Day 2 at #CSTA13

Whew!  Got the title right this time.  My apologies to those of you who read my post about #CSTA11 yesterday.  I actually do my best to proofread before sending these things but somehow the actual date slipped through the cracks yesterday.  If you are interested in #CSTA11, I’m sure that I posted something about that a couple of years ago….

I’m a real supporter of the Computer Science Teachers’ Association.  Yes, it’s masterfully guided by my friend Dr. Chris Stephenson but the research, support, and advocacy for Computer Science is second to none.  Once a year, though, a subset of the entire group convenes for its annual conference.  The conversations and friendships, old and new, are amazing.  I’ve often talked about how the Computer Science teacher can often be the loneliest job in a school—you’re not lonely here.  There were 300 educators all with the passion of teaching Computer Science to students K-20 and beyond.  Here’s how I spent my day yesterday.  Being on the conference committee, there are times when you’re arranging, putting out fires, looking for elastic bands for a keynote speaker, but I still think I had a magnificent day!

Keynote Speaker – Selena Deckelmann
I was impressed with her from the get go.  Not only did she deliver an inspirational keynote address, but she took the time to get to know us.  How many times can you say that about your keynote speaker?  She attended two of the Monday workshops and then joined us in the Lounge in the evening.  Her laugh gets you right from the start.  When it came to her keynote, there was no questioning her passion and commitment to what she stands for.  “Here’s What We Can Do For You” was her title.  That launched her to talk about her work with the open source, and database community.  You’ve got to love her person descriptor “I am Selena Deckelmann and this is my blog. I contribute to PostgreSQL, run Postgres Open and keep chickens. I also give a lot of technical talks. I also tumble and tweet.”


Thanks, Peter Beens.

Her real passion for people though came through with her involvement working with first time adult programmers.  We were treated to some great stories of her work with PyLadies.  Speaking for the community, she extended an invitation to Computer Science teachers – if you’re interested in having an open source person speak to your students, contact her at selena at  I did manage to talk to her afterwards to see if her invitation extended to Canadians and, she noted it would be more of a challenge, but thought she could pull it off to Toronto or Vancouver classes.  I’d love to see that happen.

She left us with a call to action…

  • Speak about FOSS in your classroom;
  • Apply for scholarships to attend open source conferences;
  • Attend Linux / FOSS conferences;
  • Share your own lessons with a Creative Commons license;
  • Use Mozilla’s Webmaker and Badges.

Best quote from her session “We’re drawing doors, just not opening them!”

By the way, maybe only our table saw it before her presentation, but she carefully covered one of the stickers on her laptop before going in front of the audience.  Never shy, I asked and got a peek!

Using Magic to Teach CS
Dan Garcia had us deeply engaged for an hour and we’re a tough crowd.  But what Computer Science teacher doesn’t like a good mathematics puzzle that can be developed into a lesson of discovery and ultimately a computer program.  He promised to share seven amazing math magic tricks with us…I think he got through three…but they’re all there in his handout. 

Don’t read it all at once!  His work reminded me of Prof. Honsberger from my undergraduate days.  Both have the flair and obvious love of mathematics and it came through loudly and clearly.

Hands-on Labs for AP Computer Science
One of my scheduled tasks for the day was to introduce and thank Renee Ciezki.  It was so interesting for me since we don’t typically offer AP Computer Science in Ontario.  I was really interested in the activities that she shared and realized that I had done similar activities with my own students years ago.

She shared the resource at and I may just go back home and work through them myself.

Using Robots to Teach 6-12 Grade Students to Program
Steve Goodgame was our presenter and share with us his own personal interest and growth with robotics.  I totally agree with his assertion that “Kids are intrinsically motivated to use robots”.  Through his presentation, he shared with us the growth of BotBall and its competitions.

The over the top moment, we all received out own little robot kit as a takeaway.  I’m looking forward to playing around with it.

Mobile Programming Throwdown:  David Reed (Moderator), Alfred Thompson (Windows), Ralph Morelli(Android), and Adam Howitt (iOS)
This session was popular last year and so a reprise was in order.  The premise was simple.  Three developers on Windows, Android, and iOS developed an application from scratch in front of the audience.

They had 15 minutes to do so.  If you’re a Computer Science teacher, you’ll appreciate what a huge task that is.  And, of course, they’re talking and explaining as you type.

They all had to create the same application.  Start it up, access a random phone number from your portable device’s address book and then dial it.

