Cheering for the crab

Yesterday, I did one of my least favourite things – went to the dentist. The good news is that I had no issues. I got them cleaned, polished, and then I was on my way.

But what would any visit to a doctor or dentist be without a long wait in the waiting room? A long time ago, I would have leafed through an old magazine. A short time ago, I would check things out on my smartphone.

Things were different today. Business must be good because, in the waiting room, there was a huge Samsung television/monitor tacked onto the wall. It wasn’t there a year ago at my last visit.

The image was huge and crisp. And I mean HUGE. There was no model number on the front but it had to be in the 70-80 inches category. There were at least five chairs side by side under it. I’d have to take something off an existing wall if it was ever to land at our place. I remember thinking that if my blog was on that screen, people could read it from the other side of the parking lot!

I suppose they could have displayed some news channel or a weather network but those that come to the dentist aren’t there for that sort of thing. Despite all the times that I’ve been to one, there’s always that nagging feeling that this will be the visit where they find a cavity. I’m guessing the logic is that something soothing is required.

So, they had an aquarium running on it. The people in the chairs were there staring at the digital fish as they swam back and forth. I watched for a while and made a point of finding that aquarium when I got home. After all, it was playing from YouTube. How hard could it be?

Actually, it was quite difficult. Try it for yourself – go to YouTube and search for aquarium and marvel at the number of results.

But I did it. Fortunately, the author had left a signature cat in the bottom right corner. That made it a bit easier. As it turns out, there’s a whole YouTube channel.

I will say; there are a LOT of good aquariums there. It must have been difficult to decide which one to use for their purpose. As it would turn out, when I finally did get in to visit the dentist, there were a number of displays throughout the office with more aquariums running. I guess nothing succeeds like success. Or, it does at least in their minds.

As I was waiting though, it was interesting to hear the conversations. For me though, I wasn’t watching the fish. You see, in the video, there’s a crab who is trying to capture any fish that happened to swim close enough. I know – probably not very helpful in regulating one’s feelings before sitting in the chair.

But I found that at least gave me something to do during my half hour plus wait. I was cheering for the crab and throwing a bit of body language its way as if to help.

I kept thinking that watching the crab would totally freak out any little kid who happened to be watching! I came to the conclusion that it must be tough to be a crab or the one that was in the movie was deliberately inept.

It also got me into a little bit of learning. In the bottom left corner, the resolution of 2560×1440 was displaying and it identified itself as WQHD. I’ve got to check out the pricing next time I’m at a suitable store. It’s never too early to start dropping ideas for my birthday.


Live cameras

I have to give Ben Schafer a nod for bringing this to my attention.

Of course, I had to check it out and, like Ben, became totally fascinated with it.  Ben’s original note took me to Brown Bear Cam where the hunt was on for salmon.

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Getting your fill is indeed hard work!

You’re not limited to bears though.  Navigation across the top of the screen will let you satisfy all your desires for watching nature.

It was when I got curious about what Zen Cams might be when I found my moment.  It was watching honey bees.  Pick a bee, any bee, and watch it work.  Fascinating.

So, if you’re looking for live, real animal resources, you’ve just got to check this out.

Thanks, Ben.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

Here’s some of the great things that caught my attention this week from the fingertips of Ontaro Edubloggers.

Using Google Apps to Make Interactive Stories

Sylvia Duckworth produced a very helpful instructional blog showing yet another use for Google Forms.  This time, she gives a step by step set of instructions for creating an interactive Adventure.

And, it comes as no surprise that her demonstrations include one adventure in English and another one in French!

This was but the beginning – she continues to show how to create interactive stories in Presentations, Google Docs, and YouTube.  If you’re looking for a little something different, there’s a great deal here.


The Appearance of Credibility and Other Useless Pursuits

There was a gentleman in my first school who had this assessment myth attributed to him.  Come report card time, he would call each student to stand in front of his desk, look the student up and down, and then generate a mark for the student.

