Playing with Lightbot

I was unable to attend the 2015 ACSE Conference but thanks to the #ACSE15 hashtag and the Twitter messages from @pbeens, I was able to follow along.  It sounded like another great conference.  Hopefully, resources will be added to the website after the presenters get home and realize the powerful messages that they shared.

As I write this post, in another tab, I’m playing with one of the resources that was shared as an introduction to logic that leads to programming.  The program is called Lightbot and runs in a browser (Hour of Code version) and on iOS and Android devices for a modest fee.

The premise is very simple.  You start with minimal instructions and you use the instructions to navigate the Lightbot robot around the desktop and light up the blue tiles when you land on them.  As you increase in levels, you add more functionality to your robot.  This is going to be my Sunday addiction.

Of note, at the bottom, look for the link to additional resources.  And, a teaser about a new game on the way…

Exploring and Wasting Time

For me, it started yesterday by checking my Facebook timeline.  A high school friend had posted this article “What Color Is This Goddamn Dress?”  (Choice of words theirs…)

I looked at it – yellow and white, what’s the deal – and then moved on to do other reading.  I flipped on the morning news as I’m reading my Twitter timeline and this thing had gotten out of hand.  The story was everywhere and, in fact, trending on Twitter.  I walked the dog and came home and the talk was still going.  This is weird.  The current wisdom was that those that saw the colours gold and white were wrong and that, in fact, the colours where black and blue.  Yeah, right.  I know what I saw.

I went back to the original Facebook post and, son of a gun, the dress did look black and blue now.  How could this be?  Then, It occurred to me.  The first look was on my Macintosh computer and I’m now looking at it in Ubuntu.  Same browser – Firefox.  This truly was strange.  Then, I remembered that each computer can be configured with a colour profile.  On Ubuntu, it looks like this.

On the Mac, I had gone into the advanced calibration when I had originally set it up and had a “warmer” setting.

Could this be the difference?  I played around with a bunch of settings which made for some slight changes.  OK, maybe there’s something in this.  After all, I wasn’t looking at the original dress.  I was looking at a digital picture that had had who knows how many loads and saves.

Well, as you know, things had exploded with all kinds of theories, people looking at the image together, bad words being said to others!  I remembered back when I got my first pair of glasses.  The eye doctor had this test with the big E in black and showed it on a red background and then a green background and the question was “which looked sharper?”.  I hated to admit it but black on red always looks sharper to me.  It didn’t matter how much flipping with the equipment that he did.

But the media continues to explode with stories, theories, and scientific explanations.  “This Might Explain Why That Dress Looks Blue And Black, And White And Gold“.  Interesting scientific theory.  My original view was done in the dark and my second visit was next to a patio window with the blinds open.  So many variables.  I then tried it on my iPad and could see both colours depending upon what angle I was looking at the screen.

The posts keep on coming.  There were two where you could see the white/gold colour in one and black/blue in the other.  Enough is enough.  As my science consultant friend often said “There’s got to be a workshop in there somewhere.”  I saved both images to my hard drive and opened them in The Gimp.

Side by side, I can clearly see two different colours.

But, if you look closely at the bottom, I’ve had to resize the yellow/gold one to get them to be about the same size.  So, the originals weren’t necessarily the original image.  Even for this side by side, I’ve introduced some error into the picture.  And, besides, they are now both on the same computer with the same colour settings and yet appear different (at least to me…)  One of them has already been doctored to make the point.

The colour picker will get to the bottom of this.


I should have gone into forensics. 

So, I could do a little editing on my own.  How about green?

As I was doing this, I was thinking of a couple of lesson activities.

  • In the Comm Tech classroom, could you take the two images and adjust the settings so that they look the same?  Or, if you took one, could you make it into the other?
  • In a digital literacy class, it’s a perfect example of how you can see the same thing in two different ways?  It’s a solid reminder to question everything you see online!
  • In the science classroom, there’s probably a whack of scientific principles at work.  I’m just not a science teacher.

As I wrap up this post, I realize that I had left the search for #TheDress open in another tab.  There are hundreds of messages that have come in since I started this post.

The online world loves a good argument.  I’ve been online long enough to remember the classic nerd arguments.  “Who’s the better captain?  Kirk or Picard?”

(I’m solidly in the Kirk camp…)

Anyway, enough exploring and wasting time.  There’s better things to do.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s another Friday and an opportunity for me to celebrate some of the wonderful pieces shared by Ontario Educators recently.

