Skills Canada – 2013

Yep, my students have done it again. They will be competing for the second year in a row at the Skills Canada competition (this year in Vancouver). Here’s the gold medal winning video for the province of Saskatchewan:

I love the downward slide at the end!

They are talented young filmmakers and I’m confident that they will represent well in Vancouver in June. You can see more of their work at the Overactive Imagination Studio blog. Their short film “Torched” is not to be missed.

I what has already been said except to point out (again) the importance of planning. It was a 6 hour competition from the time the topics were given to the competitors to the delivery of the video. Sean and Sam spent close to 3 hours on planning and preproduction – brainstorming ideas, storyboarding and script-writing. They didn’t pick up a camera let alone fire up any video editing application until their time was half done. The results of the planning are noticeable in the quality of storytelling that they present, as pointed out by the judges for the TV/video production competition area.

Cool Tech Tools for the Classroom

I gave a presentation today for the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Beginning Teachers Conference with the snappy title Cool Tech Tools for the Classroom. That’s a fairly open topic, so I interpreted tech tools as referring (mostly) to web based tools, and I wanted to focus on what is available for free since they always fit in the available budget.

If I gave the presentation 10 years ago, it might have been difficult coming up with enough tools to talk about; 5 years ago there would have been a few choices with maybe a handful of really useful choices. When I started doing some research[1] for the presentation, and by research I mean search on google for “tech tools classroom”, I found that not only were there many tools available, but there are lots of good and useful ones.

My job would be more about curation[2] than creating an exhaustive list. In fact, the more I could minimize the list, the better.

So here is the list of finalists, as promised at the conference:

  • Poll Everywhere – alternative to student response systems (clickers). Works well if your students have cell phones, but it can work if they have access to a web browser.
  • Class Dojo – behaviour feedback/class management system. I’ve heard it criticized for being based on power and control of students’ behaviour. I personally have no problem with that.[3]
  • Remind 101 – great tool for communicating with your students who have cell phones, without the possible awkwardness of having your students cell phone numbers or vice versa
  • Edmodo and Schoology – kind of like facebook groups for your classes, but with more control. And without the ads, games or embarrassing photos. I’ve only used Edmodo, but I’ve heard good things about schoology from someone who’s used both.
  • Twitter – I’m starting to think this is the single most important tool that teachers need to learn how to use. The best tool for connecting your students to the world, and for connecting yourself to colleagues and their ideas.
  • Delicious, the favour by sharing your good links/resources and keep the good karma going).
  • Blogs and wikis – There are many but I recommend Edublogs and Posterous. For wikis, I recommend Wikispaces.
  • Google Docs, now officially called Google Drive. An online office suite that allows collaboration. Fantastic for letting kids work together, and also for teachers to monitor students writing process.
  • Discovery Education Canada – the Canadian branch of Discovery Education. So many resources, I could take a day to show all of them. Or more likely, I’d just ask Dean to Skype in and do it for me. I showed the curricular standards search (Thanks to Mavis Hoffman for that suggestion), but there’s a lot more than that. Sadly I only had about 10 minutes left to work this in, so I barely had the chance to introduce it. Hopefully somebody will do a more thorough presentation on DEN at the IT summit in May 2013.
  • Scratch – not a web based tool, but such a cool thing that I think more teachers should know about it. Essentially, scratch is computer programming with an interface more like lego than traditional text based programming languages. Every teacher should know how to use Scratch as a tool for letting their students analyze and solve problems, skills that are applicable to all subject areas, not just Computer Science.

  1. And by research I mean, search on google for classroom tech tools and other variations on that phrase, look at some of my delicious network to see what they’ve bookmarked, and (my favourite) ask for help on twitter (I call this the Shareski method).  ↩

  2. Curation is the currently trendy term for looking at a lot of resources and compiling a list of the ones you think are best. Just so you know.  ↩

  3. My full response to that criticism is longer so it’ll have to wait for another blog post, or not, as the case may be. The truth is that I just learned how to make foot-notes, and I’m being a little gratuitous with them. Sorry, but I’m indulging myself now so I avoid over-doing it in future.  ↩

Generic rubric

This is the rubric I tell my students. Not very explicit but they get it.

  1. nuh-uh
  2. meh
  3. Yep
  4. Whoa!

Apple Event predictions – Fall 2012

I haven’t played the Apple Event prediction based on nothing game for a while but here’s my call for the event on Sept. 12:

  1. The event isn’t just about the iPhone 5. Most of the media reports I’ve heard/read interpret the shadow of the number 5 to represent the iPhone 5. I think that Apple will instead be about 5 releases.
  2. The iPhone 5 will be unveiled, availability later this month
  3. The iPad mini will be unveiled, available sometime in October
  4. A new iPod touch.
  5. A retina display 13″ MacBook Pro will be unveiled. Available immediately (meaning there’s a 4 week waiting period after you place your order).
  6. New iMacs. It’s about time for a revamp. Maybe even retina display. A 27″ retina display would be magnificent. Available to order now.
  7. 6. And iOS will be available that day.

