Reading helper


This is such a great idea; I can’t believe that it hasn’t appeared before.

My morning routine is to make sure that I get up before the dog so that I can do a bit of reading before his needs take over and the rest of the day gets started.

There are all kinds of things to read; some short and to the point, some short and pointless, some long and require some deep thought, and so on.  When you get used to reading short posts, the longer ones become a distractor.  It’s not that I don’t want to read them; it’s just that there might be a better time and place.

But how do you know if it’s going to be long or short?  Traditionally, my method has been to look at the size of the scroll bar as it adjusts to the article’s length.

Yesterday, I stumbled into this Chrome Extension that takes it one step further.  The extension is called Read Time and its goal in life (or at least in your browser) is to estimate how long it’s going to take for you to read the story you’ve just loaded.

After the story loads, the extension pops a tiny square on the screen to give you an idea about how long it’s going to take you to read the article.

Of course, we all read at different speeds so you might enjoy a little reading test to see how you do.

There is a default setting but you can change it with the results of your test.  While in the settings, you might want to adjust position, size, and colour.

It’s very addictive!  Plus, I can see how it’s going to be helpful too.

I’m also seeing another use.  When writing, there’s probably a fine line between what’s too short and what’s too long.  Pop your draught into a browser and you’ve got an instant estimate as to how long it will take the average reader to read your works.  I’ve got to think about that.

In the meantime, it’s almost as interesting as the articles themselves!

 

Whatever happened to …


… skeuomorphic design.

You know – drop shadows, gradients, embossing, 3D effects, and so on.

There was a time when multimedia and websites seemed undressed unless you had this fancy stuff included, especially for navigation.

A visit to the Windows93 website reminded me that today’s interface wasn’t always the norm.

I can remember an activity for every Photoshop, Hyperstudio, Web Design workshop I gave and the efforts to make an image look like it had a drop shadow.  You’d draw a button, graphic, menu and then draw another one on top of it and fill it with black and dark grey.  Then, with the hands of a surgeon you select the image and then move it ever so slightly with your mouse.  I actually preferred to use the arrow keys on the keyboard.  My standard was two taps to the right and then two taps down.  You’d then rearrange the order so that the original image was on top and you had your drop shadow.  Select both images, lock them together and you have your 3D.

From an academic point of view, there’s so much computer skill involved that really made it worthwhile for students to learn.

Of course, if you’re using Hyperstudio, you have your choice of buttons and an easy way to create them.  After all, it was designed to make multimedia creation easy for kids.

These days, things are so flat.  It’s so much easier to design.  It’s something that you notice right away and appears in your operating system and browser.  It’s specially important in your browser as it’s probably the most frequently updated piece of software on your computer.  All designers want to appear to be on the cutting edge.

Speaking of which, navigation in Edge looks like this.

it’s not just Edge.

Check out the navigation in Opera under Windows

As opposed to Opera under MacOS

It’s the same functionality but completely different in design.

Icon sets have become flat as well.  Recently, I came across a Super Flat Remix icon set for Ubuntu.  Check out these icons if you’re a Macintosh user.  And, of course, if you’re a Windows 10 user, you’ve got many of them already as part of the operating system.  However, a quick internet search provides even more if you are so inclined.

Design isn’t just limited to flatness.  You’ve got to get the colour combinations correct too.

Just realize that the world hasn’t always been this graphical.  Those of us who used terminals a long time ago were limited to the characters that you could tap on the keyboard.  That didn’t stop people from heading into graphics with combinations of characters.  Check out this if you long for the days where creating ASCII are was a technique of its own.

Do you have any “flat” thoughts?

  • Have you ever designed 3D effects?  
  • Do you have a preference between flat and the alternatives?
  • Does “flat” seem to have a better visual appeal for you?
  • If “flat” just a current fad and will we see our world turn to something else?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts?

