This Week in Ontario Edublogs

In one week, we’ve gone from socked in with snow to having to clean the yard now that we’re down to grass. (I own a dog, remember)

Enjoy some recent post from Ontario Edubloggers.


I was delighted to see The Beast back at the blogging keyboard. It’s always interesting to read their initial thoughts and then the back and forth between Andrea and Kelly.

Their opening line got me really thinking.

Every school has a population of students who are incredibly complex.

It reminded me of this – “A riddle wrapped up in an enigma”. That so describes teaching. You just have to solve for everything.

But The Beast is ready for it. They even took a course from Nogah working on the notion of a wicked problem. What follows in the blog post is a wide range of ideas and discussions between the two of them.

It’s a good read and, unfortunately, they do not provide a solution. But there is good advice there for anyone trying to reach a solution. And that’s a good thing.

Leadership is Exhausting #1: headships & heirarchies

I’ll admit right up; I did not know that Tim King was co-chair of his technology department. Should I have known? When I read that, I thought that this would be a great catalyst for the school.

“Status Quo” doesn’t exist in Tim’s vocabulary.

If there’s anyone who would be a good apple cart overturner, it would be him.

He did get a real dose of educational reality in the experience. It is indeed hard work being at the head of a department in a school. There are all kinds of challenges in the position and you’re the one that needs to provide the answers. We all know that everyone is working so hard these COVID days but those who teach niche subjects end up with multiple sections just so that they can run. Why? Such educators believer that it’s important to offer that opportunity for students but it does come at a cost. Even a two-section split requires lesson planning for two different curriculums.

Tim has left that position; he was there for two years and he shares some of the things that he was able to bring back to his school.

He should take satisfaction in that.

After Cheggification – A way forward (Part 1)

Those of us who work in K-12 may not be aware of the challenges involved in higher education. Dave Cormier gives us an insight to what’s happening. He even inspired me to read about the Academic Integrity policy at the University of Windsor.

I suppose that it probably always was a challenge – students cheating on their work – I can remember at university some people going through discarded printouts looking for answers to programming problems. It always amused me as I wondered how many people discarded working solutions. But, anyway.

If you do a search for “plagiarism checker” on the internet, you’ll find all kinds of solutions. When you visit them, they typically sell themselves as tools for student achievement. Chegg is the one that Dave addresses here. Simply put, you ask Chegg a question and you get answers. (among many of the other advertised features). In a regular world, that’s a great study aid. But, when you’re learning at home and need a little assist …

So, the teaching staff is offering solutions to address this in their evaluations.

  • Response 1 – Make the exams harder
  • Response 2 – Entrapment
  • Response 3 – open/take home exams and assignments replacing high stakes exams

Dave notes that each of these solutions make things more difficult for students. For the malpractice of some, everyone pays. It reminds me of having to stay in class at recess because someone else in the class messed up.

Dave takes off in a different direction. The questions themselves…

“Well-structured questions” which seem like a logical, reasonable solution. I mean, weren’t we all schooled as teacher candidates about having quality questions and activities. But then he talks about “Ill-structured questions” and how it might change everything.

It’s a tease for his next post which I’m looking forward to reading.

Creating Characters!

I’ve mentioned this many times before but I think the way that Cameron Steltman handles blogging with his students is genius. It’s not your traditional blogging approach; it’s better.

His goal is to get kids writing and he addresses the desire that every teacher has for writing – getting kids to write for an audience.

He actually writes the blog post as a provocation and the students reply to this provocation. So, there’s none of this dead space that we so often see when teachers try to get students to blog. Because the students know that their classmates and maybe even mom and dad will be reading, the quality of the writing is quite impressive.

In this case, Cameron’s class is working on storytelling and he has them create a character. There are rules

  • a name (first, middle, last)
  • a few favourite things
  • 3 personality traits (e.g. funny, humble, disturbed, etc. )
  • a flaw (something that can create conflict)

The responses are awesome. During the This Week in Ontario Edublogs show, Stephen suggested that it would be an interesting extension to have the characters created actually meet and interact with each other.

