Andrew Forgrave is currently a primary years educator with the Hastings and Prince Edward County District School Board. But, that’s just one of the presences that he has and has had in Ontario Education. He’s one guy that, when I push the right button, is good for a long and detailed response to a blog post. I tried to pull it all together in a recent interview.
Doug: I always start my interviews with this question. I find it even more interesting when I can’t remember the answer – do you recall when we first met?
Andrew: We were introduced to one another by John Taylor when he was at the Ministry of Education. I was working on the Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner project, and you were working on the OSAPAC committee. As I recall, OSAPAC was looking at putting the contents of the database of licensed software on the web, and John connected us (at ECOO?) because it was a FileMaker Pro question the the three of us shared in common.
Doug: Since that time, our paths most certainly have crossed so many times and in so many ways. You know that you’re my go-to guy when I need help with Apple products. By now, surely you own stock in that company. Can you share what types of Apple products you’ve owned over the years?
Andrew: Although I first put my hands on the mouse of a Macintosh in 1985 at the Ontario Science Centre as part of the Technology show, it wasn’t until the early nineties that I purchased my first Macintosh, a Mac Classic. That first Mac had a 50 MB hard drive and 4 MB of RAM with a grayscale monitor. My second Mac was a pizza box shaped LC 475 with a color monitor, with maybe 16 MB of RAM, a 500 MB hard drive, and eventually an external hard CD-ROM and speakers.
Subsequent to that, I’ve lived in the Apple notebook world with, in order, a WallStreet PowerBook G3 (bottom left), a Titanium PowerBook G4 (top left, with the duct tape), and three subsequent iterations of the aluminium Macbook Pro line. I’m currently using a late 2013 model 15-inch MacBook Pro (bottom right, with the BrikBook cover). Along the way, I’ve also purchased an iMac and a Mac Mini for my sons to use.
I toyed around with, but never owned a Newton. That would’ve been sweet, as the Newton was truly ahead of its time. When the iPhone arrived, a decade later, I was all over that. I made do with an iPod touch first, as distribution of the first iPhone was limited to the US, but I was standing in line that first day the iPhone 3G finally arrived in Canada. That was followed by an iPhone 4, an iPhone 5, an iPhone 6 and an iPhone 6S. I also traveled to Syracuse to purchase an iPad on the day of its first release in 2010, and stood in line for the first day launch of the iPad2 at Fairview Mall with around 800 other people in 2011.
We can also add to the list a good number of Airport Express wireless access points to play music throughout various rooms, a couple AppleTVs, and Apple Watch, … etc.
Doug: You took a break in teaching to help the province with the development of many applications – Electronic Report Cards, Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner. How did you get involved with these projects?
Andrew: My first involvement with electronic report cards happened during my second or third year of teaching, around 1993. It just made so much more sense to word process comments rather than handwrite them. Because I was already using a WYSIWYG interface on my Mac, it made perfect sense to design report forms and type the text into them. My first designs were probably done with FileMaker and/or ClarisWorks, which were much nicer products to work with at the time than MS-Works running within a rudimentary Windows interface. (We had one Windows computer in the school at the time.) A pilot project at my school led to my participation in my District’s evaluation and reporting committee, and before I knew it, I was working as a Curriculum Coordinator with the board. During my four years in that role I supported our district report card pilot and then the Ministry electronic report card pilot, and it was then that I was seconded to work on the Curriculum Unit Planner.
Doug: At the heart of all of these products is Filemaker Pro. What got you interested in learning how to write software using this database program?
Andrew: Guy Kawasaki, former Chief Mac Evangelist, wrote a book in 1991 called Database 101, which caught my eye one Sunday afternoon in the local booksellers. As was the norm back in those days (pre-Internet), the software book came with a software floppy disc, and so it was easy to go home, install the software, and get up and running. As I started to play with FileMaker, I appreciated some similarities in interface to Hypercard, but immediately saw the power of the additional underlying structure for organizing data. Probably the most significant thing I appreciated was the ability for the software to re-present data in a variety of different ways, which revealed patterns and lead to new understandings. It was a true timesaver, and opened the door to a new way of organizing information. As Guy has since said, “I love databases, and I wanted more people to appreciate them.” Clearly, his book got through to me.
Doug: Filemaker Pro was licensed by the Ministry of Education for use in all Ontario schools. That’s certainly because of your work with it.
