This Week in Ontario Edublogs

The frustrating thing about my Friday post  is boiling down the great writing that’s happening with Ontario Edubloggers into three or four of the best articles!  I did and these really caught my interest.

Sign Up For The January Blogging Community Session Now!

Blogging is good; building a community based on that blogging is even better.  Check out this global opportunity from Kristen Wideen’s blog.



Nathan Hall has curated a list of “no registration” resources for student use.  There are two advantages to this – one is respect for student privacy and the other is the ability to just use the tool rather than worrying about registration, logging on, passwords, etc.

We’ve got to get him to add Brian Aspinall’s work to this list!


Three Steps to Better Leadership

I love this post.  It takes a very reflective educator and leader to do some reflection and make admissions as well as a “next steps” plan online.  Sue Dunlop shares what she considers three steps to becoming a better leader.  It’s hard to argue with any of her thoughts but I think we can ALL benefit right now from her third step.



This is the million dollar question for education.  Read Donna Fry’s thoughts about the topic.  Life was so much easier when we just plain acknowledged that teachers were the holders of all information and students arrives to get their share of it!


Use of Language

This is a little different.  I’m going to highlight a response in one of my posts.


Brandon Grasley had a very thoughtful reply to a post that I had about language.  On the surface, his recommendations make a great deal of sense.  Spot and an error?  Just go back and fix it.  If you look further back in my blog this week, I did an analytic that included how many people read this blog.  The number that have opted to receive it via email far outweigh those who visit online.  Plus there’s the RSS readers and reader surfaces like Flipboard.  These may get their copy from the original post so even if I go through and fix any mistake that I find, those who are readers of the blog not using the blog, will have the original copy which has the errors!  Maybe there should be a warning that if you subscribe by email that you may get errors!


Please check out these blogs in their entirety.  There’s some great reading and room for reflection there.

As always, my complete collection of Ontario Edublogs is located here.  Check them all out!  The list continues to grow and, if you’re in Ontario Education and not listed, add yourself to the form and you will be.

Playing with nkwiry

Brian Aspinall has done it again!

Brian is rapidly gaining fame as creating free, incredibly student friendly web resources.  The hallmark of his products are ease of signup for teachers who just create a class and the students just use the class.  No collection of student information of any kind is done and no student email is required to use the service.  Too often, concerns about student information are enough to scuttle technology in the classroom plans.  That won’t happen here.

His latest production is called nkwiry.  nkwiry is a very classroom friendly social bookmark curating service.  There are many similar services on the web but they do require some involved account creation and then a bit of work (read explaining grown up sevices to students and the frustration therein) to get started before you can enjoy some success.

Using nkwiry is as simple as the three images below.

  • teacher creates a single account for the class;
  • students are added to the class;
  • students login with the class code and begin sharing.

Brian originally created nkwiry to supplement the inquiry process in the new Social Studies curriculum.

However, as a classroom teacher, you’re not locked into just Social Studies.  Your starter classroom curation looks like this.

Of course, you can add/remove subjects or topics as needed.  Adding a link to any category looks pretty familiar if you’ve used any of the popular bookmarking services.

The only thing that appears missing at this point would be creating tags for the bookmarks.  Perhaps in an upcoming release?

It’s as functional as that.  While the big services may have more features, Brian’s design is specifically for the elementary classroom and provides “just enough” features to do the job.

My first reaction was that this has potential far beyond the single classroom.  Instead, if you’re doing a project with another school, consider adding both sets of students into your classroom.  All that’s needed is the class name and student code.  Perhaps you’re blogging or creating online presentations with another class. nkwiry easily lets you create a functional list summary of all of the participants.

If you’re looking for a simplified interface for curating resources and aren’t interested in having your students wade their way through the features of the current big services, nkwiry may be “just enough” to help you get the job done.

By way of declaration, Brian was a student of mine at the Faculty of Education.  Regardless, I am a fan of his approach to creating simplified tools for the classroom with a minimum of registration and respect for student information.  You can read an interview that I did with Brian here.

If you like what you’re seeing, make sure you check out his other products, all free and specifically written for the classroom.

