Don’t screw it up

Like many Computer Science teachers, I was very excited to read the news of President Obama’s “Computer Science for All” initiative.  Right now, it’s typically an elective course and I know, from experience, that you work to encourage every student you can to choose the course.  It’s not like the maths or languages or other sciences where a certain number of courses are required for graduation.

It’s puzzling, particularly in this day and age of technology everywhere, that it doesn’t have mass appeal.  The reality is, I suspect, that when it comes to electives, students aren’t necessarily looking for a subject that bulks up on the work load.  Students tend to really enjoy it or really hate it.  Unfortunately, those that hate it are more vocal about spreading their feelings making it difficult to get more students involved.  Through my work as an Ontario educator and long time involvement with the Computer Science Teachers Association in the US, I’ve seen a comparison of how the subject is treated in both systems.

In Ontario, we have an excellent series of courses under the title “Computer Studies” that are available to every school/student in the province.  If the course isn’t provided at their school, they can take it online through eLearningOntario and get the same course credit.  South of the border, the common threads are the Advanced Placement courses and Exploring Computer Science along with local courses at the student’s home school.  In either case, students have terrific opportunities to learn.

But it’s never been a skill for all – it’s typically been a choice for all.

From my eyes, there is a need.  I suspect that the secondary school student who is indeed interested in post-secondary studies has great opportunities.  This doesn’t apply to everyone though.  Yet, knowing how to make this inanimate object to do your bidding has never been so important a skill.  Or your tablet.  Or your phone.  The ultimate goal isn’t that every graduate will become a computer programmer for a living any more than the graduate taking English will become the next Shakespeare.  It’s the ability to have this ability to take control over your electronic world much the same as you would take control of your use of the English language.

The announcement from President Obama hasn’t been universally appreciated.  An interesting opinion piece appeared in the New York Daily News.  “Learning to code is overrated: An accomplished programmer would rather his kids learn to read and reason“.  In many ways, my own computer programming experience paralleled that of Mr. Atwood’s.  My first personal computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 and I took delight in learning all the operating system commands, creating batch files, and learning how to program in the languages of the time.

And, I think the operative words here are “of the time”.  It’s been years since I wrote something in Pascal or Fortran.  There are times when I am curious to know if I even could.  But the feeling soon passes.

“Because it’s 2016.”

We have much better, more powerful tools, and better experiences at our disposal.  It’s not always recognized and I think that sometimes Computer Science teachers can be their own worst enemies as they debate the merits of Java versus Python versus …  Let’s step back from that argument.  There’s a time, place, and environment for that.  It shouldn’t be part of this discussion.

Let’s focus on the “for all” part. 

We’ve all heard the “girls don’t like doing this …” or “boys don’t like doing that …” as excuses for poor performance in mathematics or science or languages or pick your favourite target.

A Computer Science teacher will tell you about programming for the web and the importance of reading from the visitor to a website.  Or the importance of geometry and science as you program a robot to move across the classroom floor.  They understand the importance of planning, collaboration, communication, analysis, and measurement.  That doesn’t need to nor should it wait for secondary school.

The “for all” part needs to be in the front of your mind.  In this initiative, it’s a chance for Computer Science to reinvent itself and come back as a life skill.  So seldom does education get a chance to start something from the ground floor.  This is a chance and the opportunity needs to be seized.  Not just by those with a Computer Science background but by those who truly understand all that a Computer Science understanding brings to the classroom.

All of this isn’t necessarily magical.  It’s the result of a deep understanding and professional commitment of educators.  The plan requires a serious commitment to professional learning opportunities for all educators.  After all, don’t forget the “for all” part.

It can be so powerful – my advice is in the title – don’t screw it up.  Education has waited for years for this opportunity.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s time for my weekly wander around the province to see what Ontario Edubloggers are writing.  As always, it’s been a great week curating these things and then culling to share some interesting things in this post.

Stop. Please.

OK, this could be me.  Nothing I hate worse is going to any kind of meeting and have someone go off on a tangent about a conference they’d attended or a book that they’d read (or more likely skimmed) and I have no idea what they were talking about.  Somehow, it’s comforting to look around the table and see other glassed over eyes.  With some people, it’s OK to interrupt and ask for them to put it in context or give some background.

So, I could really sympathize with the gentleman that Colleen Rose describes in this post.

There’s huge takeaways for everyone here.  Unfortunately, there will be some that will just give you “the look” and then continue.  But, the person who is serious about getting the most for their efforts will take the time to get everyone on the same playing field.  I know that I really appreciate that.  There’s so much to learn that, for anyone to assume that everyone knows everything, not recognizing this is just ludicrous.

