An Interview with Skip Zalneraitis


Skip Zalneraitis is a Technology Integrator at Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield, Massachusetts. Although we’ve never met face to face, his educational and humour presence on social media makes him a daily favourite to read. Through this interview, I tried to find out more about this amazing and prolific gentleman.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Skip.  My first question is always “When did our paths first cross?”  Can you remember?

Skip: Several years years ago I discovered your daily curatorial posts on Twitter. I was so impressed that I subscribed. 

Doug:  Just about every morning, I see your presence on social media.  It usually starts with a weather update from Brattleboro, VT. Then, there’s a stream of resources that you share.  It sounds like a regular morning routine. Is it?

Skip: It is a daily routine, seven days a week.

Doug:  Can I assume you live in one state but work in another?

Skip: My wife and I live in southern Vermont in downtown Brattleboro. I teach about fourteen miles due south in the little town of Northfield, MA.

Doug:  I know that very often, you’ll retweet links that I’ve shared via my morning reading.  Typically, I notice that they’re often Google Education related things. What’s the significance of that for you?

Skip: Our school is a Google School. I try in every way I can to share resources with our staff and faculty. 

Doug:  Some of Skip’s Google resources end up here.  https://sites.google.com/a/pvrsdk12.org/resources/  Who is your intended audience?

Skip: This where I aggregate everything Google I have gathered each week and each week I send out an email so the folks will come and see what I have to share.

Doug:  One of the things that I notice when you share resources, is that you’ll include a note of thanks as shown in the screen cap below.

The fact that you do this is conscious.  That must mean that it’s important to you.  Can you share why?

Skip:  There are two authors for whom I want to always share attribution. You are one of them. Your energy, creativity, and critical sense are, in my experience, second to none. The only other one is Melanie Link Taylor MzTeachuh http://melanielinktaylor.mzteachuh.org/ . I have a great deal of respect for her.

Doug:  You do a good job of curating on Google +.  https://plus.google.com/108523245664369458849

What appeals to you about that platform? (I really, Really miss Google+.)

Skip: It has a wonderful asynchronous flow to it. I use the refresh very often to get a different look.

Doug:  Sadly, Google+ is no more.

But, you do have a Facebook presence and you use it differently.  Can you explain how and why?

Skip: It is my oldest living social media presence. I have such a varied community so in addition to my daily posting, I included posts that that I share because I have a strong emotional resonance with those posts.  My two careers before I began this current one were as an Anglican clergyman and later in engineering, mostly in nuclear power, and I have friends and acquaintances from not only all three careers, but family as well.

Doug:  In your role as Technology Integrator, what does your day look like?

Skip: Because we are so short-staffed I have been doing a great deal of teaching. I do presentations to teachers and groups, AND I respond as often as I can to help tickets. It requires a great deal of flexibility.

Doug:  Your teaching profile also has you teaching Communications and Exploring Computer Science.  How does that fit into your day?

Skip:  Those are the face-to-face classes I teach. Communications is an important introducing our Grade 7s to our school and network, as we have students coming, on average each year, from nine different schools. I also teach a course online at VHS.

Doug:  With your activities on social media, you must have a collection of favourite people to follow and best destination for resources.  Can you share some of these with us?

Skip: You, Richard Byrne, Larry Ferlazzo, Melanie Taylor, and Alice Keeler are a few.

Doug:  Tell me three things I don’t know about Skip Zalneraitis.

Skip: 1. I’m a daily road bike rider. 2. I am a grandfather. 3. My favorite author is Neil Gaiman.

Doug:  What does the future hold for Skip Zalneraitis?  As in Ontario, school must start shortly for you.

Skip: At the age 73, I’m considering when I should retire. I promised one of the science teachers, who avails herself of my skills and support very frequently, that I would stay until she retired. She just told me her year is 2024, so I can leave or change positions in that year. My younger granddaughter is coming to Pioneer in 2023, so I may stay longer. The new principal wants me be more the Tech Integrator.

Doug:  Thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts with us, Skip.  It’s greatly appreciated.

You can follow Skip on Social Media at:

Periodically, I interview interesting people like Skip for this blog.  You can check out all the interviews at dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews.

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Just in time


I like to read about the latest in privacy and security. I’m amazed at the ways that the bad guys try to do things to try and invade our digital lives..

