Sunday, March 22, 2015

100 Alternatives to Another Audit

It all began with a tweet by Vancouver School Board trustee Patti Bacchus about the ways that the Ministry of Education could spend its resources other than sending an auditor to the VSB. The purpose of the auditor is to find ways to save money by reducing administrative costs. Does this mean eliminating more secretaries, coordinators, managers? I don't know, but it doesn't look like this will result in any significant re-investment of money into the school board in such a way that will make life better in their schools. Patti had a good suggestion:

Feeding hungry children is a good way to spend money. So I tweeted my agreement.

#1 @pattibacchus @hartofmanvan @fassbender let me count the ways. We could give money to feed kids breakfast in one district where kids need it

But then I thought about other ways that we could spend the money. Below is the other 99 (approximately) tweets I wrote detailing ways that the government could spend the money to improve student learning other than by paying for another (second) auditor to scrutinize the Vancouver School Board. After about #51 I tried to jot ideas down in OneNote, but sometimes when I copied and pasted them into Twitter, I had to do some editing for brevity.  Opinions, as always, are mine.  Enjoy!

#2 We could have some guy with a camera go from district to district capturing great lessons to share

#3 we could buy microscopes. Guys, have you looked at something in a microscope recently? Awesome!

#4 we could buy gymnastic equip. Don't tell me you didn't freak out in elem when you saw it in gym!

#5 we could restore one art teacher, somewhere.
We could have one PE specialist visit every elementary school and help teachers learn more ways to get kids moving

#6 we could add more computers to classrooms. That alone could really improve student learning.

#7 spend the money on field trips. How many of us adults remember field trips we took more than worksheets?

#8 What if we spent the money on a set of jump ropes and sidewalk chalk? Spring is in the air.

#9 we could get one classroom somewhere out of a portable that isn't in very good condition

#10 we could get @atomictom to come to one school to teach a music class to aspiring musicians. With smartphones.

#11 we could spend the money to replace a playground at an elementary school so that the parents don't have to.

#12 give a kid with severe learning disabilities full time support in class so they can be full time learners.

#13 we could free up principals and vice principals so they can be in classrooms with us. Where the kids are.

#14 we could make YouTube videos sharing how awesome our teachers really are. Recognition is nice.

#15 we could decorate one kindergarten classroom, pay for it's art supplies so the teacher wouldn't spend their own $

#16 we could spend the money on smaller class sizes. Even for one class. Even if it wasn't mine.

#17 We could restore librarians to every middle school in my district. I miss librarians.

#18 We could buy Sodium for high school chemistry classes. Ever dropped some in water? Kids never forget that!

#19 We could have more school counselors in elementary schools. Should they wait until secondary school?

#20 restore one school psychologist to my district. Then a kid won't wait 2 years for an evaluation that will help

#21 Restore a hearing specialist to drive between districts. I have met them.They will their drive car into ground

#22 don't we already have to pay for seismic upgrades? First things first.

#23 music teachers at elementary/middle. We spend so much on buying music, why spend so little teaching it?

#24 give several tech ed classes 3D printers, and tell them about a big problem we are facing. Step back, watch.

#25 give settlement workers in our districts another pair of hands for the task of helping refugees rebuild in CAN

#26 Update all the tools in machine/shop classes that need it in sec schools in one district.

#27 find ways for a district to share all it's successes in using educational technology for all to see. Adoption!

#29 send several classes to science world. I don't care who sponsors science world right now. It's science world.

#30 a set of 15 computers to go from class to class in every elementary school in 1 district. Yep, doable.
replace the guitars in every elementary school in 1 district that needs it. A lot of them need replacing now.
ring a member of Canada's Women's Olympic Hockey team to go to every secondary encouraging girls 2 "keep playing"

#31 restore my friend's elementary school budget from 27,000 to the 181,000 it was before the liberal's took gov't

#32 fund inquiry-based professional development learning teams for every teacher that wants to be on one. ROI!

#34 newer computers in the poorest schools in the lowest income neighborhoods in one district.

Give every teacher in every elementary school a projector. Not on wheels either. Mounted.
Stock every elementary classroom with math manipulatives. All of them. Don't skimp.

#37 take the apply out of the BC Fruit and Vegetable for school program. Let's sign everyone up.

#38 give districts the money to run pilot programs with great support so we can truly see if new ideas work

#40 have actors travel all schools through the province explaining how our legal sys works via mock trials. Cool!

#41 provide teachers who want to be first aid rep more time to get trained. Important topics cover in short time.

#42 Create a goodly sized staff development department in each district of helping teachers for many areas.

