Choices for a perfect world

I had to smile when I came across this meme.

I was raised and loved mathematics, having been taught the bottom way. I still think that way. I know that this iteration of the “new math” works in the top way. The mathematics geek in me could actually write the above as equations and generate a proof for why it’s correct.

The bottom speaks for the reality of many parents who are working with their children at home during these times. Yes, it was heavy duty home schooling for a while and the pseudo-return to normal classes has a bit of normalcy to it. But it’s just not the same.

Beyond generating a smile, you have to feel for those parents who have to deal with curriculum support at home sans the two years of education at a Faculty of Education, the ongoing professional learning events, the new approaches to teaching and learning, and things that educators take for granted these days – manipulatives.

Today’s Ontario classrooms have a great deal of access to resources and support for learning. Yes, there are differences between schools and districts based on priorities but there’s so much there that we truly are light years ahead from when I went to school.

Many times, when you go to provincial learning events, some of the sessions actually look like trade shows. Great teachers are often demonstrating some of the latest and greatest that they’ve got in their classroom. They show how they can be used to address expectations and everyone gets excited – until they return to their classrooms and realize that they don’t have access to the same sorts of things.

My best context for this, of course, is educational technology. The premier event for a number of years as been the Bring IT, Together Conference and it’s the best/worst for doing this. There typically is a fabulous space for exhibitors to show what you need to be lobbying for in the next round of purchases of “stuff” for your classroom. There’s the Minds on Media area where teachers are showing off what they’re doing with the latest and greatest. I always walk away lusting after things to play with – robots, virtual reality, etc. And, then there’s the sessions themselves where you get to hear the complete story for 50 minutes and walk away realizing that you don’t have the same resources when you return to your educational “home”.

Sadly, there’s the actual home where parents and brothers and sisters have been picking up a second profession as occasional teacher. Programming / coding has seen a huge rise in popularity in education recently and it’s deservedly so.

But, it’s not my programming.

I learned the old fashioned way. I programmed a computing device and got excited with a correct display of results on the display or on a printed sheet of paper. Cooking with gas as my father-in-law would say.

Things changed when Seymour Papert introduced the Logo programming language which you could use to program a robot that drew on a sheet of paper with the pendown command. Inspired by this and the desire to introduce programming to younger and younger students, we’ve seen a flood of other devices on the market, marketed to education. Probably the most popular? is the LEGO Logo program but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for programmable devices that connect to your computer. Another very popular option that you can build a program around is the micro:bit which is a bit of an oddity since you can program a virtual micro-bit just as well as a physical one.

So, what does this all have to do with the parent at home?

Imagine being a student in a classroom where everything you’re doing is based upon having access to those manipulatives. Then, the rug is pulled out from underneath you. Class has to go on – but how? In particular, I’m thinking of the new, revised Mathematics curriculum which supposedly will feature coding. Imagine being the student who was excited that she could get this device at school to do exactly what it is that she wants it to. Now at home, unless Mom and Dad have the ability to run out to an educational store and buy it, you’re left with a Plan B. What does that Plan B even look like?

I’ve been following along a discussion in the ACSE discussion list of teachers dealing with secondary school student learning programming, typically in Python, and the challenges there. At school, all the computers would be configured for the learning. At home, students have a mish-mash of computers with some even having Chromebooks or have borrowed a Chromebook from school. As we know, typically the school devices are locked down so the workaround of installing an editor into Chrome OS’ flavour of Linux isn’t an option.

There’s no criticism to be assigned here. In no case is anyone taking a shortcut on the curriculum. They’re using what they have at their fingertips. Nobody saw the disaster that the past two school years are enduring. Nobody could predict that the Education Minister is considering options for more home learning.

Right now, teachers and struggling just to stay above water. Hopefully, those at the system level are aware of all these challenges and the potential impact on the future. When we get through this – who knows when – there needs to be some serious thinking and planning done. Teachers are great at Plan Bs. You do it all the time for occasional teachers or coverages. But when it comes to a rejig of an entire unit or course, it gets real.

At the system level, years of planning have gone into equity of access for things that happen in the classroom. We’ve always given lip service to equity at home but if anything the pandemic has taught us, it hasn’t been nearly enough.

Yet another change

I remember Grade 9 Typing and Mr. Renshaw’s explanation for why the keys on the typewriter were the way they were. According to him, it was to deliberately slow you down so that you didn’t have the keys jam together and they pushed against the ribbon. We assumed that his explanation was good; fact checking wasn’t something that you did to your teachers back then.

