Computers, Education, Read/Write Web, Teaching

What Connected Means To Me

Over the past little bit, I read three different blog posts about being a connected educator.  They’re all good for a thoughtful read.

The last article by Mark Barnes is definitely the bluntest of the bunch.  The common thread through the three of them though is the message that being connected is good.  I find it difficult to argue against that.  The counter argument is often that “I’ve been teaching for ## years and I’m doing fine, thank you.  I get my news from the newspaper and I know how to Google stuff.”

When it comes time for a job interview, these folks will walk in with their paper portfolio and lay out their learning experiences and accomplishments.  They’ll walk away scratching their heads when they lose the competition to someone with a digital portfolio and powerful online presence.

This past weekend, I was in two shopping malls in Windsor just looking around and my observations really we startling.  If you know Windsor, I went through the Tecumseh Mall and the Devonshire Mall.  As a people watcher, I always get a kick from walking through the food courts to see what’s popular and how many people just naturally gravitate there.  Once a place to eat, it’s now more of a place to meet.

But not necessarily with the people at your table.

Phones are constantly out and people doing whatever they might be doing.  I looked around and didn’t see a newspaper in site.  I took a peek into the local Chapters store at the lounge area there.  Again, no newspapers but lots of devices.

I would hazard a guess that most of the activity involved social media.  I was one of them for a few minutes while I had a coffee.  Even for those 10-15 minutes, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that I actually did a bit of learning with some of the content my friends were sharing.

Such is the beast of the connected educator, at whatever level you may be connected.  But it’s important to recognize that we’re not all the same.

On the drive home, I was also thinking of how learning used to be.

We had a professional learning fund and were allowed to apply once every two years to a maximum of ### dollars.  We had a professional library in my department and our school library had a section devoted to staff development.  I used to buy my own books and chose to afford one or two a year.  The board put on a PD Day once or twice a year to lay out their vision of the laid on initiatives from the Ministry of Education.  That was pretty much it.

Flip forward to today.

Connected to the right sources gives me all kinds of diverse reading in the morning with coffee in hand.   When needed at any time, I can get a learning fix by sitting down at a computer and seeing what’s going on in my network.  If I have a problem or want some input, I can toss out the query via blog post or just into the Twitter Tsunami and people far more insightful than me will have the answer.  Every now and again, I think I might have an answer for someone else and pay the network back with my thoughts.

In the manufacturing industry, they call it “Just in Time Production”.  Why not look at it as “Just in Time Learning”?  How often do you truly learn how your students learn topics in the classroom afterward the lesson.  If you get to teach the topic again next year, you’re good to go.  Provided nothing else has changed.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be proactive and get some advice or background in advance of the lesson?

Those that know me know that I’ve always felt that the group is far smarter, more nimble and richly innovative than the single person.  It’s also the premise of the traditional PD session.  Once a year, gather the right people and magic happens.   There might have been a time when that was a good plan.

In my opinion, it’s such a dated concept.

Why can’t that be at least “daily (or regularly) gather the right people and magic happens”?

Educators around the world can be so much more resourceful than a single teacher noodling out how to teach a new concept in her/his home office at night.

The premise of the traditional PD is that you need to be all-in for that day of learning.  The premise of the connected educator is that you can participate at whatever level you need or what your comfort level is.  In the past, this might be a really degrading comment when I say be selfish about your personal learning.  Being connected means never having to apologize for being selfish about your learning.  Go for it.

The reality is – I’ve never seen anyone stay very selfish for long.  Once you realize that your learning community is struggling to learn and share just as much as you are, you’ll dive in with enthusiasm.

Public Service Reminder – Today is World Backup Day.  Are you participating?

application, Computers, Education, learning, Read/Write Web, Teaching

Just Drumming–At Various Levels

The drummer in my first band used cardboard boxes.  He didn’t have a great deal of money to buy the good stuff but he did have a nice set of drum sticks.  By using cardboard boxes of varying sizes, he was able to put together a nice collection of drums for various sounds.  The others of us in the band had legitimate guitars and we would practice whenever we could.  The nice thing about the boxes was that you could also work on the band’s logo with magic markers.  If you made a mistake, just get another box.

But, we were doomed for failure – what with no jobs, boxes for drums, and going to school for Grade 4 at the time – we really didn’t stand a chance.

Kids today have it so much easier.  With their devices, they don’t have to learn to drum on boxes – they could use the HTML5Drum Machine.

Fire it up and you’ll see how electronics, programming, recording, downloading, music styles all converge into one neat little tool.


It was fun to mess around with and take it for a musical spin.  Plug in a good set of headphones for a better enjoyable experience.

But it gets even better.  In the category of “How did they do that?”, I decided to poke around.  I had the drum machine loaded into Firefox so I right clicked to View Page Source.  Here’s where being able to understand HTML pays off.

