This Week in Ontario Edublogs


You know, you don’t really appreciate something until you lose it. I’m feeling that this week in my loss of freedom to just go and browse my way through a store. It’s not that I do it a lot but the important part is that, in another time, I actually could if I wanted to. I just can’t now.

I did have a fulfilling moment last night. A childhood friend of mine had a crashed iPad and I was able to give her some advice and she’s back online now. My price was very affordable compared to what Apple would have charged. I got:


On to some of the great things that crossed my keyboard this week from the blogs of Ontario Edubloggers.


COVID-19 & Education

Shelly Vohra offers some candid advice about attempts by the Ministry of Education to promote e-learning or online learning or what you may wish to call it. She echoes some of the observations that have been talked about here and in other places. It is in stark contrast to the comments coming from some of the right-wing news sources in the province. They just don’t have a clue. The sad thing is the number of anonymous comments. I don’t reshare because I don’t believe and yet I can’t resist the urge to read the garbage that they are spewing. Like I indicated previously on this blog, you can’t equate one person with a computer from their employer and an internet connection with a teacher trying to teach a class of students with varying needs and just as many varying computer configurations. That is, of course, if the student is fortunate enough to have a computer and an internet connection.

Shelly points out, with respect to the Minstry’s assumptions that this is a good thing:

  • The first is that educators were not consulted in the creation of this ‘resource’
  • Secondly, the ‘resource’ doesn’t take into consideration the diversity in our student population
  • my third issue with such a ‘resource’ – the issue of equity.

We can’t overlook that this will be a good resource for some and certainly school districts are, or have been directed to, share on their website.

Shelly promises a followup post with some of her ideas.


How The Coronavirus Should Impact Education

Matthew Morris takes on the topic of how all this should affect education. He thinks that we’ll all play out and make the best of things in the short term. He focuses instead on the future.

So, what does happen if and when the balance of the school year is cancelled.

I did have to smile just a bit when he took on society’s perspective of Physical and Health Education. Is it a nice break from the rigours of the classroom or does it have a more important role?

And, where do report cards fit in?

This post is a nice focus on reality.


Illness, Shame and the Educator Martyr Complex

From the ETFO Heart and Art Blog, Michelle Fenn makes some observations based on the current reality and some of the realizations that can come from it.

We all have experienced the various scenarios in Michelle’s post. We have indeed dragged ourselves into work when we should have stayed at home.

We all have those emergency lesson plans that are tucked away for such an occasion and hope that we never need them.

We all know the panic of going to bed well and waking up ill. What will the kids do?

At some point, we’ve all had the experience of going into work when we really shouldn’t. As Michelle notes, we’ve made gains through collective bargaining about how to take care of ourselves. Sadly, there are employers that want to cut into this. There’s a huge difference in workplace activity between dealing with a full timetable of students who might be sick and some other professions that are nowhere near this. I still can’t get over that moronic Twitter message that I read indicating that teachers will get through COVID-19 because the experience of dealing with coughing the spreading a of germs of the classroom will help them.

Ironically, we have an entire province that has shut itself down due to a virus and those that are really worried about the impact of the lack of doing their jobs and the students they’re charged to work with are the teachers.


Exceptional Times: Using a Pandemic to Close the Digital Divide

Tim King follows up on a previous blog post where he addressed the challenges of having insufficient internet access at school for his needs with this post.

Now, he takes the concept of connectivity globally. I found his reference to the Loon project interesting. Note that this video is at least three years old.

And, of course, you’ll need a computer to attach to the network. He cites two sources; one being the unused computers at schools right now and the second being the Computers for Schools project.

I would suggest that all this is a start but won’t get us where we ultimately need to be. My internet service provider uses LTE and Satellite; it’s part of Canada’s rural solution. I had to send a warning to Stephen Hurley earlier this week that our voicEd show might be in danger when I ran a Speedtest and got this.

