Silver Bells #CarolsInCode

public boolean soonChristmasDay(int numBells) {
  Bell[] bells = new Bell[numBells];
  if (Time.currentTime().monthValue()==12 && Time.currentTime().dayValue()<25) {
    for (int i=0; i<numBells; i++) {
      bells[i].setLocation("The City");
    return true;
  else return false;

The Day Without Pay

It’s the last day of school
For Twenty-Thirteen
And on Friday most of us
Will not be seen

We’re all staying home
For tomorrow’s “PD”
But that day’s coming out of
Our wallets, you see.

This isn’t a strike
It’s not a real a choice
We’re forced to stay home
And they’ve trampled our voice.

We’d rather be working
‘Cause all of us care
We’d rather be working
But we just can’t be there.

Our “holiday’s” early
At tremendous cost
The learning that we should enjoy
Will be lost.

We need to step back more often

I’m feeling a little pensive tonight. I attended a visitation today for a colleague who passed away suddenly last week. We’re a day away from a desperately needed break. Christmas is imminent. Another year is almost complete. It’s a time for reflection, it seems.

As I told @leftyeva, I don’t really write private stuff on my blog at all; I do that writing elsewhere. But there are a few things I’m thinking about that are okay to say here.

What are we trying to accomplish in the long term? In our work, we’re helping to develop students into happy, healthy, skilled, resilient people. I found myself getting frustrated over the last few years at what I saw as barriers in my work. I now feel like I’ve crested a hill/rounded a corner/[insert other journey analogy here] and can see some of the complexity of what we’re doing. I work to help people use educational technology to improve learning and improve lives. I work as part of a very, very long term plan in an emerging system, one which is full of false starts and spectacular, costly failures. I don’t need to be upset that we haven’t arrived yet, or that a particular website is blocked, or that people don’t know about a certain tool, or….

Stepping back, we’ve come a really long way. The problems we face today are very different from the problems of a few years ago. They feel urgent in the same way, but generally they’re not any more desperate. They’re challenges, and they’re frustrating, but in a few years I’ll be looking back and once again marvelling at how far we’ve come.

I’m going to try to stop losing sleep over this stuff. Everyone’s trying hard. No one has the answers. We need to give people time and space and support, in work and in everything else.

And when I step back even further, it’s clear to me that my family is the most important thing in my life, and that the work is a distant second. The work will get done even if I’m not the one doing it. I’m really thankful for that because it lessens the burden of responsibility somewhat and lets me be wholly there with my wife and kids.

Cut yourself some slack. Take a real holiday, forgive yourself for not being further along than you are, and remember what’s really important. Hug your loved ones, remind them they’re the most important thing in your life, and live your life so they never have to wonder.

Short Story: Whip’s Axe

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
Whip stepped back and wiped his grimy forehead with the back of his hand. He had been working for nearly an hour and he saw that the sun was beginning to set.
He didn’t feel any pain from his efforts; he wasn’t even tired. He slid his hand down the smooth handle of the axe and felt with his fingers for the tiny bit of polished jasper embedded in the end. His magic combined with the structure of the gem made the tool unnaturally light in his hands and impossibly effective against the firewood.
He shook his head in sad wonder again. A year ago such a use of the magic would have been unthinkable. The magic was for important things, like enchanting swords and strengthening castle walls, not for lightening farm tools and waterproofing boots.
But now, in the aftermath and in the wilderness, survival and comfort were all that he had left. There was no civilization now, and he doubted there ever would be again. Not during his lifetime, anyway.
He shook his head to clear it. No sense chewing over that again.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

Christmas Holidays for Teachers

Picture of a boy jumping onto a snow slider.The Christmas holiday comes again

We unplug for a temporary reprieve from


And we pour ourselves back into our families

Trying to reset the balance we know we’ve lost

With outdoor play in the snow
With big, everyone-there meals
With tight hugs
With quiet, tearful words

And a Resolution

To do better
To appreciate our time
To connect more

But we anxiously remember that we said the same thing

A year ago

We really mean it again this year

And we really need to do better.

Tweets on the Hundreds

This post’s “publicize” tweet will have been my 3700th tweet. I thought it would be interesting to look back at my tweets which were “on the hundreds” – 100th, 200th, etc. I used to retrieve my last 3200 tweets and did some quick spreadsheet work with them. Note that the links are Twitter’s links, which they use to track clicks. It’s kind of hard to get my early tweets in a nice way (i.e. through the Twitter “request archive” button), so I didn’t bother. I’ve highlighted my 1000th, 2000th, and 3000th tweets. As you can see, I’m not very careful with my “milestone” tweets.

