Whatever happened to …


Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.

For many (including myself), it wasn’t their first programming language.  Then, it became everyone’s first programming language.  Now, it’s often not the first language again.

For me, I cut my teeth on Fortran, moved to COBOL, then to LISP, then to C and learned how to program along that path in my own high school and university career.  One of the things that coders will recognize through these languages are the rules and laws for success in the language.  Make one mistake in these programs and your efforts just won’t compile, much less actually run.

It wasn’t until I was actually teaching that I was first exposed to BASIC.  Actually, it was WATCOM BASIC on the Unisys Icons that showed up in our classrooms.  These machines were certainly not portable (you’d have to bring the fileserver home with you…) so it meant some pretty early mornings and late nights at school learning the language.  The implementation was the worst of “drop and run”.  There was no professional learning on the use of the language.  I’ll be honest; with a background of programming languages that are so strict with their rules, I had huge problems in the beginning just trying to get my head around this new language.  There just weren’t so many rules.  How could it ever work?

With the end of the Icon, we ended up buying personal computers and tried to make them fit.  Commodore 8032 and later IBM Personal computers showed up.  They all came with versions of BASIC.  There was no graphic interface so an understanding of the operating system was crucial.  You had to work your way around the computer to save and load programs which meant that teacher and student needed to know it all.  For some, it’s obvious that they were unable to distinguish language from operating system!  I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating … that was probably the last time that I truly understood how computers worked.

It was also the time when buying a home computer was possible.  I cut my teeth on a Radio Shack TRS-80 before moving into a stream of DOS/Windows computers.  Not satisfied with the BASIC that came with the computer, I ended up purchasing Borland’s Turbo Basic and Microsoft’s QuickBASIC.  This opened a new world because you could now compile and run your masterpieces as executable files instead of the interpretive environment of the BASIC at the time.  With the popularity of Bulletin Board Systems, some allowed for add-ons called Doors.  For a time, I ventured into the world of Shareware.  Does anyone remember Bay Street Bulls?  Card Guppies?

Time moves on and so did technology and pedagogy.  BASIC was dropped like a hot potato as education embraced Object Oriented Programming.  Down with BASIC; up with C++, Java, Python, Turing, and others.

But, BASIC wasn’t dead.  Microsoft returned with Visual Basic and it’s now a popular teaching option.  In some cases, it may be the first programming language for the new code learner.  In other cases, graphic languages like Scratch or Hopscotch may be the first language.

They all have their strengths and weaknesses and fans.  Are there really any “bad” languages?

And yet, there’s something nice about opening an environment and hammering out a quick little program to get the job done.  Spreadsheet programs/environments have inherited much of the functionality of programming languages.  And yet?

My current go to language for the quick task is Microsoft’s Small Basic.

There’s just something that’s enjoyable to be able to sit down and quickly code something that just works for the sake of working.  The result is something that makes programming purists shudder.  But let’s not forget that sometimes process trumps product.

So, my questions for you this Sunday morning.

  • Have you ever written a program in a dialect of BASIC?
  • If so, which one?
  • What was your personal first programming language?
  • One of the featured programs on the Small Basic website http://www.smallbasic.com/ is Tetris.  Is that even a relevant game for kids today?

As always, I’d appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s another Friday and a chance for me to share with you some of the spectacular reading I enjoyed recently from great Ontario Edubloggers.  I had some self-inflicted damage to my regular process.  Normally, as I read things, I just keep the blog open in a tab and minimize them with One Tab until Thursday morning when I actually write the post.  However, this was a week of maintenance and browser shuffling and I lost the posts that I had tucked away.  I think I remember everything that was saved but maybe not.  I had a better plan when I stuck the URLs into Keep or Evernote.  Perhaps that’s my biggest learning of all.  Shortcuts can come back to bite you.  If you wrote a great post and I neglected it, please send me a message “Hey dummy, you missed this…”

Taking Chances

I’m not sure that much more needs to be said than how Denise Buttenaar closes this blog after a pretty active reflection session on her personal practice and what it meant to her.  I don’t think that anyone should expect that a blog post is going to be the “next great novel”.  However, a year from now if she continues to share her thoughts to herself, it may be the “next great professional diary” and I don’t think an educator can ask for more than that.  Blogging shouldn’t be an all encompassing event.  It’s the accumulation of thoughts that leads to the impressive.

