What Will You Do Now?


Last week was Computer Science Education Week.

Many people were involved with the Hour of Code.

If you read the blogs and stories that permeated the media, you’ll know

  • kids had a whale of a time;
  • teachers hopefully made the connections between coding and their regular curriculum;

For me, I enjoyed the Angry Birds activity from Code.org

I downloaded and really enjoyed Codecademy’s iOS app.

But, I wonder.  Are things done until there’s a similar push next year?

I sure hope not.

Hopefully, students and teachers have seen the benefits of coding.  Hopefully, school administrators will be supportive of more coding initiatives within their schools.  Hopefully, schools and school districts will recognize the need for solid professional learning opportunities for teachers.  One excellent opportunity is the CSTA’s Annual Conference.  This year’s event will be held in St. Charles, IL, July 14 and 15, 2014.

Let’s hope that people find a way to keep the momentum.  Search and bookmark Hour of Code Resources.  There’s a great deal just waiting to be used.

Documenting the #RCAC13


During October and now December, I’ve had the privilege of co-chairing two conferences with two amazing folks – Cyndie Jacobs and Doug Sadler.  Both events were instrumental in bringing together Ontario Educators for an event of learning, sharing, and reflection on practice.  The most recent event was the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee’s Symposium 2013.  Hashtag for the event was #RCAC13.

This is a really unique event.  Unlike ECOO which tries to reach out to the province, the RCAC Symposium’s audience is Directors, Superintendents, Principal/Vice-Principals and technology leaders within districts and schools in Southwestern Ontario.  There are lots of PD events for this type of people but the RCAC Symposium allows for a smaller, intimate, intensive, one day learning event about technology and teaching.  I’m not aware of any professional learning event that attempts to do this in the same way.

It’s always nice to sit back and reflect on a conference when it’s complete.  If you have more “that worked wells” than “wish we’d done thats”, it’s a success.  My sense is that we had more “that worked wells”.  It wasn’t perfect – as my co-chair noted, “if it’s all working perfectly, you’re not using enough technology”.

The biggest thing, and it’s always a technology conference bugaboo, is that the internet worked – and worked well.  We’ve gone through a number of different attempts over the years with the Lamplighter Inn and this year’s implementation seemed to work nicely.  I had only one complaint and it was shown to me on a computer that was connected and we looked at an email together so…

In this post, I’d like to share three ways that the conference was documented for me.

The first was just one of those things that fell into place.  My co-chair, Doug Sadler (@sadone on Twitter) and I were having a last minute check of things on our “minute-by-minute” document on Wednesday night after all of the helpers had headed off to bed.  We were pretty happy with the way things were shaping up and, as we typically do, we were sharing our latest technology finds.  He showed me this new app (Noom Walk) that he was using as a pedometer on his phone.  I showed him a graphing app that I used (My Tracks) for much the same thing but I thought it would be a hoot to try out the app that he showed me.  Besides, my old pedometer had gone through the wash and no longer works!  He indicated that his goal was to walk 10,000 steps a day.  My dog would love being with him!

Next morning, I was up and working on things at 4:30am and I just slipped my phone in my pocket as I was out to check the setup in the ballroom, the foyer, and the breakout rooms.  The restaurant in the hotel wasn’t open when I was ready for breakfast so I hopped in the car and headed out to Tim Horton’s.  I had to get some donuts for a purpose during the conference anyway so it was no biggie.

Then, Symposium hit and the typical tasks were done.  Checking that presenters were good to go, moving door prizes in and out of the big ballroom, walking and talking with people, attending a session, etc.  At day’s end, it was a matter of packing up all the stuff, filling the car, and heading home eventually to be greeted by the dog who needed his evening walk.  Later, I had a chance to sit on the couch and wondered why my feet hurt.  I remembered – Doug’s app – I looked and it had indeed been counting for me.  12,157 steps!  That’s a lot of walking.

The second documentation was pictorial.  Yes, I had my phone and took some pictures but they pale in comparison to having it done right.  But, here’s a picture I took anyway – the Lamplighter Poinsettia tree.

Poinsettia

Andy Forgrave had his amazing camera and tripod on the go.

Now, I know he probably would have taken a ton of pictures but he put together a nice collection in a Flick gallery.  If you couldn’t join us, or if you just want to remember, take a look here.

