Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hour of Code

I signed up for the Hour of Code recently and hoped to do it with at least some of the kids in the school. The way my schedule worked out I had Grade 2 classes during the Computer Science Education Week, and while I wouldn't mind the challenge of trying it with students that young, half of the Grade 2 classes are French Immersion. Their ability to read English instructions at this age is ah, well, pretty bad. They start English instruction in Grade 3.

Instead I opted for a different route. I decided to take all of my lunch break and invite interested students in Grade 4, 5, and 6 to take part. After letting the teachers know I had my 24 slots filled up within 15 minutes. The kids came to the lab at lunch time and seemed to have a great time. It was easy really because I had spent the previous week with the Grade 6 students doing an introduction to programming activities, namely Blockly and Scratch. The Hour of Code activities included a Scratch option so many of the students tried out their Holiday Card option or tried to make a Christmas game. It was a great time, with only one minor glitch where a students Christmas project didn't save in Scratch. I can really call it a glitch because during 15 one hour classes using Scratch it was the first time someone's work didn't save. It was too bad because it was a really cool project where Scratch the Cat opened a present and something popped out.

So here are so pictures of the kids hard at work!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Solved Blockly Maze level 10.

So I introduced Blockly on Friday to the students in Grade 6. We have four classes total to cover a topic and I thought Blockly would be the perfect introduction to the topic. It is pretty simple, has at least 3 different activities that are suitable for the students in Grade 6, and it is very visual, so you can see what happens almost right away as soon as you use your blocks of code. Finally, my preferred method of teaching the topic further was Scratch, the programming language for kids from MITs Lifelong Kindergarten group, and Blockly has enough similarities to make the transition easy.

I had the students do the Puzzle Blockly app first, which is pretty easy. Four Flags, four language, and 8 cities all have to be matched. It isn't that hard, and as long as you know some of them, process of elimination will allow you figure out the rest. Plus, when you check the answers it gives you a hint by highlighting one of your blocks that is in the incorrect spot. Overall, except for some noticeable gaps in geography knowledge (Shanghai in Germany?!?) this section went perfectly.

Matching flags, languages and cities.

The second section was Maze Blockly. Here you had to maneuver Pegman from Google Maps through a series of mazes. You could also switch him to a Panda or a SpaceSuit with a corresponding change in location, but I didn't tell anyone that. It was "the cool thing" you could find out all by yourself. The mazes start off quite easy, but there seems to be a reason for that. By the time you finish level 5 you should have more than a decent grasp of all the moves you need, the left/right turns, and the repeat. Level 6 introduces if/then statements, and from then on ramps up the difficulty fast. I'd say about 50% of the classes made it past level 8, probably a further 20% made it through level 9, but really I only had a couple of students total who completed level 10. Level 10 was hard! I had previously used Blockly, and thought I knew how to complete it, but it was obviously updated since the last time I used it and Maze 10 was much harder. What annoyed me was that once the first class left, the only ones who had any students who solved it, I couldn't remember how to solve it! It was driving me crazy all weekend, so I finally got up Sunday morning and figured out at least one possible solution for it.

Level 10 was harder because you couldn't just issue a couple of instructions and watch Pegman waltz to the end, you had to set up the blocks so he could keep moving without getting stuck in any of the dead ends that were in the maze. They do give you a hint when you start, that you should try to follow the left wall. I understood it, because I knew what that meant but my many attempts to use just left turns in the maze were fruitless. I was frustrated too because I could make Pegman check out the area in front, to the left, and to the right, and I felt that if I could just make him check out behind everything would be all good. But the tools didn't let you do that...

Then I realized what was almost as good. TWO TURNS! If Pegman just made two turns, he would be pulling a 180 degree turn, and he could face the other direction. So if I did an

If ahead-->Do--> Move forward
Else-->Turn Right
            Turn Right

That meant that every time Pegman was stuck in a dead end it would just turn all the way around. Then I could use the hint about following the left wall and stick with left turns. Eventually Pegman worked his way through the Maze and hit the end pin.

One solution to Blockly Level 10

So that was one solution. I don't even think it was the best one, because I could tell it barely worked. I might mess around with it further to find a better solution, especially as I had 3 more blocks I could have used. For now though, its all I got. Here is the direct link to my Blockly level 10 maze solution.