Please visit this Padlet and add your idea.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


It’s time, again, to take a look at the roundup of blogs and content that I enjoyed this past week contributed by Ontario Edubloggers.  Please follow along and see the thoughts/insights from these folks.


Remembering Seymour Papert in Ontario Education

I like to toss in Peter Skillen’s direction some of the superficial references to Seymour Papert’s work that are so often referenced and increasingly used to indicate why students need to code.  I guess it’s our society of 140 characters and sound bits that generate it but it really does a disservice to the amazing work of one of the owner of shoulders that we should all be standing on.

In this post, Peter reflects on some of the time that he spend with Dr. Papert and how Peter sees his influence on Ontario education.  I think that it’s a worthy inclusion to your reading.

Peter and I have been bantering back and forth about the opportunity to recognize Dr. Papert’s influence at the Bring IT, Together conference in November.  I hope that we can put together something appropriate to celebrate one of the great minds in education.


It’s not about the Tech…..

With apologies to Jonathan So, I really hate it when this is used as a title or in most references.  

The inspiration for his post came from a podcast and, in particular,

There was a line that I heard in the post that I just hit a big aha moment. Peter mentioned that the OTF Summer conference was titled “Pedagogy before Technology” and that he wasn’t fond of the title but that it was something that was current in education.

I think that, even the discussion, demeans the efforts of educators who are doing the best they can.  I keep thinking of a quote from Wayne Hulley “Nobody wakes up wondering how they’re going to screw up today”.

I think the last quote from Jonathan sums it up nicely…

I know that as teachers we also need time to learn new tools and how they work but first and foremost we need to understand what their purpose is and why we would be using them in the classroom. Love to hear your thoughts on this and if you haven’t heard it already listen to Rolland’s podcast some fantastic educators on there.

It’s a chicken and egg thing but has any other tool in technology been so scrutinized and criticized?  If you search history, there was a huge concern that ball point pens were just the “beginning of the end”.  Some teachers are new to effectively using technology and they need to be supported in their endeavours.  Those that have used it should be those who are supportive with examples and ideas.

Curriculum consultants and district leaders should constantly be providing learning opportunities for staff to learn no matter where they are in their learning.  If they’re not, well … you get what you get.

Education has toyed with the concept of Programmed Instruction, abandoned it, and moved on.  I just wish that the conversation would as well.


TELL 2016

Mark Renaud attended the Technology-Enabled Learning & Leading Institute 2016 this summer along with about 1000 of his closest colleagues.

In this post, he shares his highlights from conference.

It’s interesting to read his observations and hopefully further blog posts will give us an idea as to how they’ve made an impact in his school and to his leadership style.

There are lots of links to slidedecks from some of the presenters at the TVO website.  There’s much Google stuff there, most of the sessions are tagged “Beginner” and kudos to the presenters from my former board.


Collaborating with Colleagues using OneNote Staff Notebook

What about boards that have used Microsoft Office 365 instead of going the Google route though?

Andre Quaglia recently added his blog to the Ontario Edubloggers collection and I went back to a post of his from February.

I recently discovered the advantages of using OneNote Staff Notebooks as a collaborative tool to keep the momentum of conversations flowing after department meetings with teaching colleagues.

In the post, he shares three examples of using OneNote Staff Notebooks.

  • Creating an inventory of instructional technology
  • Verifying class textbook and planning
  • Discussion about how to allocate new classroom workspace

Time

One of the great things about blogging is that you can be or create anything you want.

In this post, Joan Vinall Cox shares a short poem about “Time”.

It’s a reminder to all of us that we’re getting older.


Squirrel!

My classroom was probably the least desirable room in the school.  I don’t know whether it was the block design or the fact that we were air conditioned but there were a few rooms that had no outside windows.  I had one of them.

So, I can’t really empathise with Ashley Soltesz’ first day of school.

It’s actually distractions rather than squirrels that form the basis of the post.  We all have them.

