Problems with words


I’ve mentioned a couple of times on this blog the work that Peter Beens has put into preparing a resource and sharing it with the world. The most popular one that I know of is his Google A-Z page. Here’s a post from this blog that dates back to 2012.

Google A-Z

You’ll notice that it’s really up to date. He has a link to Floom that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.

He keeps his eyes open and builds capacity for others and just shares it.

The other day, I ran across another project of his that I think is pretty impressive. Unless you’ve taught Computer Science, you may not realize just how impressive it actually is. As a Computer Science teacher, you’re always looking for exciting and engaging programs for students to write. In the early days, there was this focus on mathematics problems almost solely. Fortunately, we’ve got beyond that and now focus on other interesting problems for solution.

Now, it wasn’t that mathematics is a bad choice but there was this feeling among some students that they wouldn’t succeed in Computer Science because Mathematics wasn’t their favourite subject. In reality, Computer Science is all about problem solving and so there are many other things to do to mix in with the mathematics.

One whole genre is the concept of working with words. No, not mathematics word problems per se, but exploring interesting things about words and then writing a computer solution. Peter has started a public collection of word problems here on Github.

A couple of examples from the top:

  1. What are the longest words in the list?
  2. If a-1, b=2, etc., what words add up to 100?
  3. What is the longest word that ends with “ar”.
  4. What is the most common letter? Vowel? Consonant?

These are concepts and a Computer Science teacher would take the concept and craft it into an interest problem. I like the concept as the final problem might be different from teacher to teacher and therefore not realistic for students to share solutions.

At present, Peter has seeded the project and has another teacher, Ross Jamieson, make a contribution to it. I always enjoyed these problems with my students and I can tell you that there is no resource that I know of that you can go to and buy a set of problems like these. Resources like this are individually created or collaborated upon and shared by educators.

So, if you’re a Computer Science teacher, check it out and see if there’s inspiration there for you and your students. And just like your neighbourhood little library, take a problem, leave a problem.

I’m off to my personal archive to see if there’s a problem or two that I can share with Peter.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


I’m not quite sure what to say here. Normally, I’d wish everyone a good return to school on Monday after the March Break. But, it’s April and nobody’s going back to a school building on Monday although classes resume in some places and teachers are getting ready for the day to resume online classes on Tuesday. I think we should just relish the fact that it’s Friday and just pretend that it’s a good day. Agreed?

Oh, and read some great blog posts from Ontario Edubloggers.


How To Easily Create Bitmoji Stickers in Google Drawings

Wednesday was a special edition of This Week in Ontario Edublogs. Since educators are on holiday which involves not going anywhere, I reached out to the EduGals who joined Stephen Hurley and me on our voicEd Radio show. They were absolutely delightful to have a conversation with and I gained an extra level of appreciation from where they’re coming from and their positive approach to education and technology in education.

This post from them I think is timely now that we’re returning, in Ontario, to a bout of learning from home which means a whole lot of digital. While everyone appreciates a numeric mark or a letter, how about something a little more exciting and digital? Stickers!

It’s a long post, full of screen captures that will take you through the process along with descriptive text. Alternatively, they’ve prepared a YouTube video if that works better for you.

This might be just what you need to change your game.


The good, bad and ugly of online learning

Charles Pascal pretty much has it covered in the title of this post. The comments to this post add even more fuel to his premise.

To be clear, there really isn’t anything wrong with online learning. As Charles notes, it’s been done for over 100 years in Ontario. For students, the ability to take a course online is a real solution for scenarios like a course not being offered at their school for whatever reason, the need for an additional credit, the ability to keep up with studies if forced to be home for sickness reasons, etc.

For those who are not educators, the shift to requiring four courses for graduation or to just pull the plug on a return to school and doing everything online is seen as an easy educationally valid “pivot”. (Gawd, I hate that word)

If we’re learned anything from what’s happened over the past year, it’s that a seemingly simple change to online learning for everyone just isn’t a quick and easy solution. There is so much to be factored in. We’re now seeing some school districts taking next Monday as an adjustment day. As my old employer has on their website:

On Monday, the 19th, both elementary and secondary teachers will connect with their students to make sure they’re ready for the following day and determine any technical needs and access to resources. They will also provide students with some work for the day they can complete, independently.

from https://www.publicboard.ca/News/ourstories/RemoteLearningUpdate/Pages/default.aspx#/= April 15, 2021

Clear and supportive efforts from a government are needed at this time and Charles shares his thoughts about what he see and what he doesn’t see right now.

