Fun for the summer

You can’t beat swimming, long summer walks, playing baseball, and many other traditional outdoors activities for the summer.

In the heat and humidity of the past few days, I’ve been looking for something a little more suited to not moving much.  For me, that involved firing up a game or two and exercising the brain instead of the body.

My current fascination is a game called Solitaire Chess

I could take the noble route and say that I was looking for an educational game to share via the blog.  After all, there is a section for teachers interesting in using gaming in the classroom.  But, that wouldn’t be truthful so I won’t go that route.

There are some new games here and some spins off traditional games.  

I’ll never be confused with being a chess master but I’ve always been inspired by chess.  Yes, I’ll confirm that I was a member of the chess club in high school.  

There is just something really addictive in this solitaire version played in the mini-board that you see in the graphic.  The chess pieces all have the same traditional moves and your job is to clear the board and leave just one piece standing.  It’s nowhere as easy as this description would imply.  

It’s just one of those things that keeps you coming back and you just know that this type of thinking is good for you.  I’ll cave and mention the educational use – introduce your club or class to this game for a better understanding of chess.  Oh, and poke around the rest of the site for more ideas.  There’s no shortage.

In the meantime, have some fun.

I played online but there are downloadable applications if you’re interested.


Déjà vu coding

Part of the problem of having so many programming environments is that you can’t remember them all.  Yes, there are big lists but the reality is that you typically get really comfortable with one or two and take it from there.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t keep your eyes open.

This morning, I read a post from the ACSE discussion list where Ontario Educator Justin Yantho had waded into a discussion about the best way to teach OOP principles to students.  In his reply, he made reference to a Trinket resource that he had created to share with a group of elementary teachers interested in learning coding beyond blocks.

Of course, I had to check it out.

It’s very nicely done.

I thought that Justin had done a good job of providing code for the learners.  Even more impressive was the documentation provided at the bottom for the learners.  If you had difficulties working through and modifying his examples, you could read about what the code was doing.  That’s so important.

At the point of the screen capture above, my memory cells kicked in.

I’d worked in this environment before.  But where and when?

The power of blogging is that, if you’ve blogged about it, it’s there somewhere.  So, I did a search for Trinket and I had in fact blogged about their Hour of Code example almost two years ago.  It was called “Python with Ease“.

Somehow, I felt good about the fact that I had remembered.  Somehow, I felt bad that I had gone this far through Justin’s tutorial before I realized it.  Maybe I should do my morning reading later in the day when I’m fully awake.

Regardless, it is in interesting and well-created tutorial.  It’s definitely worth a look for understanding and evaluating to see if it fits into your introduction to coding plans.

Advice from kids

This is just for a great deal of fun. 

We often get advice on how to live our lives to its fullest from “experts” who conduct and analyse studies to come up with said advice.  It’s often great for a “Top 10” list.

But what about those who are living the life?  i.e. kids

100 things you should have done at school before the age of 11 – chosen by primary pupils

So, I wondered … what did I miss?

Up and down the list I went and I guess my childhood experience wasn’t totally complete by these standards.  Here’s what I missed.

  • 28 – Learn to feel confident in front of your class (I’ve never accomplished this; my nerves still get to me in front of audiences.)
  • 40 – Have a pyjama day (This was never a “thing” when I went to school)
  • 57 – Discover your favourite author (Do you ever really do this? I do have one current favourite and she knows who she is.  Just one more read…)
  • 66 – Call a male teacher “Miss” (Thankfully!)
  • 74 – Play conkers (I had to look up this term and, of course, we all played “chestnuts”.)
  • 81 – Learn to skip (A skill I have never mastered at any level.)

A little mathematics tells me that my childhood life was 95% complete, at least by this metric.

How was yours?  Check out the original list and then do a little personal life reflection.

Whatever happened to …

… handwritten report cards?

Thanks to Andy Forgrave for the idea for this.

