Category: Computational Thinking

AI in education

I’ve been focused on these two questions from my friend Peter McAsh in his recent post on the ECOO site.

“How will AI impact education?
How will education adapt to teach students who will be part of a world with AI?”

You can’t pick up any reading or news report these days without learning about some new take on Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Digital Assistants, etc.  It’s natural to be concerned about education as Peter points out because these things are forming the world students and teachers will live in.

I mean, fast forward, to the perfection of self-driving cars.  Does that put a whole generation of driving instructors out of business?  If you are involved with computers and technology, you know that the fear of computers replacing teachers has been around seemingly forever.  And, for every fear story about computers replacing teachers, there’s a comeback interview or report indicating that it will never happen.

In the near future, students will have to deal with a world with imperfect AI as AI learns and grows.  Of that, there is no doubt.  I wonder how many classrooms will have Alexa or Google device sitting on the teacher’s desk when things resume next week.  (or earlier for my US friends).

And yet, they’re not about to change the classroom significantly.  Remember the old adage about don’t ask questions that Google can answer.  Your typical assistant falls into that category.  Watching Canadian television over the break, I wish that I had a dollar for every time an Alexa commercial was aired.  Still, this isn’t going to make or break things in the classroom.

I love playing with the current thoughts about AI/Machine Learning – but I want more than drawing recognition or being beat by a computer playing Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Screenshot 2018-01-05 at 08.39.31

Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that this is it.  It’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Machine Learning.  I remember being excited at one of the CSTA conference outings to the University of California-Irvine where we had a presentation about Machine Learning.  I got an overview before the presentation before it started and almost forgot to introduce the professor who was going to talk about it and then almost forgot to thank him afterwards.  My mind wanders when I hear and think about the possibilities.

I think K-12 education is ripe for a good implementation of AI.  Now, before you skip the rest of the post to hastily reply that I’ve lost it, please read on.

We’ve seen the growth of how computers in the classroom are going to change everything.  Cross Country Canada was the beginning of a promise.  Then, we got excited because we could edit images with tools like Photoshop or Gimp.  Then, we got excited because we could run an add-on to Google Sheets to automatically mark multiple choice tests.  Then, school districts got really excited because we could do report cards on computer or we could send email to parents.  And the list goes on.  But, like a broken elevator, they don’t take us anywhere near the top floor.

This computer science teacher would argue that programming is the one are that hit the educational scene with the promise of delivering results in the classroom and continues to deliver.  Sure, the tools have changed, but the promise and the results are there and even better today.  You know what makes it work?  The presence and guidance of an informed educator or a peer working along side the programmer.

Despite this, we’re still not there.  I can’t help but think about the promise and the potential of AI.  My crystal ball doesn’t see any implementation that doesn’t involve an educator alongside a student.  I definitely think of AI as being more than just a bookkeeping tool though.  I imagine a world when AI is there and can inform you immediately when a student “gets it” and offers suggestions for moving on.  Or, when a student has challenges and needs remediation.  We think we have it now but imagine a world where that classroom teacher has access to everything and an intelligent resource that immediately offers the right suggestion and implementation.  How often are these moments missed and then only caught later when doing some sort of assessment?  I know it’s supposed to be happening now with ongoing assessment and that has varying results.

And then there’s the concept on online resources.  Who doesn’t collect links with content specific to a particular topic of study.  Most connected educators do so.  Often, they’ll have a nice collection of bookmarks, a blog or wiki to accumulate these sort of things  But, are they the best available?  Imagine AI that is constantly at work, making sure that links are still active, and is constantly looking for better resources than what you currently have.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that you’re always working with resources that are best of breed.

Unless it’s a well-kept secret, I suspect we’re years and years away from it.  Right now, we’re fascinated with chess playing computers, or better GPS, or self-driving cars that do silly things.

Let your mind free of the shackles that we have now with our thinking about educational technology.  Where could the right AI take us?


This Week in Ontario Edublogs

You know, in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, nobody would be blamed for not blogging.  Fortunately, there have been a number of bloggers who keep fighting the good fight and we’re to benefit.  Check out some of what I’ve read recently.

The Education Corporation
Paul McGuire makes an interesting connection from the book “The Corporation” to real corporations to the governance by school districts in the province.  As a result, I’m on the lookout to get a copy of that book for a read.

The big message here is about control and he gets you thinking

Will any educator make the connection that apart from the pursuit of profit, there is little that separates the modern corporation from the traditional school board?

Read on to see his thoughts about this.

Given that corporations are certainly in the news all the time, it’s an interesting ponder.  Start your pondering with Loblaw admits to bread price-fixing scheme spanning more than 14 years.

Mathematicians We Should Know More About: Ada Lovelace

This post, from Matthew Oldridge brought a smile to this old Computer Science teacher’s face.  She’s a compulsory mention in class because of her importance.  There’s much more than Computer Science to consider though….

