Take the long way home


My apologies to Supertramp.

The last leg of our trip home involved flying from YYZ to YQG.

Normally, it’s a very quick and short flight and roughly flies along the 401.  

The advice on the Pearson Airport website is always good.

Besides, after you’ve walked the length of your terminal looking at the shops and buying a few comforting things, what else is there to do?  Our gate was one of two at the end of the D terminal and there seemed to be a considerable number of people for a midnight flight.  The other gate was prepped for another 6am flight.  Off to the internet and I found out why.  The 8pm flight had been cancelled.  It would appear that Air Canada was doubling up on our flight.  That was true.  I started to poke around and found that a big storm had indeed hit the Windsor area and was headed east.

I hoped that we wouldn’t be delayed.

There were an unusually high number of people heading to the desk checking in on something but I felt comforted knowing that I had my boarding pass well in hand.  That did turn out to be the case.  The gate attendants were printing boarding passes as quickly as they could.  Hopefully, it’s not going to be standing room only!  Eventually, we all got on board and I heard the flight attendant indicate that there was only one empty seat.  That’s efficient.

We got our seats; we were right next to the wing and I did my usual neck exercises trying to look around and see what else was happening outside.  I think it’s a testament to the organisation at an airport that so much was happening with so many people.  And it all gets done.

Finally, we’re all on board and take off.  The pilot comes on the intercom to do the standard welcome and then gives a special welcome to those who were delayed.  For the rest of us, he explained why.  They had flown all the way to Windsor but the power was out so that they couldn’t land and had to return to Toronto.  I made myself a note to check that out later.  

Thanks to Flightaware, I was able to.

You had to feel sorry for those people affected.  So near and yet so far!

Then came the news for the rest of us.  The storm was still working its way up the 401 but the captain thought that he could bypass it by flying over Lake Huron and approaching Windsor that way.  Having grown up near Lake Huron, I knew that was a bit out of the way!  Again, another note to check it out later.

Of course, the entire time of the flight, I’m looking out the window trying to see landmarks and failing desperately.  But, as long as we have a competent pilot in control, I’m not worried.

You’ll see that, from the diagram, he did manage to deke around the storm.  

Not only that, but it was a night smooth flight, a quick taxi in Windsor, and we’re at the terminal for the longest wait of any flight — waiting for your luggage.  Given the hoops that it must have gone through since I last touched it, I’m always so impressed that it’s there, undamaged, and ready to go.

As I sit back and marvel at all that happened, I can help but be impressed with all the technology that made it happen.  Poke around the Flightaware site and you’ll see what I mean.  If you’re in the mathematics or computer science classroom, there’s enough authentic data there to generate many interesting problems and graphs.

 

Problem solving or solving problems


Ahead of the CSTA Conference, I met up with a long time friend and we sat around chatting and solving all of the ills of the world.  If only anyone would listen to us.

The conversation eventually got around to problem solving with computer science.  Most computer science teachers will tell you that it’s the ultimate discipline for having students solve problems.  You see so much of the current thinking about visible thinking, collaboration, testing hypotheses, etc.

Then he made an interesting observation.  Do we, in fact, teach problem solving?

I thought it was an odd question.  Isn’t that what we do?

Then he pushed on.  We both agree that the best computer science book ever written was Oh! Pascal!  Just reading it made you want to program and solve more difficult problems.  But that’s not how many courses work.

Courses, and most textbooks, teach about the structure of the language.  So, you might have a unit or a chapter on the FOR structure or the IF structure or …

Then, to reinforce the learning, the student will see and then write a number of programs using that routine so that they can prove they understand.  The common wisdom is that you have to do that in order to understand how it works.  But is that really problem solving?  In the context that it’s usually applied, there’s no question about “how” the problem should be solved.  You just spent classroom time on the unit.  And, for the most part, the solutions that are submitted are much the same.

But what about the big project where the student evaluates everything – the tools, the interface, the data, the logic, and comes up with a unique solution that solves the problem?

I think that it speaks volumes to the concept of the major project given towards the end of the course.  But should there be more of this sort of thing?

It’s also a chasing your tail concept too.  Students can’t write the program until they understand the constructs of the language.

If nothing else, it does give you pause to think.

The need for speed


Before you start thinking about putting your fist through your computer monitor because your browser is acting up again, have you considered investigating the speed of your internet connection?  

The browser is only as good at displaying information as the speed of your connection.

Or, perhaps you know that you’re paying your Internet Server Provider so much a month and you’re expecting to get certain speeds.  How do you know that you’re getting what you’re paying for?  How do stack up to the speeds that you see other ISPs advertise?

Well, there are resources on the internet that will allow you to quickly <grin> determine this.

