Whatever happened to …

… handwritten report cards?

Thanks to Andy Forgrave for the idea for this.

I’ve talked to a lot of educators who have left the classroom for one reason or another about their regrets and their responses typically have been “I miss the kids”.  After all, they’re what keep us young while, at the same time, age us.

Oddly enough, I have never had anyone say that they missed doing report cards.

Could there be a sheet of paper or a card that means so much to students and parents?

I’ll admit to always enjoying most of my education and generally doing well in every thing I ever studied.  It was always the day of reckoning when the report came home and I had to show it to my father at supper.  I still remember comments like A?  Why didn’t you get A+?  99%?  What did you do wrong?  I took this learned parenting skill and applied it to my own kids.  I don’t know that they appreciated it any more than I did.  Deep down though, I knew that my dad was proud of me.

Those report cards were always handwritten and usually came with the great advice “Good work”.  I don’t ever recall a “Doug was a pleasure to have in class” though.  Later, I was to learn that that comment should never appear on a report card.  Somehow that made it easier to swallow because the omission seems to imply that “Doug was a PITA”, which I have no doubt was probably true.

Secondary school was a continuation.  My most memorable report card was, again, handwritten in Grade 13.  In preparation for university, I had taken the requisite 6 courses – 3 Mathematics, 3 Sciences, but then had thrown in English because someone had convinced me that you can never have enough Great Gatsby or learning to write.  Mathematics and Science marks were high – I don’t recall how high but I do remember my English mark – 60%.  Maybe that explains this blog.

University was interesting.  Report cards were never given to you; they were mailed.  They were matter of fact – you took this course, you got this.  It was a mixture of numeric marks or letter grades depending upon the Faculty offering the course.  There was no easy right of appeal; I guess the logic was that you were grown up and got what you deserved.  Unlike elementary and secondary school where my parents always went to Parent/Teacher nights, totally understanding the mark and my learning or lack of it was never a communication with the professor moment.  You got what you got.

The Faculty of Education was completely different.  There was the formal report card, of course, that contained the matter of fact important number or letter.  But, the reports generated by associate teachers where I taught their classes for a couple of weeks were completely handwritten and contained great anecdotes and pieces of advice.  They were the best I’d ever had and really did what they were supposed to do – make me reflect and grow as a teacher.

It was a puzzle to be solved when I landed a job.  Unlike other schools where report cards were circulated with students or via course for handwritten marks and comments, we were one of the first to have electronic report cards.  In our mailboxes, we received “Mark Entry Sheets” where we were expected to enter the final mark and then select one appropriate comment to go along with it.  I always had this nagging desire to use comment #7 which was “Bien Fait” but resisted it.  I did always send home my own personal invitation to all parents to join me for a parent/teacher discussion and I followed the school advice to make the telephone call home to parents where I was going to assign a failing grade to a report card.  Fortunately, I always had great students and I can only recall having to make that phone call just a couple of times when I taught Grade 9 Mathematics.  I often wondered – why didn’t we call the parents of the students who did really well?

Then, it was off to a wonderful job working with educators trying to embrace technology.  I thought I’d seen it all when it came to report cards.  I’d seen handwritten; I’d seen computer reporting.  What else could there be?

Generally, I was welcome in any of the schools that were in the district – EXCEPT – during the times leading into reporting periods.  It wasn’t normally a problem with secondary school but certainly I wasn’t welcome in elementary schools at those times.  As I found out, these report cards were all handwritten and it wasn’t just a mark and a comment.  It was a mark and then a short story.  And these professionals were really serious about this.  Then the discussion became an elementary/secondary one.  “We do real report cards and don’t just pick from a list.”  That really hurt.  I took pride in choosing the proper comment from the list.

Could it get any worse?

Well, yes, it could.

Let’s further pick on the elementary panel and make all their report cards electronic.  Make it so, Doug.

