At what cost?

I read about the announcements from Apple yesterday with interest.  It’s not that I’m sitting on a pot of gold here waiting to buy the latest and shiniest though.  It’s just a chance to see how Apple will push the world forward in technology use and ideas and also a chance to see them catch up with others.

My biggest interest was in what I would call catch up and that was the promised news service.  I admit that I’m a news junky and was really curious.  Off I went to the App Store and I couldn’t find it.  I grabbed my iPad and looked at the store there and nada.

I wasn’t terribly surprised; often it takes a day or two for things to trickle down to we Canadians.  The price of Apple News+ is listed at $9.99/month which, of course, is American dollars.  If you’ve ever downloaded a song for iTunes, you know that it takes a few more pennies Canadian to do the deed.

So, I was going to wait a couple of days but then wondered if I wasn’t missing a web version.  I actually just guessed that it might be at and it turned out I was correct.

Click to try and I get this…


I forgot this was Apple.  Every new feature requires a rewrite of the operating system!  Here’s where I stand as I begin to write this post.  2.5 GB to use a new application.  Hopefully, the standard “bug fixes and enhancements” also apply.


Even after I download it, and apply the update, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be available in Canada but I’m 1/2 a gig into it so will finish.

It’s not that I need another news program.  Followers of me know that I’m up early and reading things in Flipboard, News 360, Opera Personal News, and of course, my Old Reader collection.  But still, a new player on the market deserves at least a click or two (and a download).

— a while later —

I’ve rebooted and am back to the news site.  When I click the “Try Apple News+” button, I’m prompted to see if I approve the opening of the application.  I did a quick check and, yes, there is now a News application in my applications folder.

Upon opening, there are a number of default channels – obviously it knows that I’m from Canada and it comes pre-configured for Canadian Politics and NHL Hockey.  How cliche.  No CFL Football?

Ah, but I can search for additional channels or topics.  Of course, I had to add Education and Educational Technology.


I could add some of my, er, Favourites…


And a bit of preferences to change.


It was interesting to poke around.  There is the promised News+ section which will be the paid upgrade.  Disappointingly, for the way I read the news, I couldn’t find a way to share the stories that I’m reading to my social networks.  There is the traditional Apple sharing menu amongst Apple things that are on my computer.

Heading back and poking around, there clearly is a Mac OS and an iOS application.  There’s nothing about the program that runs on the web.  That cuts out much of my reading routine because I’m not always using my MacBook Pro.  Plus, I do like the sharing with others aspect of what I do when I’m reading.  The best I could come up with is to use the “Open with Safari” option (which actually opened my default browser which isn’t Safari) and from there I could share.  It’s just a couple of extra steps.

Navigation was slick; the navigation menu was in a dark mode in the left pane with the content appearing as the publisher intended in the right.

In summary, it is an Apple application and designed to keep you in the Apple environment and not out in the open on the web.  I’ve taken a quick wander around the News+ section.  Given the limitations above, from my perspective, paying for access for stories might well be the saving factor for the program.  So much of the other functionality exists already in other places.

A better internet?

It was after reading this story this morning

The Man Who Invented the World Wide Web Has Mixed Feelings About What the Internet Has Become

that I got thinking about the “good old days” when we just went online to do research or reading or communicating or whatever.  We actually paid for the service so we had the choice not to pay.  We didn’t worry about who was following us around as we went from web resource to web resource.  We just revelled in the fact that so much was available to us.

Then, of course, things changed.  You can’t read anything about the internet without getting advice about how to be careful and be wise in your use.

Thinking about this brought back a memory of a series of articles from Gizmodo that I enjoyed.  I wonder how they’d affect me.

It was from a series that they called Goodbye Big Five.

I Tried to Block Amazon From My Life. It Was Impossible

This looks like it’s going to be relatively easy.  I seldom buy anything directly from Amazon.  I do, however, recognize that results from Amazon appear in searches that I make online for products.  I do use Amazon to get a good idea about what a product might be worth but I’m impatient.  I’ll use that pricing as a benchmark to see where I can just go out and get my hands on what I want immediately.  That’s the retail part.

