Benefits of iPads in classrooms outweigh the problems: study

Here is the Gazette version of the La Presse article I published at the beginning of the week. It is an interesting example of how two newspapers took the same study and put their own spin on it. The La Presse article leaves you with the feeling that we are all doomed- that the iPad is only  a distraction factory and that the state of education is crumbling before our techno-blurred eyes.

The Gazette article chooses to emphasize the benefits of the iPad and everything it can do, while sandwiching the distraction between the benefits of the iPad and ways teachers are finding to negotiate their students’ distraction.

Here is a link to the full report. It sounds like it might be best to read it and make up our own minds…

(Also-for an iPad study in Montreal, why weren’t we included?)

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Thierry Karsenti remembers the intense look in the young girl’s eyes when he moved to take her iPad away. “My Precious!” she said, Gollum-like, clutching the tablet to her chest.

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The Beginner’s Guide To Creating Digital Portfolios – Edudemic

I found the article below intriguing for several reasons. First, the idea of creating a digital portfolio of their work that spans their career at the school- is that possible in a high school?

My daughters did this with their reading journal in elementary school- they have a nice booklet with the books they read from grade 1 to grade 6. Wouldn’t it be cool f they had a collection of the creative writing they are most proud of?

I was also intrigued by the author, Holly Clark’s stance on why she doesn’t use avatars when putting her students’ work online (though she does not publish the last name-she is an elementary  teacher).  She makes the excellent point that students need to be accountable for what they put on line. If we teach them at an early age to hide their real identities behind avatars, what are we telling them?

She also gives some practical guidelines on how she uses mostly google products (google drive, forms and sites) for her workflow. However, there are many ways students cash create a wonderful , innovative portfolio for themselves. Book creator, iBook, a presentation app all come to mind.

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Last week on the Connected Student Series, I discussed the ‘why’ of digital portfolios. It is imperative that in 2014, students be able to curate, archive and expand on the work they are producing in class.

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Duolingo: Apple’s choice for App of the Year

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 9.04.50 AMI agree with Apple- I downloaded Duolingo last year when I was searching for language learning resources, and love it. I am using it on my phone and take advantage of its easy interface and fun game style to learn a bit more Spanish.

The app has several levels as well as different types of exercises, from filling in the right word to speaking the right word into the microphone. Once you have completed a level you get a badge!

It really helps that there is an audio component- you need to speak, but the app speaks to you as well so you can hear how the word is supposed to sound.

It is a great recommendation for students who need extra practice. Oh and bonus- it is free!!!!

You can also use it for learning French, German, Portuguese English and Italian.

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At Carnegie Mellon University, where he teaches computer science, Luis von Ahn and student David Klionsky thought there should be a way to use smartphones to teach new languages.

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Un élève sur trois joue sur son iPad en classe | Michael Oliveira | Produits électroniques

Thanks for sharing Geneviève!

Here is an article from La Presse on a survey of schools with iPads. The results are not so surprising, though it does emphasize the need for ongoing professional development, especially in terms of how to adjust teaching practices to accommodate the technology and how to integrate it effectively into a simple, time-saving workflow…


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Un tiers des étudiants du Québec sondés sur l’usage du iPad en classe ont admis pratiquer des jeux durant les heures d’école, et une étonnante proportion de 99% a dit…

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Myths About Coding: A Personal Journey

In honour of Computer Science Week I thought I would talk a little about my own personal journey with coding. The decision to try and learn to code was something I had been thinking of for about a year now. It was always in conjunction with what I saw as a growing need for our children to learn how to program ( or at least to understand the basics of coding) and a moral imperative to put my money where my mouth was. But in order to begin, I had to let go of some preconceived notions.

Myth #1: I am not good at math.

Severus-Snape-rip-severus-snape-13701628-2560-1707 Now I was one of those shy kids who didn’t understand math right off the bat. Unfortunately, early on in my scholastic career I met with a math teacher from the Severus Snape School of Instruction by Intimidation and my brain shut down to anything that was designated math. This was in fourth grade, so yeah. I have some catching up to do.

Unfortunately many girls (and probably boys) have convinced themselves that they are simply bad at math. Here is a great article from the Atlantic that talks about the “Fallacy of inborn ability”. Here is a quote:

“I’m just not a math person.”

We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.-Miles Kimball and Noah Smith

Now in my very late thirties, I am realizing just how much I have shot myself in the foot by believing this. It took a university course entitled “Math for elementary teachers” with an awesome teacher who could explain things to me in a way where I actually understood for me to realize that I could actually “do” math. It was a revelation! I am also shyly interested in science and the more philosophical side of math (ideas of different geometries and such) but always felt like I really had no business thinking about those high-falutin’ ideas  because I could not possibly understand that theory behind them.