I also honed in on the word “training” in Colleen’s post.  That’s key.  I’ve mentioned many times that you train dogs to sit or go outside.  You don’t “train teachers”; there’s no singular phrase that gets my dander up than that one.  And, if it’s truly a professional learning experience, for that gentleman to not be recognized and coached is just malpractice.

See where Colleen takes her discussion in the post.

My Brother is Autistic: Part 1

My Brother is Autistic: Part 2

My Brother is Autistic: Part 3

Royan Lee is one of the most open and transparent individuals that I’ve known.  I’ve had the honour of interviewing him, meeting him and his family, and just have learned so much from his ongoing open learning on social media.  He’s in the middle of at least a four part story about his brother that bares all.

my brother was at the end of his run with public schooling, an ominous time for any family whose child has complex needs. 

I’ll confess to never having had to deal with this type of situation in my own family but a couple of instances in my school.  I’m riveted to his series of articles and look forward to the story continuing.

Character Education Videos

Not too long ago, making videos in the classroom was a fairly involved task.  I can remember the first efforts with the video camera and then finding some way to capture the tape contents to edit the content in a separate program.  When the RCA Small Wonder came along, the whole world changed.  You could take these things everywhere and capture so easily.  The concept of the public service announcements was within the reach of everyone.

Now, it’s even easier with your tablets and phones.  The result is a powerful medium for student publishing.

Peter Cameron shares a couple of videos in this post.  I had to wonder if the College of Teachers would be called in with this public video.

Poor Evan and Logan.

It’s only when you play the video that you realize that they didn’t need calming down – Evan and Logan were giving us tips!

I still would like to see these two doing Yoga in the middle of the classroom though…  <grin>

Broadcasting Tips from the Field

Today’s technology also lets you go far beyond the immediate location.  In this video, again shared to YouTube, Marie Swift shares a great video tutorial.  This time, it’s all about becoming a better broadcaster.  I had to smile during the first segment with the clasped hands.  That’s a technique that was taught to me to stop me from flailing my hands about while talking.

It’s a great collection of tips that are certainly shareworthy with students.

Promoting Student & Teacher Voice using Dotstorming tool

In this post, Jennifer Casa-Todd has shared her thoughts about Dotstorming which I think is certainly worthy of attention if you’re a fan of getting feedback from an audience in any of a variety of situations.  A long time ago, there were these clicking devices that were promoted as the next greatest way of promoting metacognition and student voice.  I hated the stupid things; not that it wasn’t an interesting technology but that the software was a bear to operate and getting all the things connected could be a challenge.  Then you had to explain the rules and how they needed to be operated.

On one student placement, one of my teacher candidates was encouraged to use them and he couldn’t get them to work so came up with the next best thing – he had students put their heads on their desks and put their hands up to vote anonymously.  Since the debriefing when the students came back to the Faculty, that’s been my Exhibit A for choosing, testing, and using technology wisely.

The lesson is well worth teaching but technology has got better.  Check out Jennifer’s post for a great collection of ideas.

OLA SuperConference 2016 & Treasure Mountain Canada 4

If you weren’t able to attend the OLA SuperConference, Diana Maliszewski has a really good summary of things you mised.  If you’ve never been to this conference, you really need to check it out at least once.  I had the pleasure of presenting once with a local teacher-librarian (who I had a chance to have lunch with this week) and then also was part of the great OSLA faceoff a couple of years ago.

I really enjoyed living the conference through this post so thanks so much for that, Diana.

The highlight for me was this picture of a group that were part of our computer contact network in addition to this work as teacher-librarians.

How Alanna go there is beyond me!  <grin>  But, she would fit in so nicely.

My congratulations go to Sharon in her retirement as well.

Catch the Spiral! 

Many teachers share their lessons on the web and announce it on social media.  For that, many are so thankful.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, why not share?  A good lesson gets better with many eyes.

Jon Orr takes things in a different direction.

In this post, he doesn’t share a resource or a particular lesson, but instead shares his pedagogy, a technique that he calls spiralling.

I thought it was a rather interesting concept.

Why not click over and see what it’s all about and see his inspiration and decide whether there’s a place there for you too.

The genius that comes from Ontario Edublogs never fails to amaze me.

Please take a moment to check out these wonderful offerings and appreciate their efforts.  Then, check out all the Ontario Edubloggers for even more.

A news digest

One of the neat things about going to the dentist (at least our dentist) is that he has a computer screen at each station to divert your attention from his job.  On the screen every time I go there is the landing page for  It’s not necessarily everyone’s landing page but it’s a good one for this purpose because, as a portal to information, there’s always a great deal to read.

With the demise of Zite, I’m always on the lookout for a replacement news reader.  The Yahoo! page is OK on portable but I got to thinking that there might be something better.  So, I started poking around and there is.  It’s called Yahoo News Digest.  It’s perfect for portable where you don’t always have time to read and scroll through long involved stories.  It’s a perfect summary of things that you might want to know and a great dog walking companion!

