Monday, 9 February 2015

Digging into MineCraft

Yesterday I spent a bunch of time hanging out on Skype with Liam (aka Praxismaxis aka GamingEdus) O'Donnell. All of this was in preparation for getting Donview students onto the GamingEdus multi-school MineCraft server. I first met Liam at ECOO at the MineCraft meetup social event one evening, but this was the first time I had really had a good conversation with him.

It was really exciting to listen to someone who is really passionate about how this particular piece of technology can impact students, and it was neat to hear what he is doing in his classroom and how he is collaborating online with colleagues. He was also excited to hear about the work I am looking to do around MineCraft and 3D printing.

He was very patient and helpful (which I am tremendously grateful for), and as someone who is more or less still classified as a noob, I learned a lot! I was able to learn about the white list, and how to use the PvP arena! One thing I discovered is that I still have a lot to learn about things like scripting, and plugins on the server. I also learned that the server is set out very similar to the teacher server. This was important information since I've gained some familiarity with that world so I was able to transfer my knowledge from those experiences.

The server has Creative and Survival modes, it has a super flat land, and it even has a TNT section. The entry spawn point is in Creative mode (like in the teacher server), and that's where all the portal's are for all the different schools that are sharing the server. These portals link to parts of the world spread out all over the map.

I watched and learned as Liam showed me how to move about using coordinates. We found a spot that was "black" uncharted territory on the map. It had a village in a valley below a hill, a temple off in the distance, and three different biomes close by: a savannah, a desert, and a tropical forest. Liam built the portal on the top of the hill, using our school colours blue and gold. It was pretty neat to see a clean landscape - ready to be built.

With the Donview section all set-up we're ready to roll. I'm hoping to test it out first thing tomorrow morning with some HSP students. I'm excited to see what my students and I can come up with. Stay tuned for more.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Testing out a TDSB Chromebook

Unboxing - First Impressions

As a member of the DLL (Digital Lead Learners) for the TDSB I've been assigned a Google Chromebook (Acer C720) for work. I initially wrote rough notes on my experience after just my first 24 hours having it at the start of December. I had lots to say (both positive and things that could use improvement) and now here's the tidied up version of those notes.

Relatively speaking, I actually feel like an iPhone 4S is more powerful than this machine, and that the key advantage to this Chromebook compared to a smartphone is the physical keyboard and a decent sized screen. For example, with Siri built in, I can dictate the rough copy of a blog post on my phone, but I have struggled to find a similar dependable dictation function on the Chromebook (even with their chrome store, and the fact "ok google" is built into search.

The Physical Machine

I am impressed at the responsiveness of the Acer touchpad (it behaves exactly like a Mac). While it kind of feels like when I touch it the top is a bit loose, this allows for really soft touch clicking (instead of a harder press of the trackpad, which also works by the way). I will need to compare it against a colleague who has an identical machine to better describe this. The two finger scrolling works instantly as it should.
[This is compared with products I've used from HP (netbooks and laptops), which has incredibly frustrating unresponsive two finger scrolling, and for that reason alone are basically junk machines.]

I don't like that the keyboard has a bit less functionality. For example I'm a huge fan of shortcut keys to improve workflow efficiency. I've been trying to use control and arrow keys to get to the end of a sentence or line (because typically this is faster than using the track pad) - however, there is no end key, and less option keys than I typically use on my Mac. Also - THERE"S NO CAP LOCK!!! Which is a bit weird to be honest - typing with your pinky finger down (note the " instead of ' above).

The search button on the keyboard is nice (but it's basically like the Windows button, just in a different place). I do like the back and forward buttons in the top left above 123. Since this machine is primarily for web navigation, I shouldn't need to constantly move my cursor to the top left of the screen - pushing a keyboard key is much easier --- check out this xkcd comic for an interesting take on time and efficiency. If this button saves me 1 second, 50 times a day, then over 5 years I will have saved 1 entire day of work! Pretty amazing if you actually think about it.

It's Just a Browser

As for the OS/Software, it operates exactly as advertised. The 7 second bootup is great (compared to a regular computer, and even compared with taking a smartphone out of sleep mode). For this the fact that it just works brings you very quickly to the point where you don't even think about it. This says more about the increase of how much of everything is done directly online in the cloud than anything else.

I don't like the TDSB email system (OWA - Outlook Webmail) on the Chromebook because it requires SilverLight - and which I guess can't be installed? Maybe this plugin can be downloaded for Chrome? (More research required). These are "managed devices" so perhaps TDSB central IT will update this for me so that I can have a more functional inbox. (Or perhaps they will finally give up on OWA and just switch us all to gmail, since student email is now through the gmail skin).