  • Mathematics
  • Collaboration
  • Visionary
  • Solving a Problem of the Time
  • Patterns and Designs and modernization of the textile industry
  • Women in History/Mathematics/Computer Science

Studies like this are important for students to know.  It’s important to know how we got to where we are in any discipline to honour the work that went before and to inspire for the future.

I know that it can raise the ire of those who have studied the past when an “innovation” gets touted as something new when it’s actually built on years of vision.

#onewordOnt Introduction

So, what was your one word for 2016?  If you check out Julie Balen’s post, you’ll see that she has a collection of blog posts from around the province of bloggers who wrote a post about theirs.

Blogging, in this case, is the perfect tool to:

  • set your goals for the year ahead and
  • to reflect at the end of the year as to how well you did

Julie’s looking to collect posts for 2018; there’s a link where you can add yourself if she doesn’t catch you.  She promises to visualize all the information that she receives.

The post is an interesting amalgam of 2016, 2017, and 2018.  What stands out though is that her list of bloggers are all women.

C’mon, guys, let’s level the playing field.  Paul McGuire has already written his.

Knowing Your Readers and Literature Circles

If I was teaching potential educators at a Faculty of Education or an Additional Qualifications course, I would make this post from Jennifer Aston required reading.

She talks about the concepts of Literature Circles but adds an interesting and important twist – knowing the readers in your class.  There’s lots of good stuff here.

The absolutely biggest thing though is the large list of suggestions about how to make it all work.  I’d bet if you had any other suggestions, she’d appreciate reading them in a comment or two.

There’s also a great deal to see as she models good technology practice in here with a collection of surveys that she uses to collect the data that she needs.  (I’d “borrow” her questions and customize if I was doing it).

In honouring student voice, she uses a Padlet to collect their reflections.

It’s a wonderful process modelled and makes a good read for anyone.

Relationships Matter…I cannot stress this enough

I don’t know that I can add much to Jonathan So’s post than what he states in the title to the post.

An observation inspired by reading Stuart Shanker’s book …

There is no thing/ concept as a Bad Child

I’m reminded of a statement from Wayne Hulley.  “Parents send you the best kids they have; they don’t keep the good ones at home”.

Schools and teachers have a unique relationship with young people.  Parents still have the bulk of the time to be spent with them but the time in your classroom is unique and very special.  There’s a great deal written about the way “we” were taught – in classrooms, facing forward, memorizing, testing, etc.  We know the concepts are dated but …

… parents grew up thinking about education in the same way.  That’s what they remember when they think about their school years.  So much has been learned about learning over the years and often.  It can seem like a treadmill with school districts taking on the latest and greatest approach while ignoring the past.

The one thing that truly endures is the relationship with students.  “You can’t stress this enough.”


From the TESL Ontario blog, here’s an opportunity to catch up on what you may have missed.

Screenshot 2017-12-28 at 11.23.43

For me, I’ve got some new bloggers to add to my Ontario Edublogger list!

Math is Visual

Especially if you use purple triangles as part of your logo.

This latest project, from Kyle Pearce is a collection of videos demonstrating mathematics concepts.

It’s starting with a clean and usable interface.  Nicely done, Kyle.

This website was created to assist in building a better conceptual understanding of mathematics through the use of visuals. The images, videos and resources shared here are intended to help all teachers, parents and students understand that Math Is Visual and we should take every opportunity to teach it that way.

This is the last post for #TWIOE in 2017.  I’d like to take the time to thank all of the great Ontario Edubloggers who continue to write and to share their thoughts, learnings, experiences, and inquiries.  Recently, I created an alphabetical listing of all the bloggers who I’ve made reference to in this weekly post.  Check them out here.

Please take the time to support all of these terrific bloggers, by leaving a comment on their blog, sharing their post, or sharing this post.

For this week, make sure that you’re following:

Here’s wishing you a great blogging 2018.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

I hope that everyone is comfortably shoveled out on this Friday.  It was quite a bit of snow pushing around here but I did get out to get things done.

But a little snow isn’t going to stop me from getting out my Friday post, featuring some of the best Ontario Edubloggers.  As always, there’s been some great thoughts shared this week.

Breakout Games

There’s been a great deal about digital breakout games in the classroom lately.  I’ve featured posts from Larissa Aradj and Cal Armstrong here.  So, we’ve had a look at a Google solution and a Microsoft OneNote solution.  Both are great and have a purpose but Eva Thompson had a different take.

She wanted to take her students back to the original or, as she calls it, Classic Breakout activity with her students.  Click through and see if you don’t agree that sometimes the newest and technology-ist isn’t necessarily the best.  Getting up, collaborating, problem solving, …, she had it all.

Stephen Hurley shared with me this research article The Rise of Educational Escape Rooms.  It’s a definite good read if you want more information.

Four Ways To Transform EQAO

If Andrew Campbell was King of the World, he’d change a few things.  This time, he takes a look at what he’d do with EQAO – in four easy, ok not-so-easy, steps.