There’s a next level of sophistication for you.

Extra Help w/ Bookings

In a regular year, it would come in the form of a request “Sir, can I drop in a lunch or after school for some extra help”. Now that so many people are teaching online, surely there is a technological solution.

Cal Armstrong provides a solution in Microsoft Office 365 called Microsoft Bookings. Since I don’t have Office 365, I’d never heard about Bookings before.

I found it really helpful to go through and read Cal’s post. There are lots of screen captures there to step through the process. It actually appears to be straight forward and I can see why he uses it. He sets the table for students to electronically book a bit of Mr. Armstong’s time for extra assistance.

Even more valuable than the mechanics of working your way through Bookings is the wisdom that Cal shares about the actual implementation. There are controls that the teacher can put into place so that it doesn’t get out of hand and respects teacher time and privacy.

I can’t help but think that this is a valuable tool and I also wonder how many people like me are oblivious to its presence.

Mom Was My Hero.

This was a first blog post from Jamie McKinnon that I just happened to catch as he announced it on his Twitter feed.

As you might guess from the title, it is a personal tribute to a mother who has passed. It’s a little different than the typical blog post that I feature in this post but that doesn’t change its importance.

And what better words could an educator use about someone else than

Mom was a ferocious learner, never stopped, curious and passionate

I’ll admit a little hesitancy to go through and read this. It seemed kind of personal and I was afraid that it might be one of those stories where people were separated by COVID as I was with a friend and a cousin who passed away earlier this year.

Jamie uses the post as a tribute to a wonderful mother. While her passing is nonetheless sad, the memories of a long, active life come through loudly and clearly.

Going back to in-person learning: Multiple Perspectives

Jennifer Casa-Todd shares a story of a presentation that she made recently. It was about digging into different perspectives about a return to face to face instruction/learning.

School districts world-wide are certainly all over the map about this. The consensus is that it’s a good thing but how do you do it and respect every educational partner at the same time? Secondary schools in Ontario are a good example of this. It was on the news this morning that the state of Michigan will be returning soon.

So, Jennifer’s activity?

I divided participants up into four different groups: a) Parent who is struggling to find care for their child; b) Student who is doing well in a virtual environment; c) Politician who is getting pressure to open schools d) Director who is seeing student failure rates go up.

It would have been interesting to see the responses. I found it interesting that one of the groups wasn’t teachers but that may have been by Jennifer’s design.

I hope that you can find some time to click through and read all of these interesting blog posts. They’ll get you thinking for sure.

Then, follow these bloggers on Twitter.

  • TheBeast – @thebeastedu
  • Tim King – @tk1ng
  • Dave Cormier – @davecormier
  • Cameron Steltman – @MrSteltman
  • Cal Armstrong – @sig225
  • Jamie McKinnon – @jnmckinnon
  • Jennifer Casa-Todd – @JCasaTodd

About languages

Going back, I remember that in Grade 10, we were required to take French. It seemed strange at the time since we didn’t know anyone who spoke French that we might converse with. We were told that we might work for the government some day and this would come in handy. And, it was required so just do it.

I took the class like all my friends and I actually did fairly well. I seem to recall a final mark in the 80s so that was good. It wasn’t until later that I found out that I didn’t really learn the language; I learned the words. I guess it probably made sense; my mathematical mind would translate an English word into French or a French word into English. Put enough French words together and I could make a sentence, apparently four times out of five.

Of course, I never used my new found skill in school beyond the class or at university. When I ended up getting a job in Essex County, I learned that LaSalle was the biggest speaking community west of Quebec. The locals were proud of that although I still have this nagging feeling that there are communities in Manitoba that would argue. I did have a few students who were bilingual in my home room and I could listen to and make a bit of sense of their conversations. And, to their amusement, try to respond to them.