#44 full time custodians in elementary schools. Kids are messy, that's how it is.

#45 - give Special Ed Assistants more professional development days. Wayyy more professional development days.

#47 smaller class sizes to ensure lower layoff numbers each year, costing us countless new teachers to leave tchng

#48 you could have a dentist visit every elementary school in a district and just check on kids who might need

#49 bring kids out to a farm to see where their food comes from. It's important and engaging.

#50 fire up every dormant kiln in elem schools, and train someone how to use them. There are a lot of them.

#51 hire a motivational spkr 2 talk to teachers, and help them find a way to feel like they have some control over edu situation in BC.

#52 buy emergency prep kits for all classrooms. Not saying buy granola bars and bottled water instead of seismic upgrades, but it's still important.

#53 invest in ways to make it safer to walk to school, in whatever form that would take as proscribed by members of the local community.

#54 Pay @Raffi_RC to put on a concert. For everyone. He was there for us.  

#55 laptops for every teacher with training to go with it. Regular, easy to follow pro-d for BC teachers, made by BC teachers.

#56 pay to build new schools where we have been promised new schools.

#57 restore school bus services to my district that now has none. And give the school bus drivers a raise. And ear plugs.

#58  don't send an auditor to VSB. Send an investigator to Mt Polley.  How are they doing after the dam breach?

#59 don't send an Auditor to VSB. Send one to BC Transit to look for efficiencies.  (Which I am not sure is a word. Inefficiencies, however is a word).

#60 don't send an auditor to VSB. Send one to private schools. We are giving them more money than ever so that should be part of the deal.

#61 send painters to create bold, empowering murals on the sides of our most underfunded schools.  

#62 give our artist kids paint and supplies to make these murals on their schools - pride in one's community

#63 have some guy from EA come to our schools and teach kids how to use code to make video games

#64 - Build an outdoor learning space at every school. With a place for a whiteboard.

#65 Have Chris Hadfield come visit every school. Astronaut and rock star. Has a moustache. What else to say?

#66 - teach about $100K year careers.

#67 have an expert determine how long we can get LNG out of the ground to sell. How much gas IS in the tank?

#68 pay for a team of experts to figure out what we should do when LNG runs out. We can't make more.

#69 have a martial arts master visit every elementary school. Not to teach to fight, but to learn humility and discipline.

#70 - school gardens by @namesescapeme

#71 Give a gps to every PE teacher and give them opportunity to take kids to the woods to learn how to get "un-lost"

#72 Send get well cards to teachers on Long Term Disability leave. Or compassionate leave. Or who are having a crappy day.

#73 Send a highly skilled Phys Ed teacher to one school that has a poor health and attendance record. Check for improv after 1 yr.

#74 Send a good songwriter kids like to one school to teach poetry for even for a day. Is @lights available?

#75 spend the money on figuring out how we can use "cloud" in schools. Big question,districts need to talk together

#76 Give a small whiteboard to every student.  I am not going to tell you what to do with it. Useful!

#77 Send each teacher a bottle of hand sanitizer, esp in schools where no sinks in class was a way to save $$$

#78 More ropes in gym class.  More really thick floor mats and crash pads too. Breed adventurous students.

#79 bring secondary school teachers together to discuss what they can do to support kids failing higher level classes

#80 use the money to create an event mid year to raise awareness around diseases like ALS and MS. No cure yet.

#81 - more pro-d for TTOC's so after years of waiting for a job, they can hit ground running.

#82 - Every teacher gets one more sick day. So many of my friends needed them this year.

#83  Give every teacher one half day a year to see one of their own kids perform in a concert/talent show

#84 Give every school just a little more student services time. How about .1? Anything?

#85 bring more bandwidth to one school in a remote part of BC.

#86 buy Arduino kits for tech ed classes everywhere. What the kids will make will astonish all.

#87 Buy raspberry pi kits for kids who have no internet capable devices at home. Put some in schools, and let kids administer them

#88 Buy Epic Movie Soundtrack songs and get the right to play it in gym classes.  Kids want to be superheroes, not sidekicks.

#89 Buy teachers t-shirts that have messages that say "You Can! Ask me How."

#90 Instead of sending an auditor  to VSB, why not use the auditor they already have. Isn't two auditors inefficient?

#91 replace every CRT monitor in the province  with modern LCD/LED monitor. Big savings on electricity over time.

#92 - pay for another IT guy to fix computers. Down time stinks, so does waiting.

#93 More youth workers in middle school. They head trouble off at the pass, and that means more time in class for kids.

#94 think about @BCG report on Canada's labor shortage. This is more important.

