Whatever happened to …

… the Hypo Programming Language?

Have you ever had to learn a programming language well enough to teach it in a few weeks?  Memories and inspiration for this post came from last week when I talked about optical marked cards.

I did!

It was for my first teaching job.  Teaching Grade 11 and Grade 12 Computer Science was going to be a piece of cake.  (or so I thought)  The language of instruction was to be Fortran and COBOL.  Both of these languages had been a part of my university program so I knew the language.

But, it was the Grade 10 course that had me concerned.  Actually, this concern extended to Grade 9.  In the Business Department, the Grade 9 course was a collection of units in Accounting, Marketing, and Data Processing.  In the Data Processing unit, and in the Grade 10 course, we were to use the Hypo programming language.


I’d never heard of that before but how difficult could it be?  It was a pre-cursor to Fortran after all.

Well, it turned out that Hypo stood for “Hypothetical Computer”.  It was a language that got you to dig into the things that higher level languages just assumed that you knew or plain didn’t care about.  Things like how a computer does arithmetic.  Things like data going into a storage location of your choice.  Then, you’d load the contents from memory and push them onto a stack.  Once in the stack, you could do simple operations like adding, subtracting, etc.  Once you had performed the operation, you’d send it to be printed.  Instructions were simple; the computer could only do things one step at a time and you had to provide each and every step.

Instructions were coded by the programmer.  Each instructions had a two digit opcode (operation code) and a three digit operand (usually making reference to a memory location).  Speaking of memory locations, there were 1000 of them in this hypothetical machine ranging from 000 – 999.  I could bore you with the details but, if you’re interested, check out this document.  My entire course summarized in eight pages!

We did have a textbook.  It was authored by John Walsh from Western University and others and called “Informatics:  Introduction to Data Processing”.  So, at the conclusion of my successful interview, I asked to take a copy of the textbook home with me.  And, I read it from cover to cover over that summer and was ready to go for the first of September.  I felt I knew the programming language in its entirety without ever writing or debugging a line of code!  For the most part, I was writing the programs and assignments along with the students that fall and we all learned the language together.  Co-learning before co-learning was a thing.

I quickly became conversant with instructions like:



Like all of the courses at the time, it was expensive.  It was done on cards and five characters per card sure wasn’t an efficient use!

I had lots of students take that course and then followed up with “real” programming languages in subsequent grades.  The Hypo language itself eventually became a memory —- and then it became a project.  I would have students write their own interpreter in the real language we were using at the time.  We’d use arrays and stacks and talk about simple operations and brought them altogether for the purpose of the project.  I could kick myself for not hanging on to one or two of these excellent submissions.  They’d be fun to play around with today.

Hypo did indeed become a memory after a while.  Courses evolved with newer technologies and the opportunities they provided.  Eventually, we licensed Turing and used it as an introductory language.  Today, many students will use Scratch or Alice or Hopscotch or the like for their first language.  Many others use Python as an introductory language and some actually build complete programs right through Grade 12 around it.  It’s a nice choice.  It’s an interesting change from the good ol’ days.  Unlike Hypo which really required you to think about the computer hardware (albeit a hypothetical one), there are things like variables and higher level instructions that make learning about the hardware itself pretty much unnecessary.  The newer languages open up more opportunities; Hypo pretty much left you dealing with mathematics problems.  But, you could come up with interesting problems all the same.  I’d look for current ideas like this one – Library book returned 75 years late, with no fine.  I’d turn that story into a problem and the great emergent programmers of the time would dig into that with great enthusiasm.  What would the fine actually be today if it was collected?

These were the tools available at the time.  The choice was made by the school and not the teacher.  Probably, as Alfred Thompson says in a recent post “You’re Teaching the Wrong Programming Language“.  It’s an interesting observation if you’re focusing on languages.  But, if you are focused instead on the concepts from learning to code, I don’t think there is a “wrong” programming languages.  Education isn’t or shouldn’t be a training institution; it’s a learning place and particularly in computer programming, students will go through a number of languages in their career.

