This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Around here, someone flipped the switch and now it’s fall. The warm days went away, replaced by cooler ones. Crickets are everywhere; there actually have been a couple of nights where we closed the windows to keep the noise down!

Not noise, but great commentary from Ontario Edubloggers it the focus of this regular Friday morning post. Please enjoy.


Calendar

As a secondary school person, it was culture shock when I visited primary classrooms, often at “Calendar Time”. It was always a big deal and I remember students highly interested in having their voice heard.

Now considerably older, calendars are important – in my digital life although This Week in Ontario Edublogs and Walk the Dog are the only two recurring events. That, and birthdays. I don’t really need that; we have a calendar on the fridge and the rules is that if it isn’t in the calendar, it won’t happen.

I remember that the calendar templates in Microsoft Publisher were crowd pleasers in the schools!

In this post, written before her teaching assignment was confirmed, Lisa Corbett shares her thoughts about the important of calendar with Grade 2 expectations. And, perhaps a different approach for doing calendars this year…


Back to School Thoughts

It was great to see Jennifer Aston back at her blog. This is another post talking about the nervousness before the return to school. She seems to have a great summer that included some camping. More on this later.

She speaks for so many educators when she lets loose about her frustrations with the Ministry of Education and the approach taken to re-opening schools that, by most accounts, excluding talking with teachers.

What a missed opportunity to work together for our deserving children!  

Besides being a teacher, Jennifer is also a mother and is very aware that emotion and words can be heard at times from an unexpected audience.

Dwelling on the negatives can really bring one down and so she does talk about some of the very positive things that she’s expecting for September. Way to go.

Back to camping; there are a number of ways to take a holiday this year – staycations (for the most of us), going to a cottage (which can be like a home away from home including internet access), or going camping. Now, camping is all over the map in terms of experience but part of it is maintaining a safe site, cooking outside, etc. I wonder if students who camped to survive the summer will be tougher when back in the classroom?


Don’tMessWithTheShield: A Little Unexpected, Humorous Teacher Inquiry

Aviva Dunsiger takes us on a little adventure with her experiences with a mask and a shield. Like all of us who wear glasses, fog becomes a very distinct enemy. Of course, I had to think about the Andy Reid shield wearing at the Kansas City football game.

Imagine teaching a class of kindergartners through that fog!

Now, I hope that my friendship with Aviva withstands this comment but she seems to be in the shield modification skill department like how she describes her ability to park. Love you, Aviva.

You might smile as you read this but I’ll bet you can see yourself doing exactly what she tried to do.

Thankfully, she had a VP with a replacement shield to save the day.


Rollercoaster

Diana Maliszewski takes us on an emotional rollercoaster that so many Ontario educators can empathize with. She found out on Thursday, September 10 what her teaching assignment would be. Think about the date and the fact that normally, school would have started September 8. Over the prior summer, teachers are likely to be engaged in planning and collecting resources for the fall.

If you’re a user of a school library, this will break your heart.

The big picture here, and Diana spells it out, is that she’s had at least a part timetable as a Teacher-Librarian for her entire career. She didn’t use the role as a selfish way to avoid teaching kids; she’s been an advocate and poster child for the transition from libraries as a repository of books to the Learning Commons that we take for granted these days.

More than that though, Diana has been a leader, coach, critical friend, presenter, advocate, champion for technology and libraries. She’s been a mainstay presenter with subject associations like the OSLA and ECOO. She refuses to accept the status quo.

The TDSB has elected to not fund Learning Commons this year.

That places Diana in a full time teaching situation; a 6/7 split. She has three concerns that she outlines in the post. All three are legitimate concerns and I wish her all the best as she undertakes this new reality.

Once she settles in, I know that she will recognize that her years of being a connected educator has made her so many connections and her above average ability to curate resources (check out her wikis) will serve her well.

I also hope that subject associations which have thrived because of the contributions of educators like Diana are there with real resources to assist this year.


Are We Prepared To Be Doing The Same Learning In The Future?

This essay from Rola Tibshirani should be required reading for everyone who emerged from the spring of emergency learning depressed.

