Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thank Goodness the Market Crashed

These were the words out of the furnace repairman's mouth that really startled me! Why would a stock market downturn be good news for anyone?

Our repairman has worked in the field of heating and cooling systems for many years now; over 20 years. When I asked him how the trades industry (specifically his field) was doing today, his response was that the graduates of technical schools today do not have sufficient training to do the job at his level under pressure, but are demanding high wages and getting them because the trades industry has not been able to find enough skilled workers. Getting a job is easy, but keeping it when you don't have skills or the drive to learn more than what you learned in school makes it hard to keep a job. You become someone's short term solution.

Check out the resume. A worker who wants to be paid first, learn later has worked a huge number of job sites in a short period of time.

Why did you leave this last job?
Things didn't work out.
What about the employer before that?
Uhh...the boss was a jerk.

They don't seem to notice a pattern, or are unwilling to do anything about it.

Now with the downturn in hiring thanks to the stock market crash, Dave figures that this will help weed out the less skilled workers, and there will be more unemployment. This will enable him to hire the more skilled, more experienced workers.

Have realistic expectations with respect to wage for your level of experience. If you don't know something, ask. Be relentless until you solve your problem. Employers hire, fight to retain, and head hunt for employees like this. And employees who show passion for their job enjoy their job more.

The other guys try to cruise through their jobs, crossing their fingers that the market won't crash again.

How am I supposed to know what I need to know?

Yesterday my students and I were using sketchup. This is a free 3d architecture program that I really enjoy. But, we ran into a problem. We thought we knew how to do something with the program (for those of you who know sketchup we were trying to create "groups" and "components", but it doesn't really matter what we were having problems with). I had taught the basics of sketchup using video tutorials from the Sketchup YouTube Channel.

I knew the answer was in this one video tutorial that I embedded in our classroom website. I told three students at the end of the period to review this video (approximately 7 minutes long). I reviewed the video myself and found out what I was doing wrong. When I asked my three students the next day who reviewed the video to solve their problem, here is what I found. None of the students had reviewed the video. Only 1 student went home and did some experimentation to see if he could solve the problem, but didn't review.

This tells me either:

A) My students are used to being told to find answers but have realized that if they wait someone will find the answers for them and tell them.

B) They don't understand review is an active process where you seek out what you need to know because you don't know it yet! They view review as a passive process, like waiting in line at the grocery store.

Either way, this is not good. 21st Century learners have to figure out what they don't know yet, and how to go and find the knowledge they need.

I reviewed and I learned. I have to teach them to figure out what they need to learn. I have to teach them to review. That is the real lesson I am teaching.

Drives me nuts that people think I am teaching "computers."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Korea is Only a Click Away

A student of mine is in Korea right now. We are exchanging e-mails. She has gone to our classroom website, watched the screencast of today's lesson, and is downloading the freeware software application so she can work on her assignment (Pivot - the stick figure animation project) in Korea. I just marked some of her work in my secure "hand in box" at my website, and now she is checking her marks.

It boggles the mind! It is not hard at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Kick a Ginger Day

Who thought this was a good idea?!?! Someone started a facebook group ""National Kick a Ginger Day, are you going to do it?" got about 5000 members for the purposes of coordinating attacks on red haired kids on Friday, Nov. 20th. This is based on a South Park episode. Let me just say this:

I have seen this episode. I watch South Park. I also have (had, actually) a Facebook page. So who is to blame? South Park or Facebook?

Neither. It's the kids that kicked another kid in the hall because they thought they had strength in numbers on their side.

Watching South Park doesn't make me want to kick people with red hair, any more than it makes me believe that if I can't find a pair of my boxer shorts it is because gnomes that have taken them.

Reading something on the Internet, even if its on Facebook (insert sound of sarcasm dripping from my voice) does not make me immediately believe it to be true. Or even a good idea.

It's the kids who depend on others for thinking, decision making, and moral judgments that are to blame. The kids that hurt people if they think there's a chance they can get away with it. Hold them accountable. Let them know that they are mindless sheep who hurt people for fun. Let them know that the kid they kicked will never forget that they did that. Ever. Then find a suitable consequence and levy it without second thought. Like deleting their Facebook account. Seems a bit harsh? Consider this - if I as an adult went up to another adult and kicked them, I could be arrested for assault.

Kids who are so easily swayed by things on Facebook should not have access to it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

EA - Electronic Arts and Careers for Kids

I just had the most interesting conversation with a guy who make games for a living. Computer games. He was a programmer who helped create the FIFA series of video games. He recently left EA, and I asked him why leave Electronic Arts? They are among the biggest and best in game design. They make NHL, NFL and FIFA video games just to name a few of their big titles. He replied "to start a new company."

I asked him what advice he would give to younger kids looking to get into game design. While he didn't specify any particular school subject, he said math was a strength of his, and there is lots of math in programming.

What he emphasized was that kids who want to make games should take some programming courses, and then complete a project. It doesn't have to be fancy. They have to start something and take it to completion; The ability to finish what you started.

Also he said you need to have communication skills. These games are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and the team for FIFA had about 150 people working on it. Communication skills and teamwork are key.

Finally when I asked how he felt about the future of programming and he thought it was really good. Games are semi-recession proof. They provide a lot of entertainment for only a little money, and people are always buying games.

Food for thought.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reason number Umpty-Billion to Twitter

If you haven't heard about it, Twitter is a great web application where people write very short posts for the world to see. What do people write about? Rather than tell you, I'd rather show you:

I keep in touch with other teacher twitter-ers. My twitter name is jagill. The ideas other teachers post are like springboards for my own thinking. And now very smart companies are twittering.

Lately I have been blogging and tweeting (making posts on twitter) about Jing, the screencasting software. Today, someone from Jing started following my posts. This also happened with Voicethread (the great online presentation tool). So this time I turned around and started following the person from Jing so I could send him a direct message on twitter. In only a few minutes (5 or less) I got two well worded responses that solved my problem.

Thanks TechSmith (the company that made Jing). Thanks Dave McCollom. You have made it that much easier for me to teach using tools that save me time and effort, and help me reach more students.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Librarian Takes Leap of Faith

My librarian has an exhausting job. We are the biggest middle school in the province, and Karen Ferguson has a lot of kids coming through her doors each day. Each week she is teaching entire classes new skills, such as research skills, reading skills and writing skills. She is tireless.

However this is not to say she doesn't get tired. Having to teach the same lesson over and over again has a cost. But, then I realized she could save herself time and effort by using Jing.

As I mentioned in previous posts, Jing is free software you can use to make a narrated video (if you have a microphone) showing how to do something on a computer. It records your mouse, and everything you click on and show on your screen. Karen had been teaching lessons using a computer and LCD projector. So I suggested she "Jing It".

Today she spent 30 minutes playing with Jing, getting a little frustrated, but then finding great success, and she created her first Jing video on how to use the library online catalog. As she was recording it, a teacher asked her if he could bring his class in next block. She said ok, finished her recording, put a link to it on her library website, and voila! Now she can show the video she made, and walk around monitoring kids learning while the video plays. It saves her time, and saves effort.

I applaud Karen's adventurous spirit, because she could have given up in the first few minutes, but she didn't. I hope that this small investment in time has a big payoff for her in the months and years ahead.

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Librarian Takes Leap of Faith by James Gill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
Based on a work at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Marketing and Education

Marketing works by telling a story. I was watching Seth Godin speak to Google employees (probably their marketing team) and he said that unless you are selling them (consumers) food or shelter, what makes a person buy something is the story. Man I thought education was as important as food or shelter. And it is. But maybe my "clientele" don't think so.