Your turn.

  • Were you ever a Hypo programmer?
  • What was your first programming language?  How did it impact the way you use computers today?
  • Did you ever program in an assembler language?  Do you still feel the love?
  • If today’s students start to learn to code in a block language, do they miss something by not understanding the hardware of the computer they’re programming on?
  • At what stage do you wean students off block coding and move to programming?
  • For computer science teachers, how do you address the concepts of memory limitations and subsequent things like programs crashing because of out of memory messages?
  • For those of you who might be programmers or who studied programming, how many languages have you actually used?  Do you have a favourite?

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 ideas.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!

Thoughts on Recommendations

Yesterday, in my This Week in Ontario Edublogs post, Bill Ferguson shared a post about “What The Best Educational Systems Do Right”, shared his thoughts, and then extracted the recommendations. I found it a very interesting read and go me thinking about it. Subsequent to that post, he wrote another sharing his thoughts about the recommendations.
I’d like to take some time to share my own thoughts on them here.
  • Within 5 years every teacher graduating from teacher’s college should have a masters degree.

This would be based on the assumption that more paper breeds better teaching.  I’m not sure of that.  There are a number of concerns that I have.

    • So many after school activities for children (which we agree is an important part of their education and growing up) is coached/handled by new teachers.  What’s the price to be paid if they have to rush off immediately after class for their further education?
    • Younger teachers are also lower on the salary grid and this would put an extra strain on their personal budgets.
    • Are universities prepared to offer an influx of educators?  Who would do the teaching; it would largely be done in the evenings and typically those positions are not filled by tenured professors but by sessionals.  
    • But, we do get better the more we learn.  Is a degree necessary for all to accomplish this?  What about school districts take on the process of working with new teachers longer than the mandatory NTIP program?  What about offering credentially using badges throughout a teacher’s career.
  • Every memorandum/ correspondence from the educational body should reflect a positive attitude demonstrating support for their teachers and schools. Parents need to become aware of this too.
    • There should be no argument on this one.  In the classroom, we know that a positive attitude breeds a better mindset and better engagement with students.  This approach should apply to everyone in the system.  It’s easy to take out the club and start swinging.  Does anyone think that a negative approach encourages improvement?
  • Assessments should in the area of application of knowledge. When this occurs we can better understand the students growth.
    • We know this.  We all know this.  Yet, tests, examination periods, standardized testing, and the lot still remain the focus for many systems.  It’s a pedagogy that perpetuates itself.  Shouldn’t the standard of success be based on a student’s ability to do something rather than to regurgitate facts proving that they know (or more likely can memorize) something.  The education system needs to come to grips with this.  We’ve been talking about it for years but has anything really changed?
  • That schools should become the home base of social services that children can receive all the support the need to succeed. This should include parental support where necessary. If schools are the soul of the community then all the resources to ensure the success of children should be found there.
    • This makes so much sense but will require so much in order for it to happen.  Change in this area will have to come from the top where we have Ministry for this and Ministry for that and society picks away at items.  What would happen if we abolish all this and just have a “Ministry of the Child” or “Ministry of the Family”.
  • Every school should make inquiry research the basis for their education with the interests of the children being the springboard for their education.
    • Many of talked about this for years.  We’ve seen successful inquiry elements in various places.  What’s been missing is universal acceptance and an understanding about how it works on a big scale.  
  • That two years of special education training should become mandatory to help teachers understand how to help weaker students become the best they can be.
    • This will absolutely help teachers with their understanding of weaker students.  But, done properly, everyone will benefit.  The practice of identifying strengths and weaknesses in students allow the teacher to fine tune her craft and address the needs and goals for all.

    These are great recommendations.  I don’t know that there’s much new here, we all know it, but have we addressed them?   Can we actually pull it off?

    Think of your own situation and how you currently ply your trade.  