For the longest time, I used Speedtest by Ookla solely to do the task.

For the most part, it confirms what I already knew.  I have a fairly slow connection and it never reaches the speed that I pay for.  (although the fine print says “speeds up to”)

As long as I’m reading and writing, it gets the job done.

Updates to software are typically done overnight so that I don’t get frustrated watching the progress meter inch along.  When speed and reliability are of importance, I’m off to sponge some faster access elsewhere.  

But, I always wanted a second opinion – maybe Speedtest should be fact checked?

When you think of it, bandwidth is of real importance to Netflix so it was natural that they have their own utility.  I was impressed at this point in our connected time that the domain https://fast.com/ was actually available for them!

Running it confirms the numbers for download speed that Speedtest reported.  Interestingly, Fast only records download speed which makes sense.  Netflix wants to send you movies and shows; they don’t want you to upload your crappy cat videos.

In the classroom, this can provide some very interesting data for students to collect and analyse.

  • what is the speed of our school’s connection?
  • if we all watched a YouTube video on our computers at the same time, could we affect the overall speed?
  • are there times of the day that are better than other?
  • can we convert kbps to Mbps?

Who’s paying attention?


Nobody Every Got Fired For Buying IBM

I hope that you had a chance to read my interview with Cliff Kraeker yesterday.  It’s been a few years since I’d had a chat with Cliff face-to-face but we maintain regular conversations via social media.  He’s always a good person to push my thinking.  As I read his responses to my questions during editing for the blog post, it also brought back some pretty fond memories of learning and thinking from days gone by.

Unfortunately, my “Interview series” of posts have the same title.  They all start as “An interview with …”.  It was intentional to make them all clump together and also point out that the focus was on the interviewee and their thoughts and not some sort of theme that I had worked for.  But there was so much rich content there that I could have used the “buying IBM” quote as a title and it would have worked.  Another word that kept rolling through my mind was “insular”.

There really was an important quote from Cliff in the interview.

The ultimate question still seems to stand. Does Information Technology Departments (IT) dictate to education what they can do or does education dictate to IT what needs to happen and then IT makes it happen?

That thought occurred again when I read Alfred Thompson’s “Interesting Links 4th of July 2016” post this morning.

An example of an IT failure. What is the mission and purpose of the IT department at your school/district? Apparently I am not the only one who believes that “A school IT department has only one major priority, supporting teachers so they have the tools to teach.”

IT Departments in a school district have a huge mandate.  Keep every piece of technology running and make it suitable for administration and classroom use as it’s needed.  I know the challenge; I managed our IT Department for a short period of time and I worked hand in hand with them as a classroom computer consultant for a number of years.

It wasn’t easy at the beginning.  In the beginning, computers were management tools that somehow had weaselled their way into the classrooms.  Now, instead of doing word processing and the odd spreadsheet, students were expecting to take virtual trips across Canada, peek into rain forests, create multimedia news reports, share their successes with the world through blogging, learning how to do things by watching a YouTube video, write their own software and test it on a school computer, share documents from home to school, send creations to printers (2 and 3D), instruct a robot how to do things, teachers create their own websites/blogs/wikis and so much more.  You can fill in your own needs.  In Ontario, the situation escalated as software was licensed by the Ministry of Education, school districts licensed their own titles, parent groups would provide money to buy above and beyond the board standard, pilot projects from inside and outside required even more specialized attention, and so much more.

Over the years, we worked together melding curriculum needs with IT concerns to make sure that things would work reliably.  We would bring in classroom teachers to work with the huge proposed system image to hopefully make sure that everything worked before it was rolled out to the system.  It was a frustrating time; people take these things so personally and any suggestion either way was guaranteed to be second guessed.  But the overwhelming goal had to be to make sure that there was a picture of a young learner in everyone’s mind and their learning satisfaction was the ultimate goal.

In the interview with Cliff, he commented on a number of things done in addition to internal planning within a district – regional and provincial ideas.  Nobody had a monopoly on how things could/should be done and, together, we were that much better.  Rather than being “insular”, we were ready to embrace ideas from all over the place with the net result being everyone was in a better and more educated position.

In the great computer timeline, we are at an interesting time.  Windows 10 and Mac OS have never been better.  But they’re no longer the only game in town.  There are huge numbers of Windows XP machines that can’t be upgraded.  Do they just get recycled or does a progressive solution rely on installing some version of Linux on them to maintain an adequate supply of technology for classroom use?  Chromebooks seem poised to take on the world with their lower price and impending ability to run Android applications.  Does the educational learner need all the power of a traditional computer to do what they need?

Summer time is always a good time to refresh everything.  For a couple of months, there really aren’t little fingers at the controls.  Who’s paying attention to what the next year offers?  Will it be business as usual with tried safe solutions or is it time to pay attention to what’s happening in the education and tech world and get on board?

