Simple Needs


I really do have simple needs.  It just drives me crazy when I can’t fulfill them easily!

Case in point…the background on my phone.

Like many people, I think, I like to customize my electronic devices.  One of the first things that many people do is put a custom background on their device.  It might be a picture that you’ve taken or any of the images that come with the device or some of the animated images that come with it or just by grabbing an image that you might find on the web.  I had used the animated windmill for a while.

Then, I realized that with the nice bright sunshine at times it was difficult to find icons on my desktop.  I made the simple decision to go to a solid colour for the background.  Problem.  Where do you find it!  There are options for images, pictures, animations but I couldn’t find anything just for a solid colour.  Are we so hung up with photos that that’s all people want?

I’ll bet there’s an app for that.

Off I went to Google Play and I did a search for “colours”.  A little scrolling later (I should have searched for “colors”, I suppose) and there’s a good sounding application by Tim Clark called Colors.  The description sounded like it was exactly what I wanted.  The enjoyment put me over the top.

I expected to see the option for “green” or “red” or maybe a level 4 “burgundy”.  Instead, there’s “You Really Got Me”, “Mighty Slate”, “Kind Giant”, and seemingly hundreds more.  The simple task of finding a solid colour became one of reading to find the great names.

In honour of the little guy that hangs out at our house, I elected to start with “Mighty Slate”.  It was only then that I realized that the icons all had subtle drop shadows.  Somehow they got lost in the noise of some of the traditional choices.

It’s a little thing, to be sure.  I was really happy to find the application and it’s just so much easier to find things now.

Looking for something for the iPhone?  Check out this application.

Sometimes, it’s just the little things that put me over the top!

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Who do you follow – Apple or Google?


There has been much written about the new Apple Maps that comes with iOS6.  While there have been a few that are fans of it, the majority of the press has been negative.  I decided to take a look myself and see how it might impact my little world.  Mapping for the consumer is a fairly mature process.  It’s on your smart phone, the web, your portable GPS and an option in new vehicles.  Not only do I use it personally when going on trips to new places, it’s helped me find quicker ways to get around places that I already know about.

My first steps weren’t off to a great start.  I asked it to plot where I was – and it turned out to be half a concession away.  That’s not a great start but at least the concession road was right.  But, I know where I live so I guess that’s pretty much irrelevant.  Let’s try something more serious.

Like dog walking.  One of our favourite places to go for a walk is in the heart of town and we’ll often stroll down Fort Malden Drive to see the sights.  Uh oh.

Don’t you hate it when OCR goes wrong?  That would probably explain Collison Sideroad too…

Cute little finds and I didn’t have to look too hard.  Maybe not deal breakers but when you can’t find an entire town?  I decided to take a look around Huron County.  There are five major towns there – Goderich, Clinton, Wingham, Seaforth, and Exeter.  Sadly, only Goderich was found in the right place.

This was an attempt to find Exeter, ON.

When I did zoom out, I discovered I80 and further zooming out reveals this to be in Pennsylvania in a place that appears to be called West Pittston.

Not even close.  I can’t even comment on whether that’s up to date or recent.

So, while it may find Goderich, ON, it struck out with Exeter, ON.  Let’s spell it out… Exeter, Ontario.  This search does drop a pin in the right spot.  However, I’m not so sure about their phone number or website.

But, I can tell you this.  The town of Harrow, ON’s main intersection is County Road 11 and County Road 20.  This map has it labelled King’s Highway 18.  This was true – years ago until the province of Ontario gave up maintenance of highways!  The article dates it as 1997.  To the map’s defense, if you zoom in far enough, the road carries a double label of Highway 18 and County Road 20.  That’s not too confusing.

Sadly, all of this refers to places that I actually know about and wouldn’t be using a map application for anyway.  The same tests using Google or Bing Maps provide the right content.

Mapping problems have spawned all kinds of news stories of problems.  There is even a Tumblr page devoted to people identifying problems.  And, there are all kinds of alternatives.  Fortunately, I had already bookmarked the Google Maps Web Application and it was maps as usual for me.  If you are concerned, there are some good suggestions.

The unfortunate part of all this is that the implementation may also reflect badly on the partners that provide the content.  If you turn the leaf at the bottom right corner of the screen, you can see them.

It’s too bad that the original Google Maps application was removed.  It had been a good actor.  iOS6 could even have left it alone, installed the Apple Maps application and let the end user decide which one they would ultimately use.