So, what is the key to delivering good education? Maybe it's the story behind why kids need to learn "XYZ" (whatever you are teaching). If you can find the story, and if you can deliver the story with feeling, and if the student can see themselves in the leading role in this story, then they will commit themselves fully to learning.

Anyone who believes they are "too old to pretend" should analyze why they bought and continue to buy a favourite brand of cologne or perfume. Or jeans. Or swear by a car manufacturer. Or a brand of cat food - I mean come on, cats don't buy the food - you do! We all are buying the story.

On Wednesday, and on every day that follows I will tell a story where I get my students to picture themselves using kind of thinking and skills I am teaching. The story will have characters, a plot, themselves as the hero, and they triumph because they have learned how to ...(you fill in the blank here). And I have to deliver it all in about 2 minutes or I will lose my audience.

Maybe being a vivid storyteller able to deliver a story in a short amount of time will define what makes an impactful teacher in the future. Maybe it always has.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Jing is worth 15 minutes

Today I saved myself about 15 minutes. Rather than write out in detail a computer lesson (which may or may not be understood), switched on my microphone and did a screencast with Jing.

For those who don't know, a screencast is a recording of your screen and your mouse's movement on the screen. It also records your narration.

Wait, wait, there I go again. Click me.

There. That's one use I have for Jing. I have another... I began working with a team of teachers from another school who have formed a "Technology Learning Team". I will be the facilitator, which means I will help keep the conversation between them going and focused. I will help them set goals, and reflect on their progress. I also suggest ideas from time to time.

One of the ideas I had involved using Jing on their tablets. They use tablet computers to demonstrate math concepts. Tablets are so cool - laptops you can draw on! I thought that perhaps they could make a screencast of their lesson on their tablets, and then they could post it to their classroom website.

We can't always send textbooks home with our students in elementary school. What if they get lost? Parents often complain that they don't know how to do "new math", but with a screencast to demonstrate math techniques on the classroom website, they can support their children at home if they have trouble with homework.

Teachers are already teaching the lesson from the tablet. Jing is free to use. Let's put the two together and make "lessons to go", or save some lessons from year to year. Save time. Save money.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Working on the Teenage Clock

Some of my kids work strange times and hours. Just like me! I have been using a new hand-in "bin" on my virtual classroom. It is set up so that students can submit their homework via attachment to a folder, providing me with a self assessment. I comment back, and check it off. With each checked off assignment it is moved to the "done" folder and kids read the feedback. It has made my workload with marking so much more manageable, with no cluttersome papers. But, I wish I didn't get all the assignments at the same time.

So perhaps I should let the kids work and turn in work at their own pace. This would mean I wouldn't get 120 assignments in at the same time. This makes me think of some more advantages too...

I could show the kids the whole curriculum, and tell them when the term ends. Then, I tell them to get to work, and be there to provide support.

What about more self-paced learning. To prevent speedy workers from doing poor work, I need to:

1. Provide samples of different qualities of work (just in my first term of the job, so second, third and fourth term will get the benefits of the examples I get from the first term)

2. Provide a minimal amount of acceptable work to shoot for, and tie the quality and quantity of assignments done to grades in a really easy to follow formula (2 required assignments and 1 extension for every section).

3. Create screencasts of my lessons with something like Jing. This allows students to learn at their own pace.

4. Identify the weak students, or students who cannot keep themselves on pace. Teach them to set their own goals and monitor their own progress.

How can I do this? Perhaps I need to set a goal of one screen cast a day for the next two weeks. That will take me to the end of term 1, and get me ready for term 1.

I have never done a self-paced program before, so let's see what happens.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My VoiceThread Presentation

Welcome to my Voicethread Presentaion for CUEBC 2008! In this presentation I will:

1.) Show "What is a voicethread?"

2.) Show a sample voicethread I have created

3.) Demonstrate how it can be used in an elementary classroom (who doesn't love the little yellow drum machine).

4.) Demonstrate how I am currently using VoiceThread at my middle school, with a k-12 teacher package that costs $60.

4.) Offer a great resource for teachers to learn about voicethread

5.) Share my future proposal for VoiceThread's use in Aboriginal Education Programs.

I hope you like my presentation, and please feel free to leave me a comment on my blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Utterly Useless Feedback

There is a site on the Internet that allows you to "rate" your teacher anonymously. I am happy that I have gotten a good rating from my old school (3 votes - all good news), but really how much does this help people? Rate Your Teacher has a system of flagging comments for inappropriate or un-helpful content, but it leaves some or all flagged comments up for others to read.

If a student has feedback, I would be more than willing to listen. I would be happy to listen, and would respect their point of view, ask them to provide examples or evidence and show them consideration.

Anonymous postings attract students that are fans, and students that don't like the teacher. Its nice to feel liked and popular, but sometimes teachers have to do what is right, and not what is popular. If they are acting like professionals, but have had to discipline a student or give work the grade it deserves (a bitter pill for some to swallow I am sure), should they be berated publicly by nameless, faceless, immature individuals?

I liken this kind of anonymous posting to grafiti on bathroom walls.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Aboriginal Education and VoiceThread 2

I just had the best meeting! How often do you hear a teacher say that? I met with the head of Aboriginal Education for our district, and she thought that there is definitely potential for students in the Aboriginal program to "show what they know" using VoiceThread. I first thought about this idea in January. I think Voicethread would be a great tool for the students in this program for a number of reasons:

1.) According to the head of Aboriginal Ed. for the Coquitlam School district, approx. 25% of the students have some sort of special need designation, with many needing help with Literacy. With VoiceThread, students can create content with digital cameras, scans of their work, and a microphone. Individual accounts are free, so this does not create a financial burden on school programs.

2.) Students in the Aboriginal program can interact with other students in the Aboriginal program by inviting them. But, it doesn't have to stop there. What if a student could get feedback on their school projects from Elders from their nation? From other nations? From other educators? Culturally and educationally, this could be very valuable.

The next step is to work with the Aboriginal teacher assigned to my school and see if there are some ways we can use VoiceThread for some of the academic projects she has planned for her students.  I am very excited!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Mistake of Waiting

I feel a great deal of pressure to master a program before I teach it. Why? Traditionally the teacher is the master of the curriculum, and has well crafted lesson plans that have stood the test of time. My biology teacher from high school had a lesson book that he had his daily lessons handwritten in, and he followed them year after year.

But as computer teachers, we don't have a textbook, or a curriculum, and the landscape of applications and how people use them changes daily. So how do we master our craft before teaching it to the kids?

I think I will just start teaching Sketchup in just over a week and a half. I don't have more than a beginner's skill level with it, but I know why I want to teach it. It teaches, math, art, and critical thinking. And so we shall start. My criteria will be simple. I will tell the kids how I know this is great application for them to learn. I will then tell them I haven't mastered it, and my lesson plans are kind of loosey goosey at this point.

Here is what they will do:

Meeting Expectations: Follow and reproduce the simple lessons from the Google Sketchup Channel on Youtube.

Fully Meeting Expectaions: Create the world's best doghouse, and put it somewhere nice on earth.

Exceeds Expectations: Re-design the classroom. In another video on youtube, Rip Van Winkle wakes after 100 years. He is out of place in the modern workplace, hospitals have advanced beyond his recognition, but he feels at home in schools because nothing much has changed there. So, lets get the kids together, and tell us how class should look so that they would best learn.

