Art for the Cure

A few weeks ago my tweep Colleen Rose (@ColleenKR) mentioned that she was going to paint a picture to help raise money for her Relay For Life team, and then donate the painting to the local cancer clinic. See her original post here, including a link to donate and photos of her work in progress:

I have a few paintings lying around the house that probably won’t make it onto my wall, but that someone might want on their wall. I’m happy to give paintings away to family and friends if they’re interested, but Colleen got me thinking a little more about raising money with artwork.

So here’s my plan

If you’re interested in donating to cancer research and would like one of the paintings below, you can donate to Colleen’s Relay For Life (cancer) team or to my Run For The Cure (breast cancer) page and let me know which painting you’d like. I’ll ship or otherwise deliver the painting to you, within reason (I expect shipping to Antigua would be a little costly, so we’d have to talk about it).

But wait, there’s more

I’m planning to paint a 16×20″ canvas of daffodils sometime in the next few months. The person who donates the most to my Run For The Cure page and expresses interest in the painting will receive it. I’m thinking of a painting based loosely on this photo, but I’m open to suggestions:

A photo of a single daffodil among green stems

Paintings by donation

Here are the original paintings you can donate to receive. They are all 9″x12″ acrylic on canvas board. I’m suggesting a minimum donation of $150 for each one (of course, more is better; these are good causes!).

Painting 1


Painting 2


Painting 3


And thank you

I hope you’ll support one effort or both efforts to raise funds in the fight against cancer. Thanks very much!

Donation links again:

Colleen’s Relay For Life (cancer) team

My Run For The Cure (breast cancer) page

Computer Lab Design

I was in a high school this morning to work with two Career Studies classes. It was an introduction to Blended Learning using the virtual Learning Environment (Desire2Learn), and we were scheduled into a computer lab. This is what it looks like:

A picture of a computer lab

I couldn’t fit it all into the frame, but there are 30 computers (there are a few along the windows to the right of the image) and there is a projection screen on the wall behind me to my left. The classroom is enormous; I’d estimate it’s 30 feet (across in the photo) by 60 feet.

As I worked with the students I found the setup of the room to be really frustrating. Most students were too far from the projection screen, so that made it hard for me to demonstrate stuff whole-class. Also, if someone needed elbow support, I was 40 feet away from my computer. In the end I decided to mostly provide verbal instructions and coach people that needed help. The screens face every which way, so I couldn’t even see half of them from any one location in the room.

The classroom definitely needs a redesign. Some points I would consider:

  • arrange desks to make it easier for the teacher to circulate and guide the learning
  • keep the instructional laptop close to the learning area
  • put students closer together so they can help each other
  • keep the projection screen close to the student computers

It’s not a highly mobile classroom; you can’t move stuff frequently. These are desktop computers which use power supplied by posts coming out of the floor. But up to the limitations of the hardware, I think we could do better.

Troubles reading digital graphic novels


I’ve recently started reading graphic novels in both print and digital forms. I borrowed Ember and Buffy Season 8 Volume 1 from the Sault Public Library; I bought Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi Volume 1 – Force Storm in print; I purchased several comics for Kindle from Amazon (Star Trek Vol. 5, Star Trek: Countdown, Fray: Future Slayer, and a few more); and I bought this week’s Humble Bundle, which was a nice collection of Image Comics.

I like the print books in some ways. I find I take the time to look over the pages a little bit more, and it’s nice to be able to flip back quickly to review a previous scene.

I like the digital form for portability and selection. Plus I can buy them any time I like.

But there is a problem that prompted this post. Unless there is a magical setting I can’t find, the Kindle app is terrible for viewing comics.

When you try to zoom (pinch-style) a single panel remains visible and sometimes zooms in closer on any text. The remainder of the page is greyed out. You can’t zoom further, and you can’t pan around the pan or panel. Swiping will shift focus to the next panel (or a different part of the same panel) in sequence.

This is a brutal problem when a panel stretches across the entire page, because selecting a panel doesn’t necessarily make it bigger. I’m also using an iPad Mini, which has only 768 pixels across horizontally. The app only lets me view graphic texts in portrait mode (I could get 50% more pixels horizontally if I could rotate). On an iPad Mini (or even a full-size, Retina iPad) the text is often still difficult to read for me. I also can’t zoom in to view the artwork in detail.

And not to be overly picky, but I don’t like how greying out the inactive panels obscures the rest of the page. That’s just preference, I suppose.

