We’re not the same

Part of the learning I experience daily is the response that I get to this blog and to the stories that I share on social media.  I have some quiet moments first thing in the morning and so do some personal reading.  A long time ago, for a number of reasons, I decided to share my reading with others, if they care to read it.  You follow what I’m reading and sharing via my Twitter stream (most is echoed to Facebook).  If you want it all at a glance, as it happens, my Rebelmouse page tracks it.

Or, if you can wait a day, all of my readings get posted as a separate blog post that I call OTR Links.  It’s not very original, I suppose, but does the trick.

I do enjoy the affirmations when a story that I share strikes a positive note with others and I also enjoy the challenges that I get for other topics.  Not everything that I share necessarily is something that I’m on board with at the time but it’s always something that’s made me think.

Recently, I shared a story that really resonated so well with others.  ‘We should recognise that good teachers don’t all teach in the same way’

I think it’s worth resharing in case you missed it the first time around.  Wouldn’t school be terribly boring if we all taught the same way?  The title actually seems so intuitive that is it even worth saying?  I would hope not.

But it wasn’t always the case for me.

I recall as a first year teacher, who needed to be evaluated a number of times before getting a permanent contract, one specific incident.  Now, as a Computer Science teacher, my classroom was always active with students working here and there, developing algorithms, coding, debugging (lots of debugging), documenting, etc.  I recall one of the evaluation days.  The superintendent showed up for the evaluation.  Here goes, big breath …

Now, as a background, I had asked my department head what to do to get a positive evaluation.  I still remember his advice – it was great then and I gave it to a friend just the other day – “be yourself and don’t change a thing.  You can’t be someone else and expect to be successful.  Besides, the students will know and will respond differently”.

With this advice, it was business as usual in B41.  Computer Science mayhem – and that’s a good thing.  After about five minutes, the superintendent came up to me and said “I’ll come back when you’re actually teaching something.”  My jaw dropped – I thought I was.  The three points in the article really put it into perspective.

Of course, as a first year teacher, I needed to play by the rules and did so for the next review.  One of the topic areas in the course was “History of Computing” which was a pretty deadly topic without internet resources or good history books.  Fortunately, I had collected props from university – I remember specifically a hard disk that had been scraped to pieces by a read/write head and that led to a number of topics about safe computing, evolution of data storage, bits and bytes, …

Maybe it was an interesting topic for the students.  Maybe the students enjoyed the change from programming.  Maybe my humour was particularly good that day.  Maybe they wondered why I wore a sports jacket for the entire period.  Who knows?  Bless them, they were great and I got a positive evaluation.  I would have made any university lecturer proud.

But I couldn’t imagine doing that for all my classes every day for a living.

Of course, this was a long time ago and hopefully those whose job it is to evaluate teachers have moved on.  The fact that the original article needed to be written makes me wonder though.

Later, as department head myself and in the program department with new teachers, we certainly had a different approach.  The emphasis was on the classroom planning and the student learning.  The logic was that good teaching naturally flows from that.  Like no size fits all students, the same applies to teachers and teaching.  It honours the concepts of co-planning, visitation to colleague’s classrooms to see what works, researching alternative approaches, rich tasks, …  Anyone can read a Powerpoint presentation to students.  Providing meaningful activities that encourage learning is the key.

And, hey.  If it’s good enough for the classroom, it certainly is of value as people prepare presentation for colleagues at conferences.  Who is really interested in two or three days of lectures?

There was a lot to take away from that article.

This one is for the news junkies

One of the things about living in or near a smaller city is that you don’t have too many options when it comes to local news.  In Windsor, for example, there’s only one daily newspaper, the Windsor Star.  That is the only game in town.  It’s not the only current events source though, there’s Windsorite, CTV News, CBC News, BlackburnNews. and then the local radio stations like CKLW.  There are also community located sources/blogs.  The content that’s provided is mainly local with the news sources picking up major news stories from their sister publications.  The value of a newspaper is that it will always contain many more stories and much more information than other news sources.

There’s really only one editorial voice and you have to rely on comments on the community for others.  You know how that can be!

So, people like me who thrive on reading will turn to the big three Toronto newspapers as other sources.

For the most part, that satisfies but there are times when you want more.  In that case, I have my favourites to check out – I’m a big Formula 1 fan and nobody covers it like the big British web sources.  Of course, you have to wade your way through the soccer stories to get there!