If they can prove they know more than I do about the program, good. If they can do something with it, build something with it, that's great.

It's ok not to be able to know all the buttons and switches. Its ok as the teacher to be shown by a student that you don't know it all.

You don't need to know it all to start a good idea. You just need to know why its a good idea. You can figure out the rest as you go.

Leap, and the net shall appear.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Excitement Over Something We Already Have

Yesterday I had plans to do a power point presentation on using SharePoint websites for virtual classrooms. During the first workshop on Learning Disabled Students one of our staff members talked about how some students have written output problems. I mentioned that MS Word 2003 has built in voice recognition software. That means you talk, and MS Word types, (after you train the computer first). They were astounded, as no one had heard this feature existed in MS Word. It is not as good as some of the third party software titles out there that do speech to text better, but it is something we already have on our computers. No added cost; no waiting for installation or implementation. Some of the student services people thought that this was something they will implement immediately.

How can we get the word out about these features on commonly used pieces of software that will help our students? I will do my part, and blog it!

I think my next pro-d will be about professional reading. If all the teachers in my staff subscribed to one blog each on the topic of their field of education, we would be the most up-to-date middle school in the Province. Plus, by subscribing to blogs, we would be learning in small, easy to digest bites. Middle school practice is designed for people to share out information, and so one good idea can get spread through a team and then a whole staff very quickly.

We shouldn't stop reading books. We should just start reading blogs.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Remembering Terry Fox

Terry Fox is from my home town. I went to the same junior high school that he went to. I had one of his teachers as my principal. I went to the high school named after him.

In 1977 Terry Fox lost his leg to cancer. He decided to run across Canada to raise money and awareness about cancer. He planned to run a marathon a day (Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world) from East to West. On one leg. He wanted to raise 1 dollar for every Canadian. In 1980 that was 24 million dollars. He didn't make it all the way across Canada as cancer once again reared its ugly head. This time it had spread to his lungs.

He died in June of 1981. Every September since 1981, all across Canada and all around the world, people run in his memory. Tomorrow is the Port Coquitlam Terry Fox run. Our schools will be running later this month, all across Canada. To date his run has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research.

Help tell the story about Terry Fox.

Triumph of the Common Man

I love the "diamond in the rough." I love the story of Forrest Gump. The olympics was great to watch, but to compete at the olympics, you must be born with gifts AND you must work hard to attain excellence. I love the underdog who was not given the gifts at birth, but through grit and determination, from the sweat of their brows and the strength of their backs, a common man achieves excellence.

I love the story of Paul Potts

I love the story of Andrew Johnson:

When Simon asked him how what he will do about being bullied. Andrew simply grins and shrugs and says "carry on singing."

Courage never comes first. This is what I want all my middle school students to know. Find the thing that makes your heart spark, pursue it relentlessly, and when you come to your first fork in the road, where you can truly shine or fall flat, you seldom get to feel courageous at the outset. Act courageous, and courage comes afterwards.

We can use the internet to bring the courageous and the exceptional into our classrooms. We can inspire our students to treat lessons and assignments as stepping stones to greatness.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Getting Away with It - NOT!

I ran across a former summer school student from this past summer's remedial science course. She was a challenge, as she was often interrupting class with her talkative nature. She is not mean, not spiteful, and usually turned her work in. She asked me if I knew that she was sometimes texting in class? I did. I told her she wasn't the only one texting either. But, I told her I knew she was never texting during a test, and that she never cheated on an assignment. She also asked if I ever noticed that she sometimes ate chips in class. I said that the litter under her chair was a dead give away. Boy, did she go red in the face. I also told her that I knew she started dating one of the boys towards the end of classes. She went even redder!

She told me that she thought I was a good teacher, and that I was nicer to her than some of her previous teachers. I asked her if I had to be tougher on kids, and that if I had been tougher on her would she have perfomed better. She said no, and that she would have done less work for me. She has always been honest with me, so I find no reason to doubt her now.

I guess with a tough crowd, you pick your battles. She was producing, and she was passing. Maybe next year I won't let students text each other, but it doesn't seem much different than kids whispering quietly to each other, and it disrupts people less than note passing. Also 90 minutes is a long class time to go without a break, especially for early morning classes where many students skip breakfast. Maybe we need to find a place where the kids can eat and work at the mid point outside the science lab for safety sake.

But, maybe the best lesson was that she learned that teachers see more than they let on. Perhaps we ought to periodically let our students know that sometimes we don't sweat the small stuff, but that they aren't really getting away with anything.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Problems with Feedburner

To all the people who subscribe to me using feedburner: I am having some problems with my feed, and I can't seem to troubleshoot it. New subscribers can't subscribe using the feedburner icon, so I am yanking it. I am not sure what this will do if you subscribe this way, but blogger has its own subscribe icon on my site. If you have difficulties, would you please re-subscribe by using the icon at the bottom of the page. I really apologize for the inconvenience. Soooo, here goes. If you lose your subscription, and you can't re-subscribe, email me at:

and let me know. Let's hope this works!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No Lukewarm Sentiments, or Watered Down Wishes

NASA had the best mission statement ever back in the days of lunar landings. To put a man onthe moon, and bring him back again, safely. This is something I can wrap my head around. It is something people remember. I bet if you walked into most schools, most of the teachers and perhaps even some administrators don't know their own mission statement. That's because everyone gets to put something into it, and make it something for everyone. I believe in democracy, but I also believe in a unifying vision, one where all the team members have to get behind in order to make it work.

So I made my own mission statement:

My goal is to equip students with the skills needed to be globally competitive.

Self-actualization is important. A sense of balance in your life is important. Being a good community memeber is important. Healthy living is important.

If I put it all in, the message gets watered down. So I am focussing on my mission.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Helping the Remedial Student

This post is more of a note-to-self than anything else. Here are some things that worked for me when teaching Science 9 Remediation:

1.) Many small assignments is a good idea - Students will blow off some assignments in a remedial course. Especially in the summer. Making them do many small assignments better ensures they will turn in more, providing them with a better chance to pass.

2.) Marking on effort - I am telling students that a few assignments will be given my highest grade, (Meeting Expectations) for having all questions complete (even if they are wrong) and also turning it in on time. Students in the remedial course often got there by not completing and turning in homework. This rewards them for correcting a bad habit. Plus, they never know which assignment will be accepted in this manner.

3.) Saving review sessions for the end of class - Some kids want to stop working in the last 10 minutes of class, and just "do it later." This "do it later" attitude is what hurt their grades in the first place. I want them to work to the ends of class, so that develop a good work ethic and do not feel overwhelmed with homework.

4.) Clockwatching - Some of my students start to take it easy with 10 minutes to go. I usually say to the class that if many of them have their books closed, we should review the section on ______ by doing problems on the board that will be turned in for marks on completion and effort. This takes little or no prep time, and little marking time on my part, and teaches them to work to the end of the period.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

You Can Lead a Horse to Water

But you can't make them drink. Here's another rhyme: You can read a kid a book, but you can't make them think.

Yes, you can. Of course you can. I have been working now for nearly a month with some remedial students for Grade 9 science. This is a trait I have noticed among many of the students. When I ask this a student a question, they reflexively answer as quickly as they can. They also answer questions in this way in writing. Often they answer incorrectly, sometimes using information related to my question. When asked a question in a class discussion, many of them answer "I don't know," and even when I coach them on how to think about the question, or where to look in their books to answer the question, they hold the line at "I don't know" and look frustrated and angry that I would persist in getting them to find an answer.