All four take on a modern approach to a testing situation that doesn’t seem to want to go away.  All four are indeed worth a read and consideration but there were two that really struck me:

  • Respecting professional judgement
  • Respecting Students

He describes the day-to-day reality that both teachers and students deal with and yet is thrown out the window on EQAO testing day.

Makes you think.

What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Coding?

It isn’t often that I disagree with Aviva Dunsiger but I sure had the hair standing up on the back of my neck when I read her title.  But the world would be boring if we all agree on everything.  Her topic was influenced by another post that she had read that I found completely misunderstands what the Hour of Code is all about.

There would be huge backlash if her title had been

  • What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Mathematics?
  • What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Play Based Kindergarten?
  • What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Language?

You get the point.  If you look at the activities that people focused on with the Hour of Code, the “code” part was definitely there because of the branding but the activities are anything but passive and are all about Thinking and Problem Solving.  That’s what coding/problem solving is all about.  If you can’t see that in your activities, then you’re doing it all wrong.

Superior-Greenstone District School Board Beyond the Hour of CODE Challenge

I have to give a big unrelated shout-out to Stacey Wallwin.  She introduced me to the concept of “Freighter Friday”.  Believe me, it’s a thing…

This tags on so nicely on my thoughts about Thinking and Problem Solving.  Stacey shares with a challenge from Superior-Greenstone that takes them beyond the Hour of Code and invites you and your students to join them.


Embedded in the post is a Slides presentation with more details and links to deal with all of these topics.

Well done, Stacey.  It shows that people are ready to move beyond that one Hour and really make a difference.

Teamwork and Problem Solving

On the ECOO blog, Peter McAsh shares with us an activity that he’s been involved with the past few years.

During Computer Science Education Week, the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) at the University of Waterloo acts as a local host for the Programming Challenge for Grade 10 Girls.  PC4G

The girls get a chance to be guests at the university which is always a treat but then Prof. McAsh leads them on a learning journey involving the Alice programming language.  (slide deck attached to his post)

To “make things count”,

A group of University of Waterloo math professors met in a conference room to “judge” the submissions from the girls. The primary tool for assessment is to view the animated movies created by the girls’ code. Lots of smiles and laughter from the professors. Somehow I think this is not the atmosphere in the room when they are marking Euclid Math Contests!

It sounds like a wonderful opportunity.  If you’re in Southwestern Ontario, it’s an annual thing!  Details here.  How about next year?

Let Me Teach Like The First Snow Falling

Lisa Cranston is learning that it’s sometimes nice to recycle blog posts.  Many tag them “Posts from the Past”.

In this revisit, she talks about the changing role of centrally assigned teachers.  I still remember her first day on the job and my chance to meet her and Brent.  They were going to change the world in teaching mathematics.

Things have changed since there.

Since that time there has been a dramatic shift in how we support educators in their professional learning and much of our work is done at the school using a model of collaborative inquiry where the teachers and consultants engage as co-learners in action research based student learning.

Ironically, I was thinking about this the other day when I was explaining to my wife that, in the beginning, principals didn’t like that approach since we didn’t check in with them and make presentations at staff meetings…

Too Much

It hurt to read this post from dear friend Colleen Rose.

This year has been tough. I discovered that I have limits because I pushed myself past them; my commitments, projects and goals became too much as I began to cope with a variety of health concerns in my family, including my own.

She’s experiencing a lesson that all teachers need to learn.  So many learn later rather than sooner.

There’s only so much that you can commit to before the important things in life start to suffer.  Paying attention to those that give you advice about “balance” is so important.

It’s wonderful to read the support that she’s getting from friends in the comments.  It’s always nice to know that you’re not alone.

La mémoire corporative

This post, from Joel McLean was so timely for me.

I’ve always had Microsoft and Google accounts and the online storage that goes with them.  I do have an organization scheme that works for me although I recall being laughed at during an OTF seminar for the way I do things …

Now, I have access to a Team Drive.  When I first started to use it, I didn’t think of it differently from any other organization that I’ve used in the past.  I was completely wrong.  (Yes, I gave in and read the documentation)


This blog post should be compulsory reading and understanding by principals or anyone in charge of organizational groups.  Life was different when a teacher left resources for someone else and they happened to be in a file cabinet.  What if that file cabinet is now in the cloud?

An Interview with Jim Cash

From this blog earlier this week, in case you missed it.

How’s that for your professional reading for a Friday.  Click through and read each of these wonderful posts.  The authors will appreciate it.

If you like this post, please share it with your network and let’s give these blog posts some extra digital love.

While at it, make sure you’re following:

Don’t forget to check out all the great blogs from Ontario Edubloggers here.  There’s always some good reading.  And, if you’re blogging and not in there, please add yourself with the form.

The case for the web

I remember it as if it happened just this past summer.  Actually, it was this past summer!  I was proctoring a Birds of a Feather session dealing with the Alice programming language at the CSTA Conference.

The BOF was scheduled to be in a small room and it was jam packed.  I couldn’t believe how many people would stick around at the end of a conference day for a session like this.  But, it was a chance to explain their passion for using Alice in the classroom.

