Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Creating an Alberta Advantage in Education

The province of Alberta has recently set out a number of directives for education.

The directives came about from a broad range of stakeholders via a Ministerial Order in 2013. The province asked students, parents, businesses, industry and community members about how we should develop and teach the curriculum to our students.

Bottom line - everyone involved wants engaged learners...

Some of the highlights:
  1. greater emphasis on education than on the school; on the learner than on the system; on competencies than on content; 
  2. on technology to support the creation and sharing of knowledge than on technology to support teaching.
  3. be able to manage information: access, interpret, evaluate and use information effectively, efficiently, and ethically;
  4. be innovative: create, generate and apply new ideas or concepts;
  5. be able to create opportunities through play, imagination, reflection, negotiation, and competition, with an entrepreneurial spirit;
  6. be able to apply multiple literacies: reading, writing, mathematics, technology, languages, media,
  7. be able to explores ideas and technologies alone or as part of diverse teams;
By this mandate, students need to be using technology as a tool for learning. Ergo, we as instructors need to be competent in our approach to ensuring that students are given appropriate opportunities that offer the use of technology as a constructive learning tool while staying closely aligned with curricular objectives.

Technology should also focus on enabling delivery of relevant content and curriculum. Tech tools and resources should not be utilized merely as a time fill, rather they must serve real world purposes that will help deliver the curriculum in a manner that is meaningful and relevant to our students in order to best prepare them for their future.

I know many of us do not particularly enjoy disruption, let's face it...few people want it. However, we all want something better. So what is the best path to get us from here to that better place with the least amount of fallout? We need to forge our own path that leverages the knowledge, gifts, skills and talents from within our schools. In this manner, we will become our own trailblazers on our journey to that new productive, practical and promising place. A place where we can foster positive attitudes and build a solid foundation of skills and competency that will organically flourish and grow from the grassroots level up into a powerful learning environment that is truly transformative for our staff and students.

So, how do we get there? Well, I have a two word plan...


Saturday, 25 May 2013

Why I am Keeping Google Keep...

Well, I didn't think I would like a note taking app quite as much as I love Google Keep.

I have used MANY note taking apps over the years from the complex (One Note, Mind Map, Evernote) to the simple (Anydo, Astrid Tasks). What I have found is that Keep beats them all handily at what it does best; it takes notes quickly and easily.

Here are a few of the features that I really appreciate:
  1. It is blazingly fast to get your notes going. As a teacher and a consultant, I find I just need a program that I can quickly take a note and sort out the info later - Keep does that job exceedingly well.
  2. You can take notes offline and they automatically synch when you reconnect to the net. Very handy on my tablets. 
  3. Colour coding your messages to sort them works very well. I can visually see what notes belong to what group quickly and easily and drag and drop them to group them.
  4. The gestures are nice. Want to remove a note, just swipe it to the side and it is archived.
  5. It synchs nicely with Drive across my accounts. That means, when I am on a different device, I can quickly access my notes, images and pictures.
  6. I love the widget - it is icing on the cake.
It also has a handy little desktop Chrome App that opens Keep up in a popup window that you can keep open and drag around the screen - very nice! LINK:

Now, to be sure, Keep is not the most fully featured note taking app out there - but that is what I love about it. It is not bloated, nor does it take forever to get a new note going. It is just plain, simple and fast...and that's why I'm keeping it around on my devices.

If you want to grab Keep for your device, go to the Google Play store.

Monday, 29 April 2013

PROJECT: mark*N*mail - Rubric/Marking App

mark*N*mail is an app for educators that will transform the marking process for your classroom.

mark*N*mail will take any Google Form you create for student marking (rubrics, tests, etc.) and email the results of the form to your students in a neatly formatted manner. The app works with any device (tablet, smartphone, desktop) on any OS that can run a modern web browser with a Google Docs account.

Simply add your marking criteria items to a Google Form, include an email entry as one of your form elements and then mark your assignments. When you have completed marking the assignments, use the mark*N*mail app to send the results to your students.

  • Harness the power of Google Docs and Gmail to get your marks out to students quickly and easily. 
  • Reuse your marking forms, share rubrics and marking criteria with colleagues or create templates for your classroom, school or district.
  • Simplify and streamline your marking process.
  • Save some trees!

To give the mark*N*mail app a go, CLICK HERE!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Turbulent and Frenetic Pace of EdTech...

Now, to be sure, I am not that old, unless you count 42 years on this beautiful orb as aged. Perhaps I am showing my age when I hearken back to yesteryear blurting the cliched term, "When I was your age..." However, I am noticing a trend, and a rather unsettling one at that - it is abundantly apparent that innovation is happening at a blistering pace that astounds and many teachers are trying desperately to keep pace with all of the "progress" in their classrooms. At times, this can seem like an exercise in futility.

As access to inexpensive electronics explodes, more and more new technologies are rearing their beautifully sleek and shiny countenance each and every day. The educational benefits are heralded...
  • here is something that will help a child read
  • this technology will bridge the gap between students with special needs and their peers
  • your child's core test scores will soar with this app
  • our technology that will most assuredly improve behaviour and accountability in class
And when the sirens that beckon call out their mesmerizing and enchanting claims, educators are often lulled to their hapless doom and lay amongst the wreckage that has become their teaching methodology as they try to collect their thoughts by years end. Even more regretful, some educators are doomed to repeat the cycle over and over again...a dog chasing its tail as it tries in vain to catch the next big thing.