It was too late to go back to my own classroom but, seriously, how hard could it be?  The Ministry of Education had designed a new report format and dictated how they were to be completed.  And, they had commissioned a province wide initiative created with Filemaker Pro (this is where Andy comes in).  We didn’t have enough computers available for teachers to have it done at school so people were buying home computers like crazy and I was supporting this as well.   The first revision not only required that teachers enter a grade and check off appropriate boxes per subject area but were expected to type, for each student and each subject, Strengths, Weaknesses, and Next Steps.  Our implementation rolled out a few important things –

  • addressing the concepts and the philosophy of the record card and reporting
  • file sharing for rotary subjects (which in this case was by diskette) and file compatibility between the Macintosh and Windows
  • getting a copy of the report card into everyone’s hands in a timely fashion – this lead to me creating a Teachers’ Essentials CD-ROM with things like that on it and making copies for every teacher in the system
  • teaching about Filemaker Pro – for many the first serious application that they’d ever used and for others the concept that things could be saved without having to click a “Save” command was foreign
  • sharing comments among those teaching the same grade/subject – “How can I say this?”
  • recovering files accidentally deleted
  • instructing how to copy files from diskette to hard drive and back – later this became a task of sharing via our email system
  • making sure that everyone had the latest and greatest version of the report card

The whole process monopolized my life at reporting time to be sure.  It was also part of our new teacher induction program.  Even today, I still get questions at every report card time even though another solution has been put into place.

Interestingly, I guess a good job was done.

Nothing breeds success like success.

Early Years’ teachers were still using pen and paper for their own report cards.  My support person was a master with Filemaker Pro and, between the two of us, developed our own Early Years’ Report Card.  Secondary school teachers had a number of solutions in place and we harmonized that by licensing a product for the entire board and enjoyed the same success although it still required a great deal of effort to get everyone on the same page.

I never much enjoyed doing my own report cards and supporting others wasn’t a walk in the park either.  It never really was a highlight that I enjoyed especially, as any teacher will tell you, it’s a real drain on time.  I’d much rather communicate with parents by having them show up and have their child lead them through a portfolio of what they’d completed in class.  The more that you deal with report cards, and especially electronic ones, the more you realize that it’s a business process that stands on its own, external to working with people, which I suspect is a concept foreign to most teachers.  Add to that the verbiage required for the constructions of the comments.  It’s stressful.

But it’s a necessary evil in our school system where grades, subjects, and the length of a school term/semester/year still rule.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Do you have any good report card stories?
  • Have you ever “lost” your work?  Share your story there.
  • In society, the resume, education, and work experience rule.  Could we still survive if we didn’t have report cards to provide some of this information?
  • Have you ever bought a computer or upgraded because you “needed” it for report cards?
  • As a parent, is the process tainted for your own child’s comments since you know how they’re done?

This whole Sunday series of “Whatever happened to …” is available here.  How about taking a walk along memory lane with me?  Got an idea, share it on this padlet.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s mid-July.  Forecasted temperature today is in the mid-30s.  Who in their right mind would be suffering from a cold?

Your humble blogger, of course.  This is nuts.

So, I’m not in my right mind is a good way to sum up how I feel as I type this.  The sun is rising; Friday is coming; dog needs to walk; there’s no time for self pity.

My first instinct is to run in and buy everything in the cold aisle at the pharmacy.  My personal advisers are telling me to “Suck it up and gargle with salt water”  or “Walk it off”.

Anyway, here’s some of the great reading from Ontario Edubloggers that I enjoyed recently.


Through a personal connection, I learned a great deal about Eid this year.

It’s after the fact now but this is a post from Rusul Alrubail that’s worth tucking away because it makes so much sense and can be adapted to any religious holiday.  She originally wrote and published the article elsewhere and was good enough to put it on her blog for us to enjoy.

My Favourite Things

How’s this for a lead in to a blog post from Kristi Bishop?

I’m just back from an extra long weekend at the cottage with my family.  I love that all of my kiddies still look forward to going (even though internet connection is sketchy at best!) despite their busy lives.  One of our favourite holiday games is “Top 5…”  Sometimes it is something as mundane as Top 5 Beaches we’ve been to.  Other times it is a little more bizarre, such as the memorable Top game of “Top 5 foods you have eaten off the ground”.  (I declined to participate in this one, just so you know).

I don’t know about you but I would have liked to have known about the food off the ground bit.