And, if you are attending the Western RCAC Symposium this Thursday in London, drop by and meet Brian.  He’s presenting in the morning about how he introduces his students to coding.  Maybe we’ll find out that his students actually wrote this?

A First Look at Scrawlar

Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs are very powerful web-based products.

They work so nicely in the classroom – provided the students have email addresses, are able to work with the powerful products and find the menu items that do what they need to do.  Then, there’s the sharing and the hand-ins and …

From the fertile mind of Brian Aspinall, comes a collaborative word processor option for those that don’t need the high-end, high-powered options.  He’s called it Scrawlar.  Think of it as a word processor with just the right number of tools.

You have two options when you visit the site.  Log in as a teacher or a student.  (Students need to have a class code and password to get access to the system.  No password is required and you can make the code as simple or as involved as you wish)



There certainly are limited functions so that students and teacher can get right at it.  The editing environment is similarly straight lined.  No advertising or other distractions.  Just an editor with enough functionality.  I put them all to the test as you see below.

There is a “View Source” so that you can see the web language behind your document.  I’m not sure that many will have a need to use that.

The only real gotcha, at this point in the development, is the insertion of images.  The image must already be posted on the web and you provide the web address to the image.  Conceivably, the teacher would provide the image in the document being shared with the students.

Speaking of students, Brian has included a straight forward management system to handle the student accounts.

And, he’s has managed to make all of this available to you for free.

If you’re looking for a simplified interface, with cloud storage, and the ability to share word processing documents, make sure you check out Scrawlar.  It might be just what you’re looking for!

If you like what you see, check out my interview with Brian to see the other projects he’s created, all with ease of student use in mind.

Classroom Management Challenge

Yesterday, I read and shared this article.  “15 creative & respectful ways to quiet a class.”  It’s packed with great ideas and is a good read.  The best advice appears at the bottom.

Remember there is no “magic bullet” what will get all students’ attention all of the time. Don’t get frustrated! Constantly having to refocus your class is a normal part of teaching. Take a deep breath, smile, and and keep encouraging your students. You can do this! And please, share your favorite tips for guiding students to quiet down in the comments!

My Twitter friend Linda Aragoni was all over this in a heartbeat.

She’s got a point.  I know that when I used to sing a song for my Grade 12s, that would increase the noise as they tried to drown me out.  Back and forth, she suggested…

And even offered to help.

How’s that for a challenge?  So, to you middle or secondary school teachers or college/university professors, how do you quiet a class?

I’ll start with a couple of things that I found worked for me in Computer Science classes.

  1. Consider your expectations.  In my Computer Science classes, I didn’t have the traditional “solve three problems” and then hand them in.  The programming requirements was actually a continuum of things that ran from mid-September until mid-June.  When a student had a problem to be assessed, they just called me over and we looked at it together on their computer.  More often than not, this resulted in students getting to class early, loading their program and asking me to mark it;  (added bonus – no marathon marking sessions…)
  2. Give the students ownership of the society curriculum requirement…instead of me providing examples of computers in society, students were encouraged to bring in their own stories or to talk and assess a current teachnology issue – even how computers might have been portrayed on a television show from the previous evening.  Students do have respect for each other when they own the floor.  As blogged previously, students got to show off their research with bulletin boards as well.

Having said all that, I’ll admit that my Computer Science classes were among the noisiest going but I like to think it was good noise.  There’s nothing better than students working/arguing in groups all the while on topic.  Having said that, there were days when I wished for a magic potion.

So, gentle reader in the older classes, please consider sharing your tips in the comments below.  Linda has promised to promote your wisdom.


Quick and Easy Polling

There are a number of options, software, and even hardware options available for polling.  My focus would be for polling in the classroom and I think it’s crucial that a poll is easily created, deployed, used, and results displayed.

A couple of years ago, three of my student teachers had a placement where the teacher wanted to use mechanical devices to create a simple poll.  The three of them laboured over the software and hardware and couldn’t figure out to make it work.  But, they had to do something…so the first time they just had students put their heads down on their desks and hold up a hand with the number of fingers representing their polling option.  One of the students walked around and recorded the results.  Hardly high tech!