Do not get me wrong, I love to use technology in the classroom when I see a clear benefit in efficiency or engagement. Yet, I believe that as a whole, we are at times hornswaggled by the dubious claims of the educational perks of new technologies. By this I mean there has not been a great deal of pedagogical research done into what benefits, if any, there are to be found in many of the current EdTech tools.

There are a few areas where research has shown that students have benefited from technology use in the classroom. Students studying Math seem to show improved scores on standardized tests (Technology's Edge: The Educational Benefits of Computer-Aided Instruction. Lisa Barrow, Lisa Markman, Cecilia E. Rouse). However, does this higher score translate into an increased ability in problem solving and critical thinking? Maybe...maybe not. Probably the area that has shown the most promise is the use of tech for students with disabilities. (Benefits of Technology Integration in Education, Antony Saba). This indeed looks to be very promising.

All in all, I believe instructors need to think first before rushing out to test the newest app or use the most recent piece of kit available in our classrooms. Experimentation is fine. Try the shiny new toys out and briefly give them a run with your students. However, make sure you give yourself time to enhance your class with EdTech tools that have proven themselves to be useful in their efficiency and efficacy in an educational setting. Perhaps we need to be a bit more choosy when deciding what tech to use in the classroom.

It is high time teachers hone their skills on platforms that have some semblance of permanence to them. For teachers in my district, that would mean giving serious consideration to building knowledge and skills in the usage of the Google Docs/Apps for Education platform. In doing so, we could better develop a solid pedagogical approach instead of rushing from the next big thing to the next BIGGER thing; all the while burning through copious amounts of time while never mastering more useful skills sets and processes.

Friday, 26 April 2013

PROJECT: Links Database Using Google Spreadsheets [GAS]


  • To create a Google Apps Script [GAS] to pull data off of a Google Spreadsheet (linkDB) and display the links, tags and descriptions of websites collected by users. 
  • Organize the tags to collect data by user input.
  • linkDB pulls the following KEYS as categories:
    • linkDB [Title, Tags, Description, URL, Rating, Date Added] 
    • linkTags [list of available tags]
    • Rating (future feature)
  • The Google Apps Script (linkDB Script) handles the pulling from the spreadsheet and writes the contents to an app that is displayed on site.
  • added search feature:
    • search by Tags
    • search by Keywords
    • search by Phrases [ in quotes ]
    • search sorted by relevance ... as best as I could get it for now :)
  • improve search and relevance
  • further develop link analyzer
  • add a "+1" button to vote for blogs

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Web is the App...

One thing I have been noticing lately as I work on developing web apps is the ease of use when utilizing the most open of platforms - the web. By bypassing an app store, I can have users directly interface with my apps using virtually any device or OS. It is indeed a thing of beauty. Once the app has been installed on  on an account, it is instantly accessible by that account no matter the device. Not only that, in order to update the app, all I have to do is make changes to the script on my end and upload them to the server. the user does not even have to download a single file...amazing.

Now, I am not predicting the death of apps and app stores, but rather a slow decline and shift in the delivery paradigm. A new way of thinking should evolve on the net over the upcoming years. The shift to an open platform via the flexibility afforded by the Internet should be on the near horizon. Using tools such as HTML 5 and other online platforms like Google Apps Script, Javascript, jQuery and others, the web has suddenly become an incredible place to develop your applications.

The arrival of Chrome OS is somewhat of a game-changer in my opinion. The idea that all applications can be run from the web allows for a lightweight, flexible and nimble set of apps that can be utilized without having to be installed. Additionally, updates can be rolled out at any time without worrying that the developer or the user will break the program with an incompatible or outdated OS.

While the current set of apps that can be run in a web browser are not nearly as feature rich as their desktop counterparts, that gap is narrowing very quickly. In fact, as alluded to earlier, there are some excellent features and benefits that web based apps can provide that are difficult for desktop only based systems. The great news is, as long as you can run a modern browser on your system, you will be able to partake in the new web based app revolution.  You no longer need a powerhouse computer that is chained to your desk. Take your pick, tablet, smartphone, desktop, wearable, even the Rasberry pi will have unfettered access to the new breed of web based apps. A new world of choice without the absolute need for the locked in ecosystems of the monolithic corporate oligarchy would be a cool thing indeed.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

mySites: The EPSB Version of a Better Sites App [Chrome Extension]

This Google Chrome App will allow you to access all of your EPSB [Edmonton Public Schools] Google Sites with one click from your Chrome browser. View ALL sites in a sorted list or navigate via an alpha-numeric index. If you have a lot of sites, I hope this app will help make life a little bit easier for you.

NOTE: I have an open domain version of this that I will be posting to the blog shortly. :)

PRIVACY NOTICE: You will have to authorize the extension to access your Google Sites. No data or information is sent to the developer - this is strictly to allow you to use the app for Edmonton Public Schools.