A new look

Not for this blog.  I did that over a week ago.  I decided to go from the dark blackish look to something bright and modern looking.  So, that’s what you’re dealing with today.  I like the idea of changing the look every now and again.  I find it refreshing to view and a little motivating to make me want to keep writing.  Most blogging platforms make it easy; just pick and customize a new theme and apply it.  Voila!

The title from this post actually came from a Twitter message from @westernulibsEDU.

Ever the learner, I was curious to see what makes a teacher-librarian do a “happy dance”.

Well, a book will do it, I guess!  It was timely; I’d been thinking about programming languages and those memories brought back thoughts of the Hypo programming language.  When I was hired at my first school, that was the language that was used in Grade 10.  Certainly, it wasn’t on the list when one attends the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto but moving to southwestern Ontario moves you into the sphere of influence from the then University of Western Ontario.  John Walsh, from their Education Faculty, had co-authored a book called “Informatics: An Introduction to Data Processing“.  That’s what I had to deal with and so had to learn this new language along with everything else a new teacher does.  But, do you think I could find it?  I ended up finding the book listed in an old copy of Circular 14 (the law of the textbook) and supposedly could buy it on Amazon here.

Computer Studies teachers won’t recognize the cover.  If I recall correctly, it was black and blue and was inspired by a circuit board.  I haven’t seen a copy in years.

So, it was nice memories and I poked about at the big collection of Circular 14s (103) which were stored on the Internet Archive.  The list goes on and on.  I’m sure that it would be fascinating reading for educational historians!  The oldest copy is dated 1887.

And yet, there was something oddly strange about it. 

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I saw a little popup bubble in the top right corner of the screen. 

I was looking at their new look.  You could Exit this view and return to the Classic Internet archive. Did they steal the idea from Tim Horton’s or was it the other way around or was it just a strange coincidence?  I had to see.

This felt like an old pair of shoes.  This was the Internet Archive that I’d become familiar to. 

Flipping back and forth (or scrolling up and down now that I’ve done a couple of screen captures) reveals that the new look is indeed fresher and more engaging.

Had it not been for Denise’s Twitter message, I might not have known the difference for quite a while until I went looking for something.  By then, the Classic look might be just a memory.  So, a tip of the hat to her happy dance and it’s another win for incidental learning.  There’s nothing better.

The best Excel Online add-ins

How many times have you heard that Microsoft Excel is the best spreadsheet program on the market?  It can do everything.  Well, almost everything.  Sometimes a little help may be necessary.  Excel Online, part of the online Office 365 suite, opens the door to add-ins just like the desktop version does.  There is a large collection of add-ins to enhance your spreadsheet experience.

If you haven’t included these as part of your spreadsheet routine, you should check them out and perhaps make them an integral part.  Sure, you can access them with an open tab and going directly to the source.  But, there’s something so much more productive just having them right in the application.

They’re available through the Microsoft Store which is available right in your browser!  Just select the Insert menu and click on My Add-ins button in the ribbon.

(If you read yesterday’s post about Microsoft Word Online, you’ll appreciate the copy/paste/edit approach taken here)

Here’s a list of my picks.  Note that you can also import add-ins already identified for Word Online.  Just for my use, I do find that I’m a sucker for additional tools for visualization of data.

Radial Pie Chart  
 Symbol Inserter  
Gantt Chart – Project Timeline  
Plotly Charts  
Explore The Data  
Modern Trend  
Exchange Rate  

There is a huge collection of add-ins available for Excel Online.  Take a look to see if there’s a tool ready to solve your need instead of writing your own script.  Or, perhaps there’s a new way to visualize your data.

What add-ins do you recommend?

More swords needed

It’s a bad time to be any part of the Volkswagen system. 

With the news of 11 million Volkswagen vehicles using software specifically designed to deliver false results for emission testing, I think that I, like so many others, were taken aback with the news. 

Volkswagen has always had this strange allure.  The vehicles are unique and innovative and, to be honest, there have been so many times that I just wanted to have a Beetle.  Even last evening, driving through town, we saw an old VW bus.  I wanted one of those too at one point but settled for a minivan.

With the news, the CEO Martin Winterkorn fell on his sword and resigned from the company. 

Now we sit back and see what the ultimate fallout will be.  The stock market is reacting strongly in a negative fashion and there are now talks about fines and compensation to the owners of these vehicles since their ride is now essentially now worthless for resale.

It makes a great deal of political sense for the CEO to resign before the owners mount a coup and fire him. 

I think they need more swords though.

One CEO doesn’t make this kind of decision and implements it by himself.  Time will tell and this is just speculation, but it may not even have been his idea.  It may have arisen from somewhere in middle management.  “I’ve got this great idea.”  How many times in any organization do we hear of initiatives happening in this way?  Those who ultimately approve it have to go to the wall with their support even in the face of initially supporting a bad decision.  Swords are needed for those who originated this idea.

Even middle management can’t make it happen alone.

In this case, it was software written and placed in the vehicles to pull off this scheme.  There would be supervisors who keep an eye on its development and testing to make sure that it works as promised.  Swords are needed for them.