Alice offers it all.  2 and 3 D story telling, building, programming in an easy format, an easy to navigate environment, and more including resources for teaching at the Alice website and all over the internet from fans.

I’m enjoying the discussion and the real passion for programming coming from those in the room.  It really is an indication that these people get it and want more.  I’m also cognisant of the time.  After all, this session is all that sits between these people and supper.  We reach the appointed time but nobody was moving or clock watching and the discussions continued.

I let it go for another five minutes.

Then ten minutes.

Then I realize that I’m shirking my duties so I stand up and politely wait for a speaker to pause to catch a breath and do the thank you thing to the leaders of the session.  Then it happened.

I was booed!

No kidding.  The now hostile crowd wanted more.  Well, not all of them so I apologetically told everyone that we were overtime and that those that wanted to leave could go for supper.  If they wanted to stay and continue, they were welcome.  I think a few of us left but the conversation continued.

Such was the passion for this programming environment.

In a recent discussion with Peter McAsh who led an Alice session as part of the Programming For Girls Challenge, we were talking about the opportunities available for the Hour of Code.  They generally were so accessible because all that you needed was a web browser to access them.

The one drawback to Alice is that it’s a standalone program and, as such, requires installation on a computer in order to use it.  No tablets, no Chromebooks, no phones – just a traditional computer.

That also means that you need to convince an IT Department that it needs to be installed and then updated on a standard image for the school.  That doesn’t make it easy to “try before you buy” in the classroom like some of the other options.  It doesn’t diminish the value of the program; all the good stuff is still there.

I would think that there would be many more fans if it was available via the web as opposed to a standalone installation.  It’s too bad; it has such potential.

An Interview with Jim Cash


Jim Cash has been an educator for over 20 years with the Peel District School Board and has been technology support teacher for the past 7 years.  Our paths have crossed, certainly online, but also at the annual Bring IT, Together Conference.  At the most recent one, I saw his passion as he got in an argument with an exhibitor and I just knew that I had to have an interview on file from him!

Doug:  It’s the same first question for everyone – can you recall when we first met?

Jim: I remember when we first met. I attended a session in which you presented at an ECOO conference when it was still called the ECOO conference. You shared a long list of tools and resources and pointed out the strengths of each and how they could be used in the classroom. It was one of the more informative and useful sessions I attended that year!

Doug:  I’ve been a big fan of your blog and your thoughts and ideas about coding.  When did you get interested in that?

Jim:  Thank you very much for saying that! I was in grade 8, which was 1979 for me. It was right at the beginning of the personal computer ‘revolution.’ Somehow, I convinced my grade 8 teacher to get a TRS-80 computer for the classroom… but that was probably due to my own interest. I do remember telling him the kinds of things I was doing. I don’t know why but something about the idea of writing code in a ‘language’ the computer could understand and execute was exciting and became somewhat of a passion for me. I distinctly remember going into Radio Shack and taking out tiny slips of paper with some scribbled programming in BASIC that I just had to try out. I do remember the manager of the store didn’t mind too much because other customers sort got a free demonstration from some geeky kid. I took computer science in grade 11 and 12 and enjoyed it. In university, I wrote a simulation program for a carpet company that would allow customers to preview a sample of carpet design graphically on the screen. The company bought it for $3000. That was very cool and paid for a whole year (at that time) of university tuition and textbooks.

Doug:  What sort of coding and technology things did you do when you were in the classroom?

Jim: I made a lot of mistakes early on. But, in a nutshell, I first taught computer programming in similar ways I was taught. I saw it as a skill to to learned and practiced. My students did learn but they learned within my own narrow conception of it. Now I view it as a literacy and an integrated tool to be used for a wide variety of purposes. I am very much sensitive now to the way my students learn, why they are learning, and what they are doing and making.

The main thing I neglected in my early teaching days was considering student passions, interest and even love. Seymour Papert used the word himself in his foreword to Mindstorms: “I fell in love with gears.” I understood that but, at least in my early teaching career, I did not put student passions into action or pay much attention to it at all. It is pretty clear now that the way to go is Resnick’s 4P approach – passion, projects, peers and play. How outlines his approach in his book Lifelong Kindergarten but he has written articles for many years about the 4P approach. Fully embracing that approach with students has been nothing short of remarkable in terms of WHAT THEY LEARN.

So I didn’t really answer your question directly but when I work with students now, nothing is as effective as taking the time and energy to support students in their efforts to work on long term coding projects that are in sync with their passions and interests in collaboration with their classmates. Building a playful, growth mindset-based learning culture is also key! Students are making games, animations, stories, art, and many other creative things using Scratch. Take a look at this grade 5 boy after about 8 sessions. He was working very hard on solving problems related to making his Scratch-based game work.

Doug:  Seven years is forever in “technology time”.  What sort of changes have you seen while on the job?  