The code that’s behind this is actually embedded in a frameset with the real code coming from


My next stop was to head over to that site and, indeed, there was the drum machine. Checking out the page source there gives the story behind the story.  This isn’t for your typical Grade 4 student but it’s interesting reading the code behind genius that makes for such an interesting front end.  It’s certainly far removed from editing out header tags but there’s that secondary school student that will really dig in to just how it works.  Maybe they’ll be inspired to write one of their own?

If only we’d had this technology when we were in Grade 4.  We coulda been somebody.

application, Education, iPad, software, Teaching


This is a “must explore” if you’re interested in animals.  But, it goes further than that.

This application is one of the most amazing applications of Artificial Intelligence on a portable device that I think I’ve seen.  Watch this review.

The application is ZooKazam and available for both Android and iOS.  I think that you know you’re in for something special just visiting their website.  By itself, it takes the concept of the web to the next level.

They call it “magical animals” and the name is so true.  You have to experience it to fully understand.  Words just don’t do justice for a good description of the experience you’re about to enjoy.  Download the app and get started just by pointing your camera at a number of the targets provided on their website.  Then, dig in and you won’t be putting it down any time soon.

Experiences can be recorded and shared.

YouTube is a terrific repository of compositions shared.  Of course, the sharing continues on Twitter.

The application is free to download and the Mammals category is free.  That’s plenty to get your virtual zoo started.

It’s not just the virtual reality, either.  You just know that there will be a hook into education.


I’m posting this on the weekend so you’ll have lots of time to explore and play!

And, lest you think it’s a Macintosh thing since all the captures seem to be done on that platform, here’s my zebra.


Blogging, Computers, Education, Read/Write Web, Teaching

It Takes Some Work To Look This Good

Nope.  Not fashion tips from me, that’s for sure.

It’s not about the new theme that I’m trying out for the blog – not sure I like it yet but will continue to give it a try.

It’s about yesterday’s post.  It took forever to write.  Actually, that’s not completely correct.  It took forever to make it look the way that it did.

I often think back to the first webpages that I created.  We used the Text Editor in Windows to code the whole thing in HTML (HyperText Markup Language).  I still remember the comment from a music teacher who dropped by to ask me what I was doing.  When I showed/explained it to her, I still remember her comment “Why work with all that gobbly-gook?”  I thought it so bizarre coming from her with her world of dotted eighth notes and treble clefs and …  But, I let it drop; I knew this was a glimpse into the future and surely better tools would be coming.  And, of course they did.

In my time at OSAPAC, we licensed Dreamweaver and things were a great deal better.  Today, we live in a world where we can edit things online or with a tool should we choose to.  I’ve used a bunch – Bloglio, LiveWriter, Qumana, … , even composing in the WordPress editor itself.  My current favourite tool is Scribefire which is an addon to the web browser.  All of these are great tools but the elevator doesn’t necessarily go to the top floor.

In yesterday’s post, I had this wonderful list.

It seemingly took forever to create.

Each bullet point actually had up to three things in it.  One was a link to the Twitter account, the second was a link to the most recent blog post, and the third, optional link, was to an interview if there was one.  You’ll note that the blog post was bolded as well.

There were, from my perspective, a number of ways to do this.

First, there’s the scribe method.  You know – type the text, highlight it, add the link, add the bolding, and then move on to the next item.  Just the prospect of eyeballing that and doing it seemed to be daunting so I opted for a second option.

Copy / Paste.  After all, if we weren’t meant to do that, we wouldn’t have a mouse with a right mouse button.  Here’s what it looked like.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Our Origins as Bloggers

eBooks – product or service?

Hugs … And The Words That Followed Them!

When Empathy Isn’t Easy

Oral Presentation Descriptive Feedback

I Hate the Pyramid


Kids Learn Computer Code in Class to Help With Problem Solving @thecurrentcbc

Showing Understanding of Where things are Located #fsl

and that’s just the blog title.  So much for standards!

One thing that all web authoring tools is a link back to the good ol’ days of HTML!

The results aren’t for the faint of heart.

Because all of these wonderful authors had used different blogging platforms, there were various bits and pieces of the code that were brought over.  You can see references to a header <h 1> or <h 3>, details about the class used, and Jamie’s post even included the actual link to her post.  We know that HTML tags are opened and closed so you also see the corresponding </h 1> or </h 3>

In reality, I wanted it all formatted the same way with the resulting content looking like this.

<li><a href=””>@royanlee</a&gt; – <strong><a href=”; rel=”bookmark”>Talkin’ ‘Bout Our Origins as Bloggers  </a></strong><a href=”; rel=”bookmark”>- my<strong>  </strong></a><a href=””>interview with Royan</a></li>

So, in effect, I still wanted/needed HTML tags – but on MY terms, not theirs!