I’ve talked to a lot of educators who have left the classroom for one reason or another about their regrets and their responses typically have been “I miss the kids”.  After all, they’re what keep us young while, at the same time, age us.

Oddly enough, I have never had anyone say that they missed doing report cards.

Could there be a sheet of paper or a card that means so much to students and parents?

I’ll admit to always enjoying most of my education and generally doing well in every thing I ever studied.  It was always the day of reckoning when the report came home and I had to show it to my father at supper.  I still remember comments like A?  Why didn’t you get A+?  99%?  What did you do wrong?  I took this learned parenting skill and applied it to my own kids.  I don’t know that they appreciated it any more than I did.  Deep down though, I knew that my dad was proud of me.

Those report cards were always handwritten and usually came with the great advice “Good work”.  I don’t ever recall a “Doug was a pleasure to have in class” though.  Later, I was to learn that that comment should never appear on a report card.  Somehow that made it easier to swallow because the omission seems to imply that “Doug was a PITA”, which I have no doubt was probably true.

Secondary school was a continuation.  My most memorable report card was, again, handwritten in Grade 13.  In preparation for university, I had taken the requisite 6 courses – 3 Mathematics, 3 Sciences, but then had thrown in English because someone had convinced me that you can never have enough Great Gatsby or learning to write.  Mathematics and Science marks were high – I don’t recall how high but I do remember my English mark – 60%.  Maybe that explains this blog.

University was interesting.  Report cards were never given to you; they were mailed.  They were matter of fact – you took this course, you got this.  It was a mixture of numeric marks or letter grades depending upon the Faculty offering the course.  There was no easy right of appeal; I guess the logic was that you were grown up and got what you deserved.  Unlike elementary and secondary school where my parents always went to Parent/Teacher nights, totally understanding the mark and my learning or lack of it was never a communication with the professor moment.  You got what you got.

The Faculty of Education was completely different.  There was the formal report card, of course, that contained the matter of fact important number or letter.  But, the reports generated by associate teachers where I taught their classes for a couple of weeks were completely handwritten and contained great anecdotes and pieces of advice.  They were the best I’d ever had and really did what they were supposed to do – make me reflect and grow as a teacher.

It was a puzzle to be solved when I landed a job.  Unlike other schools where report cards were circulated with students or via course for handwritten marks and comments, we were one of the first to have electronic report cards.  In our mailboxes, we received “Mark Entry Sheets” where we were expected to enter the final mark and then select one appropriate comment to go along with it.  I always had this nagging desire to use comment #7 which was “Bien Fait” but resisted it.  I did always send home my own personal invitation to all parents to join me for a parent/teacher discussion and I followed the school advice to make the telephone call home to parents where I was going to assign a failing grade to a report card.  Fortunately, I always had great students and I can only recall having to make that phone call just a couple of times when I taught Grade 9 Mathematics.  I often wondered – why didn’t we call the parents of the students who did really well?

Then, it was off to a wonderful job working with educators trying to embrace technology.  I thought I’d seen it all when it came to report cards.  I’d seen handwritten; I’d seen computer reporting.  What else could there be?

Generally, I was welcome in any of the schools that were in the district – EXCEPT – during the times leading into reporting periods.  It wasn’t normally a problem with secondary school but certainly I wasn’t welcome in elementary schools at those times.  As I found out, these report cards were all handwritten and it wasn’t just a mark and a comment.  It was a mark and then a short story.  And these professionals were really serious about this.  Then the discussion became an elementary/secondary one.  “We do real report cards and don’t just pick from a list.”  That really hurt.  I took pride in choosing the proper comment from the list.

Could it get any worse?

Well, yes, it could.

Let’s further pick on the elementary panel and make all their report cards electronic.  Make it so, Doug.

