Just Say Wow!

Science experiments can be truly amazing!   Explored
This is just me “geeking out” at reviewing and reading Stephen Wolfram’s latest blog post, The Frontiers of Computational Thinking from his keynote at the recent SXSW 2015 Conference.

I have been a big user and sharer of the WolframAlpha knowledge engine. I recognize its support in visualizing the world around us. Teachers can use this knowledge engine in all subject areas for information, for discussion, and for comparison. This is not the only thing that Stephen Wolfram, founder of Wolfram Research is working on however.

I really like his thoughts on computational thinking and his work particularly with correlating knowledge in science and technology. His work on Wolfram Language is about to revolutionize ideas, programming, and interactions with the technical side of computing.

In his blog which is a transcript of his keynote (18 minute excerpt below) he shows how Wolfram Language acts when conversing with a human. The results, in my opinion, are just as amazing as seeing a student with severe autistic tendencies interact with Siri on his iPhone. Take time to go through the transcript and see what different things Stephen asks Wolfram Language to do from math examples, definitions, word clouds, images, graphs, tweetable programs, code playing cards, a student programming lab, multiple languages, making art, etc.

I also viewed an excerpt video of this actual keynote that makes part of Stephen’s transcript come alive.

My next thoughts are:

  • How do I share this with colleagues so that they see the possibility for its use in the learning environment?
  • What does this mean for a student? How could they use it in their own learning?
  • Who is interested in trying this out? If it’s YOU, then go to Wolfram Programming Cloud to play in your own environment!

Why Design Thinking?

What excited me initially about this process was the opportunity for teachers to be able to focus on creating transformational learning experiences for students. Through this process students develop a way to produce creative solutions to any posed problem.

Nice brief overview video (3:01) created by IDEO.

Design Thinking allows students to be confident enough to tackle any challenge because they have the right tools and resources or know how to ask/get them. Collaboration across grade levels, tapping into cross-curricular areas, and inviting other stakeholders allow for a variety of insights, experiences and unimaginable learning. It’s scary because it IS DIFFERENT, but through this process, students learn how to personalize it, internalize it and apply it to their own lives.


I like how Stanford’s has established the process of:

  • Define the problem by developing empathy through asking what different people need.
  • Iterate the problem which a variety of possible solutions.
  • Create prototypes and test them out.
  • Reflect on the process.
  • Repeat any part of these steps until a final acceptable solution is achieved.


To the Challenge!

In order to get people to understand the Design Thinking process, they MUST actually try it out. Shared below is a short, 40 minute mini design challenge that one can start out with to introduce it to colleagues and/or students.

The mini design challenge can easily be run with 2-3 people working together as a team. It is important to have materials available for each team to use (like clothespins, pipe cleaners, glue sticks, scotch tape, straws, a variety of paper, scissors, pencils, sharpies/felts, aluminum foil, pompoms, yarn/string, foam objects, etc.)

Each team is tasked to try to design, build and promote their product or service. This specific challenge that was presented to participants who attended the recent Educational Technology Council of the Alberta Teachers Association (ETCATA) sponsored Makerspaces event. (The three images below show actual participants working through the mini design challenge.)

The challenge

  • Each person is a designer at a specific company.
  • That company is trying to win a contract to produce a personal or professional product/service.
  • The team of three people are tasked with creating a working prototype that will utilise a specified technology to solve a specific issue. (Each team was given two words to incorporate into the prototype. For this challenge, I issued each team with a technology tool and a silly word such as internet + kitten, printer + frizz.) Complete List of tech tool and silly words.
  • The team, using the Product/service pitch sheet and provided materials, will design, build the prototype and develop a one minute pitch all in 35 minutes.
  • If there are a large number of teams working on this at the same time, three teams can get together and pitch their prototypes and then choose a ‘winner’ of the contract within their group.

ETCATA_designteam ETCATA_designteam2 ETCATA_designteam3


Next Steps for the Classroom

Great questions being asked by teachers via IDEO video clip (1:45).

I also love the way IDEO has developed a Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators (free download) and although I the above challenge is based on Stanford’s Design Thinking process, you cannot go wrong with using the toolkit as you explore this design process with your students. You can also use the above mini design challenge with your colleagues as a quick introduction OR if you want to go deeper and take the Virtual Crash Course from Stanford’s, do check it out as it runs 90 minutes. The course includes the toolkit, video and an amazing gift challenge that you won’t soon forget!

Other Design Thinking resources:

Whatever you decide to dabble on, I know that it will change the way you plan, create and establishing learning practices in the classroom environment. Enjoy!


Using the + in GAFE

Morning coffee with Google+

So what’s the big deal with Google+? Can’t Facebook and LinkedIn do the same thing?