I’ve mentioned before that I’ll use Google Maps to get a look at the racetracks.  That’s neat.  I’ll also do an internet search for local-to-the-race newspapers.  It can be time consuming but it kills a bit of time while waiting for the race to start.  I find it fascinating to see how the event is perceived by their local news.

With PressReader, the process got a little easier.  It’s a service with a free and a commercial side to it that rivals the Newseum.  

So, yesterday was the Russian Grand Prix.  I hopped over to the Newseum and they didn’t have any Russian newspapers but the PressReader certainly did.  In fact, there’s a great collection from around the world.

Down I scroll to Russia and there were 169 results.

Scrolling across showed lots of front pages with most of them written in Russian.  I’d have to brush up on my language.  Fortunately for me, there were a couple of English language papers.  With 169 choices, it would be nice to filter further and, in fact I could, by type.

The three sports services would be great if you’re a soccer fan and spoke Russian!  So, it was back to my traditional sources to get the thoughts post race.

I know that, for some, Formula 1 racing is a niche sport so I wasn’t terribly surprised.

However, I could see many uses for this resource in the class from reading the front pages of foreign newspaper to reinforce the importance of a second language to seeing how various sources select and put content on their front page.

Give it a click and start exploring.

Look up …

… waaaaay up.

I’m sorry if you don’t understand The Friendly Giant reference.  If you do, great!

OK, on to something more serious.

As we know, and students should know, there are all kinds of objects that are circulating the earth.  The International Space Station is probably the most famous and certainly has the most media attention.  It had huge interest for Canadians when Chris Hadfield was on board.

But there are considerably more objects that this one.

In fact,

So, where is the ISS right now?  I’m curious.  It’s early Sunday morning as I write this post.

Or, in 3D.

And that’s just the beginning of things at http://www.n2yo.com.

From a pick list, choose your object and see exactly where it is at the moment.  Warning – this is really addictive.  And, sure the maps are wonderful but I found the descriptor of the objects intriguing as well.  

The International Space Station (ISS) is a joint project of five space agencies: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States), the Russian Federal Space Agency (Russian Federation), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Japan), the Canadian Space Agency (Canada) and the European Space Agency (Europe). It is serviced primarily by the Soyuz, Progress spacecraft units and possible private missions in near future. Last Space Shuttle mission that serviced the Space Station ended in July 2011 (Atlantis, STS-135). The ISS is expected to remain in operation until at least 2020, and potentially to 2028.

A direct link to the International Space Station is here http://www.n2yo.com/space-station/.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s another Friday and a chance for me to share with you some of the spectacular reading I enjoyed recently from great Ontario Edubloggers.  I had some self-inflicted damage to my regular process.  Normally, as I read things, I just keep the blog open in a tab and minimize them with One Tab until Thursday morning when I actually write the post.  However, this was a week of maintenance and browser shuffling and I lost the posts that I had tucked away.  I think I remember everything that was saved but maybe not.  I had a better plan when I stuck the URLs into Keep or Evernote.  Perhaps that’s my biggest learning of all.  Shortcuts can come back to bite you.  If you wrote a great post and I neglected it, please send me a message “Hey dummy, you missed this…”

Taking Chances

I’m not sure that much more needs to be said than how Denise Buttenaar closes this blog after a pretty active reflection session on her personal practice and what it meant to her.  I don’t think that anyone should expect that a blog post is going to be the “next great novel”.  However, a year from now if she continues to share her thoughts to herself, it may be the “next great professional diary” and I don’t think an educator can ask for more than that.  Blogging shouldn’t be an all encompassing event.  It’s the accumulation of thoughts that leads to the impressive.

Oh boy, here it is!

Donna Fry gave me the heads up on the birth of this new blog and here’s the first post from Kelly Colter.

I think that the first “way” is something that we all need to ‘fess up about.  If we weren’t influenced by others, it would be a pretty lonely connected life.  It’s the connections and the shared learning that makes it so powerful.  Of real importance to me is the selection of the connections – regular readers know of my passion for those who blog about Ontario Education.  That’s not the only influence – another that easily comes to mind is the cadre of Computer Science teachers that serve as inspiration.  By joining, hopefully Kelly can keep it up and, with her words, influence whatever group she wishes.  She’s now in my little group of Ontario Edubloggers.