It was too late to go back to my own classroom but, seriously, how hard could it be?  The Ministry of Education had designed a new report format and dictated how they were to be completed.  And, they had commissioned a province wide initiative created with Filemaker Pro (this is where Andy comes in).  We didn’t have enough computers available for teachers to have it done at school so people were buying home computers like crazy and I was supporting this as well.   The first revision not only required that teachers enter a grade and check off appropriate boxes per subject area but were expected to type, for each student and each subject, Strengths, Weaknesses, and Next Steps.  Our implementation rolled out a few important things –

  • addressing the concepts and the philosophy of the record card and reporting
  • file sharing for rotary subjects (which in this case was by diskette) and file compatibility between the Macintosh and Windows
  • getting a copy of the report card into everyone’s hands in a timely fashion – this lead to me creating a Teachers’ Essentials CD-ROM with things like that on it and making copies for every teacher in the system
  • teaching about Filemaker Pro – for many the first serious application that they’d ever used and for others the concept that things could be saved without having to click a “Save” command was foreign
  • sharing comments among those teaching the same grade/subject – “How can I say this?”
  • recovering files accidentally deleted
  • instructing how to copy files from diskette to hard drive and back – later this became a task of sharing via our email system
  • making sure that everyone had the latest and greatest version of the report card

The whole process monopolized my life at reporting time to be sure.  It was also part of our new teacher induction program.  Even today, I still get questions at every report card time even though another solution has been put into place.

Interestingly, I guess a good job was done.

Nothing breeds success like success.

Early Years’ teachers were still using pen and paper for their own report cards.  My support person was a master with Filemaker Pro and, between the two of us, developed our own Early Years’ Report Card.  Secondary school teachers had a number of solutions in place and we harmonized that by licensing a product for the entire board and enjoyed the same success although it still required a great deal of effort to get everyone on the same page.

I never much enjoyed doing my own report cards and supporting others wasn’t a walk in the park either.  It never really was a highlight that I enjoyed especially, as any teacher will tell you, it’s a real drain on time.  I’d much rather communicate with parents by having them show up and have their child lead them through a portfolio of what they’d completed in class.  The more that you deal with report cards, and especially electronic ones, the more you realize that it’s a business process that stands on its own, external to working with people, which I suspect is a concept foreign to most teachers.  Add to that the verbiage required for the constructions of the comments.  It’s stressful.

But it’s a necessary evil in our school system where grades, subjects, and the length of a school term/semester/year still rule.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  • Do you have any good report card stories?
  • Have you ever “lost” your work?  Share your story there.
  • In society, the resume, education, and work experience rule.  Could we still survive if we didn’t have report cards to provide some of this information?
  • Have you ever bought a computer or upgraded because you “needed” it for report cards?
  • As a parent, is the process tainted for your own child’s comments since you know how they’re done?

This whole Sunday series of “Whatever happened to …” is available here.  How about taking a walk along memory lane with me?  Got an idea, share it on this padlet.

A couple of poor efforts

Every time I think that I’ve “done #FollowFriday” and I’m ready to move on, I get inspiration to not do so.

The past couple of weeks were poor efforts on my part.

First, I was off to San Diego to the CSTA Conference. For a week, I was living on California time so my usual 5am get up was 8am Eastern time.  It’s pretty late to do it, plus I certainly wasn’t up at 5am there.  Thursday night was a great chance to meet up with old friends.  So, I thought – here’s my chance.  Hopefully, nobody will miss me and I can be done this.  As it turns out, I got all these private messages wondering what was happening.  People were missing my Friday morning spam and the chance to make new connections.

Then, there was this Friday.  Like many people, I was up late on Thursday night to hear the speech at the Republican Convention.  I sure wasn’t alone.  I was determined to get back on track – I like the fact that we’re connecting Ontario Educators – and there are some summer courses ongoing and what better way to make new connections.  I didn’t realize it but – I have many politically minded friends!