It wasn’t until I became the webmaster at OSAPAC that it really hit home. My goal was to make the website bilingual since there are all kinds of French speaking educators in the province using Ministry licensed software. I looked forward to finally applying my high school skills towards something productive. And, there was this Google Translate thing to help me with the things I got stumped on.

Well, it didn’t take long until the French language speakers on the committee let me know that, they appreciated my effort, but my work wasn’t cutting it. Even when I tried to speak like I thought I could, they felt sorry for me and replied in English! But they were awesome and so helpful and we did reach a point where we had the website fluent in both languages.

So, why all this history?

Well, this morning, I ran into an interesting article.

Make Cree available on Google Translate, online petition demands

That stopped me for a second and so I checked…

There are indeed a lot of languages there in Google Translate. But the word “Cree” and presumably a translator wasn’t there.

So, it goes back to the original question posed in the interview.

One of the things that I value about being connected is making connections to people smarter and more worldly than me. A while back, a former colleague Tina, invited me to join an Indigenous Education group on Facebook. They’ve been awesome with their sharing and their insights. To pay my dues, I will share stories about Indigenous Education and I shared the story above. As per my normal practice, I also shared to Twitter where I notice a number of favourites and retweeting. Obviously people are interested.

But then, there was this interesting comment.

That took me back to high school where one of the complaints about learning French was that we were learning French French and not Canadian French and that there was a difference.

I can tell you that, even in this French area, the language has been butchered.

Around here, some of the street names …

  • Ouellette – pronounced as Oh-Let
  • Pierre – pronounced as peery
  • Grand Marais – pronounced as Grand Mair-ess

In Canada, we’re seeing actions taken to reverse the effect of Residential Schools and the loss of a first language. If you are sensitive to the regions within the province, you know that Cree isn’t the only language needed. For example, we have the Caldwell Nation on the shores of Lake Erie.

Thanks to the wonderful feedback from all, it’s clear that more than one language and one dialect would be needed to address all the needs. Certainly, you have to start somewhere but this isn’t going to be a one and done deal.

In the meantime, I wonder how effective this is.

Tracking authors

This is an interesting and possible incredibly useful feature for my reading friends.

It’s called and it’s sole purpose is to create a feed for your RSS reader of your favourite author. The program taps into the Google Books APIs which is worth the read at the same time.

Of course, you have to have an RSS reader to make it work.

In my case, I’m already using The Old Reader so it was just a matter of adding another link to it.

I also found it interesting to read the author’s website for his rationale for developing a tool like this.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

After a snowy week, it’s nice to be able to sit back and check out some blog posts from Ontario Edubloggers.

February Patience

Aviva Dunsiger has taken the suggestion from Beth Lyons about doing a #oneword each month rather than one for the year and February is going to be “Patience”.

I think every teacher will agree that February is a tough month at the best of times and the 2021 version is just so much worse. For teachers throughout the province, face to face teaching resumes this February. This following weeks of teaching online. Or as Aviva puts it

we’re about to begin a September in February

As a result, she’s questioning the concept of patience as she, dare I say pivots, back to face to face.

I can’t help but think that patience isn’t necessarily patience online versus face to face. The concept of dead air comes to mind. It’s OK in the classroom since there’s all kinds of other feedback cues but online?

There are some interesting questions that she asks that I think every teacher might ask themselves. Heck, they’re good questions for everyone.

The (A)politics of Education–In a World Where There is No Such Thing as Neutral

This post, from Debbie Donsky, is a nice followup to the recent post from Matthew Morris. In fact, Debbie does make reference to Matthew’s quote and Faculties of Education.

I had to look up the definition of “apolitical” just to make sure that I understood what I thought it meant.

Having no interest in or association with politics. 2. Having no political relevance or importance: claimed that the president’s upcoming trip was purely apolitical.

“apolitical.” Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary. 2010. 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. 18 Feb. 2021

Throughout the post, Debbie mentions some of the issues of the day. From my perspective, I’m not sure that I could be considered apolitical about these things. I clearly have my leanings on things.