A very good read.


The Lab That Isn’t A Lab

Normally, a post like this would get a read from me and then I’d move on because I like to have current blog posts on this Friday post of mine. From Tim King, this goes back to 2012 but I think it’s worth another look.

I can’t speak for Tim’s reality but, in my old school, when scheduling came along all the department heads were brought together to try to allocate classes to appropriate rooms and resources. Personally, even as computer science teacher, I wouldn’t want to be in a computer lab. There is a need for planning, collaboration, problem solving even before a finger is laid on a keyboard. If you think of the typical hard technology classroom, it has two distinct areas – desks and then the saws, lathes, welding, equipment, etc. in another. In my old high school, we had a program where students could learn to sew or cook and they sure weren’t plunked into a room full of sewing machines or in the kitchen!

Tim ended up being assigned to a computer lab and he didn’t want it. You see; his subject to be taught is computer engineering, which if you care to look at the expectations, is all about the nets and bolts of tearing apart computer components and putting them back together. It’s hardly the setting that the district IT Support Team would want done on a computer lab that would have been installed and customized over the summer. You can read “customized” as meaning that all the fun as been taken out of the computer so that they are reliably working day by day.

I know that we used to invite computer engineering teachers to a warehouse where the computers to be retired were housed so that they could select an appropriate number and type for their program.

There are all kinds of permutations for how this could happen.

But, beyond the discussion of Tim’s classroom and I’ll bet he’s not alone, there’s a bigger message about top down efficiency decisions made arbitrarily and expecting good intentioned teachers to make it work. You wouldn’t put a French class, for example, into a room outfitted for English classes just because there are a lot of new books there without seeing if they’re appropriate.

It really is a matter of understanding all the courses and all the resources and listening to those involved to come up with the best solution.


It’s Getting Ridiculous

I love the reference to basketball that Matthew Morris starts out with. After all, I’m not a Kings fan but there’d be screaming if he ever said something about the Pistons.

In the post, he shares his feelings about going into a school of 200 people every day during our current situation. High in his mind is the case of the Toronto teacher who is intubated in a hospital.

I’m glad that he brought up the news stories – everywhere it’s the same. Local doom and gloom and COVID numbers for the first 10 minutes or so and then a shift to something else. I can’t help but note that the stories are the same and that I could match his CP24 with CTVWindsor and there wouldn’t be much of a change.

Ridiculous is his summary word for what he’s seeing. I agree but would add a couple of colourful adjectives before ridiculous if I was writing this post.


The 500 – #375 – Late For The Sky – Jackson Browne

First up, an apology. Apparently during the voicEd Radio show, we got Marc Hodgkinson’s name wrong. That should never happen.

I check in with his blog when my RSS reader flags that he has a new post. I’m really enjoying his working through “The 500” Greatest Albums of All Time.

This time, it’s the “Late For The Sky” album by Jackson Browne. I was pleasantly pleased with this post. I thought that I knew much of Browne’s work. As it turns out, I was completely wrong.

From the album, I only knew Before the Deluge

But the rest was new music for me. This album was released in 1974. Man, I missed so much!


Nothing is Better Than My Classroom

It was wonderful to see Sarah Leroux back and contributing to her blog.

This post is a reflection of her teaching from at home. It sounds like she has a great workspace with all the amenities and that’s a good thing. But, apparently it pales when compared to her classroom.

Can you agree with this sentiment?

I understand that it may not be the safest place for us to gather, at the moment, but as a passionate in person teacher, I live and thrive off the energy of my students. Their Aha moments, their jokes, their collaboration. Not only do I TEACH better, in class, but I truly believe, for most of my students, they LEARN better in class. 

Click through to her post and read her thoughts.

I’ll be willing to bet that you can’t disagree with her.


The P3 Ends- But the Memories Live On

You’ve got to feel for Noa Daniel.