    Could any/all of these recommendation make you a better teacher, in a better system?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

    This Week in Ontario Edublogs

    Happy Friday, everyone!  It’s time to take a wander around the education web as seen though the keyboards of Ontario Edubloggers.  And, once again this week, I had a discussion about what I had collected at that point with Stephen Hurley on Voiced radio on Wednesday.  He pushed me to do some thinking about the topics and you’ll note his influence, I’m sure.

    Quebec City Vigil

    The first post is on a serious topic.

    Jennifer Aston happened to be vacationing in Quebec City when the attack on the mosque happened and it was so close to where she was staying.  The post should have you rethinking just what we are and who we are.

    I can’t imagine what this parent with her family was thinking about at that moment.  Thankfully, she wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    There’s wonderful advice here.

    But we have to do the opposite of that.  We need empathy not indifference to fight the fear mongering that is relentless in the news these days.  We need to build bridges, not walls…

    Listen with Compassion and Act with Love

    This post, from Debbie Donsky, will challenge your beliefs as an educator.  She sets the stage with this statement of her personal belief…

    Every child who is in our care, every caregiver who steps through our doors, every staff member who supports the important work we do, has potential to change the trajectory of another person.

    Into the discussion, she brings a different perspective dealing with helicoptering parenting.  She challenges an article and its take on parenting.

    I found myself agreeing with her.

    Hopefully, when you’re done, you’ll be checking your own sense of empathy.

    Always Prepare for Teaching; Always Prepare for Surprises

    This post from Enzo Ciardelli brought a smile to this Computer Science teacher’s face.  But first, his experience.

    I do not want to downplay the importance of precise planning. I can recall a huge sign in teacher’s college that read: “Those who fail to plan also plan to fail.”

    Trite advice from a Faculty of Education!

    But we all paid attention to it.

    How does it look in reality?  You’ll smile as you read his discussion of “reconciliation” with his students.  His amazement is a reminder that, no matter how hard he planned, he didn’t see the discussion coming.

    In Computer Science, you plan thorough lessons.  There will be times when you work through a problem with a class, modelling what you think will be the best way and algorithm to solve the problem.  Then, you give them a problem to solve on their own and in a class of 25, you might end up with 26 different approaches.  Were they not paying attention?

    The bottom line is to remember that you’re teaching students – not machines.  Everyone has their own baggage, er, perspective and good teachers will not be blindsided by those surprises.

    What do you choose to learn about when you’re not at school?

    Brandon Grasley starts this very short post with this interesting question that led to a discussion with one of his students.  It culminates with an appreciation for curiosity.

    Every teacher is in a position to customize any lesson for students.  It’s what separates real people teaching from computer teaching.  Why wouldn’t you take the time to understand their interests and modify your lesson to embrace that?

    But, let’s go further.  Why wouldn’t a teacher share with students just what it is that they’re learning when they’re not at school.  The easy answer would be to talk about lesson preparation for the next day.  But what about personal interests?  Why wouldn’t you want students to know that you’re studying for a Masters degree, learning how to curl, understanding how to knit, trying to understand how a new programming language works, …

    Imagine a classroom where everyone is recognized as a real human being constantly learning – and not just at school.

    Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You Had

    I remember my Grade 13 Calculus teacher.  I’ll admit – hey, I’m proud of this; I did well in mathematics.  On one exam, I got 99%.  I missed one little thing that stopped a perfect score.  She took the time to comment.

    “You Idot”!!!!!

    Spelling mistake hers!  I guess that you can take a spin on what the intent of her comment was.  I kept that exam in a filing cabinet for years until a spring cleaning saw it head to the recycling bin.  Regardless, I always thought that if I got a chance to teach mathematics, I’d want to be like her.  But I’d check my spelling.  <grin>

    Kyle Pearce takes the time to review this book written by Tracy Zager.  Actually, his review isn’t about the content; it’s about the author describing a number of different ways to read the book.  My first thought was that it might be a good book study for mathematics teachers.

    In my discussion with Stephen Hurley about this, he made reference to a report that he co-authored for the Canadian Education Association. Teaching the Way We Aspire to
    Teach: Now and in the Future.  It’s a very good read.