Adam Howitt was up first.  He was actually stumped from the get go.  Not from his own abilities but from the rules from Apple about how applications access data from your address book.  He developed a similar program, showing us how to work the GUI environment.  And then, I had to leave…  I was sad to miss the rest but my final task for the day was to greet the closing keynote speaker and make sure that he was set to deliver his speech.

Hadi Partovi – An Update from
I thought that I’d solved just about every computer problem known to human kind.  Wrong!  I’d never had this happen before.  His MacBook Air was so light that it kept sliding down off the podium stand.  Where’s Red Green with his duct tape when you need him?  Our solution was to wrap a large elastic around the base of the unit.  That, and draping the power and video cable over the top of the podium did it for us!

Everyone’s seen this video, right?  With over ten million hits, you need to if you haven’t.

The guiding principle is “Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn to code”.  Of course, there wasn’t a soul in the room that needed to be convinced of that.  But…

Why?  So that you can get a job programming at Facebook?  No, as Hadi notes, 67 percent of available jobs are outside the tech industry.  It still confuses me that we don’t make at least one course in programming compulsory.  Are we that myopic?

Our call to action from here…

  • Get involved and honour CS Education Week December 8-14, 2013
  • Get Computer Science into your school – change the rules – inspire your students and their parents to learn
  • Commit your school to an hour of code during CS Education Week

I just can imagine why this is even a question but it remains so.  Are we that close minded that we, as a society, don’t appreciate this literacy?


It was a long, inspiring day.  The presentations for all the workshops are online at  Peter Beens served as a photographer and has put together a collection of images from around the event on his Google Plus page here.

If you couldn’t make this year’s event, plan for next year.  The conference moves to just outside Chicago.


Free Sound Clips

If you’re a digital storyteller or podcaster, you know the value of having sound clips in the middle of your creation.

They can work as a lead in, a seque between moments, a concluding bit, or just something to spice it up in the middle.  Depending upon the program that you use, it may come with a good library of clips, a minimal selection of clips, or no clips at all.  You’ll also want to check the copyright of any sound clips that you choose to use.

Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to model for students.

My preference has always been to create your own but that’s not always possible or feasible.  So, where to turn?

The internet, of course.   But keep in mind the need to respect the copyright of the creators.

One site that is very friendly is SoundBible.

Culled from public domain and creative commons, look to this as a nice collection of sound media for your productions.

Playing Pool (.mp3, public domain)

Armed with these new resources, your podcasts will never be the same again.  Sounds are available in .wav and .mp3 format.  Make sure you properly attribute the resources licensed under Creative Commons.


Isaac Turns 1

I can’t believe that it’s been a year since I had this conversation with my friend @doremigirl.  Back and forth, we had been talking about our kids and their passions.  She mentioned that her son had a passion for cartooning.  That really caught my attention because I think that’s the first time I’d even heard of that.

It wasn’t cartooning in the digital age by the digital age.  There are all kinds of software packages and online services that make digital cartooning open to more students.  That wasn’t his passion.  His passion was actually freehand drawing the cartoon to express himself.  This truly was unique.  You can read about our original back and forth here with a followup here.

The conversation also involved the concept of copyright.  At this point in his cartooning career (he was 11), he wasn’t ready to make his first million but just wanted to share his efforts with the world – or at least the part of the world that was interested.

The result was the blog J2LComics – My Life in Comics.

He did want to make sure that the integrity of his work remained and so applied a Creative Commons license to the blog.

Now, stop for a second.  How many times have you seen someone create a blog for all the right reasons and then it peters off after a bit because it actually is work?

I’m here today to say that, in the past year, Instant Isaac has become one of my “look forward to reading” blogs.  Faithfully, cartoons appear and they continue to generate a smile at this end.  While his mom claims that the characters have no resemblance to any one in particular in real life, I don’t know about that.  Sometimes, the storylines seem pretty real!

To celebrate the one year anniversary, this week’s cartoon was a repeat of his very first effort.

J2LCOMICS by J.Lim is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

I’d like to extend my congratulations for a year’s effort of entertaining his audience.  Keep it up and we’ll look forward to more insights into Isaac’s life.  In the meantime, I hope that BlogBooker is used to capture this great year in cartooning.

Two Posts About Real and Significant Change

I ran into two really good readings that should make anyone stop and think.  There are so many people talking about being on top of things and understanding the latest and greatest.  In this case, it’s Digital Textbooks and Learning Commons.  Absorb these  and be prepared to challenge anyone who comes along and uses the terms in a conversation to see if they are talking about real change or just saying the words.  After all, you can put lipstick on a horse, but it’s still a horse.