3 Ways I’ve Used Google Apps to Help my School Run a Bit Smoother

As I mentioned in my post last week, the Google Apps community is great for sharing the good things that they’re doing with Google products.  In this example, Jason To talks about using the technology to streamline things at his school.


Jason calls the examples “modest” but I would think that anytime you put together something that makes even the most routine tasks easier is worth it.  I’m sure that his list will continue to grow.


Reading and Writing Google Style

Speaking of Google…I feel awkward using the Google voice search for things.  The only time I feel comfortable is when I’m alone.  When I’m with others, people pause to look and wonder what I’m doing talking into a box.  So much for privacy.  Read Aviva Dunsiger’s post to see how students in her class are making out with this and see some of their observations.

The world panicked when the talk was about about dropping cursive.  What’s next?  Keyboarding?

I realized that most of the iPads and our two ChromeBooks have a microphone option. I showed the students how to use this option. My one minute lesson was all it took!

Physical phenomena for quadratic relations

Brandon Grasley is looking for real, physical examples of quadratic functions…

One of his examples appears below…

I’m intrigued by one of the other examples that he’s given in this post and he’s looking for ideas.

Hey, how about some experimentation with Hot Wheels?  The only downside I can envision is hate notes from the Driver’s Education instructor.

Reporting from the heart!

I don’t think there are too many teachers that enjoy report card time.  It’s a very work intensive time and I know that so many just labour over them like they’re creating a work of art.  Afterwards though, it’s relaxation time and then the cynical question “Do they even read these?”  There are even suggestion in some camps to ban them completely and just do interviews with parents.  But this is education.  We love paper.

There’s this mentality that they’re just read and discarded – a moment in time, if you will.

Sue Bruyns’ post about report cards takes a different look at them.

I found it interesting as to how they remain permanent artifacts in her parents’ place.

It’s just too bad that they take so long to create.

iGeneration – 21st Century Education

Tom D’Amico is a Superintendent with OCSB who really gets it.  This is link is a wonderful example of another way to share your learning other than the traditional blog.  If you follow Tom on Twitter (@TDOttawa), you’ll find references to great resources, not to just one or two focussed things every now and again.  Tom appears to have an open mind and is collecting resources in three ScoopIt! areas.

This morning was a perfect example of why you need to get connected.  This time, it potentially saved money.

Tom had shared a link to News-O-Matic which I then reshared so that it would get bookmarked and perhaps be a resource for others.  I got a reply about a $20 price.  To that, the News-O-Matic Twitter account had a response.

It’s a great lead.  Thanks, Tom.

An interview with Doug Peterson

Last weekend, I had conducted one of my online interviews with Sylvia Duckworth.    She jumped in and did a nice response to my questions and showed the power of our Ontario network by giving credit to others.  As soon as she was done though, she asked to interview me.  What could I say?  Paybacks are a ….

So, I did my best to answer her questions.  It was actually fun to be on the receiving end for once.  I know that, when you’re asking the questions, you feel like a bit of a stalker at times trying to do your research and pose questions that you’ve always wanted to ask and to appeal to the readership.

In my interview, I was selfish and really wanted the scoop about how to do Sketchnotes.  Sylvia claims that it doesn’t exist so I guess Lisa Noble and I will have to wait until we corner Sylvia and get her to teach us!

In the meantime, enjoy this Sketchnote that Sylvia created from some of the other interviews that I had conducted.


My compliments to those who continue to share their learning so openly online.  Please visit the blog posts above and check out the entire Ontario Edublog collection here.

These Wheels are Hot

Hot Wheels are really one of those enduring toys that have spanned generations.  I can remember putting together pieces of track from the coffee table in the living room, doing loops, crashes, etc. as a kid.  I even had a case to store them and carry them to friends’ places to have our own auto show.  It was through Hot Wheels that my goal in life is to own a Camaro.  Still working on that one, but I have driven one!  In my day, Hot Wheels were replicas of real cars.  Today’s versions have certainly surpassed that.

Although we didn’t know or appreciate it at the time, there’s just a whack of scientific principles that go into how Hot Wheels work.  I have known teachers who have incorporated them into their science classrooms.  Just think of all of the learning and inquiry that they can provide.

I was really excited to see this offer on their website.