Show up and refuse to leave


Although the “I” in ISTE stands for International, its annual conference isn’t always held at an Ontario friendly time.  That was the case this year – it was the last week of school which made it a challenge for some to attend.  One who did attend was from Thames Valley and she shut the place down with her closing keynote.  But it was true Michelle to note the date and the students that she was missing because of it.  You’ve got to see her closing!

I know that she anguished over her presentation, spending literally months on it and then it was time to go live.

Thanks to the technology, those of us who were not in attendance in Denver could still experience things.

Of course, what would a technology conference be without a live stream of comments and media via Twitter.  But, it went further than that.

Check out the Sketchnotes that caught the highlights of her talk.

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cmjow_kukaexdbl

So, congratulations to Michelle for pulling it off and making the wonderful connections between herself, her class, Ontario, and beyond.

Thanks, also, to the technology.  Those in attendance certainly documented the event well using a variety of technologies.  Thanks to those who did so.

One of the special things is a Periscope recording thanks to Cori Coburn-Shiflett.

https://www.periscope.tv/w/1nAKEqRkygkKL

The hallmark of a great keynote address comes with its call to action and certainly Michelle did her best to reach out to educators and inspired them where they live.

It’s not that I don’t trust Alfred


Yesterday was a hot day.  

So hot, in fact, that I decided to wear my bathing suit with an old crappy t-shirt while I walked the dog because I knew that a swim would be in order after a long hot, humid walk.

We went through our get ready routine which involves a leash for him, my headphones with music, and my phone.  It’s a routine that we’ve mastered for a long time now.

And, we’re off.

Now, I’d been playing with this “trusted” feature and really enjoying it.  Basically, you set it up to recognize when I’m wearing my watch or if I’m at home and it trusts that it’s me that’s using the phone.  That means that I don’t have to enter a code or pattern to unlock it.  It just knows that it’s me and doesn’t require it.  So far, it’s been a real productivity gain.

My phone is in my bathing suit pocket.  Upon later reflection, the rest of this story could have been avoided had I been wearing a Speedo but those days are behind me.

I’m walking and feeling the phone banging against my thigh and I guess that I should have expected that.  

I get a notification from Alfred Thompson that his latest “Interesting Links” post is up.  So, I grab my phone to see what he’s found this time; he’s usually good for a bunch of links to resources.  I scan through them, seeing his reference to me spelling “colours” as it should be north of Lake Erie.  Then, I click the lock and put the phone back in my pocket.  The banging resumes.

Unknown to me though, is that I think this banging was actually brushing the front of the phone, unlocking it since the phone was trusting that it was me holding it.  I pulled the phone out again just to double check what Alfred had said.

Now, somewhere in all this mix, the phone had taken a picture and posted it to Facebook.  I didn’t know this until later I got a question from my friend Diane.  Actually, it was more of a question mark.

I grabbed my phone to see what she was asking about.  

Apparently, I had taken a picture of the sky with a thread from my old ratty t-shirt in the foreground.  I can understand her question – normally this phone takes an awesome picture.  This was anything but.  To make matters worse, I had posted another out of focus sky picture too.  

I was going to stop and explain but I got the look from Jaimie that I need to pick up the pace and stop messing around with the phone!

I did what I could – I replied Art and then did continue our pace.

The lesson here?

  • Don’t walk the dog while wearing a bathing suit.
  • Don’t take the phone with me – wait, let’s not get carried away.
  • Maybe go old school and not try out every new feature I find.

I’ve opted for the second option.  

At least for today.

 

A colourful post


OK, here’s a simple question.

Describe to me the colour Red.

It’s not as easy as you might think.

How about Green?

Or Blue?

It’s actually something that computers do very well that we struggle with.

Red is 255.

Anyone who’s played around with the colour chooser in Photoshop knows that.

Anyone who’s ever mixed paint knows that a mixture of colours will generate a new colour.  In fact, on your computer, any combination of Red, Green, and Blue will give you all the colours that your computer can display.  There are tools that will give you the right combination to give you exactly the colour that you want.  (or you can do it manually which can be frustrating at times!)

So, grounded in the basics, can you eyeball and make an educated guess as to colour?

If you said yes or you’re curious, you need to check out the RGBChallenge.

It’s simple to play and will test your blending knowledge.

Which of the three samples is generated by the RGB given?

Right?

I had to try many times to fail just for the screen capture.  <grin>

It’s a nice little time suck that will get your blending skills perfected.

How about your students?  This is a skill for the next digital artist.  Or maybe someone working in the paint section of the hardware store for the summer.

Give it a shot and have fun.