She does end with a question that we all have – how do you handle distractions?


The question is not, “how best to teach mathematics?” The question, educator, is “how best for YOU to teach mathematics?”

After the title, the rest of Matthew Oldridge’s post is pretty much redundant!  When you’ve taken as many courses in mathematics as I have, you’d like to think that you’ve seen it all.

I’ve been drilled, investigated, explored, charted, drawn, programming, puzzled, heard mathematics jokes, …

Unfortunately, for most teachers, their last formal kick at mathematics would have been at a Faculty of Education which has to include that in amongst everything else for some teachers or focus on the teaching of difficult mathematics for those who would aspire to be secondary school specialists.

So, it comes as no surprise that some folks think that they have to chalk and talk in order to get their dollar and a quarter for the day.  Fortunately, we’re having the discussion about teaching and I really enjoyed the approach in Matthew’s post.  In true mathematics tradition, he illustrates with a chart…

I think that it’s a good read and anyone who will be teaching mathematics, at whatever level, would be well advised to read and consider their approach.  And, question when you’re advised to embrace “high impact strategies”.  To be sure, they can be good research, but don’t necessarily address your skill set or the learning needs of your students.


It’s absolutely another great week of reading.   Thanks to all the bloggers who contributed to my learning.  Please take a moment and drop by their posts (I’ve given you the links so it’s easy) and extend their conversations.  If you’re a blogger yourself, do what Andre did, and add yourself to the list.  I’d really like to have you included.

Certifiable, but not verified


Recently, I read a rant about an account that I follow on Twitter for great content complaining that it couldn’t get verified.

Verified accounts, I’m sure you know, have a little badge with a checkmark beside their name and it’s one step that you can use to help verify that the posts from the account have a certain level of credibility.

I guess, in the world of social media, this serves as a source of credentialing.  The criteria, from Twitter, states:

Quite frankly, I did feel that the account in question was worthy and I was surprised to read that the request was denied. 

I wondered what it takes.  Anyone/thing can submit a request to be verified at https://verification.twitter.com/welcome.

So, I checked it out.

I got to step 2 before I got stopped.  Twitter wanted to know my birthday.  With age comes wisdom?  Just for the heck of it, I inserted it and continued on.  Then, it gets kind of personal requiring scanned documents. 

At this point, I lost interest.  There’s not a chance that I would be verified by my own request anyway.  So, while I might be certifiable, I decided not to be verifiable. 

Now, in the big scheme of things, I guess I do give an extra sense of credibility to accounts that have been verified.  But that doesn’t always give them a pass.  There has been gossip and outright incorrect information posted from these accounts so, as always, reader beware.

How about you?  Do you give extra credibility to these accounts?

Learning HTML all over again


If you’ve been around constructing content for the web for a while, you’ve undoubtedly created your own using a plain ol’ text editor.  

That was me, in the beginning.  I had a printout of all of the HTML tags available to me along with the source code of a website or two that had impressed me.  That’s how I learned to develop for the web.  There was a great deal of typing, saving with a .htm or .html extension and then opening it in a web browser to see how badly I had been.  Then, back to the editor for a tweak here and a tweak there, save, reload in the browser and see if that fixed it.  Talk about your step-wise refinement.

Then, along came an update to Netscape and its Composer.  It was a huge improvement although it felt like cheating!  We used it at the heart of our Women in Technology program with a great deal of success because you could be up and running pretty quickly.  Next, through OSAPAC, we licensed Dreamweaver and never looked back.  And yet, despite the tools we have today, the skills from those early days of learning all the HTML tags is still one that I use with this blog to tweak content here and there.

So, I guess the bottom line message is that there still is a need to learn HTML at some level.  I know that many use it with their Hour of Code strategies because it’s easy to publish for the web and see familiar results.  At the teaching heart of it, though, you need to keep in mind that typing text just doesn’t have the motivation factor that dragging and dropping coding has.