What a deal!  There’s a form to make the request.  I checked the URL and it does land on an en-us page.  That led me to wonder if Hot Wheels does have a Canadian site.  It turns out that it does.  You can find it here.  Search as I might, I couldn’t find the same offer on the Canadian site.  But, the US pages doesn’t indicate that it’s for US schools only.  It might be worth a shot.  The program does, however, seem to be directed at the STEM initiative in US schools.

Even if the kit is not available, there are still a couple of resources worth investigating.

Faking It

There is a great deal of media this morning about the pending update of the new sex curriculum in Ontario.  Is there really something new under the sun?

Actually, quite a bit since the release of the original document. 

One of the emergent technologies since then has been the abundance of affordable technologies and students are using them in ways never dreamt.  One that we hear of quite regularly is using text messaging to send all kinds of messages.  Bullying, of course, but the one that hits centre in the discussion is of sending sexual messages.  It’s even spawned a new term “sexting” which I try not to focus on since it’s just one piece of the puzzle.  Yet, it seems to be the one that hits the top of the discussion.

There will, undoubtedly, be all kinds of resources generated but we need to keep in mind the sophistication of today’s youth.  They’ll immediately get turned out if it’s just a one way lectures about the evils or yet another worksheet.

A resource that might prove to be helpful is ifaketext.  It’s an online generator to create a text message conversation that looks like a screen capture from an iphone discussion.  It’s simple to use and the results are very good.  Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Sylvia Duckworth.  I did go old school and sent the request to her via, gasp, email.  But, had I been on top of technology, I could have sent her a text message with the invitation.  Here it is, had I done so, recreated in ifaketext.

and the result….

You’ll notice that the output is pretty darned accurate.  Once created, the resulting image can be repurposed in a number of ways.  I really like the concept of embedding it into your class wiki.

Just keep in mind that the resulting image lives on their site.  (Privacy Policy)  The other concern is that the service providers that you choose from are not available in Ontario.  Maybe this is a resource that OSAPAC should license to have modified with Canadian carriers.

Of course, there are all kinds of ways that you could incorporate this into your classroom in meaningful ways. By itself, it’s a pretty straightforward way to generate impressive looking results.

An Interview with Sylvia Duckworth

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of promotion of my friend Sylvia so I thought it might be appropriate to dig a little deeper and have her share more about herself. She was kind enough to participate in this interview.


Doug:  I always like to start with this question.  We certainly have “known” each other online for a long time but where did we actually first meet face to face?

Sylvia:  I remember exactly when we met face-to-face. It was at the GAFESummit Kitchener, April 2012. I saw you in the lobby that was filled with people but I recognized you right away because you look just like your Twitter profile pic. I think this is a really important tip for people on social media: avoid using an avatar or an overly glamorous profile pic so that you will be recognizable in person! I remember thinking how wonderful it was to finally meet you in person, after our social media exchanges. This is a big reason why I love to go to conferences. Online communication is great, but interaction with real-live people is even better. I’m always amazed at how comfortable people are with each other when they meet f2f for the first time after having only “met” on social media before. It’s kind of like meeting an old friend!

Doug:  That makes me feel bad!  I thought my Twitter picture was glamorous.  In your day job, you’re a French teacher at the Crescent School (  in Toronto.  For those of us who have never visited, give us an idea of the school and what educational life is like for students.

Sylvia:  Yes, I teach Core French, grades 3 to 5. Crescent is a wonderful school and I feel really fortunate to teach there. It’s a Boys-Only school, so the high energy level of the boys is palpable the minute you walk into the school. I get many visitors to my class to watch me teach (either for AIM or for technology integration) and they are always in awe of the kinetic energy in the room. Teachers at my school are completely used to it, of course, but visitors are not. They wonder “How can you teach when these boys can’t sit still?”. The answer: keep your class lively, change up activities frequently, and use technology!

Doug:  I recall one of the first conversations that we had and it involved using AIM in the French classroom.  Do you still use this technique?  Can you give us an example?

Sylvia:  Oh my gosh, yes, I would have quit teaching French a long time ago if AIM didn’t come along. AIM has revolutionized the way a second language is taught. Good AIM teachers are quite passionate about the methodology and would not consider using anything else. Sadly, many teachers who receive the training and the resources choose not to use it because it’s a very steep learning curve for a teacher to learn how to implement it properly. It also requires a completely new mindset, which is hard for many teachers to do. I think that the only way to understand how AIM works and to see the benefits is to visit a classroom of a teacher who is using it properly. My classroom door is always open! If you can’t come for a visit, you can check out my AIM blog with lots of videos of me and my students: (password to view the videos is aimlanguage)

Doug:  Could the techniques be used in other subject areas?