Rola uses this post to share her insights into how things went well in her classroom and I suspect many other classrooms. It’s easy to focus on the challenges and certainly there were so many. Rola observes:

Our ecosystem during the emergency remote learning grew stronger due to the established partnership with parents and the students.

It was a slide/transition from regular classroom to teaching online. Rola observes that her success emerged from those idea connections that were already in place. I would suggest stepping back from your current reality and think objectively about what actually happened last spring.

Could your classroom be as successful as hers?

She provides a large list of events about learning, well being, and resilience.

It is so inspirational.


Talk Me Through Your Process

Any time you can take a significant educational think online, be open and collaborative, only good things can happen.

And, good things should emerge from this new intiative that Roland Chidiac describes in this post. In collaboration with Chris Cluff and Ramona Meharg, he introduces us to a new podcast devoted to getting Principal qualifications.

The podcast is a great tool to assist us in sharing our perspectives, learning from each other, and learning from others outside of our immediate circle. We are modeling our process in a public way with the hope that it will start up great discussions and encourage others to do the same. As my friend Joe Marquez likes to say, education is a collaborative sport! 

The concept sounds very interesting and the timing may well be perfect for those who are interested in this leadership role in education.


ADAPTING LESSON PLANS FOR ONLINE TEACHING

There are a lot of students whose family has elected to have them start this fall learning online. So many, in fact, that many newly created online schools have a delay in starting that put them behind the starting date for those going face to face.

As we learned last spring, there is a significant different between teaching face to face and teaching face to Zoom/Meet/Skype/Teams.

Like all things educational, engagement is a huge factor for success. Writing for the ESLOntario blog, Azi Pordel shares thoughts about the use of Microsoft Powerpoint or slides in general in the classroom for engagement. Tips on design and the rational behind slide design and process are discussed.


I hope that you can find some time to click through and enjoy all of these blog posts.

Then, make sure that you’re following these educators on Twitter.

  • Lisa Corbett – @LisaCorbett0261
  • Jennifer Aston – @mme_aston
  • Aviva Dunsiger – @avivaloca
  • Diana Maliszewski  – @MzMollyTL
  • Rola Tibshirani – @rolat
  • Rolland Chidiac – @rchids
  • TESL Ontario – @teslontario

This is an original blog post from:

https://dougpete.wordpress.com

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Congratulations on making it to the first end of the week in September. This year, everyone is in different positions for the return to school. Some in buildings; some online. Some may have started with students already; some may still be waiting. Good thing we have a plan. Sit back and check out some greater blogging from Ontario Edubloggers.


Intentional Teacher Printable

Amy Bowker shares some advice for new teachers and wisdom for all teachers in this post. I had to smile at her chart and the year-long attitude for new teachers – Anticipation, Survival, Disillusionment, Rejuventation, Reflection, Anticipation. Thinking back to my first year of teaching and I totally concur with her observations.

The Reflection piece is great for all educators and she offers some printable for you to use.

Great advice all way around here.


Online/ Distance Learning

Jonathan So has been back to school for a bit now and shares some of his thoughts as he starts to pick up momentum. I like his setup that he shares in pictures. I can’t speak highly enough for the concept of having two monitors if you’re interested in productivity and ease of information flow.

Sound is crucial for success when communicating with others. I’ve used the microphone in my laptop and the microphone in a headset. They are both functional but you cannot beat a professional grade microphone. Jonathan uses a Blue Snowball Microphone. A good microphone helps provide a higher grade of audio which serves to engage.

I agree with the four elements that he describes in the post as key to successful teaching online. He shares some of the challenges of teaching and assessing at a distance and describes the tools that he uses. It’s a great selection.

If you’re looking for more, check out this article This Teacher’s Hack For Sharing Documents With Students Is Easy and Affordable.

The more that experienced teachers like Jonathan share, the better all that are teaching at distance will be.


My Podcast Playlist

As I would say to my friend Alfred, here’s another list I didn’t make! Laura Wheeler has caught on to using podcasts as a way to learn and to keep up to date.

In this post, she shares some very high quality podcasts that she follows and a quick review of some of the impressive shows that she’s listened to.