    Of course, Kyle will want to teach the way that a certain university professor modelled for him.

    Positive or Negative: There is always a choice

    I now have confirmation that Jennifer Casa-Todd is a better person than I am with her recent post.  As the father of two girls, I took huge offence to the comment and hashtag #dresslikeawoman.

    She notes, “The easiest response is to take offence”.  I guess I took the easy route.

    We did share this thought in common “What does that even mean?”

    Jennifer takes the time to put things into her own context and shares her own thoughts.  In the meantime, I was still stuck on the words.

    The post has some interesting supporting likes and Jennifer created a Storify document to accumulate some of the comments from the hashtag.

    The message from the top educational systems in the world

    This was a new blog for me to read.

    Bill Ferguson does a nice summary of the educational messages from his reading.

    The countries I looked at are almost always near the top of the educational standards lists. Finland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, China, Shanghai, Taiwan, and Poland among others. All have amazing similarities.

    I found it a very interesting read and found myself agreeing with most of what is contained in the post.  It doesn’t come as a surprise since Canada was on the list.  It’s an interesting inclusion since education in Canada is a provincial responsibility.

    The post concludes with some recommendations.  I’m not sure that I agree with all of them; they add great financial expenses onto teachers but if systems agree that they’re important enough to do, they should find a way to make them affordable.  Or, even better yet, as a part of the professional learning program.

    The Teaching Hub: Week Six, Winter 2017

    If you read my post yesterday, you know that I’m a big fan of being open with professional learning.

    This post from Fleming College shows that they’re out in the open with plans for their upcoming Teaching and Learning Day.

    Take a moment to check out their agenda for the day.  It’s got to be comforting to read that they’re dealing with the same issues that you are.

    I always say this but it really is an interesting collection of reading from Ontario Edubloggers.  Please take a moment to drop by these posts, do a read, and then add your thoughts via comment.


    Amazing dictionaries

    Growing up, I had educational limitations on a couple of important fronts.

    Yes, we had to take French.  For the most part, it was the analytical reading and writing of the language.  The teachers weren’t necessarily bilingual but did their best.  My wife fondly tells me story of a student who did, in fact, grow up in Quebec, was perfectly bilingual and made one particular teacher a target.  Kids!  As teaching a second language has matured, we realize that there’s so much more.  Conversing fluently and understanding culture is so important.

    The second front dealt with First Nations.  We were not close to a First Nations’ community and so our studies involved more of the romantic notion rather than the reality.  Moving to Southwestern Ontario and, in particular to a place where the War of 1812 is so important, has been an eyeopener.  Canada’s reconciliation is so often in the news as are plans for rebuilding nations.  In our area, you’ll find First Nations names on streets and Chatham-Kent has even named a stretch of highway the Tecumseh Parkway.  In the Leamington area, you’ll notice signs denoting the location of a permanent Caldwell Nation.

    An interesting combination of these two thoughts can be found in Swarthmore’s Talking Dictionaries.  Unfortunately not on the launch page, there is a talking dictionary for Moose Cree.  This group was new to me but they have a community in Ontario and an internet presence.

    Like a traditional dictionary, it’s easily searchable.  I searched for “town”.

    The results come in terms of spelling in the language, a definition, and a button to hear the audio.

    Once you start to explore the dictionary, you do get a sense for the culture and the language.  It’s important to note that a word in English doesn’t necessarily translate 1:1 to the second language.

    As with any second language experience, it’s not the same as listening and talking with someone who is completely fluent in the language.  However, for many, this may be the closest thing to it and a good learning experience for students.

    Can I?

    Use this in my classroom?

    Copyright is something that everyone needs to know about.

    If I find it on Google, does that mean I can use it?  The immediate answer should be “not necessarily”.  You need to know…

    … about copyright in the Canadian context.  How many times do you hear people talk about “fair use”.  Do they really understand that that isn’t a Canadian legal term for the use of other’s materials?  Just ask them what “fair dealing” is and you have a great conversation starter.