I base these predictions on absolutely no facts, just my own observations and wishes/hopes. And if I’m right, you can be darn sure that I’ll be reminding everyone of this on twitter. (And if I’m wrong I’ll just re-write this post.)

Hanging out and cruising around Winnipeg with Alec and Dean

I put out the call to try Google Hangouts on Air. Alec and Dean pulled up in their car and we all cruised around Winnipeg thanks to the magic of the interwebs.

We’re going to be recording a new EdTech Posse podcast tomorrow night, and we’ll be giving Google Hangouts on Air a try as a tool for live streaming and recording of our podcasts.

Project simplify

I’m trying, but not always succeeding, to simplify my life. The whole family is looking through all the crap that has accumulated over many years in our house. My rallying cry has been “We don’t own our stuff, our stuff owns us” and I’ve tried to be discriminating about what is going to own me. Case in point – university notes. I’ve kept my notes from university classes going back almost 30 years. (Jeebus, I’m getting old). For most of the notes from my B.Sc. and B.Ed. I can count the number of times I’ve looked at it on zero hands. Zilch. So why was I still hanging on to them? (Most have now been recycled).

I’m fascinated by the reasons people hoard stuff. Sometimes there are practical reasons for hanging on to things. Quite often, though, I have kept things for no rational reason. I have analyzed my reasons for hoarding, and I’ve pretty much been able to find 3 reasons why I (and possibly other people) hoard:

  1. Something represents or reminds me of who I have been in the past. University notes partly fall into this category. My high school sweater is another in this category. It has long since ceased to fit, and one of the arms has unraveled to the point of resembling the wrappings on a mummy. And yet I kept it because I like to remember the person I was in high school. Maybe hanging on to it makes me think I’m still that person, and maybe I am but I don’t need a 30 year old sweater to make me that person.
  2. Something lets me think that I’m the sort of person that I would like to be. I can’t think of any specific examples from my purging of stuff, but I think this is the reason why people have long unused treadmills stuffed away in the room where stuff accumulates in the house (all houses have one of these, right?). There is often no rational reason to keep the treadmill around. Let’s be honest – in 99.9% of all cases, home treadmills get used for about 3 months after purchase then lay dormant. But it let’s us think that we are the sort of person who exercises regularly.
  3. Guilt. We have a Roomba that I purchased 2 years ago. It was never used that much owing to the large shifting mass of small toys (mostly lego recently) on the floor. Maybe at first I kept it because I wanted to think I was the sort of person who kept my house tidy, but I’ve since resigned myself to the fact that were it not for my wife providing me guidance and reminders to tidy up I would be featured on one of those hoarding reality TV shows. Yet the Roomba is still there, looming in that room where stuff accumulates. Why? Because it was a waste of money (although it was on sale and that helps me rationalize the purchase somewhat) and I feel guilty about that. So I keep the Roomba as a way of avoiding facing my own guilt and foolishness.

As part of the simplification, I’m cutting down on the number of domain names I own which peaked at about 12. Not all of the domains were actively used. And cutting down on the number of domain names and sites has allowed me to move to more modest web hosting with Hippie Hosting, which was lauded by D’Arcy Norman. D’arcy has never steered me wrong where web nerdiness is involved. So far the migration has gone well, with a fairly simple, in a geeky sense, way:

  1. Use the wordpress backup to dropbox plugin to back up my web sites (which were all running wordpress). I’ve found this to be an amazing plugin. It will let you set up regular backups of your wordpress site (including files and database) to a dropbox account. Automated backup to the cloud. I can restore my sites relatively easily from any computer.
  2. Create a new site at Hippie Hosting. This is pretty trivial through the admin interface (I think it’s Plesk Control Panel).
  3. Create a new database to hold the site data. As in the previous step, this is pretty trivial.
  4. Tweak the exported MySQL data file to use the new database, and adjust any entries that contain links to the old site. In a couple of places, the file path to certain files or directories was specific to the old host and didn’t work on the Hippie server.
  5. Import the tweaked data file.
  6. Tweak the wp-config.php file to use the new database, database user and password.
  7. Secure copy (SCP) the files onto the server. I’ve never used SCP before since FTP always worked for me before but I figured this was a good reason to learn.
  8. Ta-da – the site is restored. If you can read this, that means it worked.

There’s still a lot more simplifying I need to do but minimizing web sites is an easy step in the process. Exercising some of my long dormant web and Linux geek skills certainly makes it a thoroughly enjoyable task.


Reclaiming my media starts here.


Why the change?

