Stop It Already

I didn’t attend the ISTE Conference this year.  As I noted yesterday, it’s never held on a July 4 but it was on a July 1.  I enjoyed time with family and fireworks instead. 

At the same time, social media does allow you to track the conversations.  Fortunately, you can follow the discussions with the hashtag #ISTE15.  So, you can live the experience vicariously if you so desire.

I did a bit but felt that I needed to put on my filter a little more than usual.

I didn’t go running through the streets screaming but I could have. 

Over and over, I’d read “So and So says that it’s about the pedagogy and not the technology”.

So, why is “So and So” at the conference then?  Well, from this seat, many are people who write books and speak publically for a living and are trying to get a little notoriety.  Good for them and obviously the credibility has been developed with some to the point that what they say is important.  But how many times do we need to hear it?

I mean, really?

It’s the year 2015.

We’ve lived through so many models and so many attempts to perfect the educational system.  We know that or have always known that learning is a community event with all kinds of social actions and, importantly, relevancy in the eyes of students and parents.  Students so that they maintain focus and parents who want success and will stand fully behind a teacher that engages and pushes students to be constantly learning and improving.

A message from Wayne Hulley has always stuck with me.  “Nobody wakes up in the morning wondering how they’re going to screw up today”.  I’d like to take some liberty with his message and note that nobody goes to a technology conference to find a new piece of technology that will replace the job of teaching in their classroom.

That clearly is the job of teachers.  Instead, people attend conferences to listen to leading colleagues who want to share successes with technology (or whatever else the focus is of the conference).  They want to walk the exhibit hall and engage with vendors who have a relevant product and know how it fits into education.  People attend because they want to refine their craft and make their classroom a more powerful place to learn.

To that end, I just find the original quote a disservice to the profession and an insult to teachers who are doing their best to learn.

Does anyone hear that message and do a forehead slap “Wow we’ve been doing it wrong all these years.”

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s the first week of July.  That’s always nice.  If things would just warm up, it would be even better!  While waiting, check out these recent posts from some Ontario Educators.

Makerspace, Inquiry and Minecraft – Enrichment and Innovation Centre

Zoe Branigan-Pipe took her wisdom and expertise south to the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia.

Ever notice that this “international” conference is never held on July 4?  There’s no qualms about part of it being on July 1 though.

Anyway, Zoe teases us with what she plans to cover in her session.  Hopefully, there’s a followup post coming to let us know how it went.

The Microsoft OneNote Project – Ensuring Success For All Students

There are all kinds of people sharing information about the use of Google Apps for Education online.  I’ve mentioned before how there’s a real shortage of ideas and tips for those who use the Microsoft equivalent.  Diana Mancuso shares a list of ways that OneNote helps students.  Part of the list appears below – go to the original post to see the rest.

It should be noted that the blog post was sponsored by Microsoft Canada.

Near the bottom, she shares a link to the TDSB Assistive Technology Blog.  This looks like a great resource and worthy of bookmarking.

I’m Sorry!

Well, at least we now know that Aviva Dunsiger is not perfect.

Could there be a place with more “ears” than a school?

Comments get shared quickly among students and staff and, of course, often the original message gets lost.  I’m sorry to hear that this happened to anybody but Aviva’s post is a reminder that our reputation and self-worth can be hurt so quickly with just a short comment or action.

Regrets, We’ve All Had a Few

Of all the years that I’ve known, David Fife, I didn’t know that he was a musician.  In this post, David shares his thoughts about not keeping up with his music.

That really struck home with me.  I wanted to play the guitar in Grade 2.  The only problem was that my fingers weren’t long enough to go around the neck of the guitar.  So, my parents bought me lessons on a steel guitar.  For about the next 8 years, I learned every country and western and Hawaiian song ever made.  When I hit high school, I most certainly lost interest.  I haven’t lost the guitar though.  It’s made every move that I’ve ever made.  I might just pick it up and see if I still have that ol’ twang.

A Voice for My Students

Vilma Manahan was a new blogger that I discovered this past week.

The first post really struck a note with me.  It’s a collection of notes from the students written to her.  It’s an opportunity for the students to visit them over the summer and take part of a summer challenge that she’s posed to the students.  It will be interesting to follow up in the fall to see if it worked.  In the meantime, the notes are just awesome to read.  Student voice can be so powerful.

As always, this has been just a wonderful collection of posts from Ontario Edubloggers. Please take the time to read them in their entirety.  If you’re taking an AQ course this summer and creating your own blog, please take a moment to let me know at the form provided.

Becoming A Better Writer

You know, I always thought that I was a fairly good writer.  After all, I have Sheila and Lisa to correct the mistakes that slip through my writing cracks.