    Then, send them to this terrific website from the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada.

    It’s designed to let you drill down with exactly the type of content that you wish to use.

    But don’t just stop at the tool.  From pull down menus, you’ll find all kinds of original resources.  In particular, this presentation (in PDF format) really digs deeply into the concepts.

    Knowing how different types of media may be used is very important and this is a topic all need to address.  In terms of students, they need to know where they stand as well.  I’ve always maintained that they should create their own content where possible.  As we all know, there are alternatives when that isn’t possible.

    Most producers of content will show their expectations with respect to copyright wherever possible.

    This blog?

    You can find the details on my About page.


    Quality of Teacher or Something Else?

    French immersion is a real elephant in the educational room.

    Throughout Canada, there’s a huge increase in the number of families wishing to have their child taught in such a program.  There are all kinds of reasons:

    • since Canada is bilingual, it only makes sense
    • there’s an element of prestige attending these programs
    • there’s a thought that the students in such a program are somehow “better”
    • students will get better teachers

    Well, maybe that last point isn’t quite right, if you believe this story from the Globe and Mail.

    Quality of French-immersion teachers questioned as demand soars in Canada

    I’ll admit that articles like this always get my dander up.  

    What gives someone outside of education the authority to be able to make judgement on teacher, school, or classroom quality?

    The article is in response to a problem with staffing in British Columbia.  The author does do her research digging into the Ontario and Quebec situations.  It’s an interesting read from that perspective.

    It’s the quality thing that gets me.  In particular, reference is made to new teachers.  I don’t think that there’s anyone in the profession who was at their best in their first few years of teaching.  Sure, we went to a Faculty of Education and had our practice teaching stints but none of that prepares you for the realities of your own classroom and all that entails.

    This is a problem that is of its own making.  In the desire to fill empty classrooms, programs like this are offered to the community and then, based upon demand, assigning teachers is done.  When demand exceeds supply, lottery systems or first come-first served solutions with waiting lists are used.  One has to wonder if the other programs receive as much attention and resources.  

    As always, reading the comments to a story like this gives you a sense of the connected community who are inclined to take the time to comment.  Based on this, we certainly haven’t got our game together.

    The pawns in all this are the students.  Without an immediate solution, it could be a whole year until they get into the program.  

    So what’s the solution?

    According to the article, our Minister of Education is working on a solution.  How quickly will this happen to rescue the situation?

    Here’s a few solutions that come to mind …

    • address the perception that there are multiple levels of quality in education
    • start recruiting potential students actively in university and perhaps even secondary school
    • encourage local school districts to share students and empty seats to meet demands
    • have school districts offer their own additional qualification courses rather than wait until a Faculty of Education offers one
    • encourage all Faculties of Education to offer additional qualifications courses to address the needs
    • offer additional qualification courses online to make it accessible to those who have other responsibilities that make university commitments impossible
    • is it time for education to become a federal responsibility so that teachers can easily move between provinces for positions?  
    • at the very least, recognizing qualifications from other provinces would at least help with teacher relocation

    Your thoughts?  How could this demand be addressed?

    It is a problem and, as long as school districts can’t meet the demand, needs a permanent solution.

    Saving the classroom computing experience

    This post is actually an amalgam of a number of conversations that I’ve had with friends over the past weeks.  So, I won’t name names but I’m sure that those who were in the conversation will recognize their part.

    The conversations were a result of talking about the successful use of technology in the hands of students and the barriers toward that success.  Their observations may or may not echo your experiences.  It would be great if you could add your thoughts/comments to the bottom of the post.  Much of the conversation dealt with frustrations but there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

    Lack of Professional Learning

    It’s interesting to see the arguments and they’re so similar to the Digital Immigrants/Native discussion.  Just because more people are comfortable with personal devices doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the classroom.  Schools and school districts shouldn’t assume that they’re enjoying success.  In fact, it’s only with the constant stirring of the pot and the sharing of resources, that success will happen.