For me, in my Social Media hemisphere, I use Facebook as a personal communicator and connector with family, high school and post-secondary friends. LinkedIn is my professional site where I can connect with educators, administrators, vendors, educational institutions, etc. The value in using Google+ is that it collects various shared resources and displays them online while allowing patrons to chat, link, highlight, share multimedia, have book talks, create online meetings, offer blended learning opportunities for a variety of educational/professional purposes. With our school division in its third year of GAFE, Google+ now seems a natural way to go to connect our teachers together in an online environment and also connect with others internationally.

Currently, the Google+ main suite of tools contains:

Profile – where you describe yourself, post entries publicly or to specific people/groups. It’s also where the birthdate (not year) is important since this is auto-streamed into your Gcalendar (if you follow that person’s G+) which is a really neat feature.

  • It is important that you share just enough educational information about yourself to allow people to see if they would like to follow you. (Just like Twitter, if a person that I would like to follow doesn’t share a brief bio, then I don’t follow them because I don’t really know who they are.)


Circles – is the area where you can group people you follow. They can be put into more than one of your created circles

  • If they work in your school but also teach Math, they could be in a School circle as well as a Math circle. This is a great place to move your followers into groups. Makes it really easy to share great information, resources all at once to one group instead of typing everyone’s email address!


Communities – are created by any person who has an active G+ account. They can be public or closed and any posts can further be organized by topic within the specific community. This is a great way to meet, connect and share.

  • You’ll see below that our Division has a number of communities that our teachers can join. They are kept open, but shared links from time to time may only be available to our teachers since they are on our portal (intranet), but anyone can join and benefit! There are also many other great educational communities to join. For GAFE, I recommend GEG Alberta, Google Apps in Education, Canadian GAFE Educators, Google Docs and Drive to start. You can also do a search for a particular content area and choose via number of members/posts, etc. Within each community that you either create or join it’s also important to decide if you want the notifications turned on or off.

Google plus PSDcommunities

Events – allows you to announce and schedule both online and offline events.

  • An easy way to share activities and invite others to join in on the fun! The ability to say Yes, No or Maybe gives an opportunity for the creator of the event to see who is coming.


Hangouts – a personal video conference tool that allows up to 15 people on different devices to connect. You also do a live hangout that allows up to 100 participants to see with an archive uploaded to your YouTube account.


Photos – This is the place to curate your images.

  • Add them directly from your G+ app on a mobile device or upload from a storage/computer. You can create albums to group them easily.


Pages or Local – I don’t know of anyone in my Division using these.

For a great step-by-step tutorial, I recommend using @ericcurts Google+ for Schools document. He does a great job of outlining each step combining text and images. The Gooru also has some solid tutorials that combine brief video clips with text, check out the specific Gooru Google+ Tutorials. And for our teachers, they can also access within their G+ environment, the Synergyse Training Button.

However you use Google+ in your educational environment, you can see that it is filled with many features.


Reach for the Summit!


Photo Credit: Artotem via Compfight cc


With over ¾ of school divisions and post-secondary institutions in Alberta connecting their staff and students to the GAFE (Google Apps for Education) environment, attending workshops like the annual Alberta Google Summit allow staff time to further familiarize themselves with the platform and what successes/challenges other sites are encountering.


My own school division has been utilizing the GAFE environment for three years. We continue to offer in-house, school site professional learning sessions and have access to Synergyse training as well.


In my own experiences, I have noticed that the staff who:

  • understand the opportunities for creation, collaboration and communication using the GAFE environment and are modeling this in their classrooms, are able to see the benefits for students.
  • take time to get to know how certain google apps, chrome extensions/apps/add-ons work and try them out in class, use them more often with students.
  • have administrators that model the use of GAFE in the business of learning and support/share this work with their staff, are more adept and comfortable in this environment.
  • attend and share their professional learning experiences with colleagues and see the connection to current divisional/provincial initiatives are better able to explain to parents how GAFE is making a positive impact in the learning environment.
  • have continual access to devices (through BYOD/school-owned) are better able to plan and use specific instructional strategies to make learning effective for ALL their students.


Learning is a journey and with GAFE this is no different. Below I have linked several resources that may peak your interest.


Alberta GAFEsummit 2015 collaborative notes – includes all sessions and keynotes from this two day event.


The GOORU – a favorite training website of mine. Various resources, tools, features and more are available. I really like that you can explore a specific topic or even sign up for their daily tips to arrive in your mailbox.


Become a Google Ninja – this is an online self-paced program.


Join a G+ Community like GEG Alberta, Canadian GAFE Educators, Google Docs and Drive, Google Apps in Education or even create your own to share resources, ideas and experiences.


