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.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Happy Friday! I hope that everyone is well and staying safe. Please take some time to check through and read some awesome thoughts from Ontario Edubloggers.

Teachers Teaching About Things: Has The Needle Moved?

There’s no doubt about this in Matthew Morris’ mind and I’m totally on side with this.

His Exhibit A is the events that happened on September 11, 2001. He reflects on where he was and how little he was able to know about the events of that day. His Physical Education classes went on without blinking.

Certainly, a lot has changed in society since then. We can be connected to news constantly if we wish. This includes students in seats in the classroom.

So, when events like those that happen daily are almost immediately known by everyone they can’t be ignored. No longer is the advice given to Matthew at his Faculty of Education valid. Teachers need to be aware of all that’s happening around then and have skills to be able to address them, age appropriately, when questions come from students.

There’s no question here; the needle has indeed moved.


For those of you who think that Pav Wander is just a podcaster, click through and read this post. She and Chey Cheney use this space to share thoughts between podcasts.

In this case, it’s a recognition of people other than teachers, students, and administrators and their contributions to the smooth operation of the school.

She takes the time, in this post, to recognize the secretarial staff. They are constantly juggling priorities and continuing to make it happen.

It’s a nice salute to these hard working individuals and I’m sure that any that happen to read this post will be appreciative.

While Pav suggested hugs, we know that that’s not a reality right now but I’m sure that you can come up with something tangible and virtual that would be just as affective.

She uses the word “unsung” and I’ve never seen it used better.

Play with Your Creative Blocks

Oh, man, did I need this shot in the arm from Jessica Outram.

While I don’t consider myself a creative person, I do have a few good moments. She outlines and describes four things to attack this…

  • Question
  • Adapt
  • Collect
  • Act

I’ve done a great deal of thinking about this. I know that I’m not the type to be able to sit down and “be creative”. I find that I have to keep a list when I do find myself being creative. Then, in my not so creative moments, I can always turn back to the list.

I’m going to give some of her suggestions a shot and see if it can turn things around for me.

Rassembler les championnes et champions

Excuse me for this interlude…

La pandémie, c’est un événement marqueur dans l’histoire de l’humanité. Elle nous a enlevé beaucoup jusqu’à ce jour: sens de sécurité, un degré de liberté, et pour plusieurs, des personnes près de nous. En même temps, elle nous a présenté une cause commune: celle de remettre en question ce qui est vraiment important dans toutes les sphères de la vie.

This was one of the better observations about the COVID pandemic and what it has meant to education.

We all know that “experts” are a dime a dozen and for a few thousand dollars, they’ll speak to your staff meetings. Is that necessary? Joel McLean offers a better solution – surround yourself with the right people, right now. He advises to not attract the wrong people which I think is good advice but I’m not sure exactly how to do that. Maybe he’ll write another post. And maybe another one about how to handle it when the right people turn into the wrong people.

Collaboration has never been so important. People are always looking for inspiration for success. In the past, it took special events to get together; these days, a message on social media is all that it takes at times to get started.

Coin Sorting Activity

On her EveryoneCanLearnMath blog, Alice Aspinall shares this activity. I recognized it immediately. I’d used it in Grade 9 mathematics as a statistics / probability lesson and in Grade 12 Computer Science as a nested sorting and graphing activity.

The concept is relatively simple and that’s where the genius lies. You just need to rob your piggy bank and do some sorting and arranging. Alice provides a link to a template should you want it. This should set the stage for interesting followup discussion about just what students are looking at.

As I read her post and reflected on my use of it in the past, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re watching history.

  • when was the last time you used actual money to pay for anything? Even going for a coffee, I’m a tap and go type of guy now
  • when was the last time you used a penny? I suppose if you dig deeply enough into that piggy bank…but what a start for a discussion by letting students work with historical pieces of currency!
  • the Canada / US border has been closed for a long time now. I know that if I look at the change in my pocket, there’s a mixture of currency from both countries. In Canada, they’re used interchangeably most everywhere. If you look closely at Alice’s picture, you’ll see some American coinage. Now that the border has been closed for so long, will that be a reality as we go forward?

But I am thinking … if we become a tap and go society, how would we modify this activity?

If nothing else, it’s always been a good activity for that spare change!

OLA SC 2021

Only in education would Diana Maliszewski get away with a blog post title that has so many acronyms in it.

For the uninitiated, it’s expanded to be Ontario Library Association Super Conference 2021. I’ve attended this super conference a couple of times and presented there twice. It’s a must-attend conference for every teacher-librarian and librarian for sure but I would suggest that any educator that’s using any kind of material in the classes should go at least once. It’s amazing and I understand why teacher-librarians clamor to go every year.

Alanna King sent out this wonderful acknowledgement above to Diana’s summary of the conference which was obviously virtual this year. Diana does give a great summary and I’d suggest you click through to discover the nine sessions she attended and read her observations. It’s very complete including a large number of embedded Tweets which reads like a who’s who in teacher-librarianship in the province.

Create CHANGE in the Education System

I was a little hesitant to click and read this post from Nilmini Ratwatte-Henstridge.

Is this really the time to bring in some sort of new pedagogy?

But, I’m glad that I did because that wasn’t the point of this post. Nilmini is proud to be a brown educator and gives a quick summary at the top of her post.

  • Educators have a responsibility to teach anti-racist perspectives.
  • Create change in the education system by seeing skin color. Give a voice to individuals from diverse backgrounds in the field of education.
  • All educational spaces and systems need to move towards change and learn and adapt to bring about systemic changes.

Then, she digs in and gives us a very personal summary of things from her perspective. This includes discussing where she grew up and the political reality of Sri Lanka.

This is a post that I most certainly could not write. But I can read and learn with empathy. Folks, this is an important post and you need to read it.

I hope that you can find some time to click through and read these blog posts and enjoy them for yourselves.

Then, follow these folks on Twitter.

  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Pav Wander – @PavWander
  • Jessica Outram – @jessicaoutram
  • Joël McLean – @jprofNB
  • Alice Aspinall – @aliceaspinall
  • Diana Maliszewski – @MzMollyTL
  • Nilmini Ratwatte-Henstridge – @NRatwatte

Computer Science Education Week

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ECOO Resource

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


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

Canada Learning Code

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

Hour of Code

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

CODE to LEARN at home

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


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

BBC micro:bit

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

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