The notion of not bringing politics into the classroom was perhaps well minded about days near an election. It seems to me that most things of importance these days are political.

Debbie does a really deep dive about the topic and ties it nicely to education. It’s a good and powerful read.


I’m not sure why you would ever assign a project to students that didn’t promote creativity but maybe that’s just me.

On the TESTOntario blog, John Allan uses this premise to introduce or re-introduce some pretty important tools.

  • WinkSite
  • Google Tour Creator
  • QuestGarden

For each, John gives a nice discussion and there’s plenty of reference to good pedagogy there. There are all kinds of ideas. I think that I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating.

Online learning from home is better if students understand the tools involved. So, in these days where schools are back face to face, it’s a good time to use these effectively in case the unthinkable happens again. If not, they’ll still generate some great learning opportunities.

For each of the tools, John provides a “how to”, an “example”, and a ‘blog post.”

Consequently, it’s just not a list of tools but a launchpad to using these tools effectively.

Improvement is the Enemy of Change

This provocative title leads us to a discussion and observation of two of the high profile issues of the day. Charles says he’s non-partisan.

But, my thoughts as I read this — political? You betcha.

Far too often, huge and wasteful attention is paid to the superficial expressions of a problem rather than putting in the energy and time to go deeper to discover the real obstacles that get in the way of meaningful movement towards the desired outcomes. 

Charles Pascal uses this as a way to discuss

  • paid sick days
  • profit motive that drives 60% of Ontario’s long-term care facilities

These are topics for discussion in any year. In a year with COVID and the desire to keep virus spread, they take on increasing importance.

Briefly, doesn’t it only make sense for people who are sick to stay home? Wouldn’t paid sick days help address that?

And, isn’t it just obvious that cuts to expenditures to increase profits at long-term care facilities put residents and workers at greater risk?

We’ve seen the effects of both of these things. It’s on the news constantly. In this post, Charles goes into each topic at great discussion. This is a very sobering post to read. I’m glad that he took the time to share his thoughts with us.

Building practices for great equity: Careful engagement in Collaborative Learning

Beate Planche reached out to me to let me know of her blog and this was the most recent post. She gives us a nice discussion about Collaborative Learning and some links for additional reading.

Thinking back, I really didn’t get any direction about collaborative learning while at the Faculty of Education. We did talk about “group work” but it was never with the deep understanding that Beate drives home in this post.

Even as an educator, I’ve been in situations where we were “doing collaborative learning” at professional learning events. Often, it was contrived and seemed like a way for a presenter to fill time.

If you follow Beate’s post, she describes a practice that is a great deal of work and doesn’t elevate the teacher from the actual learning. If done effectively, the teacher is moving and working hard to encourage students.

In the study of Computer Science, a collaborative process described as Pair Programming can be found here. It’s a popular topic at Computer Science professional learning events.

Time is the…

As I read this post from Sheila Stewart, bells went off in my head. She says she stumbled into this song.

She was struck by the last of the song

Time is the mirror
Time is the healer
Time is the teacher

My song? And in response to Sheila’s call to action from the post… Certainly not as obscure as hers but very powerful as I really and truly paid attention to the lyrics.

And I enjoyed listening to Sheila’s suggestion as well.

Snow Day = No School Day

I knew that someone would be writing about Snow Days on the Heart and Art Blog. Heck I’d even written a post myself on Wednesday. Well, I wrote about it on Tuesday for it to appear on the Wednesday.

So, back to Heart and Art because this post isn’t about me – Deborah Weston took on the topic. I’ve got to believe that part of her inspiration came from social media as teachers throughout the province checked in on what was happening in their districts.

It seemed to be divided into two camps – Camp 1 let Snow Days be Snow Days and Camp 2 was The Show Must Go On. I can actually see how the logic would flow in the Camp 2 camp from those who are at the system level and make the decisions.

I’m getting tired of the terms “pivot” and “flip to” and Deborah uses them to share her observation about what might happen. It’s a good read for all teachers, to be sure, but I would suggest even better for decision makers.