Jim: In the early years of my formal support job (a resource teacher in Peel) I was showing teachers how to get the most out of their document cameras or LCD projectors. Or, I was focused on the OSAPAC software installed on their lab or classroom computers and helping teachers to use it effectively. In fact, once in my first year, I asked at the board about getting a Mindstorms robot to use with a teacher and students; I was told at the time that that is not my job. I was to focus on support ‘instructional technology.’ There has been a very distinct progression over the past 7 years towards helping teachers to transfer agency to students in many ways, including technology. There has also been an evolution in my role to more of an instructional coach. Support teachers to empower students to learn, create, make, design, discuss, share, and so on are my core goals now. It is a big job because this is more of shift in mindset and philosophy than just learning about new educational technologies to use… and I am very happy with the new role. I tried a few times in the past to change the course, for example, with a change in our ‘title.’ My team used to be called ‘instructional technology resource teachers.’ Starting this school, our new name is finally official: “modern learning resource teacher’ and we are fully aligned with our board vision for modern learning.

Doug:  The “Empowering Modern Learners” is a good read for all.

If you had to identify two “boons” and two “busts” during that time, what would you choose and why?

Jim: So there have been many successes and many challenges, I think. In terms of the successes, in my board, they have been things like getting WiFi in every school, making technology mobile and versatile (instead of desktop-based and single platform-based), and embracing a culture of “yes” in terms of innovations and experimentation by teachers trying to experiment and do new things in their classrooms with students. In terms of busts, there are a few things in my experience that stand out. Amazing tools that start out as free, and start to become widely adopted and used, suddenly become paid services. This has been discouraging to teachers and students. VoiceThread and Kidblog are two immediate examples I can think of. Also, with the introduction of BYOD, and the fact that the majority of students in middle school and beyond, generally have a device of some kind makes the old student response tools (think ‘clickers’) obsolete. There was a fair amount of money spent on those tools and I think most of them are probably collecting dust now. Tools like Kahoot and Mentimeter are great and remain free, for now…

Doug:  At the BIT Conference, Stephen Hurley and I identified a number of people that we feature on “This Week in Ontario Edublogs” and invited them to a different approach – doing it live with the blogger.  You were on the microphone along with us for input.  What did you think of the experience?

Jim: It was a great experience and it was so disappointing that the technology didn’t work out… but that happens and that’s okay, of course. Not everything you try always works out the first time. At that point during the conference, in early November, my friend Amit Mehrotra and I had just started producing a podcast in Peel focusing on our vision document Empowering Modern Learners. There are eight of us on the modern learning resource teacher team and we are all working on various projects to communicate modern learning ideas, share practice and provide learning resources. This is my and Amit’s primary project at the moment and it’s going well. So, speaking into a microphone is a relatively new experience for me but I am learning quite a bit not only about communicating effectively but also about all the fine details, both technical and otherwise, of producing a weekly podcast. Amit generally takes care of most of the our web site content and organizing guests and I generally take care of most of the technical aspects and editing of the podcast. We’re a great team, I think, and it’s also so much fun!

Doug:  In a day when people talk about coding not necessarily be about mathematics, we featured your post “Show me the math”.  The post appeared on the “Code like a Girl” blog.  You explain the whole process you use which culminates in blogging.  Can you give us a summary of what you expect from students and why you’re not apologetic for referring to Mathematics in the process.

Jim:  I think of coding, computer programming, in two ways. First, as a discipline. Professional computer programmers learn and apply computer science concepts to the production of a commercial computer application. I would call that software development. Second, as a learning tool. Children can use specially crafted digital tools, such as Scratch, specifically designed as an exploratory, playful and creative environment in which mathematical and computational ideas can be played with, shared, and discussed. The most important ingredient of the second conception is that learners follow their passions and interests, that they really love of what they are doing.

So this dichotomy is what some, and I, call either ‘learning to code’ or ‘coding to learn.’ It might appear to be a subtle difference but ‘coding to learn’ is a very specific focus. I am not an educator who is all about kids ‘learning to code.’ Why? For what purpose? Eight year olds do not need to taught data sorting methods or database concepts that might belong to some coding curriculum… but they should be provided with opportunities to find their own way into mathematical thinking and computational thinking concepts in way that makes sense and in a way that they are excited about. Scratch, LOGO and Mindstorms used to be the only places kids could go but now there are many more fun, playful environments where kids can go.

The point of that blog post was to argue that it is time well spent for teachers and students to look for and discuss the mathematics they notice in the coding… and it’s an excellent way to start conversations and to make connections to big ideas in the curriculum. Any kid who is working on some project, coding a game or an animation for example, is applying mathematical processes and concepts every second of the time.

Doug:  Later that day, I had you all to myself and I had a great chance to do something that I couldn’t do at home.  Have two Micro:bits talk to each other wirelessly.  (Because I only own one Micro:bit)  What wireless communication projects have you done with students?

