This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Welcome to another Friday and countdown to the early spring predicted by Wiarton Willie. Enjoy some great blog posts from Ontario Edubloggers as you count.


Gearing Up for MST with a Master Storyteller

In these COVID days, you would understand how someone might lose their enthusiasm for doing extraordinary things. That’s anything but the case for Noa Daniels and this post shows just what extraordinary might look like.

She and her grade 8 students have partnered with Lucky Budd about storytelling. This is kind of amazing to think that this would happen but why not.

In the post, Noa describes everything and it sounds pretty awesome. It’s also not the sort of one of that’s done over a weekend. You’ll have to read to get the complete details.

Her students are also appreciative about what’s going on. Here’s a sampling of the comments from students

  • I thought it was cool how the story connected with the 3 rivers in BC: the Skeena, the Nass, and the Stikine
  • I found it very interesting and I really liked how you paused during the story to add suspense. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and telling us about how you got into storytelling.
  • I think it’s very inspiring that although the first time you tried to publish a book it didn’t happen but that didn’t stop you from trying.
  • I also really liked the suspense and sound effects you added when you were telling the story. It was really fun listening and you have such a cool vibe!

The complete story is in her post which makes it well worth the read.


I Want to Break Free!

Here’s a sentiment from Richard Erdmann that we all want to experience. Even the notion of going mall walking which, quite honestly, I never particularly care for takes on new importance simply be the fact that we are prohibited from doing it. In my case, I actually miss shopping with my wife who actually touches everything that she might be interested in purchasing. It drives me crazy. When we get the chance to do it again, I think I’m going to have a different outlook.

Cabin fever and stir crazy are two things that I can definitely related to. These days, the highlight is going outside to walk the dog which fortunately is still ok within the rules.

Richard’s situation is a lot more serious and his notion that he is not only missing the experiences but that he’s being robbed of them will give you pause and a chance to empathise.

I don’t know what else to say, Richard, other than to agree with you that we will eventually get through this. Let’s hope that it’s soon. Numbers across the province continue to show promise.


Stress and The Evolving Teenaged Brain: A Study in Contrasts

From the self regulation blog comes an interesting post from John Hoffman. Regular readers here will recall a post I made last week about a group of teenagers who felt robbed that they were not able to get their driver’s licenses.

I remember thinking, at the time, that their logic wasn’t rational – everyone is paying the price during the lockdown. Maybe now I can cut a little slack when, according to John, their rational mind isn’t fully matured until age 25.

But he notes the research that indicates that the teenage mind is specially vulnerable to excess stress. If what we’re living through doesn’t meet that criteria, I don’t know what would.

All this leads to the announcement of an upcoming course specially for this age group through the Merit Centre – Feeling Stress: A Self-Reg Mini-Course for Teens.


What I’ve learned from being a Virtual Teacher so far

I’m hoping that Amy Bowker’s “so far” doesn’t extend too much further and that any more learning comes from reflection.

She does a really good job of identifying her thoughts and feelings about teaching during these times. It’s sad but predictable that students are just plain disappearing by turning off camera or microphones or just not showing up. I can’t imagine the stress on the teacher who needs to mediate those actions.

As I read through Amy’s post, the word “communication” kept popping up. It lies in the answer to so many things that she addresses. Social cues, working with parents, retention and engagement all can be addressed with effective and ongoing communication.

All of it seems so simple until you realize that a teacher doesn’t have all the tools available that she would have in a face to face classroom.

Regardless, there are powerful observations in her post with lots of ideas and a plan for the future.


Per / Con / In / Re – form

Another great post comes from Will Gourley on the Heart and Art Blog. I can’t help but think immediately – are there any other words that end in “form”?

In the post, Will shares his observations on each of these. Each of these words take on a paragraph and you feel the weight of each of these on him personally. In football terms, I would call it “piling on”.

There’s real wisdom is this quote. Pause and think about your own reality as you read this.

I worry that too much emphasis has been placed on performance and conformity without serious consideration to being fully informed of the true social, emotional, and physical costs of virtual learning. 

I can’t help but think that the emphasis part is easy because it can be summarized with a visual checklist. The other part is so difficult to understand and address. Yet, it’s so important.

Thanks, Will, for summarising these “forms” so nicely.


Why Code Illusions?

It’s a question asked of Peter Skillen as a lead in to this activity.

My response is “Why not code illusions?”

If we believe in the power of programming, then we should never question a good premise for a programmed solution.

In this case, Peter introduces us to a nice visualization of an optical illusion that I’m sure you’ve seen many times. You may actually have created the illusion yourself. You may have pulled out a ruler to prove that it is indeed an illusion.

Peter doesn’t provide a solution but it’s relatively easy to program, especially if you take a good look and analysis of the animation that he provides. Of course, I’m not going to include it here; you’ll have to visit Peter’s post to see it for yourself.