Oh boy, here it is!

Donna Fry gave me the heads up on the birth of this new blog and here’s the first post from Kelly Colter.

I think that the first “way” is something that we all need to ‘fess up about.  If we weren’t influenced by others, it would be a pretty lonely connected life.  It’s the connections and the shared learning that makes it so powerful.  Of real importance to me is the selection of the connections – regular readers know of my passion for those who blog about Ontario Education.  That’s not the only influence – another that easily comes to mind is the cadre of Computer Science teachers that serve as inspiration.  By joining, hopefully Kelly can keep it up and, with her words, influence whatever group she wishes.  She’s now in my little group of Ontario Edubloggers.

Moments of Empathy

If someone asked me who I would like to write like, I could name quite a few and certainly near the top would be Rusul Alrubail.  She doesn’t necessarily whip out the thesaurus or come across as pretentious, but it’s just the way that she strings her words together that touches the reader at a different level.  I can’t think of a post from her that doesn’t give me pause for serious reflection and I can’t think of a better compliment to pay to a blogger.

So, I thought – who would have been my favourite teacher?  A number of really good ones came to mind and I could create a short list.  When I thought just a little harder, the “favourite” had some un-favourite moments so I moved on to the next on my list.  I’d find issues here and there too.  Instead, I changed my thinking.  What if I took a bit of him and a bit of her and a bit of her and made my favourite a teacher an amalgam of the best parts.  Wow, that was a great teacher and, the common thread was the empathy that each showed.

For any teacher whose goal is to reach every child, (whether or not you want to be their favourite is a personal, competitive activity) take a read of Rusul’s post.  We all have our bad days and those stick out because of the lack of empathy.  Could that be a gutcheck for success?  Recognize it and deal with it before it unduly negatively affects students.

Thanks for your leadership and support!

When you think of people that are centrally assigned as resource teachers – what do you immediately think of?  Hot and cold running coffee and an endless supply of doughnuts?  After reading Jennifer Casa-Todd’s post, you may wish to change your opinion.

In the post, she nicely ties things together and may give you an insight to what they actually do.

The one thing that she isn’t explicit about and I’m sure that it’s true in her job and others, and certainly was key to mine was getting out of the central location and visiting schools.  When I took over that role, I never wanted to be accused of being “out of touch” with the classroom because it’s so easily done when you’re not in one on a daily basis.

My favourite quote from my former superintendent was “Where is he today?” as he came into the Program Department area looking for me.  I wish I’d heard it first hand because it could be interpreted so many different ways.

If you don’t see your centrally assigned person often enough, why not sign up for professional activities or just extend an invitation to her/him to come and visit your classroom?  You might be pleasantly surprised at how eagerly they’ll jump at the opportunity.

#TBT: Is Our Focus On Assessment Taking Away From Our Children’s Education

If nothing else, Stephen Hurley’s latest post is worth visiting just for the image.  What the heck, here it is, complete with his credit to the author.

It’s a throw back post that is just as relevant today as when he originally posted it.

This is an interesting look at assessment and evaluation.  I can’t remember a year where it wasn’t “the board’s focus” and it certainly is important.  It informs what is done for student achievement.  It’s just that it changes so frequently.  I remember a person new to my department whose theory was that by changing focus annually, it kept the pedagogues in business as the pendulum swings back and forth.

If you need some moments of reflection today, make sure that you get to the bottom of the post and reflect on Stephen’s questions.

The End of Average

A book, a TED talk, and an infographic fill this post from Erica Armstrong.

This is the perfect followup to Stephen’s post.  Play the TED talk as you go about things this morning.  You’ll be glad you did.