Jim: That’s a good question but my students are just starting to explore the potential of the micro:bit. And so am I. I really like what I seen and have learned so far. Makey Makey is also a wonderful, playful device with lots of potential for projects. There are other controller boards such as the Arduino but it was a pretty big jump for students from using Makey Makey. The micro:bit, I think, addresses a need for student projects that lies between boards like a Makey Makey and boards like an Arduino. And if students have Scratch or block coding experience, they can quickly transfer their learning.

Some projects I have seen so far with the BBC micro:bit are a musical greeting card, a step counter, a light sensor alarm, and a magic 8 ball, a hearing tester, and one that measures the exact voltage output on one of the analog ports. I can’t wait to see the various kinds of projects students embark on this year.

Doug:  It was while we were working with that, that you got into the “discussion” with a vendor who had dropped by.  His point was that students need to be taught the constructs of the language before they can actually code.  Your approach was completely different.  Can you explain it?

Jim: I take issue with viewing coding as a subject to be explicitly taught to children… I am more talking about K-8 students. That includes targeted, pre-planned lessons that focus on certain aspects of coding, commands, functions, computer science concepts, and so on. I used to teach programming this way. It was the way I was taught. My students generally didn’t care that much. A few did… And they didn’t learn that much. Why didn’t that work? When I was learning to program, I liked it for its own sake. I was already interested and motivated, and I took the courses when I was in grade 11 and 12. I understood the context and kind of loved it like Papert loved gears. Pushing young kids through some pre-determined coding curriculum is not the most effective approach. What’s better is choice and thinking of it like a literacy. Passion. Interests. Fun. Peers. Projects. Sharing. Playing. Tinkering. Building. Designing. Context matters. I’ve seen it proven over and over again. I’ve seen kids coding a game for months and months, the same game. It gets better and better and BETTER! One kid, for example, got an idea for a cool platformer game. He HAD to learn and apply a great deal of mathematics in order to do the things he wanted to do in his game.

When I was in school, we learned a specific mathematical skill… just the skill itself, disconnected from anything else. We practiced it and learned it pretty much by rote. Then, we applied it to problems to solve after we learned the specific skill. In coding, the concept, the skill, and the problem are all happening at the same time. They feed into each other and off each other. A context is created and maintained by the interplay of all three. This is the heart of making and constructionism. Concepts are being made in the mind at the very same time they are made in the real world by the students hands. It’s a process. It takes time. It’s hard. And it’s fun. The fact that they share, discuss and reflect are also essential and crucial components… making alone is not constructionism.

Doug:  For the benefit of the readers of this interview, this was no short discussion.  I think I walked away for a bit and came back at it and the two of you were still going at it!  Do you think you convinced him?  Did he convince you to change your mind?

Jim: I don’t know. A lot of what he was describing were pre-made lessons. He did mention projects, too. But, it all seemed far too predetermined by someone, or some team, who don’t know the kids, and will never meet the kids. I do not think of using coding to learn in that way. It’s okay if those things are out there as choices. But, can you imagine how ludicrous it would be to have a pre-made series of lessons teaching children how to use the sand table and all the tools they might find there. Or, a LEGO building unit where lessons, written in advance, dictate how the blocks might be joined and organized into useful structures. I think of coding to learn tools, such as Scratch, like I do LEGO or a sand table. Some might argue, well, coding is far more involved and complicated. That might be so but I would argue then, that, there is all the more reason to get it right and apply a learning philosophy whereby one is trying to maximize the creativity and inventiveness and excitement of the learner / builder. Why would I be showing my class the intricacies of the clone blocks simply because it’s the second day of the third week of the coding unit? I want that precious time used by students to be voraciously pursuing the goals of their personal projects. Trust me; if they really own their own projects, and you support their autonomy for the long term, higher quality learning will be the norm for all your students.

Doug:  In Peel Schools, how successful will the Hour of Code 2017 be?

Jim: Many teachers and students are using the Hour of Code to explore the potential of coding. I think a measure of success will be the number of exciting, long term, project-based activities that arise after the hour of code. Additionally, I think there will be more teachers seeing coding as a literacy, not just as a new skills today’s kids need. I know many teachers who are already integrating coding projects into the learning activities of students. I also know many who are looking to the wide variety of Hour of Code resources available to support the interests of their students. My hope is that an hour of coding turns into a year of learning.

Doug:  I know that you keep your eyes on the future of coding in the classroom.  What do you see in your crystal ball?

Jim: Computer programming provides access and precise control of technologies that are all around students. I thinking projects need to grow with the student. And the coding skills will also naturally grow with the student’s projects. But it will be different for each student. A student might choose to explore computer programming as a discipline and profession. That’s one path. But, many other professions, and many other personal endeavors, involve using computational thinking concepts that are not exclusive to the domain of computer science. The key is activating these skills, pointing them out, and reflecting on how to use them in new situations. I really hope that Papert’s vision comes to fruition this time around (what follows is the last paragraph from his Foreword in Mindstorms):

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There is also this short video in which Papert talks about ‘mathland’ and how the computer might help children find their own way of coming to terms with what mathematics is in a way that matches their own passion and intellectual style.