I have been looking for reasons for students answering as fast as they can without thinking, or refusing to think about a question. Here are some of my thoughts:

Speed = Smart

We as a culture believe and promote the idea that a smart person is able to answer questions not just accurately, but faster than other people. Game shows are based on it, and it is taught in schools. We as teachers call on the students that raise their hands first. We as teachers answer questions when students don't answer or raise their hands after only a few seconds. I am guilty of this too! A First Nations teacher taught me that during meetings of important people of a clan or nation, people who spoke quickly to be the first to suggest an answer were not looked upon favourably as they obviously didn't put a lot of thought into it.


We as a culture reward right answers over effort. This makes some students afraid to try for fear of getting it wrong.

The Easy Way Out

Our education system is set up so that students can't fail until high school. Therefore, if a student doesn't know an answer, by not answering it and refusing to attempt to answer, they are rewarded by being told the answer, and we move on. Isn't that like continuing to pay someone for a job they aren't doing, but giving them stern looks that they better do their job next week or else we will continue to pay them?

Don't get me wrong. I don't want my students to fail. I want them all to know the answers to science and math problems. I don't want to make things impossibly hard for them. Sometimes students don't know the answer.

So how can I equip them with the skills an attitudes that will help them find the answers, or at least be more successful searchers?

How I plan to make kids think:

Not taking hands up in class - asking and expecting everyone to perform when I call on them.

Not accepting a reflexive "I don't know" - but instead ask them what kind of help they want to search for the question. Maybe like a gameshow we can offer "lifelines" such as 1 ask a friend, 1 peek at the book, and 1 change the question.

Wait time - making the kids wait and think before answering. Also as the teacher I could wait more. This year I had a student who when given 60 seconds, got the right answer 8 of 10 times (actual numbers). You try waiting 60 seconds; the class starts to feel uncomfortable too. Let's change that.

Making the kids talk about it - And let's reward those who do talk with their peers about the topic and stay on topic. Let's reward them with marks.

I don't have all the answers, but I want to try these ideas. If there is anyone out there who has tried these ideas, write me. If you have something else to contribute, write me. Let's start picturing what change in our practice actually looks like, so we don't forget it in the heat of the lesson.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Newer Web and Older Computers

I am getting a laptop! As part of my job, I am going to be helping manage a number of SharePoint websites. The public face of our school on the Internet, the secure staff-only sites, the virtual classrooms that teachers may need help starting - all of it is based on SharePoint sites.

When was told I was getting a laptop to use to help me do my job I was thrilled. I didn't know anything about this particular make and model, so I asked some of the people who work with computers and laptops for a living. They told me that the hardware while very good at the time was a little older, and I should invest my own money to get a recent model. I disagree.

1.) I don't want to spend the money

2.) Newer laptops have to be downgraded to XP from Windows Vista. My school and my district has not made the move to vista on any sort of a large scale.

3.)I think there is a possibility for the increase in web 2.0 use in schools to save schools money by enabling them to use older hardware longer.

By doing more of our work online, using web creating tools like SharePoint, there is less of a demand on our machines. I just have to keep my web browser up to date, and web browsers are free.

Some programs like those that work with graphics and video editing demand more memory. Why not use older programs, and save files at lower resolution? Many of the graphic editing tools that do basic graphic functions are found in older programs. Kids can learn the basics on software that is a little older, and that knowledge is still relevant when they use new versions of the same software.

I just think it's ironic that the evolution of web 2.0 may make it possible for some schools (or people like me) to use older hardware, longer. Time will tell.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Swimming in a bigger pond

Starting September, I will be teaching computers to middle school students full time! I will become a "Maverick", as in a Moody Middle School Mavericks, in Port Moody. This is a great opportunity for me, as I have been wanting to teach computers full time for more than a year now.

One of the challenges I now face is figuring out what to teach, how much of each thing to teach, how to get input from my classroom teachers, and how to turn that input into results. I began blogging on the 9 week middle school course in December, but now I have to try to create some kind of cohesive plan. Here are some mind maps I have constructed.

If anyone cares to comment, or wishes to give me advice or suggestions on lessons for middle school computer students, I would love to hear about them.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Apathy of Youth / The Economy of Youth

The currency of youth is time.

Currently I am teaching summer school. For the first time I am teaching remedial science 9. The students who are taking this course (two 1.5 hr classes full) are students who had finished the year in June with between 40 - 49%. My mandate - to teach a year's worth of Science 9 in 30 hours (1.5 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks) and to cover as much of the breath of the curriculum as possible. It took me about 16 hours of prepping and planning the course before it even began. I have to give special thanks to my dad, retired science teacher, for helping me navigate the new curriculum and textbook, breaking it into manageable chunks.

I have never taught a remediation course before. It has been an eye opener. When I polled the students, the majority of them responded that they failed because they either:

1.) Didn't attend classes

2.) Didn't do homework

What has been most surprising is the homework. I work at breakneck speed, and I hand out homework by the wheelbarrow. The kids have never been pushed to work so fast. But I strive to make the workload manageable, and offer support.

One of my pet peeves is when kids don't attempt to answer a question. I ask them why they didn't try to answer a question they say "because I didn't know the answer." I ask them did they try to phone/email/text a friend.


Did you think to come early, as you know I am in class an hour before class, and for two hours after?


Did you go back and re-read that part of the text?


Well, they're honest! One student handed in incomplete work, and then looked at me with this look on their face. This particular student may not pass summer school, with only 8 days left. This student has only recently begun to blow off their assignments. The look on this student's face said "This is about all I am willing to invest of my time in this, and you should get your head around to accepting that."

This student knows that they only need to put in 8 more days of work that will save them 5 months of Science 9. Again.

I think sometimes we work to hard to chase after these students with safety nets, and that they just expect this trend to continue. Students can and will only work so hard, which is also true of adults.

Perhaps they think of the work in and after class as being costly. Perhaps they value their outside-of-class time at a premium, and cannot think to spend this valuable commodity on something that doesn't provide them with a feeling of gratification - homework and study. And some of these students as a result will have to repeat grade 9 science. Perhaps only then will they understand the true value of their time; when it costs them something.

That is what I have had to get my head around. Still, I hope I get to do this again next year. Maybe by then I will have found a way to make homework more gratifying.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You Can't Fix Your Car Using ONLY Screwdrivers!

If there was only one search engine in the Universe, (I am pretty sure most students think there is), I am sure most people would choose google. I have a problem with that.

1.) People need to be able to look at a search, and judge if they have truly found what they are looking for

2.) People need to use some simple search techniques to get more of what you want from google, and less of what you don't

3.) People need to know that Google is kind of like a popularity contest, and that some people make a very good living figuring out how to get sites to be in the top 5 in Google searches. Just Google searches!

3.) Students need to try other search engines.

I love and suggests search ideas, and gives you suggestions to either narrow or expand your search. I can also give it cool backgrounds, like a forest or sunset. finds subtopics that are "submerged" in your main topic. By clicking on one of these "submerged" topics it narrows your search down. It has some other nice features, and makes me feel like I am driving a car custom made for me instead of just another cookie cutter 4 door sedan that fell off the end of the production line.

Search how you want, and get what you want.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The "New" Science 9

Oh I heard it through the grapevine,
It looks like I'm teachin' Science 9...for summer school!

I have a degree in Biology, and I think that I will do well with this course. I will be teaching students who didn't pass during the regular year, and so I have to cover a year's worth of Science in one month. what is the best way to cover some very abstract science concepts with struggling students?