Image

Stephen recommends at least 2MB for success. Fortunately, it was a bit better for Wednesday morning. Had I needed the speed when I ran the test, I would have been out of luck. Imagine being a student at home relying on synchronous connections with a teacher.

The second part of the equation involves getting computers in the hands of students. One solution is to provide repurposed computers with a Linux environment and have them connect to a network with those specifications. The problem with older computers is that repairs and getting parts can be a challenge when things go wrong. I have a Dell (not exactly a generic machine) with a flashing orange light indicating that it doesn’t recognize the battery that it came with. It’s not likely that I’m going to shell out money for a new battery for this older computer.

On top of all of this, we make reference to this as a solution to those students whose families cannot afford their own technology. So, the poorer get a bandaid solution?

Despite my negative points above, a solution like this needs to be found. Traditionally, we’ve looked to public libraries as an evening solution but when they’re closed, that option is out.

Looking for a solution while living the problem really isn’t the solution. A proactive solution like hospitals have in hand needs to be in place. Smart educators like Tim should be given credit for their thoughts, along with a budget, and come up with a permanent solution should a similar situation ever arise again. And, even if it doesn’t, who wouldn’t want a solution where every student in the province has reliable access to the internet.


Being a Skillful Teacher

From the TESL Blog comes a post from Martina Finnegan that includes one of the best thinking moments for me this past while.

“Skillful teaching is the teaching that is contextually informed” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 20). We teach what we assume students should be learning in their particular situations, and sometimes this requires veering away from a syllabus and taking hold of alternate methods to help students learn what is required for their field

In today’s reality, I think of teachers that are now thrust online to continue their teaching.

I’ve been in conversation with a friend in the States that is teaching his Computer Science courses online. The connection to the student is through video conferencing from his living room to goodness knows where. I do know that one of those locations is in China.

One of my superintendents was a big believer in Management by Walking Around. Great read here. He believed that the best teachers are always walking around, looking at student progress and then let the alternate methods that Martina alludes to kick in. Educators know what the end game is and will do whatever is needed to get there.

I would hope that the best of the best meet Martina’s standards of a “Skillful Teacher”. She’s got some great references for additional reading in the post.


Neighbourhood Mending – 19/31 #SOL20

Melanie White SCREAMS

“This is not my neighbourhood!”

Why is she screaming?

She’s looking at a glossy magazine that describes her neighbourhood. The pictures that she sees in the magazine are drastically different from what she sees when she looks out the front window or around her neighbourhood.

It’s difficult to believe that this is happening in Canada in 2020. Judging by the comments to Melanie’s post, she’s not the only one who sees this and want to take action.

Letter writing to the magazine is a good start. Letter writing to those businesses that advertise in the magazine, cc: the magazine and to social media would even be more effective.


Andrea’s 2 Degrees

The Beast is back!

When I read the title, I thought it might be about a Degree in the Arts and a Degree in Education like so many teachers in province have and how could that be a post.

But I was wrong.

It’s a wonderful story about a relationship and professionalism that brings in a running kindergarten student and how grade 5 students ended up being more effective than the vice-principal in her role of authority.

Now, I’ve heard (and watched) 6 degrees of separation. I had to do a bit of research to find out just what was meant by 2 degrees. I hope that this is the context that they use in the post because I used it to understand their message.

There are specific spaces around each of us: 1. private space is the immediate space or circle – you. The next circle or microsystem is: 2. close family, friends, and peers in school, workplace, religious affiliation and neighborhood. The next circle would be the mesosystem: 3. to a lesser degree of closeness, extended family, acquaintances, and peers in school, workplace, religious affiliation and neighborhood. Circles 2. and 3. are the combined social space. Next is the exosystem, public space: 4. community, county, state, nation. The final circle, macrosystem, would represent: 5. the world. In Karinthy’s concept of six degrees of separation, a person would be six steps away from any one person in the world. This is the interconnectedness of dependent-origination. We are all connected. One degree of separation would place you solely in the inner most social circle or microsystem. This would lead you to a very select few within that social space closest to you.

