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The Math Guy

Posted by mikejacobs May 27, 2016

The Math Guy  is a blog written by Mike Jacobs, a K to 12 Math Consultant with the Durham CDSB.

In it he shares ideas about how we best learn Math from activities that have been tried in various Ontario classrooms.On Camel's Hump summit July 28 2011.JPEG

Providing our Learners With Tools to Tell Their Stories

Posted by Emile Ferlisi in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP on May 15, 2016 10:21:40 PM



Today I'm trying something that I think is fun and unique, the only problem is for several very intelligent and very creative people this isn't really unique, it’s just necessary.  What I'm doing right now is dictating this blog to my laptop and a Google Document is being typed with my voice. I'm not touching my keyboard  at all except to make sure I take care of the spacing and make the odd edit here and there.


As a special education teacher I see students who have incredible narratives to tell but simply can’t use a paper pencil method to get their stories out. Most often the solution to this kind of problem will be to try to teach a student how to type. Typing is an excellent option and for a lot of students it really really works, the only problem is that for a lot of students it simply doesn't. Students who have learning disabilities that affect their written expression can sometimes overcome that learning disability through typing  and I would always encourage teachers to help their students learn how to be proficient with a keyboard. However, there are some really excellent advantages to also having our students work with effective speech-to-text technology. I'm thinking about students who are still developing their typing skills or who are rather young and haven't had an opportunity to become proficiently coordinated with their typing and quite frankly there are always going to be students for whom typing does not make a difference in improving written expression. There will also be students for whom oral expression will always be the best indicator of  understanding on any given topic.


Right now I've just switched to using my smartphone and this is one of the most incredible features of this kind of technology. In some ways the Google Document is more accurately recording my voice through my smartphone and that's pretty awesome. So we really have to think about the applications of a technology like this. For me this is a little bit awkward and I'm probably not generating my best writing, however, I think we've all found students who were really strong orally and we still haven't had excellent speech-to-text technology to really get an accurate idea of what the students are capable of and really get the narratives that these students have to offer and the understandings that these students have inside of their heads documented.


I don't want to make this sound like some kind of plug for Google products because I’m really  not endorsing any technology over another. Right now I'm speaking out loud without making any special effort to articulate and this Google Document is picking up almost everything word for word. When I've used Dragon Naturally Speaking in the past students have sometimes become frustrated in the training process and ironically students need to read passages in order to train Dragon to understand them. Now, here's the thing, when we're working with students who have language-based learning disabilities we're quite often dealing with students who have difficulty decoding and of course I don't need to explain how trying to read passages out loud would be a less than ideal way for these students to train a speech-to-text software.  My colleague Joe Florio (joeflo) can certainly attest to the frustrations that his SERC students have sometimes experienced trying to train on Dragon. On the other hand,  I do think that Dragon Naturally Speaking is a great product and I am in no way critiquing it beyond simply stating the genuine experiences that I have had and that I have seen as an educator.





So what's the point of this? did I just feel like dictating into a speech-to-text software? Maybe a little bit! But really this is a lot more than just some kind of blogging stunt. You see,  one of the most important things that we can provide for our students is the opportunity to genuinely express themselves. In many ways our stories are the most important things we have. When we can provide our students with user-friendly digital tools that help to bridge the gaps between "traditional learners' (if there is such a thing) and learners with differing abilities (really this is all of us, isn't it?), we basically have an obligation to do so. In a day and age when we are so focused on student voice and student well-being while simultaneously trying to be precise and meticulous in the data that we collect from our students, we simply have to provide tools like this for students who need it. I think it's also very important to remember that a technology like this is going to be useful for a lot of our students but absolutely necessary for others. There is a large number of students whose capacity to express themselves, tell their stories and show their teachers what they know might hinge on technologies like this.


Knowing our Learners through assessment is  is an important part of effectively teaching them. When we can find easier ways to incorporate tools that allow our learners  to express themselves we will be able to gather more meaningful assessments from all of our students  not just those who may actually require some of these accommodations.