Moments of Empathy

If someone asked me who I would like to write like, I could name quite a few and certainly near the top would be Rusul Alrubail.  She doesn’t necessarily whip out the thesaurus or come across as pretentious, but it’s just the way that she strings her words together that touches the reader at a different level.  I can’t think of a post from her that doesn’t give me pause for serious reflection and I can’t think of a better compliment to pay to a blogger.

So, I thought – who would have been my favourite teacher?  A number of really good ones came to mind and I could create a short list.  When I thought just a little harder, the “favourite” had some un-favourite moments so I moved on to the next on my list.  I’d find issues here and there too.  Instead, I changed my thinking.  What if I took a bit of him and a bit of her and a bit of her and made my favourite a teacher an amalgam of the best parts.  Wow, that was a great teacher and, the common thread was the empathy that each showed.

For any teacher whose goal is to reach every child, (whether or not you want to be their favourite is a personal, competitive activity) take a read of Rusul’s post.  We all have our bad days and those stick out because of the lack of empathy.  Could that be a gutcheck for success?  Recognize it and deal with it before it unduly negatively affects students.

Thanks for your leadership and support!

When you think of people that are centrally assigned as resource teachers – what do you immediately think of?  Hot and cold running coffee and an endless supply of doughnuts?  After reading Jennifer Casa-Todd’s post, you may wish to change your opinion.

In the post, she nicely ties things together and may give you an insight to what they actually do.

The one thing that she isn’t explicit about and I’m sure that it’s true in her job and others, and certainly was key to mine was getting out of the central location and visiting schools.  When I took over that role, I never wanted to be accused of being “out of touch” with the classroom because it’s so easily done when you’re not in one on a daily basis.

My favourite quote from my former superintendent was “Where is he today?” as he came into the Program Department area looking for me.  I wish I’d heard it first hand because it could be interpreted so many different ways.

If you don’t see your centrally assigned person often enough, why not sign up for professional activities or just extend an invitation to her/him to come and visit your classroom?  You might be pleasantly surprised at how eagerly they’ll jump at the opportunity.

#TBT: Is Our Focus On Assessment Taking Away From Our Children’s Education

If nothing else, Stephen Hurley’s latest post is worth visiting just for the image.  What the heck, here it is, complete with his credit to the author.

It’s a throw back post that is just as relevant today as when he originally posted it.

This is an interesting look at assessment and evaluation.  I can’t remember a year where it wasn’t “the board’s focus” and it certainly is important.  It informs what is done for student achievement.  It’s just that it changes so frequently.  I remember a person new to my department whose theory was that by changing focus annually, it kept the pedagogues in business as the pendulum swings back and forth.

If you need some moments of reflection today, make sure that you get to the bottom of the post and reflect on Stephen’s questions.

The End of Average

A book, a TED talk, and an infographic fill this post from Erica Armstrong.

This is the perfect followup to Stephen’s post.  Play the TED talk as you go about things this morning.  You’ll be glad you did.

Do you agree with the affirmation that “the average hurts everyone”?

What are you going to do about it?

What’s the hardest thing a teacher does?

If you read Kristin Phillips blog, you’ll read this more than once.

“Try something new; no one will die”.

I recall a mathematics teacher of some infamy whose choice of worksheet for the day would rival the accuracy of any calendar!

Kristin gives us five bullet points (paragraphs) as to what she feels has worked with her schools.

Would they work in yours?

I say this every week and I never tire of it.

What an amazing collection of blogs.  Please click through and read them in their entirety and drop them a comment.  They deserve it.

Then, check out the rest of the Ontario collection here.  If you’re blogging and not listed, just complete the form and you will soon be.

Taking the challenge

I can’t ignore a good challenge.  Recently, Alfred Thompson challenged me to test out Microsoft’s new CaptionBot application.  He said that he had been having great success with it and challenged me to try it.  The premise is simple; you send it a photo and it describes what it sees.  It’s important to not send personal photos in times like this.

It’s learning so I’ll use my best teacher empathy.  We always try to find the best in our learners, right?

Don’t tell the rest of the Bring IT, Together Committee but I had it open in another window during our meeting last night and was playing around with it so see what I could do with it.

Here are my results…I just dug around some photos from some trips that were on the hard drive and decided to see how they worked.

The Famous Crab

A friend gave me this photo of a crab from a Scuba trip he’d been on.  It was a fond photo for sharing and editing in my Photoshop workshops.  If that was indeed a plate of food, arrangement needs to be revisited!