When her direct message was ineffective, she turned to the connections of the 2nd degree and they were indeed able to be effective in stopping the running behaviour.

Then, in true Beast fashion, we’re witness to a discussion between Andrea and Kelly about this and their relationship.

In particular, I’m interested in this concept of a “2 degrees pilot”.


And, again, a wonderful collection of thought from Ontario Edubloggers. Please take time to click through and read the original posts.

Then, follow these people on Twitter.

  • Shelly Vohra – @raspberryberet3
  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Michelle Fenn – @Toadmummy
  • Tim King – @tk1ng
  • Martina Finnegan – @TESLOntario
  • Melanie White – @WhiteRoomRadio
  • The Beast – @thebeastedu

This post appears on:

https://dougpete.wordpress.com

If you read it anywhere else, it’s not the original.

Staying organized


I’ve used a number of utilities like this over the years. It’s a handy way to keep track of online resources that I use frequently. A long time ago, I even created one for the school district and it was called the Student Reference Portal. I had the IT Department make it the default page for the browsers.

Essentially, it’s a collection of important and frequently referenced links. If you’ve ever witnessed the frustration of watching students type a URL, you’ll immediately see the value.

And, more importantly, you can’t expect students to “Google” everything that they want to use on the internet. That doesn’t teach them much and there’s no guarantee that they’re going to end up where you want them to. Then, there’s the whole misinformation / literacy piece.

I played around with my latest find in this genre of resources this morning. It’s called Papaly.

You can create your own account and start getting organized or just play around with this tutorial offering.

The authors have taken a “card” approach to the layout. This means that you can pick up any of the cards and rearrange them to meet your need. When you start from scratch, you’ll have nothing but quickly can add your own links or import your bookmarks.

You’d populate the board with cards and enclosed links of your own and then leave this in a tab or make the link to your board the default for your browser.

If you’re going to start somewhere, you might as well start somewhere immediately usable. We all have our browsing routine. With a service like this, you can facilitate it by baking it right in.

An Interview with Andrew Dobbie


Andrew Dobbie is a teacher with the Peel District School Board.  To get his attention, all that you have to do is express an interest in sustainable activities or reusing computers for the benefit of students.  I had the opportunity to interview Andrew.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Andrew.  My first question is always the same; do you recall the first time that we met in person?

Andrew: Thanks for inviting me to chat Doug! My memory is fading in old age🤣 but I believe we first met when BIT was held in Toronto before the shift to Niagara Falls.

Doug:  We’ve been following each other on Twitter for a long time.  Why would you want to follow me?

Andrew:  I thought it was pretty obvious why people follow you, Doug.  You help me sift through current media and provide me with useful, sometimes actionable resources each week🙌

Doug:  Your passion for sustainable things is very evident to anyone who follows you on social media.  Can you give us a sense of where your passion is with this?

Andrew: The root of my passion for sustainability is in providing learners with a quality education through equitable access to computers in their classrooms.  My students needed help, so I researched a way to help them. Then, my students and I agreed that we should help everyone else.

Granted, the supportive team working with us exists throughout North America, Europe (in its infancy) and Iceland. We all work together to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Doug:  My interest in following you comes from the conversations and interactions that we’ve had online dealing with Linux.  You use it to breathe new life into old technology, often discarded. My interest was personal. I just wanted an alternative to Windows 10 for my 2010 Sony Vaio laptop. 

Do you use Linux personally?

Andrew: Yes! I use Linux every day with my students. I am also well versed in Win10 and MacOS too🤣  I need to be comfortable with all operating systems because some of my students bring in their own devices and I need to be able to assist them with daily operational challenges/troubleshooting.  I also dabble a bit with Android OS too just for fun. More along the lines of experimenting with converting different computing devices into hybrids running other operating systems. I’ve built some ChrMacbooks, converted old Windows computers into Linux devices, and even built one of the largest Android boxes using a massive desktop computer (as a joke- and it continues to be in operation today🤣).