Delivered in the morning and the evening, I’m finding that it’s an interesting place to start reading.  There’s no digging or deep scrolling through various levels or categories.  Typically, there are around 10 top stories treated in a nicely appealing visual fashion.  The related stories and researched background for each story makes it very interesting and a worthwhile application to get started.  A little story wheel at the bottom lets you know how many of the stories you’ve clicked through to read.

Want more than 10 stories and related articles? – just click on the read more button …

You never miss a chance to read a digest because it shows up on the phone screen as a notification when your latest issue is ready.

I think that the format is perfect for portable.  It truly isn’t just a regular website repurposed for a smaller screen.  It’s a completely different approach.

To date, it’s been a great addition to my readings collections.  From an education perspective, it gives a real reason to writing topic summaries.

Curating Groundhogs

It’s that time of year.  With the calendar rolling over the February, it’s time to count the weeks/days until March Break.

Or, in the immediate future, there’s always Groundhog Day tomorrow.  It’s generally a happy type of day although not so much this year in Winnipeg.

This post is a post from the past – last year – where I shared the Groundhog Day resources that I’ve curated over the years.

Enjoy – Curating Groundhogs from 2015.

As I copied and pasted that link, I noticed that it had a -5 at the end of it.  That’s WordPress’ way of saying that there are five posts all with the same title.  I guess I’ve really gotten into groundhogs over the years.

Here’s a link to all of them.

A return to ASCII art

Before there was real computer art, there was ASCII art.  If you’re old enough to remember, it was before printers could draw graphics, pixels, lines, etc.  They did a wonderful job of printing letters and numbers.  And, with artistic abilities you could actually create pictures.  Digital impressionism?

When I read about this feature in Facebook and Instagram, I just had to try it and it really did give me a flashback…

Take any image that you have posted publicly and saved as a .jpg file on the service.  Here’s my choice, this handsome fellow on his way to the beach.

Now, the key is to find the URL to the picture.

Here’s what I did.

In the Firefox browser, I clicked the right mouse button to get the context menu to get the location of the image.

The image ended in .jpg so that was great.  I opened a new tab and pasted the image location there.  The URL is really long and involved so just ignore it and have comfort knowing that your browser knows what it’s doing.

For a black and white image, go to the very end of the URL and add .txt and press enter on the keyboard.  Voila!  Check out how the characters create the image.  It’s nothing short of amazing.  Imagine doing that by design and by hand.

My image was actually really big but a few CTRL – keyboard presses later and it had shrunk to give the ASCII art.  I now have a ghost dog!

There is a second option.  Instead of adding .txt to the image, add .html for a full colour version.

Oddly enough, and I can be odd at times, I can already think of a couple of ways that I may use this technique in the future.

Go ahead and try it.


This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Welcome to another Friday and my week-ending post where I share some of the great efforts of Ontario Edubloggers I’ve read recently.  This week features another great collection of thinking starters for you.  Please read on…

Student-Teacher Bond

Here’s your feel good post to read this week, courtesy of Jamie Weir.

She was inspired by another’s blog post to do some thinking and renewed connections with her own students.

Do they teach stuff like this in teacher’s college?  I know that they sure didn’t when I was a student there.  It was all about learning how to teach the content that we would be using when we “got our jobs”.

Today’s thought – You can paint all you want but if you don’t have a canvas, it’s all wasted time and energy.

WOVEN – 21st Century Communication

Denise Nielsen introduces me to the concept of WOVEN.

It’s an interesting take on understanding contemporary communications.  The goal is to work towards the creation of an infographic.  I think that the result could be extremely interesting and serve as a model for more teachers.  As she says, “stay tuned”.

Seven Great Extensions for Google Chrome

I’m a sucker for blog posts like these.  I don’t have the time or the desire to explore and evaluate every extension/add-on that’s available.  So often, I take the coward’s way out.  I let others do the heavy lifting and I just benefit from their experience.

In this post, Mike FIlipetti shares some of his favourites for Google Chrome.  Now, Chrome isn’t my go-to browser – I prefer Mozilla’s Firefox but so often the extensions/add-ons are available on both platforms.

Sadly, it sounds like he hasn’t evaluated them all either!

Regardless, this is a nice collection and they’re worth experimenting with to see if they fit with your reading flow.  Unfortunately, the list contains Evernote’s Clearly, which according to the recent news and the host site is no longer supported.  That’s really too bad; it’s a very useful tool.

Why Edgorithm?

Education is full of words that have been contrived and, I’m convinced, used to make things difficult for the end user.  In a post on Brian Aspinall’s blog, Enzo Ciardelli explains the thinking behind the creation of the name and the logo.

It’s an introduction to the new resource a few Ontario educators have created to support elementary school coding, Edgorithm.