But, in all of us, there’s room for improvement.

In my quest for summer improvement, I installed the ProWritingAid into my instance of Google Docs.  It comes with a basic collection of tools for free and then premium features if you want to go that extra step.  

Those of you who have been interviewed here on the blog know that it’s done through a collaborative document in Google Drive.  All of them, except for my Microsoft friend Alfred, where we did it using Microsoft’s similar product.

I try my very best to make sure that I’m on my best writing behaviour there.  The results reflect both on me and the person being interviewed. 

My most recent interview was with Instructional Coach Jennifer Aston.  Once I installed the application, I ran it against our interview.

Here’s a bit of the results.  (Normally, I would throw in an ellipse but I now know that’s wrong.)

Uh oh.

Now, I’ll not bend a bit about using Canadian spelling, even if it’s identified as UK spelling!

But, the rest of the document analysis would imply that I’ve got some serious work to be done with my writing/proofreading skills.  But, that’s a good thing.  If it makes me a better writer, I’m good with that!  After all, WordPress complained that I was a passive writer and I worked on that.

Can I beg off the rest by saying this is my face to face voice?

You can find the application in the Add-ons menu in your instance of Google Docs or directly here.

Note:  I did run this through the aid and came back with no problems.  Am I better to read?

My CS Plan

Every now and again, you write a blog post that you know will upset some folks.  This may well be one of them although I’m not specifically challenging any of the assumptions on a personal level, but more on the practical and logistical level. 

I’m reminded of the concept a former superintendent drilled into me.  “Plan with the end in mind.”  And, he was fond of putting me on the spot with one word.  “Why”. 

I was inspired for this by a post from Alfred Thompson.  “What will go if we teach CS?“.  In his post, he was inspired by Katie O’Shaughnessey who had posted “Day -1: #cs50bootcamp: It’s all about scheduling in schools… what will go if we teach CS?“.  Both articles are definitely written from the secondary school perspective.  They address the concern about where in the life of a student would you fit a compulsory course in Computer Science into the school day.  At present, it’s an elective in most schools and you know what – I’m OK with that.  Even the logistics of trying to find enough qualified teachers to teach the course(s) and then somehow find reliable computers on which to code is daunting, much less worry about the other legitimate issues that they’ve identified.

Just like I certainly wouldn’t have liked to have had a particular course rammed down my throat, not everyone is ready to take on the rigour of a full-blown Computer Science course in their teen years.  Leaving it as an elective makes it an option for those who really want to take the course.  Having said that, I do believe that coding is a valuable skill that all students need to have but they need it long before they hit secondary school.

So, let us take a look at the elementary panel.  In the past while, there most definitely has been some real excitement and traction in coding through the Hour of Code initiative.  I’ve put together a collection of resources in a Flipboard document here.  Here, well meaning people and organizations have put together a wonderful collection of activities to introduce students to the concept of coding.  The initiative has started some thinking and discussion but has some serious flaws if the goal is to make significant change.

  • Not every teacher gets involved;
  • It’s just an hour with little or no followup;
  • The activities are largely unrelated to anything in the curriculum.

But there have also been great successes with coding clubs and followup in some classrooms.  It’s not the intent to belittle those efforts.  But as long as they are isolated activities in a few classrooms, it’s good (really good) for those particular classes and that’s about it.  I also recognize that great initiatives such as robotics have started with the efforts of excited and dedicated educators but there was a target.  Where’s the target here?

Standing back, one has to ask – how can you make something as important as coding relevant for all students?  Where does it naturally fit into an already excellent Ontario Curriculum?  In my mind, it only makes sense that it becomes an integral part of the Mathematics Curriculum.  Currently, there are five strands being taught.

  • Number Sense and Numeration
  • Measurement
  • Geometry and SpatialSense
  • Patterning and Algebra
  • Data Management and Probability

I would suggest formally adding an additional strand “Computational Thinking and Coding”.

Computational thinking isn’t a foreign concept to the mathematics curriculum.  “Computational strategies” is already specifically identified.  I would suggest that coding strategies where students work towards developing solutions is a perfect fit.  I know through talking with teachers who are already coding with their students that they hang their hat on that when challenged with the “why”.  The real advantage is that they either already have or have taken the time to learn the key concepts.  It’s an add-on but they’ve seen the value.

While the concept fits nicely into the mathematics area, we know that excellent teachers apply the concepts where they fit.  I had a teacher tell me once “We integrate everything”. 

