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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This Week in Ontario Edublogs

From the Ontario Edubloggers’ Livebinder, there certainly was a great collection of interesting blog posts this week.  

The Power of Feedback

Konrad Glogowski dug into the concept of Feedback and its purpose.  

Specifically, he dealt with the three questions above.  I think that, so often, feedback is thought of as the “what” that is returned to the student from the teacher.  Instead, Konrad sees feedback as fodder to inspire the students to answer the questions by themselves.  

It seems to me that this makes for deeper reflection about the whole exercise and makes the question “What did I get?” completely irrelevant.  It’s a good post and worthy of sharing at your next A&E session.

Thoughts on Creativity

Do you ever get to a blog post, read it, get inspired to reply and then find out that someone already has expressed your thoughts?  That happened to me in Sheila Stewart’s post about Creativity.

Sheila got us thinking about technology and creativity.  When I read it, I smiled because of a moronic comment that I’d read recently from someone else who thought that by purchasing an iPad, his students would automatically become creative.

I think Carolyn nails it in her reply.  I really like her use of the word amplify.  I can’t think of a better way to describe the impact of technology.

Part 7: “What Can You See?” and China!

This is becoming a regular addition to my reading.  It started by reading Angie Harrison’s blog post about the “What Can You See” project.  It’s a simple concept – look out your classroom window and share what you see!  It’s made some interesting connections for my reading.

This week’s episode takes me back to Jocelyn Schmidt’s blog where they’ve made a connection to China.

Doesn’t this just dovetail nicely to Carolyn’s comment?  Technology just amplifies the experience for those students.  It’s an amazing opportunity for those students.  The parents must just be in awe of what is happening.

It Equals Miracles

I generally start my reading day by dropping by Paul Cornies’ blog for his daily collection of quotes.  I was curious to see what he would put together for St. Valentine’s Day.  Something really mushy, I bet.

I was wrong.

This quote really worked on me.  This could easily describe my after school and weekend activities from my childhood.  We were never home – we were gone on our bikes creating adventures all the time.

I’m absolutely old enough to be able to confess that I never had video games or a computer or even, gulp, cable television.  But I did have lots of books and great friends always ready for a new experience.

Goodbye Worksheets, Hello Content Creation

I’ll take thinking like this anytime. Is it sad that Mrs. Wideen actually had a worksheet to use in the “before” picture?

Using the Explain Everything application, the students turn the activity from a static paper activity to one done with their portable technology.  On the surface, there may not seem to be a big deal.  After all, the instructions and the procedure for the math part is pretty consistent.

However, by turning it into a story, a new dimension to the lesson appears.  The students aren’t simply answering questions and then moving on.  They’re actually having to create a story on the fly and tell it.  It requires setting, organization, and a bigger purpose since the end result won’t be a completed sheet of paper – it’s a movie to be shared and relived.

It also reinforces the important notion that mathematics isn’t just an exercise.  It’s a story that’s created by computational thinking.

Thanks to all of the bloggers above for great sharing this week.  Make sure you check them all out or the complete collection of Ontario Edubloggers.

If you’re an Ontario Edublogger and not on the list, please consider adding your blog using the form on the opening page.


Yesterday morning, I read this story.  Freepik: your graphic resources search engineThere were two things that caught my eye – “Graphic” and “Free”.  I had to check it out, and from the number of retweets, a great deal of my Twitter followers did as well.

Acid test for me – search for “House”.

The results come displayed, first with results from Shutterstock, sponsored results, and then a collection of “free results”.  The thumbnails click through to the full sized image.  You’ll want to be careful here and check the results to ensure that the copyright places them into the public domain or some sort of licensing which will need to be referenced in your use of the image.

What I like, in particular, is the ability to tell Freepik just what type of image that you want – obviously, there are times and places for vector images.  It’s a great lesson for those students who like to stretch out jpg images to fit the target area!

An option that’s worth the time to explore with students is colour filtering.  You’ll notice above that I’ve selected green.  To that end, Freepik has filtered its results to show images that have a high saturation of green in them.  How often have you seen students grab the first image that comes along only to have a primarily purple image into a theme that’s primarily green?  Little touches like this lend to teachable moments and, hopefully, better results whether it be desktop publishing or a presentation or …

Freepik is definitely a resource to bookmark and add to your suite of online tools.  If you have a portal that takes students to useful websites, you’ll want to add this resource to the list.  Like most things, you do need to do a bit more than provide a link.  Use the functionality of the site to talk about copyright, file types, colour saturations, resizing, etc.

