Whatever happened to …


… the slide rule?

Well, mine is in the bookcase behind me, Aviva!  There’s my personal answer to your question that you posted in the Padlet devoted to this.

The educational year was my Grade 10.  We were required to purchase a slide rule for mathematics class.  We had two options:

  1. purchase a cheap plastic white tool or
  2. “if you’re serious about mathematics, you need to buy the upgraded yellow eye-saver metal one that comes with a finer hairline and a leather case.”  (My mathematics teacher no-so-subtle advice)

As you can see in the picture above, using my chair as a background, I went with option #2 – A Pickett N902-ES

We were only allowed to take the slide rule to mathematics class.  Apparently, it could be used as a weapon to avoid the boredom in other classes.  (or so I heard),  I remember the mathematics classrooms with a big teacher slide rule at the front of the class so that she/he could work along with us to solve problems with our slide rules.

We learned a great deal about mathematics from using that device including a new bit of language – “hair line”.  It was true; when we would compare the two slide rule options, the yellow one did have a thinner hair line.

What difference does that make?  It goes to the heart of using a slide rule.  Unlike a calculator, it didn’t necessarily give you the exact answer.  Instead, you learned the skill of estimation to get your answer.  Unless you were working with integers, the hair line would fall on a scale and you needed to estimate just what the answer would be.  I’ll tell you one thing; you sure learned about the beauty of numbers and decimal places.  As I look at it while writing this post, there was a special marker for pi.

Flipping the slide rule over, in very tiny print, there were instructions about how to multiply, divide, find logarithms, find the sine of tangent of an angle, and the importance of the NUMBER OF ZEROS.  You just knew that was important because, even back then, it was written in capital letters!  There was also a grid of important fraction conversions – i.e. 45/64 = .703125  (Yes, I just did check it with my computer calculator)

It got me through that class and others in high school.  Once I hit Statistics at university, it was incredibly clear that I needed to get with the digital age and purchased my first calculator – an HP21 How sad is that that even the calculator is in the HP Calculator Museum.

I have no idea why I still have the slide rule; it doesn’t conveniently get stored anywhere and I can’t remember when I last used it.

Oh, fact check.  Yes I do – re-read this blog post “Two nerds walk into a Tim Horton’s

OK, I can’t remember the last time I used it since then…

Does that inspire you to do some thinking/reminiscing?

  • have you ever used a slide rule?
  • when did you buy your first calculator?  Do you recall what features it had?
  • if you’re a classroom teacher, how best do you teach number lines and estimating?  Is it still an important skill?
  • I know some manipulative kits use slide rules or close cousins to it.  Have you ever used them?

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts like Aviva did? 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!

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


It’s Friday and a time for a blogging tour of the province.  You don’t have to look any further for the good stuff than that created by Ontario Edubloggers.  Here’s some of what I read and had stick lately.


Letting Go Again

We often hear that “students own the learning” and adjust the classroom to honour that.  It’s great to read about those who now respect that philosophy and adjust things accordingly.  But, the learning is the only thing that happens in the classroom community.  There are all kinds of other things that make for a smooth running environment.  Aviva Dunsiger itemizes some of the things that come to her mind in this post and then, in Aviva fashion, asks questions and wonders…

I can’t help but wonder (now she’s got me doing it) if this isn’t a good activity for everyone to do with their own classroom.  Sure, the students own the learning but who owns every other element for success?  Isn’t that part of the learning as well?  Why not treat it as such?  If there ever was a “call to action” post to refine your classroom, this is it.


Bringing Back 10 Posts

Speaking of calls to action, check out Tina Zita’s latest.  If you need that shove to get consistent with your blogging or even starting, consider opting in to her 10 posts in 10 days challenge.

It may sound daunting but it really shouldn’t be.  She’s not asking you to write the next great epic novel.

Just jot down 10 things and turn them into 10 posts and away you go.  You don’t even have to commit 10 days if you are busy.  You could write 10 posts in one sitting or spread them out a bit and schedule them to appear for 10 days in a row.

The key is just to do it.  It will make you grow as a thinker and blogger.  You have that special genius that makes things work in your classroom or you have observed 10 things that you’d like to write about.  Why not do it?

It might just be the start of something beautiful.


Equation Strips

David Petro shares a very interesting lesson plan for Grade 7s involving a method to visualize linear equations.

In Ontario our grade 7 students are introduced to solving simple equations in the form ax + b = c where the values of a, b and c are whole numbers. We think it’s a good idea for them to start by having some sort of visual representation of each equation. In this activity, students are given 16 cards that correspond to 16 equations represented as strips (the top and bottom of the strips represent the left and right sides of the equations). Students solve for x given the strips and then rewrite the algebraic form equation.