If I do anything in life, it will be to try and dispel this kind of thinking in my own daughters as well as any young person.

Myth #2: I am not a math person therefore I could not possibly code

Who says you have to be good at math to code? From my very shallow forays into the vast sea of programming, it seems more like learning a language than math.

Yeah I know. Math is also a language. But I wish someone had mentioned to that me earlier in my life. If I could have viewed it as such, it might have been less scary for me, as the flip side of the “bad at math” coin is that I feel I am pretty good with language.

I have been taking about 15 minutes a day to learn to code. (I like the 15 minute thing- it means that I do a little everyday and it isn’t so daunting).

So far I have earned the following badges in Codeacademy:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.41.25 AM


Hmmm. I do love me a good badge!

I have gone through the basics of HTML and CSS and have started learning the basics of javascript.

Although Code Academy is a great start, it doesn’t allow you to play around very much. Ever practical, I wanted to see how I could put my new skills to good use. I am in the middle of building a practice website for the upcoming Battle of the Books.

Here is a screen shot of my website:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.53.58 AM

Here is a screenshot of the code for my homepage:

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 9.55.59 AM


As you can see, I am very proud of myself.

Myth #3: Programmers or coders are socially awkward, chubby males who live in their parents’ basement.

I read this great NY Times article (which I think I might have posted already) that made this interesting point:

Public narratives about a career make a difference. The most common career aspiration named on Girls Who Code applications is forensic science. Like Allen, few if any of the girls have ever met anyone in that field, but they’ve all watched “CSI,” “Bones” or some other show in which a cool chick with great hair in a lab coat gets to use her scientific know-how to solve a crime. This so-called “CSI” effect has been credited for helping turn forensic science from a primarily male occupation into a primarily female one.

Where are all the cool hacker chicks with great hair and funky outfits? They are working for Google. Or Ubisoft. Or Facebook. But they certainly aren’t on TV, which means there is no one out there to represent women in the profession.

I just had a meeting with two cool, young hacker girls (one works for Google, the other teaches computer science). They were telling me that the concept of working in your little anti-social bubble couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, it is one of the professions where leveraging the knowledge and support of their peers is not only encouraged but essential. They are in constant contact with their team mates but also with the people working on different aspects of a larger project. Think about Google and its vast online omnipotence. Then think about how many little worker ants it takes to make the Google kingdom run.

Now that I think about it, my profession, librarianship, is way closer to the coder stereotype. For instance, I can spend a whole day not talking to anyone if there are no classes in the library (which suits my personality if not enabling certain anti-social tendencies).

Myth #4: There is no creative aspect to coding.

After the Hour of Code event I wrote about, I asked my daughter if the idea of what programming is synced up with her experience. She shook her head vigorously. “I thought coding was a lot more boring,” she said. “That it was all numbers.” Since Sunday, she has found Codeacademy on her own and is going through the HTML tutorial. She has already used her HTML language skills to peek inside the code behind her tumblr account and find a part of the code that makes it look like it is snowing on her page. We looked at the code she pasted more closely and were able to decipher where the person who built it was calling a javascript sheet. She was so happy that she could actually figure out what was going on!

If coding is a language, then once you learn it you can manipulate it to tell any story you want. You can make a website. You can make an interactive game. You can make 3D renditions of actual spaces or an app that connects volunteers to charitable organizations. The possibilities are endless!

I heard a woman argue on the CBC show Spark that Coding should be taught as a liberal art. This would definitely help to dispel the myth that coding is only for the highly unimaginative, left-brained dominated folk.

From a self-image (fallacy of innate ability or, in most cases, innate inability) to a profession image problem, the above myths are going to have to be blasted out of the water if we really want to get the attention of our young people.


Computer Science: Some Shocking Stats

In the wake of yesterday’s post, I received a flurry of emails and resources from all over Montreal. From articles about coding initiatives for women in Finland to the following info graphic from the people about how the U.S. are not preparing their youth for the jobs that are currently available:



I was curious to see if we could find some stats on computer science in Canada, and after a quick search I found this article from Maclean’s dated September of this year. They only make one mention of the computer science field:

Health related fields are almost exclusively female, with 82 per cent of all graduates in 2007 being women. In fact, women dominate in all fields except for three: architecture and engineering, math and computer science, and protective and transportation services. However, the only category that saw a decrease in the share of women is math and computer science, which has been accompanied by a similar decline among Canadian males pursuing those fields. It is a trend that has been offset by a greater proportion of international students, mostly male, studying math and computer science.

