Enjoying a reading


Last Friday night, we did something unique for us. We had an author and his lovely wife Linda out for supper and then went into town to a local bookstore to hear the author read from his book.

The author was David Garlick, a retired principal. The local bookstore was the River Bookshop. The book was The Principal Chronicles.

Here’s a shot of David in action. The teaser for the event was to hear him read from his book in the cosiness of the bookstore and the fireplace (seen behind him).

It really was a nice, intimate setting and one of David’s former vice-principals showed up as part of the group. After the land acknowledge, we were off and listening. David asked for requests and I couldn’t remember the title but I knew that it had to do with wasps. So, I put up my hand (he was a former teacher after all), and asked for the wasp story. He knew it immediately, flipped to the short story and started reading. It was a serious story that had a hilarious twist to it. It was a reminder that in the teaching profession, just about anything can happen. (and sometimes does)

We had an interesting discussion with this and a couple of his other short stories. The English teacher in David kicked in and we got into an interesting discussion about censorship and ended up selling some Kurt Vonnegut and J. D. Salinger off the shelves to one of the attendees.

Towards the end of the evening, his wife suggested another story. Most of the stories in the book have humour or a humourous twist to them. This one was quite moving. As teachers, we’ve all had those moments. We’re fortunate that David had written about his so that it didn’t go missing with the passage of time.

It was a wonderful experience that we thoroughly enjoyed.

David has actually created podcasts of each of this stories and they’re hosted at voicEd Radio.

Of course, the printed or digital version of the book is available to purchase.

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Paybacks


Over the past while, we’e been hearing about how the end of the world is coming for education as students use artificial intelligence to help them out.

What about the teacher? Is there an option for them?

I’m here to introduce you to Teacher Toolkit.

https://www.teachertoolkit.ai/

It’s a collection of tools for teachers. I had a kick of the tires yesterday and was quite interested in what I discovered. There is a free level of access and a couple of paid plans.

I was intrigued with the claim that lesson plans could be created by one of the tools.

One of the fun things to teach is databases. I know that I have created and revised my own lesson a number of times. So, what could artificial intelligence do for me?

I gave minimal instructions to have a lesson created for an introductory lesson.

It took a couple of minutes and here is part of what was created for me.



It was quite impressive.

The lesson, including activities and assessments could be used as is or downloadable as a document where you could tweak it and make it yours. Obviously, you’re going to work with the language to make it consistent with what you really want in a lesson plan.

I liked the completeness of what was returned and it came with references and a whole collection of “21st Century Skills”.

If you’re looking for the “other side” of artificial intelligence in the classroom, this is most definitely worth your time to explore.

Professional learning


I read an article yesterday morning about Professional Learning and Substitute Teacher Shortages and, of course, shared it to my timeline. Of course, the expression “Substitute Teacher” should give an indication of where the article might originate.

Yet, I can’t help but know that it’s the same in Ontario.

When I first read the article, it brought back memories – not about chart paper but about buying muffins and goodies for a workshop.

For the most part, my Professional Learning events were two-hour chunks and I fit them into 4-6pm. This seemed to be an ideal length of time to introduce and work on a topic without too much strain. Since my workshops were usually about technology, it’s about the right length of time to stare at a computer screen as well. It took some extra work to make sure that every minute was valuable because you just knew that everyone was worried about their own kids at home and what supper was going to look like. I did a lot of these sessions and they were well attended. They were also “cheap” to my employer since coverage in the classroom wasn’t necessary.

There was the occasional opportunity for full-day events as well and they are draining on everyone.

  • For the facilitator, there’s the challenge of engaging teachers for that long a time – it is not easy to make sure that you’re respecting their attendance
  • For the participant, it’s difficult to be a learner for long periods of time. A regular day in the classroom has you moving and worrying about student learning. The biggest worry here is about that lesson that was left for the Occasional Teacher was going well back at school

There was extra pressure to make sure that there were great takeaways and learnings for participants because you knew that everyone’s mileage on those lesson plans left behind may vary.