Then there are the people who made it work.  Actual coders who wrote the software to make it happen.  As a society, we have a disdain for people who write virus and other malware software.  Is this any different?  Being a whistle-blower may not be the most attractive option but knowing that you’ve contributed to something so heinous can’t possibly sit well with them.  Order more swords.

Many professions have governing organizations that ensure that their members adhere to the rules and standards of the profession.  Certainly we know of doctors, nurses, teachers, etc.  who have violated the rules and have paid the price at varying levels by rulings from their organization. 

Is it time that programmers have such an organization?  As this incident so clearly shows, society relies so much on the integrity of programmers and those who direct their efforts.  Should their accountability go beyond making money for their organization with no concern for the society at large?

Then, what happens to these people who have fallen on their swords? 

Imagine their resumes:

  • I follow instructions well
  • I fooled a treehugger
  • I made decisions for a company with no regard for society

It doesn’t make me feel compelled to invite that person to work in my company.


Dog Walkers Are Voters Too

I’ve mentioned this many times before.  When you enjoy your walks with your dog, it’s the little things that count.

Our route is no different than anywhere else in Canada, I suspect.  You see a great deal of this.

I always make a wide trip around these lest part of the activities in dogwalking is misinterpreted as a political statement.

Sign design is interesting.  Of note, the Conservative sign doesn’t include the name of the party leader whereas the Liberal and NDP signs do.  I guess that’s what happens when you are an incumbent – you stand on your record with the riding whereas the new candidates try to gain their identity with their leader.  It makes sense. 

If the concept is to get a flash of colour and a name while you’re flying by at 80 km/h, then I guess that works.

But, how about the lowly dog walker who strolls by.  You get the message and then see the sign for a long time until you pass it and then you look for the next one.  Remember, it’s the little things.

Of other note, two of the signs has the address to the candidate’s web presence.  That’s a good thing and does send a message of being with things in a technological society. 

But, for us bored dog walkers, I’d like to offer another suggestion … and there’s a lot of room for it. 

How about adding a QR Code?

We could take a picture with our camera and be teleported to the candidate’s website, or preferably to a list of items that would separate this candidate from the others.

I know we’d be interested in:

  • safety for dog walkers – bicyclists get a metre, we’d like one too;
  • mailboxes closer to the road;
  • while at it, we need more fire hydrants;
  • less concern about urban expressways – we don’t care about that;
  • a bowl of water every kilometre or so would be nice.

They’re easy enough to create.  Grab a browser add-on like QR Code Image Generator or even use the web at a site like QR Stuff.  Educators have been using them for quite some time now.  I’ve created a QR Codes page here on Scoop.it.  It certainly adds another message and layer about technology for the viewer.

We’ve still got a month to go before the election and stories like this one will give an indication that there will be a need for more signs.

Time to up the ante to meet the needs of the dog walking community?

63 Years and Counting

What a remarkable accomplishment for Queen Elizabeth II!

Today, September 9 2015, marks the 63rd year of reign of the United Kingdom.

As this post goes live, it will be the beginning of the 64th year.

I pulled together some of the reading that I’d done about the celebration.  In the classroom, what an opportunity for discussion about governance and an opportunity to compare the rest of the world and its changes over the past 63 years.  How about students creating their own timeline or infographic?

Queen Elizabeth II: Timeline of the life of the UK’s longest serving monarch

Complete timeline at the link above – thanks, Chronicle Live.

Going back to Queen Elizabeth I


Not Participating

It’s Tuesday morning, and back to school (for most), so I don’t know if this is going to come to fruition or not.  “Sex-ed protesters plan to keep kids home from school Tuesday“.  I’m sure that there will be news reports on it one way or the other later today.  In the meantime, the news seems to be focused on the fiasco with the Conservative Party candidates.  There’s always something.

But, it did make me stop and think.  What would I have liked my parents to keep me home from school from?

Now, just a little background.  My parents revered my schools.  They were the teachers’ and school’s biggest supporters.  In the case of Doug versus anyone with the school system, Doug lost.  But that was OK.  It gave me a deeper respect for the profession.  Even things that were just normal life went against me.  We always had a family doctor and dentist who had evening and Saturday hours and I was scheduled appropriately.  The only time I can remember going to a doctor during the school day was an appointment with a specialist in London.  It was a big deal because it meant that Dad had to take time away from work.

But, the concept has stuck with me.  When we finally moved here, we were fortunate enough to get a family doctor with late afternoon appointments.  So, I never had to miss work time to go although I remember reading my first collective agreement that indicated that there was coverage for doctor’s appointments that had to be scheduled during the school day.  I never used that but I do remember getting the dreaded “on-calls” to cover a class for someone who did.  Ironically, one of the coverages that I still remember was covering a health class where parts of the human anatomy were covered.  It actually was a pretty easy coverage as the kids were fairly interested and the approach was pretty clinical.  I’m not a fan of worksheets but I was that day!

So, with this background, you’ll know why my parents never allowed me to miss school.  Even on the days that I might be sickly, the first question was always “is there a test today?”