Until you give Codemoji a shot.

When you enter the site, you do have a choice of going to a Playground or take some Lesson.  The ego in me said to go and play but I quickly learned that maybe that wasn’t the best of choices so I went back and took some lessons.

Essentially, you have an open workspace where you drag and drop some emoji to program your webpage.  Think of it as Scratch-like for HTML.

You’ll see that each is attached to the familiar (at least to us) HTML tag.  Like other drag and drop languages, you essentially drag a template for an instruction onto the workspace.  Then, with your keyboard you modify it so that it does what you need it to do.

Once selected, each of the emoji has details about just what it does and how it’s used.

Quickly frankly, it was a nice review for me to go through and click on each of them to refresh my memory as to what each tag does.

Of course, the proof is to actually run your code to see what happens and you do it right in the environment.  Certainly, the web doesn’t always run on emoji so you can flip to see the actual code that you’re generating.  

I actually quite enjoyed poking my way through the lessons.  There is a great deal of the basics that I hadn’t had to remember for quite some time.  Today’s tools have largely made things “behind the scenes” invisible.

The more I poked around, the greater kick I got from the choice of emoji to represent the HTML.  Get the hamburger reference?

I would encourage you to kick the tires to see if this has a place in your coding plans.  It’s a rather unique way of presentation.

I’ll bet that it wakes some memories of your own.

It’s never been a better time to be a technology user


I won’t mention the company but I’m sure that many Canadians who have ordered something online from it woke to an advertisement plunked into their email.

Normally, I just delete it; I’m bad for being an impulse buyer so if I don’t see it, I don’t have the impulse.

But it’s a slow morning getting going and the title of “Back to School” had caught my attention.

I could imagine what I could be buying if I had the extra money just hanging around.  Of course, I would have to justify in my mind replacing perfectly good working equipment to do it.  That’s just details.

If I was a student going back to school, or just a technology user at any level, there’s never been a better time to go shopping.  Pricing has never been this good (and even better with Back to School discounts), specifications never been so powerful, and capacity never been greater.

Here’s some of what caught my fancy…

  1. New backpacks!  I’m a big backpack fan and mine rivals using my roller bag.  The nice thing is that both fit nicely under the seat in front of you in an airplane.  Sadly, when I read the advertisement, I realize how old school my backpack really is.  It’s heavy and doesn’t have nearly the number of compartments that the new ones do.  At the time of purchase, who could imagine that I’d be travelling with more than one device and one set of charging cables.  Like all the cool kids, I used to carry it over one shoulder until I threw half my back out of place and then I’d switch to the other shoulder.  Nobody does that anymore!  They wear them like they should – over both shoulders!
  2. I really liked this blog post by Jennifer Aston about her work flow.  I felt sad when I read that she lost a great deal of her intellectual property when her employer changed domain names and she didn’t own her stuff any more.  “Physician, heal thyself”.  As much as we all like and love working in the cloud, it’s important that you take control of your own data.  “I haven’t lost my mind, it’s backed up on disk somewhere” should be the motto of every responsible computer user.  I remember my first external hard drive – a whopping 40GB in capacity and my family had to go without food for a month so that I could buy it.  But you have to have priorities.  Now, a 1TB external drive can be had for less than $80.  And no internet access is needed.  I could just put it in one of the pockets of my new backpack.
  3. Then, there’s a technology that I didn’t know existed but wish I’d invented.  It’s like a “Find my device” for everything.  Little bluetooth stickers that you attach to things you don’t want to lose and then you can track them down when you’ve misplaced them.  Genius.
  4. Finally, there’s the computer itself.  When I bought this one years ago, I made sure that it came with an i7 processor and a fast hard drive so that it wouldn’t need replacing for a while.  As I look through the computers, it’s surprising to see machines coming in with i3 and i5 chips.  Undoubtedly, they’re better on battery power than mine but processor technology has improved so much that they’re still viable and the i7 remains a pricey upgrade.  And, if you’ve ever worked on a computer with a solid state drive, I don’t think you’ll mind paying the premium for it.  Plus, with a new external hard drive, having something huge inside is less of an issue.  Another decision to make is Mac, Windows 10, or Chromebook?  Increasingly, people are opting for the Chromebook.  The thing that still confuses me is the pricing.  It always seems so arbitrary.  I understand that you’re buying a license for the operating system and paying a premium for upgraded specs and more if it’s got a touch screen but beyond that?  When $150 can be cut from the price for a sale, it makes me wonder.  It’s seldom that you take a computer for a test drive and something feels shabby anymore.  Now, they’re all built light so that putting them in your new backpack is easy.