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls at night is one of the most spectacular things to witness (and capture with a camera).  I’m thinking the bot needs to go out more!


Well, if you look past that big bell with the crack in it, there is a man walking with the person with the umbrella in the background.

St. Louis

I guess I was distracted by that large arch thing when I took the photo.  There is indeed a building off to the right. 

St. Louis (again)

This sports fan was fascinated with the chance to take a photo of classic Busch Stadium.  I completely missed the elevated freeway in the background.

San Antonio

I’ve been to San Antonio twice and never fail to be humbled by the Alamo Shrine which served as a mission.



Well, that was fun.  I don’t think I’m ready to start not tagging my own photos anytime soon though.

Have you tried out the Caption Bot with your own pictures?  What kind of success did you have? 

I’m sure that this student will get better over time and learns.  We just need a bit of patience.

A rich problem

OK, I don’t do this often but I’m going to share my latest get rich quick scheme.  Everyone can do it and it’s perfectly legal.

I was inspired to share after watching this video yesterday.  It’s a lesson in Mathematics, Business, and Consumer Studies in itself.

It’s the 99 at the end that got me thinking.  The Canadian penny has been removed from circulation (or at least is in the process) and so prices have to be adjusted accordingly.  This information from the Canadian Mint explains the rounding rules for cash transactions.  The key is cash transactions.  If the transaction ends in .03, .04, .08, or .09, the transaction is rounded up to the next amount that is payable by the remaining currency.  (nickel, dime, quarter, dollar)  If the transaction ends in .01, .02, .06, .07, the final bill is reverted to the lower amount payable by the same currency.

Remember the signs on gas pumps when self-serve became popular “If you pump pennies, you pay pennies”.  Be careful if you’re paying cash.

My first inclination was to hoard until this appeared on Storage Wars.  “A Canadian penny?  That’s a hundred dollar bill all day long”.

If you’re not paying by cash and using debit or credit instead, the exact amount is paid.  So here was my plan.  I would come ready to pay both ways depending upon the final bill.  If it was going to be rounded up and I get charged the extra pennies, I would pay with debit or credit.  If I could make a penny or two by paying cash, I would pay cash.  Mental math was put on trial but you also have to wait for the taxes to be added so I just waited until the cashier gave me the final total.

It seemed to make sense and I tried it, lasting for like one or two days.  By then, it had become too much effort with not much benefit and I realized I could make more money collecting bottles from the ditch while walking the dog.

It really wasn’t original either.  A conversation at Tim Horton’s let me know that others had this plan too.  I wonder if they still are doing it.

Anyway, the wealth of the situation may not be a personal wealth but I think it would be a fun and relevant activity for a Computer Science program.  Write a program that obeys the rules and pays either by cash or debit/credit depending upon the total.  You’d just need some test data.

How about a class bringing in their grocery receipts for a week.  On second thought, it’s probably not a good idea as students would be bound to compare.  The worst would be to find out who buys Heinz ketchup and who buys French’s.  But, in reality when you think about it, it’s not the complete total that’s required.  Just the digits after the decimal.  That would be easily collected and put into an CSV text file.  Perhaps lastname, value.

Then, the program would run and determine the total paid if by cash or debit/credit and how much the savings/cost would be.  Total the value for the class.  What’s the net effect if everyone used cash or if everyone paid with debit/credit or if everyone paid with the best possible option?  It seemed like a fun idea so I whipped up my own in Small Basic.  I didn’t have a class of receipts so just generated some random numbers.  Not surprisingly, I ended up almost even in the process.  So much for getting rich quick.  As I was contemplating this, I realized that it would be a nice exercise in a spreadsheet not dissimilar to what Brandon Grasley did here.

I guess the bottom line is that sometimes the best problems are all around us.  We just have to think them through.  That’s far more interesting and relevant to Canadians since the demise of the penny.  If you’re an American reader, you might want to get prepared.  Word is that you’re thinking of following our lead.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Welcome to the end of the week/start of the weekend.  I hope that it’s been a good one for you.  In case you missed them, here’s a nice selection of offerings from the keyboards of Ontario Edubloggers.  Enjoy them.  I know that I did.

#MyWorkflow: Brian Harrison

The Wordflow series from Royan Lee continues with the latest interview with principal Brian Harrison.

I find it fascinating to see inside the minds and work habits of people I regularly follow on Twitter.   Brian is no different.  I had to smile at his answer to this question.