#95 send teachers reassuring messages that the Province supports them in effort to change #bced for the better

#96 Give teachers tons of free software. Free upgrades too.  Watch productivity explode.

#97 Give students tons of free software. Free upgrades too. Watch for innovation.

#98 Give teachers free workshops on how to write and publish books. We have untapped greatness in our hallways that must be spread.

#99 hire a team of filmmakers to create epic, awe inspiring videos to play in first 5 minutes of each staff meeting.

#100 make a gesture that shows BC Gov't loves, supports, and trusts public school teachers.  You entrust us with your kids each day.

Could there be more ways?  Feel free to include them in the comments below.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Rapping About the Brain

On Friday, my colleagues studied some brain based learning research and learned about MindUp, an approach to creating awareness in your thinking, and how the brain and emotions affect our learning. One of the tasks was to do a song or skit about a part of the brain. Our group was given the amygdala. This rap is based on the old school Run DMC song "My Adidas." Enjoy!

Me and My Amygdala, walking through the land
Keeping me safe from things unplanned
It's the center of my brain controlling, fight, flight or freeze
'Cause living in the world ain't no easy breeze
Can't clean up your mess just by sprayin' Febreeze

My Amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates
Keeps in check my emotional state
When I'm positive it feeds me thoughts and reasoning
Gives my imagination flavor and seasoning

But when I'm scared, I don't shut down
It turns off my judgment because it's time to throw down!
It protects me from threats, so I can survive
But I still have to manage it, if I want to thrive

ME and my Amygdala!

Mark with Less Effort - Let's Talk About it!

I have been thinking a lot about giving kids feedback versus grades lately. What makes for smarter kids?

I had some students choose their own questions from a list I provided so that they would think more deeply about their novels. Students read novels in groups, and then used these questions to have discussions. The students then proceeded to write answers in their OneNote notebooks that I provided them with the OneNote notebook Class Creator.

 Two-thirds of my students... have a personal device, be it a parent's old laptop, a small android tablet, or an iPad. The rest use the class computer, or do the assignment on paper in point form, and enter it online when they go home where they have a computer.

I can access all the student notebooks from within my OneNote notebook, and when I use the desktop app, I can record my voice into their notebooks using the "Insert Recording" button and my laptop mic! This means I can leave them a personal message with lots of specific details on how to improve their writing. I can give far more feedback this way, than I would when I write it out. Also, I have learned through my research that student listening comprehension is higher than reading comprehension as high as age 13. Seeing that I teach students from ages 11-13, this is an important consideration.

I don't tell them their mark in the recording, but keep their mark in my mark book. when the student wants to know the mark, they have to approach me, and tell me the feedback I gave them in order to know their mark. I have learned that kids only pay close attention to the written feedback if they are negatively surprised by the mark they receive. Often students need to go back and listen again to my feedback, and this has improved their reading and writing skills.

If students are using OneNote online, they need to right-click on the audio file, download, and then playback the comment.

 If they are opening their OneNote notebook in a desktop program or app, they should be able to play it back by clicking on the play button to the left of the recording.

My students have told me they like having personal messages recorded into their homework, and it allows me to provide better feedback, closer to the time the student finishes their work. It saves me time, a lot of effort, and I don't carry papers home with me to mark. Try it yourself!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Next Great Equalizer

The HP stream is my new favorite device.  HP Stream 11-d077nr Signature Edition Laptop


Wait? Whaaaat?

Nope, ya heard me.  Straight up love this little laptop.  It is not the fastest, nor is it the most feature rich.  I love it because it is a great equalizer. 





No, not THAT kind of Equalizer!




I did a side by side comparison with a Chromebook.  A really well made Chromebook.  Both were affordable devices.  Both offered all day battery life.  Both have access to a variety of apps that students will find useful.  Both devices would offer students today a leg up in their education with proper application.  But, I choose the HP Stream hands down, if given the choice.

It runs full on Windows.

Yes you can download and install apps, but for most students, the key productivity apps are found in MS Office.  I can download and install most legacy programs.

It has only a 32 Gb SSD, but this means it is possible to save files to the machine, upload it to a website like my SharePoint classroom, or to your choice of cloud services.

With a full operating system, I can use both installed programs and web based programs.  The Stream can do what the Chromebook can do, and more. 

I can also install Bluestacks which is an android app player for Windows.  This allows me to run android apps on the Stream.  I tested out Angry birds through Bluestacks, and it worked great.


I have been piloting Office 365 with my class.  Students have been making PowerPoint presentations, and the Stream 11 allows them to open the web app with the full featured installed program.  This means they can take advantage of more features than the web app has, and it runs faster as the work is being performed on the local machine.

