Now, more than ever


Unless you’ve been totally offline, you are undoubtedly aware of the rise of “news stories” where the truth value can range from truthful, kinda close to facts, to outright false content.

The recent US elections has completely elevated this phenomenon.

Some reporting on the fake news just makes me shudder.

This is a fascinating read to take a look inside the spread of such stories.

Now, the concept of media literacy isn’t something that’s new.  It’s something that good computer resource people, teacher-librarians, and others in the know have warned us about for years.

In the beginning, it was relatively simple to spot something false.  I’ve collected a number of resources over the years to illustrate the point.

We’ve used these quite bit with students to help build the skills to determine whether or not something that they read online is to be believed.  Most teachers work on this concept with students to help them sharpen and refine their BS detectors.  It’s easy to extrapolate the “Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus” campaign to our new reality and some of the things that we see today.  But writers have become more sophisticated and trickier in their approach.

It’s easy to speculate why – hoaxes and mistaken things have been around forever.  Who hasn’t heard of the War of the Worlds?  But we live in escalating times.  As we’ve seen, it could be to promote a political agenda, it could be misunderstanding the facts, or it could be that a news reporter has to meet a deadline and so whips something up.  There are probably more reasons but that doesn’t make any of them more palatable or justify their existence to any sane person.

Then, there’s the Facebook deal.  I can recall when services like Compuserve were your one stop location for everything.  I suspect that Facebook wants to be that same sort of thing.  Why have multiple stops for information when you can get it all in one spot?  It’s a great business plan.  But it has to be beyond reproach.

Now, I don’t turn to Facebook as my primary news provider.  (there goes my account)  But, stories can be intrusive and catch my attention.  In my hotel room this past weekend, I was sharing some things with my wife and my eye caught this.

The title and image had just about enough truthful ring to catch my attention.  As my eyes moved down, I saw the source of the story.  I’d never heard of that site before but my knowledge of the online world is so small compared to the big collection of everything.  Then, my BS detector clicked in.  I knew that if I clicked through, I’d get the whole story as written and my computer might get some other things.  So, I turned to my trusted news resources – CBC, CTV, MSNBC, CNN for a verification before trying the link.  Not even a hint of this story.

Needless to say, I didn’t click through.  But I wonder how many people did…

  • they could take Facebook’s approval that it was a legitimate story
  • they could be looking for exactly that sort of “dirt” story
  • they might be political junkies looking for anything political
  • take your best guess as to motive

In the classroom though, it’s a real concern.  What if some student runs into this sort of “research” and uses it as the basis for a paper?

Maybe this is good news – Facebook reportedly testing new tool to combat fake news

I think we all know and realise that media literacy and teaching students and others how to spot things that are less than truthful is an important part of being connected.  Talk to your teacher-librarian for hints and resources.

We need it now, more than ever.

I still can’t draw!


But I try.

This experiment from Google turned me on to just doodling at bit.

Called Quick, Draw!, the application gives you something to draw.

You have 20 seconds to do your best.

As you draw, the application uses machine learning to try and guess what it is that you’re drawing.  Now, the skeptic will say “that’s pretty easy; it told you what to draw”.  If that was it, it wouldn’t be fun.

But it is fun; as you draw, the application “thinks” and when it recognizes something or some pattern, it will give you a hint as to what it thinks you’re drawing.  When the application has it figured out, you’ll get an “Oh, I know…” and shoots you the answer.

You guessed it!  It’s addictive.

When I first played around with this, I was on a laptop and used my trackpad to draw.  This generated some pretty bad trials which improved a bit when I used my mouse to do the drawing.  I’m sure that you know that my first attempts were pretty straight and not terribly well done.  I graduated to my Bamboo tablet and then to the iPad.  With a better device, I was able to do better drawings.  You’ll notice that I never said that I ended up with something good.

But I tried.

The application claims that it learns based upon what you draw and that it uses the same sort of technology that Google Translate does.  Over time, it claims that your drawings will make it smarter.  That’s the key to successful Machine Learning.

I just hope my attempts don’t dumb it down!