Their rationale?

If you’re interested in this area of computer science, check it out.  As always, you get more from the resource if you’re contributing back.

Student choice vs. “you are still the teacher”

Kristin Phillips gives us her take about student choice and student voice.

I think she gives a compelling explanation of where voice and choice can be important and yet someone needs to remain in charge in her closing paragraph where she takes the concept to a personal level.

It makes me think, however, about when and where student voice and choice should come into being and how we interpret this as teachers.  It reminds me of parenting.  I always gave my children a choice about the pajamas they wore.  I never gave them a choice about going to bed.

This is a very interesting and well argued post.  It’s definitely worth a read if you’ve read all the arguments for and against and still need another look at the topic.

Your Digital Footprint

I think we’ve all heard the arguments “What do you want to find when you’re Googled?  or Binged?”  “We want our kids and our students to be well Googled.  Or Binged”.

I think it’s a discussion and understanding that all educators need to have.  But you don’t always hear it from all educators, just the informed or paranoid ones.  You seldom hear it from a principal.  But Mark Renaud, a principal, blogs about it and includes references to stories about student acceptance to higher education and the institutes that “Google/Bing” their applicants.

It’s good fodder to have when you hear the argument, “Yah, in theory they could…”

The references are all American.  I’d love to see some Canadian sources addressing the same topic.

The Physical Environment and it’s impact on learning

In this post, Kristy Luker gives us a tour of the Hamilton-Wentworth’s Enrichment and Innovation Centre.  It’s an interesting collection of learning spaces.

It’s part of their gifted program.

Success for an environment like this depends upon someone championing the cause.  I think back to the Technology Learning Centres that my former employer had.  It was a great opportunity for students – in our case all Grade 7 and 8 students got the opportunity to experience learning outside the traditional classroom.  Sadly, when its champions left, the program went away.

I do like the concept of letting students experience alternative learning environments.  It needs to be available to all students.

If your head isn’t spinning with all kinds of ideas from reading these posts, you’re doing education wrong.  To continue on the thought that I started with this week – these folks are truly walking on their bridges as they build them.  Drop them a comment to show how much you appreciate their efforts.

More bridge building

When I wrote the post “Building that bridge” on Sunday, I was a little hesitant to name names.  Whenever you do that, there will be lots of people that don’t get named.  I hope that readers recognize that you can’t be entirely inclusive, that I was inspired by the original post on and that I had interacted with the people named in the post on that day.  It seemed, to this writer, that a number of things had just come together and it was time to share my thoughts.

It’s also nice to know that people actually do read this blog!

What’s even nicer is that the concept resonated with a couple of people who decided to share how they’re building their bridge while walking on it and left a comment to the post.  Today, I decided to bring those comments forward and feature them in a separate post so that everyone can enjoy them.  I know that I “liked” and appreciated the comments to the original post but they deserve more.  It’s seldom that visitors to a blog go and read replies to a previous post so you undoubtedly missed them.

Peter Cameron said:

Another thought provoking post Doug! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Twenty years ago, when I first started teaching, I could never have dreamed that the opportunities for learning would be so vast and readily available. I am an adventurous spirit and believe that the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my life have come through adventure. In my “pre tech” days of teaching, I instilled in my students that they could adventure far and wide through reading. Today, you will still find my students happily exploring, meeting new people and learning new things with their books in hand. They love reading! However, technology has also allowed me to bring adventure and exploration to another level in my classroom. We have “virtually” traveled together to all ends of the earth and met some incredibly awe inspiring people. I have “brought” my students along with me on my own adventures through the use of video in the classroom and we are looking forward to travelling on the Iditarod Trail in March. On Thursday my students and I will be inviting teachers and students to visit our classroom in Thunder Bay. I know it sounds cheesy, but I often feel the same excitement travelling to school as I do to the airport. When my students arrive in the classroom they often ask, “Mr. C, where are we going today?” Where would you like to go?

Lisa Noble said:

Today, I did some bridge-building. I’m a participant in the Core French collaborative inquiry that my board offers each year. My consultant, who is a friend, asked if I would join the group, to share my knowledge (I’ve been doing this gig for a while). I found myself sharing my learning today with another experienced colleague, and an amazing collection of “newbies”, in their first or second year of teaching. This felt a little strange at first, until I realized that we really were bridge-building – between one another, between experience and fresh knowledge, and hopefully between the English and French realities in our building. I also realized that it’s okay that I choose to continue to question my practice, as Aviva’s puts it. My ability to adapt my bridge to changing conditions depends on it.

What a couple of wonderful additional examples to add to the collection!  Had I only been interactive with these two before I wrote the original post.

Thanks so much to them for sharing their stories.

How about you?  How are you building your bridge while walking on it?  I’ll bet it’s just as interesting a story.