Sylvia:  Absolutely! Many (non-AIM) studies have been conducted that prove there’s a strong link between gesturing and better cognition of certain key concepts. Here is an article that describes how gesturing helped students with math.

Doug:  Is Crescent a BYOD school?  What sorts of technology do your students bring with them?

Sylvia:  From grades 6 to 12, it is BYOD. The younger students I teach can only use our school devices: we have iPads and Chromebooks. A question I often get is: if you had to choose one over the other, what would you choose? I would choose iPads for the younger students (K – 4) and Chromebooks for grades 5 and up. However, I truly believe that the way to go is to have a mix of both. iPads can definitely do things that Chromebooks can’t but the same is true vice-versa. If your school is on Google Apps for Education, nothing beats Chromebooks for a seamless workflow.

Doug:  How does technology fit into the French language classroom?

Sylvia:  Funny, just a few years ago I didn’t see how tech could fit in the French class. Then I got a SMARTboard and my anti-tech views changed dramatically. My SMARTboard is now gone (replaced with an amazing interactive Epson projector) and I use technology with my students on a daily basis. My whole program has gone digital and we try to go paperless as much as possible. The AIM program is story-based, so there are all kinds of wonderful ways to use technology to re-create the stories. Students love to take the original story and replace the main characters and other story elements with ones of their own. The stories they make up are incredibly unique and always very entertaining. They create them either on the on the iPad with different creation apps, or on the Chromebooks using Google Apps (Docs or slides). With Screencastify (a Chrome extension), students can screencast a Google presentation to make a video of their stories with voice narration. It’s magical! Click here for an example.

Doug:  You’re a Google Certified Teacher.  How do you use GAFE in your classes?  Do you have favourite applications?

Sylvia:  For sure Screencastify (as mentioned above) would be my top Chrome extension. But a new Google Doc Add-on, Speech Recognition (Speech-to-text) has been blowing me away lately. It works in 32 different languages. I also love Google Drawings which is a much-neglected Google App (click here for a presentation on how useful this app can be). I also adore Google Forms because it allows for paperless assessments and with the Sheets Add-on Flubaroo, my marking is done in seconds. Click here to learn how!

Doug:  Recently, you have been on a roll turning out many Sketchnotes depicting some awesome educational messages.  Have you always had an artistic inclination?

Sylvia:  This is the funniest thing. I literally have not done any drawing since I was a kid. I never considered myself to be a good artist. In fact, I was always convinced that I totally sucked at art. But I discovered with Sketchnoting that you don’t actually have to have a natural artistic ability to do some wonderful things. You DO have to practice, however. When you look at my Sketchnotes you might think: Wow, she can draw, but I swear, I CAN’T!!! I’ve just gotten pretty good at re-creating images I find on the internet. Something else I love about sketchnoting is the challenge of trying to figure out the best way to draw a concept. One of my favourite drawings is one I did for Mark Anderson when he asked me to illustrate “The 4 Stages of Teacher Confidence in the Use of Technology”. Click here to see his original graphic and click here to see my representation of it. Another one of my favourite drawings is  How to Grow a PLN which was Jacques Cools idea. This drawing was replicated by someone in Russia, if you can believe it, and then blogged about in Russian!

Doug:  What was your inspiration to first learn the technique and then to do this?

Sylvia:  I was inspired by Karen Bosch, Silvia Tolisano, and Brad Ovenell-Carter. Their imagery of concepts was so intriguing, I decided I had to try it for myself. Then I got addicted to it and now I am constantly on the search for things to draw. I think the reason why sketchnoting captures so many people’s attention is that it allows for personalization of the subject matter. It is also a very effective way to simplify a concept. I would venture a guess that many people are visual learners, so it is appealing to a lot of us.

Doug:  What would you consider the essential tools of your trade?

Sylvia:  Well, I have only drawn on the iPad, so I can only speak to that (Sketchnoting on paper is another animal altogether). You will need a good stylus. My #1 stylus at the moment is Musemee Notier Prime. Then you need a drawing app. My preferred one is FlipInk but many people like Paper by 53.

Doug:  Give us some insight here…what are you working on now for future release?

