This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s always a good week when Ontario Educators are blogging.

This past week was no different; here’s some of what I caught.

Here’s the toolbar in my browser so I’m ready to go….


Response to: Five Ways to Damage a Good School

Only five?

Paul McGuire focuses in on a post from another blogger and manages to use furniture and limited resources in the same thought.  Oh, and technology in another thought.

Here’s the thing. Too often, educators get caught up in the latest fad – flexible seating and the expense that comes with this is one of the newest things. In schools with limited resources (I would say most schools in Canada), the purchase of new furniture means that something else will not be bought.

He makes a good point which leads to a good discussion about priorities within a school.  I find the interesting point about all this about flexible seating and changing learning spaces to be interesting.  If it’s just about some new chair or table, then it’s just an advertisement.  If it’s about changing a philosophy with a stated purpose about why you’re doing it and the results that you’re expecting, then I can get excited.  I can’t help but throw in a golf quote here…

You drive for show; you putt for dough.

Maybe the question in these times is “Are you driving or are you putting?”

I’d like to see Paul do something like posting an online form asking everyone to add their thoughts about how to “damage a school”.  I’ll bet there would be lots of things to learn from and it would give Paul an endless resource for blogging.

Math & Identity

This post, by Deborah McCallum is guaranteed to get you thinking.

She leads us to this marriage by focusing on identity.  Perhaps this is another way for all to reflect on the message that is present in the mathematics classroom.

What is identity? It is connected to the groups that we affiliate with, the language we use, and who we learned the language from. I believe that we all have different identities depending upon the different groups that we belong to, and that this has implications in terms of the languages and discourses we use.

I’ve seen a number of suggestions about improving mathematics instruction (including some from Deborah).  This is a new and interesting take.

Training Wheels

This is a post that put me in someone else’s shoes.  Ann Marie Luce is taking on the role as a Principal of the Canadian International School of Beijing.  This is part of a series of posts talking about her nervousness in the decision and then landing in a different land with different language and different customs and GO!

I absolutely can put myself in her place as she goes about what we would consider a regular routine — shopping, going to a restaurant, going shopping, …

But she’s doing it in a land where she doesn’t speak the language!

So, many of the things that we would expect to do with our regular language have to be done with gestures just to get the message across.

Then, she turns to that new ELL student in our present classrooms.  It’s an interesting transition that will give you renewed sympathy for that new student, trying to get along in a new world, and learning how to speak the language in order to get the job done.

I hope that she continues to blog about her experience.  This could be very interesting.

Being a Temporary Teacher

We move from a discussion about the reality of China to the reality of Japan.  Deborah Weston was inspired by an article in an English language Japanese newspaper about the reality of being a temporary teacher.

I’m so fortunate that I didn’t ever have to go through the hoops of the current reality for Occasional Teachers.  I graduated from a Faculty of Education and there was a school here in Essex County that needed a Computer Science teacher.  Other than waiting annually for the seniority list and the horror of being declared redundant (which I fortunately never was), my teaching life unfolded as I wanted it to.

That’s not true for all.

It’s an interesting comparison and a similarity of realities of how long it takes before getting that permanent position.  She quotes:

  • Ontario –  6 or 7 years
  • Japan – 5.9 years

It’s an interesting look at another’s reality.


Like everyone, Sharon Drummond is getting ready for September.  Her activity is looking and pondering classroom setup.  The floors are clean and polished and the room is empty.  It’s time to think about setup.

She shares a picture and a diagram of the room with some preliminary thoughts.  I was so impressed that green screen is built in before the furniture.  That sends a powerful message and she shouldn’t need to rearrange things later in order to take advantage of this tool for video making.

And, she’s not starting with thinking about how to control the flow or maintain classroom discipline.  She’s talking about things that she wants her students to do.

  • and more – you’ll have to click through to read her post to see them all

She’s asking for input and ideas.  If that’s your game, go over to her blog and share.

I hope that there’s a subsequent post to show us all how this activity ends.