On the other hand I use Cloudreaders for iOS to view other formats (like PDFs, CBRs, and CBZs that the Humble Bundle provides). This app gets things right in many, many ways. Swiping, zooming, and more work as I would hope. I can really get close to the artwork, and I can read the tiny text. I can use it in landscape or portrait orientation, letting me decide how best to use the pixels at my disposal. Unfortunately it can’t be used for those pesky, locked down Kindle books.

Until Amazon fixes the problems with the Kindle app for comics, I’ll be buying my graphic texts elsewhere so that I some freedom to view them the way I’d like to. It seems odd that they’ve made the design choices they have; hopefully they change things soon.

Response to @dougpete and using Social Media with students

Once in a while I like to go back an arbitrarily-round-number time in my posts to see what I said. Today I returned to about a year ago and saw a post called tMI – Students’ Personal Lives and Twitter in the Classroom in which I shared some concerns that a teacher brought up during a professional learning session. I quickly read it over, and then tweeted it out again:

Then Doug Peterson (@dougpete) commented on the post, which got me thinking some more. We had a brief Twitter exchange, prompting more firing of neurons. I started to reply with a comment, but I’ve changed my mind. I think I’m ready to paste my new-and-improved-but-still-not-final thoughts in this new post. First, here’s…

Doug’s comment

Interesting post, Brandon. I think you’ve both asked and answered some questions in the post. In light of the fact that the Ontario Curriculum has yet to prescribe the use of social media, it is currently just another tool that a teacher may elect to bring into her or his classroom. I think that there is a good argument for it once a teacher gets his / her head around it. As I would imagine that you’re summizing, I’m in favour of its use, where appropriate. Schools didn’t have internet access when I started teaching but many of my students were connected and connected to me – I ran my own Bulletin Board Service and students were able to dial in and talk on chat boards, ask for homework help, and even upload programs for solution.

To this end, I’m a real fan of a student-created Acceptable Use Policy rather than the legal ones that are so often used. Of course, the teacher drives the policy!

You used the term “wild west” in your post so I’ll throw back another popular analogy that we don’t ask students to drive without teaching them first. What better way to teach the effective and, yes, appropriate use than in the classroom of a professional educator that knows the tool and what it’s capable of.

There are so many “social networks” that are available including the Ministry’s LMS that a mere mortal teacher wouldn’t be able to monitor them all. But, we’ve all been in situations where we see things and we do need to act on them. I can remember, as a football coach, going into the stands to break up an altercation or, as a hockey fan getting involved for no other reason that it’s the right thing to do and one of the participants was wearing a school jacket. I would hope that anyone would do the right thing whether or not they were on the clock.

I think that it’s a good conversation to have and that people aren’t running and hiding. You know that, with the proliferation of services, that it’s going to happen. We’ll look back on these conversations with a smile wondering why we spent the time to comment.

We just need to come to the understanding that we are who we are. Heck, even your blog is letting me know “dougpete: You are commenting using your account.”

And My Reply

Thanks for commenting, Doug. I keep returning to the idea that teachers need to develop some comfort with some platforms so that they can engage with students meaningfully. Part of that is for the learning at hand (the science or philosophy or whatever), but another significant part is for students to learn how to interact appropriately (learning to drive, as you say). I don’t think any more that we should ignore the activities of our youth online just because their virtual personas may be “unreliable”; instead we need to be careful in how we interpret their interactions. The teacher I spoke with wasn’t concerned about whether they were on the clock (teachers are always on the clock), but rather whether they would know what was serious or truthful and what was joking or dishonest.

I’m planning to engage with students online next year, and I’m trying to decide where the boundaries should be. I won’t be using Facebook with students (family and friends only, thank you), but Twitter seems very useful as a learning tool. I’ll be teaching high school students as well, which might make a difference; I just don’t know what kind of difference. I see examples of teachers (like Danika Barker, @danikabarker) using Twitter to engage and interact with learners, and I see a place for that in my own teaching. I’m also a relatively experienced Twitter user, so my comfort with the platform takes away some barriers that another teacher might still need to overcome. As I mentioned in the original post, I believe hashtags are a good way to interact without interfering too much in students’ lives.

So I don’t think we need to protect our teens from social media as though the platforms themselves are evil. Instead we should be working with our youth to understand the place of social media in their (our) lives with a mind to positive, thoughtful interactions and the legacies we leave. We don’t want a young child to be on Twitter, but I think we need our teens to be on Twitter or something like it. How else will they develop the skills and the resiliency they’ll need in other parts of life?