Instead, she takes a turn to education and gives us a top five list of being an educator.

It’s a good list; What would be your top five?

Follow Opportunities, Not Dreams

When I saw the title of Tim King’s post, I thought that it might have been about summer motorcycling.  Instead, he uses a concern about a lack of digital skills in the United Kingdom as a launchpad into thoughts about education.

He provides an interesting observation about why students take certain courses and avoid others.  (obvious with a secondary school focus)

It’s interesting, because in Ontario, we have a high quality curriculum that offers a bit of everything.  Reading Tim’s post reminds me that there are those that will game the system just to get through.  Fortunately, there are compulsory courses that provide at least a base to get started.  The comment about guidance is interesting.  I recall in high school the annual checkup with my own guidance person.  It really was more about making sure that my marks were OK rather than a serious planning for the future.  Later, as a home room teacher, we would have our home rooms held four or five times a year so that we could talk about futures.  Tim’s observation is true; I took the five year academic route in high school followed by four years at university, another year for an education degree, and then summer courses for additional qualifications.  I’d never been in a tool shop or a full time farm labourer (which are big in Essex County).  How could I give a legitimate set of advice for those who might want to head in those directions?  Driving around now, I sure wish I could have afforded to get into the greenhouse industry.  It’s HUGE.

On the other hand, the fact that I had all this schooling allowed me to follow a dream – I always wanted to be a teacher but certainly there were not many opportunities at the time.  My success was more like by being in the right place at the right time.

Follow the ETFOSA16 Path to Excellence

Diana Maliszewski makes it clear, in this post, that this session was in the big city.  Where else would directions be given by subway stops?!

Libraries, Resource Centres, Learning Commons, Makerspaces – whatever terminology you’re comfortable with are one of the most adaptable locations in any school.  Sadly, there are even some that don’t have them.  But imagine a collection of great minds getting together to scheme for the future.  In some cases, the target of these discussions isn’t necessarily literacy but to convince those in charge that the library should be the hub of everything at a school.  As I picture so many schools that I visited, the library is so often the first educational place that you see when you enter the building.  Designers had it right.  It would have been interesting to have been part of Diana’s conversation or at least be a fly on the wall.

Great pictures complement the post.

Cottage Thinking 1: Leadership in a Canoe

The fact that there’s a “1” in Stephen Hurley’s post is an indicator, I hope, that there will be more to come.

Often, we think of leaders as being the ones who are out front, encouraging folks to follow along. They are the visionaries, the ones that have a clear sense of direction and the are able to identify the targets for which the crew needs to aim if things are going to go as planned.

The canoe analogy is great.  I’d never thought about position within a canoe and its importance.

Stephen does make you wonder about leadership in other areas.

Is the leader always in front?

You Have to Start Somewhere

Of course you do.

Andrea Kerr’s recent post is a reminder of that

as educators, we really do have all of the strategies and tools we could ever need.

So, as a starting point, she offers an analysis (and questions) for thought.

  • Start with Action
  • Start with Value
  • Start with Listening

I used to work with a person whose advise was “Ready – Fire – Aim”.

The conservative me never really thought that made sense for me.  My inclination would be to “Start with Listening” or “Start with Reading” to understand the situation before acting.  Andrea’s post should make you think about the approach.

Get this Train Moving! ~The Journey of the MakerSpace

Joanne Borges offers a blog post with more questions than answers.  There is, in some camps, a real rush to be able to claim that your school has a “Makerspace”.  If you read and believe some of what is out there, you’re failing if you don’t have one.

To turn the idea or concept into reality, you need to get moving.  But, movement alone doesn’t get the job done.  Why and How are two important questions.  From her planning:

  • Some key questions we considered in planning:

    • What is the experience we are trying to create?
    • Who will lead the experiences?
    • How will learning be shared?
    • How will experts, partners, mentors be utilized in learning?
    • What funding is available to us? What other sources can we seek out?
    • How will we ensure this is a student owned space (student voice?)
    • How can this tie to curriculum expectations and deep learning experiences?
    • How can we promote STEAM principals?
    • How can we best create a culture of risk taking, respect, inclusivity, and pride?
    • How can we ensure this becomes a hub for deep learning?