Back in the Saddle Again

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that Kristi Bishop’s blog is high on my list of favourites but had gone missing recently.  But, she’s “Back in the Saddle” and ready to blog.

I really like her rationale for blogging and sharing her thinking online.

I don’t think any blogger should apologize for being a bit selfish and using the blog primarily to get their own thinking down in one spot.  In fact, I can’t think of a better way of reflecting and geting other people to chip in with their own thoughts.

So, Kristi, it’s great to see you back and I look forward to reading many inspiring posts in the future.

How about you, reader?  Do you have a blog that’s playing possum?  How about kick starting it?


If you’re looking for a good description about what being connected and how it works, then you’ve got to look at this post from Terry Greene.

In fact, I had looked and commented here on a post that he wrote last week.  It was also one of the posts that Stephen Hurley and I talked about on our Wednesday radio show.

But, that was only a small part of the connected educator story.

In this post, Terry gives us the complete story of all the connections that surrounded his one blog post, complete with links, and it’s a testament to why we do this and how you can share the learning love around.

Great summary!

And it all started with one simple request.

Please take the time to click through and read the complete, original blog posts from these wonderful Ontario Edubloggers.  There should be a little there for everyone.  And, if you’re blogging yourself and not already in the collection, just fill out the form and you will be.

The complete collection of these Friday posts illustrating the thinking of Ontario Edubloggers can be found here.  I’d love to have you become part of it.

The message we send

If you haven’t already, you should take a read of this article from the Globe and Mail.

Coding for kids: another silly fad

While at it, it’s worth following a couple of the links that link to supporting documents from consultants.

Then, you should stop and ask yourself “How could they get it so wrong?”

I would suggest that the reason lies with education.

I remember the advice given to me from a superintendent once.

“Not only do you need to understand why you do something, but you need to be able to completely explain it to someone else.”

In reading the article and the supporting documents, I think this is a perfect example of it.

Somewhere along the line, these people have got the impression that education is teaching coding for the sake of coding.  If that was true, then they might have a justifiable position.  I mean, how many times have we heard tripe like “Coding is a 21st Century Skill” or “We need to teach coding as a skill that will help our Grade 3 students get a job” and the conversation stops there.

As a Computer Science teacher, I get contact with former students who have indeed gone on in the industry and have been successful.  I’m quick to apologise for the primitive tools and programming languages that we had at the time.  They’ve all been equally as quick to respond that that wasn’t what mattered.  What truly mattered was the problem solving, the group work, the enthusiasm to see a project in progress and the excitement when it was done.

Of course, they’re right.

Put into today’s context, any teacher or other educational leader should definitely be challenged if their message is that coding with Scratch or other educational language will provide students with the programming skills to land a job.

Done properly, it should be so much more.

Let’s look at the messages that need to be sent when asked:

  • Coding will indeed be a factor in everyone’s life from the Internet of Things connected refrigerator to the Smartphone to your next car to the tools that you will be required to master for your job(s) to the most powerful computer.  A person who knows how to control these devices will be successful
  • Coding provides another important tool to help students succeed in the classroom with mathematics, story telling, safe science experiments, societal connections and issues from around the world, and so much more
  • Coding gives student authors the ability to add life to a blog post or article and truly use this new media to make it pop, not just a simple transference from paper to electronic text
  • Coding demonstrates first hand the power of collaboration, group work, research, trial and error, debugging, and so many other tools that we value in our graduates
  • And, yes, Coding lets a Grade 3 student write instructions on a computer to tell a connected robot to draw a pattern

If none of this resonates, then consider the opposite.  How successful will a student be in life and career without these skills?

Just recently, I’ve had a conversation with good friend Peter Skillen who reminds us that not only should all of us be “Learning to Code”, we should be “Coding to Learn”.  Ironically, I just happened to wear my 2011 Minds on Media T-Shirt yesterday and that advice was emblazoned on the back.

If you still need proof, you need to read or re-read Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed.  The Study Guide will be helpful as well.

The Big Idea in all of this should be that we want students prepared to take charge of the technology that will be such an important part of their future.  Coding is one of the tools that will make this happen.

