This Week in Ontario Edublogs

After a week away from the blogging keyboard, it was nice to get back and see what was new from the blogs of Ontario Edubloggers. And, it was great to get back to voicEd Radio and discuss five of the posts with Stephen Hurley on Wednesday morning. Most people would be working with students at the time and so the show is stored as a podcast on the site.

3 things

Writing on the ETFO Heart and Art Blog, Will Gourley gives us a look at hybrid teaching from his perspective working in that environment. He shares with us three things about hybrid teaching.

  • Hybrid teaching sucks
  • Your students have something to tell you
  • Did I mention that hybrid still sucks?

I think you can get his perspective just by reading the first and third point. It would be easy, I suspect, for anyone to easily draw those conclusions. What lends to the credibility though is that he’s writing in the first person. He shares his setup and concerns about how to ensure that all students succeed. He also gets us into the gear that he has to wear and use in order to make it all happen. I think you’ll find yourself immersed in his world.

Just picture him…

“week with a mic on my head, a mask over my face, and webcam on”

It’s the middle point that I think speaks volumes for educators and shows us the type of educator that Will is. In a blog post that could easily just be Will ranting about how hybrid teaching sucks, he does take the time to ensure that we know that he’s not alone. The kids have a voice too and it’s important that it’s heard.

It’s easy to find stories about the challenges that teachers are facing. The voices of students and parents are always difficult to find and that’s a shame. Is it good for them or do they just not have a platform to make their thoughts heard?

While looking for thoughts, it would be good also to hear from administrators and members of the board of trustees who approved this mode of teaching.

Hybrid Learning Lessons

I had originally selected the post “Reflection: Keep it! Tweak it! Ditch it!” from Jennifer Casa-Todd’s blog to feature this week. When I returned to revisit it, I found this one instead and went with it. I thought it tagged nicely onto Will’s post. Will writes from the elementary classroom and Jennifer from secondary.

Will uses the term “exhausted” and Jennifer uses “November-level exhausted”. They’re both throwing all they’ve got into their teaching.

Jennifer gives us a summary of the technology that she uses in her teaching – “Screencastify, Choice Boards, Hyperdocs, Flipgrid, Station Rotation”.

Last week, she was a panelist on The Mentoree and shared a couple of really important points that I think all could ponder about and perhaps redirect their energies.

  • Fewer is better in terms of tech tools – this is always good advice but even more important these days, especially when you factor in the hybrid model. It’s easy to confuse more tools with more learning but for most classes that’s not the case. Finding a good multi-purpose tool and getting the most from it will get the most from technology. On the voicEd show, Stephen and I professed our love for Hyperstudio but alas …
  • Find a Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter – of course, I flipped over this concept. Connecting with other educators is always a way to push yourself and learn new approaches. It’s also a place to go to recognize that you’re not the only one in the world facing challenges

Salvaging Old Lessons for New Students

Speaking of Hyperstudio – what the heck, let’s throw in Clarisworks as well…

Diana Maliszewski shares a story of collaboration with a new, young teacher looking to up her game. What to do? What to do?

I think most educators are like this. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into developing the perfect or pretty good lesson and are hesitant to throw it away. So, we just keep collecting them.

Diana turns back the resources dial a few years and remembers some great lessons from the past – the unfortunate part was that they were done in Hyperstudio and Clarisworks. Stop for a second and thing about how you’d even open documents created in those formats these days. To support Diana’s desire to get at them, she and her husband went on a search to find tools. And they did apparently find a solution.

I did smile a bit when she complained about the block graphics from days gone by especially since Diana is a big Minecrafter … but she does give us a look at the past and the freshly updated future resource.

The lesson that she resurrects is about phishing – now there’s a topic that will probably always be timely and can be just as important. Way to go, Diana.

The Important Question

Haven’t we all been in settings where we’re talking about or listening to others and the topic is “schools of the future”. It’s a popular topic and a reminder that there are always new things on the horizon for us to embrace.

Typically, we smile and nod and call ourselves and our profession as “life long learning”.

Anne-Marie Kees turns the tables with this question instead.

I also love this question:  What’s not going to change?

My first thought was bureaucracy since it’s such an easy topic to take shots at in education.

She had a more important focus though and that was relationships. I really enjoyed the way that she analysed this. There is a great deal to think about in her analysis.

It’s especially important since the whole notion of relationships has changed for all of us, including students, over the past while. How can we get back to being humans with our need to connect? How do we make sure that nobody gets left behind?

Here’s a reminder.

No WIFI…. No Worries

In Thames Valley, they recently had a professional development day. Sue Bruyns shares with us how the message to be delivered worked its way into each school for the event.

There was one thing that didn’t work its way though – WIFI!

Haven’t we all been there? You’re in the audience at a conference, or even worse, you’re getting ready to present and something goes wrong. Data projector blows up, electricity goes out, fire alarm goes off, or gasp, the internet gives up on you.

Such was the start fo the day for Sue Bruyns.

I’ve been in sessions where the presenter just gives up and tells us to do something else instead because their show can’t go on. They had no Plan B.

It sounds like the district didn’t have a Plan B either but Sue and her team looked around the building and created one on the fly! It’s a great story of recovery. Check out her complete post to find out what it was.

My List of Wishes

I just had to include this post from Aviva Dunsiger. After all, I guess I inspired her to write it.

Last Saturday, I went on an uncharacteristic rant about things that I hate in my world mostly attributed to the effects of COVID.

Aviva decided to take the concept and run with it.

These wishes might largely remain as wishes, and yet, somehow it feels cathartic to write them down and put them out in the world. What wishes might you add to this list? I wonder if framing them as wishes helps me believe in future possibilities. What about you?

It’s quite a long list and I suspect that many educators will empathise with Aviva and her perspective.