Laura points out that there are numerous players for podcasts; she recommends Podcast Addict. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bambuna.podcastaddict

If you’re getting into the concept of listening to podcasts or you want to enhance your current list of shows, you really can’t go wrong with her choices.


Y is for YOU and other Y’s

As Lynn Thomas weaves her way through the alphabet, she ends up on the letter Y. And, not just one word starting with Y but a bunch.

You is one of her words and her advice at this time stresses the importance of you paying attention to yourself. Your attention to personal wellbeing is so important during these times but also for those students in your charge. As any teacher will tell you, students are alway watching and listening and take their lead from you.

Yearn for yesterday was another pair of Ys that she expands on in her post. I think that so many of us feel this; even if the “yesterday” was just six months ago. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just toss the last six away. Of course, we can always dream.

Lynn takes on more words using the letter Y and shares her thoughts so click through and enjoy.


Myers Briggs personality

I’ll confess here that, when I saw this title for Amanda Potts’ post, I thought it might head in a different direction. I suspect that all of us have takes the Myers Briggs test at some point. I’m sure that I must have but I can’t remember the results.

Amanda can’t remember the results other than the letter E and takes us on a little memory of a boyfriend.

Then, there’s a switch to an article that talks about The Definition Of Hell For Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type although the link in her post takes you to The Definition Of Heaven For Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type.

But she pulls this definition –

ENTJ – Somebody is wrong, and they’re directing a large group of people! You can’t do anything about it and will have to obey whatever inefficient policies they decide to implement.

Gulp! As she notes, it’s a sign of the times.


Anti-Racist Educator Reads

Sketchnoting is a technique that I admire in others. It says as much about their learning style as it does the actual content. My inability to be able to do that myself speaks volumes about my learning style. I prefer a bulleted list that chronologically takes me through whatever I’m listening to.

In this case, Debbie Donsky sketchnotes her way through a series of podcasts from Colinda Clyne.


Self-Care for Teachers

From the TDSB Professional Library comes this very timely blog post.

Now, more than ever, teachers need self-care strategies to stay strong physically, mentally and socially. Here are some strategies and tips, drawn from the links below, for teachers to enhance their self-care during this unusual school year.

There are quick suggestions dealing with

  • Physical Self-Care
  • Mental Self-Care
  • Social Self-Care

Of course, we know all this but take a moment for yourself and review the recommendations.

Sources for the recommendations are provided for further reading.


Please do yourself some professional good and read these blog posts.

Then, make sure your’re following these educators.

  • Amy Bowker – @amyebowker
  • Jonathan So – @MrSoClassroom
  • Laura Wheeler – @wheeler_laura
  • Lynn Thomas – @THOMLYNN101
  • Amanda Potts – @Ahpotts 
  • Debbie Donsky – @DebbieDonsky
  • TDSB Professional Library -@ProfLibraryTDSB

This post originates from:

https://dougpete.wordpress.com

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

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


We had a flavour of Switzerland on the This Week in Ontario Edublogs podcast this past Wednesday when Vicky Loras joined the show as guest host. Vicky has been a connection for many Ontario educators so it was nice that she knew of some of the Ontario Edubloggers that we featured on the show. Vicky is gearing up to get a PhD in Linguistics. Her Masters program included a study of “Canadian English” and you can read her research as it’s linked to her PhD blog.


#tdsbbt2020 Board PD? Why not?

The first blog post we talked about originated from Diana Maliszewski and it was an inspirational way for her to finish her summer. She attended the TDSB New Teachers Conference. Hence the hashtag in the title for the post.

There’s a great deal of logic to attending something like this – for teachers new to the profession, they would never have covered how to teach and manage students safely in the time of a pandemic.

Heck even teachers with 30 years of experience may not have the skills. Even last spring, school buildings were closed and school continued from home at a distance. So, in some respect, everyone will be a new teacher entering classrooms whenever and wherever they do. It varies from district to district!

Diana wasn’t a passive participant either. With partner Sarah Baynes, they did a two hour session called “It’s All Political: Media Literacy and our Texts, Talk and Teaching”. I love the sharing of expertise and the notion of paying it forward.