So, this morning, I happened to read this article.

Spammers Targeting Google Calendar: What to Do

I’m sure that you, like me, get a bunch of spam messages that come along and Gmail does a pretty good job of catching them. This was a new angle – attacking your calendar by injecting advertising?

I flipped over to my calendar and, sure enough, there were some messages that had been added. Something about having won an iPhone or something. Of course, I didn’t click to read more. Who knows what the destination of that link might bring.

But I was impressed that the spammer didn’t use an apostrophe to show plurals.

I had the previous article open in another tab so I went in, followed the instructions, and made the change.

I flipped back to the calendar and the invitation was gone.

Or, was it?

I went back to the settings and got rid of the setting that prevented displaying the invitation and then back to the calendar. It’s back. The setting apparently only stops it from being displayed.

Back I went to stop it from being displayed. Out of sight, out of mind.

This was a new twist for me. Of course, the cardinal rule about not clicking unfamiliar links still applies. Maybe now more than ever.

That cleaned out the invitations in my Google Calendar on the desktop. However, Calendar on the phone still showed them. I tried refreshing the calendar but the events remained. I looked for the routine I had followed above but those options weren’t available on the phone. Grrrrr.

So, I opened one of the invitations and noted that it was a recurring invitation. My solution was to delete this and all of the recurring events.

Of course, a ran a virus and malware scan afterwards and got no notifications.

I figure that, if it could happen to me, it could happen to a lot of people. Hopefully, the coders will start to identify these as spam and keep them away from everyone’s calendars.

Make the bad guys move on.

Guilty until proven innocent?


There was considerable time spent on my part on the release of this new feature that teachers can incorporate into their workflow if they are using Google Classroom.

It’s called “Originality reports” and it’s Google’s spin on checking for plagiarism in student work.

It’s not the only player in the field. Just do a search in your favourite internet search engine for “plagiarism checker” and check out the results. In Ontario, another product has been licensed by the Ministry of Education.

The genesis of that licensing happened about the same time that online learning became popular. The logic was that since you couldn’t see the student face to face working on a project, there was no way that you could guarantee that the works submitted were her or his.

I remember discussing the product with our eLearning teachers at the time. Their response was pretty negative. Particularly those that were teaching English, they claimed that their professional judgement was better than any program. By working with the student for a semester, they were able to identify writing styles and literacy skills and could see it grow throughout their time together. Consequently, while the licensed product was available to them, none of them said that they had used it.

Now, to be honest, this was long before there was an “app for that” mentality for computer users. It would be interesting to have that conversation today.

Collaboration is something that I promoted when teaching Computer Science. Granted, we didn’t write long essays but I’d argue that any programmer develops their own individual coding style much like writers develop a writing style. When there were times when I questioned original work, it was a matter of sitting down next to the student and have her or him explain the program to me. Between that and my insistence on written documentation for each problem, I think I did an OK job of making sure that things were original.

Like many of the other products, Google starts off by promoting this product as an aid to help students submit their best work. In the next breath though, the article indicates that Google has access to billions of resources online. That makes sense – that’s one of the things that it does best. So, it’s not a huge leap to make the claim that work that isn’t properly cited is easily identified.

We live in a day and age of privacy concerns and Google addresses it in the announcement, claiming that the student work remains the student’s. Unless of course, they blog about it! But the announcement also indicates that there is a plan to expand this to creating a repository of past assignments for checking things already submitted at the school.

I think it’s going to be an interesting follow to see the success of this product.

  • will die-hard users of other products make the switch?
  • will it only be available in Google Classroom?
  • if a teacher was hesitant to use another product because of professional judgement, will they try this one?
  • will a demo at the beginning of the semester frighten everyone enough that it’s not needed throughout the course?
  • how will parents react to their child’s work being used by a Google product?
  • how many submissions for conference presentations will be focused on promoting this tool?

I’d be interested in reading your initial reaction to this product. Are you in or out? Why?

Indigenous languages


Nothing stands still in the world of Google and this is such an interesting addition to Google Earth. It launches very nicely in the Google Chrome browser. I remember a time when you absolutely had to download the Earth application to run it.

Once the application loads, click on the Voyager icon to begin your exploration. Of interest is the Celebrating Indigenous Languages project.

You’re prompted by our globe with many placemarks stuck in it.