The Superintendent for the Coquitlam School district, Tom Grant, took time out of his schedule to email me a list of free printable worksheets for a variety of high school subjects. Well, he didn't send it to me personally, but rather to all the principals, and my principal in turn passed it on to me. These great high school resources are found at Turns out that although is an Ontario based educational website, it closely aligns with the NEW science 9 curriculum. How lucky is that?

My plan for each lessons will be to create each new lesson to be of the same format as the next.

1.) Have the students copy out the learning intentions for the day. Make sure they understand what it means. Put it on a blogsite made just for this course.

2.) Pre-teach the vocabulary (as much as possible) before beginning the lesson. Don't do all the vocabulary, maybe just 5 words per lesson. The goal is that they pass. Keep these 5 posted through the lesson. Refer to them - have the students make a "Woot Woot!" sound (or something) when we say the word reading aloud from the text so that it is fun and they are actively looking for this word. Perhaps even throw candy at them for being the first to locate these words in the text, and put it into their own words. Put these 5 words a day on the blogsite.

3.) Whenever possible, show a short 1-4 minute video from YouTube explaining the content. Embed the video in the course blogsite.

4.) Read the text. Answer questions from text, or fill in blackline master. Link to blackline master on blogsite.

5.) Students turn in short blackline master assignments or multiple choice / short answer assignments during class. Homework assignments only once every couple of days. Complete in class assignments are a must in order to pass.

6.) Give the class red, yellow, and green signs. When doing lesson, reading aloud from text, students hold up signs at the end of a subtopic or concept.
Green = I get it
Yellow = I sort of get it
Red = I don't understand it.

Greens help yellows, and I help reds. People need to get up and move. This will precede "complete in class" assignments. Off task behaviour = go work by yourself as you are interfering with other people's education. Summer plans are jeopardized by these actions. So are next year's plans.

7.) Have the students repeat the learning intentions for the day before they leave the class. It is their ticket out the door.

8.) Allow students to make comments or ask questions about homework on the blogsite. Specify what kinds of questions get posted, who will answer them, and how they are answered.

I will need a computer or laptop, and a projector. I will teach much of my lesson from the projector, and the day's notes go onto a blog for the end of the day. Stay tuned to see if I am actually teaching this course.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Packin' some Energi

I have been testing out the new iPod charger from Energizer, called "Energi To Go." It can been seen here on energizer's official page. It runs on a couple of energizer lithium ion batteries, is lightweight, and fairly simple to use.

I first used it on one of my long days at school. I got to school around 8 am, and then began listening to my iPod while working on some computers in our school lab. I listened to my iPod more during lunch (packing up boxes and filing papers by the pound), and then before and after teaching my night school course called "Bootup Camp" - computers for beginners. I was pretty low on charge, so out comes the Energi!

I have an iPod touch, and there is no specific "fit" setting for the iPod touch. It is adjustable, and worked well. I found that I couldn't carry my iPod around while charging it, as when it moved, it temporarily lost contact, and stopped charging. When I moved again, it started charging again. I left it to charge in my locked cabinet, and then after 20 minutes, I had enough juice to work late into the night.

Overall, I think it is a good product for people with iPod nano's, or classic 30 and 80 gig ipods. I didn't have a charger for energizer lithium ion batteries (great batteries though) that come with the charger, and so I will have to consider whether to use energizer's batteries, or to just use some other batteries. While I cannot charge my iPod while walking around with it, I think if I was at my desk I could charge up my iPod, no problem. If I had a flat surface in my car where my iPod wouldn't roll or fly around, I could also charge it while driving, (but I wouldn't listen to music with headphones while driving, 'cause that is not safe). Overall, I would give it an 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Can you say that again? And again?

    One of my students in my "Computers and Students with Learning Disabilities" (let's call him Mike) just had a bit of a breakthrough in tonight's course. It was the last night of the course, and it was the best night yet. Mike has CAPD (Central Auditory Processing Disorder). This means that when he hears things, somehow the signal gets turned around in his brain so that he doesn't hear the sounds that enter his ear. He also has trouble with his vision, and sometimes what he see also gets turned around.   
     When I asked Mike if he preferred to read or listen to a story, he said listen - with his right ear.  When I asked him if he would rather speak an answer, write an answer, or type an answer, he said....type!  Mike displayed a good sense of how to navigate menus (file -> save, or edit -> copy), and type at a decent speed for a student about 13 years old.  So I thought of ways for him to do his work using a computer to help.
    Mike was showing some good skills with photo editing using a simple graphics program.  I wanted him to use a digital camera to tell a story, as he could use photographs to tell stories with less typing, than just writing out a story alone.  I also showed him how he could use royalty free pictures and or PowerPoint to create simple presentations with either voice narration or typed explanations.  Mike was pleased.

      Mike's mom reported that Mike had difficulties remembering step-by-step instructions, such as "resizing a photo" (about 4 steps).  As our lab has Audacity on each station, and many of our computer stations have headphones, I decided to use Mike's preference for audio instructions and skills with a computer to give him a way to remember step-by-step instructions.  I used Audacity to record the steps as an mp3 (sound) file.  Mike put on his headphones, but only on the right ear.  He played the steps using Windows Media Player, and pressed pause when he finished listening to a step.  Mike was able to resize a photo listening only to the recorded instructions; he listened, paused the instructions, did that one step, and went back to listen to the next step!  

     Mike's mom said she was pleased to see that he could do instructions step-by-step by listening to an MP3 file of instructions, but wondered how Mike could do this in class?  I suggested an iPod!  Some models of ipod have microphones to make a recording.  He could ask the teacher to make a recording of Mike's instructions, pausing after each step.  Then Mike could play it back, listening to just the right headphone in class, and pause the track at each step.  By using headphones on his iPod, he would not be disturbing others.  He could then save the file on his computer and his iPod to listen to it again in the future.  My hope is that someday Mike records his own instructions, and becomes able to teach himself.

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Knocking It Out of the Park

One of my students from my evening course "Computers and Students with Learning Disabilities", just got a 69/70 on his last assignment, a report on meningitis. Typically he scores in the 35/70 range, and has an adapted program. He and his mother feel the difference this time was the fact that he used a computer to research, plan and produce his assignment.

Instead of doing a regular pencil and paper book report, my student researched facts about meningitis on the Internet, and then used to create a web diagram to plan his report. His mother helped him move his report ideas around, but she reports to me that she didn't need to add to the content of his work. This is important, as it means that the content was all his. The student said he liked using the computer to plan the project because he didn't need to redo his work, just move ideas around.

Then my student used the pamphlet template in MS Word, and got images from either clip art, or the Internet (royalty free photos, I hope). After creating his pamphlet, he did an oral report on it, (this kid can talk up a storm) and handed in the pamphlet. Man, was he proud. I was proud of him too. In a future post, perhaps if I get permission, I will post his pamphlet.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Show me don't tell me

Show me don't tell me. That is one of my student's motto. In our gifted program, one of our students has developed an interest in bridge building. Using the Internet I found a lot of great resources on bridge building, including a site that already has a description of a grade-able activity, background information on bridges, instructions, materials list, and a criteria sheet. Here is the site:

The site is called Rich Performance Tasks, and it is a Canadian made site, based on the Ontario curricular goals.