It was a nice little stroll through some memories. Some of them don’t make a lot of sense to me out of their context, but most are pretty clear. My favourites from this list are 1300, 1500, 2100, 2200, 2500, and 3000. I also noted that I said “#srsly” four times.

Number Date Tweet
500 Oct 25, 2012 Central Peel going to have a TEDx! #ecoo12
600 Nov 16, 2012 RT @dougpete: Using Twitter to locate the latest information on your research topic via @zite
700 Nov 29, 2012 Sweet! It works! And it’s pretty! “@dougpete: Google adds spreadsheet creation and editing to mobile versions”
800 Dec 18, 2012 RT @PJAnello: Well, I’d say @Desire2Learn just got better for students: #education #innovation
900 Jan 20, 2013 RT @kdesrochers23: Grade 5’s in Calgary would like to know the temperature in your city today! Please RT #scichat …
1000 Feb 02, 2013  #instaweatherpro app #weather now in #Sault Ste Marie
1100 Feb 13, 2013 Related is Inkscape for vector graphics at or – works with SVG files instead of photos @fryed
1200 Feb 22, 2013 @fryed @jacbalen Intended for leaders, good for everyone! #onted #educoach
1300 Mar 02, 2013 My son’s watercolour painting today.
1400 Mar 19, 2013 @dougpete I think One Tab is worth having in my list :)
1500 Mar 26, 2013 Peter Sovran: “I’ll do my very best to give a Ministry answer” to questions #OTRK12
1600 Mar 27, 2013 Session rooms list is at (about to start Wednesday Session 1) #OTRK12
1700 Apr 01, 2013 RT @fryed: If safe drinking water is a priority for you, tell @pmharper the WORLD needs the Experimental Lakes Area #savetheela http://t
1800 Apr 08, 2013 RT @Cmdr_Hadfield: Tonight’s Finale: Aurora dances above a ribbon of dawn.
1900 Apr 16, 2013 @DavidJaremy Well, it’s after 5am and before 11pm, so pretty good :)
2000 Apr 23, 2013  Please reply or add comments to my Google Doc for planning PD on Twitter in the Classroom: #ontEd #edTech
2100 Apr 25, 2013 #NaPoWriMo – April 25 – “New Position Haiku” #poetry #writing
2200 May 01, 2013 I accidentally spelled “awesome” with an “n”, and my phone autocorrected it to “awesomeness”. #awesome
2300 May 12, 2013 Just started a fire in the woodstove. Ridiculous.
2400 May 31, 2013 @dougpete Thanks, and have a great Friday!
2500 Jun 27, 2013 “It takes 700 times less time”? You mean “It takes 1/700th as much time”, otherwise executing that procedure would break causality. #srsly
2600 Sep 18, 2013 @audible_com On my iPhone, while driving, running, or doing dishes.
2700 Oct 10, 2013 Search Creative Commons Flickr images with *multiple colours* at
2800 Oct 24, 2013 Can’t – need more ingredients! MT @AICTCoordinator: How do you take information and convert it into intelligence? #ecoo13 #edchat #edtech
2900 Oct 26, 2013 I installed Minecraft because of #ecoo13
3000 Oct 31, 2013  Why doesn’t MS Excel 2010 have YYYY-MM-DD as a standard date format (it’s ISO 8601!)? I have to TYPE IT IN as a custom format?!? #srsly?
3100 Nov 10, 2013 @TL_Stevenson Awesome! I remember my mom reading to me when I was older. And my high school students always wanted me to read too.
3200 Nov 14, 2013 RT @dougpete: Just blogged… How Wes Fryer Ruined My Day
3300 Nov 19, 2013 @DavidJaremy @swartz19 @timrobinsonj @joelwoodeLc @pjanello @wallied You’re spoiled in ADSB :)
3400 Nov 25, 2013 Anyone have an FSL hashtag or educator list for Twitter? #onted #edchat @PalmsTine
3500 Dec 01, 2013 Just finished assembling 8 game packs of Star Wars Pocketmodel Tactics TCG with the kids. They helped too, honest.
3600 Dec 11, 2013 Students are the digital natives. #FiveWordEdTechHorrors

Unnecessary reply to Doug Peterson’s questions (@dougpete)

Doug responded to a couple of blogging challenges, including mine, and he wrote some great questions of his own for others to respond to. I was moved to answer them as well; the questions are in green since I now know it’s Doug’s favourite colour:

When was the last time you backed up your computer?