Doug:  Now, when a person dips their toe into the world of Linux, it can be a bit frightening.  Long time Linux users go back to working the command line. apt-get, sudo, etc. Did you start that far back?

Andrew: I remember when I first tried terminal coding. I had no idea what I was doing. I have no formal training at all. Just YouTube, blogs, and Google Hangout guidance from a Linux expert, Aaron Prisk👍  

Aaron continues to be a very patient and supportive teacher. He listens to my coding frustrations and helps me to find parallel understanding between our common language and that of terminal coding. I started to learn the verbs of the language and it helped me learn how to install, move, package, and assembly Aaron’s student-tailored Xubuntu OS.  I still haven’t met Aaron in person. All our work has been completed remotely via Hangouts, Facebook IM, and now mainly via text message. So, yes. I use raw code in the terminal when constructing Linux FOG Servers and student-tailored Linux workstations.

Doug:  Linux comes in many flavours.  My first distribution was Ubuntu 4.04 and then the Edubuntu fork.  What was your first?

Andrew: Oh wow! You’ve been at it a little longer than me. I started with Cub Linux and Lubuntu initially because they were packed so small and could fit on a 2GB USB for installations.  Then, as I started dabbling with install on many different systems, I worked all the way back through history to Ubuntu 10, BSD, Linux plop, and all flavours after Ubuntu 10. Over the past 3 years, I have used and installed dozens of flavours to learn more about their unique strengths and differences but followed Aaron’s lead in using Xubuntu 16.04 for the first version of the student-tailored workstations.

Doug:  Since that time, I’ve changed my allegiance and now run Linux Mint.  What’s your favourite distribution?

Andrew: My friend Ryan, who is a data analyst and Linux junky, loves Mint too but my favourite continues to be Xubuntu because it provides me with all the necessary packaging tools to create the Linux student workstations.

Doug:  You talk about using Xubuntu.  Why this distribution?

Andrew:  Aaron Prisk introduced me to Xubuntu (a developer version of Linux) because he was already using it to create his own districts’ student image for all of their computers in Pennsylvania.  Lucky for me he was working through the process when I showed interest in learning it, and he took me under his wing (so to speak).

Doug:  It’s golden when you find someone with that amount of interest and patience. If someone else was interested in getting started in this area, how do they get started?

Andrew:  If anyone wants to learn how to install any Linux operating system, then I would suggest beginning with the USB installation technique.  We created a gForm to walk new learners through the process:

bit.ly/reimagewithlinux

It’s a little dated but it will help guide a new learner through the process.

Doug:  I like the way that you’ve used the Google Form as a tutorial for the end user. Well done.

You’ve forged a number of partnerships over the year, especially with Renewed Computer Technology of Ontario (RCTO).  How does that work?

Andrew: rcto.ca is an outstanding not-for-profit business who provide learning facilities with free desktop computers.  Initially, I needed computers in my classroom because our school didn’t have the budget for them and I couldn’t afford to buy them. RCT Ontario helped us.  We were lucky because they had tons of available computers back in 2016 when we first asked. They also had lots of LCD displays, which are a hot commodity and not easily available currently.

Essentially, if any learning facility needs free desktop computers, then they need to go to rcto.ca and request them. You will need to fill in a few online forms but be sure to request the free computers. They do offer some very affordable paid computer options as well (including a 1 year warranty), so they are a much better idea than buying new.  The first batch of 150 desktops we received for free in 2016 is STILL in service, supporting student learning needs in our classrooms!

RCT will also be happy to answer your questions by telephone too, so if you need help just call them.