The Future of Digital Textbooks
Andrew Campbell’s latest post challenges the notion of what a digital textbook should be.  He addresses some important concepts.

  • Reliable Interconnected Devices
  • Customizable Content
  • Personalized Interface
  • Interactive
  • Facilitate Personal Connections
  • Integrated Assessment

These are certainly major things to consider and should help differentiate between a digital textbook and a text converted to PDF so that it can be easily shared.  My only issue that will require much further thinking is the concept of Integrated Assessment.  At this point, I’m concerned when we take assessment beyond the teacher’s personal toolkit and hand it over to a publisher or external agency.  Nobody knows a class better than the classroom teacher and there’s a real danger of one size fits all stepping into the picture.  So much for personalized learning.

Open School Learning Commons
Follow the link above or enter Dr. Charles Best Secondary School library site here.  In vogue is the term “Learning Commons” and I think it’s at its worst when it’s just a replacement for “Library” and nothing else has changed.

This site features one of the best descriptions of an open Learning Commons appears in the About page.

To be a “real” learning commons, we have to do more than add the latest devices and loosen the no talk, no foodrules of the traditional school library. The spirit of a commons – is a commonwealth of resources shared by a community.  You can call us a School Library or a Media Resource Centre or a Learning Commons, a Learning Community, a Personal Learning Network, but what is the difference?

A commons is open and generous, collaborative, cooperative, transparent and democratic. Public libraries and schools are good example of commons; treasured institutions that are the foundations of our democratic society, open to anyone who wants to learn.

Read on to get the full picture.  I think that the site describes and demonstrates just what a Learning Commons should be in philosophy and design.  It’s much more than just changing the sign over the door.  A Learning Commons is essential to a school.  It seems to me that, if you want real change within your school, you need to start there.

Thanks to both for the blog post and the web resource.  They both made me do some serious thinking.

Perfect Ontario EduTweeters

Recently, my friend @alfredtwo let me know that I had made one of those lists.  This time it was the Top 55 Connected Educators and published by @mytowntutors.  Now, a lot of times these things are popularity contests or re-hashes of someone else’s blog post with a top 10 list or something.  Alfred and I kid each other when we stumble across a post like this.  This one was a bit different in that it actually uses an analytic for a name to be included.  Twitter Grader is from a commercial site that is devoted to help marketing businesses and looking at the reach of a Twitter account.

The danger when you create a “Top 10” list occurs when someone gets let off the list.  So, I first tested myself to see if it was true and then I checked Alfred and he, indeed, has a perfect score of 100 and should have made the list.  I guess you can’t please all the people all the time!

As I looked up and down the list, I recognized many of the names and was quite pleased that I’ve met many of them in person.  But, I was surprised that I was the only name from Ontario on that list.  That can’t be.  I wish there was a bulk upload feature for this because I’d really like to upload the Ontario Educator List 1 and 2 to see who else had a score of 100.  That would be helpful (and processor intensive on the host site) but it was nowhere to be found.  I was bored, just watching television, and decided to try out a few names.  I opened Hootsuite and went to the Ontario Educator columns and started to check out a few names.

I’m happy to say that I found some!  Here for public amusement and living proof that there are great Ontario Educators to follow on Twitter, I offer the following list in alphabetical order…  (sorry, Zoe)

  • avivaloca – Formerly @grade1. Went from 11 years of teaching K-2 to moving to Gr.6. Looking forward to this exciting new adventure! Ancaster ·
  • msjweir – I’m a high school English teacher who loves to geek out with technology! Also, a mommy to a beautiful little girl!ON, Canada ·
  • shannoninottawa – Mom, Wife, Elementary School Principal in Ottawa, Canada – playing around with learning out in the open every single day 🙂 Ottawa, Canada ·
  • thecleversheep – I am a teacher-learner-collaborator, eager to engage in conversations with other learners. Project-based learning and Creative Commons are always on my radar. Komoka, Ontario, Canada ·
  • zbpipe – Teacher at HWDSB and Instructor for Pre-Service Education at Brock University~ Always looking for innovative /engaging teaching methods; Always learning.Hamilton, Ontario ·

Didn’t make the above list?  Don’t despair.  I lost interest before I tested everyone on the lists!  While only a select few made the perfect 100 score, there were so many in the 80s and 90s.  I don’t care who you are – that’s good enough for anyone to pass an EQAO test.  You can do all kinds of other things at the site like find out who joined Twitter on the same day as you.  Or, just snoop around and see what the site says about your friends and followers.

You’ll want to check yourself out at the site.  If you end up with a great score, add it to the comments!