Sylvia:  Nothing at the moment. I am looking for inspiration. Do you have any ideas? Mark Anderson wanted me to draw the TPack model. I haven’t yet decided if I want to take that on!

Doug:  Just today, I saw another Twitter user share a Sketchnote with you.  You must feel proud that you’ve motivated others to do that.  Is there hope for a non-artist like me?

Sylvia:  This is so true, it gives me immense pleasure to see other people inspired to take up drawing because of my sketchnotes. Anyone can draw, Doug. Even you. Trust me on this. Use this resource as a starting guide.

Doug:  Do you ever go back and modify a Sketchnote after you’ve published it?

Sylvia:  All the time! Fortunately, Flickr allows you to re-upload an image, keeping the same URL in case you posted the link somewhere online. An annoying sidenote: you need a Yahoo account to use Flickr. (Click here to see all of my sketchnotes.)

Doug:  I love your attention to detail.  You really nailed it with Vicky Loras’ ponytail.

Sylvia:  Ha, I had never attempted to draw people before you asked me to do that sketchnote about your interviews. It was a challenge for me, believe me!

Doug:  Last year, you were the recipient of the National Certificate of Excellence in Teaching and were presented the award by Prime Minister Harper.  That must have been an exciting experience.  Who nominated you?  Tell us your thoughts about receiving this very prestigious award.

Sylvia:  It was an amazing experience that I blogged about here. What I loved most about it was meeting the other award recipients and hearing their inspiring stories. The thought that kept going through my mind was “Sheesh, what am I doing here in the midst of such greatness?!” But, without exception, these teachers were amongst the most humble group of people I ever met.

8 French teacher colleagues and 2 parents nominated me and I am forever indebted to them. It is quite a lengthy and labour-intensive nomination process, which involves submitting a 10 page document detailing the rationale for the nomination and three letters of support. I was so touched that they deemed me worthy of this award and then took the time to write testimonials of support.

By the way, did you know that Aviva Dunsiger (who you interviewed in 2012) won the award in 2013? We both attribute our growth in educational technology to our wonderful PLN. If any of your readers would like to nominate a teacher for this award, nominations are open until April 30, 2015. Click here for more information.

Doug:  Many may not know that, in addition to all this, you’re also an avid runner.  What are your accomplishments in this area?  What’s next for you?

Sylvia:  Oh geez, where did you hear that? I used to run marathons, true, but that was more than a decade ago! I ran 6 total. I ran my first marathon at age 40, in 4hrs:30min, then I got more serious about it and got my PB down to (3:35) in New York. Running the Boston Marathon was undoubtedly the highlight of my running career. Now my bones are getting old and creaky and I usually just run about 7-8 km at a time, at a snail’s pace.

Doug:  Thank you so much for the interview, Sylvia.  I know that many of us are in awe at your accomplishments and are so thankful for you doing what you do.  All the best.

Sylvia:  Thank you for this opportunity, Doug. I love reading your interviews and I feel very honoured that you asked me.

You can follow Sylvia on Twitter at @sylviaduckworth.


On Friday, I got a request from @dinamoati to help promote the higherEDcamp.

I did a simple retweet at the time….

It was a bit of a promotion, but in typical 140 character fashion, a little lean on details.  This post will be a little more.  I checked out the website for this edCamp at

It’s good to see that higher education is taking a step in this direction.  I’ve been to some edCamps – edCampQuinte and edCampSWO come to mind, among the dozens that have been run in Canada, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to meet and renew acquaintances with folks who have similar interests.  We even tried to build an element of that into the Bring IT, Together conference in the area we called the Learning Space.

As Dina says, “it’s time for professionals to move from “a la carte” one size fits all training to make your own “salad bar” personalized learning.

Participants come prepared, not for a sit and git day, but to participate actively in discussions and even perhaps to lead a discussion on something they’re passionate about.  Unlike a formal conference presentation, there’s less pressure to create something that’s exactly one hour long, be approved by a conference committee, and be the sole voice in the room.  Typically, there’s no agenda in advance, except for lunch.  The format of the day and its content is structured by those in attendance.


Teachers in K-12 have been supporting this form of professional learning for a few years now.  Many have incorporated the concepts into their daily teaching practice.  It’s refreshing to see that those in higher education are looking to embrace it as well.

If you’re in the GTA on April 25 and are involved in higher education, you should consider joining Dina and her organizing team for the day.

Complete details and registration for this free event is available here.