In discussions like this, the question of what language is best for this always arises.  It’s interesting to sit back and strike a list of languages that I’ve used in the past.  (Actually, kind of humbling.)  At university, it seems like courses were often differentiated by the language.  I think that it’s important to choose an application that works on a variety of platforms, phones, tablets, computers, and that scales with the skill development of the student.  Right now, I think that TouchDevelop certainly fits that bill.

In the new strand for Computational Thinking and Coding, there needs to be support for the classroom teacher.  I would suggest that the first textbook or support materials for current textbooks from a reputable publisher would seal the deal.  If you haven’t, you need to read Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed.  Nothing speaks better to the topic.

Imagine a graduating class from an elementary school who have coding skills, coupled with computational thinking and all of the other strands from the mathematics curriculum.  As noted in Alfred’s post, why not let student vote with their feet?  Those who have the skills and see the benefits of learning to more formally program are now ready and prepared for the secondary school courses.  They’re not flying blindly into the unknown.  They’re in a position to make an informed choice in their course selection.  If they elect not to select Computer Science, at least they’ll have a number of years of background in computational thinking and coding.  It’s a valuable skill and only grows in value as they acquire devices and wish to master them.

They really can’t lose.

Thanks, Sylvia Duckworth.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

For many, this is the first day of the summer vacation.  Congratulations.  I hope that you’re kicking back and reading this with a coffee about 10am.  Here are some interesting posts from around the province I read this past week.

What social media are you on and what does it say about you?

How times have changed.  I can’t even picture my mother or father sitting in on a job interview.  After all, in the good old days, you went to the interview.  The interview didn’t come to you.

Check out Jennifer Casa-Todd’s post as she reveals how modern technology brought the interview into her house.  I can completely empathize with her struggle balancing teacher and parent.

Throwing Out Grades Isn’t a New Concept #ttog

I had to smile at Brian Aspinall’s post and thoughts about grades.  It reminded me of the legend that I was made aware of my first year teaching.  The folklore was this teacher never marked anything and didn’t keep a mark book.  When it was time to enter marks, he called each student to stand in front of him – he looked them over and then wrote down a number.  Truth or no truth?  Yanking the strings of a first year teacher?  I’m not sure but I enjoy remembering it.

Once Brian gets rolling in the post, he draws an interesting parallel between Physical Education and Mathematics.

He asks – why should the assessment be different?

Summer – My Time to Learn

Despite what you might read in these times of teacher bashing, summer time for teachers isn’t eight weeks of sun bathing.  It’s a time for professional work and professional learning at a pace that is self-determined.

In this post, Nicole Beuckelare shares what her summer priorities will be.

I hope that she enjoys success with her goals and, when you read her post, you’ll know why we’ll all benefit from her learning.

Making it work

I really enjoy reading posts like this.  It’s humbling and motivating to realize that, despite whatever set of skills I may have, there are others that have more.  For the eternal learner, it’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Helen DeWaard shows some of her learning in this post.

I’ve always thought that everyone should build on their skill set.  I remember computer contact meetings where there would always be a sharing of what folks or others in their schools had been doing.  Every little bit builds more confidence and abilities.  Before long, you look at the mass of learning and you have a pretty decent portfolio of skills.


I’ll confess, the title sucked me in.  I like a good puzzle and James Hewett’s opening link takes you to a puzzle that’s been tossed around quite a bit lately.  But, what caught my attention was the list of iPad applications that he’s asked the students not to delete.

You’ll have to visit his post to see the entire list.  It’s always interesting to see the collection that people use in the classroom.

It’s great to see Green Screen on the list – so much can be done with that application in so many differing areas.

Camera Case & Pads of Paper Weigh In

The teacher part of this 3 Act lesson from Kyle Pearce sounds absolutely deadly.

But, once you get past that and get to the actual activity, it sounds like a great deal of fun and you can certainly see how engaging it would be for students.  I really like the questions that he poses to extend the learning.

Liking life

This quote from Paul Cornies’ blog attributed to Maya Angelou is an absolute feel-good thought to help close off the school year.

You’ve got to feel good about yourself after reading that.

Such an inspiring collection of learning, thinking, and sharing again this week.  Please find the time to click through and support these bloggers.  You can check out the entire collection here and certainly add yourself using the form if you’re not already on the list.

Have a wonderful summer.

Another Indication That It’s Time …

… to ban the concept of formal sit down exams. 

This past weekend, was my son’s wedding.  It was a beautiful venue for the event.

Look at all those steps!

Those that know me know that, when I wear a long sleeved shirt, I never do up the buttons.  Instead, I roll up the cuffs a couple of times.  I know that it’s just a habit.  It may date back to writing on a chalkboard.  Who knows?  As I’m getting dressed, I rolled up the cuffs and my green Fitbit was revealed on my left arm.  My fashion consultant noted that I had to remove it because it didn’t match the colour of the shirt I was wearing.  After some “discussion”, we compromised that I would leave the cuffs down.  I was really curious as to how many steps one goes through at a wedding. 

