Is It Really That Important?

The other day, I had to drive into the city to meet some friends for a coffee.

I was stopped at a red light on a four lane road.  (Walker Road, if you know the city).

I looked to my right to see the cross traffic and noticed that there was a young lady in the car next to me and she was looking down.  Odd, then it occurred to me – she’s not napping, she’s texting.  I suppose that she wasn’t causing danger at the moment but, in the back of my mind, I seem to recall reading of a person who got a ticket for distracted driving while doing the same thing at another red light.  The argument was that the driver wasn’t in motion but that didn’t pan out.

In fact, the Ministry of Transportation has an entire page devoted to distracted driving.

Distracted Driving

The page examines the topic in great detail.

Anyway, the light turned green and both of us went through the intersection at roughly the same speed.  The difference?  I was watching the road; out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that she was still looking down.  I backed off; I didn’t want to get caught in case she drifted into my lane.

I was about to but the driver behind her beat me to it and laid on the horn.  Her neck snapped up and I think she must have felt a twinge of guilt as she hit the gas and flew away from us.

I know that we’re not perfect but to do something like this that has been proven unsafe over and over just blows my mind.

It just serves as a reminder to keep your eyes open and be aware of everything around you.

We’re So Demanding

and that’s a good thing…

I still remember the meetings and planning for the end of the world.

I think that it was in the release of Window XP that Microsoft included versions of Solitaire and Minesweeper.  When we first got a computer with XP installed for evaluation, we couldn’t get away from it.  The cards, in Solitaire, were so incredibly well designed and displayed on the screen.  Plus, the animation at the end of the game when we won could keep us fascinated for hours.

But back to seriousness, we had to review the applications that would be installed on the image and then deployed to a system.  Do we include these games or not?  How would we ever get students on task?  Will teachers and administrators do their jobs or would they be aiming for high scores?  It was just a silly conversation.

What brought all this back to mind this morning was reading this story “The best blackjack apps for iPhone“.  Isn’t Blackjack just the game of 21?  That led me to wonder what’s happening in the Solitaire world.  “Solitaire Online”  Good gravy.  Have we lost our collective minds by taking awesome childhood games and putting them online?

Then the programming mind in me clicked in.  

“We just don’t create Solitaire.”  

“We create a better Solitaire experience.”

and we’re all the better for the great design and programming minds behind this.

Those of us who are long in the keyboard remember Visicalc.  In a world where we loudly proclaim “game changer”, this truly was a game changer.  It changed everything I ever thought I knew about marks recording, for example.  I could immediately sit with a student and do the math – “What if I don’t hand in this assignment?  How much would 100% on this test change my overall mark?”.  I even wrote an article about how to set up a gradebook in Visicalc.  Now, the basic premise is standard logic for many elementary school students.  Plus, they’ll create pie charts to visualize the results.  I couldn’t do that with the technology of the time.

Why is this important?

In a world of self-proclaimed life-long learners, how many are ready and prepared to throw out the old and embrace the new?  Pick any discipline and compare the start of the art today to how it was done even five years ago.  We are demanding, constantly pushing forward and it’s a good thing.  If you subscribe to the notion of a growth mindset, sit back and take a look around you right now.  Are you practising it with your deeds?

A couple of post scripts…

1)  You can still get Solitaire, Mindsweeper, and Hearts for Windows 8!  Get them here.

2)  Technology may not always get you where you need or want to be.  There’s more to playing games than playing the game.  Brandon Grasley visits the classics here.

Sharing Our Learning

I guess it was about three years now when Cyndie Jacobs and I took on the challenge of moving the ECOO Conference to Niagara Falls where it teamed with OASBO and renamed itself “Bring IT, Together”.  The conference had been at a location in Markham and the conference had suffered from room availability and internet capacity.  These are two challenges that all venues have to deal with and both can be solved with money – add rooms, add connection capacity.  Obviously, the second option is a bit more affordable.