In September, I was asked to assist their IT department in establishing a Linux line of free computers, so I created a Xubuntu 16.04 FOG Server clone, and a Xubuntu 18.04 FOG Server clone. Both of which can deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system on any computer 10 years old or newer.

Doug:  One of the stumbling blocks that some might have with school districts is putting non-district computers on the network.  How have you handled that?

Andrew: All school boards have always been open to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, so we explored and found success with multiple school boards by signing Linux computers onto board networks as BYOD devices. I was invited to York Catholic and Toronto Catholic boards to show their IT department heads how this process can work, and at that time (in 2017-2018 I believe) I created FOG Server clones for them to more efficiently deploy the student-tailored Xubuntu operating system onto their computers. 

I think it’s important to note that all of this is free, and always will be.

Doug:  That’s always been the claim for Linux and there are so many talented people driving that ship. We could always remind them that the Chromebooks that people buy new are running ChromeOS which is based on the Linux kernel!

How do you address concerns from teachers that running Linux doesn’t given them all of the applications that they would have on a Macintosh or Windows computer?

Andrew: Most teachers and students are running cloud-based programs these days anyway.  My students never have a problem using Linux to run any gSuite, Office365, or any other web-based tools like Scratch, Robocompass, Explorelearning.com, you name it.  They all work!

Some teachers have asked for special photo editing tools, so I showed them how pixlr.com runs perfectly through Google Chrome, and is easy for students to use.

Essentially, if an educator is resourceful enough, then he/she will find a comparable and free software tool that will run on their Linux systems. Yes, Minecraft too👍

Doug:  Your plan also involves your students.  How much training do they require before they are experts?

Andrew:  Experts? Hmmm. I’m not an expert and they would say they aren’t either, I think.  However, after having about a month or 2 of troubleshooting exposure and experience within our Tech Stewardship program, our Stewards are able to repurpose old computers easily.  In fact, 3 of our newest Stewards just repurposed a teacher’s old laptop this past week and they just started in the program in September.

Granted, our Xubuntu FOG Server does make the repurposing process extremely easy to transform multiple computers into Linux machines with only a few key strokes.  

Doug:  What is the minimum requirement for a computer to be refurbished for your purposes?  Do you limit it to old Windows computers or have you put Linux on Macintosh computers?

Andrew:  Current minimum requirements for excellent performance running our Linux image would be 4GB RAM and about a 2.4GHz processor (not that much really). It will run fine with only 2GB of RAM as well but 4GB RAM and learners WANT to use Linux instead of brand new computers because they are faster.

Also, I recommend installing our Xubuntu student-tailored operating system on computers 10 years old or newer.  Older than 10 years and we usually run into compatibility issues with hardware drivers and hardware begins to fail at times.

At this point in time, we have FOG Servers that can deploy Linux onto Windows computers easily.  Regarding Macs, students love ChroMacbooks the most, and I used to hand code each one because the FOG server wasn’t designed for Macs😓. Each student-tailored ChroMacbook took about 2 hours to code about a year ago.  Now, I simply open up the Mac. Remove the hard drive. Put the Mac hard drive into a windows computer. Change the hard drive to Linux using the FOG Server, then put it back into the Mac👍 Only takes about 15 minutes depending on the build.

Doug:  You will be doing a session at the upcoming Bring IT, Together Conference.  Can you give us a sneak peek?

Andrew: A sneak peek😕 

(FREE COMPUTERS!)  

On Wednesday morning, I will be bringing some of my special FOG Servers to make FOG Server clones for anyone that wants one.  You just need to bring an old laptop (that turns on🤣) with you, and stop by. I will even show you how easy it is to use it. You can use it on site to repurpose any other laptops you bring with you🙌

When I’m not teaching the process, I can repurpose up to 50 computers an hour by myself. So, if you just want some help repurposing your laptops for student use in your classrooms, then bring them by on Wednesday morning.