I’ll bet that so many use a graph as the first option when dealing with this topic.  This is an alternative that might well turn into a quicker understanding of the concept.

Resources included!

I like the concept for classrooms and it’s a terrific example for all as to how to share resources via Google Drive and FirstClass.


Listen and Be Honest

Powerful advice is included in this post from Sue Dunlop.  She’s honest and open about her position in life.

The post will hopefully give you pause to think about this topic.

Sue provides a nice collection of relevant links to support her position.


REFLECTIONS ON #YRDSBQUEST

From the KNAER-RECRAE blog, a look at the YRDSBQUEST event through the eyes of Melinda Phuong, an intern with the organization.

If you weren’t able to attend, check out what caught her attention.

  • RECONCILIATION WITH INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF CANADA
  • A STUDENT MESSAGE ON REFUGEES
  • REFUGEE EDUCATION
  • A CULTURE OF “YES” TO BRING BACK THE JOY OF LEARNING
  • ISSUE + GIFT = CHANGE
  • DEEP LEARNING ON AN INTERNATIONAL SCALE
  • ACCESSIBLE LEARNING
  • LEADERS OF TODAY AND TOMORROW

Do Cuts Hurt?

Unlike Matthew Morris, there were times when I did get cut from a particular sporting team.

I do remember the teams that I did make though and, if I think hard about it, some of the ones that I didn’t.  There were also teams that I just didn’t try out for.  They were just not for me.  I specifically remember football and the irony that I ended up coaching it at secondary school.  It’s a unique sport; I don’t think we ever cut anyone.  It’s nice to have big numbers for practices.  Where the real issue kicks in is when you realize that you really have to work hard at getting everyone in to play during the season.  There are other sports that never existed when I was in school as well.  I’m thinking about skipping in particular.  A friend of mine has a son who really excels at competitive skipping.

Some sports will take every body that shows up and that’s great for inclusion.  But, as Matthew notes, there are some sports where only a limited number make the team.  His observations of watching students come to see if they “made it” are a real POV for educators.  I’ll bet that he’d appreciate comments about how you handle the situation in your reality.


Do students think we should be using social media in school?

Jennifer Casa-Todd finishes off a post that she’d started earlier.  It was about the use of social media in school.  She admits that her sample may be skewed but that’s OK.  It was interesting to see her statistics and analysis of it.  I thought that the comments were interesting.

As I read the responses, I can’t help but wonder if these are original thoughts from students or are they parroting when they hear from their teachers or parents or other media.

There’s a link in the post that is supposed to go to a summary but does go instead to her questionnaire.  It’s worth clicking through to see what was asked and, if Jennifer reads this post, hopefully, she’s share the link to results with us.


Yet again, this has been for me another wonderful collection illustrating the great thinking that goes on throughout the province.  Please click through and show each some blogging love with a comment or two.

Interactive Maps


Over the weekend, I ran into this story

How to make awesome interactive map using Google Sheets in under 1 minute?

Of course, I had to share it with my friends.  It was interesting to see it being favourited and shared.

And, of course (2), I had to try it myself.  Here’s my result as an image.  I was really impressed with the stats popping up as you would mouse over various countries.

map

Did it take more than the minute promised?  Probably; I’m a slow reader.

It was fun and would have been the sort of activity that would have been done at a computer contact meeting.  There’s a lot there like finding and copying data, moving to a spreadsheet, copying it and then using the magic Google pixie dust to turn the data into the map.

I was ready to bookmark and move on when I got a message.  “Hey, Doug, we’re an Office 365 board and can’t use Google.  Will it work with Office 365?”

I didn’t know the answer right off but it seems like it should be possible.  I don’t have an Office 365 account so I can’t be sure on that platform but I do have my regular Microsoft account.  I decided to give it a shot and go pure Microsoft.  That meant using Windows and the Edge browser.

I didn’t get far before I ran into challenges.

The first challenge came after I selected the data from the Wikipedia article.  It copied all right but wouldn’t paste into Excel Online properly.  Instead of honouring the various cells, everything from that country pasted into the same cell.  This would take a lot of fixing to get right.  I tried a few times to see if it was something that I was doing wrong.  No dice.  Then, I opened a new sheet in Google Sheets and it pasted properly.  I copied again and pasted back into Excel and it went well.  So spreadsheet to spreadsheet was OK.

The second challenge came when I wanted to draw the map.  The selection of charts in Excel Online didn’t include an appropriate map.  There was this…

book-6-xlsx-microsoft-excel-online

It wasn’t the same.  I poked around and looked for some add-ins that might do the trick but I couldn’t find something that looked like it would do the trick.