The other area is Amazon Web Services.  I have no doubt that much of what I access online comes from there.

I Cut Facebook Out of My Life. Surprisingly, I Missed It

Facebook is an interesting one.  I never really had the desire to get connected and start to look for friends, old and new.  Facebook became more than that though.  It’s the place where a lot of local businesses have a presence rather than pay for development of a unique web presence.

Then, the connections started making sense.  It’s a hoot to get connected with people from the community where I grew up.  We share stories and pictures and talk about the good old days.

But, the biggest thing is using it to share pictures with family.  We don’t see each other on a daily basis but it is a place to stay in touch or share pictures of the latest adventure.  Plus, I get a hoot of taking one of the kids out for lunch and check into the place only to get the reactions from the others.

I Cut Google Out Of My Life. It Screwed Up Everything

I would feel the same here I think.  I remember the first time I’d heard about Google.  It was an excited CAIT who shared this.  Until this point, our point of reference for search had been Altavista or Dogpile.  Google changed all of that … and more.

For the most part, I use the Google Chrome web browser.  It’s a no-brainer on my Chromebook although I do have Opera and Firefox installed there and on my other computer.  Every now and again, I’ll use a different browser until I run into a service that absolutely demands a “modern” browser and really means Chrome.  Now and again, I’ll play the real rebel and use Linux with Chromium.  It does make me feel good.

The reality is that so much in my life is Google based – Gmail, my Calendar, so many Google Documents with many of the organizations that I interact with, Maps, Earth, Android, and much more.  To replace all these with an alternative would be the ultimate digital makeover.

I Cut Microsoft Out of My Life—or So I Thought

I have an old computer (9 years old) that has Windows 10 on it but, to be honest, spend most of my time on that computer dual booted into Linux.  It’s faster, more reliable, and provides open source alternatives for anything that I might want to use.

I periodically have twinges of guilt and will boot into Windows.  Windows 10 users will know what comes next; series of updates and reboots.  Then, like most Windows machines, it gets slower and slower.  Edge is a nice to use browser but often chokes on websites wanting a “modern browser”.

I do use Outlook for some of the resources that I subscribe to and have an account for the online version of Office.  There are some people that refuse to use Google services so it’s nice to be connected and fluent enough with Microsoft online to compromise.  I do like OneNote but only the web version; keeping local installations up to date can be a challenge.

I Cut Apple Out of My Life. It Was Devastating

I’m writing this using a MacBook Pro so there’s two strike against me there.  Although it’s four year old, it works nicely now that I replaced the install hard drive with an SSD.  I’ve never warmed up to Safari as a browser (because I like my extensions and customizations)  or the Office that comes installed.  Instead, I’ll use LibreOffice or head off to the cloud.

But not Apple’s cloud.  I have an account with Apple but it’s essentially my connection to iTunes to download music.

I do walk with my headphones connected to an old iPod.  Since it’s just digital, playing music is nice and easy.  The buttons don’t work all that well but it can always be recharged if I’m unable to turn it off.  My old iPad has been relegated to a media player connected via Bluetooth to a head set.  It doesn’t do much else anymore.  My old Android phone is my new tablet.


I could go on and on but the author in these articles did a nice job so I won’t bother.  What was interesting in this whole process was to realize just how reliant and connected to so many different pieces of technology I was.  Given where I stand today, I don’t think it’s possible to escape.  I supposed that the best thing to do is to develop coping strategies to accept this reality and deal with it.

Maybe a better exercise than going through and cut out reliance on technology from these various sources, it would be easier to start from scratch and build a profile that doesn’t include reliance on them.

Where would you fit in this scenario?

The view from here

As long as there have been computers, there have been desktop background images. Quite frankly, I’ve always kind of thought that it’s dumb because if you’re doing anything with your computer, you shouldn’t be seeing the desktop anyway.

And yet, it’s the very first thing that I do when I get a new computer and something that I change periodically. I guess there’s something impressive when someone looks over your shoulder and is impressed with the image.