The logic kind of fell apart when we moved to electric typewriters and the Selectric ball that could only print one character no matter how hard you tried to push two keys on the keyboard at the same time. (We weren’t always focused on this riveting subject…) The logic and arrangement were still there when we used a keypunch for programming.

It really blew apart when the computer came along. There were no keys to lock together and yet the key arrangement remained the same. It was probably then that we spun the expression “It is what it is”. About that time, somehow, I stumbled upon the Dvorak keyboard. I’m guessing it was in an edition of 80Micro because I downloaded an application that remapped my keyboard to the Dvorak layout.

Public Domain Image

The philosophy was simple; you can increase speed and productivity if you put the most used keys on the “home row” so that you aren’t reaching all over the keyboard as the previous layout forced you. It took a great deal of practice but I eventually became pretty proficient with it. However, it was a skill that wasn’t easily transferred to every computer that I might use and it made my computer unusable for anyone else who might want to use it.

Time and technology moved on and eventually those typewriters in keyboarding classrooms got tossed and were replaced by computers. That introduced us to the whole concept of the “Standard” IBM Keyboard. One of my first projects as computer consultant was the oversight of a district wide project where we replaced all the typewriters in our system with IBM PCs. Of course, they had that standard keyboard. Life was good and we were moving along.

Then, things changed. It probably was a miniscule change at the designer level at IBM or whoever was designing the keyboards. They moved the CTRL key! You’d think that the world was coming to an end by the reaction and the almost apologetic approach of our salesperson. The CTRL key had always been where today’s CAPSLOCK key is and moved to the bottom row of the keyboard. It still had the same function but it was different. We all had to be retrained to use it. Over the time that we had had the previous standard, we’d become well versed in the concept of copying, pasting, opening a file, sending a document to the printer, etc. without having to think about where the keyboard combination lay; it became second nature. Together, we all broke the cardinal rule of typing which was to not look at the keyboard. We had to – where was that new key? I guess someone thought that they were doing us a favour by putting two of them on the keyboard but still…that was only with some keyboards.

Then, along came the Apple fan people. “Nobody” in the industry was using IBM computers; they were using Macintosh computers. Because, well, Apple really sold it well by letting you think that you were looking at an actual sheet of paper while you were keying. To ensure that diehard Macintosh people remained with the platform, they got rid of the CTRL key altogether. As we know, the same functionality was assigned to the Command key. It didn’t feel quite right because it was just a bit of a different reach. Had it been placed where the Fn key was, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. It doubled the work for me because any instructions that I would create for a piece of software had to be translated either to or from the Apple layout. I wasn’t alone; how many times have you seen CTRL/Command + C?

Recently, the Chromebook has become a new player in the market, with a recent report that it has surpassed Apple in the number of computers in use. For this diehard PC guy, it was a piece of cake to move to the new keyboard. All the keys were in the same place. Well, all but one. Actually, a lot but only one that affects me directly! It was that strange looking key with the magnifying glass on it. I’ve heard it called the “Launcher” but I prefer the term “Search” and it replaced the CAPSLOCK key. That I didn’t mind since I don’t use CaPsLoCk much anyway. Most importantly, the CTRL and key combinations were the same as my PC or Command and key on the Macintosh.

Actually, I quite enjoy the “Search” key. It lets me search directly on the search engine of my choice or gives me a listing of all the applications on my Chromebook. I’d be happy with that.

Apparently, Google isn’t.



I had to read both articles rather slowly to really let the impact of this sink in and what does it really mean to me? I can’t imagine if any PC manufacturer or Apple would upset the apple cart (so to speak) by making such a big change.

I can only assume that the designers at Google only use Chromebooks. (and why not? The Google Chromebook is an incredible machine) But, how about those that are forced to use a number of different computers, now with one that has a different layout of keyboard functions that the others?

My guess is that most of the people that just use a Chromebook will learn the new arrangements and become pretty proficient with them. For the others, as long as the standard key combinations combined with a functioning mouse/trackpad exists, will happily use those and ignore the changes. As long as the traditional combinations exist, I don’t see it as a game changer for most. You can just move along as you always could.

I just feel for the person in school district who has to support them all!