I do like how fast it loads up new browser windows. I don't like that there is some difficulty capturing a screenshot (again, no obvious buttons on the keyboard - more research required?). I really like how fast and easy I could make a screen capture video using "Snagit" (came with the Enterprise solution, but easily found on the Chrome store). The problem was that this app didn't seem to be able to record one part of the screen: the top bar was not accessible. I had to take a pic with my phone to get the top right corner. (I was trying to compare the differences between the top bar in the managed user account to a personal Google account.)

Still trying to get a handle on some of the vocab and particularities. For example switching users is confusing. It is interesting to see what has been pushed from the central IT enterprise solutions. I am trying to figure out which usage strategy is better - to try and manage multiple google profiles (eg. school board one, personal one, teacher one) from within one user - or to use different users from the start. I am also still trying to figure out the difference between sign out and shut off? Does either close all your work? What about the effect on battery consumption? I kind of feel like they are basically identical functions. (More research and experience obviously needed).

(This paragraph is more recent reflections on the above paragraph.) I've since discovered that my managed TDSB account closes everything when I click sign out or shut down. Whereas with my professional gmail account everything is still there when I come back, whether I sign out or just turn off the machine. In both accounts, if I click the 'lock' button or just shut the case, my work is still there when I open it again. Still no idea if this affects battery life (ie. is the machine still 'off' when you close the case?) compared with choosing "Shut Down".

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

Finally, on a bit of a silly note, where do you find the serial number? Is there a system preferences display box somewhere? I had to turn the machine over to see the physical sticker and try to type at same time (I actually just took a pic on my phone). I also haven’t yet figured out how to plug in a projector (think I need an HDMI cable) or how to use a USB external storage device.

So after my first glance I have to say I'm pretty happy with it, given it's intended purpose. However, if I want to do work with my 3D printer (ReplicatorG), or 3D design work (Sketchup), or photo editing (Photoshop), or web design/management (Dreamweaver) then I'm out of luck until viable/suitable cloud-based alternatives come along. I know work is being done in most of those areas, it's only a matter of time.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Hour of Code - PA Announcements

I know it's literally "Old School" to do this, but we do still do them so I thought I would share for all the other schools that still do this! Here are some announcements I created that our student announcers are reading on the PA system each morning this week to promote CS Ed week and the Hour of Code event. Feel free to borrow/use/remix these for your own school.


Person1:  Hey did you know that this week is CS Ed week
Person2:  What's that?
Person1:  Computer Science Education week!
Person2:  Is that when you do that Hour of Code?
Person1:  That's right! The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that ANYBODY can learn the basics. 
Person2:  I guess we will be doing that in IT class with Mr. Hann?
Person1:  Yes. Though sadly did you know that 9 out of 10 schools don't teach coding.
Person2:  Well maybe doing an hour of code can change that!
Together:  LET'S CODE!


Person1:  More girls tried computer science last year than in the last 70 years. 15 million students worldwide learned an Hour of Code, including over 10 million girls!
Person2:  But isn't coding more for boys?
Person1:  NO WAY! Computer science is about thinking and problem solving, things that both girls and boys can do!
Person2:  The CEOs of Yahoo and YouTube are women, to name a few. 
Person1:  But we can do better. If you are a girl, consider going into computer programming as a career - start with one Hour of Code this week!
Together:  LET'S CODE!


Person1:  Have you tried the Hour of Code yet?
Person2:  Yes! I made Frozen characters Elsa and Anna code an awesome snowflake!
Person1:  That means you are one in a 100 million! 
Person2:  If you want to try it on your own, click online to
Person1:  Join the biggest ever learning event in the world.
Together:  LET'S CODE!


Person1:  Have you tried the Hour of Code yet?
Person2:  Yes! I tried javascript for the first time.
Person1:  If you want to try it on your own, click online to
Person2:  Join the biggest ever learning event in the world.
Together:  LET'S CODE!


Person1:  The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. 
Person2:  Anyone, anywhere can participate. 
Person1:  One-hour tutorials are available in over 30 languages. 
Person2:  No experience needed. Ages 4 to 104. 
Person1:  If you haven`t had a chance to try it in class with Mr. Hann you can also try it on your own at home for free - just go to
Together:  LET'S CODE!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Epic Failing - Live in Class and Online

Friday - last period. It's the last day of the week, at the end of the day. Perhaps this is not the greatest time to reveal a new project, but I'm running out of time before June, so I go ahead, showing them the shared Google docs each group will be using to plan their project. I send them home to work on it.