Let’s make sure that this is the message that people are hearing.


As a kid, I always liked the fact that my birthday was during the summer.  That way, I didn’t have to be the centre of a party in class and all that goes with it.  I’m not the type of person that enjoys that sort of thing.

Now, it’s kind of cool that social media knows my birthday and takes the opportunity to say “Happy Birthday”, and I appreciate that.

My quote of the year comes from my friend Tammy who had a T-Shirt with this on it.


If you don’t get it, have a gamer explain it to you.

Anyway, the concepts of birthdays gets really interesting when you turn to birthdays and mathematics.  There’s a very famous problem; the “Birthday Problem“.  It’s pretty heady stuff involving probability and so generally doesn’t appear in mathematics until a good background has been established.

But, it’s one of those things that let you discuss mathematics without necessarily writing a proof for the problem.  It boils down to the probability or chance that two or more people in a group will have the same birthday.

It’s also the stuff that Computer Science teachers love to give out as a problem.  You can work up to it.  For example, give a program your birthday and have it determine what day of the week you were born on (don’t forget leap years).  If you’re not up to writing the code, check this out.  Even if students aren’t ready to write the code, it’s the sort of activity that inspires thinking about how a computer might be programmed to solve the problem.

Back to the Birthday Problem.  It’s something that’s quite surprising in real life.  In our department of about 30, there were three of us who had the same date for a birthday (that I knew about).  It’s still surprising when you consider that there are 365 days in a year.  Surely, there’s enough elbow room there that there would be no duplicates!   It’s a reality for teachers.  In any class, there always seems to be students who share the same birthday.  Even more interesting, because of sample size, they share the same birth year!  Stepping back, you see it again if you’re trying to ride herd on a homeroom during morning announcements which always seem to include a long list of Happy Birthday wishes.  In a school with 1,200 students, it only seems reasonable that there might be three.  That never seemed to work out!

The mathematics behind the Birthday Problem is interesting.  You can read the details here.  Or even here.  I can recall having one of those off-the-cuff discussions with a student about it and he thought that he’d write a program to simulate it.  Neil, if you’re reading this, did you ever finish it?

If not, here are a couple of online efforts …

Games with Blockly

Coders of all ages are going to like this!

We all hear about how students get engaged learning to code by programming their own games.  That can sometimes be a challenge for the student learning coder and/or the teacher trying to stay attuned to the best in coding and generating ideas.

So, check this out. – Blockly Games.


Pick a starting point and you’re off.

At the time of the screen capture, you’ll see that I had worked my way almost all the way through the Maze option on this computer.  (To be honest, I spent lots of time and enjoyed them all.  I hadn’t thought about blogging about it until later.)

The Maze option has 10 different levels and challenges.  As you would expect, they start pretty easy and then get challenging.

Here’s my solution for Level 9.


And, winner winner, chicken dinner.  Your congrats message lets you see the Javascript behind the code.


Just a warning before you click through and get started.  This is from experience.  This is really addicting.  And, I do have a solution for level 10 that’s reasonably priced.

Where I’d see immediate use of this…

  • with beginning student coders to learn the principles of a block coding environment
  • as an environment to get a coding club off to a great start
  • as part of an understanding of computational thinking
  • with teachers who are learning or refreshing their coding skills
  • with older students who already know some coding, as a start of year activity to get the coding juices flowing

Got an idea of your own?  Please add it to the comments below.


Whatever happened to …

… laserdisc players?

This suggestion comes from the “Whatever happened to …” Padlet.


And, I think I know who the anonymous donor of the idea is.  While I do know some of the curriculum leaders from North York, the use of “North York”, “Laserdisc”,  “Hypercard”, and “Lol” can only lead me to one conclusion.

This may be a technology you young ‘uns may be unfamiliar with so I grabbed this image to demonstrate.


Photo Credit: oskay Flickr via Compfight cc

No, it’s not a CD or DVD.  It’s much larger than that.  In fact, the media in this case is about the size of an LP record.