While the process isn’t fully automated, I do have a routine that “harvests” the most recent Twitter messages from my Ontario Educator Twitter lists.  Normally, that gives me a good sampling of the most recent posters which lends credibility to the adjective “Active”.  What’s the point of acknowledging someone who isn’t active?  The sampling wasn’t as generous as it normally is!  A few of these politicos had “taken over” the stream with their thoughts/observations on Mr. Trump’s speech.  And, I did get engaged with their thoughts in the process.  Republicans should note – Ontario is watching you.

So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Maybe things well return to normal next week.  Oh yeah, there’s another political convention.

I’ll apologize in advance.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s mid-July.  Forecasted temperature today is in the mid-30s.  Who in their right mind would be suffering from a cold?

Your humble blogger, of course.  This is nuts.

So, I’m not in my right mind is a good way to sum up how I feel as I type this.  The sun is rising; Friday is coming; dog needs to walk; there’s no time for self pity.

My first instinct is to run in and buy everything in the cold aisle at the pharmacy.  My personal advisers are telling me to “Suck it up and gargle with salt water”  or “Walk it off”.

Anyway, here’s some of the great reading from Ontario Edubloggers that I enjoyed recently.


Through a personal connection, I learned a great deal about Eid this year.

It’s after the fact now but this is a post from Rusul Alrubail that’s worth tucking away because it makes so much sense and can be adapted to any religious holiday.  She originally wrote and published the article elsewhere and was good enough to put it on her blog for us to enjoy.

My Favourite Things

How’s this for a lead in to a blog post from Kristi Bishop?

I’m just back from an extra long weekend at the cottage with my family.  I love that all of my kiddies still look forward to going (even though internet connection is sketchy at best!) despite their busy lives.  One of our favourite holiday games is “Top 5…”  Sometimes it is something as mundane as Top 5 Beaches we’ve been to.  Other times it is a little more bizarre, such as the memorable Top game of “Top 5 foods you have eaten off the ground”.  (I declined to participate in this one, just so you know).

I don’t know about you but I would have liked to have known about the food off the ground bit.

Instead, she takes a turn to education and gives us a top five list of being an educator.

It’s a good list; What would be your top five?

Follow Opportunities, Not Dreams

When I saw the title of Tim King’s post, I thought that it might have been about summer motorcycling.  Instead, he uses a concern about a lack of digital skills in the United Kingdom as a launchpad into thoughts about education.

He provides an interesting observation about why students take certain courses and avoid others.  (obvious with a secondary school focus)

It’s interesting, because in Ontario, we have a high quality curriculum that offers a bit of everything.  Reading Tim’s post reminds me that there are those that will game the system just to get through.  Fortunately, there are compulsory courses that provide at least a base to get started.  The comment about guidance is interesting.  I recall in high school the annual checkup with my own guidance person.  It really was more about making sure that my marks were OK rather than a serious planning for the future.  Later, as a home room teacher, we would have our home rooms held four or five times a year so that we could talk about futures.  Tim’s observation is true; I took the five year academic route in high school followed by four years at university, another year for an education degree, and then summer courses for additional qualifications.  I’d never been in a tool shop or a full time farm labourer (which are big in Essex County).  How could I give a legitimate set of advice for those who might want to head in those directions?  Driving around now, I sure wish I could have afforded to get into the greenhouse industry.  It’s HUGE.

On the other hand, the fact that I had all this schooling allowed me to follow a dream – I always wanted to be a teacher but certainly there were not many opportunities at the time.  My success was more like by being in the right place at the right time.

Follow the ETFOSA16 Path to Excellence

Diana Maliszewski makes it clear, in this post, that this session was in the big city.  Where else would directions be given by subway stops?!

Libraries, Resource Centres, Learning Commons, Makerspaces – whatever terminology you’re comfortable with are one of the most adaptable locations in any school.  Sadly, there are even some that don’t have them.  But imagine a collection of great minds getting together to scheme for the future.  In some cases, the target of these discussions isn’t necessarily literacy but to convince those in charge that the library should be the hub of everything at a school.  As I picture so many schools that I visited, the library is so often the first educational place that you see when you enter the building.  Designers had it right.  It would have been interesting to have been part of Diana’s conversation or at least be a fly on the wall.