Doug:  Thanks so much for the interview, Jim.  This is certainly timely given that we have just completed Computer Science Education Week 2017.  I really appreciate it.

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Check out all of the interviews that have been posted to this blog by clicking here.

Now what?

I hope that you had the opportunity to participate in the Hour of Code as part of the Computer Science Education Week.  If you didn’t, it wouldn’t be for lack of resources!  There were better resources, offering more engaging experiences this year than ever.

I truly hope that it doesn’t stop there for you and your students.  I hope that you experienced the learning alongside your students and didn’t ship the class off to some one else who did the hour for you.  If that was the case, you missed the point.

The one hour activities are nice and they’re there designed for a purpose – to start people on the journey.  I hope that the journey continues and that the experience wasn’t just a “one of” thing.

When I look back at my educational experience, I took courses in English, Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Physical Education, Music, Art, History, Geography, and French.

As it turns out, I didn’t become an author, mathematician, scientist, professional athlete, musician, artist, historian, cartographer, or translator.  But I can name a classmate who fell into each of these professions.

With this logic, I really don’t want anyone to buy into the idea that doing the Hour of Code will somehow turn out the next generation of programmers.  It could but just like I can write a paragraph in two languages, play baseball, do mental mathematics when shopping, the real goal should be to develop problem solving skills.  The computer and programming languages of the future haven’t been invented yet but there’s a real advantage in being able to use the concepts of computational thinking to solving problems and also to tame that device that’s in their backpack.

Integrated properly, the skills of the past week can be developed into an integral way of doing everything.  If you haven’t read Jim Cash’s post 5 ways to turn the ‘hour of code’ into the ‘year of learning’ you really should.  I truly hope that your classroom continues to experience success in the weeks to come.

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Are you ready to share your experiences and learning?  Then, join the #ECOOchat on Tuesday evening.  We’re hoping that it turns into a great opportunity to share, make connections, and take a look to the future.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

There’s nothing like the first snow of the year to bring out your inner-Husky.  Now, having grown up in the snow belt, I know that it’s heresy to call what we’re experiencing this morning as “snow” but it’s the sort of thing that gets students here up and checking to see if buses are running or delayed.  Teachers have already done that.

Nothing says more than “winter in Essex County” than walking past the school that we do every morning and seeing the caretaker out in a short-sleeved t-shirt sweeping snow off the sidewalk for students and staff.  Or, Santa Claus arriving by canoe.

If you want one last winter-ish activity for the Hour of Code, check this out.

No matter what the weather is like where you are, I hope that you can take a few moments to read some of the great blog posts from Ontario Edubloggers I ran across this week.

Preserve Our Language Project

When Stephen Hurley and I were discussing this on voicEd Radio, he noted that he hadn’t seen me this excited about something before.  It’s a true statement.  This is an awesome project and I found out about it by being tagged by Mike Filipetti last week during Follow Friday time.  I checked out the project and was just blown away.

So, here’s the deal.  When you get a new computer and set it up, chances are it will have an American English keyboard by default.  You can always change it for your preference.  I always opt for Canadian English.  I’ve also experimented personally with a Dvorak keyboard and it delivered as promised.  But, I dropped it for some reason.  I can recall a conversation with a French teacher who indicated that it was important for French students to see a French keyboard when they’re typing in that language.  Fair enough; that can be done easily enough.  Everyone should be able to keyboard in their language.

What if that language is Ojibway?  On my Macintosh, I’d be out of luck.  Scrolling to the Os reveals…


So, what excited me about this project was that one of the features that they’ve developed is an Ojibway keyboard and made it free to download.  Think it’s not a big deal?  Try this then – switch the keyboards in your class to another language like Persian or Polish and have the students come up with a workaround to be able to type in their own language.

I am excited about this project and some of the other things that you’ll find including videos.  Importantly, check out who all is involved with the project.

It’s a project worth following and please give them a little social media love by sharing this post.

5 ways to turn the ‘hour of code’ into the ‘year of learning’

This post, from Jim Cash, is timely for the end of Computer Science Education Week.  I hope that everyone had a chance to do at least an hour of coding with students.  I also hope that you’re asking yourself “What’s next?”

If you are, this post has some suggestions for moving forward.

I’ll share three with you here…

  • Learn to code by starting your own coding project
  • Think of coding as a literacy
  • Plan a design-thinking, project-based learning activity

You’ll have to click through and read Jim’s entire post to get all five.  His vision of coding as a literacy started an interesting discussion on Twitter.  Personally, I think that  if coding skills are going to become successful and valuable, it needs to be more than a literacy.  How about it becoming a fluency?

As the Hour of Code wraps up and people are thinking of great successes and next steps, ECOO is hoping to engage you in a Twitter chat next Tuesday evening at 8pm with the hashtag #ECOOchat.  I hope to see you there.

What EQAO Doesn’t Know

Just as Jim’s post was timely, this one from Peter Cameron is equally as timely given the Ministry of Education’s review of assessment and curriculum in the province.