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This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It was a return to school like no other this week in Ontario.  Normally, there’s a real enthusiasm to get back at it and see the excitement in students’ eyes after their break.  But, the cloud of a contract forced upon Ontario teachers robbed them from that.  Nonetheless, it didn’t stop some great blogging.

Evernote for Student Audio Feedback

When I find another Evernote fan, I’ve got to hand out the kudos!  Joan Vinall-Cox explains in this post how she met her students half way.  After all, the students had to create and share audio files with her so it only makes sense to Joan that she learned how to use audio for feedback to them.

It’s a noble approach and, on the surface, only seems to make sense.  It’s only when you realize that for each student, they create and submit one audio file.  In a class of 30, the instructor has to listen and evaluate their work and then create and send back 30 audio pieces of feedback.  It doesn’t seem fair!

What makes a great deal of sense though is to spend the time to determine how to do this efficiently.  In this post, Joan explains her process for doing it and is looking for suggestions for improvement.  I know that there are many teachers teaching online who could a) either benefit from Joan’s post or b) offer suggestions to improve efficiency.

As you can see, she’s done a nice job with screen grabs, arrows, and description about how to do each step.

Reflection: on entering the library

One of the joys about blogging is that it gives you a platform to say just about anything you want and you’re not censored by anyone else!  It’s your own personal soapbox and you have only yourself to please with the results.

You’ve got to love it when someone climbs on their soapbox to proclaim to anyone who cares to read “I love my job”.  I’ve gotten to know Alanna King, “that quirky girl with all those crazy ideas”.  What better attributes to have for a teacher-librarian.  You just know that walking into her resource centre is going to be different.  I know that it can be a challenge at times – “you don’t have students of your own” is thrown at teacher-librarians all the time.

The real answer is “you’re right; I have all the students in this school AND all the teaching staff”.  What better position to be the force for change and to teach the latest and greatest of technology and research techniques.

In her post, Alanna elaborates on just appeals to her about her job.  It’s a good read.

Reading is More Than Just Reading

David Fife took on the statement that “students can’t read” in a post where he shared some of his experiences with Literature Circles.  Many of his observations echo conversations that I’ve had with educators in the past.  He shares the roles for the process in the report.

I really like the concept of the tape recorders on the table and revisiting the discussions to see just how deeply the discussions go.

Activity: Adding, Subtracting, Multiplying and Dividing with Decimals

When I taught Grade 9 mathematics, I used an activity similar to this.  Rather than recycle all the flyers that showed up in the blue bags at the end of the driveway, they can form a resource for authentic calculations.  Things like working within a budget to feed yourself or your family.  It’s a fun activity and I was always amazed the appreciation for just how much it costs to feed a family.  Of course, you then extend it to include a vehicles, gas, entertainment, rent, … yep, it costs a lot of money to make ends meet.

So, reading A Fly on the Classroom Wall’s latest post had me smiling and remembering the activity.  The first two topics were pretty typical “My Favourite Meal” and “A Birthday Dinner”.  It was the third one that really had me going!

I thought this was a really interesting twist on the concept.  One could only imagine the conversation that this generated!

It might be a good idea to carefully check any end of the year cookie gifts!

Stellar work without a bonus?

Tim King’s latest post is worth reading at least twice.

One of my favourite quotes I’ll attribute to Wayne Hulley “Nobody wakes up wondering how they’re going to screw up today”.

Certainly that applies to teachers.  Teachers lie awake at night going through the next day in their minds, visualizing their lessons plans, trying to determine how to reach all students, hoping that there are enough supplies, praying that all the computers will work and that the internet will be good, …

It was different going to work this past Monday.  Tim shared his thoughts Sunday night.

If you’re a teacher, you need to read the post for confirmation about why you entered the profession and just what keeps you going back.

If you’re one of the idiots that are using social media and newspaper website as a way to spew your poison, you need to read and realize that those charged with the education of your children are passionate about what they’re doing.

All that they’re asking for in return is a little respect.  Enacting and then revoking a law is the ultimate show of lack of respect.

Read all of these posts at the links above and dig into all the Ontario Edublogs here.

This just in….

Hot off the Twitter wire, Angela Harrison pointed me to a new entry in her “We Can See” project.

In this case…

We Can See Snow!

Ms. Fynes AM and PM Kindergarten friends shared a look at their Mississauga schoolyard after the snow.  The results are in book form.  Click each of the images for a larger, readable one.