Friday - 9:00 pm. I realize I forgot to transfer the homework questions/notes into all the documents - I only did the one that I showed in class. Argh! Only 3 students have logged in so far (and they couldn't work because of my mistake). Is this good or bad? I had told them they needed to login more than once to allow people to post first, and then to comment later.

I am risking failure as a teacher, attempting to innovate with a big "PBL" (Project Based Learning) culminating project: each group is making a pinball machine. They are still getting the same content as the rest of the grade 8s, but we are going about it a different way, in the hope that we can better engage my struggling learners, and provide deeper (scaffolded) challenges for my more advanced learners.

The project will be a real "DT" project that brings together all their current core subjects (except French, which I could probably work in if I really tried).

The only problem is, I don't feel like the students haven't caught my vision yet. Hmmm.

Saturday morning. I go online; there's almost no change since last night. Apparently I don't have any early risers in my class. I'm a bit panicky so I send a reminder tweet for class to get online and participate.

Saturday afternoon. Filled with dread, apprehension, not enough kids are participating!!! I begin to ponder what it would look like to photocopy worksheets for the rest of the year!?!

Sunday morning. We finally hit a milestone: one group has had all members log in at least once. We're off to a start, but it's still a work in progress.

So I started last weekend with both apprehension and anticipation. It's a huge project, complex, requiring responsibility and independence. It opens the door for students' creativity, collaboration, and problem solving. I'm excited, but I'm also terrified I'm going to fail.

Will my students get on board? Will they buy in? Will they fail? Fail to understand the material (taught in a different way)? Fail to do the work? If so does that mean that I have failed?

As I ponder what we've done so far I suppose I can call the start of the project at least a partial success. Hopefully (if I can keep good documentation) I can learn from my mistakes for another year. Kind of like a video game, as Sean Jenkins puts it.

Failure is good, healthy, and a normal part of growing up in particular, and of life in general. However, just because these are true doesn't make experiencing it any more pleasant! A child learning to walk falls down, often crying from the unpleasantness of it all, but almost always they hear the encouragement from a trusted adult: "Get back up". In fact there is a movement growing that seems to suggest that kids don't have ENOUGH risk in their life anymore, and that their isolation is to their detriment. See for example this National Post article about "risky" playgrounds.

I'm thankful though that my admin and superintendent(s) have seen fit to allow us to make attempts at innovation. We may be about to do an Epic Fail, but on the other hand we might be about to do something great! We won't know until we try!

Sukh Sandhu
I searched the cupboards at home last year and pulled out my (28 y.o.) sister's Fisher Price roller skates. You know the ones that go over shoes? I put them on my 4 y.o. last summer, along with helmet, gloves, knee pads and elbow pads. I know I know I may have been a bit overprotective, but he's sensitive and it was his very first time, so I prefaced his skating time by trying to prep him mentally: "you will probably fall down - if you do, what do you do next? Get up again. Right!"

Learning to walk as little kids we probably fell over a lot, but for each fall we got a little bit stronger! (plus they weren't really bad falls since we were generally closer to the ground at the time.) Imagine if we DIDN'T fall over? We would not know how to handle it when we it (eventually) happens to us as adults! Or imagine that we were TOO AFRAID of falling? We would spend the rest of our lives slithering, wallowing and crawling along the ground!

The story goes that as Caesar stepped over the Rubicon river, and pointed his troops towards Rome, he stated they were beyond the point of no return. There was no turning back: "The die has been cast". Thats the way I'm feeling right now. Fail or succeed I'm committed. So let's just ride into this new frontier and see what happens. I'll keep you posted (no doubt Live on YouTube, just like Pierce and Jeremy).

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Enders Game and Remembrance Day

Spoiler Alert: if you haven't read the book/seen the movie, I highly recommend both [in that order!]. My thoughts below will give away some of the key plot points.

The first time I read the book, the carefully woven plot of the story and it's characters, the fantasy world of the space station, the descriptions of the battles and the ingenuity of their strategies, sucked me in to turning page after page in voracious excitement and curiosity at what would happen next. The surprise revelation at the climax struck me with a considerable amount of force. 