Follow the Twitter feed hashtag #gafesummit (and @edtechteam) for specific GAFE-inspired experiences.


Check out Google for Education training lessons that offer topics from Android tablets to YouTube, all developed by the Google team.


Have fun, share lots and collaborate often! That “summit” may feel out of reach sometimes, just remember there are other ‘sherpas’ ready to help you along the way.



To Speak or not to Speak….

By User:King of Wikis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I have been pondering the speech recognition question/opportunity for a while now and a recent QIAT listserv threaded conversation gave me the idea to share my ideas as well as others and some of the resources surrounding this topic.

The ability for computer-based devices to recognize speech is not something new, as a matter of fact, it’s been around for about six decades. Speech technology’s recent surge in popularity in education is further continuing this conversation and utilization.

My ideas and resources below are by no means the ONLY way to tackle speech recognition in the classroom. I just hope to share some ideas, questions and reflections from my experiences.

Before I even share an assistive technology tool with any teacher, I will have asked them to refer to the SETT Framework (developed by Joy Zabala and part of the IPP process in Alberta). Teachers need to consider who the student is as a learner, what the learning environment is like, what are the writing tasks and what tools can be used to remove the barriers in learning.

Speech recognition can work positively for those students who are able to express their thoughts and ideas better verbally than through writing or typing. If the student is already able to use or can learn the skills of proper enunciation, continual oral output (no hesitations), self-monitoring, patience and is motivated, then trying speech recognition may be a good choice for them.

I work most often with administrators and teachers in our school division; however I also happily work with students when the opportunity arises. The ability to take time to show some tools and resources that could make a difference to students is one that I hold near and dear to my heart. The fact that our school division has access to various low tech to high tech software, hardware and professional sharing opportunities has aided this along significantly.

Proper introduction to speech recognition tool(s)

  • Now available
    • Speaker-dependent speech recognition – creation of a personalized voice profile where the speaker must train the software program to recognize its voice such as Dragon Naturally Speaking (for PC) or Dragon Dictate (for Mac).
    • Speaker-independent speech recognition – no profile creation, software picks up current voice such as Siri, Google Voice, Android. This is where I spend my time on laptops, netbooks and Chromebooks nowadays with: Google Docs add-on > Speech recognition. Our school division is three years into using Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Some of our schools have entered into Bring Your Own Devices and with all students have a GAFE account, this helps with staff and students working from the same cloud environment. There are many Google apps and extensions that can be used. The Google Docs add-on > Speech recognition opens up a right pane within a google document for the speaker to immediately use.


  • Read&Write for Google chrome extension > Speech input is available for free for teachers and is a licensed product for students.

Speech input_RWG

  • Voice Note II chrome extension is available for free in the Chrome Web Store and once installed, when a user chooses it from their toolbar, Voice Note will pop up over top of any current work and you can start dictating away, copy the text and insert it anywhere you require!


  • There are also iPads found in our classrooms and two popular recommended apps to try out are: Dragon Dictate and Paperport Notes iOS apps are both created by Nuance. Both are simple to use and Paperport offers a variety of note taking opportunities besides oral such as typing, handwriting, audio, inserting images, changes to paper types and exporting to GDrive (as well as other options).
  • Environment
    • Think about the space where the dictation will occur. Is it loud? Can the student move to a quieter part of the classroom or to a space outside of the classroom?
    • Think about the microphone. Is the USB microphone (on the device or the headset) extra sensitive to surrounding voices and/or noises? Some USB headsets that have been successfully used in the school division are:
  • Part of a continuum of inclusive technologies where teachers and students can combine speech recognition with other software and applications like:
    • GAFE with premium Read&Write for Google
    • 30Hands iOS app
    • Blogging with Edublogs and the EasyBlogjr iOS app
    • ShowMe/Educreations iOS apps
  • The Writing Process
  • Students need to be able to compose orally which is different than writing with a pencil or typing on a keyboard.
  • Give them time to practice and use scaffolding strategies to support writing such as pre-writing activities and editing.
    • Brainstorming – students should think about their topic and what they want to write. They could use a Think-Pair-Share cooperative learning strategy with a partner to mentally and verbally compose some sentences, or individually write down key ideas on a post-it note or even on a graphic organizer.
  • Using the tool – students will then use the speech recognition tool and through practice, they can either verbally process one sentence at a time (turning off the microphone in between) or on all out ‘verbal dump’.
  • Once the dictation is completed, students can then edit and revise either using a keyboard or using speech recognition.
  • One must remember that producing more text doesn’t equate to better writing but it does allow for more complex cognitive tasks like revision and reorganization of ideas.
  • Speech recognition can be used for a variety of writing tasks such as:
    • Note-taking
    • Sentence answering
    • Essay writing
    • Report/research writing



Expressing Learning in Exciting Ways

Three years ago, our school division embarked on a vision to be “a place where exploration, creativity and imagination make learning exciting and where all learners aspire to reach their dreams”. During this time, we were also entering into the collaborative cloud-based arena with Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and Edublogs. This work is also support by the Ministerial Order on Student Learning and the Learning and Technology Policy Framework.