With the advent of Apple’s Mojave upgrade, they’ve added the ability to have dynamic images as your background. Now, rotating images isn’t new but it was worth experimenting with anyway. This implementation is different.

Out of the box, Apple gives you a couple to get started. I tried them and they do work and are kind of neat. I’m assuming that it reads your computer clock and adjusts accordingly. But, there has to be more!

Look at my desktop now. This is the image as of 7:00am.

I had to learn about the “High Efficiency Image File Format” in the process but learning is good.

And later at about 8:30, you can see lightness working its way across the planet. (That’s twice in one morning that I’ve looked at my desktop!)

This is part of a collection offered for free – in addition to Earth above, look for HEIFFs of Jupiter, Moon, International Space Station, a City and New Orleans. Instructions about how to make this work are at the bottom of the page.

The page? Well, it’s right here.

Have you upgraded to Mojave and played around with this feature? Do you have a favourite? Please let me know via comment.

Write Your Own eTextbook…

…in fact, you may already be doing most of this.

Recently, I had a conversation with a computer science teacher who was bemoaning the fact that there just wasn’t a perfect textbook for her course.  I don’t think that’s unusual.

I never found a computer science textbook that I wanted to use.  The examples in the ones that I looked at were different from the ones that I would use and the exercises often were too simple to reinforce the concepts that I wanted.  Plus, it’s also nice to have a bank of extra problems to pull out as needed – for review, extra practice, ideas for students, and so much more.

Any computer science teacher that I’ve ever met is the ultimate curator.  Filing cabinets just chock full of problems gathered from here and there; I was always a sucker for online programming competitions.  They are always a wonderful source of problems for class solution or for student problems.  Most are now available on the web and moving to a digital storage is only a click away.

Back to my discussion.  She was proud to indicate two things…first, the students were allowed to bring their own devices to classroom which had changed the way that she used computers – no more waiting for the “master image” to have the language and editors that she wanted.  Secondly, she had moved all of her notes and examples to a WordPress blog.  It was a private self-hosted blog and was just perfect for her purposes.  The students could access the current lesson or problem by visiting the blog.  She had learned quickly enough to have a few lessons published in advance so that there always was something ready.  She was using the comments to a post section as a way for students to ask questions or get clarification when students weren’t in class.

It seemed like a perfect scenario with just one gotcha that was looming for a couple of students.  They didn’t have internet access at home.  It was not a huge problem provided the student remember to go to the blog and grab the topic while at school.  She was considering moving her resources to any of the eBook editing programs that are available but was shuddering to think of the work involved.

As we talked, I remembered BlogBooker.  I’ve written about it a few times on this blog.  Do a search or just read this one post.

Long story short, BlogBooker takes your blog and makes it into a PDF file.  That file, then, can be repurposed for any use that you might have for it including distributing copies to your students.  Why not turn your blog into an eTextbook?  BlogBooker has a great selection of options for formatting…

It sounds just like the sort of thing that any editing process would include.  Since the resulting document is a PDF file, images are embedded nicely, and links you make reference to are live!  If you’d been allowing Comments with one class, you could include them or go ahead an exclude them so the textbook is all you!  There’s nothing more universally assessible by devices than PDF.  And, if you need to revise the text book for subsequent years, you already have all your blogging experience at hand to make the changes.

BookBlogger is the perfect tool for saving a year’s worth of blog posts … those posts could your next best textbook!

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French iOS Applications

One person that’s regularly on the Ontario Educators’ list is @sylviaduckworth.  She’s a regular Twitter user and sends out some great content.  Sylvia is definitely someone that you want to follow, particular if teaching French using AIM is of interest to you.  She has a strong passion for this.

I’ve just recently stumbled on her French iOS Applications blog.  It’s bookmarked and now listed in the Ontario Edublogger list.

This has real interest for me.  That little guy that hangs out at our house is soon going to be in a situation where he’s serious about French as a language.

Of course, I’ll want to make his environment as rich in both languages as I can.