Of course, that’s the stuff of staff room lore and had no basis in truth.  But, it was a good story!  Assessment and Evaluation have been hot professional development topics that have been “done” recently.

In this post, Tim King spins his own thoughts about assessment.


#ecoo13 review

You can’t beat a good blog post.  But, what is a blog anyway?

Does it have to be something that’s done in WordPress or Blogger?

Or is it the content and the message that’s important?  Of course, it is.

Lisa Noble, instead of using a traditional blogging platform, used a presentation format to share her thoughts and takeaways from the recent Educational Computing Organization of Ontario conference.


The 3-D MakerBot Arrives at F.E. Madill

Very cool things are happening in Heather Durnin’s class.  She blogs about the 3-D MakerBot’s arrival and ultimate setup at the school.  If you read the blog and see how the setup was done, you’ll be confident that the “kids are alright”.  This will be a very nice addition to her classroom.  I’m jealous.

I cracked a big grin when she asked if these two printers could co-exist!


#RCAC13 Final Program

If you’re able to make it to London on December 5, you’ll absolutely get a great day of Professional Learning at the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee’s Annual Symposium.  It’s just one day in length but you’ll get a chance to hear two inspirational keynote speakers – Travis Allen and Gary Stager – as well as attend sessions from educational leaders from the Western Ontario region.

Oh, and you’ll have a wonderful Christmas dinner.

Full disclosure – I’ve been asked to co-chair the conference again with Doug Sadler.  It’s been a local event that I’ve been so passionate about since my first year as a consultant with the Essex County Board of Education.  I always used to bring my superintendent and key principals to hear what’s happening in other school districts just up the 401.  Every other school district would do the same thing and we would serve to push each other to greater and greater things.  It’s a full days of ideas and inspiration.

As Rodd Lucier notes:


Please take a few moments to read this posts and check out all of those in the Ontario Educational Blogging community.  My collection can be found in the LiveBinder located here.


On Sunday, I added another to my series of interviews.  This time, I was fortunate to be able to interview Alfred Thompson.  If you haven’t read it, I would like to recommend that you do so.  He’s an interesting guy.

One of the questions that I asked was what was his favourite computer science textbook.  This has always been a flash point for me.  Schools seem to be able to find money for the latest mathematics or language textbooks but optional courses don’t fare as well.  Alfred’s recommendation was Rob Miles‘ C# Yellow Book.  If you’re visiting this and are a Computer Science teacher, follow the link and see what you think.

As I was preparing for my interview and came across that question, I wondered to myself what my answer would have been.  It brought back all kinds of memories as a Computer Science teacher, and before that, as a Data Processing teacher.

When I got my first job, I taught Data Processing and was part of the Business Education department.  I had a full schedule of Data Processing from Grade 10-12 and inherited the choice of textbooks that I think were probably very common throughout the province.  In Grade 10, we taught a lower level language designed to teach the elements of computer architecture like registers and absolute memory locations.  In Grade 11 and 12, students could continue their studies and Fortran was the language of choice in both Data Processing and Computer Science.  Often, students would take both courses and so a very necessary approach was to change the type of problem that was offered.  This was long before a curriculum was available from the Ministry but I think we did a very good job of providing problems that were applicable to Business and then Mathematics/Science.  But the thing that got me was that this was the same book that I used in my own high school experience!  It was more about teaching the language and consequently I was constantly creating my own problems for students to solve.  Thankfully, four years of university had provided me with all kinds of ideas that were melded to fit secondary school aged students appropriately.