I then did a search on bridge building on YouTube, and found some great screen-capture videos of a video game that teaches bridge building. With these videos I was able to show the student how bridges are made up of a framework of beams and that their geometry determined how strong they are. We also discussed that bridges in reality needed to be made of materials used in the right way to make sure the bridge is made under budget:

This program is free from, and can be downloaded an reviewed here.

We also looked at another program that costs money, BridgeIt, and the student really liked the graphics, and felt that the cost (about $20 I think), was not too much for him to get if he really wanted it. I still like the free program, as free is my favourite price. Here is the video of BridgeIt below:

Finally we talked about how he could practice making bridges of different shapes using a combination of real building materials, and testing out new ideas first on the computer when looking for ways to improve his design. All in all, it was a nice lesson that married the experiences of the real world, and the learning that can come by experimenting the "virtual" world as a way to learn more.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Making Things Harder Than Necessary

Keep it simple. Adults and teachers especially want to keep it simple. With kids though, sometimes to do something cool, or something that will save them time, it pays to make an activity more difficult.

In our buddy class today, we learned about butterflies. I played a great video I found on YouTube:

I used MS Paint to teach students how to create pictures of butterflies using MS Paint. We could just draw a picture of a butterfly and print it, but instead I taught the students how to create a symmetrical butterfly. We first drew half of the butterfly; one wing and the body. Then we used the rectanglar select tool to select the wing. We copied it, by going edit -> copy, and then hit edit -> paste. Now we had two wings on the page, but the second wing was facing the wrong way. Then I taught the students to go Image ->flip/rotate, and taught what it meant to flip something horizontally, and what it meant to flip vertically, and what symmetry means. The kindergarteners we work with did the artistic drawing, but the grade 3's did all the selecting and flipping. All in all, it was a lesson that really "took flight!"

Samples of symmetrical butterflies to follow.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Keeping it 'In House"

I was at an excellent meeting yesterday, where computer contacts around the district are taking a very business oriented tool, the Microsoft SharePoint website program, and applying it to education. The new version of SharePoint has more features that mean less use of 3rd party services and software. For example, I like bubbleshare for making online picture slideshows. But once you put the photos out into the public space, then you give up control of them. They are the "property" of the third-party host. Third party stuff, (like this blog) is fine I think if you are an adult, however whenever possible schools should do their internet projects within direct control of the districts.

If my district didn't have SharePoint websites, would I use some other third-party web 2.0 host for student work? Yes, I would. It is important to teach kids how to be good digital citizens, and I think they should learn about this in their schools. In fact I still use some 3rd party hosts like VoiceThread for kids projects, however I go to great lengths to ensure the privacy of the student is protected, and that parents are making informed choices when they give permission for their students to do these kinds of projects. And by continuing to use these new and exciting applications, my district is responding by adding more functionality to our SharePoint websites. My two bits - keep internet projects in house when possible, but don't stop moving forward.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Heard it through the grapevine - Science 9

Oh I heard it through the grapevine, I think I'm teachin' Science 9...for summer school. I have a degree in Biology, and I think that I will do well with this course. I will be teaching students who didn't pass during the regular year, and so I have to cover a year's worth of Science in one month. what is the best way to cover some very abstract science concepts with struggling students?

The Superintendent for the Coquitlam School district, Tom Grant, took time out of his schedule to email me a list of free printable worksheets for a variety of high school subjects. Well, he didn't send it to me personally, but rather to all the principals, and my principal in turn passed it on to me. These great high school resources are found at Turns out that although is an Ontario based educational website, it closely aligns with the NEW science 9 curriculum. How lucky is that?

My plan for each lessons will be to create each new lesson to be of the same format as the next.

1.) Have the students copy out the learning intentions for the day. Make sure they understand what it means. Put it on a blogsite made just for this course.

2.) Pre-teach the vocabulary (as much as possible) before beginning the lesson. Don't do all the vocabulary, maybe just 5 words per lesson. The goal is that they pass. Keep these 5 posted through the lesson. Refer to them - have the students make a "Woot Woot!" sound (or something) when we say the word reading aloud from the text so that it is fun and they are actively looking for this word. Perhaps even throw candy at them for being the first to locate these words in the text, and put it into their own words. Put these 5 words a day on the blogsite.

3.) Whenever possible, show a short 1-4 minute video from YouTube explaining the content. Embed the video in the course blogsite.

4.) Read the text. Answer questions from text, or fill in blackline master. Link to blackline master on blogsite.

5.) Students turn in short blackline master assignments or multiple choice / short answer assignments during class. Homework assignments only once every couple of days. Complete in class assignments are a must in order to pass.

6.) Give the class red, yellow, and green signs. When doing lesson, reading aloud from text, students hold up signs at the end of a subtopic or concept.
Green = I get it
Yellow = I sort of get it
Red = I don't understand it.

Greens help yellows, and I help reds. People need to get up and move. This will precede "complete in class" assignments. Off task behaviour = go work by yourself as you are interfering with other people's education. Summer plans are jeopardized by these actions. So are next year's plans.

7.) Have the students repeat the learning intentions for the day before they leave the class. It is their ticket out the door.

8.) Allow students to make comments or ask questions about homework on the blogsite. Specify what kinds of questions get posted, who will answer them, and how they are answered.

I will need a computer or laptop, and a projector. I will teach much of my lesson from the projector, and the day's notes go onto a blog for the end of the day. Stay tuned to see if I am actually teaching this course.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hey, you can't take the blocks home..or can you?

My students in grade 3 are learning how to do subtraction with some regrouping. One of my students came to me and said he needs help understanding his 1's, 10's and 100's. He was using base ten blocks, (click here to see a picture from a math supply store if you don't know what base 10 blocks are)

So I got some advice from a friend of mine about finding some good math sites on line, and she referred me to this site:

It covers a lot of different grades, but requires that the teacher play around with it first. I especially liked the base ten blocks exercises for teaching adding and subtracting with regrouping. When you use base 10 blocks in the classroom, students need to exchange 10 one's for every stick of 10 when doing regrouping (carrying or borrowing). On the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, the stick of 10 blocks come apart before the children's eyes, so they can see what it really means to borrow from the 10's column when doing subtraction.

I just can't do it justice with words. Go to the site, and try it yourself. I don't think it need replace the blocks, however before introducing the topic of regrouping with base 10 blocks with the actual blocks themselves, I would consider doing it virtually. Try it yourself; this is one of the times I would say I like the virtual manipulative as much as I like the real deal.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who couldn't do with a little phun in their life?

I wish, I wish. I wish my students could have "phun" in class.

This is a free program that simulates a lot of the physical features of our real world. With this program I could teach about gravity, mass, density, buoyancy, the three states of matter (or at least two of them), balance and center of gravity, shape and space, tessalations and patterns, simple machines, friction and more. However our computers don't have 3D accelleration I think (this may be a feature of having a graphics card). Apparently the program needs to have a graphics card, and all our refurbished dell computers use on-board audio and video.

I showed this video to my 3 year old, and he wanted to watch it twice. Then he went straight for his blocks. I showed it to the kids of a grade 4 and 5 class, and they were mesmerized! I told them that with parent permission they can get the program, and install it themselves at home if they have a newer computer (with parent permission of course). I guess I will have to put a pin in this one!

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Monday, May 12, 2008

I'll take some YouTube to go, please

My iPod touch. Has there ever been a greater sign that a woman loves her man than electronics? Yes, but only if you include shiny electronics! A word of mouth company (Matchstick) contacted me through my blog here, and have asked me if I would test out a product for one of the companies they represent, Energizer. The product is called Energi, and it is a portable iPod recharger, running on two double AA rechargeable batteries. I think the iPod touch burns more energy on wireless video streaming. I was listening to a David Ford song on YouTube while doing the dishes, and after listening to some other songs, I had drained a lot of battery. Fortunately I was home to charge it up.