That’s where Sylvia’s blog will come handy.  She’s devoted this blog to downloading and evaluating applications that would be appropriate for use in the FSL classroom.  She has a “so far” list…

and a much longer to-do list.  It’s a very ambitious goal!  Those of us who are interested in this will truly benefit from her efforts.

She’ll have plenty of visits from me over the next while as these all roll out.

Bring it on, Sylvia!  This will be a truly unique blog.  I can’t find anything similar and neither can Zemanta which I use for related links.

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Exercise Makes You Grow

Disclaimer right up front.  The title of this blog post is misleading.  Hopefully, it drew you in from curiosity anyway.

I am a supporter at every opportunity to get kids, no matter the size, to go beyond the cursory of tap, click, tap and begin to really understand what’s happening when using an electronic device.  The more that we can do to promote meaningful activities the better.

When do you start students programming?  My answer has always been – as soon as it’s developmentally appropriate.  In the big scheme of things, the sooner the better.  If you wait until secondary school, it’s way too late.  And students shouldn’t stop programming.  Now, not all of them will write the next great Canadian application but the more they understand the logic and the way things work, the better they’ll be.  There’s nothing more frustrating that watching someone just wandering around on their device hoping that they’ll find a solution when you know that a little logic and understanding resolves that instantly.

Off the soapbox and on to exercise.

I recently installed an application on my iPad that has the programmer in me obsessed and the educator in me seeing all kinds of application.

Daisy the Dinosaur is a great beginning programming environment.  It’s fun and you stay inside Daisy’s environment to do the sorts of things that Daisy can do.

What can she do?

Well, she can “move”, “turn”, “grow”, “shrink”, “jump”, “roll”, and “spin”.  She can repeat any of the actions and you can press “Play” to start and/or you can control her actions with a tap or a shake of your device.  That’s about it.  Any programmer will tell you that a program is best when you apply some logic and combine actions to get the job done.

When you first start Daisy, you may wish to enter the Challenge Mode to work through a set of challenges devised to teach you everything that Daisy can do.  You and your students will pick it up in a matter of minutes.  Then, it’s off to free-play mode to see what you can do.

In my case, I decided to show Daisy exercising!

The various commands that Daisy is capable of doing appear on the left of the screen – scroll with your fingers to get more of them.  To write your program, just drag the commands onto the program area.

In this case, I did the following:

  • Start when I shake the iPad;
  • For five times, do the following;
    • Move forward;
    • Shrink; (I thought it could simulate rolling up into a little ball)
    • Roll over;
    • Grow; (to get back to the original size)
    • Grow again because we just did some exercise.

To start the program, it’s just a matter of tapping Play.  Daisy appears on the left side of the stage and in this case, she just stands there waiting for me to shake the iPad.  I did and she exercised her way through the above activity.

It’s addictive.  As the program is running, you can follow the steps as the cyan commands turn magenta to let you know what’s being acted upon.  If you’re a fan of Scratch, it’s easy to see this application introducing the concepts.

The application is free and relatively small – 5MB.  It’s well worth the time to download and check out.  You’ll want to see what your students can do with it.


An Interview with Angela Harrison

Angela Harrison (@TechieAng on Twitter) is one of those personalities on Twitter that you come across and immediately want to invite her to be part of your learning.  She shares some of the more consistently interesting and insightful messages that you’ll come across.  You’ll also find that she blogs quite consistently about Literacy and literacy activities at Expanding teaching, exploring technology.

She was one of those people that I “knew” long before I met her!  I did have an opportunity to learn around a table with her last summer and was impressed with her passion for kids and for learning.  She’s currently a kindergarten teacher but has always brought technology into her classrooms at all grades she’s taught so it comes as no surprise when you come across interesting ideas from her blog.

Just before the ECOO (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) Conference, Angie had blogged about a project idea that she wanted to do with her class.  It was called “What can you see?“ and was based upon an experience that she had the previous year when her Grade 3 class Skyped with another in Alaska.   Her kids were intrigued, I’m sure with the class, but more with what they saw behind the class – a volcano!  This led her to put together a project entitled “What can you see?” where she’s hoping to bring other schools to the table sharing what they see from their classroom windows.