A  final thought that I think is worth mentioning is the question of whether or not tools such as text to speech software are doing more than just replacing paper pencil tasks. When we think about the SAMR model we usually consider replacing paper pencil tasks with digital tasks as simple substitution or augmentation at best but for the student who nearly can't express himself or herself through writing with a pencil perhaps providing text to speech is almost redefining the task because quite frankly when we’re able to bridge the gap for these students we are allowing them to express themselves and create in ways that aren't possible without the digital tool that they are using.


I've just taken a moment to look back and read through my entire blog. I noticed that I probably express myself better when typing then I do through dictation but since you're reading this you know that I still decided to post this. Here's the thing: I would have no problem writing this blog with a pen, with a pencil, typing it on my laptop, or dictating it into a speech-to-text device. However, with tools like the one I'm using right now this blog could still be written and I could still tell my story, even if something kept me from being able to effectively “write it down”.


Here's the link to my original Google document: Providing Our Learners With Tools To Tell Their Stories - Google Docs

What's the Greatest Edtech Tool?

Posted by Emile Ferlisi May 8, 2016



For a little over 14 months, I've spent more time than I'd like to admit scouring the internet (with a heavy focus on twitter) looking for great edtech ideas and tools. I've been reading articles from well-known and followed 'gurus' and many lesser-known yet often equally insightful educators. I've learned a lot; through my TLLP I've been given the chance to lead a team of educators who are willing to take risks and who are comfortable trying approaches where success isn't guaranteed. Though there is one more feedback survey to be done, so far the responses from the team and the observations I've had the chance to make would suggest that we've all grown as professionals and as leaders thanks to this project.


As we've moved along from October to May, I've supported team member with various resources and through asynchronous collaboration right here on TeachOntario and through our team OneNote. I've thrown far too many emails with resources and ideas at the team hoping that someone might find what I'd sent useful for their classroom; most of the time I was at least partially correct. Team members gladly accepted the challenges and opportunities that their participation in the TLLP (and my personal vision for it) presented.


Perhaps the best part of the project was that team members provided their own half-day professional development sessions for two of their colleagues and since then have made themselves available as technology mentors/coaches to those colleagues. All told, the project has helped to directly improve professional capacity with technology for 30 teachers and two administrators and, even more importantly, helped change the school's overall culture around collaboration and technology for the better.TLLP phase 2.png

Through my scouring and the team's implementation, I've had the pleasure of learning and, more importantly, USING edtech tools that allow students to collaborate and express themselves in ways that might not be possible without the given digital tool. Ultimately, the implementation of any digital tool that I have now learned relies on the simple fact that I HAVE learned it. That is, I can reap the benefits of, Nearpod, for example, because I've been able to create with it and, in that way, can empathize with my learner while supporting their use of the tool. Even if I'm of the mindset that a high level of free exploration will benefit my students, I need to be proficient enough to troubleshoot and support those reluctant learners who simply won't 'jump in' and every classroom has at the very least a few of them. I wrote about this topic in a previous post where I did my best to promote the authentic, creative use of digital tools by educators as a prerequisite for effective classroom implementation.


By now you've figured out that I am not going to point out the 'greatest edtech tool" per se; I think several of them are great and, yes, I do have some favourites including Explain Everything, Padlet, OneNote, and Nearpod, but any tool or group of tools that I point out would be limited and based on my personal preferences and biases. What I can say with confidence and total objectivity is that YOU, my reader, as part of your organization's culture have the potential to be the 'greatest edtech tool' possible. What has made Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP such an enjoyable and, hopefully, effective endeavour has been the culture of learning that we have successfully created, at first for the team of 12 educators we started with and then, progressively, as influencers for our colleagues in the school. We've even been successful in encouraging, promoting and modelling the effective use of digital tools to our school board peers through our consistent sharing on twitter.