Later in their placement, they decided to do another poll and this time took more control.  Rather than the hardware solution, the students each had access to a laptop and so a Google form was the answer.  While they had to learn how to create on the fly, it wasn’t a huge leap for them, and they had some success.  The students enjoyed the experience and so did my student teachers.

Recently, I found an even easier way to create and poll on the fly.  Straw Poll just does one thing – it lets you create a poll and use it right away.  In fact, it’s so well designed, you could actually create the poll displaying the work on the class data projector live and then just use it.

Of course, I had to test it.  If I can do it, anyone can!  The poll is live and I would invite anyone who wants to, to take the poll.

Creating the poll was very straight forward.  Just create the question, enter the polling answers, you have two options for your poll, and then create it.  Straw Poll provides a link to your poll – just share it and let the polling begin.

The results are instantly available.  Results are summarized by percentage of option chosen and a pie chart demonstrating the results as part of the whole.

There’s also and embed option should you wish to include it into your class wiki or webpage.  The whole package works as promised and is very quick.

Bookmark this as part of your teaching toolkit.  You’ll use it – whether live with a class – on your class wiki – on your school’s website – anywhere where you need the ability to ask a question and receive responses.

And, you can take part in the above poll at:


I had a wonderful opportunity today.  My friend Amy asked if I would come to her school and help judge the computer multimedia entries that students in the school had created.  I was humbled to be asked and very excited to see the sorts of things that they were able to create.

The theme for the competition was timely – bullying which is a big topic of concern in all schools.  So I was geeked.

Then, last night, I received an email and she asked if I could also judge the speech competition.  I figured, no problem.  I’ve judged many a speech before and it’s the original communications competition for students.  I’m in.

The format for the day saw the entire school in the gymnasium to serve as audience and we three judges sat near the front, a bit off centre for the presentations.  That worked nicely – we were treated to the seven finalists and had to choose a winner from the Junior division and the Intermediate division.  While we retired to the staff room to deliberate, the gymnasium got a good session of DPA.  We heavily debated our favourites and determined the two winners.  Back to the gymnasium for the multimedia.

This could be interesting.  All of the content was either on the district server or on the web using a multimedia service.  As we arrived at the school earlier, there was panic in the air as the network was down.  Fortunately some distress calls to somewhere had everything running. albeit slowly.

I was very curious to see what the students had created – my inner geek.  I was also a little nervous – there’s so much that could be classified as multimedia that’s really the proverbial low hanging fruit.  I was so pleased to find out that the finalists didn’t fall into that category.  I probably shouldn’t have been worried knowing that Amy was behind it.

Instead, we were treated to a real collection of multimedia.  There was no common tool – students were using still images, their own movies, voice overs, and even a student who talked her way live through a slideshow presentation.  Determining Primary, Junior, and Intermediate winners was a challenge.  It’s moments like this, when talking with the other judges, that you wonder if we even saw the same thing.  Persevere we did and winners chosen.

When I reflect back on the day, I thought about how the audience received the two different forms of communication.  With the traditional speech, the audience was really in very quiet, attentive mode.  There were a few moments of humour, brought on by the speakers and the audience responded appropriately.

The response to the multimedia portion was different.  The audience was more active.  During portions of the presentations when text would appear in large font on the screen, they would speak the words.  There was a buzz throughout that really was noticeable.  I wouldn’t call the behaviour inappropriate but it definitely was different.  Instead of the passive listener, they seemed to be more active in the process.

So, I wonder why and tried to think of reasons.

  • The formal speeches were first and the multimedia later with a DPA session in between.  Was it the pumping blood?
  • The lights in the gymnasium were turned down for the multimedia presentation so that the data projector image could be seen;
  • Going to the movies in Windsor is always an event.  There’s always a discussion going on somewhere in the theatre.  It’s a culture that I still can’t get used to;
  • Have students become so used to media being interactive that they feel compelled to participate?
  • Is there an empathy for the single speaker brave enough to stand in front of the audience as opposed to sitting back and watching a computer paint a message on a screen?
  • Were the students coached about proper conduct for the formal speeches because we know how to respond?
  • Does music in the background make a difference?  There’s nothing but the human voice in the traditional speech but typically music or sound clips during a presentation.

I found the audience reaction to the two different communications interesting.  I wish I could nail down the “why”; the “what” was really evident.

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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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