I’m now well over a minute.

I turned to OneNote.  Bringing the data in generated an error that only 100 items could be pasted.  I went with a smaller set of data but couldn’t find a way to generate the map.

So, for this example, it looks like there was only one choice.

Your country – in languages


Localingual is another terrific way to explore the world.

And contribute back, if you are so inclined.

Visit the site  and you’re presented with a nicely coloured world map.

So, pick a country – any country. In my case, I chose Denmark.

Then, check out the sidebar to the right.

Look at the variety of languages.  Click on either the female or male icon to here the name of the country spoken in that language.

But there’s more.

Beside some of the languages, you’ll find what I would call a conversation cloud.  Click it to open a new panel showing various phrases or more.  Each of these are playable as well.

I’ll bet that you give your mouse and speakers a good work out.

What an interesting and engaging way to explore the world!

The whole project is incredibly well done.  Sure, we’ve all seen maps online but this takes it even further – what more can we do with maps?

 

Whatever happened to …


… CU-SeeMe?

It was one of Peter Skillen’s “back in the day” messages that brought this back to mind.

It was first developed for the Macintosh which probably meant why he was early to use this and I wasn’t.  We hadn’t embraced the Macintosh platform at the time but I do remember my first experience with it at an event at OISE.

We’d long struggled with the concept of guest speakers.  Typically, you’d bring a guest speaker in to speak.  That cost money and was very time and energy intensive.  With CU-SeeMe and a lot of extra technology that we now take for granted, the presenter could be virtually in the room with you as you learned.  Sure, there were alternatives like speaker phones (or even lower tech solutions with a phone, a microphone, and a speaker) but here you could actually see the person on the other end.

The whole process added that human layer to the experience that was hard to quantify but I just sensed that this was a glimpse of things to come and I knew that I just had to explore.  After all, it would be much more time efficient than hopping in the car and driving across the county to meet with teachers or students.  As I think back, it is pretty funny.  It didn’t come cheaply; I had to buy microphones (remember the snowball microphone), sound cards, and cameras for each end of the conversation.  Then, it was a matter of driving to the destination to set everything up, call my secretary to go into my room and talk her through how to set up the connection and make it happen.  I have to smile as I convert the whole experience to a single paragraph.  It sure involved much more than that.

Later, it was time to take it live.  At the appointed hour, I initiated the call only to get dead air on the other end.  I had to make a phone call only to find out that the intended conversation had been interrupted by an unexpected on call at the other end.  We eventually did make it work but it was a great deal of effort for a proof of concept.

Thankfully, technology provided better solutions.  Now computers come with everything ready to go.  The camera is there; built in speakers and microphones are things we just take for granted.  It makes for a very easy way to bring in a speaker.  Recently, I visited Leslie Boercamp’s students in Owen Sound while I suffered with my cold at home.

And the software is so much more sophisticated than in those early days.  We now have a wide variety of options when it comes to video conferencing.  From Hangouts to Google Duo to Skype to the Ministry of Education licensed Adobe Connect and more, we have so many things to choose from.  Conversations aren’t limited to 1:1 either.  Group discussions can be great but there’s always that one person who has one thing that doesn’t work.  You can even video conference on your phone.  I’ve had many a dog walk interrupted …

The whole technology piece has become so much better and morphed into greater things that we enjoy today.  Pick your favourite piece of video conferencing software and you can now chat with others, send emojis, conducts polls,  and even draw on the screen.  It’s a long way that we’ve come, to be sure.

For conference planners, bringing in a speaker via video conferencing offers great flexibility in addition to the Plan B when flights are cancelled for bad weather or for a myriad of other reasons.  Some conferences will even broadcast their events live so that you can enjoy even if you can’t be there.  Just make sure to ask for permission!

We can now focus on more important things.  Typically, people will position themselves in front of a bookcase so that everyone thinks that you’re a scholar with all those books behind you.  I don’t have that luxury here though.  Right behind me is a bathroom so I just need to make sure that the door is closed before I go live. I’m sure that, if I was in Hawaii, I’d position things so that there’s an ocean in the background.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this Sunday.

  • Did you ever use the original CU-SeeMe?
  • What’s your favourite choice of video conferencing software?
  • Have you ever heard a presenter do their thing in this manner rather than in person?  Is it just as powerful for you?
  • Have you ever brought a guest speaker into your classroom via video conferencing?  How did it go?
  • Have you ever experimented with the concept of virtual fieldtrips for your class?

Please share your thoughts 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!