This should have been the model for everything since it improves the teaching for a district and they should pay for it. It only makes sense.

But, the drop in those who could be hired to cover classes definitely is taking its toll. It’s not just the school district in the article that is pleading the case for more coverage of teachers, I’m seeing it everywhere.

I make a big distinction between district-provided professional learning and additional qualification courses or Master’s degrees or more. Those are attended to for different reasons.

If you look at the initiatives coming from the Ministry of Education and local districts, you have to recognize that they’re going to take some serious additional learning and ongoing support. They aren’t simple tweaks to an existing curriculum; it’s new material or major overhauls.

As I’m writing this, Jen Shirley points to another area of concern.

That should send shivers up and down the spines of board office administration, trustees, and a government that wants to make things better.

There’s another thing that’s lying in the reeds. If you’re connected to anything at all these days, you’ll know about ChatGPT. But, if you’re a regular reader of this and other blogs, you’re on top of things. Not everyone is. How will you and your staff get up to speed?

Is there a solution? Actually, there are all kinds of solutions and they run anywhere from blocking it to making it an integral part of the classroom.

Are we prepared to either ignore it or let addressing the situation vary from teacher to teacher?

Or, maybe someone could write a memo to all staff.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


I hope that everyone has recovered from the snow storm and done so safely. My right shoulder is killing me; this was the heaviest snow I think I’ve ever shoveled. But, you’re here to read great stuff from Ontario Edubloggers so here goes…


Wouldn’t you be …?

Yes, I certainly would be and I suspect that we all would.

Sheila is following the work of Dr. Naomi Fisher and contemplated an image that was posted about a mother’s anxiety about sending kids to school.

Sheila no longer has children in the Ontario school system but that doesn’t excuse her for having some concerns about kids and what they’re dealing with at school. Looking forward, there may well be grandchildren, Sheila!

I found the post pretty serious and timely as it lead nicely into Bell Let’s Talk Day. Stephen and I had a nice chat about it on the show Wednesday morning.

Will we ever get it right? Probably not because the world and society continues to change but we all need to keep our eyes open and speak out when appropriate. Sometimes, it goes unseen by those who could actually do something about it.

It always seems that we’re playing catch up.


Teachers, YOU ROCK!

I often wonder if Kelly knows that I write about the great content she shares since she doesn’t appear to have a Twitter handle.

Teaching is an interesting profession. Not everyone could do it; not everyone wants to do it. If you think you just check in at 8:30 and check out at 2:30, you better keep on moving. The job is much more than that and requires some serious commitment, both in time, dedication, empathy, and emotion.

I was sorry to read about the challenges she had in her placements – I was the exact opposite and was paired with incredibly supportive and inspirational teachers and environments. My only challenge was commuting in the GTA. There’s another layer to add onto the level of stress.

I’m glad that she’s happy with her decision to land in this profession.

More people should blog or let the world know of their great decision.

Kelly’s post would be a great inspiration.


Daily Math Talks with Young Children

I’m old enough to know the term arithmetic.

The mathematician in me just loves this post.

I still remember a university professor who talked to us about how some baseball players become good at their job. “Practice, Practice, Practice”. How do students get good at mathematics? “They do the odd numbered questions on page 37 and then go outside and play baseball.” What if they could experience the joy of mathematics?

That’s not how it works in Deanna’s class. Absolutely, they “do” mathematics, whatever that means but they actively talk about it. In the post, she describes how the students sit and talk inspired by her. Here’s an example

From mrsmclennan.blogspot.com

I’m just inspired by her super neat printing! Numeracy is important but it shows up in many different ways in this example. I can just picture myself sitting on the floor eating this up.

This is an insightful post and composed of a lot of pictures of chart paper and activities.

I’ll bet that she has a computer and access to a data projector but there’s something extra special about hand written content like this.


Growing Age Gap

As I said in the promotion for the voicEd Radio show, the older you get, the older you get.

It’s a fact of life.

Matthew is starting to realize this.

Every September he welcomes kids of a certain age into his class. They’re always the same age. However, he’s just another year older.