I backed up all of my documents about a month ago. All of my work files are mirrored continuously when I’m at work. I don’t back up the whole hard drive any more (haven’t in years, actually).

If you could speak any language other than English, what would it be?

Japanese, I think. Unfortunately, I don’t have nearly enough ambition or time to learn it.

Where would you go for your dream vacation?

At the moment, it’s California. That’ll probably change.

Have you ever received a parking ticket?

Yup, in Waterloo in 2000. I parked on the street overnight (well, until about 3 am) and got dinged for it.

You’re in control of the thermostat. What’s your ideal room temperature?

21 degrees.

Have you ever taken an online course?

Yes, two courses. Since this is kind of my area, I thought I’d share a little more about those.

I started my Primary ABQ from Western many years ago (2003?), but dropped it 4 days in because of the format. I had 150 pages of journal articles to read in the first week (you know, the very academic-sounding type). We also had to read all of the discussion posts for the course and reply to several in each topic. There were 28 people in the course, many of whom were apparently even more verbose than me, so there were about 100 posts in the first 24 hours. No thanks. That’s not good learning, that’s just busy.

A much better experience was my Math Honours Specialist from OISE in 2005. There were 5 people in the course, and we were often divided into two groups for meaningful discussions. The assessment practices were differentiated, and I learned a TON about good instruction in math. And I was able to fit it in even though our first child was a very young baby (that’s more related to my awesome wife than the format of the course).

What was the last educational conference that you attended?

I attended eSymposium 2013 in Sudbury on November 19th. I was part of the planning team, though, so maybe that doesn’t count.

Before that was ECOO 2013 in Niagara Falls. I’m sure you’ve heard of it.

When was the last time you were in a public library?

Maybe 6 weeks ago. I go with the kids from time to time, and the main branch of our public library has a little bookstore with very reasonably priced used books. Sometimes I find things for me, sometimes for the kids, and sometimes for my wife’s Grade 5 class. I love books.

Have you ever dabbled with Linux?

Yup, a fair bit. I played a lot with Red Hat about 10 years ago, and I fiddled with Ubuntu more recently. I like it, but it’s more fun than productive for me.

What would you consider to be the best photo you’ve ever taken?

This one is really hard. I have a few photos that I love, and a few that others seem to like to use. Check out a bunch at Here are some of my favourites right now:

Honey bee at the lilac tree

American Tree Sparrow

American Goldfinch


Great Grey Owl (2013-02-24 10.22.33)

What, and where, is your favourite park?

Bellevue Park is our large municipal park in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and I love watching my kids play there. I don’t think I’ve been to enough parks to have any stand out in my mind, so I’ll choose that one.

Brief reflections on the SNB #PDLM

The Sudbury North Bay Region's PDLM

Thanks to Tim Robinson for tons of work on the presentation.

Last Monday the Sudbury-North Bay (SNB) Region hosted the e-Learning Contact (eLC) Provincial Digital Learning Meeting (PDLM) online using Adobe Connect (AC – just kidding). Each region has a turn at hosting a PDLM, and ours was hot on the heels of eSymposium (eSymp) on November 19th (

I want to mention first that I work with a truly amazing group in our region. I’m privileged to be Chair for our region (no one else wanted to be) and was also lucky to be co-hosting this PDLM with Andrew Swartz from Northeastern Catholic DSB. All of the eLCs in the region contributed a great deal to the event, and [spoiler alert!] it was very successful!

The Agenda

  • Welcome, etc.
  • D2L Update
  • Best of eSymposium (three breakout sessions)
  • Break!
  • Mini Virtual Ed Camp
  • eLO update

I think most of this is “normal” (although awesome, because SNB was hosting), but the Ed Camp was different for us.

Mini Virtual Ed Camp

We were using Adobe Connect, so we opened up a fresh chat pod and asked the participants to type in topics they were interested in. We hosts watched the torrent of ideas rush past, and we noticed three topics “trending”: Carousels, Integrations (particularly GAFE and O365) and ePortfolio.