She had a real niche in the blogging, podcasting space with her P3 collections. Three songs are submitted and Noa crafts them into a discussion for the podcast. Between the interview and the post-production, you can tell that she’s put so much into each episode.

I had the honour to be on her show and I was number 61. Her complete collection at Spotify is 158 episodes. That’s quite impressive. Sadly, it has come to an end and Noa explains why in the post.

My songs were:

  • Blue Hawaii – Elvis Presley
  • Growin’ Up – Bruce Springsteen
  • Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin

It was a great experience to be asked to join Noa for the show.


On this Friday, I hope that you can click through and enjoy these posts as much as I did.

Then, follow these people on Twitter.

  • EduGals – @EduGals
  • Charles Pascal – @CEPascal
  • Tim King – @tk1ng
  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Marc Hodgkinson – @Mr_H_Teacher
  • Sarah Anne Leroux – @sarahanneleroux
  • Noa Daniel – @noasbobs

COVID, Computer Science, and System Thinking, Part 2


My post yesterday was grounded in fact and a possible solution. It is a real world situation. Today, I want to propose a second System Thinking option for computer solution. And, it has been implemented so that answers the question “When would we ever need this?”

In Essex County, COVID vaccination is available in a number of different locations. Drug stores (Rexall and Shoppers in Amherstburg) and at the Libro Centre. It’s not available for everyone just yet so it’s not like you can just walk in and get it.

First, you have to be eligible.

And you’re off…

In this system thinking example, I’m going to propose developing an online registration system. Obviously, there’s the benefit of seeing if students can code a solution but there’s a great deal of thinking and planning that needs to go into place before ever going near a keyboard.

Things that have to be considered…

Capacity – it appears that Rexall can take 1 person at a time, Shoppers 2, and the Libro Centre 4

Eligibility – using the data above, any potential person getting vaccinated would have to meet certain criteria

Details – a bit of information would be required by anyone using the system – Email or SMS however you intend to stay in contact, Health Card Number, Name, Address, Phone Number, any known allergies

You can see how we’re narrowing down the possible candidates. At any point, a wrong criteria would reject the person using the system and ask them to try later

Schedule – this is where it gets interesting – as noted above, there are limits to the number of people who can be treated. We all know how frustrating it is to be double-booked so that will have to be addressed. Presumably people using the system would be coming from the internet could arrive simultaneously and everyone wanting 9:00. So, you’ll have to find a way to lock out a time slot so that the first person there can get it. If they fall to sleep or otherwise leave in the middle of the process, there would need to be a timeout or some other design to make the timeslot available to others. Would you allow a husband and wife to register at the same time or are you one person only?

Arrival – once you’ve scheduled your client, you’ll have to give them advice about when to arrive. It wouldn’t be safe to have huge numbers in the location all at the same time. If there are multiple ways to get in, which are you recommending?

Reminder – will you system be user-friendly enough to send out a reminder via email, SMS, or phone call to remind the it’s time to get to their appointment?

Schedule – for the doctor, nurse, or technician that’s giving the vaccination, they’ll want to have a listing, by time, of who will be there

Privacy – wow, we’re collecting a lot of information here – what procedures would be followed to ensure that the information given remains secure?

Afterwards – it would probably be a good idea to provide advice for what kind of problems people might run in to and what to do should it happen. If the vaccine they’re getting requires two doses, what’s the procedure for getting the second dose?

Certification – everyone like a good badge! It shows accomplishments. Will you give a certification to those who are complete?

Flexibility – this drives every programmer crazy so why not here? The rules would have to be firm as of the time of compilation of the program. Suppose the government or the Health Unit changes the rules, how quick and responsive will you be for making the required changes?

And, there probably will be a lot more details once this gets designed and fleshed out. I really like the concept of a big system project along this line. It obviously wouldn’t be put into production but it’s something that I would have used with my Grade 12 class because it is a big, involved project and yet doable based upon the restrictions of the classroom. It’s also not something that can be done in a day or two. It would require a lot of tire kicking and testing. It also is rich in various programming and design concepts.