I think this is a great set of questions that everyone who wants into this space need to be asking and answering.

Thanks again to so much great thinking and sharing from leaders in Ontario education.  Please support their efforts by reading their original posts and dropping off a comment if you’re so inclined.

I’m out of here to “walk it off”.

Doug gets cultured

One of the things that I really like to do anywhere I go is explore.  There’s so much to see if you just take the time to do so.  I don’t know, for sure, if my wife enjoys it but I certainly do.  With Google’s “new” Arts & Culture application, I can extend my exploration into places that I’d never think possible just be being connected.

It’s not that there’s a shortage around here.  Just across the border is the magnificent Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village complex.  So much to see and yet so little time.  And, as we know, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  In Windsor, we have museums and galleries of our own.  I’m certainly not an expert at any level, but I do enjoy looking and resist the urge to touch. 

Given what’s happening in the US political process right now, it’s a interesting to take a look at “Electing Lincoln” from The Henry Ford.

Of course, politics isn’t the only topic in this curation of culture. 

One of my all-time favourite visits was the Harry Houdini museum in Niagara Falls.  Sadly, it’s gone now but artifacts from Houdini live on as a result of a simple search within the application. 

And, it’s not just stuff.  Check out the categories.

Even just poking around, you get the sense that there could be more categories and the use in education just smacks you between the eyes.  You’re only limited by your imagination and desire to inquire.

Check out the details and launch of the app on the official Google Blog.

What really puts it over the top for me is the integration with Google Cardboard and Streetview.  Some of what you’ll have seen may be a one off situation just exploring on your own.  The application brings it all together.

Download the application here.

When you do get your copy, you’ll absolutely want it installed on your device and your classroom devices.  If the time isn’t right for your district’s IT Department, you can always plan to enjoy it on the web here.

Better results

I read another one of those posts yesterday from, well I’d rather not mention the name, of a bunch of shortcuts that you can use with Google Search to make you a “master searcher”, whatever that is.

You know, advice like 

  • do your search inside quotations for exact results “<blah, blah, blah>”
  • related:<blah, blah, blah>
  • site:<blah, blah, blah>
  • link:<blah, blah, blah>

I do have some of these committed to memory and they can be helpful if searching from the URL bar in your favourite browser.  That’s pretty much become standard.

But there’s a better way that I’ve always used.  Instead of going to the basic search page, most search engines have a pretty sophisticated Advanced Search page that makes learning all the cryptic codes somewhat less important.

So, if you’re a Google user, instead of going to http://www.google.ca and getting this:

I’ll have bookmarked the Google Advanced search at: https://www.google.ca/advanced_search and get this instead:

This is just part of the form that’s presented.  Scrolling reveals even more options to help zero in on exactly what I’m searching for.

One bookmark and I’m there.  None of those modifiers to remember.

There actually used to be a link, if I remember correctly, on the base page to take you to the Advanced_Search page.  I don’t see it any more – maybe it’s ultimately going to go away? – but for now, I’m more interested in getting the results that I want rather than memorizing a list of things so that I could use one or two of them to help me search.

Do you have a great technique for successful search?  I’d love to hear it.

About Edtech

Over the weekend, I read this blog post from George Couros, a thinker that I’ve long admired.

“EdTech” is a Leadership Position

Like many articles that I read, I was first drawn in by the title.  I didn’t know what I expected because the concepts of “EdTech” and “Leadership” could actually take you anywhere.  In this particular post, he took aim at the concept of the conference session that falls into the concept of “100 tech tools in 60 minutes”. 

I was intrigued because I both enjoy and hate sessions like this.  If you pick up any conference program, you’ll see some sessions along this line and quite often they come from speakers that “do the circuit” and present the same session from conference to conference.  In their down time, you’ve got to imagine that they work on their next 100.  I do remember sitting in one at a MACUL Conference years ago when the use of the internet was new. 

The session was basically “Here’s an internet site.  Here’s another one.  And another one.  Oh, another one.”

I was with one of my technology mentors and his comment as we left still resonates with me.  “That was about as deep as a ham sandwich”.