So why this shaggy dog story?  It was a few years later, and I ended up teaching both courses.  By that time, we had chosen completely different programming languages.  the Data Processing class was using BASIC and the Computer Science class, Pascal.  Now, with all the programming languages that I’ve used, I’d never experienced Pascal.  I had two months to learn it!  Unlike now where I’d just head over to YouTube, I decided to buy a book.  It turns out that this was the best thing I’d ever done.  Not only did I learn how to program in Pascal, I changed my entire approach to teaching programming.  The book, Oh! Pascal! did it for me.  Very early in the book, I got it.  While I had been paying lip service to teaching “problem solving” instead of teaching “the language”, this book changed everything.  We weren’t preparing the kids for the language that they would use at university; we should be teaching them to solve problems so that they could use whatever language that they had to use.  And, stop taking yourself so seriously – make programming fun, tell stories, laugh at yourself.  If you’re programming in Pascal, or hopefully Delphi, or actually anything, see if you can lay your hands on a copy of this book.  You won’t regret it.

Later, much later, languages are experimented with and dropped/kept as great teachers within our district tried to stay on top of an ever moving target.  As Alfred notes in the interview, often you’re running just to avoid losing ground.  I was no longer in the classroom but working as the computer consultant at the board office and we’re doing an introspective look at what the courses might offer.  At the time, Holt Software was big in the province.  I worked quite frequently with Tom West (whose wife is a very interesting Sci-Fi author) and Chris Stephenson and they were always helping us with professional learning.  We had elected to license Turing as our introductory programming language and Java for the older grades.

Now, for those of us new to Java, this was quite a challenge.  The BASIC -> Java path was very slippery.  Fortunately, Holt Software had a publication that had us covered.  “The ‘Don’t Panic’ Guide to Programming in Java”  Again, it’s not really a textbook but more of a conversational approach to learning to program.  It made the hurdle of going from nothing to running with Java relatively easy.

Unlike the traditional textbook, computer science textbooks are different.  They recognize that not everything may be linear for student (and often teacher) learning.  Choosing the right resource is very important.

If you’re a computer science teacher reading this post, let me ask you the same question I asked Alfred.  What’s your favourite computer science textbook?  Or, do you even use a computer science textbook?

If you’re not a computer science teacher but have hung around enough to reach the bottom of this post — have you ever used a resource that changed your approach to teaching?  What was it and how did it make that change?

Giuseppe Verdi

This post is a big departure from the normal things on my blog but I do have license to write about whatever I want!

One of the places we pass on a particular dog walk route is the Verdi Club in Amherstburg.  Like so many clubs that you’ll find, it’s a very popular place for wedding receptions, all of my kids had their graduation there, and there’s a wonderful restaurant open to the public where we’ve been known to drop in to enjoy a night out.

Recently, a big banner has been on display announcing the recognition of Giuseppe Verdi‘s 200th birthday.

Now, I’m not a frequent visitor to the opera but there is an odd connection to me and to education!  Yes, I did accompany a fellow teacher as a chaperone on a field trip to Toronto where we did attend an opera.  But there’s another connection.

In my first year of teaching, one of the English teachers at my school happened to be patrolling the hallways after dismissal and before the buses left.  He stuck his head into my classroom (the door was always open) where I was at my desk marking and I had my portable stereo tuned to the local rock station and I was doing my thing.

I’ll still remember the conversation.

“How can you mark with that stuff on?”

My new found mentor then invited me down to his classroom to see how marking should be done.

I had not mastered the fine art of marking yet.  I never thought of it as an art; it was more of a marathon for me.

Maybe this guy has the key.  What could I lose?

I dropped down to his classroom at day end a couple of days later and, sure enough, he had music on his portable stereo.  I stuck my head in the door and saw the trick to marking.  He had opera playing on the machine and, with both hands, he was directing!  Clearing my throat to let him know I was there, I was in for a lesson.  Apparently, there was an art to holding your red pen like a conductor.  I’ll never forget what was playing – it was “La Traviata” by Verdi.

After that, I did listen to more classical music while marking but I’ll admit, I was never quite a complete convert.

But, as a tribute to that moment, and to celebrate Verdi’s birthday, I present “La Traviata”.

Looking for more?  There’s lots more on YouTube.

The Seattle Times recommends 10 recordings to listen to in honour of Verdi’s birthday.

On Twitter, look for the hashtag #Verdi200