And that is the realization that teaching suspends time. Halfway. I mean, only one side.
– Matthew Morris

I wish I could offer you a rap version of this, Matthew. But, I grew old. Rod Stewart offers some advice.


Leading by Example or What’s Good for the Goose…

Last week, I attended my wife’s aunt’s funeral.

If there ever was a setting where you have collection of people who might be at risk of getting Covid, this has to be it. Lots of elderly friends paying last respects in a small location and who knows what kind of ventilation there was. I’ll give credit to the funeral home; they had masks beside the hand sanitizer. We brought our own. I can tell you that we were definitely in the minority wearing it though.

But, wait! There’s another setting – schools.

Marie is the voice of safety and yet the closest to ensuring that everyone is safe is this sign.

From apuffofabsurdity.blogspot.com

If you follow the Kitchener news (I do and it drives my daughter nuts), there isn’t agreement there any more than there is anywhere else. Folks, Covid is not over. We’re just not reporting about it.

Marie takes a look at the set of rules at the Davos World Economic Forum where there is a three page document outlining Covid rules and regulations. That doesn’t play out the same way in her schools.

We seem to be all over the map on this. How will we ever kick it?


#LearningInTheLoo: Feedback w/ Voice Notes feat. @DeannaToxopeus

This was a little different from the regular things from Laura’s blog.

It’s a “Learning in the Loo” created by Deanna. A guest blogger!

Here’s a snippet.

Of course, you’ll have to click through to get the whole document!


But…I Just Want Checkmarks

I’ll just leave this here. I did read her post and tagged it for this post.

Sadly, the site seems to be down. Maybe it will come back with time. Daphne is at FETC so undoubtedly busy doing something else.


Please find some time today or on the weekend to click through and enjoy these blog posts.

Drop off a comment if you’re inspired.

Then, follow them on Twitter.

  • Sheila Stewart – @sheilaspeaking
  • Deanna McLennan – @McLennan1977
  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Marie Snyder – @MarieSnyder27
  • Laura Wheeler – @wheeler_laura
  • Daphne McMenemy – @McMenemyTweets

This is a regular Friday morning post around here, celebrating the best in Ontario blogging. You can find all of the past posts here.

An Interview with Austin Gagnier


My dad had an expression for luck – “Every now and again, a blind pig finds an acorn”. This is so relevant. Given the weather situation the past couple of days, it was a perfect opportunity to interview an Ontario student who manages his own weather website.


Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Austin.  I always start with the question – do you recall when our paths first crossed?

Austin: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share, Doug. I do recall when our paths first crossed! It was nearly 10 years ago now, it truly blows my mind. I was in grade seven with a very large passion for coding and computer science. We started chatting over Twitter after I had joined the network, and you had contributed to my Twitter chat at the time, #csforstudents. I believe we also met in-person at BIT17 in Niagara Falls!

Doug:  We had lost touch for a bit but you recently came back onto my radar with a web project that you’re behind – Advance Weather – https://www.advanceweather.net/

How long has this project been under construction?

Austin: Advance Weather has been a project I have been working on for the last two years. In 2022, the website really took off, mainly during severe weather events. One of the largest impressions was during the blizzard near the end of 2022.

Doug:  I think that may well have been the time of your return to my radar. Grin.

Running a weather website has to be a continuous, non-stop operation.  How do you manage it?

Austin: It is certainly a continuous operation, as the goal of Advance Weather has always been to keep the public informed on weather that will impact their day. My day usually starts at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning, analyzing model data and gathering local weather and traffic conditions. It is certainly a balancing act with trying to keep up with everything else in life, and sometimes it requires posting content while on the go.

Doug:  Where do you get your weather information from?

Austin: In order to forecast the weather, I use multiple websites that provide raw weather model data. I have learned how to read these weather models over the years, and while I am still no expert, I feel like I have learned a lot about how to read the data and make predictions. As well, I have learned how to read the radar data from radar towers in Canada and the United States to see what conditions are occurring.