Andrew: Truth be told, the first Ministry-licensed FileMaker was version 2.1, and a lot of school boards were already developing report cards using FileMaker before the Ministry started to work on developing the standardized provincial report card. (I remember my excitement being at ECOO one year and hearing that the Ministry/OSAPAC had licensed FileMaker. I was still in the classroom at that point.) Over the course of the Curriculum Unit Planner project, FileMaker continued to mature such that the last version of the Planner was released using FileMaker 5.5, around 2003. Sadly, the OCUP.org website is no more, and the Planner is no longer supported, but it’s amazing what lives on through the magic of the Internet’s Wayback Machine. As well, the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University continues to host the original 81 units from the Planner in PDF format. Every one of those PDFs (units and blackline masters) came out of that Titanium G4 Powerbook …
Doug: Time moves on … Filemaker Pro has moved on as well. Do you still develop in databases? Are there other applications written by yourself or others that Ontario educators should know about?
Andrew: I still use FileMaker — it’s now at version 15, with both a mobile phone app and a cloud-based storage option — but I no longer develop with Filemaker beyond my needs in the classroom. That’s not to say there aren’t places for databases in the classroom and in learning, but for the most part, “thinking into databases” is not the norm for most people, which is a shame. I’ve had several wonderful conversations over the years with Peter Skillen (@PeterSkillen) about the tools we use and how they can shape/influence our thinking. It is liberating to understand a tool to the extent that you see when it is the perfect application for a job. For most people, however, databases and database thinking is not in their toolkit.
Doug: One of my favourite events are Edcamps and Edcamp Quinte was one of the first ones I’ve ever attended. It was the inspiration for my “Headed East” Twitter messages and your “Headed West” ones which we use each year for Bring IT, Together. I still use that picture you took of me at the Edcamps in profile pictures. I have three highlights from that day – checking into the paint stripes on the 401, checking into the Bay Bridge, and leading a discussion on QR Codes. What stands out in your mind from that day at the library in Belleville?
Andrew: Aside from the fact that I had to duck out for couple of hours to take my boys to swimming lessons, I have fond memories are of the variety of topics explored by the participants there that day. I enjoyed talking about 3D photography, even though I don’t know that it formally made it onto the agenda. I also remember that Peter McAsh (@pmcash) joined us over the web and shared Edmodo. We had a really nice flow of ideas, and it was great to end the day with that tasty feast at Paulo’s Trattoria.
Doug: Have you ever done a reprise of Edcamp Quinte?
Andrew: The EdCamp Quinte that you attended was our second, and we held a third one later that year at the Quinte West Library in Trenton. It was the largest turnout of the three, we had a catered lunch, door prizes, and again a couple of guests via Skype. Afterwards, some of us did a photowalk around downtown Trenton. I still use the @EdCampQuinte twitter account to promote other edCamps around Ontario, and have attended over ten different edCamps across Ontario. The grass-roots nature of the #edCamp model really puts the participants in the driver’s seat and allows them to set the agenda for the day. We really need more PD that follows the #edCamp model.
Doug: You’ve been a long time member and contributor to the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO.org). Can you share some of your history there?
Andrew: ECOO and its members have always been a great source of support and encouragement for me over the years in helping to extend my technology practice. I would have first started attending the annual ECOO conference in the early to mid-nineties, and was drawn into presenting in probably 1998 or 1999. After years as an attendee and presenter, in 2009 I had an opportunity to sit on the ECOO Board of Directors over a four year span, first as Program Chair and then Communications Chair, supporting the ECOO.org web presence, establishing the @ecooweb Twitter account and setting up the conference bringITtogether.ca web domain. (I still pop in and tweak the main ECOO site now and again to this day.) Prior to leaving the Board in 2013, I worked with former Past President Ron Millar (@ron_mill) in revising the ECOO bylaws to increase the size of the board so as to provide increased stability in continuity and an opportunity for ECOO to undertake projects beyond the scope of the annual conference. I subsequently served ECOO as the Chair of the Nominations Committee in 2014 and 2015.
Educators really need to know that participating throughout the year on ECOO sub-committees is a great opportunity to stay connected with other ECOO members who have so much to share on a regular basis. It’s always wonderful to run into folks at conferences, #edCamps, and other venues to catch up and share ideas face to face. It really is such a great collection of folks!
Doug: Do you miss the SIGs?
Andrew: One of my first external-to-Board presentations for educators would have been at a SIG-ELEM meeting at McArthur Hall at Queen’s University in Kingston in the mid-nineties, likely before I even had an opportunity to present at ECOO. Because the SIGs held mini-conference get-togethers throughout the year, they provided additional opportunities to meet back then, before the Internet and Skype and Hangouts made it so much easier to connect at a distance at the click of a mouse.
To an extent, #edCamps have provided a new model that relies less on a topic- or grade- specific focus, and provides a way for a wider range of educators to join in, participate, and share. Other, platform-specific events like Google Summits and Microsoft Camp21 events have also started to provide venues where educators can get-together and share, although the latter two tend to have a specific focus with typically a much more strongly pre-defined agenda.