So, ironically, the greatest edtech tool isn't available on your tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop. The greatest edtech tool is informed, inspired teacher leadership complemented by a culture of collaboration and risk taking. It's not about the technology, it's about the people and their commitment to meaningful learning.

eacE7WeU.jpgMarc Hodgkinson's Blog can be found at The Fifty-Twenty Blog


Twitter_Logo_Hd_Png_06.jpgHe is on Twitter @Mr_H_Teacher

NOTE: This was originally published in Blogger in August, 2015

Here comes the Boom


Last spring, the Ontario Government released the details of the updated Health and Physical Education Curriculum. However, it was quickly branded the “New Sex Ed” curriculum by both detractors and defenders. Controversy and commentary began immediately, and I was soon hearing and reading everything from legitimate, well-considered critique to absurd criticism and outlandish generalities. 


Within the month I was fielding questions from parents, friends and intrigued strangers at social gatherings. It was a political hot-potato and teachers were often thrust into the spotlight as instant authorities. The big questions (other than the occasional “Is it true that…?” inquiries) seemed to be “Did I agree with it?” and “How was I going to implement it?”


My Temporary Harbour of Ignorance


At that time, I was safe.  I was far too busy with the current school year and the existing health curriculum - so I didn’t have to comment.  My grade 4 students were dealing with the dangers of smoking - creating skits about “saying no” and manufacturing warning labels with Google Draw - safe from the storm of controversy in our little harbour of ignorance.


I did, however, remind any inquisitor that the classroom teacher remained an important human factor standing between the specific expectations of the curriculum and the delivery of that information to the student. He or she is the filter who will make a sincere, prudent and professional effort to meet the expectations of as many people as possible.  It was a good sentence and it afforded me many thoughtful nods of approval.  At the least, it was long enough for me have time to change the topic - “So, how about those Jays?”

How do I square that circle?

It is now mid-summer and I do have the time to examine the documents for myself.  I should preface that I am only looking at the Grade 5 (C1.3 C1.4 & C2.4 pages 156-158) and Grade 6  sections (C2.5 C2.6 &C 3.3, pages 174-177) of the curriculum.  I am setting up my lessons for the upcoming year and I know that the flames of controversy will be fanned again on the next "slow-news" day. I know that, this time, I will need to be prepared.

After reading it for the first time...I remarked that it didn't seem markedly different from the curriculum I remembered when I last taught Grade 5 & 6.  Looking back at the 1998 document - I was correct.


Regardless, I typed the following in my lesson plan notes to use as my anchor moving forward...


“So, how do I professionally approach this curriculum in a way that respects the importance of these concepts?

How do I ensure that students are prepared for the changes they will undergo while also respecting their innocence?

Concurrently, how do I respect the multiple values of each family and culture in my school community?”



I know I echo the sentiment of many educators when I say - We agree - we don't relish the idea of teaching the "prickly-topics". We would far prefer that the family navigate the edges, angles and corners of human growth and sexuality. In fact, we would rather focus on many of the more conventional topics and leave much of the health curriculum to parents - including dental hygiene, healthy eating & internet safety.  It would certainly free up a lot more time for things like coding, writing, and problem solving. 


However, the prickly topics are unavoidable because we should all be in the business of making informed thinkers. We all want to be difference makers and provide our young charges with the important information they need to protect them from as many avoidable pitfalls as possible.  The question seems to remain - Who needs the information and when do they need it? Additionally, if my students are not able to make healthy choices with their bodies, diet, dental hygiene or internet interactions - things like coding, writing and problem solving become a minor concern.


At this time, I need to take a necessary pause and turn my attention to something else - perhaps the recently adapted Social Studies curriculum.  A fall election is looming and I need to be prepared to maximize that learning experience.  Hopefully, someone much smarter than I will provide me with the ideal approach to this slippery slope.  Volunteers?


The Tyranny of Choice

Posted by mr_h_teacher May 5, 2016

NOTE: This is a repost of a blog, originally published through Blogger on August 5, 2015


I am finally going to “post” a blog today.  I'm emphasizing the word “post” because I have written, tinkered-with, debated and deleted many over the past five years. This will be the first one I have officially released into the wild. 


This reticence was not due to apprehension about the content, but a self-imposed hesitation about the platform and presentation.  Much like choosing Friday night entertainment on Netflix -  the delay was a product of the "Tyranny of Choice. What do I choose? What should it look like? What will be a great title? Is this good enough?