A screenshot of KDTX (Detroit) Radar at 10:28 AM, January 25 2023 using GRLevel3 software. Some areas in Windsor-Essex were seeing heavy snow (purple), while a discussion was issued in Michigan and Ohio (blue polygon) by the National Weather Service, warning of snowfall rates of 1+ inches/hour.

Doug:  I see my house. We’re kind of mauve at the time of this image.

What’s your accuracy rate for predictions? 

Austin: The last few winter storms, for some areas, I was within a few centimetres when comparing my forecast to the amount of snow that actually fell. Of course, the plan is to get it right all the time.

Doug: Have you ever made any mistakes?

Austin: In my years of forecasting, I have made mistakes, and especially with the weather, they happen. If we are tracking a winter storm, we have a suspected track that the storm will take, based on the model data. Sometimes, the storm arrives in Southern Ontario and the track changes at the last minute. This can cause large changes in the forecast, and some events are particularly hard to forecast, as we expect a certain temperature, but the real-time temperature is a few degrees warmer, or colder.

Here are two of the forecasts that were created during the blizzard right around Christmas in 2022. 

Doug:  I think that many readers will remember that storm. I know that I do.

This ties in nicely with your post-secondary education.  You’re studying Environmental Studies at the University of Windsor.  As you’re from Chatham, I’m guessing that the University of Western Ontario might also have been an option.  Why did you choose Windsor?

Austin: I must admit, although I am currently studying Environmental Studies, that was not originally the reason I chose Windsor. Originally, I chose Windsor for their Concurrent Education program. I was accepted into the program with a major in English. After my first fall semester online, I declared a minor in Geography. After second year, things began to change, as I found out that I was more passionate about Geography, and attempted to change my major. However,  this cannot be done in the Education program, so after some consultation, I changed programs to Environmental Studies and the program has been excellent!

Doug:  As you put yourself through school, you list this as your job – RFM (and I had to smile at this) Programmer at McDonald’s Canada – can you tell us what this is all about?  What skills do you have to have to do this job?

Austin: While completing my degree, I currently hold three positions at McDonald’s Canada. My RFM Programmer position requires me to program new menu items into the POS (Doug: and I smiled again) system for restaurants in our local market, change prices as needed, and remove items that are only offered for a limited time when our inventories are completed. While upholding this position, I am also the Operations Technology Person for three restaurants within the market, and also work on the floor at my restaurant as a Swing/Shift Manager.

Doug:  This is a case where social media lets us down with these acronyms – instead of their definition, RFM means “Restaurant File Maintenance” and POS means “Point Of Sale”. Now, I know.

You’re half-way through your Bachelor’s program; what’s the plan after graduation?  

Austin: Right at the moment, I am “cultivating many things in my garden”, if you will. There are multiple fields that I am interested in, many of which pertain to the environment. Last summer, I was employed under a summer student contract as an Administrative Assistant in the Environmental, Health and Safety department. While operating Advance Weather, there is of course an interest in meteorology as well. After moving to Windsor and attending in-person classes, I found it really important to find out what was going on in my new community. After being exposed to the local radio station, AM 800 CKLW, I also have an interest in radio broadcasting, and keeping people informed with information as it happens. I still have some time to figure all of it out, however, a media broadcasting program might be in my sights after University.

Doug:  People of my age will remember CKLW as a different programming format as The Big 8. It’s now a major source for information and talk radio.

What was the reason that Advance Weather was created?  I can’t believe that you wake up one morning and decide to create something this involved. Is it because of your studies?

Austin: I decided to create Advance Weather a few years ago now, as I continued to have an interest in the weather, both real-time and forecasting. During weather events, especially winter storm events, I started to find it difficult to find out some important information, such as if businesses are closed, or road closures. I had to ask myself – “What kind of information does the public need to know to get through their day? Are school buses cancelled? Are there road closures? Are events cancelled?” Those are the important items that I believe the public needs to know. I decided that I wanted to take on a larger role, and help the public with important weather information to help them plan their day.

Doug:  What a great success story for you and education. Can you give a shoutout to a teacher or other educator who had a big influence on your further studies?