At the time, it was touted as the latest and greatest in multimedia.  I saw a demonstration at a MACUL Conference and was intrigued.  You had to have a laserdisc player (about the size of another memory long forgotten – the VCR player) to play it.  It was a technology that you needed to be careful with in the classroom because the tray, when ejected, was pretty big and clunky and you lived in the fear that it might break off.  All that you had to do is put the laserdisc into the player much like a CD close the disk and press play.  The output would be sent to an attached TV for viewing.  There were a number of manufacturers in the business; I recall Pioneer as one maker.

Why does this bring back memories?

Because, like Mr. Anonymous, I purchased some for my district as well.  We didn’t have the big budget of a North York so I was only able to land five of the devices.  They came as a package with five laserdiscs as part of a promotion that had gorgeous imagery and was a wonderful resource for science.  Now, at the time, televisions in the classroom was considered the ultimate luxury so we repurposed the Commodore 64 monitors that were declared surplus.

The truly nice thing about the technology was that it was indeed digital.  That meant crystal clear images.  The device came with a remote control about the size of a small power bar so that you could press and play or go directly to a spot on the laserdisc by typing in the digital address of the desired content.  And, quick frankly, that’s probably the biggest use that we had for them.  We bundled it all together as a kit that teachers could book for use in the classroom.  There was an initial uptake but then interest waned because there were only five laserdiscs to go with the kit!

As Mr. Constructivist Anonymous noted, there was another more exciting use for the device.  You could connect it to a computer and control it with a third party piece of software.  Students could do their own research on a topic (as long as it related to the content on the laserdisc) and attach a button to their computer document and the laserdisc player would jump to a location and play with the output going to the monitor attached.  It was a great deal of work and effort and the need to get the connections correct but there was so much learning involved wrapped up in content, media, and construction of the computer environment.

There was some interest in doing so but, again, we were limited by content.  This faded when products like Hyperstudio came along and playback and media played right in the computer.  There was no need for an external device.  Once again, time and technology had moved on.  And yet, for those of us who stayed the course, there was so much valuable learning about the melding of various media, research, and students creating something generated only by an idea in their mind with a curiosity and desire to make something unique happened.

How about you?

  • Did you ever have access to a laserdisc player?
  • If so, what sorts of activities did you and your students engage in?
  • What technologies do you use in the classroom today to playback multimedia or make available for student creation?

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts.  Please comment below.

If you have an idea for a future post designed to stir up memories for me, please add it to the Padlet.

All of the posts in this “Whatever happened to …” series can be accessed here.

Where is Computer Studies headed?

Yesterday, in my #TWIOE post, I took a look at a single page on Grant Hutchison’s website.  There were no thoughts from Grant posted there; just the images and the interpretation is left to the reader.  So, here goes.

Here’s the important image that really got me thinking.  From the Ontario Curriculum document, 2008, there are five courses that can be offered.

  • Introduction to Computer Studies ICS20
  • Introduction to Computer Science ICS3U
  • Introduction to Computer Programming ICS3C
  • Computer Science ICS4U
  • Computer Programming ICS4C

At the time of its release, it was ground breaking.  Imagine being able to take up to five courses, for credit, in Computer Studies!  The courses are well designed and not descriptive and married to any particular programming language.  You could see that a great deal of planning had gone into their design and that they could take on a life of their own as technology evolved.

Sadly, none of the courses were compulsory.  I think I must have sounded like a broken record every time I talked with Ministry people asking why, at the least the Open course ICS 2O, they weren’t compulsory.  After all, anyone could see that computers, technology, and programming were not going to go away.  As we know, in the years since the curriculum was released, things have exploded to the point where just about everyone has a piece of this technology in their pocket, personal devices brought to school, and on post people’s desktops/laps at home.

In our household, the ICS 2O course was indeed compulsory.  As I look at how my kids use technology now, I think it was a great decision.  It’s such an integral part of their lives.

Back to the images that Grant shared.