An experiment worth enabling

The Opera browser has had this for a while and it’s been indispensable for me. Typically, I have a few tabs open in my browser. Actually that’s a lie, I have far too many open and then when I start going down rabbit holes, it gets out of hand.

The problem happens when I want to return to a tab that I have open – somewhere. After a while, each tab gets squished so that only the icon of the site remains. Opera has had me covered for a while now. By floating my cursor over each tab, it displays a preview in the middle of my screen.

So, for example, I know that in among all the shared documents, there’s one that I share with Stephen Hurley and guest host for This Week in Ontario Edublogs. I just hover over the document icons until the preview pops up.

I recognize the content and click the tab to resume work on it.

A similar feature is available on Safari for Macintosh in preparation for MacOS 11 and the Vivaldi browser.

In Google Chrome, there was a hover feature but it was limited to the title of the window. No preview of the actual page …

A similar feature wasn’t available in Google Chrome until recently. It’s actually not officially there even now. I was reading about current “experiments” and this one sounded promising.

I enabled it, did the reboot of the browser, and voila! It doesn’t give the huge preview that Opera does but enough to give me an idea of what’s happening.

Now, experiments always come with a warning that things may not work perfectly, you’re doing so at your own risk, and you should undo the setting if you run into problems.

To date, this has been a very good actor for me and I like it. Productive time has increased as I spend less time looking for that elusive tab in my admittedly messy workspace. I suspect that this will be an official feature at some point.

For now, if you’re interested, just go to the chrome://flags/ page and look for

Tab Hover Card Images

enable it, and then reboot your browser.

Of course, the standard message about experiments applies.

If you try this, I’d be interesting in hearing your thoughts.

And of course, even geeky people don’t like new features. Here’s how to turn it off!

Why are we doing this?

It’s a question that every teacher has had to answer way more than once.

Because I told you so

It’s good for you

Both seem logical but they may well have worn thin as those are the answers often given at home as well. Well, at least around here.

It may well be that this question is being asked by parents of students who are doing at least part of their work online. Some, even more than that.

For those using Google products, Google has produced a TechToolKit for parents and made it available here.

In the document, it addresses:

Each of these sections can go a long way toward demystifying all the jargon that can come into play with technology use.

Photo by Niclas Illg on Unsplash

Now, it’s obviously Google-centric and not everyone works in that world or even solely in that world. It seems to me that this is a good model for school districts, schools, or individual teachers to use as they look to further communications between home and school about just what tools are being used to work with students.

There’s even a consolidation at the bottom of the document of a template that could be used in email communication to get the word out.

Does your district or do you communicate clearly in this manner with your parents? Do you have a similar resource to share?

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Greetings from my remote location – in my house. If you’ve listened to the voicEd Radio show on Wednesday mornings, you’ll know that I’ve been bumped from Studio A to Studio B because of a bathroom renovation. I’m on a different computer, different network, but I did bring my chair to sit at this relatively small desk. So, I’m good to go but am staring at a wall instead of looking outside on this beautiful Fall day. Here’s my weekly wander around the province looking at Ontario Education blogs.

The voicEd Radio archive of This Week in Ontario Edublogs podcasts is located here.

Teachers Are Still Rocking It-

It’s easy to read about the challenges that Ontario (and everywhere) teachers are having as school buildings re-open in the time of COVID. It’s less easy to find something motivational but Michelle Fenn does in this post on the ETFO Heart and Art Blog.

It’s great to read that educators from her district are interested in refining their technology and pedagogy abilities on their own time during the summer and now continuing into the evenings.

She draws a parallel in education to a series that she watched on Netflix about an exploration to Mars and the unexpected things they found. I’ll bet that describes your classroom.

It’s a good read and she mentions something that needs to be repeated and repeated. It doesn’t lessen our opinions of doctors, nurses, firefighters, grocery and other store and service workers but

Every educator is a front line worker, doing their best, making a difference, being brave beyond imagination and truly an inspiration.

I challenge all readers to repeat that on social and other media often.

A Dichotomy of Words

Elizabeth Lyons gives us a lesson in language in this post all tied to education’s current realities. As she notes, “dichotomy” is a word that we don’t use all that often. But, it was the inspiration for this post as she shares what she sees as dichotomies in our current reality.

  • Masks or no masks?
  • Physically distanced students or collapsed classes?
  • 1m vs 2m?
  • Online learning or face-to-face?
  • Hand sanitizer or soap and water?
  • Google Classroom or Brightspace?

Then, she takes off and gives her interpretation of each.