Oh yea, the third thing the students did after the maze. Some of them did get frustrated with Maze 9 and Maze 10, something I could hardly fault them for. So after they showed me that they had at least made a serious attempt on those two, I sent them on to Turtle Graphics. Which is very similar to the old Logo turtle. I just asked the students to try using the tool to draw the initials for the name. More than a couple were successful here, although I did have to explain to all of them the Pen-Up and Pen-Down command so they could move on to the second letter.

I asked students to draw their initials. This was big time cheating.

Overall though, I would say it went pretty well and it was a great lead in to trying out Scratch for the next couple of classes.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Animal Cards via BigHugeLabs

The Grade 3 students at school are making something fun. We are using BigHugeLabs to make cards about animals. They are similar to a Pokemon Trading Card, having a picture of the animal on them, and then facts about the animal on the card too. Students did a little research via several sites, National Geographic Kids, A-Z Animals, and Canadian Geographic. After writing their work and proofreading it, they selected a picture of their animal and created the cards. Or are the process of doing so.

My initial plan was to just print them at school via the color printer, but I sent a couple of samples that kids had mostly finished to Wal-Marts online photo centre. At only 15 cents a photo I was hardly breaking the bank making 8.

I was pretty happy with the finished results, so when the students have them all finished I will be sending them all in to be printed. 

Friday, November 1, 2013


Yesterday was Halloween and some of the teachers had just as much fun dressing up as the students did. I didn't use a homemade costume this year, but instead did my blow-up pumpkin costume. The other teachers in the picture were Clifford the Big Red Dog and Emily Elizabeth and Paper, Rock, Scissors.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Play with your music MOOC

I just signed up for this free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called Play With Your Music. 

It is supposed to be a course teaching you how to make and manage music loops, something I expect to be terrible at, but also fun at the same time.

It looks interesting and is supposed to be all about learning how to make music with current online tools. It doesn't require singing, otherwise the rest of the people in my potential group are in for a serious shock, and earplugs are going to be needed.

Still I find these learning opportunities fun, and pretty stress free. Its a nice way to learn something new without resorting to doing it all by your lonesome.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Online Clocks

I have used this site for an online count down clock

Its pretty good, and simple to use on your smartboard/teamboard. A teacher at school asked me to find a visual clock that looked better than just counting down numbers. We found this one, which is a nice big pie count down, and looks much better.

Both have a open in full screen mode which is great.

Just a minute ago I realized that underneath the link to the actual timer, amid the ads spread all over the site, there are links to a PILE of other clocks, including a candle, bomb, and some other things.

Just something simple that I thought you might enjoy using on your boards.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What if teachers planned inservice?

I saw this on Facebook, via Marvelous Teacher Musings.

If teachers planned inservice...

I thought it was pretty good. I am sure most teachers have been to the inservices like this. I usually do exactly as is described, pay attention unless I have to mumble something affirmative once in a while. If I can I try to do something else useful with my time, which is really just about anything else. I almost feel a little bad for the presenters in those cases. They often come bearing a message that you can tell they themselves aren't exactly enthusiastic about either. That doesn't mean I can condone just reading from the presentation slides...

I have taught several inservices as well, and I would hope that I did not do anything like this. They were mostly based on technology, websites and Ipads, and the most speaking I did was 2-5 minutes at a time. The rest of the time was spent using and doing, which are far more valuable uses of participants time.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Where are all the male teachers?

Just saw this on Edudemic. As a male who works in a school with only 1 other man, and 50 women, I often wonder the same thing. Not sure this infographic has all the reasons perfect, most men I know would have no idea what to do in a school. There certainly aren't any incentives to convince them otherwise though.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Brickfilms! Or Lego Stop Motion Animation

I love teaching stop motion animation, and if we could, it would be great if we could have everyone in school bring in Lego while we are working on it. Lego are arguably one of the easiest way to make stop motion because they move slowly, easily lock into position, and with the addition of blocks you can make a nice variety of "things". Of course, I can't assume that everyone has enough Lego to make something. I have a large collection myself, but I don't think I am bringing all that into school! Anyways, here is a link to a collection of channels of video's done with Lego. There is even some about Slenderman!

6 Lego-Tastic Brickfilm Channels to Follow On YouTube

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Artemis Fowl is getting a movie!

Artemis Fowl books are great! They are about a 12 year old genius who just happens to also be a criminal mastermind. The books are quite fun, and there are a number of them too. The library at school even has some in French, as well as having at least 1 graphic novel, and I think we might have 2. Regardless, while it is always better to read the book first, it will be interesting to see what they manage to do with the movie. The same writer who did Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is writing it, so they might be able to pull it off.