If you can just easily pivot from a planned face to face lesson to online, the lesson can’t have been very good to begin with.

I hope that you can find some time to click through and read these original posts.

Then, follow these bloggers on Twitter.

  • Aviva Dunsiger – @avivaloca
  • Debbie Donsky – @debbiedonsky
  • John Allan – @mrpottz
  • Charles Pascal – @CEPascal
  • Beate Planche – @bmplanche
  • Sheila Stewart – @SheilaSpeaking
  • Deborah Weston – @DPAWestonPhD

Snow days in 2021

Well, the promised snow storm has hit parts of Ontario. As I type this, it’s about 7:30 on Tuesday morning and the snow continues. There are 1-2m drifts in front of both the front door and the back door so I can’t ignore it even if I wanted to.

And, I don’t really want to. I’m one of those people that put the ear buds in and walk back and forth across the driveway pushing the snow up on the sides. It’s a peaceful time. But, I’m no dummy. I will wait until things stop before I go out because I’m not wanting to do it twice.

As per normal, I was up about 4:30 and took a look outside while I was making morning coffee. It didn’t seem too bad at the time. Mental note; I should turn on the outside light to get the real story. I hadn’t heard any snow ploughs and really didn’t until about 7:00. I checked the school boards’ transportation sentinel and it reported nothing but then, it’s still early. I think they aim for 6:00 to make the call. Later on, the call was made and transportation has been cancelled.

That really didn’t come as a surprise; I checked Ontario511 and it wasn’t looking good across the promise.

Well, at least not good in southern Ontario. Black is bare; white is snow covered; yellow is parkly covered; dashed black is reduced visibility.

There are some interesting overlays to the map. One is the cameras that are all over the province. I took a look at a few. Even the 401 wasn’t bare so I could see that’s not a place to be. If it’s got issues, then most other roads will as well. It was a little bizarre that Essex, Kent, and Middlesex had the snowiest of roads. Normally, we dodge storms.

At least the ploughs were out.

Aviva Dunsiger was, of course, up and online at that time so we had a bit of a chat back and forth about the weather. Oh, and schools. Apparently, in her world, things aren’t revealed until 6:00 either. What to do on snow says is a controversy there. She shared this article from the Hamilton Spectator.

Snow day changes rebuked by Hamilton’s public school board trustees

Kudos to the trustees. Even in a good year, there’s something about snow days and just being a kid. It’s a great time to help out with the shovelling and then join friends for some tobogganing and skating. In this year, though, it’s particularly tough since you have to maintain social distances but that doesn’t stop kids. I have fond memories of toboggan bumper cars.

Today’s also the first day that most of the province moves from the lockdown to being slightly less locked down. Everyone has paid their dues over the past weeks and we will be careful but there should be a moment of relief. I mean, the lockdown has been lifted but you’re not going anywhere anyway. And, it’s Shrove Tuesday. The paczkis are calling.

I took a look around to see what was happening elsewhere. Toronto and area opens schools today. How are they handling it?

Heavy snowfall in Toronto-area forces some school boards to close in-person learning

There’s a mix there as to what happens today.

Around here?

It’s tough being a kid these days, never mind being a teacher of those kids bouncing from one mode of teaching to another. I remember the protocol that was enacted a few years ago; school buildings never close even if buses aren’t running.

It’s also interesting to turn to social media where #SnowDay was trending.

It just seems like there’s no way of winning no matter what decisions are made. There are always those that aren’t going to be happy or supportive.

It’s just been such a tough year on students. It would have been nice to have cut them a break today. Well, if not today, maybe sometime soon?

But it’s the year 2021. Things are not normal. It’s not business as usual. So, why wouldn’t we be all over the map even with something as special as Snow Days.

Oh, and as far as the driveway goes, my watch counted over 11 000 steps going back and forth across the driveway. I still have one big drift to attack but that’s for tomorrow.