Reflect. Review. Revise. A year in the Library Learning Commons

So, this was a discussion about an academic document created as an assignment for an Additional Qualification program in Librarianship. If we weren’t headed into a new year with teacher-librarians and Learning Commons in question, we might not even heard about this.

Beth Lyons does show her technology skills in the creation of the document (using Canva and publishing to Issuu) and it reads like a blueprint for what every Library could/should be.

Divided into two sections, pre- and during- COVID, it’s a beautiful summary and also inspirational to the extent that the library didn’t pack up and leave when students stopped coming into the building. Again, she uses Social Media like YouTube to keep doing the good things that she had always done.

The link to the document is in the post and worth the click.


Splendour in the Grass

I really didn’t know how to approach this post from Colleen Rose. There’s a link in there to a very specific internet site that left her ugly-crying. I supposed that she could have dwelled on this aspect and that would have made the post very depressing.

Instead, she used it as inspiration to share with us some of the things that were uplifting in her life over the summer. Her painting, her baking, her trips to the beach, the beauty that is Northern Ontario, sharing a beer and her two lovely children.

She led the post with the Wordsworth poem

In the faith that looks through death,

In years that bring the philosophic mind.

A personal note to my dear friend Colleen and, indeed to all educators headed back to school buildings, keep your heads up and focus on the priorities. You’ve got this.


Building Community & Advanced Features within Brightspace by D2L – E017

This is a rather longish post from the Edugals and elaborates on one of their podcasts featuring Tanya Williamson.

Many educators will be forced to use an online Learning Management System as a result of their teaching assignment and choices. We saw last spring though that everyone ended up scrambling to learn the skills to teach online. It truly was building the airplane while flying it.

The post highlights some of the features of Brightspace and ranks some of the features in terms of importance so that people don’t feel like they need to use every feature right away.

If the worse happens again and schools are closed down or if you are teaching using Brightspace, you’ll find this a good reference.

I think my recommendation to all teachers regardless of where they are teaching is to use the features of the LMS that they have at their disposal. It opens a lot of opportunities and is a chance for students to learn how to function in this environment while the teacher is “in the house” and can be there to assist.

Of course, that requires access to the technology in a safe manner. BYOD anyone?


Brain Words Book Club: How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching

Yet another real thinker comes from the blog of Deborah McCallum. It’s an insight into a book study she was involved with Brain Words: How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching, by Richard Gentry and Gene P. Ouellette.

I was at a big of a loss when reading this; I’ve never had to teach children to read – by the time they get to secondary school, I just assumed that they had that skill.

I also marvel that I was ever able to learn to read personally; the techniques and insights that educators have today certainly weren’t around when I was learning. I go back to the days of the Primer so I’m the odd man out in these discussions. Deborah draws a comparison of memorizing mathematics concepts to memorizing language concepts and words. That may well describe at least part of my reading journey and whatever success I might have had.

Yet, reading in Computer Science is still a skill. I wonder if some of the techniques would help when the reading gets technical.


Set-Up Day 1

This was a new blog for me and came as a comment to yesterday’s post. Mrs. Crockett and Miss Dunsiger have created a blog that they’re calling their Daily Documentation. If you’ve followed these ladies in the past, you know that they have used a variety of social media and are now trying to rein it in a bit. This blog looks like it might be their answer.

It’s more than a little sad to think that this is what a kindergarten classroom looks like in the Fall of 2020.

This is so far from the status quo that had been used, developed, and refined over the years.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I hope that many educators take the time to show to the world what their classroom looks like and this elicits a bunch of suggestions to make it better.

Maybe even a set of before/after pictures?


Friday Two Cents: What Makes Me Happy

Paul Gauchi read an article that inspired him to share with us what makes him happy. It just takes three things.

  • positive relationships
  • financial security
  • sense of purpose

Of course, he expands on each of them.

Is he really happy? He notes that some of these items are a bit strained but maintains a positive outlook.

That’s a good thing.

I’m happy for him. We could always look at things and allow them to get us down or we can choose to look at things positively. The key is that you’ll never be perfect so maybe you need to find some other way to define happiness.