Artemis Fowl Movie

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mapping with Google

I was really excited when I saw that Google was offering this course, Mapping with Google. I saw notice of this at the same time that I saw the notice about the Creative Computing Online Workshop. I love online maps because of the variety of ways they have for looking at information about places. In school I have found them great too. I mean, if you are going to study a place in school, why would you start by looking at a paper map or a text book when you can look online and see real pictures and information that is pretty current. Even better, with a tool like Google Maps. or Scribble Maps, you can add information or annotate the map. The course was great too, it showed how to add information to Google Earth as well. I certainly plan to try and use some of this stuff at school. Even during my Masters program I used Google Maps. I collected stories from people who lived in my area, recorded them, put them online, and posted the stories on a map. It looked pretty cool, and it was an awesome way to tour through the stories.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Creative Computing Online Workshop

I just finished taking a online course from Google called the Creative Computing Online Workshop. It was mostly about using Scratch as a platform to teaching programming and computing concepts to students. It was about 6 weeks long, probably the best educational experience I have ever had. It was well paced, interesting, collaborative, and fun. The only aspect of it that I could find fault with was the starting date. It coincided with the end of school and another Google course, the Mapping with Google Course. It made it hard to squeeze all of the course in during the scheduled weeks. As a result it was slightly harder to keep up with the collaborative lessons that everyone else was taking part in. I still managed to get it all in though, and as a testament to the course it was designed well enough that I really didn't feel like I missed out on very much. The course had a number of interesting topics, with a variety of different ways of learning. I really liked the debugging ones, that gave you a series of projects that had something wrong, or something that needed to be added to make them work properly.

Anyways, here is my final project. It is almost done, I am still trying to get the platforming aspect working just the way I wanted it too.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


First in the list of apps I am going to look at is AirPresenter.

As I am just pulling these from a list, I had no sweet clue what this app was supposed to do.  I opened it up and was greeted with this screen:

It just appeared to be a black screen with some icons on the side.  Even more baffling, I had no idea what most of them did.  There was a camera icon, a grid, what looked like a piece of paper, a pen, a paint roller, and the box with the down pointing arrow.

I got in trouble right away.

The camera button seemed to flip between the front ipad camera, and a black screen.  Thats when I realized that my case was covering the back camera and the default view of the app was whatever the back camera was seeing.  Once I straightened that out I realized that I could use the pen to draw on whatever the ipad was looking at.  

In this case I was looking at my leg.

This seemed incredibly useless.  Who wants to draw on what the camera is seeing?  It wasn't a still image, and as soon as the ipad moved my drawings made no sense at all.  The grid button just took me to a blank page with a plus icon in the top right and a cancel button in the top right.  Clicking on either of them just took me back to the main video drawing screen.

So far, useless.

I moved on to the Paint Roller icon and realized that you can use it to set a background, either a solid color, or an image from the ipad, or you could take a picture with the ipad.  Inexplicably, one of the buttons did nothing but focus the ipad camera.  I still have no idea what that was for.  However, once I found out how to set a background the tool became marginally more useful. 

For some reason I had a picture of Mark Tewksbury saved on my ipad, so I set that as the background and played around with the app a little more.  You can set the size and color of the pen using the pen icon:
Nothing too exciting, just a lot of colours and some size changes.
It turned out the paper button was for wiping the screen free of ink.  It looks like plastic cling wrap being pulled off the screen.

And the box button on the bottom of the screen was the export button, letting you save your images in your camera roll, email them, or save it in the AirPresenter app itself.  It turns out that when you save the photos you can access them later under the grid button present in the menu.

Even after playing with the app for a couple of minutes I could barely see the point of it.  It seemed like a drawing app, but one that wasn't particularly great, and one that I had found confusing to use.  I figured I better actually check the description in the App Store to see what the developers wanted you to use it for.  According to them, the app is supposed to be used via airplay as a presentation tool.

I guess.  I mean, I can barely see it being functional in that way.  It would be a bit of a pain to use and I imagine there are more than a couple of apps that work that way.  Though, maybe not, I can't think of any off the top of my head.  I suppose you could use Penultimate or Skitch or something via airplay to draw on an image.  There menus are easier to use.  I just don't see any real advantages of using AirPresenter.

I am going to say give it a pass for now.  Unless you can think of some specific uses for it, and there could be, I just don't see any reason to not delete it from my ipad right now.