After months of anticipation, I had a chance to watch the movie Sunday night, on the eve of Remembrance Day. The movie, while well done and fairly true to the book, does more than just entertain. It is a stark reminder that war is hell, as it has been for millennia. Interestingly enough, as a reader/viewer, we are told that the bugs/aliens are the enemy, but they are otherwise portrayed in a largely sympathetic light. However it takes the entire story for Ender to come to the realization that "the aliens are people too"! (There's no "Us vs. Them" … "There's ONLY us"). The point of the game is to teach the children to win, not just this war, but win so that there are no more wars! (Where have I heard that before? "The war to end all wars")

Gamification is a big buzz word in education right now… it's in the title of this movie! is the only way to get through something unpleasant to make it a game? Why the deviousness? Why can't we do things for their own sake? Why did children need to be pawns in this war against the aliens? The reason given is that they are more creative and able to deal with complex pieces of information [like is suggested in the Sir Ken Robinson creativity video]. Is it also though because by gamifying this intergalactic struggle they have devised an effective plan to insulate Ender and the others against the moral quandaries of annihilating an entire civilization?

When Ender realizes that the Adults have ulterior motives for the final games, that they are in fact NOT games but the REAL thing, he feels betrayed. In the end, Ender decides to devote the rest of his life to the Remembrance of the Civilization that he destroyed. While not mentioned in the movie, in the book we are told how Ender becomes the "Speaker for the dead", telling a whole and unapologetic story of the aliens, and this becomes a standard funeral procedure for humans too.

From a teaching standpoint, it is telling that one of the major focal points of the story (which is somewhat glossed over in the movie, likely because of time constraints) is the battle games. Students are taught in traditional manners, but this is balanced by practical experience designed to teach children on their own terms the strategies and skills required for success as a military leader: collaboration, creative thinking, discipline, and responsibility among other things. The child soldiers learn by doing, by trying and experimenting. (I'm going to put aside the problematic issue of child soldiers for another day)

Especially poignant throughout the story is the internal struggles of Ender:
- The struggle between violence and love. Knowing ones enemy so well that you come to love them, but are then able to destroy them.
- The struggle of a family torn apart by the larger obligations to society made by those family members.
- The overwhelming sense of loss and sadness Ender feels at the end when he comes to understand that he did not realize the enemy was trying to communicate with him, until after it was too late.
- The certainty of a lifelong struggle with inner turmoil, as he tries to find peace with himself for what he has done.

This brings us to Remembrance Day. Where soldiers are told to go, and what they are told to do can be awful, horrible, and at times perhaps even morally repugnant. But I think most soldiers do what they do as an unrepayable service to the people they serve, in the belief that what they are doing must be done for the greater good. And look at the great cost to many of these men and women in uniform. All too often these costs are visible in broken families, strained relationships, or lost limbs. Then there's the hidden cost of things like PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and addictions.

This year, as I reflect on Enders Game, I'm brought back to a section of Flanders Fields:

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die…

Let us not break faith with the dead. As Ender spent the rest of his life in service to those who died, both human and alien, we too must face this Day of Remembrance faithfully, with sombre respect. War is nothing to glorify, yet we MUST honour the great cost of those who have gone before. With all my heart I pray "Never Again".

We MUST remember them.

We will remember them. I will remember them.

WILL remember. 

There is nothing I can do that will ever repay. So all I can say… 

is "Thank you".


In Memoriam:

Edward Swift Burford - Grammas uncle, killed at Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917

Uncle Eddie

With Thanks to:

Grandpa John Hulsemann
Uncle Eric Hulsemann
Thomas Hulsemann

Opa Helmers

Chris Tidd
Jordan Stella
Thomas Edward Peters III

and ALL the others...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A First Time for Everything

Reflecting on Milestones and Celebrating Successes

Over the last few weeks I've had a number of occasions to reflect on "the first time…" If you're a parent like me than you are probably well versed in the concept of "firsts" --- steps, words, etc.

This summer I went camping on my own for the first time with my boys. It was also my first time leaving my camera at home and only taking pictures with my smartphone. Recently I finally put together a photo album of the best pictures and sat with my boys to reflect on our trip. Looking at the album we reflected on my eldest son's first time cooking a hot dog, first time camping without mommy, and first time taking a picture with daddy's smartphone!

Approval vs. Affirmation
With our boys in a Montessori program, I've learned that when a child excitedly informs their guide (teacher) that they've completed a task (a characteristic of first time experiences), they are not told "Good Job" or "Well Done", but rather "You did it!" or "Congratulations".  Instead of training children to depend on a subjective note of approval from an external source, this is designed to ensure that the children are affirmed in their own recognition of an objective sense of self-satisfaction. It's the difference between tentatively asking the teacher "did I do it right?" vs. confidently informing the teacher "I did it right!"