It’s an interesting time and looking through the flyer is giving me the itch.  I’ve got to get off this thing before I locate my credit card.

What about you?  Interested in taking advantage of the back to school deals?

Images


Yesterday, Larry Ferlazzo shared a post “The “All-Time” Best Sources Of Online Images“.  

Bloggers, designers, teachers, well any content creators are always looking for the best of images to enhance whatever it is that they’re creating.  

I’ve always been a supporter and advocate for creating your own.  I’ve led more Photoshop, Gimp, CorelDRAW! and web based tools workshops than I care to admit.  When you’re doing computer referenced things, it’s important to know how to capture all or part of your screen and even edit in your capture tool or bring it into your favourite image editor.  Now that everyone packs a camera, it’s also helpful to take seemingly random pictures even if you have no immediate plans to use them.

As an example, here’s a sunset picture from the other night looking to the west from the driveway.  By itself, there’s a great contrast of colours but all kinds of distractors like the utility lines and the driveway but I could edit them out should I decide to do something with it.  

As an aside, if it hadn’t been so hot and humid, I would have walked to the end of the driveway to get a better picture.

If you look in the header here, you’ll see an image taken from the same direction.  It’s one that I’ve always thought as one of my best and the reason why you’ll probably see an orange theme on this blog for a while.

Anyway, ….

When working with students, I think that it’s extremely important to start that way.  Have them take, create, and use their own compositions with whatever tools that you have available.  That establishes nicely the concept of ownership of the images.  It nicely opens the door to talk about copyright.  Is it OK for the teacher to just take everyone’s creation and put them on a shared drive or wiki open to the class, or indeed the entire school to use as they see fit?

Of course, the discussion will inevitably evolve into the concept of copyright and then into Creative Commons usage.

All of this is good stuff and worthy of repeating often throughout the school year.  It’s such an important concept and your teacher-librarian will be there with help and resources.

But, there are times when you can’t create your own.  

I would suggest that then, and only then, students should dive into big lists like Larry’s.  The actual collection of his image links can be found here.  I’d be bookmarking that.

I found it interesting to go up and down his list.  There are so many good references there.  There were some I’ve seen before and others have been added to my burgeoning to-do list for later discovery.

There are a couple of resources that I’ve used that didn’t make the formal list.

Compfight – Rodd Lucier introduced me to this resource that scours Flickr looking for images.  Of course, you can just do the searching through Flickr itself but oddly, I seem to have better results with this.

Morguefile – I don’t recall how I found this but it is mentioned, in passing, in Larry’s list.  I do know that I was intrigued because of the link to old newspapers found in Morgue Files.  It was always a favourite place for crime-fighting detectives to go in old novels so why not the digital equivalent today?  It’s one of the first places I look when I can’t create it myself.

The important thing to remember in all of this is attribution to resources that students use.  This blog uses this Creative Commons license which I think is fair to education.  I’ve mentioned many times, and I think it’s worth repeating especially in these days of making and creating, it’s most important than ever for students to understand that they own what they creative and should think about how others might elect to use their creations.

Your thoughts?  If you don’t have it or can’t create it, what’s your go-to service?