ICS 2O indeed is a popular course, with growth shown over the three years that Grant plots.  Ditto for ICS 3U and, to a smaller extent, ICS 4U.  I think that the drop from Grade 11 to Grade 12 could be predicted.  Students make the decision about whether or not to continue to learn to program and study computers and a fixed schedule means making choices as university looms.  And since nothing is compulsory …

The statistics for the ICS 3C and ICS 4C courses are disappointing.  There wasn’t the uptake there for students and probably for a variety of reasons.  Since all of these courses are options, it requires a desire to enrol.  You could speculate why and students/parents don’t need to take the entire blame.  If you read the ACSE mailing list, you know that schools are challenged to offer all five courses in terms of teaching personnel and scheduling.  Some schools are fortunate enough to offer them all; some offer split courses; and others just don’t offer the C courses.  There’s no need to blame or shame; it’s the reality of scheduling in 2017.

Peter Beens offered a solution …

The courses are now coming on to their 10th anniversary.  That’s a long time in computer curriculum terms and I think testimony to the quality and vision of the original courses.  All that you have to do is read anything, anywhere these days and you’ll see the biggest issues of the day in Computer Studies.

  • Introduction of coding in the younger grades
  • Computer security and hacking
  • Importance of learning certain languages to be competitive at post-secondary schools
  • Bring Your Own Devices and all that goes with it.  i.e. being savvy enough to take control of your devices, connecting to networks that aren’t yours
  • Computer applications permeating all subject areas with varying levels of success
  • The rise of cloud and web computing and the drop in importance of locally installed applications
  • The rise in importance of robots and the programming of them
  • The rise of the “Internet of Things” and how it will impact everyone
  • An interest in getting serious about “Computational Thinking”
  • The list goes on and on

Back to the original graph.

Is the Curriculum document and the courses that it describes meeting the needs of a contemporary school?

In my opinion, the document still does.  The Technology Curriculum document and the Business Studies document complement these courses with the Computer Technology courses.  But the reality is that a student can avoid all of this good stuff if they so desire.

We hear lip service about preparing students for the 21st century, even today in the year 2107.  Is it time to step up and make this area of study compulsory?  Consider that whole group of students that the C courses could potentially reach.

This writer thinks so.  Let’s get our act together, make at least some of this relevant and compulsory, and graduate students who do have a certified level of computer literacy, understanding, and control.

Finally, an interesting add-on to the discussion and a new learning on my part.  Stephen Hurley and I had talked about Grant’s images on the radio show and I had speculated on the source of the data used for creation.  The answers came via Twitter.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

And, it’s Friday.  Summer appeared to go away but it looks like it’s back.  But you know that Autumn is on the way with the dew in the morning and those crickets that are up all night.  None of this appears to have hampered Ontario Edubloggers though.  Here’s some of what I caught this week.

A Message Worth Sharing

I think that Aviva Dunsiger’s “message” is something more than just for sharing.  It’s a way of being, if you’re a teacher.  Witness this comment from a parent.

“I wish everyone felt that way. This is the first time somebody’s said this about my son.”

How often do we think that communication with parents should be to report misbehaviour or a problem or some other issue.  Every time I read something like this, I think of a message from Wayne Hulley that we need to heed.

“Parents send the best kid that they can to school.  They don’t keep the really good ones at home.”

We all like to hear and live success stories or anecdotes.

Why shouldn’t the parents of the students you teach?

Things Open

When I read the title of this post from Terry Greene, I bit my tongue and thought “Sure, they also close”.  I had no idea about the topic of the post so it was a natural response.  Then, I read the post.

Like most people I suspect, I got involved with social media via Twitter or Blogging and then took off from there.  In this post, Terry talks about his own journey into social media and it didn’t take the same route.  His journey started with ds106.  It’s been an interesting trip for him and it’s a reminder that we can make things whatever we want to be and where our interests take us.  I keep thinking that everyone should document their trip into social media.  That might make for an interesting blogging challenge.

How would I have even know about Terry?  Well, it was through the traditional route following Alana Callan into the Fleming Learning blog.  I’m really glad I did.

There are lots of takeaways from this post but this one really intrigues.

Volunteer with Virtually Connecting, where I get to be involved with and help others get access to educational conferences all over the world that we would not otherwise have access to. Another chance to connect with and have access to open thinkers around the world.