But what about when I am out, and teaching with my iPod. Lets say I am in a wireless area, and I have the ability to stream videos from YouTube to my iPod, and play sound out of some portable speakers. Then I can take kids on field trips to places and show them even more enriching content on site. What if I was at the Vancouver Aquarium, and the staff gave me temporary permission to use my iPod on their wireless network. Then we could walk to somewhere like the frog exhibit and read the signs, see the frogs, etc. But, I could also show them this video:

By going to the page in YouTube and clicking on the "more info" link, I could read out some really important facts about the global crisis of the loss of many species of frogs due to human impact on the environment. Having a source of power to ensure I can show the kids this video would be crucial. So would getting permission to be on someone else's wireless network, but hey those guys and gals of the Vancouver Aquarium are all about the learning, so I bet they'd do it in a heartbeat.

If you want to check out this video yourself, it is content put on YouTube by the Vancouver aquarium here.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Justin Timberlake Lookout!

Introducing, the latest dancing talent to hit the Vancouver scene - some stickfigure-guy-thing....Here he is the Funky Robot Dancer!

Robot Dance with Pivot Animator from James Gill on Vimeo.

When doing this lesson, I asked the students to limit the options available and really concentrate on getting smooth realistic movements first. Later, when the students have shown a really good understanding of realistic animation action, I will allow them to add other elements. Its like typing in a word processor; lots of kids want to play with the font and colours, but at the end of the period if they don't have more than their name on the page, then they haven't completed their task for their school work.

So the first lesson where I introduce pivot I always:

1.) Show them an example of a finished product similar to what they will be creating
2.) Show them the basics, and show them some of the "optional" features of a program
3.) Give them one block to play with the options. Its not a waste of time. This is how they learn. We don't save anything from that first block.
4.) Outline the criteria for the project in the next block, set limitations if needed, and hold the students to their agreement to do their best work within the parameters you have setup.

From time to time, someone doesn't stay within boundaries. They get to do something less cool, and I make something like the video above with students who stay on task. That is the reward that all the students want. Since starting this project, 1/4 of one class has downloaded pivot, and is playing with it at home. I couldn't be happier.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Like Money in the Bank

Today, my students began an investment portfolio- a literary one, not a literal one! We created a word bank but with a twist.

We did a lesson on the six traits of writing last week, where we wrote about ourselves as "renaissance" people (we have more than one talent). I encouraged my authors to find their "voice" in their writing by making sure they described how they feel when they are doing things they considered their talents. I tried to steer them away from words like "cool" and "good", by giving them a "price tag". "Cool" and "good" were only worth 5 cents. Excellent was worth $1, proud was worth 25 cents, and trustworthy was worth $2! But I found when I marked their work, some still used "cool" and "good", while others used $2 words incorrectly. I thought that in today's writing class, we should create a word bank.

The students wrote on a paper different words that they would use to describe themselves, feelings, actions or situations, (I later called these words adjectives and adverbs). Then, they attached price tags to these words, and grouped them according to value. We discussed that you shouldn't overspend by using a $2 word all the time (When I got up in the morning, I felt trustworthy, then I went to my trustworthy school. My teacher said I looked trustworthy today...). We described some short words that are very powerful like "do" and "love" and "yes" (or NO). The criteria was that students will be allowed to keep their words and their price tags, but only if they have spelled them correctly, and can describe what they mean. Otherwise I get to cross them off in class, and take their "money" for that word.

As a follow up to this lesson, we will create this word bank on a larger piece of paper, cut and paste appropriate coins next to these words (or do crayon rubbings of coins, or use coin stamps), and then I will bring out the play money and "pay" them for some good words. We will keep our Word Banks in our LA books, and refer to them as needed in future writing.

As an afterthought, one way I could use this lesson in middle school would be to go to places like and use the online thesaurus. We could then use a graphics program, and superimpose words like these on pictures of canadian coins and bills.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Break-dancing in the Computer Lab!

Today's class was very exciting. Special thanks to the IS and IT departments of Coquitlam for making today's lesson possible. We have Pivot- the stick figure annimation program installed on nearly every machine in our lab. Kids use it to make a "flip-book" style animation. Our learning intention was to use a simple animation program to create figures that move in the same way computer generated images in movies and video games move. This is a big field in BC, as we are known as Hollywood North, and we are also home to Electronic Arts, the computer game giant! This really caught the kids attention.

When I started to teach this program to the students I let them be completely silly, as long as they were not inappropriate. There are some examples of pivot on YouTube, but many are not appropriate for school, what with all the beheadings, and shooting, and blood.

One of my students created a stickfigure animation doing a perfect "robot" breakdance sequence. We then saved the file in pivot as an animated GIF file. I helped him find some royalty free music, and showed him how to put it all together using Windows Movie Maker. I had to do this for two reasons:

1.) I knew how, and he was just learning.

2.) All our machines have Windows 2000. Windows 2000 does not come with Windows Movie Maker. This is too bad, as it is an easy to use program that kids can use to click and drag stuff in to make movies. This is what kids want to do.

My evidence that kids want to do this is that there were zero behaviour problems in the class. None. All kids were working on task. All students asked to be partnered together, and were working within the parameters of the lesson. The students had to:

Create a stick figure that can dance.

Use only physically achieveable moves.

Make it long enough to last the song.

Students saw the breakdancing stick figure, and heard the music, and they were hooked! Students began asking me how to inject sound effects, or to change music so that they can change the kind of dancing style they were using. I said yes, they could mix and add to their music if they used Audacity, the sound/music editing program we have installed on all computers. Perhaps that will have to be the next step in the lesson. Stay tuned for more updates on our animation projects. I will embed the breakdance video after I have uploaded it.

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Bootup Camp

Here is the outline for my adult course. I have posted it here for my adult students planning on taking this course to get a sneak preview, and to see if they like it. Comment or e-mail me with feedback if you like what you see, or want to see something changed.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

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The iPod Touch

My wife just bought me an iPod touch 16G (we used our air miles, because it's hard for us to use them for travel). This is wonderful! I have many wireless places around my community, so I can take advantage of them. I brought it into work, and the first thing I heard from many of the teachers around the staff room was "Boys and their toys!", and "What a nice toy for you." That's not how I see it. Where they see toy, I see tool.

So I decided to ask my students what they thought they could use an iPod touch for.

- one girl said she could watch videos of my lessons that I put on youtube to help her with her math homework in her room, without bothering her parents
- one boy said that a teacher or student could make a recording with Audacity or some other mp3 recording program, and put it on the ipod to listen to on field trips. He thought that he could listen to facts about what he is seeing on a field trip, by selecting and playing the tracks that match what he is looking at and learning about
- another kid though it would be good for writing your journal on and sending to school when you are on the way home from a field trip.