I will also be sharing some of our work highlights at IgniteBit2019 on Wednesday evening, so feel free to connect with me there too👍

If you can’t attend the Wednesday session, then my students will be joining me on Friday morning to help attendees repurpose their computers with Linux too. So, we can build you a FOG server or student-tailored Linux laptop at that time as well.

Finally, I believe I will be bringing lots of free mini desktop computer towers for attendees to take back to their classrooms for their students to use.  These mini desktop towers have been donated by rcto.ca and will include the tower, keyboard, mouse, and power cords (but unfortunately not LCD monitors due to short supply at the warehouse).

Doug:  Wow. Come to Bring IT, Together and leave with a free computer. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, Andrew.  If people want to follow you on Social Media, where would they turn?

Some great ways to start connecting:

A really quick fix that took a while


I’ve been using Linux in one form of computer or another since 2004.  It was at an ISTE conference that I attended a poster session (I was the only one; everyone else was at Apple or Microsoft based sessions) and the gentleman gave me a demo and a CD to install when I got home.

I got home; made an old computer dual bootable and haven’t looked back.  I’ve played with a number of distributions and currently am using Linux Mint on this computer and love it.  Everything is so stable and reliable compared to what’s on the other side of the hard drive.  

I also recognize that I’m not the nerdy type that compiles my own, etc. etc. but that’s OK.  If there’s one thing that Linux stands for, it’s freedom.

One of the very best things about Linux is that it can be configured to check for updates for every program on your computer at bootup.  With the move to operating system stores, this seems to be becoming adopted everywhere and I think that’s a great thing.  You should be running the latest and most secure of everything.

Anyway, since 2004, updates come along and I just acknowledge to the Update Manager to do its thing while I work on whatever it is that I want.  There’s no begging me to quit the application that I’m using so that it can be updated.  It just happens at next launch.

So, life was good until a couple of days ago when Update Manager refused to go any further until I fixed something.

Repository ‘https://deb.opera.com/opera-beta stable InRelease’ changed its ‘Origin’ value from ‘Opera Software ASA’ to ‘Opera Software AS’

How much difference could one lousy A make?  Well, it was enough to stop everything.

I put my years of training on Windows into action and rebooted the computer.  Same thing.  I deleted the offending program Opera and reinstalled.  Same thing.

So, apparently all this experience in the past wasn’t going to cut it.  I looked around the Update Manager with every menu and option I could find.  I struck out.

I was almost prepared to just delete Opera and continue to use Firefox, Chromium, or Vivaldi instead.  But that’s admitting defeat – an action I seldom like to take.

Then, from the depths of my memory, I went back to life on the command line.  It is a skill that more often than not has been replaced by some button on a GUI somewhere.  In particular, I started to wonder if the answer lied in using the APT command.

And, I was right!  It was just a matter of running “apt update” as superuser.

Oh, and replying y (not the default) to allow the change to be made to my system.  

Update Manager runs smoothly again.

So, there’s my visible thinking for today.  And, I’ll add the blogging component to make a record to myself should this ever happen again.  Eighteen years it was until I needed to solve this problem.  Who knew?

Just for one lousy, stinking “A”.

A month of command line fun


One of the topics that I have working for me in my Flipboard reading is Linux.  I’m not a die-hard Linux user knowing all of what’s capable at the command line.  I just like the fact that my old Windows computer is now fast, reliable, and more than capable to handle my modest needs.

These modest needs include web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, web applications, graphics, …

It’s just so nice that everything works and works well.

But, my history in computers goes way back to working Xenix, Unix, QNX, TRS-DOS, MS-DOS and even the Macintosh terminal at times.  So, I’m not lost in a black background window.  It’s just that I seldom need it for what I need to do.

But, there’s a series running on https://opensource.com that’s got me looking for a daily post.

linux

So, I’ve done them all to date.

Driving the train through the terminal, playing 2048, playing Tetris, are all things that have caught my attention so far.

It’s interesting to have a new “toy” show up every morning.