Please take some time and click through and read all of these wonderful posts. There’s great inspiration there.

Then, follow them all on Twitter.

  • Diana Maliszewski – @MzMollyTL
  • Beth Lyons – @MrsLyonsLibrary
  • Colleen Rose – @ColleenKR
  • Edugals – @EduGals
  • Deborah McCallum – @bigideasinedu
  • Aviva Dunsiger – @avivaloca
  • Paul Gauchi – @PCMalteseFalcon

This post originates from:

https://dougpete.wordpress.com

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

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Zoe Branigan-Pipe was the guest host on the voicEd Radio This Week in Ontario Edublogs show this week. Our paths have crossed so many times in the past. Probably our biggest togetherness was hosting the Great OSLA Faceoff, repeated again for an ECOO conference, and then for a local elementary school. She was interviewed for this blog here and you can check out a picture of the Beauty and the Beast.

So, it was nice to chat again; normally, we would meet up at the annual ECOO conference but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this year. For me, the big value of spending money on professional learning comes from face to face connections.

Zoe has been a long time social media leader; she’s like the poster child for making authentic connections. And, of course, she’s among the amazing group of Ontario Edubloggers.


BlackLivesMatter. No Time for Silence.

We started the show by taking a look at Zoe’s post. I was quite surprised when she mentioned that she had to tone it down upon advice from colleagues that it might not go over well with others in her district. I found this disturbing in the summer of 2020.

What remains is a post full of links to resources across the web. Teachers who are looking at addressing Black Lives Matter in their classrooms this year would find this a treasurer trove of content.

Some of it will take some modification for a particular purpose in an Ontario classroom but the gold comes from the resources developed by ETFO linked to by Zoe.


#ETFOProud

Speaking of ETFO, the Heart and Art Blog features a new blogger this week, Velvet Lacasse.

The post was essentially an introduction to Velvet post but I had a Wayne’s World moment when I read her thoughts about becoming a Union Steward in her first year of teaching. There’s no way that I could have found the time to do that.

In my first year, OSSTF was just a deduction from my paycheque until the New Teachers’ Night where I learned a little bit more about what District 34 was all about. Eventually, I did become part of the Collective Bargaining Committee but I wouldn’t have dreamed it for my first year in the profession. Her observations about attending the Annual Meeting is bang on. You get the real provincial perspective there.

Velvet brings a wealth of social activism to the blog and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.


Education Will Never Become What It Should Be Until It Is Freed From Politics

This blog post, from Tim King, is about as long and involved in content as the title of the post. TLDR; is this statement.

To further complicate things, education is run by politicians. 

That sets the stage as Tim pulls apart so much of what’s actually going on and what could be happening. Of course, this would only happen if decisions were based upon the advice of those educators that are actually in the classroom. As we’ve seen this summer, that’s so far removed from what we see about the decision making process.

As an almost daily follower of the 1:00pm Premier news conference, I keep waiting for something other than “best plan in Canada”, “we spent this much money”, “union bosses are the problem”, etc. Sadly, it doesn’t come.

Tim sees a world where education is best served by a removal from political connections. This is firmly embedded in the BNA Act and so it won’t be happening any time soon. Besides, what’s an election campaign without addressing education?

It’s still a good read and I’m sure that many educators will agree with Tim’s points so it’s comfortable that someone has taken the time to write them out. At the same time, it’s just difficult to ever see significant change being made.

Unless we create the “Teachers’ Party” and somehow get the majority of seats.


Math Games – building a foundation for mathematical reasoning

I have a fondness for mathematics and really enjoy posts like this from Mark Chubb and others in the mathematics education realm. I do check out the links to the resources that are shared.

Now, I’m old enough to remember multiplication charts and memorization. I remember doing word problems ad nauseum; I knew enough about mathematics to recognize when my teacher really knew her/his stuff and when they were struggling to get by.

When I think back, mathematics was always about gaming for me. Like any good game, there was a real sense of accomplishment when you got it right. It was almost strategic. I never did tests top down; I picked and chose those questions that I knew I’d be successful with.