We set up three breakout rooms, one for each topics, and asked people to choose which they wanted to go to. We made it clear that we weren’t “presenting” in those sessions, but that anyone there can ask questions and anyone there can answer them. Participants could go to a room to learn something new, go to a room to act as an expert, or anything in between.

It worked well

People mostly stayed put, although they were welcome to move between rooms (only about 5 people did). That’s partly because participants have to be moved in Adobe Connect (they can’t just wander on their own; they need help from hosts).

I didn’t get to attend the breakouts myself, but feedback I heard was that the 30-35 minutes was about right for those topics. Much longer and people might have found their attention wandering. The groups were also large (one around 35), so that’s pretty big for easy online chit chat.

I’d like to participate next time

I’m hoping a future PDLM includes some Ed Camp time; I’d like to try it out. I wonder if a service other than Adobe Connect would be better to allow people to move between rooms, or if multiple meetings would be better (separate URLs).

I think a face-to-face Ed Camp would be pretty sweet too – I’d love to see one here in the Sault.

Big plans… :)

Joyful Blogging in Response to @fryed

A picture of a boy playing in water in an urban setting.

“Real Joy” by Todd Baker (technowannabe) via Flickr, CC-BY-2.0

Donna Fry challenged me and other Northern Ontario bloggers to be joyful in our blogging and share in Lee Kolbert’s challenge. Here’s my entry in the fun.

The Process

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Here we go:

Acknowledge the nominating blogger

Donna Fry – big thinker. Read her stuff (I know I didn’t need to say that, since you do already).

Share 11 random facts about yourself

  1. I like to read fiction, but I stress about what I should read.
  2. Math makes me happy.
  3. Coffee is a food group.
  4. I have read Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede about ten times, and I just read some of it to my daughter. I didn’t read the whole thing to her, though, because she couldn’t wait for me and she finished it on her own.
  5. I like cooked tomatoes, but not raw tomatoes. I don’t know why.
  6. My favourite part of winter is that there are no mosquitoes.
  7. If I had no need to work, I don’t know what I would want to do with my time.
  8. My favourite pie is blueberry, followed by raisin and pumpkin. In case you needed to know, like if you’re baking at Christmas time or something.
  9. I wear my watch on my right wrist.
  10. I know how to knit, but I’ve prioritized other things in my life, so I gave all my needles and yarn to my mom.
  11. I feel guilty when I don’t keep up with a podcast or a blog.

Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you

1. What was the first “subject area” you studied after leaving high school?
Pure Math and Computer Science at the University of Waterloo. I eventually settled on Combinatorics and Optimization with PM/CS as minors.

2. If you could cook anything, what would you cook for supper tonight?
Pizza, probably with barbecue sauce mixed with the pizza sauce, topped with mozza, asiago, chicken, and red onion.

3. What makes you stop and pause during your day?
Something reasonable but unexpected, whether it’s something I hadn’t thought of or something I disagreed with. Sometimes that changes my mind.

4. Cats or Dogs?
Dogs. Cats are a big, fluffy allergen.

5. If you could have only one Pinterest Board, what would the topic be?
Stuff To Make

6. What was the catalyst that got you blogging in the first place?
I was loving Twitter for connecting with people and having conversations, but sometimes I had more to say. Hence my tagline, “When Twitter isn’t long enough”.

7. What is one (funny) childhood misconception that you had, or that you have experienced with a young child?
I thought “delicatessen” was pronounced “dell-ih-CAT-iss-in” until I said it aloud as an adult. I was laughingly corrected.

8. What was your favourite summer job?
I worked at the UW Instructional Support Group helping students to learn computer science. That’s the job that showed me I wanted to be a teacher. It was a winter term job first, but I returned to it through various seasons.

9. Where do you find flow?
Writing is my flow generator. When I write, things become clearer. I don’t write enough, it seems.

10. What was one personal challenge you faced in 2013?
Finding a balance between work and family is an ongoing challenge, but I think I’m winning. Now I usually only work a lot at night if I want to.

11. What are YOU passionate about?
Mostly I’m passionate about learning stuff, as evidenced by my rather large number of interests.