In a similar vein, ECOO Output magazine has been supplanted through the rise of the Internet and WordPress. Rather than investing significant dollars in producing print publications and sending it to a limited membership, educators now have the ability to go online and search the web for so many more resources that are openly shared.
The former ECOO-CS SIG continues on to this day, hosting three regional programming contests each year, followed by a final provincial programming contest each spring.
Doug: One of your current fascinations is with Minecraft. Certainly not in the cursory manner that some people address it – you’re heavily vested in it with your boys and promoting it with educators. Is it taking off and adopted as you would like to see?
Andrew: When my boys were younger, they joined me on the Saturday morning drives to various #edCamps, and they were the original reason I got drawn into the world of Minecraft. It would have been at #edCamp Toronto that my sons “were recognized as the experts” by some #edCamp participants as they shared what they knew, and tweets from that event got me connected with Liam O’Donnell, Diana Maliszewski, Denise Colby, Jen Apgar, and other Minecraft-using educators. I’ve spent countless hours playing (and learning) with these folks on the GamingEDUs Professional Play server. A lot of early Minecraft-education sharing took place through the GamingEDUs website, and via presentations by members of this group across Canada.
The Microsoft purchase of Minecraft in 2014 has had a number of influences on how the legacy of Minecraft in education will play out, and time will tell as to how things go. As with any strategy employed by an educator in a classroom, personal familiarity and understanding of how to best employ it to support learning are key to any successful implementation. You can have a great text book, but learners can be limited in their learning based on how it is used. Similarly, a lot of great learning can happen in a classroom with nary a text book in sight. The teacher is the key.
Minecraft is currently extremely popular with kids, and they are very motivated to play with it. A lot of great learning can come from play and the open-ended, creating-oriented nature of Minecraft lends itself to myriad approaches. In the hands of educators committed to supporting learning through play, Minecraft has great potential.
Doug: And, who is “GumbyBlockhead”?
Andrew: Ah, Gumby is my Minecraft persona. Gumby tweets at @GumbyBlockhead, shares his thoughts at GumbyBlockhead.com, and plays on the Gumbycraft server (an outgrowth of the @GamingEDUs community). Other minecrafters that he interacts with frequently call him Gumby online, and sometimes when we get together in person, as well.
Doug: What pays the bills is your classwork. People can check out your Class3F.ca website. How does technology play itself out in your classroom? What takeaways do your students have?
Andrew: We are fortunate to have moved to a mobile lab model several years back, and our school WiFi is now wonderfully stable and fast. Our school carts were refreshed a little over a year ago, with a cart of Windows laptops and a cart of Chromebooks. We also have a handful of iOS devices in the classroom that come in handy for reading, photography, audio and video recording, and searching information.
Having used Google Apps with via a self-hosted Team account long before GAFE became a thing, I’ve been so happy to continue to use them with my students since my board formalized GAFE accounts for student use a couple years back. The ability to use technology like the Read & Write for Google Chrome to support students in their writing is really starting to pay dividends, and technologies like voice-to-text and text-to-speech work so much better now than they did just a few years ago.
Kids LOVE Minecraft (and they know that I “dabble” in the game as well), and so I try to weave it into a number of program areas over the course of the year. Last year, we brainstormed all that we had done and made a video, Class 43F: Our Adventures in Minecraft, to share how Minecraft fits into our learning.
In general, I hope that they take away a comfort and familiarity with using technology that can continue to support them in their learning, a belief that play and learning can go hand in hand, and perhaps a bit more enthusiasm for things like coding or creating than they might otherwise have were we not exploring them.
Doug: What role does 105TheHive.org play?
Andrew: 105theHive is another fun use of technology! Depending on the age of the students I am teaching, 105theHive plays a variety of roles. Although it was originally developed in conjunction with Heather Durnin (@hdurnin) when we were both teaching Intermediate students and wanted them to develop their facility in sharing live with an audience at a distance, it still works really well as a great motivator for junior and even primary students, especially as a vehicle for sharing our reading. Two of my favourite “bits” are “Sharing our Reading” and “Mr Forgrave and A Kid Read,” as they both support reading fluency and give us a chance to listen to one another and discuss what we understand.
Doug: Thanks for taking the time for the interview, Andy. I really appreciate it. You certainly have embraced technology is so many aspects. You’ve got so much to share; I can see why you’re such a popular presenter wherever you go.
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @aforgrave.
His formal education blog is available at edvisioned.ca/
His “creative” blog is found at aforgrave.ca/detritus, which hosts a lot of his project work from the ds106 digital storytelling community.