I’m thinking that the “right” approach is to treat online communication much like offline communication. The main differences are that it’s more transparent, more public, and definitely more permanent. Those differences are mostly strengths, but they should inform and temper our uses. The challenge is to be wise in applying these technologies to our communication without introducing a chilling effect. And I think teachers will best be able to meet that challenge if they’ve taken some time to learn a platform well.

Figuring out how to make that happen isn’t easy, of course. I’ve given workshop sessions and written blog posts galore on how a teacher might use Twitter for professional development (this is both to improve their PD and also to help them consider other uses for Twitter). I’ve encouraged my local colleagues to use social media for their learning. I’ve commented on blog posts, invited people to EdCampSault, and offered one-on-one time to learn tools. But teacher need will win out over everything else in its own time: the need to connect with colleagues or the need to improve student learning. When a teacher becomes aware of the power of social media for learning, they’ll see the importance of figuring it out. So I try to be an awareness builder, because these tools are a major part of our lives.

Doug, I really like your last paragraph: ‘We just need to come to the understanding that we are who we are. Heck, even your blog is letting me know “dougpete: You are commenting using your account.”‘

We are developing online presence all the time, and remembering that online presence is a real-life presence should go a long way towards ensuring we make good choices in our interactions with students.

Thanks again for commenting!

7 Must-Have Title Elements For Your Blog Post

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among bloggers which seems to have spread from traditional media (i.e. newspapers). It’s the attempt to garner readers by using carefully-crafted titles (formerly headlines). Readership isn’t a bad thing; My ego and I like it when people read my blog. Crafting titles carefully isn’t bad either.

The problem arises when hyperbole and dishonesty win out over the truth when post titles are written. It’s a disease in traditional media, it’s infected online news outlets, and bloggers are succumbing as well.

Look at the title of this post. Did you come here because you often read my blog? Because you’re looking for some tips for better writing? Because I used a number, 7 (I’ve heard this is weirdly effective)? Or, to my horror, because I said these are “must-have” elements?

Well, I lied. I don’t have 7 must-have elements for your blog post title. I do have 4 suggestions for you to consider when writing a title, and I think they’re important to me as a reader of blogs, but I won’t say they’re “must-have”. Nor is nearly anything else you read about on the Interwebs. Unless those “must-have” items include food, water, heat, or WiFi.

Be honest about your post’s topic

Don’t try to trick me into reading your post. I won’t be happy with you if you do that. I might not come back. It particularly bothers me when people use current events to draw readership for tenuously-connected topics.

Don’t be overly cryptic

Titles like “You won’t believe what Jenny told Doug about educational technology today!” might tap curiosity, but you haven’t said much about the actual contents of the post. If it’s about ed tech and assessment, you should say so. The sample title here will be hard to find or interpret later.

Don’t oversell

Saying “must-have”, “essential”, “wicked”, “original”, or “frosted” doesn’t make your content these things. If you apply a descriptor like this, you’d better deliver.

Remember why

If you’re an educator you’re not blogging to sell a product; you’re blogging to share your thinking and spark conversation. Make sure your title is about your post, not about getting hits.

Doing worse is fine sometimes


I just finished a 5K run in 27 minutes, 18 seconds. That’s not even close to my best time, which is a little over 23 minutes, if I remember correctly.

I might provide reasons (some would say “excuses”) for this backsliding of nearly 60 seconds per kilometre. I might say that I haven’t run consistently since last summer. I might say that it was windy, or that 2 kilometres were on soft, muddy, gravel road. I could probably invent a few reasons that sound plausible too.

But even though I can excuse my performance today, I don’t think I need to. Even if I had run 5K in 22 minutes last week a time of 30 minutes today would be just fine. I wasn’t trying to break any records; I was just trying to finish 5K.

And I did finish 5K. That’s an accomplishment, even if I didn’t get a virtual badge from Nike+. I don’t need to do better every time; it’s okay to do worse sometimes. I’m proud that I finished, and I’m happy that I received a few virtual backpats from my friends.

Math Problem: Better buy on cheese

You’re in the grocery store on April 24th and you need cheddar, desperately. Upon reaching the back of the store you discover that there is a sale!

Excitedly, you search the shelves and find a 500g package of old, light cheddar (your favourite) for only $3.99. Beside it is a 340g package of the same cheese; it’s $2.99.

Looks simple at first, but then you see the expiration dates: May 3rd for the 500g package and May 19th for the 340g package.

Last time you bought the 500g package it took your family two weeks to eat it.

What should you buy?

How I Use Twitter Professionally – Updated Again!

About a year ago I wrote a blog post called “How I Use Twitter Professionally – Updated!“. Since then I’ve refined or changed my use a bit more, so I thought it was worth refreshing the post again. So, the content below is the same as before, but with current stuff.