Our discovery took us to Niagara Falls and the new Scotiabank Convention Centre.  We previewed the site with the meeting planner and we both insisted upon talking with the Manager of IT.  We needed to ensure that we had the connection capacity to be a success.  Our meeting was pleasant enough and we got the customary IT assurance that “oh yes, we have the capacity”.  Ever fretful, we did purchase additional capacity and ensured that all of the presenters and keynote speakers had a wired connection to their presentation space to avoid being bogged down by the online activity.

Why?  Today’s educators expect that connectivity for their learning is just like air.  It should be there and it should be free.

Why 2?  Because today’s educators enhance the learning experience by sharing with others – both in the same room and on the internet.  And, this sharing allows you to create documents, post conference, to memorialise the learning.

One of my favourite memories from that first conference was talking to the IT Manager after the opening keynote.  He had watched the opening keynote address from the control booth and noted that everyone in the audience had at least one device open and on.  The theatre seats 1023 people so you do the math.  I had to break the news that there would be people also watching from the doorways and seated on the floor.  And, those were only the devices that he could see from his perch.  It’s a rare conference goer that only has one connected device.  To his credit, he and his staff immediately upped the capacity with additional access points.

This isn’t a one-off situation.  Educators are like this at most learning events.  By composing and recording their learning, they make it more meaningful for themselves and we have the added advantage of extending the learning beyond the four walls of the venue to all educators across the province who care to look in.  Not everyone can attend in person but they can be part of the learning when they’re connected.  Chris Wejr has a terrific post on the Canadian Education Association blog “Moving Beyond “Sit’ n’ Git” Pro-D” that expands on the concept nicely.

So, it was great head shaking that I read Sue Dunlop’s post “Don’t Tweet During My Keynote“.  She makes reference to a keynote presentation at the OPSOA annual conference where the keynote speaker asked the audience to not record or send Twitter messages during the keynote address. 

Now, this is not a condemnation of the speaker.  I mean, who hasn’t been to a concert where recording of the music is forbidden.  Artists make their living from selling their abilities and recording and sharing cuts into their earnings.  I recall a recent concert where the artist asked that people not record or take pictures during the concert because the flash was distracting.  The artist promised, and delivered, a photo session later on.  I get that.

It’s the second part of the message that disturbs me the most.  How dare a presenter at an education conference presume to limit the learning or, in fact, the preferred learning style of the audience?  So, an opportunity to share and extend a message (whatever it was; those of us who weren’t there may never know…) was lost.  An opportunity for further speaking opportunities is lost.  Often a speaker is chosen by reputation and the amount of audience engagement that’s generated.

Live messaging is the rule these days, not the exception.  For the Bring IT, Together Conference, we broadcast loudly the conference hashtags #BIT13 #BIT14 long before the conference started, during the conference for shared learning, and after the conference to extend the conversation.  There was just a memory picture posted the other day.  This summer, another conference I’m involved with, the Computer Science Teachers’ Association is already broadcasting its hashtag #CSTA15 and it appeared on the registration site when it opened.  This isn’t new or a novelty.  It’s how we learn and share our learning.

I think a speaker and an organization that doesn’t do their best to connect participants and encourage the sharing of learning, conversation, brainstorming, ideas, and visuals has missed the mark.

A Kiosk

Sometimes, it’s just nice to do something “because you can” without a consideration for actually having a plan to do anything with it.  That’s where I found myself with the Chrome App Builder written by Google.

And, it’s just about that easy.  The application turns a web resource into an application that runs natively in Chrome OS or, if you turn off the Kiosk mode option, within any browser.. 

Ever the educator, my first question was “How could a school use this?” 

How about during open houses and you’re looking for an information Kiosk.  I know that people have created information displays with other tools but they do require a look-see every now and again to see if some enterprising student has elected to show Mom and Dad what else the computer can do….

Publishing the resulting production to the Chrome Web Store might be of interest as well. 

Or, just visit me on the web!


What Would You Say?

OK, true story.

I bought a piece of technology the other day and went to the vendor website to register it for warranty purposes.

The submission form had the usual details – looking for your name, address, gender, age (via birthdate), level of education, profession, income, and a bunch of other things.  I was about to say “I’m outta here” when I noticed the red asterisks.  Only the country was required.  I’d already given up email address as a login but I could leave the rest blank. 