Austin: Absolutely. My grade seven teacher, Mrs. Aspinall, and her husband, Mr. Aspinall, certainly deserve some recognition. During grade seven, Mrs. Aspinall provided tools for me to learn and grow, especially learning more about coding, and allowing me to have more of a leadership role in the classroom. She allowed me to present coding tutorials to the class, and I even taught one over Twitter with a class in Sarnia that year, so we collaborated online. Both of them were very supportive and gave me opportunities to learn more skills, including public speaking. Additionally, my eighth grade teacher, Ms. Lefebvre provided more opportunities the next year in her classroom. Finally, I want to thank all of the educators that helped me along the way, during conferences, twitter chats, and more. Doug, you were certainly an integral part of this, so thank you. Some other honourable mentions are Derek Tangredi, Emily Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Sylvia Duckworth, Jen Giffen, Kim Pollishuke, David Carruthers, Sandra Chow, Stephen Hurley, and Michelle Armstrong. There are many of you that had a large impact on my life, but there are also a lot of names! These skills and opportunities have certainly helped shape who I am today, and I am grateful for all of them. If any of you are reading this, thank you for all the support over the years. Let’s connect again soon!

Doug: Have the elementary and secondary school programming skills helped you with studies at Windsor?

Austin: Absolutely! In addition to my Bachelor of Environmental Studies, I am also completing a certification in GIS (Geographic Information Systems), which builds skills in mapping, remote sensing, database collection, and there is even a scripting and programming class I am currently taking. The skills I used in my younger years certainly helped with learning how to program some of the software we use.

Doug:  You have also done some public speaking in the past.  Do you still do that?  What sorts of things would you talk about that might be of interest to those looking for a speaker?

Austin: I have taken a break from public speaking, I believe the last conference I attended was the Ontario Summit in 2018. High school classes began to get very busy, and I decided to take a step back. Now being in university, I haven’t gotten back into the public speaking field again, but that may return at some point. Previously, I talked about the importance of coding and computer science, and ran tutorials for educators to take back to their classrooms. Now, the coding tutorials and speaking sessions could continue, but an environmental topic may also be of interest to event hosts.

Doug:  There you go, folks. Is anyone looking for a speaker with this skillset? (Contact information is at the bottom of this post.)

I’ve got to ask this since ChatGPT seems to be everywhere.  How do you feel about its ability to write software?

Austin: It is truly an interesting time to be alive with ChatGPT being able to write software. I have only used the platform a handful of times, however, I have heard stories of people prompting the software to write code. I think it is certainly a two-fold answer. It is a nice tool to have the AI help you write a code, but it is also important to learn the skills and build your own code. I truly think that ChatGPT is a starting point when it comes to writing software.

Doug:  Does ChatGPT intersect with Environmental Studies, Weather Reporting and Prediction?

Austin: ChatGPT has less of an interaction with weather reporting, as the knowledge base for the software is limited to 2021, and cannot provide real-time data. I can see a use for it when it comes to creating a weather discussion, though. If I ask the software to generate me a weather report with specific hazards, it will do so without question. It is certainly helpful to have software to assist with putting the words together, especially during large weather events, but I don’t think we are quite there yet to let the AI take the wheel.

Doug:  Thanks for taking the time from your studies and part time job supporting those studies.  I appreciate it and it was great to get caught up.  I wish you all the best with your studies and what lies beyond that for you.

Austin: Thank you again for interviewing me, Doug, and allowing me to share some current relevant topics. It is certainly a pleasure to be on your blog! I appreciate the opportunity and the well wishes. Please take care of yourself and stay well.

Doug:  You can follow Austin on Social Media here. He and/or Advance Weather is available on the major platforms.

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Austin_Gagnier8
https://twitter.com/advanceweather
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/advanceweather1
Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/austin.gagnier90/
https://www.instagram.com/advance_weather/
Linkedin:https://www.linkedin.com/in/austin-gagnier-49a036231/
Advance Weather:https://www.advanceweather.net/

Periodically, I have the opportunity to interview interesting people like Austin. 

You can read all the past interviews here.