Sick Days for All

From Deborah Weston, a bit of a sobering post dealing with sick days. Much has been said about sick days for teachers, particularly how they don’t take them since it’s more work to prepare lessons for someone else than to drag yourself in to work.

We see the messages everywhere these days.

If you have a fever, shortage of breath, or a temperature, please do not enter.

Advice about this also applies to the workplace.

If your collective agreement has provision for sick days of some sort, it makes staying at home easier.

But that doesn’t apply to all. Deborah has done incredible research on this topic and pulls back the curtain to reveal the impact of no sick days.

  • Put Workers at Risk
  • Spread of Illness to Communities and Workplaces
  • Impacts Parents and Guardians
  • Women Face Labour Inequity
  • and more

She fleshes out each of these and ends the post with a true call to action to her readers.

Devote some time to this and you’ll find another counter to the simple statement “We’re all in this together”. Really?


These are terrific and thoughtful blog posts. Please take the time to click through and read them all. Then, follow these bloggers on Twitter. (and follow their blogs too!)

  • Noa Daniels – @noasbobs
  • Richard Erdmann – @rerdmann
  • John Hoffman – @UncommonJohn
  • Amy Bowker – @amyebowker
  • W!ll Gourley – @WillGourley
  • Peter Skillen – @peterskillen
  • Deborah Weston – @DPAWestonPhD

Computer Science Education Week


An annual event, this year’s Computer Science Education Week is December 7-13. It’s an opportunity to work with students to either introduce or push them further in studies dealing with Computer Science Education.

As we know, it’s been a strange year and so it may not be possible to order those kits of micro:bits or robots or even get down on the floor to do the traditional programming activities that might be done at this time of the year.

That’s OK. We all get that. However there may be other opportunities. First of all, the big question is “Why Computer Science?” and the answer has never been so seemingly obvious. My go to resource is Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed. I first heard Mr. Rushkoff at a CSTA Conference in New York City. I’d like to say that he changed my life but I’d always been of that philosophy and could never understand why the Grade 10 Computer Studies course, at a minimum, wasn’t required for graduation.

What student today doesn’t pack a powerful computer in the form of a smartphone in their pocket? At the very least, they should be able to program that device and make it to their bidding.

At his website, Rushkoff even includes a study guide to accompany his book.

Here are a few more resources to supplement and help the cause.

Curriculum

Just recently, Peter McAsh alerted me to a resource created by Amanda Deneau showing the connections to the Ontario Curriculum.

ECOO Resource

A couple of years ago when I was president of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario, Peter Skillen was good enough to create a resource we called #ECOOcodes. It’s not currently linked to any of the menus but you can access it directly here. From Peter’s blog, there was an insightful post about why the topic should be addressed “now“.

#CSEdWeek

The CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) along with a group of other associations have developed a website to support teachers for the week. The focus is on Social Justice and opens with a panel discussion on Monday night. In addition to all the resources shared, there is a collection of downloadable posters.

Canada Learning Code

This is full of ideas and resources to support Learning Code and more. They recognize the varieties of ways that students, teachers, and family are connected and learning in these times and have you covered. Their highlight is Digital Citizenship but poke around for more. Registration is required to access some of the resources.

Hour of Code

It may well be that the Hour of Code may be one of the resources that leap to mind when you think of Computer Science Education Week. The content here continues to grow and has so much covered.

CODE to LEARN at home

A Canadian resource, they have been very active with online webinars and philosophy about programming with a wide scope with a little something for everyone. There are some really unique ideas here.

Scratch

Maybe the granddaddy of them all for programming at all ages is the Scratch resource from MIT. It just continues to grow and is rich with all that is available to and created by the Scratch coding community.

BBC micro:bit

If you’re fortunate enough to have access to the micro:bit for your class and students, there are some really amazing interactive opportunities and inspiration for programming.

I think it’s quite obvious that the collection above is certainly not all-inclusive. If you can think of a resource that should/could be shared with a wider audience, please do so in the comments.

Extension tutorial


This was very cool.

I was working my way through my reading the other day and ran into this tutorial and worked my way through it.

How to Build a Chrome Extension

Now, to be honest, I’ve worked my way through a number of similar tutorials in the past. I’ve been successful in the particular activities but ended up just deleting my work.

This one is a little different, certainly relevant, and well laid out.

Bottom line, it’s a tutorial that lets you search an online database for COVID-19 statistics and display them in your browser. Sure, you can go to a website and search for results but it’s handy just having them there in your browser, a click away.

A second goldmine find here is a link to active data to feed the program.

https://coronavirus-19-api.herokuapp.com/countries

Of course, the data is as up to date as the last update.

I’m also thinking of Computer Science classrooms where you’re always looking for the answer to “why are we doing this”? Here’s a real-life example to work through. There is minimal internal documentation but that can be elaborated and then, of course, there are the mods.