So, take the globe for a spin and find a placemark in a location of interest.

Of course, my first trip was to Ontario and I ended up in Ohsweken.

The results give you a short profile of the speaker and the opportunity to listen in their language.

The concept and imagery make for yet another fascinating way to explore our world.

Nifty


One of my favourite sessions that is held at the CSTA Conference is “Nifty Assignments”.

Nifty Assignments is a project to gather and distribute great assignment ideas and their materials by K-12 CS teachers for K-12 CS teachers. Each year a few assignments are showcased by the authors at the Nifty Assignments session held at the annual CSTA conference.  It is intended to be a replica of (and homage to) the highly successful, and longstanding, Nifty Assignments session at the Annual ACM SIGCSE conference devised by Nick Parlante.

Of course, there are rules – and a philosophy.

Anyone who has ever taught Computer Science knows that the problems included in textbooks can be simple and often not all that inspiring. You know that you end up creating many (most?) problems on your own. Make them relevant to your class, cover the concepts you’re teaching, engage students, etc.

Well, there’s one great Computer Science textbook – the greatest of all time Oh! Pascal! But beyond that, Computer Science teachers know the drill.

So, Nifty Assignments is an attempt, via session at the conference to address that. It’s very popular; whatever room it’s held in seems to always be packed and this year was no different.

The nifty resource can be found here.

This year’s collection has the following topics.

The slidedeck for the presentation is available as well. Check it out here.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1SRXQjHb321b3QNb5VxUVNgf6MTLNo8RXOFgVhpsWSVE/edit

Follow the links on the individual topics to get to the details for these five great, er, nifty assignments.

Keys to the Kremlin


No, it’s not an election campaign.  It’s another game of Carmen Sandiego playable on top of Google Earth.

Like the previous games, it’s written and played like the original game from years gone by … just in or on Google Earth.

2019-06-19_0636

In a Candy Crush world, it’s wonderful to see a throwback to the screen resolution and fonts that we grew with in personal computers.

The game remains the same – follow the villain, oh so VILE,  around the world using the hints given by people that you run into.  They’re pretty cryptic but will get you thinking.  (I asked all the people I ran into just in case I jumped to the wrong conclusion.)

What I especially like was the integration with Google Earth.  You’ll be dropped into places that you might find yourself but the developers have done wonderful job of placing you at just the right angle to fully appreciate what you’re looking at.

Give it a play at the link above and marvel at how far we’ve come with graphics and how far more sophisticated technology enables games these days.

Just give honour to those early developers that started it all.

Simplify your email


I don’t normally do a lot of work with social media in the evenings. That’s family time and normally we’re out doing something. But, with the rain last night, we were home and I had my laptop open on the table next to me.

This message from Peter Beens flew by…

If you’re a Gmail user you need this extension. It took me all of 10 seconds to decide I’m keeping it. The only thing I miss is the Apps icon but it’s not a big deal. Thank you @leggett!
“The former lead designer of Gmail just fixed Gmail on his own”https://t.co/BZiCNpVkWB— Peter Beens (@pbeens) April 25, 2019

Now, Peter is one of my go-to people for sharing information about Google so I grabbed the laptop and read the article.

Interesting.

As I’ve lamented on this blog before, I miss the Inbox program from Google. Like many, I hoped that its impact would have changed Gmail. Sadly, some of the features have but the overall look is much the same. I’ve looked for replacements and haven’t had much luck but the story above looked interesting.

A quick download later and I was in business. My first reaction was the Gmail didn’t fully load! I’d been used to so much cruft. I clicked through and read the documentation from the developer. Click through and see the screen captures to get a sense of how he did Simplify Gmail.

He explained that the extension was mostly CSS and gave the obligatory promise about not stealing your information. So, I’m playing around with it and I really like it.

So, kudos to Peter for staying ahead of the curve and sharing his learning. After all, that’s why we create and maintain learning networks, isn’t it? I do agree with Peter that the Application Launcher would be nice. I also use the right sidebar quite a bit and was pleased to see that it was reduced to a popup button in the bottom right corner of the screen.

As it would happen, a story talking about this extension appeared in my morning reading. But, thanks to Peter, I had scooped the information 12 hours in advance.

You can download the extension and try it out for yourself here. If you’re a longtime Gmail user, it make a bit of getting used to it. Your screen is just so clean!