I had to smile when I read this article this morning.  “Australian schools dis-koala-fy Apple Watch from exam halls“.  You had to see this coming.  Typically, smartphones and laptop computers are banned from exam halls already.  Why?  It’s equally as obvious.  You could just fire up your favourite search engine to get the answers to questions.

I think we all know what’s wrong with this picture.

If your examination is constructed in such a manner that the answers are that easily retrieved, you need to rethink your examination.

I’m thinking of how disadvantaged the students are.  The well organized student divides her time according to the value of the question.  Why waste half an hour on a 5 mark question?  The health conscious student monitors his heart rate to make sure that the stress of the exam is taking its toll.  Now we take away the tool to do this? 

There are so many people concerned about how to change school.  This is a perfect example.  So many of the suggestions are just tweaks.  The concept of an exam is one whose time has come and gone.  Everyone gets that there needs to be an opportunity for a major summative assessment to ensure that learning is measured before granting a credit.  But, an assessment that needs to be changed every time some new piece of technology comes along and threatens the validity of your assessment?  What’s wrong?  The technology or the assessment?

If a piece of technology is used, or even required for the regular coursework, why is it all of a sudden the enemy during your final assessment?  The only reason I would be prepared to accept would be one of equity between those who can/choose to afford it versus those that don’t. 

It’s not a new concept.  Take a visit to a technology department within your school where serious skills like welding, for example, are successfully assessed.  They get it.  They’ve gotten it for years.

Isn’t it time that everyone gets it?

Followers, PLN, and Tribe

So, a couple of days ago, I shared this wonderful sketchnote from Sylvia Duckworth.

It had the usual effect – no comments from visitors to the blog but lots of sharing and folks visiting the blog and comments on Twitter.  So, it did strike a chord with others and I always like that.  It’s a confirmation that there are others thinking along the same lines, or differently, but aren’t afraid to come forward.

As far as Tribes go, I was forced at one point to participate because “we are going to do Tribes”.  I’ve seen others who have had to go the same route – forced training certainly can fall off the professional learning track but that’s OK.  You can learn some things from that as well.  As you look through the points in Sylvia’s sketchnote, you’ll notice that it takes a special group of people and their attributes to let you know when “you have found your tribe”.

In my mind, it’s that very special subset of colleagues that make it work and it’s not something that you can do by taking a group of educators and “dividing them up” although that’s often the way that training happens.  The best professional learning happens when it’s authentic and people actually want to participate, grow, and learn.  In my mind, it’s a big difference.

So often, we hear about why it’s important that teachers are on Twitter.  “It’s the best place for learning” is often the phrase you see and it’s tough to argue against that.  But, just as with any quality professional learning, it doesn’t happen immediately in some sort of magical, mystical manner.  It’s actually tough but satisfying work.

As I followed the interactions to the announcement of that particular blog post, it was interesting to see some of the comments.

There was a tangent that started with an innocent observation.

Tribe = PLN

I raised my eyebrow just a bit because it certainly wasn’t what I had expected and not what my takeaway from the concept is.  In my case, it couldn’t be further from the truth.  I follow a lot of people and things on Twitter where this conversation took place.  I follow for a variety of reasons – learning, announcements, updates, and a few just because they’re jerks and I’m entertained by their silliness.  Here’s the link if you want to figure out who’s who.  I also learn a great deal from Ontario Educators but I don’t follow them all; instead I have them as lists.  I think we all have our own ways of managing things.  That’s mine.  So, while I do a great deal of learning, I wouldn’t necessarily consider them to be in “my tribe”.  There are, indeed, a few that I hang on every word and have interactions for all the reasons in Sylvia’s sketch.

It was comforting to know that I’m not alone.  @iamDrWill, a gentleman I’ve never met but regularly has wise advice summarized his thoughts in a couple of messages that mirror my thoughts.

It extended the conversation considerably.

I think that this extension of conversation really puts it into perspective.  I know that, when I’m thinking Computer Science, I have my go-to folks.  When I’m thinking Learning Commons, I have my go-to group there.  When I’m thinking of digital literacy, I have a go-to collection as well.  When I want a laugh, I know where to go as well.

The whole discussion makes so much sense to me.  Maybe it’s the real message that needs to be shared when encouraging all educators to get connected.  There are three levels:

  • Followers – Everyone you care to follow;
  • PLN – A subset of the Followers that contribute to your ongoing learning;
  • Tribe – A subset of the PLN that meets all of the criteria.