I had lots of suggestions from these kids. I think that as students get older, a higher percentage of them will have these devices. Perhaps someday we will have class sets of them, and utilize them on field trips, lab experiments, or just for studying and reviewing what students have learned. So, you decide

iPod Touch: Toy or Tool!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Marvellous Machine

This is the final result of the Marvellous Machine Project. We have had so many students participate, we have had to create a Marvellous Machine Project 2! This is because I don't have the "Pro" version, and therefore can only put 50 slides with narration per project. The "Pro" version costs around $60, and I might hit my school up for the money, if the administrator and/or staff find it is a valuable presentation tool. I believe that this is not the last voice thread my students and I will do, as students of all ages found they could be successful with it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I am Not a One Trick Pony

Somehow I think some of the people I work with have gotten the wrong impression of me. I am not only a computer teacher. I am a teacher. My job description currently is teaching K-5 music, K-5 computers, Gifted Education, and a couple days a week I teach a class of Grade 3's. I have interests in combining different disciplines, such as Art and Music or Math and Writing. I am learning about the 6 Traits of Effective Writing. I am studying "Reading Power" which is another method of teaching Reading Skills to students. I just incorporate computers and the Internet into these different disciplines.

Yesterday I taught a lesson on abstract painter Kandinsky. I had a great song about him on a CD, (Thanks to Rachel at Wind and Tide schools - so I put the words on the overhead, and sung it with the kids. I typed up the activity sheet on the computer and printed off for the class. I found paintings of Kandinsky on the Internet, so my students could see his various works (we didn't have any of his works in books in the library). The students then had to say:

1.) What geometric shapes they saw in Kandinsky's work
2.) What these shapes look like they might be in the real world
3.) What kinds of sounds or music would be associated with these kinds of objects

One of my students noted a set of crossed lines that looked like a tic-tac-toe game. She said the sound associated with this would be someone singing "I'm-a-gonna-wiiiinnn" in a teasing voice. Another student said some crooked rectangles looked like a group of buildings . He said the sounds you would hear would be phones ringning, people talking, elevators going ding, and someone saying "you're fired!"

I then uploaded this worksheet to my class website, with a short description of the lesson (two - three sentences). This is for parents to read, and students to download if/when they lose their homework. That way they don't show up with their work not done the next day.

This lesson was a great success. It is not unlike the lessons taught by the teachers I had growing up, except that I found ways to seamlessly and painlessly introduce a lot of enriching media into my lesson. That is how I see the future of teaching. I see all teachers being multi-media teachers - we just need to tap into what is on the internet to bring stuff into our classes; we need to share it with our students, their parents, and our community.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

The More Things Change...

The more things change, the more they stay the same. One of the biggest obstacles I have in sharing my passion for computers in education with other teachers is that many feel that as soon as new hardware comes out, or the next version of a piece of software comes out, that the old stuff is obselete. This would mean to them that all that they had learned was obsolete.

Folks, it's just not so. What are some of the things that change:

Hardware - just like cars, computers age, and they do not improve in performance with age. It needs to be replaced. Computer labs are best replaced as a whole, not piecemeal. This should be done because then you can have longer stretches of time where your lab is under warrantee as a whole. Most importantly, you can provide your students with a consistent environment, and that is key for success. If your students spend a lot of time on hardware glitches and reboots, then your lessons will be less impactful.

I have approached my parent group about having a parent spearhead a committee to focus on raising funds gradually to replace the computer lab as a whole in the future. We haven't had any takers yet, but I am still hopeful. We have a small dedicated bunch of parents, but I hope we get even more parents putting their hands up in support of their school community.

What stays the same - Software (sort of). While Microsoft has added a lot of features to Microsoft Word over the years, the edit menu still contains "copy, cut, and paste." You can save a file by clicking on "File" and choosing save. In fact, many of the commands are in the same place as always. There are common factors between programs, and with so many applications these days on the web, it doesn't make as much difference what kind of programs or operating systems you have.

What stays the same - kids like collaborating with others, kids want to share what they have learned with others, kids like being engaged in what they are learning, and kids like be offered choice as to what they learn, how they learn, and yes when they learn.

What stays the same - we as teachers have to keep our eye on what is going to be relevant to our students' futures, and equip them with the skills they need to be successful at whatever endeavor they choose. This means moving out of our comfort zones, an inch at a time, on a daily basis. We the teachers must keep moving forward.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Missed opportunities and Bengal Tigers

I believe that more people have missed opportunities in life because they fear disappointment more than they fear bengal tigers. Bengal tigers in the wild will stalk humans and eat them if they can. What did disappointment ever do to you?

Don't fear disappointment. Envision yourself a success, and it will be so. Additionally, it may be worthwhile to develop a healthy respect for bengal tigers.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Students With Learning Disabilities

Last night was my first night teaching a course for students with learning disabilities of different descriptions, and their parents. The students paid for the course, but the parents attend for free. My reasoning was that parents have always been the strongest advocates for their children, their best teachers, and their greatest source of support. I was overwhelmed by the response to the course, and pleased to see that every child had a parent in attendance.

Our learning intention was to establish what the course objectives were, and then to begin talking in the language of computers and the Internet.

Our course objectives are to find common factors between programs so that we can learn them more quickly, to learn some basic file management ideas, and to get comfortable navigating the computer folder system for future assignments.

Our next assignment will involve graphics and art. I took all the kids pictures with a webcam, and they moved them into folders. Now we will learn some basic graphic skills, and make "disguises" with those pictures. Then they will use their pictures to plan a story, using an online story planning tool which creates "bubble diagrams." These bubble diagrams are better done on a computer than with pencil and paper becuase you can change their organization, cut and paste parts of your plan, share your plan with other students, and then save it in different places (a document, or a blog) so that you will not lose it. And its free. I will write more on this series after Wednesday. And if any of my students from the course are reading this - how smart of go do your typing homework!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Toolbox

I would like to thank the many other educational bloggers out there, like Vicki Davis and Jennifer Wagner. These are only two of the many people who have helped me to build "my toolbox."

On the topic of irresponsible Internet use by elementary and especially middle school children. We must not be so afraid of it, any more than we will be afraid of children not completing their homework on time, or calling each other names. Of course it will happen from time to time. It happens in elementary schools, and it happens in middle schools. There are ways to right the wrongs in other behaviour situations, and we as teachers must be aware of the nuts and bolts of Web 2.0 to know wrongs can be made right on the Internet.

What needs to happen is that we have good policies in place, make kids aware of them, teach them the difference between right and wrong, teach them the value of making the right choice over the wrong choice, and offer them really interesting lessons. The more interesting the lesson I created this year, the more sustained effort I saw from all students. Including very defiant students. Students with Individual Behaviour Plans. It is also in how you "pitch" your ideas. If you are passionate about an idea, if you believe the idea, if you can communicate its power, then they will believe. Powerful ideas and really interesting lessons taught with passion are the three greatest ingredients that go into one classroom management plan.

Children want to collaborate. Many kids need to be taught how to collaborate. Learning this lesson is more important than any computer program, or any computer skill. Many will do it right if started with the right foundation - they think they are learning a computer program to do a task. What they are learning is how to create something bigger than themselves, by working with someone else. And, in my computer class, I can offer more choice of topics than can be offered in any other course. Here are some important collaborative web 2.0 tools. - an incredible collaborative drawing program. You don't have to collaborate to use kerpoof, but why wouldn't you?!? You can paint online, experiment with different classical styles of art. It comes with lesson plans with teachers. It is free! - collaborative presentation making. You can as a teacher sign up an account, and have students create art and narrate stories about their art online. It is free to make the first 3 voice threads. I love free! - like twitter, but angled towards providing a safe place for teachers and students to interact, ask questions, share projects, etc.

While we as "digital immigrants" see these projects as students learning computer skills, the big idea, the Learning Intention is developing a value system within our class and our society that instills in each child the desire to be socially responsible "digital natives."

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.