Perceptions of teachers


I spent way too long looking at and reading this article yesterday.

19 things all teachers say and what they actually mean

As a rule, I generally don’t like pieces that call that “all” teachers do this or that.  I know it’s not true; I’m sure that the author knows that it’s not true either.

But, it’s only when you have your first marathon of parent-teacher conferences that you realize that there are all kinds of different people in this world, and in the small world that is your classroom, you may feel that you have one of every type.

Case in point, I remember my very first parent-teacher night.  I didn’t know what to expect; yes I’d been to the new teacher orientation program and got the word from the mount but it’s nothing compared to coming face to face with the parents of your students for the first time.

Many of the sessions went by nicely.  It was clear that most of the parents just wanted to meet me and were there for a confirmation that they had done the right thing by letting their child take my course.  (Although since these “children” were actually teenagers, who knows how much choice they had in the matter anyway)

Many of the interviews no longer remain in my mind.  They’re long forgotten; all teachers meet and teach so many students that it’s tough to remember them all, much less their parents.

But there’s one that I still remember and I doubt that I’ll forget.  It was the parent of one of the students that was doing pretty well in my class.  However, I was the target from this parent for some reason.  The parent was a university professor and really took issue with the fact that I wasn’t lecturing more than I did and giving the class more reading to do on their own.  This supposedly 10 minute session dragged on even with the student timer monitor coming in and out to let us know that there were others waiting to get in.

There wasn’t a meeting of our minds when the session ended but I did have a big takeaway and so I made sure that I rewrote the course descriptor and the overview of course that’s given on the first day of school.  It was a way to reinforce the notion that computer science was an active classroom – that students would be doing projects, solving problems, developing algorithms, working in groups, … I really wanted to distinguish a class of 30 teenagers from a lecture hall of 300 adult students.

This all came back to me as I read the article above.  I don’t know if the author is an educator (I suspect not) and my multiple reads turned up different messages each time.

The first time though, I think I chuckled at many of the interpretations.  Of course they didn’t apply to me.  Well, maybe the one about wine.

On my final read, my mindset had completely turned.  Is this what others think of teaching and our profession?  Where is he getting his understanding?  From a personal past experience from years ago?  From popular movies?  

I hope that the author just considered it a fun piece to write.

I would hate to think that all of society has these impressions of our profession.  If nothing else, it’s a reminder to be careful of the language and the activities and how they might be perceived in the classroom.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Welcome to Friday and it’s a 13th too.  Check out some of the great reading that I enjoyed this past while.


SOCIAL MEDIA & DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP

So much in this post that Rusul Alrubial references from an article in the New York Times makes so much sense.  She nicely summarizes it at the bottom of the post.  Schools that wish to send home a message to parents about their involvement with social media would be well advised to take a read and incorporate it into their message.  Basically, it means that kids can definitely figure out the technology given enough time but it’s the parent and school interaction that add the “social” and the “responsible” part into the mix.

I think that this table from the post deserves more than a passing glance.  There’s much to be read into it and many takeways.


The Best Gift

Diana Maliszewski started the post in a fun way talking about a Christmas gift that she received.  Rather than run out and spend all kinds of money, it was created by her sister and shipped just in time for gift opening.  It was a nice, warm start to the post.  There was a bit of librarian critique to the content that was interesting to note but then it got a bit serious.

After a flurry of texts exalting her amazing gift, we discovered that there were actually more comics that she had created using Bitstrips, but when the site closed, she was unable to access or upload her work.

It was, for me, a sad reminder that the Bitstrips application was no longer available to Ontario Educators.  Acquired through the OESS process, it made a huge difference in how educators used technology in the classroom.  It was a creation, making application available to all long before the current focus on “creating”.  It was central to so many workshops and presentations that I gave.  Then, with a message on the OSAPAC website, it was no longer available.

In its place is Pixton for Schools.  Will it have the same impact?

Sadly, it wasn’t the focus of any presentations at the Bring IT, Together conference.  That’s too bad.  Back in the day, Ivan or Danuta and I would have made it a part of our “Freshly Minted Software” series.

Hopefully, school districts are rolling on professional learning for this application so that teachers can continue to enable students to create in the classroom.

In the meantime, I really feel for Diana.  I think we all know what happens when a favourite application is no longer available either by licensing or updates or closing.  All that time and effort learning its uses and nuances shot.


Professional Learning: Does it work?

Speaking of Professional Learning….

Deborah McCallum takes on this question with a well reasoned post.  I like her summary of strategies to avoid change.  My context is, of course, in education.

I think she’s nailed it with these points.  She concludes with a question.

What are your personal insights on this?