I’d never heard of the Virtually Connecting website before but I’m glad that I know now.  Thanks, Terry.

Computer Science in Ontario

This really isn’t a blog post but rather a couple of graphs posted to Grant Hutchison’s website.  This graph, in particular, has me thinking and questioning.


As we know, there are five courses of Computer Studies in Ontario and he’s graphed the enrolments of them from 2011 to 2013.

Looking at the graphs is a real teaser.  I think I’m going to blog and share my thoughts about this soon.

voicEd Radio Spotlight: Paul McGuire and the Importance of Getting Out of School

This was an interesting meld of media by Stephen Hurley.  He had interviewed Paul McGuire as part of his “In Conversation” series.  The radio program is a good listen by itself.

But, one of the topics inspired Stephen to supplement the radio show with a blog post.

There’s been lots written recently about teachers having little to no control over their professional learning.  So, here’s a twist.

But as Paul was telling his stories, I could literally sense a change in my breathing as he inspired a possibility in my mind. What might happen if, as a staff, we were to designate one PD day a year to do just what Paul did—get out of school and head out, two-by-two, out into the community. What if we were to head to the local shopping mall, the coffee shop, the library, the places of worship, the rec centre, the seniors residence, the local businesses and municipal offices to talk to people. Not all of them would have children in our school, but I would venture to guess that all of them would have something to say about their hopes and aspirations for their community.

Conall’s Assessment Story

We all learned mathematics (and everything else) in the method that Jon Orr describes “Lessons….homework …. repeat…then tests”.  However, he focuses in on one phrase about expectations in Ontario.

It doesn’t say “By next Friday, students will …”; it’s “By the end of the course, the student will …”.

That sort of blew up the traditional method.

Jon includes a video explaining his thoughts.  Don’t have time for the video?  Read the post where you also get the transcript.

It involves an application he and his class used to get the job done.

It’s a wonderful story about the power of the portfolio – not just for collecting artifacts anymore!

“Stay in Your Lane” is Bad Advice

On the Holiday Monday, I went to the harness races in Dresden.  I was kind of dreading the construction zone through Tilbury and Chatham and so decided to take another route and bypass that, much to the chagrin of my GPS.

Instead, I enjoyed a delightful trip that took me through Jeannette’s Creek and the twisty road along the Thames River, the bridge at Prairie Siding (is it ever opened?) and Paincourt.  It was a really refreshing trip.  The folks in Chatham-Kent suggest that you do this and become a “Detourist”.

In this post, Matthew Oldridge asks us if we ever consider moving to the other lane.  My immediate thought was travelling through Toronto where you have more than one other lane option!  The view is different; the trip is different …  How about you?  Do you move out of your comfortable lane every now and again to see what else is available?

You’ll be inspired by Matthew’s list of people who took to a different lane and succeeded.

I won’t post that

I think we all realize that there’s a line on social media that we don’t want to cross.  There are things that people don’t really want to know about us.  For example, I just finished walking the dog and I’m eating a banana.  Is your life any better knowing that?  Then, there are things that you shouldn’t know about me.  For example, well you shouldn’t know.

Diana Maliszewski addresses the topic as it applies to her.  In addition to the words of common sense that we includes, she bring in the College of Teachers.  So, with a bow on top, she nicely addresses the topic of sharing, over-sharing, and approaching or going over that line.

She also identifies areas that are deliberately missing from the persona that she projects online.

  • Specific details about my children
  • Complaints about specific people
  • Partying
  • Specific Politics

That’s a wise selection and she expands on each nicely.

This is a wonderful post and I would recommend that all read and consider her words.

Does the line that she draws for herself represent your line?

Once again, a wonderful collection of posts from Ontario Educators.  Please take the time to click through and read them in their entirety.  You’ll be glad you did.

Also, listen in on Wednesday mornings at 9:15 on VoiceEd Radio where Stephen Hurley and I take a run at some of the posts that will show up here.  Can’t make it?  All of the shows all archived here.