  • Boredom
  • Fear
  • Ennui
  • Post mid-life crisis crisis
  • Too much coffee
  • Not enough sleep
  • Side effects of seizure medication (prevents, not causes – just for the record)
  • Existential angst
  • Awesomeness
  • Whimsy
  • Despair over the decline of RSS in the wake of Twitter
  • Procrastination
  • Blame it on the rain that was falling falling
  • Tight shoes that pinch my toes
  • Spring frenzy
  • Meh
  • Tenacious iconoclasm
  • Black mold
  • Envy
  • Yada yada yada

Pick one or more of the above. Or leave one of your own in the comments.

Onward to Edmonton

The long period of stagnancy (7 months!?!) on the blog is broken. Thanks to two future film directors/producers for giving me the impetus to write. The students in question recently represesnted NBCHS at the provincial Skills Canada comptetion for Saskatchewan, competing against teams from other schools across the province in the category of TV Video Production. This is the first time I’ve sent students to the Skills competition, the Communication Media program being a relatively recent addition (2 and a half years) to the school’s program offerings. Given that, I was somewhat surprised that they returned from competition with the gold medal in the category. I wasn’t completely shocked – they’re very talented film-makers.

Having earned the gold, they will now be heading to Edmonton in May to represent the province of Saskatchewan at the Skills Canada national competition. I have no doubt that they will do well – as I said, they are very talented. Check out the videos on their film production web site – Overactive Imagination Studios – for samples of their work. Will they win a medal? Maybe. Will they be better for the experience? Definitely!

Here’s their winning video:

Secrets of their success

I wasn’t at the competition in Regina (family obligations took precedence) but the boys told me a few things about the competition that I found interesting. A disclaimer – these are my thoughts on an event that I did not attend, but was told to me by someone else.

  • Our Communication Media program was a relatively novice competitor. Many of the other schools had well established programs that have been running for several years longer than we have, including one that is a school within a school specializing in media production. (I don’t want to be misconstrued as running down their program or saying that ours is better. On the contrary, I respect the work they do their and the amazing program they have built). Despite that, the students that went were of the same calibre as students from established programs and large urban centres. The talent that we have in The Battlefords is world class. The notion that the most talented and creative people are only in large cities is a myth.
  • To put another myth to rest, it’s not about the technology, or at least not about the quality/cost/brand name of technology that you have. The boys told me that they were feeling a little outgunned when they saw that other teams had Canon 5D Mk II cameras (the gold standard for HD SLR video production) or professional ENG cameras. We have very good prosumer cameras, but they certainly don’t have the cachet of the big name equipment. They also have a lower price tag so I’m able to have more students working on simultaneous productions. Despite our lower status technology, they obviously did quite well. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. The recent interest in iphoneography (using Apple’s iPhone camera as the primary tool, either as a hobby or simply out of fancy, in capturing and creating photographic images – from Urban Dictionary) has grown from the quality photographs that can be taken with an iPhone (or other smartphone camera). Another example I’m exploring of the use of iOS devices to produce “serious” work is a grade 9 optional course in which we use iOS devices to take photographs and video. You can see the results for yourself – some are decent quality photographs and fairly prosaic in quality, but some of their photographs have notable artistic merit to them. The most important tools for creating great photographs or video are your eyes and your brain. The external tools are of a secondary nature. This idea probably deserves a blog post of its own – maybe I’ll get around to it in the next 6 months. :-)
  • Planning is key. The other teams were transferring video onto their computers by 10:30 a.m. (competition started at 8 a.m.) at which time my students were just starting to get out the camera and record. Up until that time, they were planning their video so that when they did pick up the camera, they already had the end product in mind. The results were that the other teams (according to my students) had fairly similar, derivative videos – talking head interviews with standard “this is what a widget looks like” B-roll. Their video (go re-watch it above if you want) had a narrative to it despite the time limitation of the competition. Proper sequencing of the shots so that the product has a beginning, a middle and an end is the result of good planning, and that is what makes the difference between a video and a funny cat tricks video. My program might be a new one, and my experience as a media production teacher might be limited, but this is the one constant rule of media production that I constantly emphasize to students, regardless of the media they work in – your work will only be as good as the planning you put into it before you pick up your camera (or microphone or whatever else you work with).

So for now, we wait until May then onward we go to Edmonton. Regardless of results it will be a high-level learning experience for my students and me.

My 15 minutes

It’s 6:45 a.m. and for the next 15 minutes I have the house to myself. I found out in late May that if I am up early enough, the house is completely quiet. I have a few minutes for coffee and maybe even a little read through my very neglected group of RSS feeds.

I’m also trying to put together a quick blog post. I’ve greatly reduced my twitter intake over the summer so maybe I can rechannel some of the half formed thoughts I’d usually put there into a blog post, even if it is a lame “blogging about why I haven’t been blogging” sort of post. Sorry this seems to be heading that way but maybe it’s necessary to break open the creative logjam that I’ve been feeling has kept me from writing.

Uh-oh – only 2 minutes left until the silence is shattered for the day. Putting together a blog post in 15 minutes is way tougher than it ought to be. Time for that last bit of quality time with my cup of coffee.