A topic near and dear to my heart.

My answer is “yes” but I need to qualify it with an “only if” …

Sadly, I think that schools and school districts by their action plans put into force a system where it’s so easy to avoid the change.  If Professional Learning is limited to the big one day PD Day and you get to spend an hour on a topic, you’re guaranteed to fail.  Attendance at these events are compulsory and an opportunity to put a check mark on the chart that says “Provides PD”.  Maybe next year, we’ll get to Step 2.

Professional Learning and change to practice needs to be ongoing.  Teachers are not adverse to it.  Success happens when school districts offer ongoing, continuous sessions on topics that allow for grow in confidence for whatever the topic is.  Once the confidence happens, change is more likely to take place.  It doesn’t have to be formal either.  In fact, it may well work best when it’s not formal.  Maybe it’s me but when the memo would arrive that “Tomorrow is PLC Day”, I just knew that I had other things on my mind.  Why couldn’t it be done on my terms?  Some of the best change I ever did for myself was to meet with colleagues for breakfast at 6am to share our thoughts.  I know that others met informally for book talks.  In my case, it was software talks.  I remember a superintendent telling me once that they was afraid that it was a subversive activity and that all PD had to be controlled centrally.  That way, the message could be controlled.

Sigh.


Instead of “Rich Tasks”, Try “Variations on Tasks”, or “Classes of Tasks”

As I read this post from Matthew Oldridge, I was so much in agreement.  The notion of a “Rich Task” has always bugged me.  We talk about differentiating instruction, working with students at their level, meet them where they are, and then throw a “Rich Task” into the pedagogy bucket.

Does the same level of “richness” apply to every student?  I sure hope not.  Of the alternatives, that Matthew provides, I prefer “Variations” the best.  It doesn’t imply that we’re ranking the tasks somehow.  I like the thought that variations show that there are many ways to approaching topics.

Many of these short and simple questions wouldn’t be considered rich tasks on their own, but then again, what is. There are no rich tasks without thinking classrooms full of talking, thinking, conjecturing, and wondering students. Context is everything. When we say context, with respect to classrooms, we might really be talking about culture. What sorts of classroom cultures promote richness?


A Review: Professional Capital:Transforming Teaching in Every School

Stacey Wallwin read the book so you don’t have to.

Or, perhaps because of this post, you’ll ask your teacher-librarian or principal to add it to the professional library at your school.

I liked her summary of the takeaways she had from reading.

  • You can’t do it alone.
  • Teachers need to be a part of authentic, professional learning communities that both support and challenge their  ideas and contribute and support ongoing professional growth.
  • To support the rich potential of a PLN/PLC educators need to have a voice in the implementation.
  • It is morally imperative that as educators we see all students as own and make ourselves accountable to the learning of all these students.

In summary, she shares some of her thoughts about the rules of empowerment.  I couldn’t help but wonder – we talk about students owning the learning; shouldn’t the same apply to teachers.  As Stacey notes, success won’t come as a result of budgets or top down edicts or chasing the latest and greatest.


Numberless Word Problems

Jonathan So had moved his blog from Blogger to WordPress and was good enough to let me know so that I could update my Ontario Edublogger list.  I figured that the least I could do is check out his latest writing and he does share a good one.

There’s no more depressing textbook than a mathematics textbook.  Only there in education can you work for 15 minutes on a problem, then turn to the back of the textbook, look for page 146 and then the answer to question 27 only to find that it is 6.  You didn’t have that; so you’re clearly WRONG.  How depressing.  Fortunately, as students know, they can still get partial credit for showing your work and your thinking.

What if you took all the numbers out of the equation and just focused on the problem?

That’s the message in Jonathan’s post.  It’s filled with lots of great ideas and I’ll bet that you know the ferris wheel that’s at the heart of it.

In a world where you’d have some “experts” telling you that computational thinking is a separate entity, you’ll be inspired with the record of discussion that ensues.


As Technology Advances…

creating-a-culture-of-collaboration-as-technology-advances

Mark Renaud starts this post with a bit of wisdom that it never hurts to revisit and share with others.  I’m struck with the number of new teachers entering the profession with only a bare minimum of “effective learner” tools.

It’s not necessarily their fault.  They typically have relatively good computer skills but that’s not enough any more.  Of importance is staying abreast of new advances of both technology and the latest insights into effective pedagogy.

There were a couple of other posts above devoted to professional learning.  They make a nice bundle to read.

When was the last time that your principal expressed these concerns like Mark has?


It’s been yet another great week of sharing from the blogs of Ontario Edubloggers.  Please take a few moments to click through and read the entire posts mentioned above.

Until next week!