To this end, I had some of my own FIRSTs that I'd like to share. Not for your approval, but simply because I see myself as that Montessori child recognizing my own milestone and running up to the guide (my Twitter PLC) to proudly exclaim "look what I've done!"

Cooking Class
Due to our school's reorganization at the end of September, I now have the challenge (and privilege) of adding a grade 7 Family Studies class to my teaching assignment. This is a huge addition for me. I am already responsible for teaching Science and Technology in our DT lab (including responsibility of the major areas of Safety, Tool Maintenance and Material Inventory), as well as teaching Information Technology, and generally being "the computer guy" in the school. Between all the classes I teach in IT and DT, I have 23 classes across 3 grades and multiple levels (regular, gifted, MID, Behaviour, LD/HSP). Family Studies makes 24. As such I have been reticent to really get into the cooking side of things, preferring to stay in the theoretical (nutrition labels, healthy body image) and the technological (designing cookie cutters to print out on our 3D printer) as these things are more within my comfort zone.

On Friday December 14th however, I took the plunge and did my first cooking class. Recognizing the significance of this "first" experience I took time during the class to "live-tweet" what was happening, since ongoing documentation is an important part of self-evaluation. Of course with technology comes problems, and I couldn't get reception for some reason so I've had to post these tweets after-the-fact. You can see my tweets organized here on Storify - a program I am also using for the first time!

As a result of this “First Time Focus” I am pondering how to be more diligent at this practice in my own classroom. Report Cards are supposed to reflect the reaching of milestones, but how often do milestones coincide with a board determined report card date? Why should celebrations be limited to these structured times without reflecting the fluidity of individual learners! I'm wondering if I can use BYOD to get students to document their DT projects at the end of each class, and then compile a photo album at the end to assist them in preparing a self-evaluation.

Too often we have trained students that self-evaluation is the lowest kind, and that the evaluation that reflects real learning and leads to good grades comes from the teacher alone. The pendulum needs to swing back a bit I think.

February 23, 2013

(SIDE NOTE: as a result of writing this blog I've decided to try changing my teaching a little bit… yeah for professional reflection! ATTACHED HERE are my notes on ideas I might try with my next set of classes in Semester 2. If you have feedback that might help me tweak these ideas, practically or theoretically, please send me a note on Twitter or in the comments section)

DT Project Self-Assessment Notes

A work in progress

Device Use:
-having a smartphone or camera in class is a BIG responsibility and a HUGE privilege. DON’T treat this lightly or abuse the privilege, it will be taken away!
-you will ONLY get permission (in writing, attached to the class clipboard) to have your devices with you at times when you ACTUALLY have DT. So for example if DT is in the morning, you CANNOT have your device with you in the afternoon. If you have gym the same part of the day as DT, we will need to make alternate arrangements to meet at your lockers before class to get your devices or to put them away at the end of class before going to gym.
-we will need to agree to some kind of class code of conduct regarding these devices and consequences for improper use

Procedures for Self-Reflection Documentation
-document your journey from start to finish using your smartphone or camera
-take a picture of each thing you consider a milestone – at minimum, take a picture of your progress once before the end of class
-ensure these pictures are taken SAFELY (ie. Make sure the machines are OFF and that you’re not a hazard to someone else who is working)
-NO people in the pictures! [for privacy/security] [though you may have yourself in the picture at the end with the finished product if you have parent permission]
-curate an online compilation of your pictures and narrate them in some way

Self-Reflection Content Expectations
In your reflection you must mention (either along the way or at the end):
-What tools did you use?
-What procedures did you do?
-Include dates
-Did you struggle at any point? Where? Why? How could you have done better?

-Curate as you go! Don’t wait till the end to put all the pictures together
-You may use any method you wish to curate your pictures (Facebook album, Instagram, haikudeck, prezi, flickr, etc) Perhaps you will teach me something new? Since this will be posted on the internet, hopefully you will get feedback from others besides myself!?



Includes comprehensive outline of tools dates, and procedures
Good outline of tools, dates and most procedures
Mentions some (but not all) tools, dates and procedures
Misses key tools, dates, or procedures.
Thoughtful, honest reflection
Reflective, but superficial
No reflection
Excellent, well planned photos, capture minor steps as well as major ones
Good photos, documents key steps, with some detail.
Photos include only the major steps, some photo flaws
Photos incomplete, missing major steps. Violates privacy expectation!
Curation has been shared and has received feedback. Is easy to transfer for school to share too!
Uses a curation method that encourages and promotes sharing
Curation hasn’t yet been shared
Curation discourages sharing