While it was about gaming, I don’t recall actually playing something that might formally be defined as a game. That’s a relative new concept and today’s student has that advantage with the wise teacher picking and choosing the best of the best from so many choices.

In this post, Mark shares a number of games that are worth evaluating for your own classroom. I like the reference to using them as part of a distance learning program; may you elementary teachers not need to consider that this school year.

Yet, there’s something about a hip pocket.


Let’s Get Explicit

In a million years, I don’t think I would have made the connection between Open Educational Practices and hip hop artists on my own.

But, Terry Greene does in this post and it’s a fun read. He addresses the five essential elements of hip hop.

  • Lyricism (Rapping)
  • Turntablism (DJing)
  • Breaking
  • Graffiti
  • Knowledge of history

I immediately zeroed in on the concept of “turntablism” but I shudder when I think of using my own personal record collection…

For those in this world with Terry, there’s an element of wisdom and reality in each of these elements. The biggest message is that the same ol’, same ol’ doesn’t have to continue.

Your first inclination might be to take a pass on this post but at least give it a read and see another side of teaching.

Warning, Terry uses bad words in this post.


What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Education loves a good buzzword. Recently, I ran across this

15 Words Teachers Officially Never Want to Hear Again

If you check it out, you’ll find a collection of words that you’ve probably heard from a keynote speaker somewhere. They have this ability at times to use words and make it part of their presentations and you feel badly that you didn’t know that.

Then, there are some words where you need to sit up and pay attention to. Deborah Weston takes on new terminology that we’re going to see in Ontario Curriculum as it’s revised, starting with the new Mathematics Curriculum, addressing mental health.

Deborah digs into the roots of this and shares her thoughts. A note that should make you sit up and notice

SEL is now also a distinct section of the updated curriculum

She does a nice job of stepping through the curriculum pointing out where it occurs in the elementary school curriculum, by grade. The question whether or not it’s a learning skill or will have to be reported on separately is addressed from her perspective and offers come questions for the future.


Footage of the Falls: Back Then and Now

You know, if I lived in Northern Ontario, I’d visit visit Kakabeka Falls regularly. As a family, we’ve been there a few times – once going to the Calgary Stampede, a couple of times on the way to relatives in Minneapolis, and a couple of times just as a married couple looking for an interesting place to camp. I can agree that there are all kinds of things out and about at night!

As Sheila Stewart notes, it never gets old. Our context these days from Southern Ontario is visits to Point Pelee, Erieau, and the “Niagara of the South”.

What a find it must have been to have discovered some footage from the 1950s and, in the spirit of good sharing, doing some editing and putting it on YouTube.

Much more commonly are modern videos of Kakabeka Falls.


Thanks to these terrific bloggers for continuing to share their thoughts and ideas in their blogs so that we can all share in the learning.

Make sure that you’re following them all on Twitter.

  • Zoe Branigan-Pipe – @zbpipe
  • Velvet Lacasse – @velvet_lacasse
  • Tim King – @tk1ng
  • Mark Chubb – @MarkChubb3
  • Terry Greene – @greeneterry
  • Deborah Weston – @DrDWestonPhD
  • Sheila Stewart – @sheilaspeaking

This post originates from:

https://dougpete.wordpress.com

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

Another Interview with Andrew Dobbie



Andrew Dobbie is an elementary school teacher with the Peel District School Board.  Last year, at the annual Bring IT, Together Conference, he and a group of students took over one of the booth areas to talk about their passions.  I was quite impressed with the technical discussions that I was able to have with them. Read on to find what they are and how you might get involved for the good of your classroom, students, and the environment.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to this, Andrew.  Can you remember the first time that we met?

Andrew: I believe we first met at an ECOO conference in Toronto, years ago.  My first year as a presenter.  It’s been an almost annual event for us ever since👍

Doug:  We’ve followed each other on Twitter for a while now and you’re a regular on my #FollowFriday listing.  To make that list, you have to have been active on the previous Thursday.  What makes you so active on Twitter?