The tutorial is easy to read and work through. Lots of copy/paste but a nice display of where the various files go in the file system of your computer.

Meet our ghosts


The big news came out last Wednesday. On Thursday at 4pm, Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island would be revealing a digital online Ghost Tour of Olde Amherstburg.

Now, ghosts around here aren’t necessarily new. The cemetery on Texas Road has long been rumoured as being haunted.

It didn’t make this list but many of the buildings downtown did.

A couple of very important events happened here that would make it ideally attractive to suspect ghosts.

I was lucky. The tour itself is in downtown Amherstburg where Jaimie and I walk every evening! So, I loaded the app and we were off!

There were lots of places to explore in a short area of the downtown.

Off we went, and checked out the areas.

Each of the areas provide you with images and an audio story behind what you’re seeing. The images came from the Marsh Historical Collection. The stories are interesting and the presentation gives you a virtual 3D walk through in some of the locations.

But, the winners were the actual ghost images that you can summon. Instructions are to step back as they appear — it was then that we realized that we weren’t alone. Some of the images were from Dalhousie Street so it is good advice to look around you because you could end up in the middle of the street. There were a number of people backing up while looking at their phone on this cold evening.

Near the Park House, we found this ghostly resident

The ghost was scarier on my phone as it wasn’t a static image but a shimmering figure that gave it a 3D effect. There were a number of these images that also included a downtown gallows.

At the foot of Richmond Street, another one…

It was fun exploring and I was able to continue from at home although since it uses GPS, I had to start out from at home each time.

If you download the image or visit the website, you’ll see that there are a number of tours. While ours is free, some of the Toronto ones are pay to use. I guess our ghosts work for free.

When you launch the application for the first time, there is a huge terms of use reading; the biggest I’ve ever seen. Because it’s using GPS, you’re warned up front that they’re collecting location data. Their list of partners give you a sense that your data is safe. (Canada Media Fund, Government of Canada, Ontario Creates and FACTOR)

The whole activity brought back memories of a workshop that I used to offer a number of times for our district and I’m sure that I’ve done it for other events like the RCAC Symposium or ECOO Conference.

The workshop was a virtual tour of your school. I found out that the Plant Department had 8.5 x 11 floor maps for every school in the system. Since my office was right next to theirs, it was a short walk to go over and get photocopies of them all. In the workshop, we would scan them and bring them into Hyperstudio as a background. Then, we would overlay a hotspot on the various classrooms and link them to a separate Hyperstudio card where information about the class, pictures, and even movies taken by the schools RCA Small Wonder camera. GPS wasn’t an option at that time but it would be interesting to redo this project and use location generated from the phone. I’m stumped though at how to create the 3D ghosts.

It was a wonderful experience to go through the downtown and get some more history about our very historic town.

More than a language


When I read the title to this article and then its content, I’ll admit to being completely astounded.

China bans Scratch, MIT’s programming language for kids

The first step was to do a fact check and see if there were other news media reporting the same thing. Yes, there was. I looked at Scratch’s website and there was no official announcement but lots of discussion happening in the forums. The original article indicates some of the reasons why the Chinese government made the decision to block. Some of the visitor comments to the post are sadly racist and hurtful and I’m sure would only serve to convince the government that they had made the right decision.

A few years ago when I co-chaired the Bring IT, Together Conference, there were all kinds of session submissions dealing with Scratch. My co-chair Cyndie and I joked that if it wasn’t for Scratch, we might not have a full schedule for the conference.

Scratch is undoubtedly one of the very best implementations of a block coding language. It’s not the only one – I think I first started with Blockly and there are many others, nowadays built for programming a connected device.

To be honest, many conference sessions are focused on the nuts and bolts of the language and getting it to do neat things. Often, they miss the mark for teachers which is how to teach with Scratch. Big difference. I’ll refer people to the University of Northern Iowa’s course Intro to Programming with Scratch. Facebook page here.

The latest big thing here in Ontario is the inclusion of coding in the Mathematics curriculum. I know that many educators see Scratch as the answer to various parts of that challenge.

Therein lies one of the biggest concerns. This wouldn’t be the first time that China or a Chinese business has created a similar product. They’ve even created their own form of Google.

I would suspect that making a programming language similar to Scratch would be relatively easy. As noted above, many companies have created their own drag and drop languages.

The whole Scratch experience is much more than that. Things around the language would be much more difficult to build from scratch. (sorry)

  • a community of educators who have developed resources and skills for teaching Scratch
  • an online community to develop your own Scratch applications and testing – no downloads required
  • the ability to develop code and then share it with others so that they may remix it for their own purposes
  • the ability to bring external resources into your own product
  • a network of support for parents of students using Scratch
  • a wealth of tutorials, and ideas for inspiration
  • research into action project from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT

I can see how a new language could be easily developed but it’s the wealth of things around that language that will be tough to replicate, if that’s the plan.