Above all this, it’s the sort of project that can be handled by high school students given the knowledge of the programming skills, their level of thinking a problem through, and a solution that replicates a real world solution that everyone would understand the need.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Title double-checked. Everyone was too kind or didn’t notice but I mis-typed the title of this weekly post last week to “The Week in Ontario Edublogs”. I didn’t realize it until I did my Sunday summary post and, by that time, it was too late to correct. Because of WordPress’ naming convention, I’ve now done that four times. So, add 4 to the URL of this post if you’re interested in the number of times I’ve written this regular Friday feature.

However you look at it, it’s a chance to showcase some incredible writing from Ontario Edubloggers. As always, if you know of a blog from Ontario or you’re writing one and it needs to be added to the list, just let me know. Please.


What’s in a Name?

This isn’t a new blog post but rather a transcript of an interlude from Pav Wander from a year ago. It’s still as relevant as ever.

Every teacher deals with this. You get your class lists in advance of school and are ready to welcome these bodies to your classroom. I would go over those in advance and there always seemed to be some that look like they might be a challenge. I would practice reading them out loud to my wife for feedback. Here in Essex County, it seems like you can’t win at times. My Grade 10 French class didn’t prepare for the pronunciations that some French names had adopted.

I think I had a relatively easy name to pronounce and can recall only one time with a mis-pronunciation from a University prof who called me “Petterson”. It was a bit funny but I let it slide since, due the nature of university, it might be the only time he ever uttered my name. I still remember, though, how my head snapped to attention because it was pronounced incorrectly? A little thing? No, it isn’t. It’s my name.

In this post, Pav gives us a much different and very personal story that actually reveals why she goes by Pav as opposed to her formally given name.

Reading it, also brought back a couple more memories for me.

The first was a friend of mine who is in sales and his advice was wise – a person’s name is so personal and may be the most valuable thing that a person owns. He recommended always knowing names even if you forget other things since a person’s name is the most important thing they’ll ever own. You’ll be excused for forgetting other things as long as you get the name right.

The second is another friend of mine who reinforces that notion for me. He never, ever has said “Happy Birthday” that I know of. It’s always “Happy Naming Day”. His take goes beyond the notion of “Name Day” and makes assumptions about when you actually acquire your name. Still…

In high school, one of my friends called me a different name. I wasn’t “Doug” but became “Andy” (my dad’s name) and so many of my other friends followed. So, I guess it was a nickname that kind of stuck. A few years ago, we had a high school reunion some 30-40 years later. They still remembered me as “Andy”.

So, imagine this little girl growing up with a name that seemingly everyone mispronounces. From her past, Pav gives us a personal history, a lesson in language, and the rationale for why she changed her name to what it is today. It’s actually a little emotional – I’ve always thought of the issue from the perspective of a teacher looking over class lists but reading a reflection of a little girl who constantly had her name “butchered” was eye opening and quick frankly, more than just a little sad. Obviously, she’s a very strong woman and did something about it but it’s still not right that it had to come to that.


Bananas for Baton

Man, I love this post from Diana Maliszewski. You can always count on her to come up with an idea, a concept, a thought, an inspiration that is unique and pays back so much educationally.

Everyone in education is challenged by the new set of rules dropped on them. Yes, they’re there for the safety of everyone.

I think most people feel a connection to The Boy in the Bubble these days.

Diana was inspired by a real life passion and qualification that I had no inkling that she possessed – she’s a certified Baton Coach and through her community connections ends up with a class set of batons for her students and physical education. She was quite surprised that it was adopted so well by her class.

And, it’s not one or two batons as I ranted about earlier this week. She’s got a class set and these things don’t come cheaply.

Of course, there are more rules and that’s to be expected but I just have this delightful vision of a class in the gymnasium doing some twirling and enjoying it.

Only in Mrs. Maliszewski’s class!


Given the Gift of Choice, the Voice Soars

Given all the things that are ongoing with school administrators including the rolling of a die to see if schools are closed or open after the Easter Weekend, you’d think that class visits to see student work and presentations might not be anywhere near the top of the list for principals.

But then, you probably haven’t met Sue Bruyns!

Her description of her activity in the classroom is typically COVID. She deliberately avoided a group as she circulated a class because of the “very crowded” group around them but the teacher made sure that her promise that she “skipped, until later” was kept.

The result? You need to read Sue’s post to get the full experience. I can understand her reaction. The projects were about the journey of American slaves and how they ended up in London.