It’s fascinating to watch the learning as you draw.  There are definite Machine Learning “Ah hah!” moments when the application gets it.  One object that I had to draw was a crown which ended up looking more like a baseball glove.  But, it was drawing the points that gave it away to Quick Draw!

In the meantime, let your inner artist or your students’ inner artists put it to the test.  It could lead to some interesting discussions about how “smart” computers are and can be – very appropriate for a discussion during Computer Science Education Week.

Hour of Code 2016


The Hour of Code was started a few years ago to provide an opportunity for more students (and teachers) to get exposure to coding and programming.  It’s been an overwhelming success and here we are at the brink of Hour of Code 2016 held in conjunction with Computer Science Education Week, December 5-11.

The initiative has seen some pretty substantial levels of success…

  • there are more languages and robots to code with today than ever before
  • teachers who might never have ventured into this area are giving it a shot
  • in Ontario, there are many TLLP projects with their roots in the Hour of Code
  • it’s not a strange thing to see a Computer Science club at schools where inquiring students go beyond the hour
  • coding has come a long way from the days of learning commands and evolved to block programming
  • and I’m sure that you can add your observations to the list

The mother ship, if you will, is the Hour of Code website and the links to rationale and many activities.

There is lots of discussion about the “why” to the Hour of Code.  One that you hear constantly is that there are 200,000 technical jobs unfilled in Canada.  If you need that as inspiration, go for it.  Somehow, I think that the Grade 2 student doing a bit of Scratch isn’t quite ready for it yet.  As I was out this morning, I saw a big tube television left at the side of the road.  You know the ones that dimmed the lights in your house when you turned it on?  I have no doubt in my mind that the owner thought this might well be the last television that they’d ever buy.  Technology is such a fickle partner.

But it’s the deliverables that were important.  A huge screen let them see ever detail.  The audio was stereo.  Awesome.  The analogue signal pulled in by antenna was probably the best they’d ever seen.  Try to find something with the same specs on sale in a store today!

Ditto for learning code.  If you just focus on the code, you’ll miss the point.

Check the deliverables.

Student

  • student can learn some new commands
  • student can make an object move on the screen on command
  • student might even get the computer to make a sound or play a song

Teacher

  • students work collaboratively to solve problems
  • students explain their thinking and explain/debate the logic with other
  • students take a big problem, break it into its component parts, and solve it
  • students ask “what happens if I do this?”
  • students demand “what next?”

Every subject area would die for these opportunities.

Hopefully, everyone will be involved in the Hour of Code in their classrooms at whatever level works.

Please don’t consider it 60 minutes to check off to say that “we did it”.  Please do consider that this is the launchpad for something pretty amazing.  It’s there that you make a difference and set students off to benefit from all that coding offers.

Once again, I’ve cobbled together a collection of resources that I’m happy to share.

Hour of Code 2016

Good luck.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


It’s the first Friday of December.  It won’t be long now.

Check out some of the great reading that I enjoyed recently from Ontario Edubloggers.


Paper Twitter: Why and How to Teach Digital Technologies with Paper

Royan Lee suggests a way to teach about digital technologies, specifically Twitter in this post.  He also shares a number of resources for this in his Google Drive account.

It’s an interesting approach that undoubtedly will allow to teach the basics and keep the focus of those learning rather than all the distractions that can come from the real thing.

The purpose of Paper Twitter is not only to deconstruct how the technological aspects of the social media machine works, but also to tone down the figurative volume so that the point of it as a personal, social networking tool can be grasped through, well, social interaction, not initial solitude behind a screen.

I just hope that people don’t get sticker shock when they move on to the real thing.


Recognizing a Reluctant Writer in the Mirror

Jen Aston turned me to this post from Annette Gilbert.  It was a reflection and action stemming from a professional learning opportunity for teachers called “Inspiring Reluctant Writers”.  Part of the learning was to have the group create their own blogs to share reflections.  It’s an interesting approach and she had a couple of questions moving beyond the workshop.

Those are some interesting thoughts and it would be a nice followup to see if she gets answers to those questions.

Hopefully, the blogs extend beyond the course and we have a whole new batch of bloggers pushing the profession.