Andrew: As an educator, I’m always looking for new research, advances in technology, and current events that I can weave into our daily classroom work.  I’m also a strong advocate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, so I like to share current global events related to our progress @TeachSDGs

Doug:  Let’s get this out in the open first.  Are you or would others consider you a computer geek to be avoided?

Andrew: Computer Geek? My wife says no….BUT she says when I start speaking about the coding required to create some of the special computers used for repurposing other, older computers, it sounds geeky🤣

Computers are a necessity turned hobby for me.  I rely heavily on them as a conduit to support learning in our classroom, therefore I believe my students and I need to know how to build and service them to ensure we can troubleshoot and repair them as needed throughout the day.

Practical.  Not geeky.

Doug:  At the Bring IT, Together Conference last fall, you offered to give any teacher who was interested their own reimaged computer to take back to their classroom.  How many expressed interest and took you up on the offer?  I noticed that you had a stack of Dell computers at your booth.

Andrew: Last year, we gave away about 30 free laptops/desktops to attendees.  Some were keen to repurpose more of their older computers at their schools, so we built them Linux server computers instead.  Our Linux servers are designed to repurpose older, connected computers MUCH more efficiently.  We continue to support all of those teachers throughout Ontario, as well as the more than 14 000 students using Linux computers in classrooms every day.

Unfortunately, Greentec showed interest in helping us by possibly donating laptop hard drives but they didn’t follow through at all.  Furthermore, there is resistance in all school boards related to students using free Linux computers at home and in classrooms.  The school board resistance is unfounded because the computers are running an up-to-date, secure @Xubuntu operating system with Google Chrome that auto-updates in the background daily.  School boards are putting barriers in place that DO NOT support learning, DO NOT save tax dollars and DO NOT divert e-waste because Ontario school boards continue to recycle FUNCTIONAL computers instead of repurposing them with Linux and keeping them in service.

Doug:  So, let’s get right to it.  At the Bring IT, Together Conference, you and your students were sharing your stories about Environmental Stewardship and your partnership with Renewed Computer Technology Canada.

What brought you into this relationship?

Andrew: RCTO (rcto.ca) is a not-for-profit organization that gives schools free desktop computers.  I needed computers for my classroom, so I asked them and they gave me enough free desktop computers to put between 4-12 computers per classroom throughout our school (to service more than 800 students), effectively saving us 10 years of board provided new technology budget.  They are amazing! I have been paying it forward by helping other schools apply for, transport, and set up their own free computers from RCTO as well.

Doug:  Your website (link below) talks about the success that your efforts have had and you estimate that you have saved your school district $1,431,000.  This is done by diverting computers that would normally have been sent to disposal and repurposing them.  Typically, these would be Windows computers and you end up installing a flavour of Linux on them.  How did you get interested in doing this?

Andrew:  To clarify, we have saved Peel District School Board alone about $500 000 tax dollars.  Our efforts globally have saved almost 1.5 million tax dollars.  Our support for students can be found as far as Iceland👍  

We developed an interest in Linux out of necessity to support student learning with computers, while having little to no board funding to support computers in classrooms.  We needed classroom computers, the school board had no funding to get them, we acquired older computers from RCTO that wouldn’t run our board image, so we repurposed them with Linux to make them functional, Chromebook-like learning support tools👍

With the guidance and support of Mike Diou, Neil Lyons, and Aaron Prisk (along with dozens of other teachers globally), we have developed a Linux solution to poor school board premature recycling that saves hundreds of thousands of tax dollars annually (could easily save millions per year if the Ontario ministry and school boards would implement updated Linux repurposing policies).

Doug:  Whoa!  Linux.  Isn’t that a geeky type of thing where you have to learn all kinds of command line statements in order to do something?

Andrew: When we repurpose an older computer to run with Linux, it operates almost exactly like a Chromebook.  We install and auto-update the current, stable version of Google Chrome on the Linux computers too.  Linux works faster than Windows (especially with slightly older computers), so it is a perfect repurposing option for any slower computer that is 10 years old or newer.

Doug:  There are all kinds of different distributions of Linux and you went with Xubuntu.  Why that distro?