I read about it on her blog and thought that it was genius.  There are so many “big projects” that people start and never finish.  It seems to me that you could enter this at any level and scaffold it to anything you want it to be.  As Master of Ceremonies, when I opened the ECOO Conference, I tried to focus on things that were not easily done at the time of the first ECOO Conference 33 years ago, and gave a little shoutout to this project.  I had hoped that Angie would have been in the audience and made some instant connections.

Angie was good enough to sit down for an interview about her class and this project and I hope that this just might reach out to other classrooms looking for some regional, national, or international connections.  Read more here.  What can you see?

Doug:  Thank you for the opportunity to interview you, Angie.  From your bio, you indicate that you are an Apple Distinguished Educator.  What does that mean?  Does it give you a leg up on others when it comes to projects like this?

Angie:  I am honored to be recognized by Apple as a Distinguished Educator. I’m part of the Class of 2011. Through this designation, I continue to be an advocate, an advisor, an author and an ambassador for innovation in technology in education. I am very fortunate to be a part of a global personal learning network of Apple Distinguished Educators. There is a separate secure site for ADEs in which we share our blog posts and interact on projects.

The “What can you see?” project was tweeted out to my own personal learning network on Twitter and I included the hashtags #ECOO12, #kinderyr and #kinderchat. I was hoping to involve kindergarten teachers to join in and share what they see in their school yards. I didn’t actively pursue my ADE colleagues initially.. I reached out to Kindergarten teachers in my board and within my regular learning network. After viewing several books from within our own school board with similar school yards,  I realized I needed to reach out and bring in a global view. I contacted one of my fellow ADEs who I had met this last summer at a Global Institute. I asked Arturo to ask his kinder colleagues if they would participate. He put me in touch with a few teachers in his school and now we have a view of a school yard in Mexico. The Apple Distinguished Educator title certainly helped me expand the project to include Mexico. I will also try to reach out and ask a few more colleagues to assist me. However, most of the connections have been made through my regular interactions on Twitter. Thanks for the suggestion, I will go onto the ADE site and post an invitation. I appreciate how your questions help me see things clearer.

Doug:  You also indicate that you are also a  Literacy@School Learning Centre Classroom teacher.  What does that mean?

Angie:  In our board we have a team that has selected teachers who are willing to innovate and share their instructional practices. Teachers are part of a network of learners who open their classrooms for observational visits from other teachers and administrators who wish to view a literacy block. Visits are centrally booked and include a specific focus question for the visit. The visit includes a pre visit, a visit and a post visit discussion surrounding literacy instruction. These learning centre classrooms are funded at the board level and provide additional technology for the classrooms. There are also Proof of Concept projects that run in Literacy@School classrooms. I am fortunate that I have been a part of an iPad Proof of Concept project for primary learners. My classroom is rich in resources and therefore I feel I need to make my own learning as transparent as possible.

Doug:  When you started the What Can You See project, did you have any sense as to whether or not it would take off?

Angie:  I felt my personal learning network was strong and I knew there were a few key people that would participate in the project. I anticipated a handful of schools would participate in a creating a story. I had no idea that a few of my colleagues in my own board would welcome this opportunity and document it and expand it to include their school communities. Now, students are making their own booklets at home and bringing them into the school to share. I would love to see families creating books/movies while on vacation and sharing them with the classes. I never thought this project would turn into a parent engagement piece. I also didn’t imagine the way the project has cross pollinated. I imagined classes sharing with me, I didn’t anticipate that all of the classes would then be eager to share with each other. Teachers are showing initiative and organizing their own SKYPE calls with each other. I don’t have to facilitate it, I provide the Twitter contact information, the link to the Dropbox file or the link to the blog and they do the rest. I am so pleased to see how teachers are interacting and using this project as a springboard to lead to other projects and connections. This project has proven to me that teachers want to engage with other schools but they need a spark and a place to share and learn.

Doug:  How did you publicize it?  Just on your blog?