My routine, for many years, has been the same. I start, or rediscover, an account on a platform (WordPress, Blogger, etc) and then begin to build the perfect blog environment.  I select titles and templates and carefully craft a catchy URL address.  I dutifully search YouTube videos to provide me with step-by-step tutorials. Simply put, I exhaust my enthusiasm in the minutia.


Invariably, I would get as far as composing a large, unedited chunk of my first post when distraction would set, circumstance, uncertainty, a hockey game on TV. I would convince myself that I needed time to reflect and I would leave the post unfinished. 


Prior to my return, I would learn of a new platform (Edublogs, SquareSpace) - I have stale accounts on them all - and I would begin the process anew. Today, I have decided that this must end.


Here is what I have learned about getting an education blog started. (And this will be short and simple because of #3)


  1. Just write something that you think is important and that you want to share with fellow educators. Once it is written, you will be far more keen to put it out into the world.
  2. Find a tutorial to help you, but look for a tutorial that is current. Blog platforms change frequently. An excellent tutorial from 2011 may be more confusing than an satisfactory tutorial from last month.
  3. Make your points simple and clear. Write a blog that you can edit easily and can be read in a few minutes.
  4. Have fun. If you are not enjoying the process, blogging is not for you.
  5. Post it. Give it a quick edit and then put it up.  You can always revisit it in the future when you gain a new perspective.


With that said - here goes nothing.


Why the 50-20 Blog?

Posted by mr_h_teacher May 5, 2016

NOTE: Originally posted on Blogger on August 5, 2015


In my first post "The Tyranny of Choice" I talked about my struggle to find the perfect title, or URL, for my education blog.  I have tinkered with many - only to create a long and unnecessary delay in my efforts.


I guess I spent much of my thought on my audience.   After all, it is an important lesson I teach to my students when they write. Should I be writing a blog that has a title that will attract other educators? colleagues? parents? students?   How can I welcome anyone on this personal and professional journey?


How clever should my title be?  I once named a Fantasy Baseball team the "Hurley Buehrles" - my punny-play on the last name of a Toronto Blue Jays’ pitcher. I was chuffed by my wittiness until it became increasingly clear that the team I had selected did not deserve a clever moniker. I realized again, it's not the name, it’s the content that matters.


This summer, as I embarked, again, on my quest to create an active blog, my struggles began anew. However, this time, the mental gymnastics were short and an ideal name revealed itself to me quite quickly.  I'd love to say that, like Chris Cornell's "Audioslave", it came to me in a “shaman-like vision”, but that would be embellishing the mundane.  I thought of it while walking to school one morning.


This summer, I turned 50 and 2005 also marks my 20th year as an educator. (I am counting my year of Teacher’s College).  The 50/20 Blog was born. To use a golf analogy, I am (without a doubt) on the “back 9” of this beautiful and challenging course - and I want to finish strong.  This blog can serve to mark this occasion and also act as a scorecard for my journey. 


Like most veteran educators, I would not dare suggest I scored below par on the first nine.  I think I shot well... I certainly learned from my mistakes and managed to pull myself out of a number of hazards.  By its very nature, this is a profession that propels us forward and makes us adapt and change to the landscape.  You can’t reflect on mistakes and missteps.  You can’t fret over missed opportunities and there are no mulligans. You simply must move forward. As Stephen Stills once wrote…


“Don’t let the past remind you of what you are not now.”




So, I move forward to the next tee, eager to begin another year.  I am now overwhelmed with the task of finding the best way to get everything in motion with my new class - Edmodo, The Global Read Aloud, Dot Day, Tween Tribune, Class Dojo, Thrively, Edmettle, Kidblogs, NoRedInk, Hank Zipzer and more.  There is a Federal election in October and that is a teaching opportunity that can't be missed. There will be successes and casualties on the way.  I have changed grades and I am embarking on a curriculum I haven’t looked at in some time. I also have to navigate a new Ontario Health curriculum that attracts both proponents & detractors - but - a lot more people like me, who are not sure how to feel about it yet. I think I'll write about that next.


Regardless, the 50/20 begins.  I welcome anyone to join me on this leg of the journey.

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