OTR Links 07/01/2015


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Do I Need More Music?


The post call to action is given up front.  Your job – convince me that I need to get Apple Music.

I grew up with cars that had AM radio.  There were a couple of standard radio stations – CKLW The Big 8 in Windsor and CFTR in Toronto.  Between the two of them, they gave us the all the music we needed.  (over and over and over … the play list wasn’t terribly long with a Top 40s format!)

It was at university that I first experienced the joys of FM radio.  The concept of no-static just blew me away.  With the appropriate radio, you could get a number of great channels in the Waterloo region.  (none where available in my hometown!)  But, it got even better when you could listen to stations like CHUM-FM over cable television.

Time and technology marches on.

Today, we have Stingray music channels broadcast over satellite television and newer vehicles come with SiriusXM radio.

It’s an interesting technology field.  One doesn’t replace the other.  They’re additive in that the car features all of AM, FM, and satellite radio.  It’s just there, always present, and the quality of listening is spectacular.  I’ve imported all my CD-ROMs onto my computer and feed my MP3 player with a random assortment for dog walking.

One thing has remained consistent throughout – you tune to the desired station and press play and voila.  Music.

So now, Apple Music comes along and wants to be a competitor in this field.  It’s a double pay service.  You’ll pay for access to it plus you’ll pay for internet to stream it to your device.  There are claims that it will get more personal with your next music selected for you and you can control the music through Siri integration.  It will be interesting to see how other pay for music services respond.  Hopefully with lower prices?

So, given all that is available at present – convince me – do I need this?

OTR Links 06/30/2015


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

My CS Plan


Every now and again, you write a blog post that you know will upset some folks.  This may well be one of them although I’m not specifically challenging any of the assumptions on a personal level, but more on the practical and logistical level. 

I’m reminded of the concept a former superintendent drilled into me.  “Plan with the end in mind.”  And, he was fond of putting me on the spot with one word.  “Why”. 

I was inspired for this by a post from Alfred Thompson.  “What will go if we teach CS?“.  In his post, he was inspired by Katie O’Shaughnessey who had posted “Day -1: #cs50bootcamp: It’s all about scheduling in schools… what will go if we teach CS?“.  Both articles are definitely written from the secondary school perspective.  They address the concern about where in the life of a student would you fit a compulsory course in Computer Science into the school day.  At present, it’s an elective in most schools and you know what – I’m OK with that.  Even the logistics of trying to find enough qualified teachers to teach the course(s) and then somehow find reliable computers on which to code is daunting, much less worry about the other legitimate issues that they’ve identified.

Just like I certainly wouldn’t have liked to have had a particular course rammed down my throat, not everyone is ready to take on the rigour of a full-blown Computer Science course in their teen years.  Leaving it as an elective makes it an option for those who really want to take the course.  Having said that, I do believe that coding is a valuable skill that all students need to have but they need it long before they hit secondary school.

So, let us take a look at the elementary panel.  In the past while, there most definitely has been some real excitement and traction in coding through the Hour of Code initiative.  I’ve put together a collection of resources in a Flipboard document here.  Here, well meaning people and organizations have put together a wonderful collection of activities to introduce students to the concept of coding.  The initiative has started some thinking and discussion but has some serious flaws if the goal is to make significant change.

  • Not every teacher gets involved;
  • It’s just an hour with little or no followup;
  • The activities are largely unrelated to anything in the curriculum.

But there have also been great successes with coding clubs and followup in some classrooms.  It’s not the intent to belittle those efforts.  But as long as they are isolated activities in a few classrooms, it’s good (really good) for those particular classes and that’s about it.  I also recognize that great initiatives such as robotics have started with the efforts of excited and dedicated educators but there was a target.  Where’s the target here?

Standing back, one has to ask – how can you make something as important as coding relevant for all students?  Where does it naturally fit into an already excellent Ontario Curriculum?  In my mind, it only makes sense that it becomes an integral part of the Mathematics Curriculum.  Currently, there are five strands being taught.

  • Number Sense and Numeration
  • Measurement
  • Geometry and SpatialSense
  • Patterning and Algebra
  • Data Management and Probability

I would suggest formally adding an additional strand “Computational Thinking and Coding”.

Computational thinking isn’t a foreign concept to the mathematics curriculum.  “Computational strategies” is already specifically identified.  I would suggest that coding strategies where students work towards developing solutions is a perfect fit.  I know through talking with teachers who are already coding with their students that they hang their hat on that when challenged with the “why”.  The real advantage is that they either already have or have taken the time to learn the key concepts.  It’s an add-on but they’ve seen the value.

While the concept fits nicely into the mathematics area, we know that excellent teachers apply the concepts where they fit.  I had a teacher tell me once “We integrate everything”. 

In discussions like this, the question of what language is best for this always arises.  It’s interesting to sit back and strike a list of languages that I’ve used in the past.  (Actually, kind of humbling.)  At university, it seems like courses were often differentiated by the language.  I think that it’s important to choose an application that works on a variety of platforms, phones, tablets, computers, and that scales with the skill development of the student.  Right now, I think that TouchDevelop certainly fits that bill.