A Look at Edublogs
This platform allows students to engage in developing their writing skills, becoming more transparent reflective learners and establishing a positive digital presence through blogging. Currently in our division there are two types of blogs: a classroom blog (developed and maintained by the teacher) and a student blog (maintained by the student and moderated by the teacher).

The Classroom Blog’s purpose is to share and build a deeper understanding of the learning occurring in the classroom. Teachers use the classroom blog to document classroom activities, curate curricular-specific links to educational resources, extend learning opportunities, model digital citizenship and social responsibility, and encourage student and parent responses.

The Student Blog’s purpose is to share and showcase their own learning artifacts and build a deeper understanding through reflection.

Students use their blog to:
• Share growth in their learning
• Leave a positive digital footprint
• Relate to the topic being discussed in class
• Reflect on their own learning
• Support the learning of others by giving and receiving feedback
• Write about their passions and invite guest responses from community members.

The blog improves their level of understanding, develops growth in literacy and numeracy, increases engagement in learning, encourages parent participation. Student can choose how they present their learning on their blog via video, audio, text, images or a combination of these which offers them different opportunities to showcase their work. Overall, blogging is one important way to have students reflect on their learning.

“Students are more reflective about their own learning because of their blogs. I love that they are able to look at their learning, think about the process, and then write about the experience. What a valuable opportunity! Additionally, the kids love feedback that goes beyond our classroom walls. When someone from another city, province or country responds, they get SO excited!”- Teacher

“Blogging opened up the possibilities of audience in new ways. So, when they are considering writing or publishing for an audience other than me, the teacher, that really impacts how they view what they doing and the intrinsic motivation they have.”- Teacher

“I have really enjoyed blogging this year. It has been a fun way to learn new writing skills. In 5th grade I didn’t really like writing. It seemed boring and like a chore. When we started blogging this year, I was really unsure about it. I thought it would be just a trick to make writing seem more exciting. I was so wrong! Blogging has been really fun for me. Blogging has let me write about things I like and enjoy, such as holidays and video games. If we just wrote papers and essays this year, I would probably get burnt out. I would not try as hard, and it would not be very enjoyable. I really want to continue this amazing experience next year.”- Student, Grade 6

“I want to continue to write these posts … because they help me put all my thoughts into words and to stretch my creativity.” – Student, Grade 8

“Throughout the year, I have learned new techniques for grammar from reading other people’s blogs and from some of my own. Every time I write a blog I learn a new way to use word.” – Student, Grade 9

As one can read from the above comments, our students are seeing the impact that blogging has on their learning. In fact, some of our youngest bloggers are now able to share and demonstrate their learning just as much as our older students because of a third party app called EasyBlogjr. See how some of our early years students are showcasing their learning through the examples below:

Colby, grade 2

RJ, grade 2

The image below shows RJ’s actual post from what he demonstrated in the above video. His title The Deadly Witch, the photo that he took of his deadly witch drawing and his sentence of “My witch is my first drawing and it was as fun as possible and we had to use crayons and we had to fill the hole page” is prominently displayed in the post of which I have enclosed in this screen shot.RJ_EasyBlogjr_post

As one can see, hear and read, our students today are able to express and demonstrate their learning in exciting ways!


Here to Represent

Task 3 of this week’s look into Multiple Means of Representation had me look at some of the current books (textbooks) that our students in Alberta already have access to via the LearnAlberta website. Within this website are all sorts of resources and tools. I specifically choose a textbook since this is the most used resource within the classroom.

Within the site, teachers and students search for a specific textbook. I happen to choose a grade 7 Science book. Below you see the initial description and media format.


Once a teacher or student opens this resource, they can download the Daisy or .pdf files. Daisy is audio only and the .pdf files can be read by online readers like Read&Write Gold/Google chrome extension and SpeakIt chrome extension.


I contacted a Vision specialist with another organization to ask if this resource is accessible for those students with low or no vision. He did say that this resource is also JAWS (Job Access With Speech) accessible.


I believe the important thing with Multiple Means of Representation, is not only to have teachers understand that there are resources already available that allow for ALL learners to access content related to their subject areas. I also think it is important to show students the Kids Health online resource and the article from the University of Edinburgh which shows how to create accessible materials, so they think about this while created their own online resources. We should also task publishers to make their products available in many accessible ways – audio, video, different fonts, etc.



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