But there are a few things related to this that keep me going back to sessions like this.

  1. the presenter has done the heavy lifting and found the resources so that I don’t have to.  Especially in today’s connected world and burgeoning collection of resources, it’s difficult, heck even impossible, for one person to find them all and do them justice.  Even if I’m not in attendance, I’ll hunt down their presentation to bookmark it
  2. I’m not about to go and re-discover them all.  I’m thankful that they’ve been located for me and I’ll tuck them away in Diigo like I always do.  There may come a time when I need something like that and using Diigo’s search function is so valuable
  3. I’m equally as loath to enjoy a single topic session about something.  No two classroom situations are exactly the same and there’s nothing more frustrating than returning from a conference to find that the single software or internet resource is unable.  There’s a whole 60 minujtes wasted.  (Well, not exactly, you can always learn something)
  4. It’s nice to have alternatives.  Especially with internet resources, the primary resource may be missing or down so Plan B is nice to have in your hip pocket
  5. It’s nice to compare these alternatives

I stand behind the above and I think that the comment “Don’t turn a teacher’s full plate into a full platter.” isn’t fair to teachers.  Is anyone in the audience really going to go back to school and try them all?  Even the geeky me isn’t about to.

Point #5 is big for me.  I like to see a comparison of applications done by people that really know what they’re doing.  Why should I always have to start from nothing when someone else has done, and is willing to share their learning, for me.

Let me give you a classic case.

At the Computer Science Teachers Association 2013 conference, there was an “app throwdown”.  The session had three experts and each of them had 15 minutes to develop an app while we watched.  Of course, in the time allotted, they wouldn’t be able to whip up Angry Birds so it was something more doable.  The topic was to:

They all had to create the same application.  Start it up, access a random phone number from your portable device’s address book and then dial it.

Of course, I included it in a blog post.

It was actually the second time that the conference had offered a session like that.  Another throwdown was to create an application live that would calculate the tip on a restaurant bill.  I was inspired by it and actually wrote my first Windows mobile application.  So, of course(2), I had to blog about it.  I’d written things for the Android and iOS but not Windows Mobile.  Thanks to the comparison session, I was able to see them all in action.

Back to the original post though.  I can’t believe that, in this day and age, that people would attend a “100 tech tools in 60 minutes” and feel intimidated or lacking.  I would hope that it would inspire their continued learning and growth.  In a conference lasting over two or three days, I would even suggest that you should attend at least one session something like that just so that you continue to be motivated to learning something new and not rest on your prior knowledge.

Chalk it up to experience, learning, and as George quite appropriately notes, make sure that you balance it with all that is available to you as a conference atttendee.

Take the long way home

My apologies to Supertramp.

The last leg of our trip home involved flying from YYZ to YQG.

Normally, it’s a very quick and short flight and roughly flies along the 401.  

The advice on the Pearson Airport website is always good.

Besides, after you’ve walked the length of your terminal looking at the shops and buying a few comforting things, what else is there to do?  Our gate was one of two at the end of the D terminal and there seemed to be a considerable number of people for a midnight flight.  The other gate was prepped for another 6am flight.  Off to the internet and I found out why.  The 8pm flight had been cancelled.  It would appear that Air Canada was doubling up on our flight.  That was true.  I started to poke around and found that a big storm had indeed hit the Windsor area and was headed east.

I hoped that we wouldn’t be delayed.

There were an unusually high number of people heading to the desk checking in on something but I felt comforted knowing that I had my boarding pass well in hand.  That did turn out to be the case.  The gate attendants were printing boarding passes as quickly as they could.  Hopefully, it’s not going to be standing room only!  Eventually, we all got on board and I heard the flight attendant indicate that there was only one empty seat.  That’s efficient.

We got our seats; we were right next to the wing and I did my usual neck exercises trying to look around and see what else was happening outside.  I think it’s a testament to the organisation at an airport that so much was happening with so many people.  And it all gets done.