Do you agree with the affirmation that “the average hurts everyone”?

What are you going to do about it?

What’s the hardest thing a teacher does?

If you read Kristin Phillips blog, you’ll read this more than once.

“Try something new; no one will die”.

I recall a mathematics teacher of some infamy whose choice of worksheet for the day would rival the accuracy of any calendar!

Kristin gives us five bullet points (paragraphs) as to what she feels has worked with her schools.

Would they work in yours?

I say this every week and I never tire of it.

What an amazing collection of blogs.  Please click through and read them in their entirety and drop them a comment.  They deserve it.

Then, check out the rest of the Ontario collection here.  If you’re blogging and not listed, just complete the form and you will soon be.

Taking the challenge

I can’t ignore a good challenge.  Recently, Alfred Thompson challenged me to test out Microsoft’s new CaptionBot application.  He said that he had been having great success with it and challenged me to try it.  The premise is simple; you send it a photo and it describes what it sees.  It’s important to not send personal photos in times like this.

It’s learning so I’ll use my best teacher empathy.  We always try to find the best in our learners, right?

Don’t tell the rest of the Bring IT, Together Committee but I had it open in another window during our meeting last night and was playing around with it so see what I could do with it.

Here are my results…I just dug around some photos from some trips that were on the hard drive and decided to see how they worked.

The Famous Crab

A friend gave me this photo of a crab from a Scuba trip he’d been on.  It was a fond photo for sharing and editing in my Photoshop workshops.  If that was indeed a plate of food, arrangement needs to be revisited!

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls at night is one of the most spectacular things to witness (and capture with a camera).  I’m thinking the bot needs to go out more!


Well, if you look past that big bell with the crack in it, there is a man walking with the person with the umbrella in the background.

St. Louis

I guess I was distracted by that large arch thing when I took the photo.  There is indeed a building off to the right. 

St. Louis (again)

This sports fan was fascinated with the chance to take a photo of classic Busch Stadium.  I completely missed the elevated freeway in the background.

San Antonio

I’ve been to San Antonio twice and never fail to be humbled by the Alamo Shrine which served as a mission.



Well, that was fun.  I don’t think I’m ready to start not tagging my own photos anytime soon though.

Have you tried out the Caption Bot with your own pictures?  What kind of success did you have? 

I’m sure that this student will get better over time and learns.  We just need a bit of patience.

Skills … and then more skills

Lifehacker yesterday shared a story where they quote and reference an article from “former Stanford dean and author Julie Lythcott-Haims” about eight skills that you should have by the time that you’re eighteen.  There’s got to be a sketchnote in there, Sylvia.

I looked up and down the list and found it difficult to argue with the points.

The original list came from a Quora post “What are the skills every 18-year-old needs?”

I’ll admit clicking through to the Quora post is interesting because it’s here that she really fleshes out her thoughts on the skills.  It’s part of a book that she wrote.  The skills are important and would make for a great poster in every secondary school classroom.  Maybe even a modified word wall?  You know how to create one if you read this post.  “Interactive Word Walls

I shared it and plunked it away in my Readings Flipboard and then moved on to the next article in my early morning reading.  My work here is done.

Not so quick, Mr. Reader.

I got a challenge.  iCoder1978 had his hand up.

I’ll confess; I don’t typically go into the comments section with the same enthusiasm that I do with the original article.  Often, when I do, it’s just for the entertainment value of anonymous posters going on about something completely off the wall.  Sadly, there are times when spammers get in and try to sell things so it’s not necessarily a regular part of my reading routine.

In this case, I guess I should have.

In addition to the eight in the article, there are so many other good ideas that reinforce how difficult it is to be a parent or an educator.  Here I cherry picked another eight from the comment section.

  1. Hear an opinion or worldview different from your own, and actually listen to it without interrupting or losing your damn mind
  2. Assess a casualty and perform basic first aid
  3. Learn how to spell/use proper grammar in written business or professional communications
  4. Create passwords stronger than “123456″
  5. Have knowledge of human reproduction and contraceptives as well as emergency contraceptives
  6. Change a car tire
  7. Forgive and move on
  8. Understand and utilize the core elements of good table manners

And a bonus …

  1. know how credit cards and loans work.