Listing of Apps

Recently the my school district started grade level sharing sessions.  Some subsection of the district will meet at grade level, such as all the Grade 6 teachers in one area, and for the day they will just share ideas and work with each other.  I am not a grade anything teacher, but from what I hear from those who have participated they sound pretty great, and the overall feeling from those attending has been very positive. Teachers feel like they are getting something real and tangible from co-workers who have been dealing with the exact same ideas as them, plus gives them a chance to share their own ideas or just bounce them off others.

At the last set of sessions on of the major topics was a sharing of Ipad apps. In theory it was a great idea, but when I saw the way the apps were presented, I wasn't particularly excited.  It was just a big list, with nothing to tell you what any of the apps did. It might have been ok for the those who were actually there but for anyone else it was just a big list of apps and a second note after it denoting if it was free, or if it had a cost, how much it was.

I am going to take these giant lists of apps and check through each of the free ones, and try and figure out if I personally find them useful.  I can then at least share what they do with some of my collegues so they have more information to go on then just the name of the app. And while I know you could search for the app on the App Store, honestly, I find that one of the worst places to find information about apps as it usually ends up being nothing more than an advertisement created by the developer to make you want to buy your app. Reviews sometimes help, but I find quite often that some educational apps have few, if any reviews associated with them.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Expectations of Privacy as a teen

The vast majority of students I teach don't have cell phones, which is to be expected in a K-6 school.  Today though, I was at the dentist and saw something that I thought was a little odd, and somewhat disquieting.

When I was sitting in the waiting room the only other people present were a mother and her two teenaged daughters, one being between 13-14 and the older 15-16 years old.  They were chatting about something when I sat down, homework that had to be done, and an upcoming dance.  The older girl was called in to the office for her work, and left her purse and other objects sitting in the chair between her mother and her sister.  Within moments of the girl going beyond the doors her mother casually popped open her purse and pulled out her cell phone and prepared to start looking through it.

The younger sister let out a startled, "MOM!" and immediately told her mother to stop.  Her mother said she was just looking at it for a moment, and then asked for help unlocking it.  The youngest daughter replied that she wasn't helping her and politely, and firmly, asked her mother for the phone.  She was quite insistent persistent, and within a minute or two she had the phone from her mother and placed in her own purse.

I had never even considered the idea that some of these students might have issues of privacy like that.  As far as I know I had never had anything like this happen to me when I was that young, but when I was that young there was no digital footprint or tracks to leave.  Everything was over the phone, and unless someone was listening in to your phone conversation there was nothing to see.  For these kids, text messages, facebook, twitter, instagram, emails, all leave a trail that almost impossible to hide from it.

I don't know what the educational implications of this are, I just hadn't really considered it before.

Me at the Dentist

Monday, February 11, 2013

Google Earth in Grade 5

I have always been a big fan of Google Earth.  It has so much information, and presents it such an interesting manner.  I have used it before for a couple of lessons, in particular for a Grade 4 scavenger virtual scavenger hunt where they had to tour the city looking for the answers to the clues.  It was fun, but just involved looking at information that was already present in Google.

On Friday a Grade 5 teacher wanted to an activity involving Google Earth where the students would search around the Nile River for a variety of landforms.  They would mostly rely on the pictures found on Google Earth as well the natural features you can see there.  I told her it sound alright, and made the arrangements to do it with the students.

Looking closer at Google Earth though, I remembered a recent post I had seen detailing the fact that more tours had been added to Google Earth.  I checked them out, and they were pretty interesting, but I had no idea that it was so easy to actually create your own tours!

After the students did their search of the Nile I just had them do a quick tour of their favourite places in the city.  They found it quite an easy task, and that means in the future I will be trying this with another group of students.  Best part?  The tours can be saved as KML files that when opened open Google Earth and start the tour right away.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Back to Glogster

After a bit of a hiatus with Glogster we are using it with a Grade 6 class tomorrow.  I really like the concept of Glogster, but I had in the recent past found it slightly difficult to work with.  The interface was slightly kludgy, and occasionally it was also really slow.  It did sometimes take too long to upload images as well, which made it essentially unusable too.

Much seems to have changed though.  The interface appears to have undergone a facelift, with the focus being on speed and usability, and just as important the overall stability of the site seems to be doing a lot better too.  When the site was free, this was forgivable  but now that the site is one that needs to be paid for, it is only fitting that it do a better job of being functional.  

Regardless, the Grade 6 class was doing countries, and have already finished their research, all that is left is for them to present their work.  The teacher had previously done the presentation via poster board, so doing it digitally is a big departure.  Using the also new project settings I am hoping this will be easier for the teacher to manage the finished product and assess them.