I was prepared to pay for the stamp to send in the printed registration card!

As I reached the bottom of the form, the last question was:

I had to ponder over this.

Does it help tech support if I had to call for assistance? 

If I say “Excellent”, would they say, “OK drop to a terminal prompt and type the following command line”.  If I say “Very Bad”, would they say “OK, move the little mousey dealy until it moves over the button and it turns green and then click the push thingy on the left”.

The more I pondered, the more curious I got.  Do they appreciate that an “excellent” computer literate person elects to purchase their product?  Or, do they make things so simple that even a person who self-identifies as a “very bad” computer literate person can understand it?

There was no rubric or indication of what the criteria was for any of them. 

Certainly, those in education know that, no matter what your expertise, there’s always something to learn.  What would a person who works in IT say?  What would a 10 year old who knows everything say? 

Then, it hit me.  There’s a reason why rubrics don’t have five levels.  “Fair” seemed to be a nice level to compromise with.  No serious commitment either way.  No ego in choosing excellent; no beating yourself up by admitting very bad.

Without criteria, what would you have answered for the company?  Set aside the company for a minute and do a self-evaluation.  Would you give the same answer?

My “Perfect” Classroom

I enjoyed reading this post over the weekend.  “The Perfect Classroom, According to Science

By its standards, my old classroom was a little less than perfect.  I’m sure that those who joined me in B41 can agree.  At secondary schools, you don’t typically have your own, devoted classroom but I mostly did.  No other teacher really wanted to be there and asked for room changes if one was available.  As a new teacher, I was just delighted to get a job!  Plus, the prospects of having the room to myself save for one period was just over the top.

To try to describe it, the school was divided into blocks or areas.  We were in the B area for Business.  It was on the second floor; there was room for an elevator but I don’t recall it ever being used.  So, in the B block, most of the rooms were around the perimeter of the block except for B41.  It was an interior room with no windows.  The room itself was a regular classroom, albeit smaller than others with two rows of tables that just fit in there and sat 24 students nicely.  The year I taught Grade 9 math with 36 students was interesting.  Behind that classroom was a room that was to be devoted to a computer, rumoured to have been an IBM 1130, but it never materialized.  So, we had this extra space where we put the computing devices that we could in there.  My classroom had shag carpeting and the computer room was tiled so the sparks really flew as you shuffled from the classroom to the back room.  Coming from a university setting, it was a natural transition.  I didn’t notice much difference.

OK, stage is set, here’s how we stacked up against the Perfect Classroom in the article.

Light – as an interior room, natural light wasn’t possible!  So, fluorescent lighting had to do.  For the most part, I left the door open and we could get even more artificial light from the hallway.  It was so nice at the end of the day to go outside and coach football.  Fresh air and natural sunlight.  Aahh!

Noise – I’ll admit – with the exception of the music room, this was the noisiest in the school.  After all, it was computer science and students were brainstorming and planning together.  As well, we had adjacent rooms that added to the noise – the staff room was at the back and we were only separated by a door.  Other neighbours included the student newspaper, student council, and the resource room.  Not that we used pins, but you’d never hear one drop if it did.  Fortunately, the shag carpeting did soak up some of it, I’m sure.  I was not adverse to a little music; I know it helps me think so we had a portable player in the computer room.

Temperature – If you’ve ever enjoyed Essex County in the spring, you’ll know that I was so happy to be in an air conditioned school.  When it worked, you could hang meat in the room.  I swear the design was to pump cold air into my room first and then let it drift to the others.  Or maybe the design was to keep the computer room cold?  It was not uncommon to wear a sweater there while it was over 30 degrees outside.  Now, the operative thing was “when it worked” which, I’ll be honest, was most of the time.  But, when the air conditioner went on the fritz, it was unbearably hot with humidity doing its thing to the walls and streams of water appeared!

