doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s the Friday before March Break. 

Why not enjoy some writing from Ontario Edubloggers?  I know that I did.  Here’s some of what I read recently.

Coding Morning in Grade One

One of the types of blog posts that I really enjoy reading are those from a teacher introducing coding to students.  The younger the student, the more interesting the read.  I didn’t get a chance to write my first program until Grade 11 and, even then, it was the type of program that gives coding a bad taste in so many people’s mouths.  It was hard core writing of instructions in Fortran where syntax and semantic rules were king.  To increase the pain, my next language was COBOL which I still maintain taught me how to keyboard faster than ever before.

Things are completely different these days as this post from Jenni vanRees attests.  She’s chosen the best of the current best as coding centres for her students.

Scratch, Tickle with Sphero, Daisy the Dinosaur, Kodable…  oh to be a kid again!

I’m not sure what her test is for sharing with a “global audience” but every time I got something to work the way it was supposed to, I wanted to share it with anyone within ear shot!

The entire post is a recipe for success and well worth the read and the time to share with administrators who might be sitting on the fence.  Spheros and other programmable devices have never been as affordable and the rewards when used properly are immeasurable.  They should be in technology acquisition plans – they have purpose for all grades.  Once the students are a little older, kits like Raspberry Pi, HyperDuino, extend the concept.

It’s time to get past debating whether coding has a purpose.  Make the move – this blog post should serve as inspiration for those not yet convinced.

3 Teaching Hacks That Are Going to Blow Your Mind!

I’ll confess that the title pulled me in.  I hate the term “hack” as it seems to be watered down and used all over the place to draw people into a discussion that might be somewhat unique.  I go back to the traditional use of “hack” as my dad would say when I was coughing “Is that you hacking upstairs?” or the concept that computer hackers could somehow bypass security and access a system.

This sets the stage.

*Warning: This post contains snarky and in-your-face concepts to shake up the teaching world as we know it!

The rest of the post from TESLOntario talks about three strategies (yeah, I like that better than hacks) that would guarantee success with a particular activity.

The three strategies are actually pretty smart and would be good advice to follow.  I think that the message could be nicely summed up as “just don’t try to over teach”.  The strategies are wise – stop doing what you’ve been doing – and consider another approach.  That’s always good advice.  It makes sure that you’re not in a rut and that you’re doing your best to reach every student.

Who could ask for more?

Three Easy Tips for Teachers on Twitter

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog post, you don’t need to be convinced.  But, if you’re new or know someone who is new, this post from Rusul Alrubail is just perfect.

If I was writing the post, I might have called it “PD after dark” or something.

Whatever you call it, Rusul identifies three ways that Twitter can enhance your skills as a teaching professional.  In particular, take a look at her third easy tip.  That’s the one that I think more people should be encouraged to realize.  It’s the power of THEIR voice and not that of the big commune.  You have to be prepared to be wrong.  It’s so easy to do when you stick your head out and become so visible.

But consider the other side of the coin.  Even I can’t be wrong all the time.  Why not share the great things that you’re doing, share your wealth of knowledge, ask questions, provide possible answers, suggest alternatives, and make positive differences in others’ teaching lives.  You’re the expert with what you do from 8-4 and, if you’re going online to learn, so are others.  Nobody has all the answers.  Together, we’re better.  Jump in.

Including Student Voice in the Curriculum

“Student Voice” is a commonly viewed phrase these days.  It means so many things to so many people.

There are those that will only focus on the use of technology to amplify this voice.  Others recognize that student voice can mean so many other things.

Amy Bowker writes:

I decided to print out the Grade 6 curriculum about Space, our next unit we needed to cover. In Google Classroom, I gave them a shared document where the whole class could write and I asked them 2 questions: ‘What do we need to know about?,’ and ‘What do I want to learn about.’

Notice the sneaky attempt to reinforce technology skills?

The post shares a checklist and a rubric for the topic. 

It’s a nice looking model that’s easily replicable.

Taking a drink from the waterfall

If you’re a connected educator, you aren’t just another faceless voice.  If you’re truly connected, you’re an integral part of things and your friends know when you’re missing in action.