Effective Facilitating and Blogging

I had mentioned this post by Diana Maliszewski earlier, a person I still have to copy and paste her last name to get it right.  The latter part of the post dealt with her analysis of her own blog in response to a post I’d made of my own earlier.  This time, I took some time to think about the first part of the post where she’s part of a workshop from ETFO called the Presenter’s Pallette.

With the growth of the use of teacher-coaches and consultants helping educational systems grow, it sounds like a fabulous opportunity for her.  Stepping back a bit, it looks like a great opportunity for all teachers.  Even if the ultimate career goal isn’t in that area, the skillset can’t help but benefit any classroom teacher.  Hopefully, it’s made available for others to attend.


Every Day Is Unique

I don’t think that you can argue much about the title of this post from Rola Tibshirani.

Worthwhile of note are her thoughts about growth mindsets – a topic that was really in vogue for a while but seems to have dropped from the radar as of late.  It’s too bad because that’s a concept that’s worth hanging on to and building success from.

Included in the post are numerous quotes and ideas including a Google Presentation.

You definitely need to put this on your “must read today” list.


Do we see poverty in our schools?

Thoughts and sentiments about this are very prevalent at this time of year.  There’s a bigger message in this post from Paul McGuire though worth keeping in mind.

Now, I don’t see this as good enough.  I have been very fortunate to work in a high poverty section of our city – for me this is a first.  I am ashamed to say that I really didn’t know the extent of the poverty in these communities in our own very wealthy city.

For some, it’s a way of life 365 days a year.  A friend of mine notes that it’s more noticeable in the winter since you notice more when kids wear the same clothes day after day and hunger is more apparent.  It’s not as noticeable in the warmer weather when t-shirts and shorts are the order of the day.

It’s something to keep your eyes open for – even if you’re not teaching in a “high poverty section” of your community.  It’s everywhere.

Thanks, Paul, for keeping our eyes open.


Amaryllis Thoughts

I had to smile when I read this post from Kristi Keery Bishop.  I only ever had one class in my entire teaching career with a window.  It was an Accounting class and there were two windows in the back and our caretaker was a bit of a green thumb type person.  Sure enough, on the ledge, he had some plants that enjoyed the sun and thrived.  My regular classroom had no such luck.  It makes all the difference in the world.  The sad part was that being an early arriver and late leaver, there were entire days in the winter that I never saw the sun during the week.

Anyway, Kristi turns her amaryllis experience into an analogy for professional learning.

My PD thoughts turned to my amaryllis.  While I was focused on watching the stem (not) grow to great heights, I completely forgot about what might be going on under the soil.  Maybe my amaryllis has spent it’s energy these last ten days spreading roots so that when the stem does start to grow tall, the bulb will be strong enough to support the height.  You need strong roots before you make great surges in growth.

I think it’s a terrific analogy in our world of accountability where deliverables from PD matter so much.  How many times have we completed an application to speak that starts with “By the end of this session, participants will be able to …”  Maybe it’s more realistic to that “By the end of this session, I will have planted the seed for participants to be able to … on their own”


RETWEET OR SHARE?

Donna Fry shares some of the thinkers that influence her –

Other curators help me sort through the unfathomable amount of information on the web.  Stephen Downes, Doug Belshaw, and Audrey Watters are examples of thought leaders who filter, curate and share information regularly.  I know that there will be value in their curations.

But the real message was her being taken to task for retweeting a message.  I think that it’s part of the consideration that we all need to understand.  Hopefully, nobody retweets or likes a message based solely upon a title.

I don’t totally agree with her assertion

An algorithm, which you have no control over, determines what content reaches your eyes.

I suppose it’s true if you’re a passive reader of content and don’t aggressively look for the good stuff.  But, I would challenge it at least based upon my personal experiences.  I like looking for content on my own, from original sources, based specifically on topics of interest to me generally and for what I’m currently curious about.  I make no bones about it; if you follow my sharing and my blog posts, they are definitely tainted by my foci.  I make no claims about sharing both sides to any story or concept.  I may do so in my mind but that never goes public.