I’ve been in his backyard and can really understand why he likes working there!  Click through and read his answers to Royan’s questions.

This Year’s Model

So, let’s check out Brian’s latest post.

No self-respecting principal in the province should be going without thinking about the announcement from the Ministry of Education about the $60M to support mathematics education and how it might impact their school.  There’s been so much written about it recently illustrating that the public and education are all over the map philosophically.  I know that there’s an element that would like to spend the money to support old school teaching.  That would buy a great deal of thumbscrews.  Brian offers a more considered approach and, as you see below, offers up some examples of people doing the job right now.

Any takers?  I wonder…

How Will I Use My Wild and Precious Life?

I think everyone would be wise to stop what you’re doing and read this post from Sue Dunlop and then just reflect on yourself and your own life.

You may come out of the session with a slightly different focus on things about what truly is important.  In life, and in education in particular, there are so many distractions – including infringement on your time and efforts – that it might just be time to sit back and refocus.

Thinking About the Term Reflective Practitioner

Eva Thompson does a great job with that sort of thinking, not in her personal life, but in her professional life.

I like her thinking and I think that there’s a great deal of philosophy that is consistent with mine when it comes to going online with blogging.

Throughout my career, I was always posting my current thoughts.  The format has changed from the annotations at the bottom of lesson plans, to sharing with CIESCs in a FirstClass conference, to online forums, to Twitter, to this blog…

I didn’t use to be this way.  I used to keep things bottled up, confident in the knowledge that I could recall it at a moment’s notice.  It was all about me.  I think we all know how that approach works.  For me, once I realized that didn’t work, writing things has always been a release.  I can put my thoughts to words – in whatever format – and then stop worrying about remembering it.  Now, I know that I can always go back and find it.

I’ve been doing this for most of my career, but revisiting what it’s like to be a student, maybe I had that extra patience for the push back? Maybe I had more encouraging words for that reluctant student? When I’m too distracted making sure I get all MY “t’s crossed and i’s dotted” I may overlook the fact that I’m also a teacher, not just a technology consuming droid.

I think she’s got her priorities in order.

Now’s the time to be a heroin addict

On the heels of Eva’s thoughts, turn to Debbie Donsky’s latest.  What a great reminder through her story to get all of our priorities in order.

Celebrate what you have built. Celebrate your legacy of love and success and courage and resilience. Celebrate all that you are and all the people who you have affected.

3. A Kids’ Guide to Canada – DETAILS

I love it when people think out loud.  @beachcat11 (she keeps her real name out of media so I will respect that) lays out her thinking for an ideal project for students.  This is part 3 of a 3 part series – you can read a “part 4” too!  It also wouldn’t hurt if you go back and read parts 1 and 2.

To honour student voice, an initial pilot project in the fall of 2016 will see elementary students from every elementary grade and every part of Canada participating in each step of the project design and field-testing process.

Then, beginning in January 2017, school-aged children from JK-Gr 8 will create digital artifacts to celebrate and introduce their home communities to their peers right across the country, and then post these on a national interactive map.

The link above points to the third part which lays out a timeline, activities and contact information.

MDM4U Creating dice game simulations

Who says that Mathematics can’t be fun?  This link is to Brandon Grasley’s MDM class but I caught it and spent some time doing the activity myself.  It was a hoot.  I’ve never taught this class but did similar problems with my Computer Science classes.

It was fun just to muck about with a Google Spreadsheet and also in Small Basic.

But, kids today have it so easy.  Whatever happened to int(rnd(1)*6)+1?

Are Your Students Problem Solvers and Innovators?

This just in…

I’m assembling this post on Thursday morning and Aviva Dunsiger sends a link to her latest blog post.

In-house professional learning happened for her at her school.

As with many of Aviva’s posts, there are questions as well as answers.

She concludes with a great thought that I think all educational leaders need to be concerned with the next time the latest and greatest initiative comes along.

If developing these skills matter, then we likely need to “let something go.” What might you let go? What might you add? What benefits do you see this having for kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

So often, this is overlooked and more, “better” ideas are thrust upon teachers.  In football, it’s called “piling on” and there is a substantial penalty for doing it.

There are lots of calls to action in this post.  Do some thinking, some Mathematics, and be proud to be a Canadian.

Oh, and reply to all of these posts.  They are reply-worthy.

And, when you reply to Aviva, ask her a question!