And, finally, what’s a technology conference without Twitter.  We used the hashtag #RCAC13 and put it right on the cover of the program. There was no excuse for not knowing what the hashtag was.  People didn’t miss the opportunity.  Tweets were flying from all over the place.  Certainly, the majority of them came during the two keynotes but you’d find them in every breakout session as well.

All the way home, I could hear my smartphone chirping away letting me know that there was another tweet in the works.  I was dying to read what was happening but, of course, you don’t tweet and drive.  Upon my arrival, there were a lot of private messages but certainly even more to add to the activity from the day.

To keep track of things, I created a Tagboard of the day’s tweets.

I also put together a Storify document of all of the Twitter activity.

What a great collection and it’s interesting to work backwards through the timeline to remember what a great day we had.  If you’re not into Tagboard or Storify, certainly just a Twitter search for #RCAC13 will get the job done.

I know that those in attendance, and those who were ineligible for door prizes but joined us virtually all found that something that expands their understanding and learning about how technology makes a difference for students in the year 2013.  After all, to paraphrase keynote speaker Gary Stager, you can’t be teaching the 21st Century learner if you’re not a learner yourself.

And, I’ll award the “Tweet of the Day to Rodd Lucier”…

If you attended the conference or were just following the hashtag, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please add them below.

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)

TEACHER MENU

STUDENT MENU

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.

 

A Great Symbaloo Mix


It’s not secret that I’m a real fan of Symbaloo.  I’ve talked about it before and have a number of webmixes tied to my account.  My only challenge is writing about it and making sure that I spell it correctly.  Two Ls or Two Os?

At times, I’ll explore the public webmixes for a number of reasons.  I might add it to my own in a new tab or I’ll use it as an answer when someone asks “Can you recommend something for this…?”  I like to encourage others to create their own.  In the classroom, it’s a very functional and engaging way to direct students to appropriate and pre-selected resources.

For the well connected educator, it’s a great one stop portal to all of the things that might be happening in your classroom.  You know – your wiki, your blog, student blogs, homework helper, YouTube page, …  Anything that transports the class to where they need to be with a single click is great.

During my recent search, I came across this webmix.  http://www.symbaloo.com/mix/computerlab4  It’s a collection of lab links for Oak Grove and Valley View”

Updated this summer, you can be relatively assured that all of the links are active.

For some, this may be too much on a single screen.  For others, it might be just perfect since you’ll be directing students to one particular button during the lesson.  It’s also a good answer to the parent question “What are some websites we could use at home with our child?”

Symbaloo is free; there is an educational version here; there’s an iOS version and an Android version.

There really aren’t any excuses to give it a try!

 

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


As the school year winds down, it’s a time of reflection for educators.  How did my class do?  Why didn’t this student do better?  This student really caught fire.  I was most effective when I …  I was least effective when I …  I need to grow professionally in this area.  My biggest strengths are …

On the Ontario blogging front, I caught some reflections that people chose to share with the world.

Feeling Intellectually Safe – My Students Reflect on Their Year

Heidi Siwak was moved to post after her students were interviewed for a video from the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.  I really liked the way that she described her reactions to their comments and thoughts that they shared while being interviewed.  I can imagine that it would be a nervous time – we all wonder why our students say when they go home and talk to mom and dad.  But to be on tape and potentially sharing it with educators throughout the province?

Heidi

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Staying Positive

Aviva Dunsiger notes that the end of the year isn’t always an easy time for everyone.  There are lots of things on the horizon that can be a challenge.  I was fortunate to work in an air conditioned school which makes a world of different in hot and humid Essex County.  In our department, we also had a philosophy of working hard right to the end of the school year.  That’s what we were hired for, right?  In her latest post, she talks about some of the things that she’s positive and thankful for.

It’s been a difficult school year in Ontario and the public elementary school teachers still aren’t out of the woods.  It’s good that she can focus on the positives.

Aviva

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Professional Reading: Summer of 2013

Julie Balen is already planning her own personal professional development.  On her blog, she’s listed 9 titles on her “to read” and “to re-read” list.  As she notes, she has selected a very interesting collection of titles.

As I look them over, I see some that I have read and I’m intrigued by a couple of the titles.

Julie

Look for What is Good and Strong

Paul Cornies’ latest post seems like the perfect summary for the blogs referenced above.  Good and Strong, reflective, interested in professional growth and student achievement.  You can see it all!

Thanks to these Ontario Edubloggers for being so visible with your learning and sharing.  These blogs are great reads – take some time to read and enjoy.  The complete collection of Ontario Edubloggers can be found here.