The topic is of particular importance right now with stories of social media getting their houses in order after accusations of phony stories arising during the recent US elections.  Will it make online reading a better place?  Probably a bit better but there’s so much and so many sources publishing daily that the best thing you can do is learn how to fine tune your BS detector.  More than ever, the skills of a knowledgeable teacher-librarian should be in high demand in any school or school system that wants to consider themselves best of breed.


Thanks, again, to the wonderful Ontario Edubloggers above for sharing their thoughts and insights again.  Please take the time to click though, read their entire thoughts and then drop a comment or two.  Or, if Donna’s blog post doesn’t scare you again, retweet or share their writing.

Sort of a post


One of the topics that I always found a challenge to teach was that of sorting.  I struggled with learning the concept myself as a student and I always found it difficult to make it tangible and visible for students.  

I did all the chalk and talk things that I could think of.  But the best way that I could demo it off-computer was with a deck of cards numbered 1-10.

I put 10 chairs in a row, side by each, and then one off to the side.  I had 10 students sit in the chairs in random order with their numbered cards and had them demonstrate sorting based upon the number they were holding. 

The goal was to develop an algorithm where the 10 people holding the cards were to move and put themselves in order from 1-10 or 10-1.

The rules were:

  • only one person could stand at a time
  • there were two things that could be discussed 
  • am I bigger (smaller) than you?
  • go sit in the chair over there
  • come back and sit here
  • are we in order?

Our starting point was always the Bubble Sort.  Technically, that was all that I needed to address the expectations from the curriculum.

A3.4 create a sort algorithm (e.g., bubble, insertion, selection) to sort data in an array;

From the Ontario Curriculum Grades 10 to 12 – Computer Studies.

But, you can’t stop with just one.  I also used to talk about a Selection Sort and we would talk about the difference in algorithms and ended up comparing each for efficiency.  A final kick at the sorting cat was the Quick Sort.  There is an increasing level of sophistication in the coding involved.

That led to a good discussion about why you might want to choose one over the other.  It also was a good rationale for building a personal library of algorithms.  Sorting is used so frequently, why should you start from scratch every time you need a sort?  Bringing in something that you know works and modifying it for the purpose of the program makes so much sense.

Recently, Alfred Thompson shared his thoughts in a post “How Fast Can You Sort a Deck of Cards?”  Working with a deck of cards is certainly more aggressive than my cards 1-10.  You have to deal with the concept of Jokers, are Aces high or low?, do you also sort by colour?, do you also sort by suit?  It’s a scenario that can lead to a great deal of discussion.  I like it.

Embedded in Alfred’s post is a link to a resource demonstrating various Sorting Algorithms.

This is fabulous.  If you want to see how a Bubble Sort works, just select a cell and watch it do its thing.  I think the best demonstration is the Reversed data set.  There, every piece of data is out of order so you get the full effect.

But that’s just the academics of it.

In the top left corner, there’s a button to “Play All”.  This is addictive as you watch all of the sorts with the various data set permutations do their thing.  This truly is the beauty of computer science.  Beyond this, it answers the question of why there are different sorting algorithms.  You’ll notice on first run that they don’t all finish at the same time.  Some algorithms are definitely better than others.  Code demonstrating each sort is available under the chart.

Learning how to write code to sort can be a challenge.  But, it’s something that you have to do at some point if you’re going to be a programmer.  

I just found this resource a wonderful way to demonstrate different algorithms and a visual rationale for each.

It’s a definite keeper.  Thanks, Alfred for turning me to this resource.

#ourlearningspace


Something very interesting happened over the weekend.

It started with my Friday post of “This Week in Ontario Edublogs“.  One of the blogs that I had read recently was Peter Cameron’s post “My Transformed Classroom“.  He had taken a 360 degree video that highlighted the various things that contribute to the learning environment for his students and himself.  It was an interesting glimpse inside what appears to be a very active learning space.