List 11 bloggers

  1. Kerri Grasley (@KerriGrasley,
  2. David Jaremy (@DavidJaremy, (see David’s response)
  3. Doug Peterson (@dougpete, (Doug was nominated more than once; here is his response)
  4. Peter Anello (@PJAnello,
  5. Steve Wilson (@GeraldtonSteve,
  6. Lisa Donohue (@Lisa_Donohue,
  7. Brian Aspinall (@mraspinall, (see Brian’s response)
  8. Danika Barker (@danikabarker
  9. Eva Thompson (@leftyeva, (see Eva’s response)
  10. Colleen Rose (@ColleenKR,
  11. Mark Carbone (@markwcarbone,

Post 11 questions

  1. Who is the “most famous” person you’ve ever spoken with?
  2. What’s one thing you’ve learned recently for pleasure but not for work?
  3. What’s your favourite type of exercise?
  4. What is something you love to do in each season of the year (name 4 things)?
  5. What’s something you have to do that you feel self-conscious about?
  6. Who helps you to “overcome”?
  7. If you could magically change one thing (and only one!) about the state of technology in education, what would it be?
  8. What do you appreciate?
  9. Who have you thanked today? For what?
  10. Is “unplugging” a good thing for you, or a bad thing, or …?
  11. How did you feel when you were nominated?


Thanks to everyone if you decide to participate, and thanks to Donna! That was fun!

What should the average person know about computers?

Doug Peterson wrote a post today entitled “Why Coding?” and it got me thinking about what’s important to know about computers.

My wife and I chatted this morning on the drive in about how computer use is like math – lots of people can follow memorized procedures, but if some “unusual” problem comes up they’re totally stuck.


My in-laws are having trouble getting their laptop on their wireless network. Other devices connect fine. My father-in-law called me (I’m a half hour drive away) for help. Unfortunately, after walking him through a few “easy” steps (they’re kind of hard to explain over the phone, actually), he couldn’t fix it. I’m heading there after work to try it myself in person, and I have a little USB wireless adapter to try if nothing else works.

But would I ever expect them to dive deep into their DHCP settings? No, of course not, not even with me on the other end of the phone line. I think the goal for them is to know a few easy things to try when common things go wrong (like rebooting, flicking the wireless hardware switch on and off, etc.). And that comes from experience and from some understanding of how things work.

I don’t know about the Hour of Code

Learning to code will help to provide that, but I think there are probably other ways to learn it as well. Doug recommends a computer studies class for everyone, and that seems like a good idea to me as well, but I wouldn’t recommend a Computer Science class for everyone. Learning Java or C or HTML is less accessible, but learning to configure a wireless network isn’t so arcane that the average person shouldn’t tackle it. Is coding like running before walking?

I use Excel and Google Spreadsheets a lot in my work. Like, constantly. Even for personal stuff, and not just financial stuff. Spreadsheets have some nice, easy functions that make stuff efficient. If everyone knew how to use TRIM(…), CONCATENATE(…), basic computation, and filtering in a spreadsheet, it would be a better world. Does that count as “coding”? If so, I’m in.

Warning: Unnecessary Personal Anecdote

Feel free to skip it.

When I was young and foolish I was driving north from Waterloo to the Sault. The battery warning light in my Malibu came on, and we got a little concerned. It was a Sunday, and I didn’t know how many garages would be open if things were bad. I considered driving the rest of the way (5 or 6 hours) or calling to the Sault for help. Instead we stopped at a GM dealership about thirty clicks up the road.

They determined that I needed a new alternator, and unfortunately it would take a couple of days to get one. I sighed, agreed, and we spent two nights in a motel while we waited. When it came in there was a cost for the part (several hundred dollars), including a $75 “core charge” if I wanted to keep the old, broken one. I declined and saved the $75.

While they were under the hood, the shop manager came up to me to say that the tensioner was seized as well – another hundred-and-something for that. I grudgingly agreed – what could I do?

When I got home, my father-in-law explained how a tensioner works, and that likely it was the only thing wrong. I didn’t know this stuff, and so I likely got taken for several hundred bucks while leaving a perfectly good alternator for them to resell. That hundred-dollar part cost me a thousand dollars.

I didn’t need to be able to replace my tensioner myself, but had I known more about how that stuff worked I would have been a lot better off.

So here’s what I think

Learn something new about a part of computer technology that’s confusing to you. I don’t know CSS. I’m not a wizard with C++. I’ve never developed an app. Those are things that I would consider if I was going to learn something new and useful. Find something that’s new and useful for you, and start there. Maybe it’s blogging, maybe it’s Twitter, maybe it’s lisp. Pick something to get competent and confident with.

And have fun.