Sometimes, as in the case of Greg Pearson, it’s on purpose.  Sometimes, as in the case of me, it’s because I’ve messed up on a setting and things like my blog posts aren’t automated.  I have my conscience Aviva ready to send me a message when it doesn’t appear.

So, Greg decided to take a break; that’s a choice that many people do periodically.  It’s his life; he should be entitled to kick back if he wants.  His observations, though, serve as a reminder that we’re all part of this big collaborative learning machine.

I was amazed by some tweets and DMs asking how things were because they hadn’t heard from me in awhile. It’s amazing how those “impersonal”, electronic, virtual connections still managed to turn into something so personal and real.

His insights take us past of some of the moronic “I gots me a PLN” messages and to the real heart of learning together.  People genuinely caring for each other.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

How old is he?

This is such a powerful post from Debbie Donsky.  If you’re easily made emotional, grab a tissue before clicking through.

She sets the stage nicely for her message and I really love her list of:

He is old enough to …

While she’s talking about her own father, you’d be more than welcome to replace He with She and focus the questions on your mother – or your grandparents.

Debbie may not have shed a tear but I certainly did while reading this very powerful post.

It’s also made me think that there are always better ways to ask questions.  Thanks, Debbie for your very personal sharing.

The Nostalgic Appeal of Teaching Cursive

The topic of teaching cursive is one of those things that you see pop up for discussion on a regular basis.  People have strong arguments for and against.

Andrew Campbell was responsible for the current round of discussion in a blog post.  He takes an all too familiar tact for why things remain in the curriculum — “nostalgia”.

The reluctance of some to let go of cursive is evidence of a powerful force in education. Nostalgia.

How we teach and the schools and classrooms we create are, in one way or another, heavily influenced by our experiences as students. If those experiences were positive, we seek to recreate them for our students. If we were told, as a student, that having perfect cursive writing was crucial to your future success, and you were successful, you ascribe some of that success to cursive, and you want those same benefits for the students you teach. The same influences also affect parents and policy makers.

It’s one of those things that we who are discussing it have, in fact, learned and mastered at varying skill levels.  I’ll be honest; I never heard the term “cursive” until the past few years.  In my schooling, it was just “writing” as opposed to the alternative “printing”.

In my world, I learned to print and then learned to write.  I was a slow learner when it came to writing but eventually got the knack of it.  My writing surprisingly looked like my mother’s although not entirely as graceful as hers was.  Then, in Grade 9 and 10, I learned to type.  Hard core typing.   aaa ;;; sss lll ddd kkk fff jjj ggg hhh fff jjj ddd kkk sss lll aaa  ;;; Then, there were the reaches and the numbers and all that good stuff.  In Grade 11, I learned how to print neatly again as I learned to write computer programs in Fortran.  You had to make sure that you didn’t exceed the number of characters per card, had things in the right column, it was actually readable, and all that good stuff.

These days, I keyboard a great deal and print for the most part when I have to put pen to paper.  It was my wife’s birthday recently and handwriting a message on the card was brutal.  I actually felt badly that I couldn’t give it the script with a flourish that I could in the past.

Those who would get rid of cursive writing point to the fact that people keyboard with greater speed and accuracy.  Yet, we’ve removed formal keyboarding from the curriculum as well.  We laugh at silly predictive spelling and misinterpretation of voice commands but somehow they become accepted. I’m sure that mathematicians rue the day that QED will be replaced with LOL.

I find it a little disconcerting that we seem to be skirting around the issue – the issue as I see it is just where the heck are we going to end up?  Students and parents rely on a curriculum that clearly maps out skills for student growth.  Where are we headed with this?  Andrew’s post is interesting to make you think and he offers links to related discussions on the topic.

Where, indeed, will our students be when they graduate?  If we don’t formally teaching cursive writing and keyboarding, do we just accept that they may stumble into acquiring these skills? “OK, class, today’s inquiry is cursive writing.”

Maybe that’s why professors put all their Powerpoint presentations online.

I can’t believe that I made reference to Fortran twice in this post.  Could Andrew be right and I’m hung up on nostalgia? 

I hope that you can take a few moments and click through to read all these wonderful posts.  They will get you thinking for sure.  Thanks to all for their contributions.

Have a wonderful Spring Break.


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