But, I sure would have liked to have stayed home for the following:

  • Singing!  I remember an elementary school class where everyone had to do solo singing.  I suppose if you had a musical bent and even a modicum of skill, it was no big deal.  When your singing sounds like a flat tire, it’s just embarrassing.  Even today, the dog looks back over his shoulder to see what’s coming if I happen to sing with my outside voice during our morning walks.
  • Cadets!  Going through elementary school, I’d always heard of the myth of cadets at secondary school.  You had to wear those heavy wool uniforms, do fancy marching, and learn how to shoot a rifle.  Rumour had it that there was even a rifle range in the basement of the school.  As luck would have it, this was an event that I didn’t have to be a participant.  They scrapped the program when I was in Grade 8.  To this date, the only rifle I’ve ever shot is one of those BB guns that they have at carnivals.
  • Initiation!  All Grade 9 students had to go through initiation.  We had to wear our mother’s night gown for the day to be humiliated appropriately and easily spotted.  Once you were in a classroom, you were safe but you were fair game for the Grade 12 and 13 students if they caught you in the hall.  “Grubby Grade Niner – carry my books” was what it was supposed to be about.  Some of the other things inflicted were a little more hurtful.  Thanks to published reports of abuse at universities, this practice is pretty much banned any more.
  • Skipping!  This goes to Grade 4 or Grade 5 where we were marked on our abilities to skip rope, something I could never master.  It was timed in the spring because the school yard always flooded and we had to stay on the blacktop at recess and lunch.  The classrooms were given a supply of skipping ropes to practice with instead.  Can you remember “never-enders”?  Well, I always shouted “ever-enders” so I didn’t have to show how bad a skipper I was.  While I generally did well in Phys. Ed., this was one skill that eluded me.

And, I had to participate.  No notes for me.

As for the events scheduled today, only time will tell.  I recognize that it’s a different day and time but I can’t help but think that the message is directed at the wrong people.  Teachers and schools can’t do anything about it.  School districts have to comply with Ministry of Education Curriculum materials.  There are reports that some school districts are making adjustments in their delivery but, with a provincial curriculum, they can’t cherry pick what they actually want to cover and still give a credit.

Directing the ire at schools and teachers just encourages bad relationships there.  If it’s a legitimate concern, the proper route would be through the MPP, Minister of Education or Premier and presentations by their governing bodies directly to those that control the content.  In the meantime, what message is given to the students that they can just boycott things they don’t want?  What message is given about the parents’ opinion of the school and its teachers?  Can a student tell the difference?

Oh, and one more thing to add to my list – any really hot day.  I never had the pleasure of going to an air-conditioned classroom.  Hot is hot and add 30 bodies only makes it hotter.

4:30 am update before this post goes live:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/parents-opposed-to-ontarios-sex-ed-curriculum-can-pull-kids-from-class/article26255639/


I still remember my brother’s first day of high school.  There are three years of difference between us so there were lots of differences.  His frustration at supper that night was all of the teachers that said “Oh, you’re Doug’s brother.  You must be …. ” and rambled off a list of attributes that they just naturally assumed that he had.  Nothing could be further from the truth; he had all kinds of different abilities and skills.

Related to this theme is this blog post from Rusul AlRubail “STUDENTS ARE NOT ALLOWED IN HERE! #ILOOKLIKEAPROFESSOR” and her story about her interpretation of assumptions made about her as an instructor.

Both of these were going through my mind as I read an article about how teachers should prepare for the first day of classes by going through student records and creating a profile from their data and comments from previous teachers so that they could start the school year the best informed.  Not surprisingly, it focused on student misbehaviours and essentially advocated “knock ’em down and keep them down” so that they learn their place.

It was an article that deeply offended me and everything that I think I know about teaching.

You’re with the students for the next term, semester, year.  I distinctly remember talking to a student who was late for one of my classes because he had an appointment with a new vice-principal.  He was so impressed with her – “She didn’t even look through my record to see what I’d done before.  She wanted to talk about what I had done now and give me a chance to make it right.  I like her and I think I’m going to try to be better.”  The clean slate approach had made such an impression.

When you think about it, the last time a student was a student at your school was two months ago.  A lot can happen in two months.

  • certainly, there’s two months of growth as a human;
  • there might be a girl/boy friend gained or lost;
  • there could have been a family crisis;
  • there could have been a summer school experience;
  • there could have been divine intervention;
  • there could have been the experience of being a leader on a winning team;
  • there could have been an achievement in swimming class;
  • there could have been an experience of dealing with the public with a summer job;
  • there could have been …  well, you get the picture.

This current commercial from McDonald’s sums it up nicely.

There is every chance that that student might be completely different from the student that left the school in June, for better or for worse.

All students show up first day with blank notebooks and new pencils/pen and, if you’re lucky, their own electronic device with the ability to create new documents.

Shouldn’t they all have the opportunity to start anew and prove themselves and their abilities to you without the baggage of the past?  Give them the opportunity to prove themselves to you.

Do you really want to continue with your or someone else’s assumptions that may not be correct going forward?