For me, though, if I can’t trust the reliability of maps for places that I know, how can I rely on it to take me to new places?  The programmer in me really does hope that there’s a fix on the way.

But, for now, I’m going to stick to my Google Maps Web Application.

An Interview with Royan Lee


Recently, if you’ve been following Royan Lee (@royanlee) on Twitter, you’ve had a glimpse of what his classroom will look like in a couple of weeks when school resumes.  He’s openly transparent about what he and his students do.  Yesterday, he posted about his students’ “Thinking Books” https://spicylearning.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/the-thinking-book/ and that really got me thinking.

In the middle of the post, he notes:
We are paperless in the sense that students and I don’t use paper to submit and return assignments, but we use paper everyday in the process of learning, to collaborate and think. Paper is an absolutely essential tool for learning; we shouldn’t try to eliminate it just for the sake of it.

After a couple of back and forths on Twitter and comment on his blog, I thought that this needed to be more than just a tweet or two and decided to turn this into a blog post.  I’ll also post this to VoicED.ca.

Doug:  Thank you for sharing your thoughts about paper and technology as you introduced us to your Thinking Books.  I really like the title and would like to follow up with some questions.

Doug:  In your post, you describe yourself as a Learning Centre Classroom Teacher.  If I was to walk into your classroom on a typical day, what would I see?

Royan: Well, we’re all public school teachers that deal with budgets, limitations, and equality of resources, right? In my room, you will currently see round tables designed for four people in a N-S-E-W configuration. You will also see an old IKEA kitchen bench which was redundant in my house, so now serves as essentially a work and charging station for mobile technology. We affectionately call it ‘the bar’. Look high and you’ll see something we’re terribly fortunate to have: a ceiling mounted projector. Other than that, it’s the same ol’ blackboard, whiteboard, etc. Oh, did I mention there are iPad devices and mobile devices scattered everywhere?

Doug:  Does your layout change when you’re using technology versus using paper for your activities?

Royan: Nope.

Doug:  Would you call your classroom a BYOT learning environment?  If so, how do you ensure that the students have the applications that you need?

Royan: One of the keys to getting BYOT to work in our class is our access to Google Apps for Ed. That, more than the devices, are the real key to making it work from a technical standpoint. GApps are device agnostic, and ever more so by the day.

Doug:  For students that don’t bring their own technology, do they feel different?  How do you address this?

Royan: This is the biggest molehill made into a mountain with BYOT. I try my best to foster a culture of equity where people get what they need, but not necessarily in an equal manner. We need our students to be comfortable with “he needs a notebook for this, and she needs an MacBook Pro for that”. That being said, BYOT works for us from an equity perspective because we have enough devices to supplement ‘have-nots’, and, like Robert Munsch, we share everything. When students see that I am willing to let a student use my iPhone or MacBook at any given time, they have no problem sharing. My students are not in little pods; devices are scattered everywhere. If an iPad gets bumped, bruised, or even shattered because of this environment, well, que sera. Learning trumps touch screens.

Doug:  For the technology that exists in your classroom (the MacBook Pros, the smartphones, and the iPads), who determines and installs the applications?  Most importantly, who makes sure everything is properly charged?

Royan: My students and I in equal measures. By the end of the year, there is always a core group of mini Doug Petes and Royan Lees eager to look after EVERYTHING tech related. My ‘geniuses’, to borrow the Apple Store term.

Doug:  In looking through the examples you shared from your Thinking Book, there is some pretty interesting artwork!  Is this the nature of the classes that use the Thinking Book or is The Arts a strong theme through everything that you do?

Royan: The arts is everything for me. I don’t even do it consciously. And, by ‘arts’, I mean creativity, risk taking, comfort in open-endedness. Some of my biggest influences pedagogically are David Booth, Larry Shwartz, and Bob Barton, not Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Doug:  Are students allowed to take their Thinking Books home with them?  Are they allowed to take any of the classroom technology home?

Royan: Yes, everything. I’ve let students sign out iPads and 1 out of 100 times they come back damaged. Great odds.

Doug:  Are the Thinking Books or any of the technology used in a student led parent-teacher conference?  How?

Royan: Yes, absolutely, I’m so glad you asked that. They are essential artifacts for explaining the ‘whys’ of this kind of learning to parents, especially skeptical ones. Many parents hear about what we do and think: a) Awesome! b) What a hippie crackpot? c) Does he work for Apple? I want to make sure the latter two understand that it’s about their child as a whole, not as a number.