I stand redirected.  In this case, there are considerable bits of wisdom in the comments. 

There’s just an incredible wealth of information and advice between the original article and the comments.  If I’m doing a lesson on Life Skills or Guidance, I think I would be tempted to introduce the article to the class and then break up into small groups to analyse the skills and comments.

Just be warned – the internet commenters didn’t disappoint – there is some advice/comment that’s a little less than helpful.

So, a tip of the cap to Jangal Nara for directing me to the comments.  It was well worth revisiting for the comments.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Welcome to the end of the week/start of the weekend.  I hope that it’s been a good one for you.  In case you missed them, here’s a nice selection of offerings from the keyboards of Ontario Edubloggers.  Enjoy them.  I know that I did.

#MyWorkflow: Brian Harrison

The Wordflow series from Royan Lee continues with the latest interview with principal Brian Harrison.

I find it fascinating to see inside the minds and work habits of people I regularly follow on Twitter.   Brian is no different.  I had to smile at his answer to this question.

I’ve been in his backyard and can really understand why he likes working there!  Click through and read his answers to Royan’s questions.

This Year’s Model

So, let’s check out Brian’s latest post.

No self-respecting principal in the province should be going without thinking about the announcement from the Ministry of Education about the $60M to support mathematics education and how it might impact their school.  There’s been so much written about it recently illustrating that the public and education are all over the map philosophically.  I know that there’s an element that would like to spend the money to support old school teaching.  That would buy a great deal of thumbscrews.  Brian offers a more considered approach and, as you see below, offers up some examples of people doing the job right now.

Any takers?  I wonder…

How Will I Use My Wild and Precious Life?

I think everyone would be wise to stop what you’re doing and read this post from Sue Dunlop and then just reflect on yourself and your own life.

You may come out of the session with a slightly different focus on things about what truly is important.  In life, and in education in particular, there are so many distractions – including infringement on your time and efforts – that it might just be time to sit back and refocus.

Thinking About the Term Reflective Practitioner

Eva Thompson does a great job with that sort of thinking, not in her personal life, but in her professional life.

I like her thinking and I think that there’s a great deal of philosophy that is consistent with mine when it comes to going online with blogging.

Throughout my career, I was always posting my current thoughts.  The format has changed from the annotations at the bottom of lesson plans, to sharing with CIESCs in a FirstClass conference, to online forums, to Twitter, to this blog…

I didn’t use to be this way.  I used to keep things bottled up, confident in the knowledge that I could recall it at a moment’s notice.  It was all about me.  I think we all know how that approach works.  For me, once I realized that didn’t work, writing things has always been a release.  I can put my thoughts to words – in whatever format – and then stop worrying about remembering it.  Now, I know that I can always go back and find it.

I’ve been doing this for most of my career, but revisiting what it’s like to be a student, maybe I had that extra patience for the push back? Maybe I had more encouraging words for that reluctant student? When I’m too distracted making sure I get all MY “t’s crossed and i’s dotted” I may overlook the fact that I’m also a teacher, not just a technology consuming droid.

I think she’s got her priorities in order.

Now’s the time to be a heroin addict

On the heels of Eva’s thoughts, turn to Debbie Donsky’s latest.  What a great reminder through her story to get all of our priorities in order.

Celebrate what you have built. Celebrate your legacy of love and success and courage and resilience. Celebrate all that you are and all the people who you have affected.

3. A Kids’ Guide to Canada – DETAILS

I love it when people think out loud.  @beachcat11 (she keeps her real name out of media so I will respect that) lays out her thinking for an ideal project for students.  This is part 3 of a 3 part series – you can read a “part 4” too!  It also wouldn’t hurt if you go back and read parts 1 and 2.

To honour student voice, an initial pilot project in the fall of 2016 will see elementary students from every elementary grade and every part of Canada participating in each step of the project design and field-testing process.

