tool for assessment is to view the animated movies created by the girls’ code. Lots of smiles and laughter from the professors. Somehow I think this is not the atmosphere in the room when they are marking Euclid Math Contests!

It sounds like a wonderful opportunity.  If you’re in Southwestern Ontario, it’s an annual thing!  Details here.  How about next year?

Let Me Teach Like The First Snow Falling

Lisa Cranston is learning that it’s sometimes nice to recycle blog posts.  Many tag them “Posts from the Past”.

In this revisit, she talks about the changing role of centrally assigned teachers.  I still remember her first day on the job and my chance to meet her and Brent.  They were going to change the world in teaching mathematics.

Things have changed since there.

Since that time there has been a dramatic shift in how we support educators in their professional learning and much of our work is done at the school using a model of collaborative inquiry where the teachers and consultants engage as co-learners in action research based student learning.

Ironically, I was thinking about this the other day when I was explaining to my wife that, in the beginning, principals didn’t like that approach since we didn’t check in with them and make presentations at staff meetings…

Too Much

It hurt to read this post from dear friend Colleen Rose.

This year has been tough. I discovered that I have limits because I pushed myself past them; my commitments, projects and goals became too much as I began to cope with a variety of health concerns in my family, including my own.

She’s experiencing a lesson that all teachers need to learn.  So many learn later rather than sooner.

There’s only so much that you can commit to before the important things in life start to suffer.  Paying attention to those that give you advice about “balance” is so important.

It’s wonderful to read the support that she’s getting from friends in the comments.  It’s always nice to know that you’re not alone.

La mémoire corporative

This post, from Joel McLean was so timely for me.

I’ve always had Microsoft and Google accounts and the online storage that goes with them.  I do have an organization scheme that works for me although I recall being laughed at during an OTF seminar for the way I do things …

Now, I have access to a Team Drive.  When I first started to use it, I didn’t think of it differently from any other organization that I’ve used in the past.  I was completely wrong.  (Yes, I gave in and read the documentation)


This blog post should be compulsory reading and understanding by principals or anyone in charge of organizational groups.  Life was different when a teacher left resources for someone else and they happened to be in a file cabinet.  What if that file cabinet is now in the cloud?

An Interview with Jim Cash

From this blog earlier this week, in case you missed it.

How’s that for your professional reading for a Friday.  Click through and read each of these wonderful posts.  The authors will appreciate it.

If you like this post, please share it with your network and let’s give these blog posts some extra digital love.

While at it, make sure you’re following:

Don’t forget to check out all the great blogs from Ontario Edubloggers here.  There’s always some good reading.  And, if you’re blogging and not in there, please add yourself with the form.

OTR Links 12/15/2017

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

The case for the web

I remember it as if it happened just this past summer.  Actually, it was this past summer!  I was proctoring a Birds of a Feather session dealing with the Alice programming language at the CSTA Conference.

The BOF was scheduled to be in a small room and it was jam packed.  I couldn’t believe how many people would stick around at the end of a conference day for a session like this.  But, it was a chance to explain their passion for using Alice in the classroom.

Alice offers it all.  2 and 3 D story telling, building, programming in an easy format, an easy to navigate environment, and more including resources for teaching at the Alice website and all over the internet from fans.

I’m enjoying the discussion and the real passion for programming coming from those in the room.  It really is an indication that these people get it and want more.  I’m also cognisant of the time.  After all, this session is all that sits between these people and supper.  We reach the appointed time but nobody was moving or clock watching and the discussions continued.

I let it go for another five minutes.

Then ten minutes.

Then I realize that I’m shirking my duties so I stand up and politely wait for a speaker to pause to catch a breath and do the thank you thing to the leaders of the session.  Then it happened.

I was booed!

No kidding.  The now hostile crowd wanted more.  Well, not all of them so I apologetically told everyone that we were overtime and that those that wanted to leave could go for supper.  If they wanted to stay and continue, they were welcome.  I think a few of us left but the conversation continued.

Such was the passion for this programming environment.

In a recent discussion with Peter McAsh who led an Alice session as part of the Programming For Girls Challenge, we were talking about the opportunities available for the Hour of Code.  They generally were so accessible because all that you needed was a web browser to access them.

The one drawback to Alice is that it’s a standalone program and, as such, requires installation on a computer in order to use it.  No tablets, no Chromebooks, no phones – just a traditional computer.

That also means that you need to convince an IT Department that it needs to be installed and then updated on a standard image for the school.  That doesn’t make it easy to “try before you buy” in the classroom like some of the other options.  It doesn’t diminish the value of the program; all the good stuff is still there.

I would think that there would be many more fans if it was available via the web as opposed to a standalone installation.  It’s too bad; it has such potential.