Angie:  I posted on my blog, tweeted out invitations and talked to some colleagues in my board. It wasn’t hard to get people interested. The most difficult part is coordinating the time zones and busy schedules for the sharing of the books.

Doug:  Last night while we were Twittering, Jocelyn Schmidt shared some of the work that her class did towards the project.
What did you think of that?

Angie:  As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea this would lead to parent engagement. I looked at the project as a way to expand my students’ view of the world. One of the Kindergarten Big Ideas in our Curriculum is “Children are connected to others and contribute to their world.” page 52 The Full-Day Learning-Kindergarten Program.

Doug:  How many classrooms are involved in the project so far?

Angie:  So far seven different schools are involved in the project with a promise of more schools joining us in the new year.

Doug:  What would you say is the most consistent thing that students are seeing?

Angie:  The students have recognized that all schools have a playground structure and play area. They also see trees and soccer fields in each of the school’s books. My students have recently taken notice that many of the books have birds’ nests and they have asked the classes via SKYPE what type of birds they see in their school yard.

Doug:  What would you say is the most bizarre thing that students are reporting?

Angie:   My students were shocked to learn that the school in Mexico had a guard in a structure outside the school. This was not something anyone had anticipated and the students had a hard time understanding why a guard was needed at a school. In our local schools the children are used to seeing crossing-guards but not actual guards who protect schools.

Doug:  Are your students excited about the connections that they’re making?  How are they keeping track of them?  Does it enable them to make connections to their own situation?

Angie:  In our classroom, we have been tracking the similarities and differences between our school and another school. We do one SMART Notebook page comparing the two schools. This simple format has helped the students make direct connections to our community. The repetition has been extremely valuable. Now students are making connections when we read picture books, informational texts and charts. I did not set out to teach ‘making connections’. I set out to widen their world in an authentic manner. This project taught the students to be critical thinkers as they view movies/books and other texts. Now connections are automatically coming out while we discuss new topics and read new information.

Doug:  Now, we know that everything that’s done in the classroom needs to address Curriculum Expectations.  What are you addressing with this project?

Angie: As I mentioned previously, the big idea for Social Development is “Children are connected to others and contribute to their world.” An overall expectation in social development is “demonstrate an understanding of the diversity in individuals, families, schools and the wider community.” This project ties all of those things together. Today one of my students ask if any of the students in Vancouver, British Columbia celebrated Hanukkah because we were reading books about Hanukkah. Earlier in the week, a grade one french immersion class read aloud their school yard book in French. The students were able to gain an appreciation for another language and gain exposure about the possibility of attending french immersion in grade one. Last week, they learned that the students in Mexico spoke both spanish and english. I definitely see a respect for diversity developing in my students. Children are also working on their communication skills. Page 72 of our program states the big idea is “Children are effective communicators.” This project has helped us begin to understand the difference between a question and a comment. The students practice their questions and have learned they need to speak clearly and effectively during a SKYPE call. They also have learned how to give compliments to the classes they talk to via SKYPE. It is truly amazing to see these young children stand confidently and ask their important questions.

Doug:  If someone is just finding out about it now, is it too late to join?  How long will the project run?  You’ve posted an update here:  What can you see- Part Two

Angie:  It’s never too late to join in. I would love to see ‘What can you see?” over the course of the different seasons. I also hope we have more schools with greater diversity participate in the coming months. I am also hoping we have families and educators join in and share what they see. Doug, perhaps, you could do a “What can you see?” book about a walk with your dog?

Doug:  That just might happen.  Great idea.

Doug: What can you share about Colin Harris’ participation in the project?

Angie:  Colin was my initial springboard for the idea. We spoke in late August about ways to connect our classes and this idea formed. He is a great listener and I also learn from my conversations with him. He often helps me germinate ideas.

I’m still waiting for his class to jump in with their book.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share some insights about the project, Angie.  Hopefully, people have a better understanding of what it was all about.  You might even get some more participants!  

I am so impressed how you and your students are going far beyond the original premise.  What a great opportunity for the students.

All the best to you and your family for the Holidays.