Then, beginning in January 2017, school-aged children from JK-Gr 8 will create digital artifacts to celebrate and introduce their home communities to their peers right across the country, and then post these on a national interactive map.

The link above points to the third part which lays out a timeline, activities and contact information.

MDM4U Creating dice game simulations

Who says that Mathematics can’t be fun?  This link is to Brandon Grasley’s MDM class but I caught it and spent some time doing the activity myself.  It was a hoot.  I’ve never taught this class but did similar problems with my Computer Science classes.

It was fun just to muck about with a Google Spreadsheet and also in Small Basic.

But, kids today have it so easy.  Whatever happened to int(rnd(1)*6)+1?

Are Your Students Problem Solvers and Innovators?

This just in…

I’m assembling this post on Thursday morning and Aviva Dunsiger sends a link to her latest blog post.

In-house professional learning happened for her at her school.

As with many of Aviva’s posts, there are questions as well as answers.

She concludes with a great thought that I think all educational leaders need to be concerned with the next time the latest and greatest initiative comes along.

If developing these skills matter, then we likely need to “let something go.” What might you let go? What might you add? What benefits do you see this having for kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

So often, this is overlooked and more, “better” ideas are thrust upon teachers.  In football, it’s called “piling on” and there is a substantial penalty for doing it.

There are lots of calls to action in this post.  Do some thinking, some Mathematics, and be proud to be a Canadian.

Oh, and reply to all of these posts.  They are reply-worthy.

And, when you reply to Aviva, ask her a question!

Is that a big number?

Let me see here.

According to my step counter, yesterday I had 14,157 steps.  According to my data driven dog, he had 28,314.  -ish.

This translates into 8.1 km.

While the numbers tell the same story of how I spent part of my day, one is certainly bigger than the other.  It’s interesting to look at it from two different lenses.  A third number is that it took 1 hr 57 minutes or 117 minutes.  It could have been quicker had we not made so many stops along the way.

Three sets of numbers.  Are they big?

The website Is That A Big Number helps put it into perspective.  I love this philosophical descriptor.

An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be

Actually, the page is worth reloading just to see the random “numbers” quote generated each time.

If you like numbers, check out the blog entries and the related stories when you visit the site but absolutely “run your number” to see how big it is.  14,157 steps?  Let’s see.

With the results…

This utility will easily make you the queen/king of numeric trivia.  No question about it.  

Once I started, I couldn’t stop.  (Except to press the Publish Post button)

And of course, all the geeky goodness comes to the answer to this question.

Interactive Word Walls

Kudos to Joe Sisco for sharing this resource from the Tools2Go Windsor Essex Catholic DSB wiki.

If you know how to use Google Drawings (Extension) or web. you’ll dive in immediately after poking around in this shared Google Drive folder.  If you don’t, it’s only a very short learning curve before you’re up to speed.

As soon as you start to poke around, you realize that there’s a little something there for everyone.  It’s not labelled “READ ME FIRST”, but it probably should have been.  Open “How to Use Folder” and take a look through to see how to use things and some helpful suggestions.  The most important first steps is to make a copy of the resource in your own Google Drive.  The originals are Read Only and you’ll want to make changes for sure.

Or, perhaps even create your own.

Here’s a screen capture of a document in the Mathematics folder titled Number Systems.  What you don’t see in this capture are some suggestions and ideas for how to use and modify the various documents.

And, most certainly, the interesting part of any readme document is the inclusion of the word “Posterize”.

The whole resource is a nice starter package for just about any classroom.  Of course, once you get the knack of things…

A good resource like this gets great when the community gets involved and starts to share.  You can see the focus on Mathematics and Science now but the project is just begging for other subject areas and French versions.  How about in the school Resource Centre?  Faculty of Education?

The open-endedness of something like this is quite obvious.  It doesn’t all have to be teacher generated in your class.  I can think of all kinds of formative and summative ways to get students involved.

Take a look around and see if there isn’t a fit for your classroom.