It might even ultimately turn into a “to-do” list when the conditions that she’s working on are lifted and things return to normal or to what the new normal will be.

The post is delightfully documented with pictures from her teaching world.

It did bring up another issue for me; I hate how Instagram resizes/crops images that you send it.

Loom Beading, Métis Finger Weaving, and

Hot off the presses from Peter Skillen’s Construction Zone blog is this post in honour of the National Day of Truth and Reconcillation Day on September 30.

It’s a wonderful amalgam of mathematics, coding, problem solving, beading, weaving, and once again shows that you can integrate so many things when you see the big picture.

I’m not sure that I can do Peter’s post justice in my typical summary of a post so I will really encourage you to click through and enjoy the entire post.

It’s well documented with images and respect for culture and there’s so much there for everyone whether you decide to code a solution or not (but you really should – it works in your browser)

The question shouldn’t be “when will we ever need this stuff?”; it should be “patterning and construction predate us; we’re just catching up, learning from people who have been doing this for years”.

Well done, Peter. This truly is an activity with lots of legs to it.

Please click through and enjoy all of these excellent blog post from Ontario Edubloggers.

Then, follow them on Twitter.

  • Will Gourley – @WillGourley
  • Jennifer Casa-Todd – @JCasaTodd
  • Diana Maliszewski – @MzMollyTL
  • Anne-Marie Kee – @AMKeeLCS
  • Sue Bruyns – @sbruyns
  • Aviva Dunsiger – @avivaloca
  • Peter Skillen – @peterskillen

The traveling salesman

As school opened yesterday, Jaimie and I had additional traffic to deal with. School buses!

Last year, there was one Public School bus, one Catholic School bus, and one little bus that used to share the road with us. Yesterday, as we did our morning walk, we counted and there were four big buses and two little buses. This morning, there were three and three. We only noticed a couple of stops so it appears that there is one student going to a Public School and one to the Catholic School.

It’s a reality when you live on a concession road. It ups the ante for our safety when you walk pass a bus that has stopped to take on passengers. When the lights go off and the little stop sign closes, the cars that had been stopped often floor it to get around the bus and it can be scarey if you’re walking the same direction, alongside the bus.

Photo by Tim Gouw on

I don’t know, but I attribute the increase in traffic due to the bridge reconstruction on the next concession. It was supposed to be done by now but they found a human bone during the work and that seems to have extended the work and I am guessing, affected the bus routes.

That got me thinking of the company that runs the buses and the infamous Traveling Salesman Problem. Put simply, the problem is solved if you can set up a path that minimizes the amount of travel and still allows the saleman to visit every location that he is supposed to. So, you essentially have a start, a finish, and then various stops to make along the way to pick up riders.

I remember addressing this problem at university. It’s not a simple problem and there are all kinds of serious algorithms to consider.

One of the solutions is the brute force method which means trying all possible solutions and finding the optimum one. There are other, more elegant solutions, and they are a lot of fun. Nearest neighbour is one to consider – the link above is a great discussion of the topic.

The brute force one intrigues me as a problem solving, collaborative activity for students and a map of your school area. Given the desire to keep maintenance to buses to a minimum and the price of gas purchased down, it makes sense to optimize the route the bus takes.

Some things to consider:

  • where does the bus start? Bus depot or at the driver’s home?
  • where does the bus end up? (of course at the school)
  • what route should the bus take to get from starting point to finishing point?
  • how long does it take for a person to get on the bus?
  • how long does it take to travel between student house to student house?
  • can two or more students be picked up at one stop?
  • are there any one way streets?
  • if your school starts at 9:00 (or whatever your time is), what time does the bus have to leave in the morning to get everyone on board and then dropped off at school?
  • what happens to the plan if a road construction occurs?
  • if your school ends at 3:00 (or whatever your real time is), what time does the last student get home?
  • wouldn’t life be so much simpler if everyone walked?

There’s a lot of great thinking and problem solving in something as simple as just getting on the bus.

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.

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.

COVID, Computer Science, and System Thinking, Part 1

I heard this conversation from a group of secondary school age students last night while walking the dog in the park. It must have been quite a heated discussion since I could here it from quite a distance.

As we know, students entering school today have to submit to a screening as you’ll find here.

The concern here was that the screening at their school was done on paper and a Q&A with a teacher or educational assistant. The solution which I also heard from across the park was

Why don’t they computerize it?

Well, actually there is an online version of the questionnaire but apparently their school opted for the other approach.

That got me thinking … what would any self-respecting Computer Science student do? They’d write a piece of software, of course. Many Computer Science classes even are offering programming for their smartphones so that, it seems to me, would be a natural.

Actually, the questions and the format lend themselves easily to be answered with an online form but there’s something even more exciting about writing a piece of software for it. You could drop all your answers into a text file and accumulated results over a period of time. In addition, you could add your own fields and include things like the names of those people you were hanging out with at the park when there are restrictions against doing so!

And, once you’ve accumulated a number of days, you’d have some data to review and draw conclusions from. In my heart of hearts, I would hope that it would be the most boring data set ever. However, if someone happened to catch the disease or you noted a pattern, you could pinpoint just exactly where it happened and who you might have been with at the time. I think they call that contact tracing …

Above and beyond the simple task of writing the program and using it, there are other things …

  • it opens a discussion and data security, privacy, need for a password
  • a sense of just how much data is being recorded at this time – take your results and multiply it by the number of students and education workers in the building
  • finally, a real world example in class that is relevant personally
  • the immense satisfaction that comes from writing a program that serves you a purpose

The program could be as simple or as elaborate as the skill of the student provides. The result would be a keeper as a reminder of today’s times. And, it should open eyes to the fact that it’s a big concern that goes far beyond having to wear a mask to protect just yourself.

Tomorrow, a bigger example.