I thoroughly enjoyed this inspirational story from Sue. We need more of these to remind us that there are good things happening in our world.

Sue’s post reminded me of this article from TVO. The date reminds us of so many things…

The story of Ontario’s last segregated Black school


Developing a Sense of Exploration, Wonder, Curiosity and Adventure in your Classrooms

Peter Cameron shares with us a post with no real answers. It’s a copy of a post that he sent to the National Geographic Education Certification Community particularly focusing on the words…

“exploration”, “wonder”, “curiosity” and “adventure”

All of those are good words and, if you’re a follower of Peter, you know that he exhibits this in his class, shares to his social media, and I’ve helped amplify his voice by posting here or talking about the ideas on my voicEd Radio show.

Now, as a computer science teacher, my curriculum applicability doesn’t run the range of an elementary school classroom but I like to think I did a great deal addressing “curiosity”. At the time, I had a subscription to Games magazine and when I was finished with my monthly issue, I’d put the copy in the cupboard in my classroom. They were available for students to pull and work their way through and the type of student that ends up taking computer science likes a good puzzle to solve.

Even better, if they sit down and write a computer program as a solution, you have to be impressed. Or, they’ll look at someone else’s code and just wonder “how did they do that”.


A conversation with Melanie

Thunder Bay’s biggest Melanie fan has to be Sheila Stewart and she writes about the interview conducted by Stephen Hurley on voicEd Radio with the artist. He uses the entire hour for a discussion with Melanie.

You can listen to the show here:

Look What They’ve Done To My Song ft. Melanie Safka

It’s a nice recognition to the effort that Stephen went to host the interview. Of course, this calls for a song or two.


Growing as an Artist

It was a real treat to see Colleen Rose back in action on her blog. I think we’ve all felt the strain of winter amplified by the fact that we have to stay home almost all the time.

With spring on the horizon, I think we’re looking forward to getting a number of things back into gear again. Colleen is constantly keeping her eyes open to the world around here and also beyond.

It’s the beyond that she features in this post and is the reality for so many artists these days – online exhibitions which only makes sense from a logistical point of view. The voice in the back of my head sees this as a way for traditional exhibitions to maybe grow and feature the work of even more artists than in the past.

The other part of her post brings in some technology as she goes online to connect and learn with others. Again, I can’t help but be impressed that good folks are doing that to connect and help each other.

Sure, it was always possible but did it really happen? Has our current reality opened opportunities that might now have happened otherwise? It’s always a feel good story when wonderful people I know get a chance to connect with other wonderful people.

Congratulations, Colleen.


Wrong again

Will Gourley probably never will be hired as a textbook salesperson based upon this quote in his most recent post…

I am choosing to avoid the prescribed resources from text book companies that have grown largely culturally irrelevant and unresponsive

All of this emerges from a discussion he has in this post about anti-racism and ways that he’s addressing it personally in addition to everything else that educators have to address in these times.

our roles have now expanded to include daily counselling on issues of mental health, experts at PPE, and classroom sanitizers extraordinaire. We have also become distance learning specialists, multi-modal lesson trailblazers, fearless conversationalists about issues of race and racism, and criticial thinkers on how to overcome and dismantle systemic racism and bias.

I can’t help but think that the anti-racism stance is even more important than ever and textbooks can be excused for not seeing what’s happening in our world – just turn on the 6:00 news at night and there’s yet another sad story to report. Is it time that the traditional paper textbook is just discarded and publishers move to online so they can keep pace and stay relevant?

In the meantime, Will’s description I suspect describes life for so many well meaning educators right now trying to do the very best in a world that just seems to be out to get you at every turn.


Of course, I’m writing this on the Thursday before the Friday that it’s published. I’ve double-checked the title and am humbled after reading all of these blogs posts yet again. I hope that you can find time to click through and read them all.

Then, follow these educators on Twitter.

  • Pav Wander – @PavWander
  • Diana Maliszewski – @MzMollyTL
  • Sue Bruyns – @sbruyns
  • Peter Cameron – @petectweets
  • Sheila Stewart – @SheilaSpeaking
  • Colleen Rose – @ColleenKR
  • Will Gourley – @WillGourley

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.