It’s an interesting read and important that it’s from the keyboard of an educator. We see these terms used casually by those in politics and on the evening news. Their true meaning goes much deeper.

“Somewhere the Hurting Must Stop” – Terry Fox

Patti Henderson is an incredible photographer and a valued person that I’ve met through my social connections and I’ve had the chance to meet her in person a couple of times.

I will apologize up front though; I went to her blog and looked at the pictures and was captivated and blown away with what I saw. I’ve mentioned it many times that artists like Patti see things that I miss. Certainly, this sticks out for me in this photo essay.

It wasn’t until I got to the bottom and saw the map that I realize that this wasn’t some sort of random collection of images. She had participated in a Terry Fox run/hike and took pictures along the way. I even thought that she had taken a picture of the set for Kim’s Convenience until I realized that there are thousands of corner stores in this world.

The pictures and her corresponding commentary puts the whole experience into perspective. Thank you, Patti, for doing this.

Body Breaks at Your Desk – for students too!

In a perfect world, there is so much movement in the classroom. Even when students are writing a test or a quiz, you’re up and walking around. This is certainly not a perfect world and people are supposed to sit at desks for the most part of the school day.

Laura Wheeler takes on this notion and lets us know that there are things that can be done to get the blood moving even in the current reality.

In the post, she explains why it’s important to have some movement in the classroom and shares a playlist of activities she’s curated to be done during breaks.

This is yet another example of how educators are seeing puzzle pieces strewn on the classroom floor and are taking the time to put them all back together. Using this metaphor, I think that it’s important to realize that you may have to smack some of those pieces to make them fit at times.

The 500 – #404 – Dr. John’s Gumbo – Dr. John

I really enjoy this series of blog posts from John Hodgkinson as he takes us through a list of great 500 albums. I hadn’t through of Dr. John for a while and when I do, I think naturally about

The song would be so important in our current time and place. If nothing else, turn up the volume and play it loud.

It’s not on this album (Iko Iko is) but there are great tunes nonetheless.

John gives us a description of the influences in Dr. John’s music including the connection to voodoo. It’s an interesting read and, he’s inspired to think about how to greet students in his classroom.

  • Everything is an influence for good or bad. I’ll remind my young charges to be mindful of the world around them and tap into its inspiration.
  • The teen-years are a fertile time for passionate pursuits…pursue your passions.
  • I will continue to foster the academic and artistic pursuits of my students. Unlike Mac’s Jesuit teachers, I’ll never give them an ultimatum.
  • Persevere and Adapt. Challenges are opportunities for greatness in disguise.
  • Quirky, flamboyant, wild and weird are positive descriptions. Be what you are meant to be … Let your freak flags fly!

Some inspirational thoughts here. Could you use them?

Networking in a Pandemic (key to survival)

OK, I love anything that Zoe Branigan-Pipe writes and when I’m in the first sentence of her post, I’m over the top!

My favourite Beauty and the Beast photo from a OSLA Superconference where led the Great OSLA Faceoff

I’m glad that I wrote that reflection post about my experience. In her response, Zoe takes us through her network and the value that it brings to her. I’m impressed with how our networks overlap.

If you’re new to networking or if you’d like to tweak your own network, take an opportunity to “meet” those in her post. You can only get better connected when you include them in yours.

In closing, hi Zoe, you’re not the only one to read your post and we’ll hold you to your promise of blogging at least once a week!

Commiserating With Others Over Their Technology Woes

Finally, back to the Heart and Art blog and a post from Tammy Axt.

This is another photo essay – about teaching this time. Technology works well except when it doesn’t.

Tammy is teaching in a hybrid environment and so is being observed with a couple different set of student lenses and everything just needs to work.

What happens when it doesn’t? It happens for all of us. I can just image the Help Desk at her district when she sends in these images to report problems.

I hope that you will take the time to click through and read these terrific blog posts. There’s great stuff there for all.

Then, make sure you’re following all these people on Twitter.

  • Michelle Fenn – @toadmummy
  • Elizabeth Lyons – @MrsLyonsLibrary
  • Patti Henderson – @GingerPatti
  • Laura Wheeler – @wheeler_laura
  • John Hodgkinson – @Mr_H_Teacher
  • Zoe Branigan-Pipe – @zbpipe
  • Tammy Axt – @MsAxt

This post appears first on:

If you read it anywhere else, it’s not the original.