Finally, we’re all on board and take off.  The pilot comes on the intercom to do the standard welcome and then gives a special welcome to those who were delayed.  For the rest of us, he explained why.  They had flown all the way to Windsor but the power was out so that they couldn’t land and had to return to Toronto.  I made myself a note to check that out later.  

Thanks to Flightaware, I was able to.

You had to feel sorry for those people affected.  So near and yet so far!

Then came the news for the rest of us.  The storm was still working its way up the 401 but the captain thought that he could bypass it by flying over Lake Huron and approaching Windsor that way.  Having grown up near Lake Huron, I knew that was a bit out of the way!  Again, another note to check it out later.

Of course, the entire time of the flight, I’m looking out the window trying to see landmarks and failing desperately.  But, as long as we have a competent pilot in control, I’m not worried.

You’ll see that, from the diagram, he did manage to deke around the storm.  

Not only that, but it was a night smooth flight, a quick taxi in Windsor, and we’re at the terminal for the longest wait of any flight — waiting for your luggage.  Given the hoops that it must have gone through since I last touched it, I’m always so impressed that it’s there, undamaged, and ready to go.

As I sit back and marvel at all that happened, I can help but be impressed with all the technology that made it happen.  Poke around the Flightaware site and you’ll see what I mean.  If you’re in the mathematics or computer science classroom, there’s enough authentic data there to generate many interesting problems and graphs.


Whatever happened to …

… electrostatic printers?

Now this takes me back.

At one time, my regular computer was a Radio Shack Model III computer.  By the standards of the day, it was so fast.  The school practice office had three Apple II computers and they just plugged along.  Not so with mine.  But there was something missing.

I could do all this word processing and spreadsheet work but I had no way to print things.  For a while, I would do all the work and then, in particular for marks, would transcribe the results to the markbook.  Then, I’d have to take it into school and copy the marks over to the mark entry sheet for submission to the office.  There, one of the secretaries ultimately entered them into their computer for final processing.  It would never be tolerated at any level today but we had all these different machines and none would actually talk to each other.

I had long lusted for my own printer.  If only I could print my own things, I’d have won at least my part of the battle.

I used to drop into the Radio Shack store on Windsor’s Huron Church Line and look enviously at these new fangled dot matrix printers.  If only I could win the lottery! 

One day, this gentleman who was also in the store looking at printers, sidled up to me and asked to meet me outside.  It turns out that he had the money to buy one of the latest printers.  And, he had an older printer that he wanted to get rid of.  At retail, it was actually one that I could afford.  To buy it new was something that I was saving for, to buy it used, wow!

The printer was a TRS-80 Quick Printer

Thanks, http://www.trs-80.org

It was one of the fastest that I’d ever seen.  The only catch was that it didn’t print on regular paper.  Instead, it printed on this foil paper that resembled tin foil.  It came in rolls which you fed into the computer (the black part lifted out) and would roll it through, well sort of like toilet paper!  It connected to the computer via an RS-232 port.  When you told the computer to print, it flew. 

Soon, my binders were full of this foil and my notes were really high tech.  For student handouts and tests though, there still was a problem.  If you note from the image, the foil was really only about half the width of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.  To get around this, I’d have to cut the foil in half and notes and tests became actually two columns, sort of like a newspaper.  I’d have to flip scotch tape over to tape them to a regular sheet before photocopying.  An additional limitation, caused by this make shift solution was that the photocopier couldn’t feed multiple copies so each had to be done by hand.

Fortunately, the technology at school caught up and we ended up with a nice Epson dot matrix printer so I could bring my things in on diskette and print from there.  That truly left this printer sitting at home collecting dust.  I don’t recall how I ultimately disposed of it but I hope that I did send it to a recycle centre.

Of course, followup technology gave us dot matrix printers, ink jet printers, laser printers, and the best of all – paperless classrooms.  I still enjoyed being on the cutting edge, at least for a bit. 

If you’d care to share (please), how are these for starters…

  • what was your first home printer?
  • do you currently have a home printer or even need one?
  • are 3D printers even in the same category as 2D printers?
  • what do you see in the future of printing technology?

This whole Sunday series of “Whatever happened to …” is available here.  How about taking a walk along memory lane with me?  Got an idea, share it on this padlet.