    Most school districts hire computer technicians whose job it is to visit schools and fix things and install software.  Observations were made that we have more technology than ever in schools and yet have the same number or even fewer technicians that actually touch the equipment.  That results in an increasingly larger inventory of technology that needs attention before it can be used.


    So, even when the technician does get to the school (one person reported that it was once ever two weeks, barring emergencies) there is a priority to the jobs that are addressed.  While there was a debate on the order of priorities, we kind of agreed that this was pretty much it.

    • network problems
    • secretary’s computer/printer
    • principal’s computer
    • vice-principal’s computer
    • teachers’ computers
    • computers/tablets for students with special needs
    • adaptive technology for students with special needs
    • the newest computers/tablets acquired for student use
    • older computers/tablets if there is time

    More Priorities

    • printers for the students
    • other peripheral devices

    It’s an interesting list of priorities and it’s difficult to argue with the order.  But, frustration does exist if that student in Grade 5 is writing the next great Canadian novel or that student in Grade 11 is one last run away from having their programming project complete and submitted.

    Hanging On

    • schools are notorious for hanging on to things and computers are no exception.  Letting go can be hard but sometimes technology has just had its day and you’re further off without it.

    These days, school districts rely increasingly on the cloud (a horrible name when you actually get to see a computing centre) for things like an office suite or activities that would normally be handled by software installed on the computer.  Remember how the province used to rely on OSAPAC to provide a number of new pieces of software annually?  This list shows that things are changing.

    With the increasing acceptance of students bringing their own devices to schools, there has been indeed a real shift in computer use.  With the exception of specialized topics, the use of web-based resources makes a great deal of sense.  One of the people I chatted with indicated that their IT Department has a three year cycle for installing new software on computers.  You could easily draw the conclusion that it’s obsolete even before the students get a shot at it!

    The older computer is an interesting scenario.  Newer software often runs much slower, if at all.  But, for the most part, things that are available on the web would work nicely if there was only a working browser on the computer.

    It doesn’t take long to find stories like this:

    Technology in Education: How Chromebooks and Google Classroom Change the Learning Process

    There generally was great love shown for the use of Chromebooks rather than a continuing reliance on the traditional desktop.

    Samsung provided this interesting infographic a few years ago – Why Chromebook? (infographic)  Their concept of four generations makes a great deal of sense. The message remains the same but has also extended with the new features in Chromebooks including even longer battery life, more contemporary extensions and Chrome applications, touch screen, and the ability to run Android applications.  Many are waiting with interest for the release of the newest Samsung Chromebooks.

    This infographic from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning makes the case for the ease of use and a possible workflow.

    Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, Important Chromebook Tips. Digital Image. January 7, 2017 Published http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2017/01/an-excellent-infographic-featuring.html, February 4, 2017 Accessed.

    More importantly, you don’t need to image and install a multitude of applications.  With the reliance on cloud-based applications and storage, much of the traditional thinking behind computer use just goes away.  Instead of all the work and tweaking that maintaining an approved image of applications requires, accessing things in the browser really question the traditional way of thinking about classroom computing.

    There are so many things that just form part of the experience that make it a good choice.  For the those who like the tablet format, the inclusion of Android applications is a natural – probably even better since they can now be used with a keyboard if necessary.  For those needing help, the adaptive features are handly, including using Chromevox.

    For the foreseeable future, there still is a need for a traditional computer with traditional software installed for some purposes.  However, the general use can well be addressed via the web.  It equalizes the process for the bring your own students and teachers.

    The Smartlock Feature would be intriguing to see in classroom use.

    Your Chromebook will be unlocked when your Android phone is unlocked and nearby.

    The general thought was that this are so many interesting features and benefits of a move in this direction.

    Will all computer makers follow suit?  Will your district?

    But, should you go this route because it’s the newest and shiniest kid on the block?  It’s even more crucial that you step back from the technology and determine just what it is that you intend to accomplish with any technology acquisition.  Instead of asking “how many”, the first questions should be “what would we do with it?” and “how will we leverage professional learning to get the most from any purchase?”

    Your thoughts?