Doug:  In your post and my follow up Twitter message, it’s very clear that you have a balance of 50-50 with technology versus traditional paper.  Is this optimum?  How do you know?

Royan: I do think it’s optimum, because that’s the ratio I’ve observed students gravitate towards in settings where traditional tools and tech are integrated seamlessly on-demand. When the tech is boring because it’s always around, students can more objectively talk about which tools best serve a particular purpose for them.

Doug:  Is the use of paper or technology for a particular task a student choice?  Do you ensure that students experience all modes during the course of the school year?

Royan: It’s a mix. I basically use a gradual release of responsibility framework for this. I start off saying, “this must be done in Animoto, that must be done in chart paper, etc.,” then I get students to reflect on the tools. By January, everyone’s pretty metacognitive about it. I prefer to use differentiation, rather than systems like TRIBES, for culture building.

Doug:  Are there subjects that tend to be better addressed with paper than technology?

Royan: It’s funny you should mention that because I’m always thinking about this question. There are two main situations where I find technology to be a disruption, favouring pen and paper tools: math problem solving, and independent reading. I find that these two activities are ones that demand the most perseverance and quietness in the artificial setting that is a room of 30 sweaty children. I find it a good time to disconnect.

Doug:  Do you favour one or the other for student writing?

Royan: I personally favour digital by far, and I encourage students to write digitally, because of the collaborative and editing possibilities. Except in the case of idea generation. I try and make that a matter of personal choice.

Doug:  Do you use any other methods for students to create a learning portfolio?

Royan:  Yes, we use blogs, which we basically treat as our digital Thinking Books. Read more here.

Doug:  Do you have the full support of your administration and parents in your approach?  How do you show evidence of learning?

Royan: I do have a lot of support from parents and admin, which is basically what allows us to do what we do. In the case of the former group, I occasionally run into barriers from a vocal minority. I treat them as teachable moments. My approach has always been that if I think I may be doing something that is perceived as subversive in any way (note that I say perceived – many stakeholders have no problem with ‘traditional’ methods that have no foundation in curriculum or theory) I am ready with my pedagogical defence for it.

Doug:  Thank you, Royan.  One final question – if a classroom teacher is reading this and looking to get started with a blended approach to traditional paper versus using technology, where should they start?  How will THEY know they’re being successful?

Royan: Hmmm. This is a tough question for me, because I feel like my most honest answer could be seen as unhelpful or glib. I suppose the way I started is just by… starting. By trying to integrate technology into what I was doing, by collaborating with people and sharing my stories. I’ve done far more failing than anything else. Basically it’s about disposition. If you’re ok with working with these tools – any tools – in a manner akin to my 1yo learning to use a spoon, then you’re off to the races! I don’t really want to say, “Well, start with Google Docs” or “Get a MacBook Pro” or whatever. It makes no sense to say that because so much of it is contextual. It’s more important to take rewarding risks, surround yourself with people venturing similar terrain, and be resilient. As Yoda says, do or do not, there is no try. Do, reflect, share, do, reflect, share. Rinse, repeat. Thanks, Doug, love talking to ya.

Again, thank you, Royan.  p.s. He did miss a real opportunity.  If you’re getting started or you’re looking for ideas to refine your approaches, make sure that you follow Royan’s blog where he shares so much.  http://spicylearning.wordpress.com/

Social Media for Personal Safety


There are lots of great stories demonstrating the power and the use of social media.  However, this one has to be right up near the top.

It originally was posted in April of this year.

http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/04/25/twitter.buck/index.html

It’s the story of how a student in Egypt was arrested covering a protest.  On the way to the police station, the student twittered a single word – “arrested” which was enough to start the ball rolling and alert his friends who were also on Twitter, monitoring the updates.  The story is an interesting read.

Unless you don’t watch police television shows, you probably have not been exposed to the solution of the crime by triangulating someone’s position from cell phone towers.

Chances are, you are carrying a device that identifies your current location.  If you go into your advanced settings on your GPS unit, you’ll see the satellites that enable the device to know where you are and suggest driving directions.

With your iPhone or iPod Touch, just how does a “Timmy Me” application work?  You got it.  Through a connection, you’re mashed into a mapping application that lets you know where you need to go to get your next fill up.  Most Twitter applications for the iPhone or iPod will even allow you to tweet out your current location.

Now, none of this will save your bacon better than not getting into trouble in the first place.  However, it’s worthy of knowing just how your device works and determine how you can tell others where you are.

You just might run out of gas somewhere and your connected device is your lifeline.

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