Stepping back, one of the activities that my Computer Science university class did after their practice teaching assignments was an around the room discussion about what teaching teenagers was like and inevitably the discussion would be about the environment of the classroom they visited.  The discussion was interesting on two fronts.  First, none of them would believe me when I talked about the learning habits and interests of the average teenager.  The first time I taught the course, I really struggled with this.  Nobody would believe me and I still remember the first debriefing – “We get it now, sir”.  I came to understand their context; they’re just spent four or more years at university and were familiar with the lecture, the lecture hall, the computers nailed to the desktops, the wide open internet access, the ability to install whatever software they needed, etc.  This led nicely to the second discussion where they would talk about what a secondary school computer science classroom actually looked like.  Some resembled the university but the majority were considerably more student-centred in design and arrangement.  Some students returned with pictures of what the environment was and all of this led to an invigorating discussion about classroom design and just what it might look like when they finally got their own classroom.  All they needed was to get hired and then get themselves some funding.

OK, so back on point.

I had mentioned in my post that Peter’s classroom was an example of what might be and that it would be interesting for more educators to share what it looks like in their digs.

I had every intention of creating my own blog post about the idea I floated that

“Someone should start a challenge to have teachers reflect on classroom design by showing what they’re doing.  You just need something to record video and then upload it to YouTube.  You could even call it a Classroom Design Challenge.”

but Peter beat me to it.  With a Twitter message, he challenged anyone who cared to read and participate.

Fortunately, he had tagged me in the post.  I was away from the computer at the time and so just retweeted it but it was later that I got involved and tagged the mandatory five others.

I tried to tag some people from different teaching realities and also those who might be liable to actually participate.

Peter wrote a blog post of his own outlining his thoughts and the rules of the game.  It’s a good read – #ourlearningspace.  I hope that you click through and read his thoughts and enjoy his video again.

I think that it’s important to note that there’s no right answer to this.  If enough people buy into the concept and contribute, then readers might be able to cherry pick ideas for their own classroom design pursuits.  And, hopefully, instructors at a Faculty of Education could use it when they talk about classroom environment design and what is actually doable.  

As I write this post on Sunday morning, there are already folks who have bought in and are using the hashtag.

Click here to see the discussion and please take a moment to participate.

Whatever happened to …


… the strap?

It’s the stuff that legends were based on.  I remember walking to school with some much older friends and their conversation, obviously geared to scare me, talked about how the teachers would use “the strap” every time I did something wrong.  I can still remember being so afraid of what would happen.

It was a source for conversation when a classmate was detained at recess or after school.  We’d be there to ask “did you get the strap?”  Show us your hands.

At the time, I had never seen this feared device of punishment.  My understanding was based upon looking in books or in conversations with others.  I think I envisioned this huge whip like device like you see used by horse jockeys.  There was also a rumour that it was filled with tacks pressed through it to make sure that the most pain was inflicted and blood would be drawn.

It was scary stuff.  Even though I’d never seen it, I kept me on the straight and narrow.

Well, for the most part anyway.

I think I was in Grade 3 or 4 when I came in contact.  I don’t recall what I did or why I was singled out, but I was kept back after school.  The teacher, I still remember her for this, brought the strap out and sat down in the desk in front of me.  I remember two things from that encounter.

  1. Will she get in trouble because she was sitting facing the wrong direction?  What if she made the desk get out of line?
  2. The strap didn’t look all that intimidating.  It actually looked like a big chocolate bar.  I didn’t see any tacks in it.  How much could it hurt?

I suppose that that would based upon how angry the teacher was at me for whatever I had done.  So, I tensed up as I prepared for the worst.  As it happens, I just got a strict lecture and then got released.  My friends were bizarrely disappointed when I reported that I got off.

I became the best of students at least for a while after that event.   I did learn that the secret was to be sneaky and not get caught.

An extremely interesting read can be found in this document from the Canadian Education Association – Banning the Strap: The End of Corporal Punishment in Canadian Schools.  You might think that this is ancient history and might be surprised at the year where it actually banned the use in Canadian schools.

How about you?

  • Are you old enough to remember or have actually been disciplined by some form of corporal punishment?
  • Chances are, if you’re reading the blog, you’re an educator and did well in school.  What kept you honest?
  • What are the more effective methods of classroom management that work well for you?

As always on a Sunday, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

Please share them via comment below.

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts.  They can all, by the way, be revisited here.

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