Fortunately, I had the HTML knowledge to edit out the formatting from the pasted content and then go back to the editor and add my own for consistency.  I had other options as well.  I could have used a browser that offered a “paste as plain text” or to toggle in and out of the editor where it just pastes plain text.  The geeky side of me just took delight in doing the text editing so that’s what was done.

There were a few other places where a knowledge of HTML came into play.  At the top of the post, you’ll note that I had included the Twitter message from Donna Fry.  Twitter provides the raw code for it; you just have to place it into the editor via HTML.  I also like to have a horizontal rule between each blog I reference and oddly enough, Scribefire doesn’t have a click to insert one but flipping into text allows for a <h r>.  When I’m done with a post, I always preview it to make sure that it looks good.  In particular, I’m looking for images that are the right size and fit within the margins.  How often have you seen a blog post with images that just sprawls outside the lines like it had a mind of its own?  That’s easily adjusted if you take it into the image editor or you know what “width=”783″ height=”455″” will do to your <  img src >.

While the tools that we have at our fingertips are better than they ever have been, there are still times when you have to lift the hood and do a little tweaking.

What does this mean for students?  Is there room for learning a little HTML to perfect their masterpieces?  There’s nothing to be afraid of and there’s a real sense of satisfaction knowing that you have the ultimate control over things.

There may come a day when it’s not necessary, but we’re not there just yet.

Blogging, Education, learning, Ontario Edublogs, Teaching

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Earlier this week, I was participating in the #csforstudents tutorial (we were flipping a coin and keeping stats) and I got a notification that someone had send me a message.  It was from Donna Fry who had posted this to Twitter.

That generated a bit of discussion

I was going to jump in and share the link to my collection of Ontario Edubloggers but only had one eye on Donna’s conversations which she had tagged #eLearnONT.  (Sorry, Donna)  As I look through the collection that came through in the conversation, I don’t think you can go wrong following any of these blogs.  Here’s what they’ve each written recently along with a link to those I’ve interviewed on this blog.

What a wonderfully diverse and rich collection of posts!  No wonder they were identified.  If you haven’t read them, they’re all worth the click to inspire your thinking and learning.

And, Donna throws together a pretty mean blog herself….

I apologize if there were any additional Twitter messages that I missed.  I was otherwise engaged at the time and went through Donna’s timeline to see if I could capture them all.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Our Origins as Bloggers

Even before Donna’s post, I had tagged Royan Lee’s blog post as something that I wanted to highlight here.  In this post, he shares an interview with Joanne Babalis.

The conversation digs into their thoughts about their own blogs.  I love this stuff.  It’s like a blogging version of “Inside the Actor’s Studio”.

Save the Elementary TLs in TCDSB

I have always had trouble commenting on blogs written in Blogger.  After reading Diana Maliszewski’s post, I felt compelled to comment.  It turned out to be rather longish so I made sure that I made a copy of it in case it didn’t “take”.  It didn’t; I messaged Diana who checked that it wasn’t on her system even through I had tried posting with my Google account and my WordPress account.  It’s got to be one of the extensions that I use acting badly.  Anyway, I’m reproducing it here to tack on to Diana’s wonderfully passionate original post.

This is a well crafted post and letter, Diana.  Hopefully, it will be read in the spirit that you wrote it; not wanting to erode the educational experience for students and blaming it on funding.

I had to smile at your comment that I wasn’t a teacher-librarian.  You’re absolutely correct with that.  Going through elementary school, we didn’t have a teacher-librarian at all.  The library was just a book exchange room.  We didn’t know any difference.  It was just like the public library downtown that my mother took my brother and me to weekly to get our limit of two books.

At secondary school, I did have the benefit of a librarian.  She was wonderful at pointing us in the right direction.  

The tipping point for me was as a young teacher, having just a terrific teacher-librarian.  He did a terrific job.  We were always receiving memos of new resources and he would clip articles from the newspapers and put them in our mailboxes.  He constantly stirred the pot and was integral in bringing all forms of media to the classroom.  He was like the colleague teaching the same material which is important to a Computer Science teacher, the loneliest teacher in any school.  When I would have my students in the Resource Centre for research, he truly was a partner in the classroom.  He made my class so much relevant to students.

Later, as a teacher-consultant, I got to go from school to school and did a whack of workshops that always was attended by teacher-librarians.  They were always interested in what was new and would always be pushing for understanding the latest and greatest in the realm of technology.  What so impressed me was the global perspective of their school that they brought to the conversation.  They knew who was teaching what and how they could support their colleagues.  They were always the extra mind in classrooms and, usually, the first person to be consulted over curriculum issues.  I had a computer contact from every school and many of them were teacher-librarians.  I had the honour of presenting a couple of sessions at the OLA Superconference, always in partnership with one of these marvellous people.  The ones I worked with were just such natural partners.  They take content and push it past the academic into the relevance.

