It’s more than a “yeah, me too”


It was this line in a comment from Aviva Dunsiger on my post yesterday that got me thinking about blogging.

the never-to-be-underestimated, value of a reply

When I started in the blogging world, there were only a few others that I knew about or cared to read.  It was not uncommon to post a comment on every blog that you would run across.  After all, that’s what the ability to reply or comment is all about.  Who remembers the excitement of the hashtag #comments4kids as a way to get comments for class blogs?

Things, most certainly, have changed.

I don’t dwell on statistics but every now and again, I take a peek to make sure that there’s at least one or two people reading my thoughts here.  I’m always humbled when I see the numbers – there are good days and there are not-so-good days and that’s to be expected.  Since I’m rather random in thought sharing, not everything appeals to everyone.  I write because I enjoy it and, just as we are convinced it’s good for student’s memories, I find that by putting thoughts down  I’m a little more likely to remember things.

And, in the beginning comments were very frequent here.  WordPress lets you know who your most frequent commenting visitors are.  It’s a confirmation that there are regular readers/commenters and for that I’m grateful.

I’ve mentioned in the past why I think people are getting away from commenting.  Probably the biggest reasons that I can think of (short of just a bad blog post) are that there is just so much to read these days and people are finding ways to read blog content without actually visiting the blog.  For whatever reason, people do what they do and that’s great.

I was reading a technical blog post this morning dealing with a Windows 10 issue from a few weeks ago and the author was pretty much begging for comments at the bottom of the post.  Nobody had when I read it.  When I left the post, there still were no comments.  Even now as I type this, I feel a bit badly that I didn’t respond.

Then, I turned to the local newspaper, where “every whacko with a keyboard” posts a comment, it seems.  The paper uses the Facebook plugin and it’s very easy to see the people that have a legitimate Facebook account versus others.  If nothing else, the comments are entertaining.

But I go back to Aviva’s thoughts.  “The value of a reply”.

Most certainly, there are values and connections to be had with replies.  The original blogger extends her reach and makes new and important connections when people comment.  The blogger may realize that they absolutely have nailed a concept, they may find that there are other ways at looking at a topic, or they might be convinced that they were completely wrong.  Without that feedback, the blogger might just go through life thinking they know everything about everything.

Constructive thoughts continue and extend the conversation and can make new connections.  There are many folks who don’t blog for whatever reason and that’s their choice.  But, if they’re reading other blogs, they can do their own mini-blog by sharing their thoughts.

What do you think?  In one way or another, you’re reading this.  Does any of this make sense to you?  I don’t mind being proven wrong if you think I am.  Do you see the value in replies?  Or, is it something else?

OTR Links 02/22/2017


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

This is why we do it


I was actually out of town yesterday but my phone was still connected to back home. It was getting a workout with notifications.

The whole thing started innocently enough…for me anyway.

It was in last Friday’s This Week in Ontario Edublogs post here that I took a real interest in a post by Debbie Donsky.  She had a rather long title for it “Listen with Compassion and Act with Love The Roles We Play and the Impact We Have as Educators“.  It was a rather long post, consistent with the length of the title.

It caught the blog reading eye of Aviva Dunsiger who shared her thoughts…

… a nice reply by Debbie…

As a result, Aviva was inspired to write a post based on her thoughts inspired by the original post.

This Is My Story. What’s Yours?

I enjoyed reading both posts.  They represent the thinking of two passionate educators.

Stepping back from the posts, I can’t help but think about the bigger social media part of all this.  I know Aviva personally and through her interactions online; I know Debbie but only from her thoughts that she elects to publish.  I can’t comment on whether the two ladies know each other.

But what made this all happen?

It wasn’t like the two of them happened to sit down together at a school staff meeting.  It wasn’t even something more social than sitting together at a coffee shop.

Instead, it was one person who decided that she would share her thoughts with the world.  Then, it was another person who happened to find the post, promoted it, and then was inspired to write a blog post of her own.  It’s the sort of professional dialogue that education has wanted to have for years.

How many times have we all sat in a lecture hall or district provided PD and listened to a certain extent to someone who talks, gets their money, and then goes home?  Interaction optional.

This whole interaction between the two of them wasn’t passive.  It was incredibly interactive and brought anyone who was connected into its midst.  Although my phone was beeping and vibrating, I couldn’t be part of it in real time.  It was only when I got home and got caught up that I found it.  That’s OK too; we can’t be online 24/7.  If you weren’t part of it on Sunday, follow the links above.

I can’t help but ponder over how many other great thoughts and sharing goes on; but by policy or choice, it resides behind some school district’s wall of protection.

Had Debbie originally written and posted her thoughts that way, the world would never have had the choice to read and reflect about her message.

Both messages didn’t get vetted by a superior officer and there was no disclaimer that “this message doesn’t reflect the values of anyone else”.  It was just two professionals speaking from the heart.

Isn’t this just a great wakeup message for those making decisions?

OTR Links 02/21/2017


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

A duet


I have two musical goals in life.

  1. Play a piano duet with Sir Elton John
  2. Learn how to play the piano

Probably neither of these will ever happen.  I may even have them in the wrong order.

But that’s OK.  Google has me covered with a new “experiment” called A.I. Duet.

I’m fascinated with the intelligence that can be built into a computer and the results that we see and read about daily.  I think that we all know that we’re on the edge of great things as terrific programmers take on and understand concepts and create something new.  In particular, it’s impressive when it’s something new that the computer has created for us.