Andrew: Xubuntu allowed us the ability to create operating system protocols for computers to be used in classrooms.  This prevented students from using root access (just another layer of security to help).  However, when we give away free, donated computers to students and their families, we provide them with a fully unlocked Xubuntu operating system and encourage them to explore it.  I tell them not to worry about wrecking the computer because we can just reimage it again to make it like new in minutes👍

Doug:  Now, in order for this to be successful, you have to hijack the machines from your district’s IT Department renewal process for your project.  How does that work?

Andrew: While we are working outside of our board’s IT pervu, we are not hijacking any board computers.  School board IT departments do not provide us with computers. I wish they would, so we could move them back into even more classrooms.  All schools have computers they have purchased with their school budgets.  Principals have the freedom to choose how and when to recycle those computers they have purchased with their school budget.  We work with responsible principals who choose to support their students, while saving budget and diverting e-waste.  Once in a while, we receive donations from companies or local individuals wanting to help provide families in need with a free computer.  Most of the computers we work with were donated by RCTO.  We would be able to help thousands of more students and their families if school board IT departments repurposed all functional computers with Linux instead of recycling them prematurely.

Doug:  That assumption is my error. I had thought you had previously indicated that computers to be retired by the IT Department were redirected to you.

The process of installing Linux isn’t that difficult these days but your students have become champions at doing that.  What skills do you figure that they’ve acquired in this process?

Andrew: Our students have learned Linux terminal coding techniques and are able to build their own Linux FOG Servers, student-tailored user interface, and deploy their own image onto any other computer.  Students learn at their own pace and find different ways to get involved to support the UN SDGs, either through software or hardware expertise.

Doug:  What’s the minimum specifications for the type of computer that you use for the project?

Andrew: Minimum computer specs for reliable, daily student use is a dual core processor with 4GB RAM.  However, Linux will run well with a minimum of 2GB as well (with fewer Google Chrome Tabs open).

Doug:  Do your graduates continue to do this once they leave Mr. Dobbie’s classroom?  

Andrew: Yes! Our Technology Stewards continue to help their families and friends by repurposing their computers.  Some of our grads are in high school now and actively working in clubs to support local families in need👍

Doug:  A real Linux purist will not use anything commercial unless they absolutely have to.  I’m assuming that you’re getting no access to school licensing of products so what are your students using for:

  • WordProcessing
  • Spreadsheets
  • Presentations
  • Graphics and Image editing
  • Video editing
  • Video conferencing

Andrew: Cloud-based LMS tools like Google Apps for Education or Office 365 provide students with online access to all of their apps/tools, regardless of the computer being used.  So, our Linux computers simply have the up-to-date, current, stable version of Chrome.  Chrome will run all web-based applications students need to support their learning.  Any other learning tools we need for simulations or A/V we find in open source products that are license free👍

Doug:  Truth be told, school districts currently have this obsession with Chromebooks.  Chromebooks actually run a version of Linux so why isn’t your procedure done in more places?  Ultimately, you end up in a browser and you’re on the internet, aren’t you?

Andrew:  Absolutely true! This isn’t rocket science. We transform older, slower computers into faster Linux computers in which students can explore the world via Google Chrome (FOR FREE👐)

Doug:  During the emergency teaching this spring, did your students have access at home?  Were they tech savvy enough to get through any issues?

Andrew: Throughout our spring session, many students had donated Linux computers at home as their only lifeline to their school learning environment.  I received some tech support emails but most were taken care of peer-2-peer👍

Doug:  You indicate that you are a SDG ambassador.  What does this mean to you and your students / school / district?

Andrew: As SDG Global Ambassadors, our efforts are recognized and supported by the global @teachSDGs community.  Through our SDG community we will be working to support communities in other countries as well.

Doug:  If people are interested in more about this concept, can they reach out to you?

Andrew: Anyone is welcome to reach out to me via email (dobbieandy@gmail.com) or on Twitter.

Doug:  Thank you for taking time for this interview, Andrew.  I hope that those that read it will have a new appreciation for what you’re doing and perhaps they’ll push for the same concept in their schools.

You can stay on top of Andrew’s latest adventures here.