My tweets are public.

I’m trying to encourage conversation and collaboration, so my tweets are globally accessible. This also means I don’t make statements I wouldn’t be comfortable with anyone reading – my family, my students, my employer….

I don’t follow a lot of people.

I currently follow 292 people (that’s a big increase in the last year; about doubled), of whom about 200 are actively tweeting (let’s say at least weekly). Some of these aren’t related to education; for example, I follow The LEGO Group (@LEGO_Group).

I can’t read all of the stuff they tweet. I’m relying on my tweeps to retweet the really good stuff so I have a better chance of seeing it, or to mention me if it’s something they think I ought to notice.

I accept anyone as a follower, pretty much.

Except for a few obvious accounts, I let anyone follow me. Since my tweets are public, anyone can read them (even without a Twitter account), so letting people follow me doesn’t reveal anything extra. Plus, it’s easier when you don’t have to approve people.

I don’t follow back as a courtesy.

Before I decide to follow someone, I take a look at their tweet history. Is their stream of tweets going to enhance my experience? Will I learn from them? Or will I only learn what they had for breakfast?

I’m a fan of some personal stuff on Twitter, but if you post 300 times a day just to talk without conversing, I don’t need to see it. It’s not about you, it’s just that your use of Twitter doesn’t fit with mine.

Today I noticed that I have 3 fewer followers than I did a few days ago. Since there were a few new followers recently that means that more than 3 cut me off their list. That’s totally expected, and is actually pretty great. I think your lifestyle on Twitter should be like the Law of Two Feet: if it’s not working for you, move on.

I don’t accept Direct Messages (DMs) from people I don’t follow.

This cuts down on the spam. Now it’s just mentions, and there aren’t too many of those. This is a good idea for anyone, so I thought I’d list it here.

I follow hashtags for a while.

Recently I followed #OTRK12 (our annual conference in Mississauga) and #GAFEsummit. I don’t follow the very busy tags, although I sometimes apply them to my posts (#D2L, #onted, #blendedlearning, #edtech).

I try to follow the people in Northern Ontario. We face many of the same issues, and perhaps we have solutions to help each other. I like that idea.

I don’t cross post to Facebook anymore.

I tweet too much. No one on Facebook wants to read all of that stuff. The handful of FB friends who do are also Twitter users and teachers, so they just go to Twitter to find me. When I write blog posts WordPress will publicize them on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, and I’m certain that’s plenty for the FB crowd.

I use Tweetdeck; it rocks.

Chrome has TweetDeck as an app; I like that I can have columns for a variety of things I want to look at. Currently I have my Twitter timeline, my Twitter Interactions, my Twitter Messages (DMs), columns for #edCampSault, #OTRK12, #OSSEMOOC, @timrobinsonj’s eLC list, @MeglioMedia’s Tech Enabled Learning list, @ColleenKR’s SGDSB list, and #niprockart. It’s great.

I say things for myself, and I say things for others.

I tweet things that I want to remember or revisit (great for “note-taking” at a session/workshop/conference). I also tweet things to inform others or start conversations. My tweets (of links and such) aren’t endorsements, but since people sometimes view them that way I try not to share stuff that I’m not at least familiar with.

I talk a lot, but not too much

I try to ask questions and help out when others ask questions. I’m proud to say I am included as an honourary member of the SGDSB educators list because I help out the teachers up there, so I think my contributions are valued.

More importantly, I’m developing relationships with these distant folks, and the growth of my PLN has helped me out in my work as well. It was very exciting recently at OTRK12 to meet people whom I knew only through Twitter, and it was surprising how natural the face-to-face interactions felt. We were already friends. So thanks, tweeps.

If you want to follow me…

I’m @bgrasley. No pressure, of course. Use Twitter however it works best for you!

Checking for server certificate revocation in Google Chrome Post-Heartbleed

By now you’ve heard about Heartbleed. If not, go check these links out:

Once you have changed your pants, you should enable a check for server certificate revocation in Google Chrome and any other browsers you use, since a bazillion certificates need to be revoked right now. Here’s a quick how-to for Chrome.

Open Chrome’s “hamburger menu” and choose “Settings”:

How to access Chrome's settings

Scroll to the bottom and click “Show advanced settings…”:

Where to find Chrome's Advanced Settings

Scroll again and check the box beside “Check for server certificate revocation”:

How to enable Chrome's check for server certificate revocation

This will make sure that Chrome verifies certificates, rather than assuming no news is good news.