That’s the premise behind the A.I. Duet.  Watch this video; it may be the best two minutes of learning you do today.

I found the discussion of machine learning and neural networks fascinating.

Even more fascinating is playing with this experiment and watching it respond to my touch.

In the classroom, what a wonderful hands-on example to begin discussion.

  • How does it do this?
  • How does it respond to different tempos or combination of notes?
  • Does it do a better job with someone who knows how to play versus the “kitten on the keys?
  • Does your interaction with the experiment make it smarter or dumber?  How?
  • Can more than one player make it work harder or get better results?

I’m no better now playing the keyboard than when I first started playing around.

But, I do now have a partner to play duelling pianos with.

OTR Links 02/20/2017


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

Whatever happened to …


… the Hypo Programming Language?

Have you ever had to learn a programming language well enough to teach it in a few weeks?  Memories and inspiration for this post came from last week when I talked about optical marked cards.

I did!

It was for my first teaching job.  Teaching Grade 11 and Grade 12 Computer Science was going to be a piece of cake.  (or so I thought)  The language of instruction was to be Fortran and COBOL.  Both of these languages had been a part of my university program so I knew the language.

But, it was the Grade 10 course that had me concerned.  Actually, this concern extended to Grade 9.  In the Business Department, the Grade 9 course was a collection of units in Accounting, Marketing, and Data Processing.  In the Data Processing unit, and in the Grade 10 course, we were to use the Hypo programming language.

Wha?

I’d never heard of that before but how difficult could it be?  It was a pre-cursor to Fortran after all.

Well, it turned out that Hypo stood for “Hypothetical Computer”.  It was a language that got you to dig into the things that higher level languages just assumed that you knew or plain didn’t care about.  Things like how a computer does arithmetic.  Things like data going into a storage location of your choice.  Then, you’d load the contents from memory and push them onto a stack.  Once in the stack, you could do simple operations like adding, subtracting, etc.  Once you had performed the operation, you’d send it to be printed.  Instructions were simple; the computer could only do things one step at a time and you had to provide each and every step.

Instructions were coded by the programmer.  Each instructions had a two digit opcode (operation code) and a three digit operand (usually making reference to a memory location).  Speaking of memory locations, there were 1000 of them in this hypothetical machine ranging from 000 – 999.  I could bore you with the details but, if you’re interested, check out this document.  My entire course summarized in eight pages!

We did have a textbook.  It was authored by John Walsh from Western University and others and called “Informatics:  Introduction to Data Processing”.  So, at the conclusion of my successful interview, I asked to take a copy of the textbook home with me.  And, I read it from cover to cover over that summer and was ready to go for the first of September.  I felt I knew the programming language in its entirety without ever writing or debugging a line of code!  For the most part, I was writing the programs and assignments along with the students that fall and we all learned the language together.  Co-learning before co-learning was a thing.

I quickly became conversant with instructions like:

10999

20999

Like all of the courses at the time, it was expensive.  It was done on cards and five characters per card sure wasn’t an efficient use!

I had lots of students take that course and then followed up with “real” programming languages in subsequent grades.  The Hypo language itself eventually became a memory —- and then it became a project.  I would have students write their own interpreter in the real language we were using at the time.  We’d use arrays and stacks and talk about simple operations and brought them altogether for the purpose of the project.  I could kick myself for not hanging on to one or two of these excellent submissions.  They’d be fun to play around with today.

Hypo did indeed become a memory after a while.  Courses evolved with newer technologies and the opportunities they provided.  Eventually, we licensed Turing and used it as an introductory language.  Today, many students will use Scratch or Alice or Hopscotch or the like for their first language.  Many others use Python as an introductory language and some actually build complete programs right through Grade 12 around it.  It’s a nice choice.  It’s an interesting change from the good ol’ days.  Unlike Hypo which really required you to think about the computer hardware (albeit a hypothetical one), there are things like variables and higher level instructions that make learning about the hardware itself pretty much unnecessary.  The newer languages open up more opportunities; Hypo pretty much left you dealing with mathematics problems.  But, you could come up with interesting problems all the same.  I’d look for current ideas like this one – Library book returned 75 years late, with no fine.  I’d turn that story into a problem and the great emergent programmers of the time would dig into that with great enthusiasm.  What would the fine actually be today if it was collected?

These were the tools available at the time.  The choice was made by the school and not the teacher.  Probably, as Alfred Thompson says in a recent post “You’re Teaching the Wrong Programming Language“.  It’s an interesting observation if you’re focusing on languages.  But, if you are focused instead on the concepts from learning to code, I don’t think there is a “wrong” programming languages.  Education isn’t or shouldn’t be a training institution; it’s a learning place and particularly in computer programming, students will go through a number of languages in their career.

Your turn.

  • Were you ever a Hypo programmer?
  • What was your first programming language?  How did it impact the way you use computers today?
  • Did you ever program in an assembler language?  Do you still feel the love?
  • If today’s students start to learn to code in a block language, do they miss something by not understanding the hardware of the computer they’re programming on?
  • At what stage do you wean students off block coding and move to programming?
  • For computer science teachers, how do you address the concepts of memory limitations and subsequent things like programs crashing because of out of memory messages?
  • For those of you who might be programmers or who studied programming, how many languages have you actually used?  Do you have a favourite?

Please share your thoughts via comment below.

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts.  They can all, by the way, be revisited here.

Please visit this Padlet and add your ideas.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!