Accessibility – This was never a need for me.  However, it wouldn’t have been difficult.  Tables and chairs were the sitting arrangement and they could be moved to accommodate any needs.  You couldn’t rearrange them for pods because the room was small but we made do.  You could sit on both sides of the table and make little groups or some would make seating arrangements on the floor.

Layout – In theory, you could arrange the tables however you wanted.  The previous occupant had the tables arranged so that the room was narrow and long (three rows of 8).  My first move was to turn the orientation so that it was wide and shallow. (two rows of 12)  It definitely was easier to move the chairs than the tables.  In the computer science classroom, it really didn’t matter because we didn’t sit for long anyway.

Plants – While the caretaker we had, had a real green thumb and put plants in all of the classrooms, mine just didn’t allow anything to grow with no natural light.  Once, I recall bringing in a poinsettia after Christmas and I don’t think it lasted more than a day or two.  One year, a class chipped in for a plastic plant to spruce things up but it really didn’t work.  (I appreciated the effort…)

Wall Decorations – I had two walls of blackboards, half a wall of windows looking into the computer room and half a wall of cork board.  There wasn’t much room for decoration but the cork boards were each assigned to a class.  For each Monday, a small group would be in charge of changing their class cork board to something computer or technology related.  It kept changing the look and it gave me another source for assessment other than coding.  (there are more computer science careers than coding)  The Marketing room was just across the hall (with their outside window) so we never had a problem getting design materials.

Soooooo…. my “perfect classroom” doesn’t stand up terribly well to the metric in the original article.  Fortunately, for the students, they would move from class to class and our room was only home for 50 or 55 minutes a day.  The person most affected would be me!

But, you know, when I truly think about it, the room is just a place for a bunch of people to be at a particular time.  What really makes a classroom perfect are the occupants and I had some of the very best students pass through.  It’s so interesting to connect with them on Facebook or see them in the community.  That’s what is really important and to that extent, things were darn near perfect for us.

So here’s a blogging challenge for you, bloggers. 

How does your classroom stack up to the perfect classroom in the original article?


It may have started with Alan Funt and Candid Camera.  Or maybe even further back.

Today, we can all be our own camera person, audio/video editor, producer, director, and even capturer of cats doing funny things.  I’m a doer of these things; if my Samsung Smartphone is within reach and there’s something that catches my eye like the fog rolling up the Detroit River, I’ll drop what I’m doing to take a picture.

It’s all in good fun and great to share with family and friends.  (and now you, valued blog reader)

But, to paraphrase Daniel Beylerian, when used for other purposes, “it gets real”.

This video is all over the news this week – a police officer addressing a Uber driver and the moment caught by a passenger in the back seat and then shared with the world.  Of course, this is the stuff that news organizations thrive on which explains the wide spread viewing of it.  You have to have seen it already but, in case you haven’t, it’s embedded below.

Consequently, the officer in question has been assigned to desk duty and has been recorded making a formal apology for his actions.  In my interactions with police officers, I’ve never experienced anything like this.  They’ve always been polite, professional, and doing their jobs.  Videos like that never end up on social media.

Cameras are everywhere, as noted previously on this blog.  One day, I actually started counting the number of times that I was caught on camera and was up to 30 until I realized that those were only the cameras that were out in the open so that I could see them.  How many can I not see?  That’s when the counting stopped.  I didn’t curl up into a ball in the corner and start shaking but I’ll admit to making the potential enormity of the situation start me thinking.  I could have taken a video of the lady at ##### that treated my daughter and I so badly.  That would have gone viral.  But to what end?

But, I wonder…are we becoming a self-policing Orwellian state?  Does the threat of being captured on video at any moment mean that we have to be on best behaviour 24/7 lest the worst happen?

What does this mean for the classroom?  Have you ever worked your way through a problem and made a mistake?  What if that mistake was captured on video and then showed to the world so that you could be ridiculed?  How many times can you get away with “I was just seeing if you were paying attention”?

Are there certain placed in society that we shouldn’t be recording?  It’s sad that it had to be done, but at some of the local shopping malls, there are signs indicating that phones aren’t allowed in the washrooms.  Has it come to the point where we need to have signs reminding us of common sense?

Where does it all end?