Hmmm. I guess it isn’t so much different North of the border…



Mile End Hour of Code

Note: This was a personal initiative. This was not affiliated with the school, though I am in the middle of organizing a coding club for our students beginning in January).

For the past year, I have been increasingly convinced that every kid should learn to code.

Here are some of my talking points on this subject:

  1. Computers are ubiquitous in our life.
  2. Yet most of us have no idea how they work.
  3. It is going to be increasingly necessary to know how they work even if you are not in a computer science field.
  4. Yet learning how to program is not a required part of our curriculum (though our multimedia guru gives all the girls who take his class a very very solid background in coding,not all girls take his class, alas).
  5. Many of the most interesting, flexible and highly paid jobs are in computer science.
  6. Yet the number of women going into this field is lower than it was 20 years ago. Articles such as this one from the NY Times confirms this:

In 1990-91, about 29 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in computer and information sciences went to women; 20 years later, it has plunged to 18 percent. Today, just a quarter of all Americans in computer-related occupations are women.  -Catherine Rampell, NY Times article

Now this seems like a laudable goal, right? Except for the fact that I know absolutely nothing about coding. This I am trying to rectify- I have been going through the Code Academy Tutorials (I am in the middle of learning about javascript) and I have been fiddling with building a website. However, my pace is akin to that of plate tectonics. If I wait until I know enough to teach someone else, I will be an octogenarian.

However, I am pretty good at organizing. And, more importantly, I have friends who know how to code. And even more importantly, they are just as keen to get other girls excited about coding as I am.

In conjunction with Tricia Campbell and Maja Frydrychowicz  (both teach computer science at Dawson College) we organized a workshop for teens this last Sunday to coincide with the Computer Science Week Initiative, Hour of Code:

Mary Martha from the Nouveau Palais let us use her lovely restaurant and Eric from the Atwater Library’s Digital Literacy Project supplied the computers.

We began with an offline activity entitled, My Robotic Friends. Here is a good video that describes the activity:

Our 4 participants (hey, we have to start somewhere!) broke up into two teams and wrote their code, while Majabot stayed behind the counter. Both groups worked on the same configuration of cups. What was interesting is that though they ended up with the same result, their code was a little bit different. It was a great introduction to the concepts of algorithms, functions, etc. They were also introduced to the concept of de-bugging when the robot did not do what they expected.

Then we moved on to the computers and Khan Academy’s introduction to javascript:

We skipped the videos, and went straight to the Crazy Face activity. Tricia and Maja gave the girls a few guidelines and instructions and were on hand to help them through any difficulties they were having. but really, it only took a little bit of guidance for them to take off on their own.

Our hackergirls at work!

Our hackergirls at work!

A few of the questions asked were:

1. Say you want to make your own code (not part of a tutorial) where do you put the code?

2.How does the code get on to the web?

3. Can I do more?

Although we only had a few participants (it is a terrible time of the year for kids- exams are coming up and holiday duties abound) the feedback was very positive. They all said they would be interested on having a more regular event in the new year. I think the best kind of model for this would be to have a space where the kids can either work on their own projects and have access to mentors when they get stuck as well as a more structured activity for those who don’t quite know yet how they can utilize their new found skills.

Hopefully, this story will have a sequel!

(This article was also printed with a few modifications on my other blog, inparentthesis)

Digital Citizenship: Metadata Made Simple

As I have mentioned several times in the last couple of weeks, I am in the process of collecting resources in order to build a digital citizenship program for our school. The idea  is to start with the basics: netiquette, basic safety online, etc. Then move on to bigger topics such as cyberbullying, online identity, positive self- branding and, by grade eleven start tackling the bigger issues surrounding privacy. Below is an amazing video by the Guardian explaining what governments do with the data they collect.


I came across it while reading the article below from the aside blog. The author gives some suggestions about how these issues can be presented to students. One of the means they mention is using popular TV shows. This resonated with me, as I have just started watching Homeland with my daughters. Despite some graphic content and questionable take on Islam (which in itself is another talking point) it is a great way to question the ethics of surveillance and all the surrounding issues of privacy. We end up having some interesting discussions at the dinner table…

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Innovative design crosses over all aspects of education. The American Society for Innovation Design in Education, or ASIDE, seeks to infuse curriculum with new approaches to teaching and thinking.

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