This is a long post but well worth the read and to share with others.  Passionate educators will also pause to recognize all of the fallout from testing that certainly couldn’t have been predicted when EQAO was first introduced.

Peter’s post reminds us that there are more than score-buckets sitting in desks in Ontario classrooms.  They’re eager learners who have a whole year to demonstrate their learning in various ways for their teacher.  Yet, there comes that moment in time when they have a pre-determined about of time to write a test for someone else.

If this is deemed to be important, are we doing it properly?  I’d suggest that you forget the notion of the test when you read the post.  Put yourself in the position of the students that he describes.  Would you consider yourself fairly assessed?

Midterm Reflections: #BIT17, PD Day, Midterms, Student Feedback, and Tracking Observations

I had to smile when I read the title to this post from Amy Szerminska.  If I had that many concurrent thoughts, I would have broken it down into five different posts and schedule them for successive days.  There’s a whole week of blogging there!

It was confirming to read her observations of #BIT17 and the importance of connections. You know that Amy is not alone in her thoughts.  We’re more powerful educators when we make these connections.  Hopefully, school districts recognize this when an application is received to go to a conference.  Go beyond the title and what you have always thought about the host; think of the connections that go far beyond the conference.

What I really found interesting was the discussion around the Professional Development Day.  Embedded in the post is her presentation.


It’s a wonderful click through and those in the audience must really have appreciated the conversation that it would have generated.

Speaking of assessment, you have to love this student’s quote

“It’s weird but if I can negotiate my way to a good grade I don’t mind.”

LONDON GOOGLE SUMMIT: Presenting Google Classroom, Meet Entrepreneurship

In case you were wondering whether or not the Thames Valley District School Board was using Google or not, this presentation from Heidi Solway and Jason Bakker will give you a definitive answer.  I really do like it when presenters make their slide deck and other resources available for those who couldn’t attend to enjoy.

Ignite the passion in your classroom by developing your students into entrepreneurs through Project Based Learning (PBL). This project has students producing product, designing marketing, and handling sales at a Business Fair. We will share how to disseminate steps of the project via Google Classroom, having students manage their business in: Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drawings, and Classroom. We will also touch on how students might create advertising pieces using tools such as Garage Band, green screen with DoInk and/or iMovie, Please bring a Chromebook or laptop.

Of course, the folks at Google might take issue with the final statement and the use of the word “or”.

The slidedeck links to a thing popular with the Google crowd right now – Hyperdocs.  In this case, they are worksheets to support the concepts from the project.

For the Office 365 folks, a big project like this could easily be adapted to using the O365 tools.

Classrooms Should Be More Like Trains

A “quiet table” in a noisy classroom is rather like a smoking section in a restaurant. I understand that the noise doesn’t stop when it gets to the table (oh, for the ‘cone of silence’!!) Ideally I’d prefer a room where students could go and work quietly if needed. Putting a table in the hallway or some other quiet corner of the school is also a possibility, but obviously supervision and safety is a concern. At the very least, the “Quiet Work Table” shows students that if they need quiet, that’s acknowledged and addressed in some small way.

When I read this post from Andrew Campbell, I recognized how fortunate I was with my classroom setup.  At the time, I had the ability to organize my students according to activity.

The main classroom had tables with movable chairs and wonderfully, a carpeted floor.  Behind us was a room that was supposed to host a mini-computer that never arrived.  It had tiled floor (which was great to avoid the static electricity from the classroom) and more tables to hold our computers.  Behind that was supposed to be the computer operator’s office.  It turned into a seminar room for my class.   And, of course, we had a hallway for additional organization.  All of the rooms had huge windows so you could stand in one and see what was happening in all three.  For those who needed another level of isolation, I was not against the use of headphones.

I really was fortunate.  Andrew makes excellent points and it’s a reminder that the traditional school design never really takes all this into consideration – how are you making for quiet spaces in your classroom for those that want/need them?

OTF and the Professional Learning Ecosystem

If you’re not aware of everything that the Ontario Teachers’ Federation offers, you will be after reading this post from Brenda Sherry.

I think that I knew about all of the various pieces that she touches on in her post but I’d never seen them arranged all together at once.  Looked at this way, it really is impressive.

TLLP – The Teacher Learning and Leadership Program
OTF Connects – live webinars in the evenings
OTF Summer Institutes – 3 day summer sessions
Pedagogy B4 Technology Conference – 3 days of learning
TLLP – Provincial Knowledge Exchange
Teacher Learning Co-op (TLC) – Collaborative teams

Are you aware of these opportunities?  Read Brenda’s post and then head over to the OTF Learning Page.  Check the left sidebar for even more!

Whew!  Yet again, this is a wonderfully relevant and current look at things from Ontario Edubloggers.  We’re so fortunate to have these people sharing their thoughts with us.

Make sure to add all of the above to your list of accounts that you’re following.

If you’re blogging and not in the list of Ontario Edubloggers, please take a moment to visit and add your details.