Decision makers need to visit libraries/resource centres/learning commons and really understand the dynamics of that most important area of the school.  I know that it’s tough for trustees to do so but they really need to do so to understand what will go missing if they make the cuts.

The elimination of us

I’ve got to file Rusul Alrubail’s post under the category “I had no idea”.  It was a tough post for me to read.

I always had the benefit of being a member of OSSTF.  Yes, there were dues but there was collegiality, professional learning, newsletters, insights, connections, and security.  I’m sure that there will be a great deal more as this unfolds.

Social Media Basics

Do you know someone who’s interested in finding out about Social Media and all the networks that are common conversations these days?  Or, perhaps they’ve noticed that television shows now show Twitter handles or Facebook pages or Instagram accounts for more detailed comment?

Send them over to this slideshow from Joan Vinall Cox.

She’s got you covered!

As I wrap up this post, I just marvel at the insights that are shared by Ontario Educators all the time.

Please take the time to read the excellent commentaries.  And, why not share the links with your connections so that others can enjoy as well?!

Computers, Education, Hour of Code, Teaching


Over the weekend, Aviva Dunsiger shared her most recent thoughts about coding in the classroom in a post “Continuing to Contemplate Coding“.  Like many of her posts, it has more questions than answers.  And, that’s always a good thing!

I started to write a reply to her post but then realized I was going to need more than that.  So, Aviva, this one’s for you.  I would encourage you to read Aviva’s original post.  She asks some very important questions and the post itself is a wonderful example of the musing of a reflective educator.

As I read her post, it brought back memories of my Computer Science teachable class at the university.  Bright young educators take the course because they’re going to change the world.  So many of them bring formal Bachelor and Master of Computer Science degrees and/or industry experience to the class with them.  They’ve seen the light and they’re going spread it everywhere they go.

On the first night, I always start with some off-computer activities to try and set the context of the course.  One of my favourites is to have 11 chairs at the front of the classroom and take 10 volunteers to hold a piece of paper with the number 1, 2, …10.  They seat themselves randomly and my instruction to the rest of the class is to give instructions so that the students at the front end up in numerical order.  There are only two rules – only one person of the 10 is allowed to stand up at any point and they can use the 11th chair for whatever purpose they want and everyone in the class has to be in agreement with the next instruction given.

It’s a fun and yet frustrating activity for them.  You can hear them discussing bubble sorts, insertion sorts, quick sorts, etc.  Put a computer in front of any of them and I’m sure they could have solved it in 30 seconds.  But it gets difficult when you have to visualize it in another context and, even worse, work with others!  Doesn’t that just describe learning something new?

As we debrief after the activity, we talk about various things as you can imagine but the point that really is driven home is that any concept needs to be applied properly and it’s difficult to just parachute into the middle of things.  Regardless, during the last night before their first practice teaching assignment, they have great plans to teach C when they get out there and graduate classes of programmers in two weeks  Uh huh.

The first night back after being out is always fun.  The first half of our session is devoted to blowing off steam, talking about teenagers, wondering why the love isn’t there, …  They get it.  We talk about curriculum development, progression and understanding of concepts, and get a new appreciation for the Ministry of Education Curriculum Documents that take forever to get written and vetted and yet are so valuable when you finally get your hands on them.

Aviva’s questions are really indicative of the frustration of the early adopter.  The Hour of Code initiative has spawned so many people wanting to do the contemporary “right thing”.  Personally, I absolutely agree that teaching coding at some level is needed and can have so many benefits in all subject areas.  If only there was a curriculum…or, better, a set of guidelines and understandings that would show what and how it looks like in the mathematics or language or science classroom.  You don’t have to look hard to find the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards or the National curriculum in England: computing programmes of study.

We live in a world of the perpetual beta.  Online, most of us understand that so many things are developing in front of our eyes.  We’re living through these things and I would suggest that applying this logic towards the understanding of introducing coding into the classroom falls into the same category.  I fully acknowledge that we stand on the giants who have educationally gone before us and saw the benefits of coding and technology long before it became as high a profile as it is.  Pity the poor classroom teacher getting started.  There are so many resources.  Check any Hour of Code collection and there are excellent tools to use.  It’s just that a sense of direction and purpose hasn’t been explicitly stated.  We can learn so much from the experiences of others.  I keep this story around as a reminder “Teaching our children to code: a quiet revolution“.

There will be a time, I hope, that we in Ontario get our collective acts together and move forward in a purposeful direction.  Perhaps the first textbook company that produces coding activities aligned with the topic will take it over the top?  Or, at the least, an addendum to the current resource.

In the meantime, great teachers are working their way through things, gaining experience and expertise as they go.

I know Aviva said it, but I’ll bet she speaks for the masses when she’s asking for answers to these questions.