I couldn’t install Minecraft, as despite it’s simple looking graphics, it is a “hefty” game.  But Kodu and Sketchup ran well on this device.  I have not tested it extensively, across multiple users and with large and complex projects, but for student use I think it will be great. 

I had a number of kids play games on it, with my 9 year old son being one of the chief testers.  He found that games on Miniclip, like Tanki were a bit slow at first, but rapidly caught up (starting at 20 frames-per-second, but quickly moving up to 50 frames-per-second).  My_TankiGames are a very good way to measure the performance of a machine, and if I am realistic, my students want a machine for work and play.  All testers said it wasn’t quite as high performing as their i3 or i5 machines, but it was good enough to be enjoyable.


Also, when it comes to adding pictures, the Stream 11 allows you to save pictures on the local machine or on OneDrive (which is browsable in Windows 7 and 8).  With the Chromebook, my students were able to work in Office 365, but had to save pictures in Google Drive. 


It works like the desktops and laptops we distribute in schools.  This means a shorter learning curve, and that the licenses a district has purchased will be usable on these devices. 

It means better integration. You can hit print if you like.  It also means my students will be familiar with world class productivity software.  I can connect it to our local server drives.

Final thoughts

It costs $250, it can be put in the hands of my students for less than the price of a Chromebook.  If you buy it from “the Microsoft stores, you can get good deals on shipping and most importantly, you can get “Signature” editions of laptops.  This rather innocuous title means no “value-added trial software”, otherwise known as “bloatware” or “crapware.” 

Big box stores will sell you laptops at the same price, but with this bloatware installed, which makes them money. Some even offer a service to “clean up that new laptop” before you take it home.  Should a new laptop need to be cleaned?

I ran it through some pretty demanding critics, my students and my children.  They all agree it doesn’t replace a more powerful desktop, but for day to day use they all agree, it’s a great bargain.


UPDATE: There was a sale.  My friend got one on December 22rd from the Microsoft Store for $179. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Getting to Know Office 365 with my Students

This week I signed up my students on Office 365 as part of a district initiative. I sent home a draft waiver provided for me by the district IS department. 


Office365 landing page

On the first day, I got 22 of 29 responses back, all with a “yes” answer. 

Once I had all the waivers back I created accounts for my students one at a time.  There is the option to bulk upload names of kids all at once in a CSV file, but I chose to do it one at a time so that I could assign the students’ password.  I followed a naming scheme for login ID’s designated by the district, and create a set of passwords for my class that each student would find easy to remember.  Office 365 wants an 8-16 digit password with capitals, letters and numbers.

Unfortunately, even though I assigned the password (as opposed to letting my students choose one), I left the box ticked that told them to change their password after first login.  Because we did this as a class at the same time, I instructed them how to change their password so they could easily remember it.

I asked my four students that have their own laptops (2 have laptops purchased by their parents, two with old laptops from their parents’ businesses), and showed them how to login first during our silent reading.  They logged in, with no trouble. They then distributed a set of Chromebooks on loan from CUEBC (really awesome initiative) to students who didn’t have a device.
Some kids who were watching and waiting, jumped in and logged in on the own.  Kids who could login themselves easily helped kids who were having difficulties, or who didn’t remember where to click.  To make it easy, I put a link on my teacher website.

Our first adventure related to our Math class (which is what we would normally be doing at this time).  Each student open an excel spreadsheet.
I then gave every student $1,000,000.  Using only Black Friday or Cyber Monday flyers they found online,

Using a simple formula, kids added the 12% sales tax to the sticker price of their purchase, and kept a running total as they shopped.

The rules were simple:
1.) Shop only using online flyers
2.) Always factor in the taxes
3.) Keep a running total
4.) At the end of 20 minutes, MR GILL KEEPS WHAT YOU DON’T SPEND.
Students worked independently, or formed ad hoc collaborations.  In a frantic shopping frenzy akin to the real Black Friday sales, kids feverishly scoured the flyers for deals, deals, deals.  Students bought gaming computers, tablets, and leather purses.  This was not making enough of dent in their budget, so they started buying higher end items, like watches and jewelry.  One student found a 4.5 meter tall replica of a the Transformer, Bumblebee. 
I have no idea where he found it.
When they read out numbers, I discovered they were not fluent in reading numbers above 9,999.  This needs to be revisited.   I also found that they were talking about math, and trying to estimate and strategize when they were shopping. 