Great pictures complement the post.

Cottage Thinking 1: Leadership in a Canoe

The fact that there’s a “1” in Stephen Hurley’s post is an indicator, I hope, that there will be more to come.

Often, we think of leaders as being the ones who are out front, encouraging folks to follow along. They are the visionaries, the ones that have a clear sense of direction and the are able to identify the targets for which the crew needs to aim if things are going to go as planned.

The canoe analogy is great.  I’d never thought about position within a canoe and its importance.

Stephen does make you wonder about leadership in other areas.

Is the leader always in front?

You Have to Start Somewhere

Of course you do.

Andrea Kerr’s recent post is a reminder of that

as educators, we really do have all of the strategies and tools we could ever need.

So, as a starting point, she offers an analysis (and questions) for thought.

  • Start with Action
  • Start with Value
  • Start with Listening

I used to work with a person whose advise was “Ready – Fire – Aim”.

The conservative me never really thought that made sense for me.  My inclination would be to “Start with Listening” or “Start with Reading” to understand the situation before acting.  Andrea’s post should make you think about the approach.

Get this Train Moving! ~The Journey of the MakerSpace

Joanne Borges offers a blog post with more questions than answers.  There is, in some camps, a real rush to be able to claim that your school has a “Makerspace”.  If you read and believe some of what is out there, you’re failing if you don’t have one.

To turn the idea or concept into reality, you need to get moving.  But, movement alone doesn’t get the job done.  Why and How are two important questions.  From her planning:

  • Some key questions we considered in planning:

    • What is the experience we are trying to create?
    • Who will lead the experiences?
    • How will learning be shared?
    • How will experts, partners, mentors be utilized in learning?
    • What funding is available to us? What other sources can we seek out?
    • How will we ensure this is a student owned space (student voice?)
    • How can this tie to curriculum expectations and deep learning experiences?
    • How can we promote STEAM principals?
    • How can we best create a culture of risk taking, respect, inclusivity, and pride?
    • How can we ensure this becomes a hub for deep learning?

I think this is a great set of questions that everyone who wants into this space need to be asking and answering.

Thanks again to so much great thinking and sharing from leaders in Ontario education.  Please support their efforts by reading their original posts and dropping off a comment if you’re so inclined.

I’m out of here to “walk it off”.

Doug gets cultured

One of the things that I really like to do anywhere I go is explore.  There’s so much to see if you just take the time to do so.  I don’t know, for sure, if my wife enjoys it but I certainly do.  With Google’s “new” Arts & Culture application, I can extend my exploration into places that I’d never think possible just be being connected.

It’s not that there’s a shortage around here.  Just across the border is the magnificent Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village complex.  So much to see and yet so little time.  And, as we know, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  In Windsor, we have museums and galleries of our own.  I’m certainly not an expert at any level, but I do enjoy looking and resist the urge to touch. 

Given what’s happening in the US political process right now, it’s a interesting to take a look at “Electing Lincoln” from The Henry Ford.

Of course, politics isn’t the only topic in this curation of culture. 

One of my all-time favourite visits was the Harry Houdini museum in Niagara Falls.  Sadly, it’s gone now but artifacts from Houdini live on as a result of a simple search within the application. 

And, it’s not just stuff.  Check out the categories.

Even just poking around, you get the sense that there could be more categories and the use in education just smacks you between the eyes.  You’re only limited by your imagination and desire to inquire.

Check out the details and launch of the app on the official Google Blog.

What really puts it over the top for me is the integration with Google Cardboard and Streetview.  Some of what you’ll have seen may be a one off situation just exploring on your own.  The application brings it all together.

Download the application here.

When you do get your copy, you’ll absolutely want it installed on your device and your classroom devices.  If the time isn’t right for your district’s IT Department, you can always plan to enjoy it on the web here.