In the new strand for Computational Thinking and Coding, there needs to be support for the classroom teacher.  I would suggest that the first textbook or support materials for current textbooks from a reputable publisher would seal the deal.  If you haven’t, you need to read Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed.  Nothing speaks better to the topic.

Imagine a graduating class from an elementary school who have coding skills, coupled with computational thinking and all of the other strands from the mathematics curriculum.  As noted in Alfred’s post, why not let student vote with their feet?  Those who have the skills and see the benefits of learning to more formally program are now ready and prepared for the secondary school courses.  They’re not flying blindly into the unknown.  They’re in a position to make an informed choice in their course selection.  If they elect not to select Computer Science, at least they’ll have a number of years of background in computational thinking and coding.  It’s a valuable skill and only grows in value as they acquire devices and wish to master them.

They really can’t lose.

Thanks, Sylvia Duckworth.

OTR Links 06/29/2015


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Successful Blog Posts


I’m always a sucker for articles like this “5 Tips for Successful Blog Posts“.

My thoughts are:

  • What could I be missing?
  • What could I be doing better?
  • Is there something else I could/should be doing?

If nothing else, it’s an opportunity for a little self-analysis.

That’s always a good thing.

So, here goes….the five points from the article.

Use the title to communicate value

In a digital world where you have so many reading options, that’s so important.  The best title I think I read ever was not a blog post but an essay that I read in university.  “On Being Old, Black, and Female in a Young, White, Male Society” or something really close.  You knew right away what the article was about and were immediately engaged and drawn to read further.  Personally, I find this the toughest and easiest part of blogging.  Sometimes, I know exactly what I want the title to say.  Sometimes, I write the entire post and then wonder what would be an appropriate title.  I haven’t found the magic bullet for it yet.  One thing that I have learned, is that the title is important BEFORE you post.  If you do provide a title, it shows up in the URL for the blog post.  If you don’t then WordPress generates one for you which basically gives the page a number like ?p=8032.  I like the named URL; it just looks tidier and more professional.

So many of my blog posts are written in advance.  If I have an idea, I’ll start a new blog post and throw the idea in there and then save it as a draft.  When I finally get ready to spell it out, I’ve already got my thoughts down.  But, if I haven’t given it a title, I’ll have the WordPress default.  It’s the little things.  (I know that I can go in and edit it later but I think I’ve only ever done that once.)

Write in your talking voice

I’ve read so many professional articles over the years.  There’s so much babble and filler in it that you can see why a dissertation is so lengthy.  If they cut the cruft, a lot of them would be blog posts.  I especially like reading posts that are passionate, opinionated and get to the point.  I do equate that to having a face to face conversation with someone.  Who wants to talk to a long winded person that throws in every obscure detail?  It seems like the way blowhards converse.  I hate it when they blog the same way!

When you read a post here, it’s just from a guy talking to his computer hoping that a few people will listen.

And for my proofreaders Sheila and Lisa, I’m better in person.  You don’t see the typos when I talk…

Use lists, short sentences, short paragraphs, images

Another.  Great.  Piece.  Of. Advice.

Provide value to the reader

That’s a tough one.  I think that most bloggers try to do that.  I’m realistic enough to know that sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t .  There are some posts where I pour my heart into it and get a sort of digital “meh” response to it.  Other times, I write really quickly and there is great reaction to it.

I haven’t been able to figure that one out yet.

But, I do believe that the key is to write and write lots.  You never know when you’re going to hit one out of the park and it feels so good when that does happen.

Finish off with a call to action

Definitely.  There used to be a time when I’d finish a blog post with a question “What do you think?”.  I don’t do that much any more.  It’s not that I don’t care; I like to hear thoughts on what I’ve written or suggested.  I like it when people retweet an announcement that a new blog post is up.

But to explicitly ask for your thoughts?  I don’t think it’s necessary.

Today’s online reader is a person that knows the lay of the land.  They know that they’re always welcome to share their thoughts or criticisms.  That’s what the reply button is for at the bottom of the post.  That’s why good blog posts always have a share to social media function.

I’m just not so sure that in the year 2015 that it needs to be said.


This was a good article and a good chance to think through some of the points.  But, just off hand, I can think of one more point that was missing.

Know Your Audience

I think this is so important.  I have a sense of just who visits here.  I look through the list of people who have subscribed to the mailing list or the reading list on WordPress.  I see who retweets on Twitter; I see who comments on Facebook.  I see those that are frequent readers and I like to engage in conversation with them.  I’ve met so many of them personally.  I’ve met others online.  They, er, you inspire me with your actions.


If you’re blogging on a personal level, I’d suggest that these are excellent points to consider.  If you’re planning to blog with students in the new year, these are great discussion points when you get started.

Hey, I just thought of a “Call to Action!”  Let’s get our digital friend, Sylvia, to make a Sketchnote of it!

OTR Links 06/28/2015


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.