Overall, we had students on Chromebooks, iPads, Android tablets, and laptops working on Office 365, and it performed well.  I noticed a little lag when Excel was performing a calculation, as did my students.  In some cases it could have been as a result of using lower powered tablet devices.  Or, it could have been our network speed at the time.  I don’t think I can attribute this to Office 365, but more testing over time will tell. 
Also we learned that you don’t have to hit save in the web app.  You can give your spreadsheet a name by using “Save As”, or by just typing it right over the word document.
Students are able to open Office365 documents using apps installed on their local devices, but then they may need to save their work as they go.  But at least it is saved in an accessible location, and needs only a browser to get to their “stuff”. 
Up next: tear-free grammar lessons, and editing dialogue with ease.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mobile in the Classroom: Office Lens

Who uses this handy survival tool? image What does Office Lens do? Something vastly better than taking a picture of a piece of paper.  It takes a picture of a document: image(Actual angle of document in picture) And then it justifies the angle, corrects the color, and makes cropping the picture easy. image It then sends it to my OneNote in the cloud!  (Adds to my Quick Notes section of my Personal Notebook)  On average it takes about a minute, possibly two with slower bandwidth to appear in my Notebook, while I am working in it.   What could be easier?  Putting resources in OneNote means I can then mark it up, write directly on the page, save it as a PDF, and then put it where my students can access it.  Also, OneNote can read the text in photos, so I can extract the text to edit it if I would like! I have been using multiple math sources to cobble together a combined Grade 6&7 curriculum.  With OfficeLens and my Surface Pro 3 and stylus, I can shoot different pages from multiple sources into my One Note.  I can then mark up the page of notes, and post them to my SharePoint at the end of each lesson. One ambitious student checked the notes when he was away from class, and was ready to make up his work when he came back to class.  This saved both of us a lot of time and effort. At conferences or meetings you can capture slides and whiteboard drawings while people are presenting.  Just keep writing notes, and the pictures you take in OfficeLens appear after a bit for you to put in place.  I use it for my daughter who benefits from using technology, and finds working with paper challenging. Other students  in my class that have adaptations for learning disabilities also benefit from using digital copy, and OfficeLens allows me to go from paper to OneNote – where kids can choose how they want to mark up their work.  I just send them the page from my notebook to theirs. Although OfficeLens is available for Windows phone and now iOS, I cannot find it in the app store for my friends with iPhones.  Perhaps this is available only in the US?  Regardless, keep an eye out for this app, as it is a time saver and a game changer!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Own “Hole in the Wall”


Sugata Mitra is one of my favorite educational researchers and presenters.  I was intrigued by this thought:

There will always be places in the world where good schools don't exist and good teachers don't want to go, not just in the developing world but in places of socioeconomic hardship.

His 2010 TED talk does a pretty good job of explaining his “Hole in the Wall” experiment on children self-organizing and learning, with the aid of a computer, and no adult intervention.  I strongly recommend his thought provoking and highly entertaining TED talk.

Pretty cool stuff.

Some members of CUEBC, the Computer Using Educators of BC, a provincial specialist association here in my home province, would like to revive the “hour of code” or other approaches  to get the average student interested, or at least aware of, computer programming.  This gave me an idea. 

One of my learnings having played with this Surface Pro 3 is with Kodu.  Kodu is a free program that introduces kids to the idea of computer programming by creating a video game with simple instructions and a Minecraft like environment. 

What if I combined the two ideas? 

I propose to put a Microsoft Surface tablet (probably a Surface Pro 3) on the wall of an elementary school hallway, about three and a half feet off the ground.  It would be encased around the perimeter in Plexiglas, secured to the wall, and powered.  I further propose that it be set to wake up when you hit the windows button on the tablet, and then it would be configured as to show Kodu.  Perhaps it would also have a few other apps too, but they would be quite limited in selection. Other than explaining that there is a tablet in the hallway, and that it is very nice, and can be used to make video games, I would then offer no adult intervention or help.   I wonder if kids when they go by the tablet would:

a) play with it

b) figure out how to edit Kodu

c) gather in numbers around the screen

d) talk about what they are learning

e) create something new

What could go wrong.  Someone could damage the tablet.  Someone could attempt to steal the tablet.  But, if reasonable precautions are taken, I bet the kids would find it an interesting experience, and would treat the tablet well.   Perhaps the tablet would be behind Plexiglas, but a Surface Touch keyboard would be open to the kids (touchable, but not removable).  They are quite durable! 

surface touch keyboard

This would further mitigate risk to the tablet.

I believe we need teachers, but I also believe that kids are able to self-organize and learn in the right situations, and think that Kodu would be perfect for this.  Imagine getting elementary aged children interested in computer programming because they like challenge, and enables them to make a world how THEY envision it.  One where they are in the driver seat. 

Isn’t that why people code in the first place?